Jul 19, 2008

Should I Pray Or Should I Save My Breath?

Let me start off by saying that I do believe in prayer, despite the fact that I'm not really sure how it works. As Mormons, we're supposed to be creative with our prayers, avoiding "vain repetitions." I've always been mindful of this, but I've always found it a challenge to come up with new things to say. I'm usually thankful for all the same things and hope for all the same things. There have been variations during the different stages of my life, but it's usually basically the same: I'm extremely thankful for a roof over my head, food on the table, good health, and to live in a free country. (I can add many things to this list, the more aware I become of the world around me.) And I always wish for continual good health for me and my loved ones, as well as that we'll all come home safe and sound each day from our individual routines. I will often include someone who's on my mind, if I think they could use some extra help from above. I figure it can't hurt.

So aside from the things I mentioned above, I don't pray for much regarding myself. I've been very fortunate and blessed with the things I mentioned already, but I tend to avoid praying for specifics because I usually don't get them. I'm not angry or bitter about this because I honestly try to believe that God knows better than me what's best, so I leave it in His hands. I told my bishop once that my personal philosophy with prayer is that I think out in my head what's best, tell the Lord I'm going to do it unless He stops me (i.e. if He thinks it's wrong), and then hope for the best. I think he thought I was joking, but I wasn't. I've never gotten answers in the typical Mormon fashion of personal revelations or burning bosoms. It's more like a perpetual "stupor of thought" that I try to trust in and it usually turns out OK in the end. So instead of dwelling on it and getting frustrated, I choose to give things a lot of thought, a little prayer, and just dive in. It has worked out OK for the most part. Before I started taking this approach and just waited around for an answer from God, I felt like a squirrel in the middle of the road that can't decide which way he wants to go, until he usually ends up getting run over by a car.

A couple of years ago, I asked the Lord for something very specific. However, I was very mindful of the fact that it was perhaps wasn't right for us. So although I told the Lord that we wanted this thing, if He knew it wasn't right for us, then we didn't want it because we knew it could easily turn into more of a liability. If it was wrong for us and the answer was no, then we were honestly OK with it. Anyways, we were given what we asked for and were very happy about it for a while until we realized that it wasn't going to turn out the way we hoped. Now a significant sum of money could potentially be lost (or at the very least tied up for a long time) and we're stuck in a situation that we're not very happy with. I think back to the day when I asked the Lord for this, pleading with Him to not give it to us if it wasn't going to work out, because I could foresee happening exactly what has happened now, and I wonder why He gave us this "blessing." I don't want to make this into a bigger deal than it is. I still have a roof over my head and food on the table. Things could definitely be a lot worse! But it's enough to make one question whether God really hears all prayers and whether they really all matter. It makes me wonder why He would want anyone to throw money down the toilet for no good reason when they were willing and ready to accept a simple "no" in the first place.

So all this brings up another point about prayer that I've always wondered about. We know that we should always have an open and humble heart when we pray for something. We have to be willing to accept that what we are asking for is not part of his will for us or the person we are praying for. Let's use the example of a man with cancer. Only God knows whether this person is going to live or not. So we're all fasting and praying for him, that he will live. But does any of it matter? God has decided already whether this person is going to live or die, and the best we can do is pray to be able to accept His will if he dies. Or is God's decision not yet made and is it riding on how many people pray for this man? Could it even be that enough praying can make God change His mind?

So I will continue to pray that we all get home safely each day, but sometimes I do wonder whether I should just save my breath. Or then again, maybe that one prayer will be enough to change His mind.

40 comments:

Sanford said...

A couple of obvious things first – how can you be sure that getting the “very specific” thing was a mistake? How do know that losing money or having to wait a while to reduce and illuminate your loss is a bad thing in the large scheme of things? Is the problem your lack of mobility or reduction in net worth? Is that a fair gauge to assess the correctness of the Lord’s failure to stop you?

As a former bankruptcy attorney I saw financial misfortune day after day for many years. Sometimes the cause of the bankruptcy was the fault of the person and sometimes it was beyond their control. Many clients were full tithe payers. I don’t know that the Lord could have helped them one way or the other but in many cases basic financial prudence (i.e. not living off credit cards) would have made a difference. I was amazed at how some of my clients (a small few) simply decided that they were going to just get through it and build a new life and they seemed to be at peace and had a better attitude about life than I did or those I know who were financially well off.

I live in a neighborhood where some of my fellow ward members built houses that were beyond their means with the intent to sell them and make a profit. With the housing slow down, they have been unable to sell their houses. They are in a rather precarious position right now and have tried very hard to enlist the Lord’s help through fasting and prayer to sell their homes. Their requests have gone seemingly unfilled. As a result, they have had to adopt a rather Zen like attitude about things in order not to lose their sanity. They now have sort of a whatever will be will be attitude. I understand that their finances are in jeopardy but I am not sure there isn’t a lesson in this for them.

I think life outcomes are very hard to predict and it is important to have a perspective of thankfulness irrespective of where you find yourself. You just have to have faith that everything will be ok.

By the way, I very much like your approach to prayer – telling the Lord you’re going to do something unless he tells you not to. It’s very practical and proactive.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Sanford,

You're right that it might not be entirely bad in the large scheme of things. What happened is that we had saved up enough money to build a home (or so we thought we could afford it) in an area that we feel is perfect for us. The local gov't was having a sort of lottery for the lots and since those interested far outnumbered the available lots, we thought we probably wouldn't get one. We knew that building a small, modest home would be expensive, but we had done a bit of research and were pretty sure we could afford it and so since there was no time to wait for the estimate, we entered the lottery and, to our surprise, got the lot we were hoping for. I told the Lord that I wasn't sure whether we could do it, but we had done our homework and felt good about it so if it was His will, this is what we wanted. I figured He had answered our prayers and that he thought it was right for us. So now, over a year later, we finally got the estimate but it's just out of reach and we feel it's too big a risk financially. The problem is that we really need to move, we're not happy in our current place due to several important factors, and we feel more and more every day that it's time to move on. We can't imagine having to wait another year or two to build. But now we're stuck with this lot, which by the way no one wants anymore. Almost everyone who won a lot backed out, faulting the view of the lake being blocked by a bunch of trees. Seems petty, since it's a gorgeous area whether you have a view or not, but it's been enough to make everyone lose interest. So we can't sell the lot on the market because A) no one wants it, and B) the local gov't has the right to buy it back from us if we try to sell it. So we could get most of our money refunded from the gov't, at a loss of almost $10,000 of non-refundable fees. So now we're waiting for the right house to come on the market, hoping that we can afford to keep the lot as a future investment, but it'll be tight. The lot itself cost enough that it limits us from buying a decent used home. So we're not sure what to do. If the right house comes along and we can afford it, we would ideally keep the lot since we can't get rid of it without taking that big loss.

So that's our dilemma. Could be worse, it just sort of sucks nonetheless. :( We've been planning this for almost 3 years and were set to move into our new home in early 2009.

I'm glad you liked my prayer approach. I like to be proactive, even though I'm rash or spontaneous by nature. It beats the squirrel in traffic approach. :)

Mormon Heretic said...

Dissident,

It seems you've summed up my prayer experience quite well. "I choose to give things a lot of thought, a little prayer, and just dive in."

I know everyone gives these wonderful prayer stories, but they just don't happen for me either.

The Faithful Dissident said...

There was a sister back in my home ward, a very spiritual and Christlike woman, who talked a lot about her experiences with prayer. It seemed that the Lord would even let her know what dress to where each day (slight exaggeration :). I don't think she was making it up, and everyone really looked up to this sister. She is truly an example to everyone. But, as you said Heretic, it doesn't work like that for everyone. I'm not sure whether we're just doing something wrong, or perhaps it's just one of those spiritual gifts that we don't have? In any case, it's not like the Lord has left me out in the cold, and I'm sure you feel the same way. Even if we have to pick out our own clothes. :)

Rick said...

Dissident,

Larry King wrote an interesting book a few years ago called "Powerful Prayers." He interviewed Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Young, Dr Kervorkian, Robert Schuller, actors, businessmen, and people from all walks of life. It is a very interesting perspective. (Larry is an avowed agnostic.)

Anyway, one of the things I got from the book is just thinking about spiritual things all day long. Some call this praying. I think the LDS would call it pondering. Either way, I feel like I do it more, and I feel more spiritual. It doesn't help me pick out my clothes, but I do feel closer to God.

Incidentally, my brother passed away in a car accident 2 years ago. I do feel that with his passing, I am a little more sensitive to the spirit. However, I would gladly trade this new spirituality if I could somehow bring him back. And I still struggle with formal prayer, but I think I am enjoying this informal prayer much more. I think this is what Alma was referring to when he said (paraphrasing) "Cry to him in your fields, and closets--basically everywhere. Pour out your souls to him."

