Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On Compassion And Potential For Mutual Understanding

From today's op-ed piece in the New York Times: "Many Faiths, One Truth", Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and most recently author of: “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together":

"Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions...

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion...strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us...

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whose Spirit Are You Feeling?

Have you ever stopped to think about whose spirit you're feeling when you "feel the Spirit"? The question is if you're feeling the influence of our Heavenly Father's spirit, Christ's spirit, or the spirit of the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit. Since we maintain that they are physically separate we also maintain that they have separate spirits. Can we, or should we, even figure out whether we're feeling the unique influence of either of the three?

After posing this question and thinking about it for some time, I've decided that perhaps it's not wise to try and subdivide the influence of the Godhead. Perhaps us Mormons are already too guilty of trying to separate the Godhead too much whenever we emphasize their "threeness" more than their "oneness". They are infinitely more one than they are separate.

I'm content with the idea that I can feel the united and interconnected energy/influence/spirit of the one God/Godhead we worship. With that in mind, I now perceive the phrase "the Spirit of God" differently. I like thinking of it more as the Spirit of the one God/Godhead. By any means, it would be foolish to try and limit either of their influence on us.

During the sacrament prayer, in exchange for our promises to follow and remember Christ, we're “promised that his Spirit, meaning the Spirit of Christ, will always be with [us]. This is no small matter, because the Spirit of Christ is the Light that radiates from God to fill the immensity of space and uphold all of creation. It is the light that enlightens the eye and the light that enlightens the understanding. ‘The Glory of God is intelligence, another scripture says, and this great light—intelligence can flow into humble communicants through the covenant of the sacrament prayer (D&C 93:36)". (Richard Bushman, "A Very Short Introduction to Mormonism").

I also like how Blake Ostler described a loving interpenetration of freely cooperating wills. He once wrote: "I assert that both the Father and the Son are eternally divine. However, there is a priority of the Father in the sense that the Father offers his love to the Son, and in each moment of eternity the Son has freely chosen to fully return that love. They both offer their love to the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost has freely chosen in each moment of eternity to return that love. "It is in virtue of this loving interpenetration of freely cooperating wills that these three are one God and also have been eternally one God. Now they are inviting us into this same relationship."

So in short, the question of "whose spirit are your feeling?", while interesting, perhaps isn't as important as some might think. Instead of trying to understand which spirit we're feeling (whether that of the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost), we ought to recognize what our scriptures assert--that they're "one God". And perhaps we're never more "at one" with them than when we're filled their love.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Triumphalism is For the Birds

My grandma always used to say that "growing old is for the birds". Obviously she didn't think much of all her growing health issues. In that same spirit, I say that triumphalism is for the birds. Unfortunately, it came out strong at times with our early church leaders. Exhibit A:

"And this is the gospel which God has commanded us to preach to all people, once more, for the last time. And no other system of religion which is now organized among men is of any use; everything different from this, is a perverted gospel bringing a curse upon them that preach it, and upon them that hear it."
—Parley P. Pratt ("A Voice of Warning" 1838)

Find me someone who still believes that and I'll find you a fool. And this deeply offensive rhetoric certainly doesn't help our cause. Small consolation is the fact that it's out of step with the majority of modern-day Mormonism, not to mention our thirteenth Article of Faith.

The smugness of superiority, however, still comes out from time to time. Yesterday in our priesthood lesson it was implied that having a prophet clears up doctrinal confusion and chaos, as if the rest of Christianity finds itself in a doctrinal maze and yet Mormonism is crystal clear. Of course anyone who believes that is not only ignorant of traditional Christianity but oblivious to the concerns of Mormons and non-Mormons who find plenty of doctrinal uncertainties that the living prophet hasn't seemed to clear up much.

Just because "the morning breaks" isn't a guarantee that the rest of the the day contains a perfect forecast. Pinning down Mormon "doctrine" with any degree of certitude is still quite a challenge.

Richard Bushman has written: "Our covenant with God is to bless the people of the earth. That should be our motto. Establishing Zion does not mean sweeping vast masses of people onto our membership records but creating a people of God dedicated to blessing others. Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship, and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve."

That "new voice" is already strong and growing in today's Church. But it would certainly help if we can remember to not keep shooting ourselves in the foot.