The Faithful Dissident said...

Rick,

Thanks for that perspective! I can really relate to what you say. I guess I could sort of say that I "go around with a prayer in my heart," but I would say it's more like pondering, like you mentioned. I've heard leaders say that "a prayer in our hearts" should never replace formal prayers, but I struggle with it. I bet if I clocked how much time during the day I actually think about spiritual things, it would be quite a bit. But little of it is what I would call conversation with God, or prayer.

I'm sorry to hear about your brother. I hope it won't take tragedy for me to have better spiritual skills, but unfortunately that's often how it happens. I would say that maybe I don't feel the Spirit as much as I did when I was younger (or what I believed to be the Spirit -- perhaps it was just emotion? I'm not sure). But as I've gotten older, I definitely feel compassion, understanding and empathy for others a lot stronger than I did before. So while I feel much softer towards my fellow man, perhaps I've become a little harder towards the Spirit. Not bitter, just harder.

I never even knew that Larry King had written a book. Thanks for sharing. :)

Cliff said...

I would first note that we are to avoid "vain" repititions. That doesn't mean we have to be "creative" or that repitition in prayer is bad. It means that we have to be sincere in what we say for prayer to work. One can be terribly creative in praying and still have less effectual prayers than one who engages in "vain repitition."

I would suggest studying the bible dictionary reference to prayer, and then going on to prayerfully study those dictionary references and other topical guide references to prayer, and then moving on to search general conference talks regarding prayer. If you really want to understand prayer, those are the places to do it. As "basic" as those sources might seem, they are rich and deep and are the best places to turn for understanding subjects like this.

I would also note that the primary purposes of prayer are to come to understand the mind and will of God and to align ourselves accordingly, and to obtain the blessings that he is already waiting to give to us. (Note blessings that "he" is ready to give - not necessarily blessings that we think we want or need.) To that end, just telling God of your plans and then telling Him to stop you if he doesn't think it is right belies the entire purpose of prayer. That is not a process of coming to understand the will of God, but is instead just telling God what you are going to do. Sometimes this approach is appropriate, as it is "not meet that [he] should command in all things," and often leaves us to figure things out on our own, but as a rule that is not an effectual approach to prayer, but is rather a more appropriate approach to a situation where you have studyied and struggled and are feeling neither confirmation nor rejection nor any sort of guidance.

And, I mean no offense by saying this (you come across as a gentle soul that wouldn't offend easily), but airing one's spiritual doubts and struggles in public is not likely to be an effective way to assuage those doubts and overcome those struggles, but is likely to be an effective way to lead others to entertain doubt as well as to rationalize and internalize incorrect understandings and applications of doctrines.

It certainly makes sense that a person might need someone to discuss their spiritual growth, concerns, and struggles with, and sometimes the bishop might not be the right person (though a bishop is often the exact right person for such things), but I have found in my life that the best help in these areas is developing a mentoring relationship with a person who is firmly grounded in correct doctrine, who is kind enough to understand and firm enough to correct where necessary. One of the best things that ever happened to me in my spiritual growth was just such a friend.

Mormon Heretic said...

Cliff,

Couldn't this blog be a way to obtain the mentoring you speak of? Yes, you never know who will answer, but I think it is a way to attract like-minded individuals (such as yourself) who may give good advice. Of course, Dissident will be the ultimate judge of "good mentoring."

Frankly, I feel that my blog serves this purpose, and it seems that Dissident may well be looking for this type of conversation as well. I'm certainly not getting it from my ward. I have a good relationship with my bishop, but it seems to me we're not always eye to eye on things. While it's nice to talk about milk, the steady diet at church makes me want to dine with some meat eaters, such as Dissident.

Sanford said...

Honestly Cliff, you kind of trip me out. I was snippy last time we crossed paths and for that I apologize but you and I have what appears to be some very fundamental differences in how we see things. Why should someone hide their doubts and not discuss them in public? There is way too much that going on.

If I could not discuss my doubts openly and honestly I would probably leave the Church tomorrow. And sharing them in a forum with others who seem to understand or least allow for my doubts has been very helpful in my efforts to maintain a satisfying relationship with the Church.

Not everyone lives the gospel or understands it the same way. Some people have to pick it apart and toy with the pieces and then patch something together that works for them. And discussing the process with open minded friends and supporters helps them work through it. And if you can find those people privately more power to you, but finding them in cyberspace can be a great blessing.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Cliff,

I appreciate your approach and if it works for you, then go with it. However, I have to agree with what Heretic and Sanford say, at least in how it applies to me personally. I wouldn't recommend my approach to everyone, because many members seem to have that gift of receiving spiritual answers. But because I have so rarely felt any answers (the only times I can really think of were when I decided to get married -- I think I felt some "burning" and it actually scared me -- and the other time was a personal message from my stake president, who was totally unaware of my spiritual struggles, but gave a very powerful talk that must have been for me. I knew it and he knew it, although he didn't know why).

Heretic is right about why I started this blog. Like him, I enjoy and also need the spiritual dialogue. I go to church with about 15 other members, most of which are over the age of 60, and although they're all very nice and spiritual people, I don't really connect with any of them. I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing this blog with them, for example. I agree that spiritual mentoring is important, and so I get it from my family (which is far, far away) and my blog. In fact, I feel that the blog is a better and safer way of "airing my spiritual doubts and struggles" because:

A) It's much more anonymous and I don't have to worry about gossip or criticism from members that I have to go to church with every Sunday.

B) I get different perspectives from lots of different people in the Bloggernacle. We all bring different things to the table and we learn from each other.

C) There may be others out there like me, who have the same doubts, questions and struggles. If they can find some solace or answers through my blog, then it's fulfilling its purpose.

Cliff, you said:
"(J)ust telling God of your plans and then telling Him to stop you if he doesn't think it is right belies the entire purpose of prayer. That is not a process of coming to understand the will of God, but is instead just telling God what you are going to do."

I don't want to sound arrogant in saying "God, I'm gonna do this, go ahead and stop me!" I don't mean it in that way. But I feel it's a proactive way to living life and not just waiting around for overwhelming confirmations that may never come. I'm still asking to understand His will, but since I'm not sure what it is, I'm asking him to not let things work out the way I want if He doesn't want it.

Maybe my lack of spiritual confirmations is just a sign that, besides deciding whether to marry my husband, all of my other struggles in life have been trivial matters. :) At least in the grand scheme of things...

The Faithful Dissident said...

By the way, anyone care to tackle the questions towards the end of the post (regarding the example of a man with cancer)?

Cliff said...

I can certainly understand wanting to discuss certain weightier matters of the gospel. I enjoy that myself in the right circumstances and with the right people.

I have to differ on what a "meat eater" is, however. Discussing the gospel from a perspective of doubt and difficulty does not embrace the meat of the gospel, but rather a greater need to be humble and not just learn, but understand and be converted to what the milk is teaching - that is where the real insight comes from, and then the meat comes from above, not from people standing on the side.

If meat is truly what is being served on the internet, then meat is being offered indiscriminately to many who are not ready, who will be more hurt then helped by being fed that which they are not yet ready to receive.

If it is not truly spiritually meat, but instead a sorting of personal doubts, then doubts are being spread indiscriminately with likewise adverse affects bound to occur.

I see nothing wrong with being curious, with needing to toy with and "pick apart" and understand things, but certain ways are appropriate and certain ways are not necessarily appropriate - and I have to say that by and large if a person is at odds with a priesthood leader about certain views of the gospel, that should be a flag that perhaps those views ought not be published to others, regardless of whether those others feel similarly.

Cliff said...

FD said: "because many members seem to have that gift of receiving spiritual answers...But because I have so rarely felt any answers"
"I don't want to sound arrogant in saying 'God, I'm gonna do this, go ahead and stop me!'"

I'm not trying to say that you sound arrogant - what I am trying to say is that you are entitled to spiritual answers and spiritual growth, just as much as the next person, but those answers come from starting in the right place. I believe the old saw is to always drink upstream from the herd.

Perhaps I misunderstand you - but what you seemed to be saying to me is that you struggle with prayer and you struggle with understanding prayer. Your post suggested to me that your understanding of the principle of prayer is somewhat cursory - and what I was trying to say is simply this - drink upstream from the herd.

People can give great discussion on these subjects, but the scriptures and words of our general authorities are rich and deep on prayer and if you are struggling to understand the principle of prayer that is where to go first - along with seeking understanding from God himself - and that is more what prayer is about - not just limited to the narrow scope of receiving yes and no answers, as we in the church often pigeonhole it with our conversation, but more importantly prayer is about understanding the mind and will of God, receiving revelation about who He is, his doctrines and principles and coming to know Him personally, and those things come only from God, not from others.

I am certain this will not come off well with some, but I must echo President Joseph Fielding Smith in saying that many of the questions we ask as members of the church are already answered in the scriptures - and from my own perspective, many of the things that we as members feel are deep subjects are less a reflection of depth than they are a reflection of lack of understanding of the basic principles of the gospel.

Like the Isrealites in the wilderness, sometimes the people who clamor the loudest for "meat" are the least prepared to digest it.

Cliff said...

Heretic,

Don't get me wrong. I'm no self appointed mentor. I'm just a guy who inadvertantly came across a blog who also happens to have a penchant for opening my mouth when perhaps it should best remain closed.

I'm checking out, though. Bar exam in a week, and I need to focus. I'm sure I've tripped out quite enough people already.

Ya'll be good.

Mormon Heretic said...

Cliff,

I welcome all opinions, including your orthodox ones. You certainly give some good points.

But, I think it is healthy to discuss doubts, as Dissident is. She is not trying to dissuade people from prayer, but rather trying to understand it more fully. While I agree that the general authorities and scriptures are excellent sources to study prayer, I also believe that it is ok to "seek after anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy."

I've also read the Larry King book, and even though Larry is agnostic, it is a wonderful book on prayer, and definitely gives some great ways to think about prayer. Larry can be funny as he talks about struggling with prayer, but in the end, he definitely says prayer is worthwhile, even if he doesn't fully "get it." I think the book has an excellent message, and that people from all walks of life, be they jew, christian, or buddhist, can give wonderful insights.

I just find that many mormons are too narrow in limiting their experience to only mormons and GA's. Better missionary work will result, when we can better understand others, and see that agnostics such as Larry have much in common with people like Dissident.

I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that reading Larry's book is like drinking water down stream from the herd, but it can be easy for many mormons to leap to that conclusion.

Yes, the internet has it's share of rancid, as well as savory meat. While some people may consume the wrong meat, I think that more church members can choose just fine. Joseph Smith "taught correct principles, and lets them govern themselves." Unfortunately, it seems that many church members don't want us to have this kind of free-agency, and think they have to dictate everything.

I think Dissident is wise enough to think for herself. Perhaps you did not mean to imply that she wasn't smart enough to do this, but your post seemed to imply that many church members are too dumb to do this. I just don't like this line of thought, as it seems very similar to the old Catholic position that it is better for the masses not to read the bible, but instead listen to the priest for biblical interpretation. It is a little arrogant to make such an assumption, and inherently distrusts people to make good decisions. Frankly, I think that all of the people here have posted good comments on prayer, and I don't think any thing here is "contaminated water."

Mormon Heretic said...

FD,

On your cancer question, I have personal experience, but unfortunately, I have no answer.

My sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor about 12 years ago, and died 10 years ago. We did all the ward fasts, etc that typically happen in such cases. Towards the end, I couldn't stand seeing her suffer, and began to pray that she would no longer suffer. It was terrible to see such a healthy, athletic woman, confined to a wheelchair, lose hearing and eyesight, and gain tons of weight due to the medication she was taking. I miss her dearly still, but am glad she is suffering no more.

About 3 years later, her husband remarried. After being married just a few months, his new wife (I'll call her Nancy) was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Oh, and his mother died of breast cancer about 4 years before my sister, and I would say his father died of a broken heart.)

Needless to say, none of us could understand this cruelty (and we began to start referring to him as Job.) Well, Nancy is now cancer free, and I am happy to have her in our family.

Did the fasts help Nancy, and not my sister? I have no idea, and frankly, I don't know if there is an answer. I know that some try to answer this question, but I believe these attempts are simplistic, and just don't really understand the complexity of life. I'm not sure we're supposed to be able to answer this question.

Does this mean I'm doubting God, or just trying to understand God more fully? I'll take the latter option. And I don't think it is faithless to say I don't understand. I am comfortable with this stance, even if it makes people in my ward uncomfortable. I don't need to know all the answers, in spite of all the people who think they do need answers to these types of hard questions.

I know I make people uncomfortable in my ward for making such statements, and that is what makes the internet more satisfying to me. Perhaps I can mentor someone, or they can throw out my advice as contaminated. But I think that spiritually mature people understand where I am coming from.

I think that I can be a strength to people who struggle with the same issues I struggle with. Perhaps I have an immature understanding of prayer, and I think many church members feel that I do, but I think my understanding of prayer is actually less simplistic than most people who accuse me of immaturity. I find that people who accuse me of immaturity, have never experienced the loss of a sibling, and really can't comprehend how difficult it really is. On the other hand, it is the people who have experienced such painful losses that I really identify with, and they are the ones who understand that there really is no answer to Dissident's question.

Fifthgen said...

A lot of my understanding (although I am not sure that is the right word) about prayer comes from “the cancer situation.” My dad was diagnosed with cancer about 14 years ago. He was young - -51 years old. My youngest brother was preparing for a mission and my youngest sister was in high school. My dad died three years later, and to say that those three years were a roller coaster would be a huge understatement. We fasted and prayed, and my dad received blessings from General Authorities and patriarchs, who made pretty specific promises. He survived a series of overwhelming setbacks in seemingly miraculous ways, lived through (barely) a bone marrow transplant, and had a really good cancer-free year. We all thought our prayers had been answered and that we had seen a miracle (or a series of miracles, really). Then, the cancer came back. This was a big shock, and our fasting and prayers were even more intense, if that is possible. There were more blessings, but my dad experienced one complication after another and his health declined steadily, like dominoes falling. Within a month, he had died. My youngest brother was on his mission, and my youngest sister was a junior in high school. Many of the promises made in those blessings were unfulfilled. It all seemed completely inconsistent with our prior experience.

I remember at the end, and for a long time after, feeling confused. Early on, no matter what obstacle arose, it seemed God answered our prayers, while at the end, no matter how hard we prayed, how much we fasted or who gave him a blessing, we could not forestall the inevitable. I remember my very stalwart sister saying with palpable uncertainty, “I just don’t understand why Heavenly Father answered our prayers before, but won’t now.”

That was all more than ten years ago. Today, I don’t believe that Heavenly Father answered some of prayers, but not others. I think everyone has to die sometime, and what happens, happens. But who knows? Maybe our prayers moved God to be merciful and give us another year or two. Maybe His timeline was flexible enough to accommodate our petitions and pleas, but eventually had to run its course. Maybe, for reasons we do not know, it was ok for my dad to die when he did, but not before. I don’t know. I do now that I am very grateful for the time I had with my dad and my family during his illness. And I know that, despite my very real fears, our family has survived and even prospered in the years since he died, although we still miss him all the time in lots of ways. I know that I understand a lot more about life and suffering and death than I did before, and I am truly grateful for every day that the people I love are healthy and safe. And, I guess because of all of this, I know that God hears my prayers.

Cliff said...

OK. One more comment and then I really do have to leave this alone.

Heretic, I think you've totally misunderstood what I've said.

Let me try to restate.

#1.) I see nothing wrong with searching for answers and greater understanding. All I'm saying is that one first needs to understand basic doctrine before searching for and understanding those "greater" questions, and the questions that are being tossed around here are not as deep and meaty as you might think. Basic doctrine as taught in the scriptures and by the general authorities answers so many of these questions beautifully. On this website I see some good ideas, some good insights, some philosophy that is clearly based on a lack of understanding of correct doctrines and principles, some philisophy that is clearly driven by the philosophies of the day, and a lot of questions that, again, are answered in the scriptures and teachings of the prophets.

#2.) You make some references to members who don't want to allow other members to think about things in the gospel. I have never met such a member. Of course we should think, and discuss, and seek to grow in the gospel - but there are some important principles that must guide those things. Principle #1 - you've got to start with a sound foundation of first seeking to learn from Heavenly Father, himself - it is a gift and a promise (and a great blessing) that we all have that through the atonement we can "sit at the feet" of God and learn from him through the Holy Ghost. God is not some mystical presence that we must seek to understand through philosophical discourse, but through studying his word (scriptures and prophets), through prayer, and through practice - and if one isn't doing those things first (and maybe I'm wrong but I don't sense a lot of that going on here), all the discussion in the world will get one nowhere.

Principle #2: The brethren have clearly taught that there is nothing wrong with doubting (per se), or struggling through spiritual things. For some that is a normal part of their progression (though we foist those issues upon ourselves). What is important is that we are striving to overcome those things and be strengthened through Christ to become like him. Surely you will say that is exactly what is happening on these blogs - but the brethren have also taught that when we begin to publicize those doubts and concerns, when we begin to question church leaders and to openly express disagreement to others, we leave behind that state of working through concerns and we begin on the road of apostacy. One can say one is faithful all they want, or Mormon all they want, but when one labels oneself as a "dissident" or a "heritic" and begins to question church policy and church standards openly - don't you see what that is? It is not mere inquiry - it is spreading dissidence, hereticism, and placing personal and popular philosophy above faith. There is a tremendous difference between seeking to correct and understand personal differences in understanding of doctrines and principles, and publicizing personal differences with those doctrines and principles - and that is what I have seen here. As Elder Maxwell once explained (probably more than once), there is no such thing as a "liberal" and an "orthodox" "mormon." Either we accept the gospel or we do not accept the gospel, but we cannot accept part of it and discourse against the rest when it clashes with our personal perspective and still expect to reap its benefits.

Sanford said...

Cliff, good luck with bar exam and thanks for taking time to give your two cents worth. While I find your thinking to be quite different than mine, I think you do a good job of making your case and I think that your views are very much in line with those of most members I worship with. I have been snippy with you twice now and I am a little upset with myself over that. I will try to be more civil because I do find your take enlightening if only as a barometer of how far my views differ from current popular Mormon thought.

Prayer. This will likely not surprise anybody but I do not have a conventional or particularly successful prayer regimen. But I am very intrigued and interested in those that make it work and in some ways I envy them. For a long time I prayed rather formulaically but I have pretty much abandoned the pretense. If something is really important to me I might pray about it but generally I do not believe in making requests of God. I guess I have a hard time seeing the point. I don’t expect the God to change the weather for me or to help me exceed life expectancy averages. I believe that God has given me a brain and the ability to use it and I should for the most part figure things out myself.

Now Cliff, I know how unrighteous this all must sound but it is what it is. I could pretend that I have a more conventional and better functioning prayer system but I don’t. I just don’t think I am that spiritual of a person. I could beat myself up over it or even leave that Church but there are lots of things in the Church that work well for me and I don’t want to lose those just because I am different in the prayer arena. And before you chalk my behavior up to arrogance or unrighteousness or intellectualism or failure to understand the basics, please realize that not all members have the same gifts and talents or ways of understanding the divine. My mother and grandmother certainly had a strong connection with God through prayer, but I don’t. But that’s ok -- we’re different people.

Inasmuch as prayer causes someone to learn to accept God’s will and develop an attitude of gratitude, I get that. But I think I have achieved those things for the most part and am generally grateful for what I have. And I strive to accept what life throws my way without complaint – but as to prayer – I just am not a natural.

Mormon Heretic said...

Cliff,

If you would like to read something truly humorous, please read 5 Kinds of Mormons, by Robert Kirby. There are some funny truths that run counter to your claim.

Cliff, perhaps I am wrong, but my guess is you've never dealt with a relative in your immediate family who had cancer, because you are talking just I used to, before my sister died. If I am wrong, I apologize. Your answers are a little too sure of yourself. I'm sure you've heard the saying that a wise man realizes how much he has to learn, and usually professes ignorance more often than wisdom.

Please don't get me wrong--you make some excellent points, and I can't say I disagree with very much of what you say, but I think you're speaking as someone who lacks experience in this arena. I feel like I understand where you're coming from, because 15-20 years ago, I would have probably given a very similar response.

Let me talk about the "heretic" title you find so problematic. If you would have clicked on my handle, you would find out that the picture I am using to represent me is a painting of Galileo, one of my favorite heretics. Now Galileo wasn't a priest, and at the time he claimed that the sun was the center of the universe (and not the earth), he was forced to recant because of his heretical teachings. Even though his teachings are now known to be true, and even though he didn't have proper priesthood authority, are you saying he should have kept his doubts silent?

I like Galileo because he wasn't afraid to speak out, and it is why I'm not so afraid to speak out, (albeit with a pseudonym, but my views are pretty well known in my ward too). Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong. But I think that by discussing my struggles, I am not actually weakening the saints, but rather strengthening them. I'm showing that it is ok to not know all the answers. Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things. Exercising faith means that you do what you think God wants you to do, in spite of all the "evidence" against it.

If I have another family member become seriously ill, I am still going to exercise my faith by fasting, praying, reading scriptures, attending the temple, etc. This is truly exercising faith. And if my loved one dies, I won't blame God, just as I did not blame him for my sister's death. I do have a testimony of fasting, and can share that with you if you would like. But I don't pretend to have any idea as to why fasting seems to work in one instance, and not in another. Some may conclude that fasting seems to have worked for Nancy, but it sure didn't seem to work for my sister. But I don't think this example truly appreciates the complexity of faith and prayer.

I think far too many people think God is like a genie. If you fast, then your prayers are supposed to be answered in the way you expect it. However, that is a naive way to think of God. I may be heretical for saying this, but I believe that someone, such as myself, who still fasts, prays, in spite of not getting the prayer answered the "right" way, is actually a faithful example of how to proceed with prayer. And I don't think it is faithless to say that I don't know why my sister died. Some spiritually immature people may find my stance faithless, but I don't see it that way at all. I am exercising my faith more than I ever have, and I feel like I both understand/don't understand it more than ever.

Perhaps answers to prayers is one thing God wanted me to learn from my sister's death, but it still does not make me miss her less. Mourning is ok. Jesus Wept. I'm positive you'll agree that Jesus wasn't faithless when he wept, but I'm not so sure that some of the spiritually immature members see me as faithful, even when I often weep when I talk about this. Frankly, I'm not sure you see me as a faithful person either. Am I offering contaminated water?

(Don't worry, I don't easily offend. But I would appreciate you being as tactful as possible.)

Now perhaps prayer isn't typically classified as a meaty topic. But, I think we're talking about it in a way that is not milky. Perhaps this is more along the lines of yogurt.

If you are interested in more meaty topics than prayer, stop by my blog. But let me say that I am enjoying this milky topic here. And I appreciate your willingness to stop by and talk. I should be studying statistics right now too.

And I think you're an excellent prayer mentor. Perhaps you didn't just stop by this blog by chance, but rather were inspired to stop by. (This could lead into a whole different discussion, but I'll stop here, as my post is way too long anyway.)

The Faithful Dissident said...

I've been enjoying the discussion going on here. I want to write a long post, but I'm in the middle of a long stretch at work, so I haven't got as much time as I'd like. I just wanted to quickly make a couple of points.

Cliff, you may want to read the reason why our blogs are called "The Faithful Dissident" and "Mormon Heretic." There's a bit of a story behind each one, so don't assume by our names that we're just out to cause trouble. I think you missed the sarcasm.

Secondly, you said:
"One can say one is faithful all they want, or Mormon all they want, but when one labels oneself as a "dissident" or a "heritic" and begins to question church policy and church standards openly - don't you see what that is? It is not mere inquiry - it is spreading dissidence, hereticism, and placing personal and popular philosophy above faith."

I consider the discussions that take place on this blog to be pretty much the same as if we were talking face-to-face. For practical purposes, all our communication is typed out to each other and the blog is public so that anyone who wants to get involved in the discussion can. If you've never felt the need to discuss, question, or yes -- perhaps even challenge -- some of the aspects of the Church, then that's amazing. I gave my reasons for starting this blog in my previous post and I don't feel I'm being disrespectful or moving towards apostocizing. I think I was in much more danger of that before I had communication with other Mormons via the net.

Cliff, you also said:
"As Elder Maxwell once explained (probably more than once), there is no such thing as a "liberal" and an "orthodox" "mormon."

I theory it sounds good -- that there are no "liberal" or "orthodox" Mormons. That we are completely united and that we all practice our religion the same way. In reality, I disagree with that statement. Although I hesitate to label my fellow Mormons, even just the discussion on this blog shows that we think differently. Some of us are indeed very "orthodox" and would be appalled by what some "liberals" would do on the Sabbath, just as an example. I knew a family in my ward that had a pool and would never use it for a swim on Sundays. I've gone running -- even cross-country skiing -- on a Sunday and I don't think either of us are wrong. I respect that family for not using their pool and I hope they would respect my views for using exercise to relax, enjoy nature, and ponder spiritual things. That's just one difference in how we practice our religion differently and I could give many, many more if I had the time.

You said:
"Either we accept the gospel or we do not accept the gospel, but we cannot accept part of it and discourse against the rest when it clashes with our personal perspective and still expect to reap its benefits."

I hate to have bring up the Church's treatment of blacks yet again, but once again it's just such an excellent example of why sometimes I think it is possible to not necessarily accept everything, and yet be able to remain a member in good standing. I will reiterate the case of George Romney once again, who was going against the General Authorities of the Church by supporting the Civil Rights movement. And who can say now that he was wrong in doing so? By "placing personal and popular philosophy above faith" (i.e. disregarding the GA's teachings on "the negro,") in the end we see how the two were reconciled. I would say that he was a good example of what a "faithful dissident" is all about. I've never liked the all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to the Church. Such black and white thinking alienates a lot of people, whether they're "liberal" or "orthodox."

Lastly, Cliff, I will clarify what I meant when I said that I didn't quite understand the principle of prayer. I understand it in theory. That is to say, I understand that it's our mode of communication with God. I just haven't FELT everything that most Mormons testify of, nor do I understand exactly how it works in regards to the questions I asked using the example of a cancer patient. I think those things are a mystery to most of us. I thank all of you for sharing your experiences of prayer, loss and dealing with tragedy in life.

Well, this post turned out to be longer than I expected. Hope I was able to clarify a few things.

Cliff said...

Sanford,

No worries on being "snippy." One thing I have noticed throughout is that much of the conversation here appears to be a product of the various posts "talking past eachother."

A couple of thoughts regarding prayer that you may wany to consider - these are both direct quotes from the Bible Dictionary.

"As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship."

"Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings."

I'll refrain from interpreting the passages, but hopefully you can find some meaning for yourself.

Cliff said...

All,

As a point of correction, it struck me that my paraphrase of Elder Maxwell's words was not entirely correct. Here is what he actually said:

"True orthodoxy thus brings safety and felicity! It is not only correctness but happiness. Strange, isn’t it, even the very word orthodoxy has fallen into disfavor with some? As society gets more and more flaky, a few rush forward to warn shrilly against orthodoxy!
Remember how, with Pharaoh’s angry army in hot pursuit, ancient Israel aligned themselves with the Lord’s instructions? Moses stretched forth his hand and the Red Sea parted. With towering walls of water on each side, Israel walked through the narrow passage obediently, and no doubt quickly! There were no warnings about conforming on that day!
There are passages ahead which will require similar obedience, as prophets lead the 'men [and women] of Christ' in a straight and narrow course.
Becoming more like Jesus in thought and behavior is not grinding and repressing, but emancipating and discovering! Unorthodoxy in behavior and intellect is just the opposite…A little criticism of the Brethren, which seems harmless enough, may not only damage other members but can even lead to one’s setting himself up as a substitute 'light unto the world.'"

The talk was a general conference address entitled "Settle This in Your Hearts." Very, very good talk.

Cliff said...

Heretic,

Regarding Cancer, my grandfather finally lost an extended battle with skin cancer about fifteen years ago. I still remember dropping everything and talking leave from the Corps even though I had only been in less than a year, and flying across the country for his funeral. Shortly after my wife and I were married, a middle aged couple who had recently converted together endured a long battle with cancer that eventually took her life. I can still recall the tender feelings I had for that couple as we (and much of our stake) reached out to them. We still have a very close relationship with the husband.

A little less than a month ago, my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. I will never forget the day when I was 15 and my gym teacher pulled me out of class to tell me that my 14 year old brother (who was living with my mother (my parents were divorced and my mother had left the church)) was killed by a van on his way back from his morning paper route.

I could also tell you of many experiences I have had struggling with major life decisions since I uprooted my family to leave for law school and then to transfer schools, and then move back halfway across the country to an area we don't want to be in. For a time I felt that despite my following Christ I was walking in darkness - I found my answer, and my solace in Lehi's vision.

You are right that the more we know the more we see our weakness (our ignorance, as you say), but I prefer weakness, per Ether 12.

Jesus did weep, but we must remember it was the same Jesus who waited 3 days (I think it was 3 days) after learning of Lazarus' death, to go to Lazarus. The principle there is not found in the fact that Jesus wept, but in recognizing why Jesus wept.

My comments regarding searching the scriptures for answers regarding prayer, and in drinking upstream from the herd had little to do with any experiences I have ever had with cancer or personal struggles, or close family members dying, etc.

Instead, those comments were a reaction to seeing a question that is not really a question when one understands prayer. (And please don't misunderstand on this point, I feel that prayer is a deep, rewarding, and essential topic, albeit one whose greatest atisfaction is found, not in mastering its theories, but in mastering its practice as a doctrine that allows us to come to know our Father through communing with Him).

My point was that asking the question was asking to drink downstream from the herd (ie: asking for input from the masses), rather then seeking wisdom from the source. Please stay with me as I explain. Let me first lay out just a few brief principles regarding prayer, pasted from the bible dictionary.

"Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them."

"We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when his words abide in us (John 15: 7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart."

Let me now lay out the sections from FD's question on prayer, and hopefully it will be clear what I was saying about first seeking to understand correct doctrines and principle before seeking to discuss them. It is not the discussion that is wrong, but the failure to base it on correct understandings from the start. As Joseph Smith taught, "If you start right, you are likely to end right. If you start wrong, you are likely to end wrong."

FD's question:

"Or is God's decision not yet made and is it riding on how many people pray for this man? Could it even be that enough praying can make God change His mind?" "Or then again, maybe that one prayer will be enough to change His mind."

Ok, to start with, the premise of the question here is destined to lead one down the wrong path into incorrect principles and into wordly philosophies in discussing prayer. If you go back to the bible dictionary entry, it clearly explains that "The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them." I could go back through scripture and illustrate the principle, but the bible dictionary entry is far clearer and concise than I could be.

FD's question:

"Only God knows whether this person is going to live or not. So we're all fasting and praying for him, that he will live. But does any of it matter? God has decided already whether this person is going to live or die, and the best we can do is pray to be able to accept His will if he dies."

I will again refer to the bible dictionary entry (which again can be illustrated by a journey through the scriptures). Those short quotes I pasted in here evidence an outline of first, coming to know the will and mind of God through prayer, and then asking for things that are possible for God to grant - and why do they become possible to grant? Because they are the very blessings that were made conditional on our asking for them, but first we had to exercise our faith through prayer to humble ourselves and learn what God's will is - and that knowledge is where real power in prayer comes from - but as long as one approaches prayer from the standpoint of God's will being some unknowable mystery, where we hope that through prayer we can either 1.) alter God's will or 2.) at least "guess right" and then reap the blessings, prayer will remain a mystery and situations like the cancer hypo laid out by FD will seem like serious questions that one might spiritually struggle with - but in fact it is neither, and a true understanding of prayer both illustrates this and reveals the question for the null set that it is.

As FD wrote:

"So we're all fasting and praying for him, that he will live. But does any of it matter?"

Once again, the bible dictionary entry answers the question: "We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when his words abide in us (John 15: 7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart."

It matters if we are praying to understand what God would have us know and do in this situation - if we are seeking the mind of Christ and praying by the direction of the spirit for these things to come to pass, then it does matter, for those are the very blessings that are being held "conditional upon [our] asking for them." If we are merely asking for things that spring out of the selfishness of our heart instead of seeking the will of God, then our prayers are faithless and of no avail.

Now, surely, one could apply these simple principles to the various experiences and challenges in one's life and that may result in some rich discussion and understanding, but like prayer must first be based on seeking to know the will of God, those discussions must first be based on correct doctrines and principles or they will be just as faithless and ineffectual as when we pray out of the selfishness of our heart instead of first seeking to pray for those things that God will have us pray for.

Whew, I'm tired now...

Cliff said...

Heretic,

re: Galileo

Galileo was not speaking out against the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. (I can't say if you are or not because I haven't been to your site - nothing personal, I'm just short on time). I can say that I have seen certain posts and comments by FD specifically disagreeing with church policy and certain church leaders. I think that any such discourse is dangerous - as already cited in my quote from Maxwell regarding orthodoxy, which is essential counsel from one who stood on the watchtower - the forthtelling in that talk (is from many apostles regarding this subject) are praceless guideposts regarding these things. One may say they are simply exercising their personal right to "think for themselves," but context informs the analysis here - a person who disagrees with an apostle or prophet's explanation of policy, principle, or doctrine is not simply disagreeing with someone else's opinion, but with the Lord's mouthpiece. It is not that somoene will be struck down for doing so, but the example of Miriam in the old testament is telling - spiritual leprosy might result in a far worse end than spending a few days without the congregation.

A couple of quotes from Maxwell's talk:

"Some of these otherwise honorable members mistakenly regard the Church as an institution, but not as a kingdom. They know the doctrines of the kingdom, but more as a matter of recitation than of real comprehension."

As far as what you have said specifically about prayer in your last post - I can't say that I disagree with any of it. I think to some degree we have been talking past eachother - disagreement over one perspective does not necessarily equal disagreement over all perspectives - but I did call out the forum of discussion here, and that can eaily be seen as general disagreement.

My concern, as expressed previously, is with 1.) Feeding "meat" to those who are not ready, 2.) Invoking inevitably misleading discussion based on incorrect principles, and 3.) Openly disagreeing with church leaders or seeking to publicize negative aspects of church history.

I'm not some church authority out to show these things down, but I do feel strongly about such leanings and I tend to be very forward about how a feel. You may not be doing such things, but I've seen it here and I've said what I feel.

Cliff said...

FD:

I read the reason why you chose your name. All I can say is "Be one. And if ye are not one, ye are not mine."

It may be sarcastic, but you are clearly pointing out the fact that you are somehow "different." I think that setting yourself apart is spiritually dangerous. My point regarding orthodoxy is that the issue is not whether one is mainstream or liberal, or whatever because such classifications invite a fissure in the body of Christ and misunderstand the point that it is not about being mainstream or liberal but about coming to Christ - it is not about competing idealogies within the church but about recognizing that we all need to accept the ONE TRUE gospel (One Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism). When we view even the restored gospel as various sets of competing idealogies regarding how to live it and what its teachings really are we make it easy to pick and choose what commandments we will and will not keep because, after all, it's just "my way of being a 'Mormon'"

As Elder Maxwell said (yes, I'm using that talk a lot, but it applies heavily to the discussion here):
"Some of these otherwise honorable members mistakenly regard the Church as an institution, but not as a kingdom. They know the doctrines of the kingdom, but more as a matter of recitation than of real comprehension."

He further explained: "Still others find it easier to bend their knees than their minds. Exciting exploration is preferred to plodding implementation; speculation seems more fun than consecration, and so is trying to soften the hard doctrines instead of submitting to them. Worse still, by not obeying, these few members lack real knowing. (See John 7:17.) Lacking real knowing, they cannot defend their faith and may become critics instead of defenders!"

Reagrding George Ronmey and the Civil Rights movement, you said: "I will reiterate the case of George Romney once again, who was going against the General Authorities of the Church by supporting the Civil Rights movement. And who can say now that he was wrong in doing so? By "placing personal and popular philosophy above faith" (i.e. disregarding the GA's teachings on "the negro,") in the end we see how the two were reconciled. I would say that he was a good example of what a "faithful dissident" is all about."

I'm not going to tackle this one, for 2 reasons. 1.) It would get too involved, and 2.) I really don't think it will do either of us any good. Your perspective on this is based on the current state of your testimony and your understanding of true doctrine.

I wish you the best.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Cliff,

Once again, I appreciate the insight that you have brought to the discussion. Your perspective on prayer has been something that I truly take to heart and I feel for you because of the struggles and tragedies that you have experienced in your life. I respect your point of view based on those experiences. I don't know how old you are, but I'm guessing you are a few years older than me and you may indeed have a lot more wisdom than me when it comes to prayer.

You appear to have a strong, unquestioning faith in the Church, it's doctrine and the brethren. I respect this and I'm not going to tell you that you're wrong. I believe the Lord will bless you for your faithful loyalty.

That being said, perhaps you can try to understand things from my perspective. You don't need to agree with my approach, but I hope that you will be able to respect it based on the intentions of my heart.

You said:
"I can say that I have seen certain posts and comments by FD specifically disagreeing with church policy and certain church leaders. I think that any such discourse is dangerous..."

I don't know which posts you were referring to, but, yes, I disagree with certain Church policies and leaders. I'm not proclaiming "The Gospel According To The Faithful Dissident," nor do I claim to know that I'm right about the things that I disagree about. I am absolutely open to the possibility that I am dead wrong about some of my personal spiritual theories or interpretations. I'm not telling people that they should accept everything that I personally believe. I have, however, found solace in the fact that there are others who try their best to live the Gospel (as I do) and still struggle with the things that I do.

You said:
"One may say they are simply exercising their personal right to "think for themselves," but context informs the analysis here -a person who disagrees with an apostle or prophet's explanation of policy, principle, or doctrine is not simply disagreeing with someone else's opinion, but with the Lord's mouthpiece."

I think it's a bit unfortunate that you didn't wish to comment the George Romney case because it's the one I struggle with the most. Of all the controversial things about Church history, this is the only one that I believe, with all my heart, that the Brethren were wrong in. With other things, such as polygamy, I may feel angry and/or ashamed about it, but I don't feel I know enough to say that they were wrong about it. The Brethren's teachings about blacks is not only offensive to me, but I believe -- as strongly as anything else that I believe -- that it was absolutely wrong. (I'm not referring to the priesthood ban in itself, but other racist teachings.) So yes, I fit your description well, I am "a person who disagrees with an apostle or prophet's explanation of policy, principle, or doctrine" and in your view, I am "not simply disagreeing with someone else's opinion, but with the Lord's mouthpiece." The Lord will hold me accountable for this if I am wrong, and I will have to be prepared to face the consequences. I don't say this casually or arrogantly. I struggle with this more than you can ever imagine and it has caused me great pain. Still, I believe with all my heart that they were wrong and that their racist teachings were not from the Lord. I realize that these men were perhaps simply products of the times and political climate that they lived in. This can explain and perhaps even excuse their racist views. What it doesn't excuse, however, is trying to pass it off as coming directly from the Lord. I call it for what I believe it was -- racist, degrading, and ignorant -- mistakingly justified by calling it the will of the Lord.

Naturally, this leads to doubts about certain other doctrines, whether they are really of God, but as I said before this particular one pertaining to race is the only one that I am willing to say that the Brethren were wrong. Ironically, Maxwell is entirely right when he says, "Lacking real knowing, they cannot defend their faith and may become critics instead of defenders!" How I would love to defend my faith and be able to tell my non-member husband and friends that there was a good reason for certain leaders of the Church being racists. Instead, I feel utterly helpless and empty-handed to even attempt to proclaim that they were simply acting as the Lord's mouthpiece, at least in regards to black people. For reference, if you wish, you can research the Stapley-Romney letter if you haven't already.

Now I know that you will find what I just said to be appalling, but like you said, "(my) perspective on this is based on the current state of (my) testimony and (my) understanding of true doctrine." You may view this as going down a dangerous path, but hopefully you will at least be able to believe that I have the best of intentions and, despite taking this detour as you may think it to be, I feel it's the way I need to go in order to find peace in my mind and in my heart. Perhaps I will even adopt your way of thinking someday. Sanford and Heretic may follow as well. You never know.

Likewise, I wish you all the best and I will say a special prayer for your sister. My heart goes out to her and your family.

Cliff said...

FD,

I appreciate your kind feelings regarding my life experiences. I do not count myself as having dealt with anymore than most people. Mortality is tough, but I've always felt that what is important is whether our experiences draw us closer to the Savior, and I firmly believe that we are that we might have joy, despite life's difficulties.

I am sure that in this context I come off sounding far wiser than I really am. When I know something, I know it and I speak it unabashadly, but like many, I've still a long way to go. If what I have said has changed anyone's thinking I hope it is more towards seeking to know Christ and the Father through the personal revelation that is our privilege as children of our Heavenly Father.

Regarding Romney and race, I suppose I can offer my thoughts on the subject, but it will have to wait. I have the bar this week and then we are moving, and then I have a licensing exam for ethics the following week, so I'll stew on it and get back to you - though I have to say that this seems like an area that is more appropriate for a Bishop's counsel, but I can share what I know to be true - in a week or two.

Mormon Heretic said...

Cliff,

I too appreciate your comments. Perhaps we are not too far apart, but we are definitely coming at this from different angles. It appears that we agree that there is no "good" answer to "Should I Pray Or Should I Save My Breath?"

It appears that our real disagreement is on whether it is appropriate to even ask such a question. While I can understand your point of view that it does come off as a negative way to view prayer, I don't view it as such a negative point of view.

I view the post title as provocative, and really using controversy as a way to get people interested in the topic. From that point of view, Dissident has been extremely successful, as it seems to have received much more attention than some of her other posts.

I also think it is an age-old question. Perhaps even Adam and Eve asked it when Cain killed Abel. Whether it is wise to ask such a question is subject to debate. I remember a general authority (perhaps Elder Featherstone?) who said that continually asking "Why did something bad happen?" as not a faith-promoting question, and often there really isn't an answer to the question that can be answered in this life.

While I agree with this logic, it is not going to stop the question from being asked. Dissident isn't the first to ask the question, neither will she be the last. And perhaps others with the question will listen to our discussion, and arrive at a "correct" conclusion. From this point of view, I think the question is appropriate, and our discussion is appropriate.

Mormon Heretic said...

I want to tackle this paragraph:

My concern, as expressed previously, is with 1.) Feeding "meat" to those who are not ready, 2.) Invoking inevitably misleading discussion based on incorrect principles, and 3.) Openly disagreeing with church leaders or seeking to publicize negative aspects of church history.

(1) How does one decide when one is ready for meat? With children, we have doctors to rely on to know when it is appropriate to introduce meat into our children's diet. With the church, there is no such guidance. My feeling is that if someone is asking the question, then they are ready for the meat. Yes, perhaps some may choke, but it is just not healthy to live on milk one's whole life, either.

(2) Thanks for correcting her "misleading" discussion. I'm not sure your example of "drinking downstream from the herd" was the most tactful way to describe what she is doing, and I probably would have picked a different analogy, but I respect what you're trying to do. I agree that there is not really an answer to the question.

(3) I think her example of Gov Romney-Delbert Stapley is even better than my Galileo example. I've got to say that I pretty much agree with her on this one. You seem to have dismissed my example of Galileo as not being part of the "restored gospel", but I think there are some great parallels with the Romney-Stapley letter.

As for "seeking to publicize negative aspects of church history", what do you make of Rough Stone Rolling, and the new book coming out about the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Personally, I think there are many church members that can handle these meaty topics. It is nice to see the church not being afraid of these topics. My guess is that you don't view these as helpful. Should Richard Bushman, and Brother Turley keep their mouths shut?

Cliff said...

Heretic,

I'm not sure why you think I feel there really is no answer re: the prayer question. I thought I did answer it - with a principle.

I actually don't believe that controversy is a good way to initiate a "gospel discussion."

I will get to the Stapley Romeny letter in a week or so, but I doubt you will be satisfied with my answer.

Regarding the book "Rough Stone Rolling" and the upcoming book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre - I know nothing about either, so I don't feel comfortable commenting on them. I would redirect you to the talk by President Packer entitled "The Mantle is Far, Far Greater then the Intellect." He lays out the applicable principles in that talk.

In this answer (and in the upcoming Stapley-Romeny letter reply) I hope you can see and understand that what I am trying to say is that it is not our opinions that matter. What matters is that we are seeking to understand and personally apply correct doctrines and principles - and frankly not much of the conversation here is doing that. It may be "soothing" to some people, or exciting to others, but my whole point with the prayer discussion is that it really isn't helpful when it is based on academic exercises that aren't even based on correct principle from the start.

Re: meat - you have no idea who is and isn't reading your posts, yet you seek to discuss things you feel are "meaty" to satisfy a desire to "search" "deeper" topics. I franly don't think that much of it is truly meaty as much as it is academic and philosophical. I have found that the people with the deepest understanding of the gospel are the most reserved with what they know. All I'm saying is that I think they're one to something - no, I'm actually saying that I know they're on to something - and there is something deep and meaty to contemplate. Go crack the scriptures what that thought in mind and see what you find...

Sanford said...

Cliff says:

What matters is that we are seeking to understand and personally apply correct doctrines and principles - and frankly not much of the conversation here is doing that.

Cliff, how can you reasonably make this assertion? It seems exceptionally unfair. Just because someone chooses to discuss the gospel in a semi public forum in an open and honest manner doesn’t mean they are not seeking to understand correct doctrines and principles. On the contrary, many bloggers seems to be in overdrive when it comes to trying to understand the gospel. Yes they have doubts, yes they don’t always follow the convention line of though, and yes they are telling the whole world what they think, but they are, many of them, trying to understand. They just don’t do it your way (and I suppose the Lord’s way if I read your statements correctly).

It seems to me that your issue is that some people come to conclusions that do not conform unerringly to your idea of authorized general authority approved thought. Well, I have a few things to say about that. 1) There is a great deal of latitude in how Mormons may discuss and explore the gospel. I think you have a particularly narrow view of what is and is not appropriate; 2) What makes you think you are right? You speak very authoritatively about what the brethren and the Lord by extension finds acceptable – again – how do you know your point of view is the correct one? Can you not allow for other people to seek understanding in a manner that differs from yours? 3) The idea of what is appropriate and inappropriate to discuss and the manner in which the discussion occurs in the Church changes over time. I think the Church is entering in a stage of openness after having been very closed over the last 20 years or so. I think your approach fits nicely with the last 20 years but is now dated. It may not be a bad idea for you to lighten up a little when it comes to discussing the gospel. You’re sounding pretty old school. Speaking of old school, I call your Boyd K. Packer quotes and raise you a Marlon Jenson and an M. Russell Ballard. My point being, that there are plenty of quotes across the general authority spectrum for finding support for gospel views. 4) I look forward to your take on the Romney Stapley letter. The Church policy on Blacks and the Priesthood is a fabulous example of why individual members need to learn to think and determine the Lords will for themselves. I am convinced that individual members who questioned the policy helped to set the stage for its abandonment. And conversely, had there not been unease and even dissention with the policy, it might still be in place today. Just because the Church is lead by general authorities doesn’t mean that individuals member can check out when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong. The upcoming Mountain Meadows Massacre will show that blind obedience to authority can result in some pretty horrific consequences. We need to decide for ourselves what it right and wrong, because the Church doesn’t always get it right (unless you think the Mountain Meadows Massacre or the priesthood ban were ok). The church is stronger when member take seriously their right to think things through and express their views.

The Faithful Dissident said...

If individual members had never thought for themselves and even gone against the counsel of the Brethren, then my family wouldn't even exist the way it does today. No one would have ever married outside of their race and the Church would have continued to be segregated in the sense that blacks shouldn't intermarry and they couldn't go to the temple. I agree with Sanford that the priesthood ban may have still be in effect today if members hadn't started discussing such a controversial thing as race. From what I've always heard, it was the opening of a temple in Brazil, where much of the population is black or mixed, that was the catalyst for change. Members were talking about what would happen to a temple in a country where most of the members wouldn't be allowed to enter because of their race and that was a problem that put pressure on the Church.

I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again. The priesthood ban in itself is something that I can accept perhaps was indeed the Lord's will, for whatever reason. The scripture in the Book of Abraham can justify it, if you interpret it that way. However, nowhere in the scriptures does it say that blacks were bad in the pre-existence, that marrying them would result in death on the spot (Brigham Young said that), etc. All that and the disgusting things that Stapley wrote to Romney about... not OK with me. And definitely not OK to try to pass off racism as coming from the Lord.

Cliff, you really need to read "Rough Stone Rolling." Ironically, it's one of those few books that both Church leaders and non-members have reviewed positively. The fact that it's a "warts and all" bio of Joseph Smith and touches on many of the most controversial areas of his life (his critics could even say that the book exposes him for what he was), and yet still retain a respectful and objective tone that even satisfied Church leaders, goes to show you that it's possible to dig deep into Mormon history without apostacizing. I think that Richard L. Bushman managed to do that fantastically. And just as anyone can stumble onto my blog and read these sometimes controversial discussions, so can anyone pick up Bushman's book, read about Joseph the man, and come away with something spiritually valuable.

Mormon Heretic said...

Cliff,

I will give a better response later, but let me just say it seems you are espousing a great deal of spiritual censorship.

Cliff said...

Look guys, this whole conversation is moving in somewhat of a circle. If you read back through from the beginning, our posts are still rehashing basically the same viewpoints from different angles and with different analogies. I think that if you read back through my posts you will see that I am not espousing "blind obedience" or "spiritual censorship."

I was inappropriately edgy in my last post to Heretic, and I apologize for that.

Sanford feels that I am narrow and dated in my perception and that I am asserting that if people don't approach things in the way I say is appropriate then they are wrong. (If that is a fair represnetation of Sanford's comments.)

I continue to hold that the principles that I have shared here are true, though I can clearly see from the responses that I am getting that the message I thought I was sharing has not been received with the intended understanding. I suppose that is largely because of the limited nature of communication available here, the fact that multiple principles reaching far beyond prayer have become intertwined here (mostly my fault), I have not done the best at clearly explaining myself, and my comments have been pointed enough to evoke defensive reactions - all a very poor mix for good communication and mutual understanding.

In any case the biggest issue is that I have endeavored to teach and to correct in a place where I have no business teaching or correcting. Such was not my intent. I was simply taken aback by a question on prayer that was based on a misunderstanding of some very basic principles of prayer, and we can all see how it has blossomed from there. I was the one who mixed the issues by expressing my chagrin at some of the attitudes and approaches on this blog and for that I apologize.

I might actually be interested in reading "Rough Stone Rolling." - And no, that statement is not contradictory to my earlier statements. If you read the talk I referenced from President Packer (The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect), he noted a clear difference between citing reasons why, for example, Joseph Smith was "just a man" and showing how, despite his mortality and weaknesses, Joseph Smith was still a Prophet of God. (I assume (hope) that is Bushman's tac in this book, and Yes Sanford, I just quoted a GA again, and that 20+ year old view ain't so narrow as you take it to be) - which is exactly why I referred Heretic to the actual talk when he previously asked about this book and one other.

The Stapley letter. I read it. I doubt you will think much of my response, but here goes anyway. I have thought quite a bit about how deeply I should explain the letter and the interplay between Church policy and George Romney's actions.

I am sure that I could give a well reasoned opinion regarding these things, but there are two problems with doing that.

1.) The letter itself was expressly not an expression of church policy. Stapley clearly said that he was speaking for himself and not for the church. If he was expressly not speaking for the church, then how can one rightly use the letter as a basis for discerning church policy and the relationship between church policy and the decisions of individual members?

2.) My opinion would be just that, an opinion. The heart of this question has little to do with race, race relations, or church policy regarding race; but it has everything to do with understanding how God's Kingdom functions here on the earth, which role individual members play in that Kingdom, and how to go about discerning and understanding true doctrine. All of this is frankly much of what the real discussion has been about here. All I can say is that the answer to these things (and the key to understanding the "Stapley-Romney" letter) has little to do with the "Stapley-Romney" letter itself, or even with any one person (or group of people's) perception of the church's historical stance concerning race. As I stated above, it is not my place to teach you what those things are, and any discussion beyond that is simply a tossing about and rehashing of about various opinions. FD - if you really want to clear this matter in your heart, you need to start by discussing your concerns with your bishop. Seriously.

I am answering here because I said I would concerning the Stapley letter, but I won't be back to read any replies. I wish you all the best, really I do.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Cliff,

Thanks for your response. I'm just on my way out right now, so maybe I'll write more later. I just wanted to say in response to the last thing you wrote, I have talked to my bishop. Two bishops, plus a stake president, in fact. This stuff has bothered me for years. The first bishop I talked to about it told me not to worry about it. The second bishop was perhaps more sympathetic, but still had nothing more to say. My stake president was very sympathetic, expressed the fact that he had had similar thoughts as mine, but admittedly had no answer to give me.

I admire all 3 of these men and I don't blame them for not having an answer. I know that nobody really does, I just had to ask anyways. I needed to get it off my chest. In my response to my stake president, I thanked him for saying "I don't know" and leaving it at that. We've seen where speculation and theories get us. I haven't talked to them specifically about the Stapley letter because I'm about 99% sure they've never even heard of the Stapley letter. I don't live in America and there are no Church books in the local language except official Church materials. It wouldn't suprise me if my bishop or stake president have never heard of "Rough Stone Rolling." And "Bloggernacle" would be a foreign word to them in more ways than one.

So, Cliff, contrary to what you may think, this blog is not necessarily the first place I take my spiritual concerns to. It has, however, helped to shed some new light on old concerns and questions -- something that I wasn't getting anywhere else.

Sanford said...

Cliff, I hope you will reconsider you decision not to read or post here. I value your input, I really do. Obviously we don't see some things the same way but I enjoy exchanging ideas. We very well might see eye to eye on other matters. I hope this thread hasn't been too personal for you. Think of me as a difficult missionary project and maybe you will be more comfortable sticking around. This thread has caused me to think hard about prayer even if the back and forth of comments has been a little sharp. Thanks for your input -- the conversation has been helpful to me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Even if Cliff isn't reading this (my guess is he is, even if in secret -- I know the suspense would kill me :) to follow-up my last comments, I just wanted to explain why stuff like this (i.e. racism and other controverisal Church teachings) bothers me. My best friend in high school was a Baptist. He and I became best friends in a school where we felt like we were the only ones not getting smashed on the weekend. Although we had different religions, our standards were virtually the same. We talked a lot about religion, shared some books and ideas with each other. We spent spent a lot of time with each other and cared about each other a great deal. However, I learned pretty fast that, despite the feelings he had, he could not entertain the idea of having a relationship with me, solely because I was a Mormon. To say this bothered me is a huge understatement, but we remained good friends and are still good friends today, 12 years later.

When I think back to my conversations about religion with him, there is one thing that still bothers me to this day. In a way, he knew more about Mormonism than I did. He knew all the basics, but I strongly suspect that he had been given "additional information" from his pastor, or perhaps just from personal study. Perhaps even anti-Mormon literature. I'm not sure. This was before we had the internet, so it wasn't like he got it off the internet. Anyways, I remember being surprised at just how much he knew. Most of it was accurate and I was impressed. At the same time, he asked me a few questions that seemed strange to me. I can't remember most of them, but I just remember thinking to myself "where on earth did he come up with that one?" Only much later, once I started to learn more about Church history, did I realize that not all of those questions were entirely bogus.

Have you ever read or heard what anti-Mormons say about us? It's not all hogwash. Of course they have their agenda and want to make people run away screaming from Mormonism. And do you know why they often succeed? Because the stuff they tell is often based on at least partial truth and is twisted to sound even more disturbing than it really is. One of my Baptist friend's questions that I remember was whether I believed that Christ was conceived through the Holy Spirit or whether in another way (insinuating intercourse). I told him absolutely we believed it was through the Holy Spirit. I remember him saying "OK," in a relieved sort of way. Much later, when I read about the Adam-God theory/doctrine of Brigham Young, a light bulb went off. Now, looking back, I'm almost certain that he had been informed about that doctrine and wanted to know whether it was really true.

I know that a lot of Mormons want to avoid the uncomfortable aspects of our religion, but I don't want to bury my head in the sand. I want to know the truth of what has happened, good or bad, so that I'm prepared to face the questions when confronted. If we're ignorant about such things, anti-Mormons have more leverage when trying to get people to leave the Church because they make members believe that the Church has something to hide. Or worse yet, we deny that such things happen, accuse them of totally making up garbage based on total lies, when in fact they may partially be right. This only adds strength to their cause and makes us look like we don't even know our own religion. For years I defended polygamy as a way to care for all the widows and singles. I told my friends that Jesus drank grape juice, not wine. If I hadn't seen the Stapley letter for myself, I'm sure I would have denied it to anyone who confronted me about it.

I may have told this story before, but my cousin-in-law, who is black, served a mission for the Church and had never heard about the priesthood ban until he knocked on some guy's door and the guy said to him, "don't you know your Church don't even want your kind?" So his mission president later had to tell him what that man was talking about. Thankfully, he didn't leave the Church, but many would have.

I realize that not all Mormons are prepared to go into all this deep stuff. I don't think we should just throw them into it or force them to learn it before they're ready. But for those of us who are ready and want to know, it disappoints me when fellow members and leaders react so negatively to it. There are plenty of people who want to bring down the Church. The strongest weapon they have is distorting truths or discussing troubling aspects of Mormonism that we just want to avoid totally. If we choose to bury our heads in the sand and think that we can just deny our way out of a difficult situation, then we're entering a war zone with no armour. If we aren't prepared, then their interpretations are the only ones that people are going to get.

Anyways, echoing what Sanford just said, Cliff if you're reading this, then I also want to once again express my thanks for your comments regarding prayer. Sanford is not the only one who benefitted from them. I hope you guys have all seen the prayer roll I started in my last posting and I hope you'll take part.

Rick said...

Hey, FD - sorry I'm coming late to this - I'm sure you're all done. I have as similar experience as some of you. For me, I've prayed my whole life, and never felt that burning in the busom - in fact, I never felt much at all - the one kind of prayer that I really have always felt alot in, is what I call prayers of Thanksgiving and Awe.

You know that feeling when you are just so thankful to God, or in complete Awe of his creations - that the onlything you are capable of expressing at the time is your gratitude and humility? Those were the prayers that as a young person I really "felt." Everything else seemed like vain repetition

So I stopped praying with Specific thoughts. I started doing alot of meditation - yoga and mantric meditation - and WOW - for me that was a different story - I felt it - it changed my day - It was like looking at the world with a different set of eyes - I felt closer to God than I ever had. I've been doing that for a while now, and in the mean time, I've gone back to conventional prayer as well. It's come with a strong nostalgic sense - But now my prayers don't usually contain a petition for blessings - because I know that things will happen as they happen - I may voice my desires to God, but with the knowledge that things will happen as they will - mostly when I do voice those desires (which is rare, I admit) It's just so that I hear them outloud - so that god knows my own short-sided preference - not much more - But I pray for strenght for myself and others - I pray for desire to do right, I pray for help with my character flaws - to keep me loving others. And I send good energy (or positive karma) to those who I love and am concerned about. whether through prayer, thoughtful meditation, or a letter or email saying I love you and I wish you the best.

So my reason for mentioning the meditation thing, is that I think everyone needs to figure out which prayer works best for them - there is no reason to think that one style of prayer is the "right' way, just because it is what you were taught as a child. We are all different, and different stuff speaks to us in different ways. And our connection to god comes through on different waves.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Rick,

That's an interesting approach, I like it. I have to admit, I'm really, really bad at verbalizing my prayers. I usually say them in my head, but my head is usually a whirlwind of thoughts, ideas and distractions, so it's hard to even verbalize them internally. I sometimes wish for God to hear my thoughts, wishes, and pleas, without actually putting them into words because sometimes I just feel unable to do so. Maybe He can hear my abstract thoughts that are in disarray? I seem to be better at verbalizing the things I'm thankful for, since they are more specific.