Dec 17, 2008

'Tis The Season For Making Amends

I often like to think back to what I was doing a year ago at the same time. With Christmas approaching, I've been thinking back to a year ago when I was going through some major stress, trying to clean up a family conflict of gargantuan proportions.

In my previous post entitled "1932," we discussed the importance of not letting religious dogmas come at the expense of individuals. Anyone who follows my blog knows that this is a common theme, that I do a lot of preaching about tolerance within the Church and without. I know the importance of justice, but I prefer mercy. I know the importance of having high moral standards, but I try not to judge people for their weaknesses. Karene, a commenter from the "1932" post, said:

"My intolerance has almost always been directed at members of the those I think should "know better", whereas I've cut a lot of slack to a nonmember..."

Although I think I'm pretty good at cutting big long pieces of slack to non-members and even fellow members who struggle with an array of challenges that make it difficult for them to live the Gospel as a "good Mormon" should, I have to admit that, unfortunately, I haven't been so generous with slack distribution among members of my own family. And I've been feeling bad about it for quite some time.

To make a very long story short, I'm the oldest of five kids and the only girl. My parents and all of my brothers are active in the Church -- with the exception of one. He's the middle child and I'll call him "Georgie," simply because it was one of his many nicknames as a kid. Georgie is the type of guy that everyone loves. I don't think he's ever had an enemy. Even the crusty old neighbours, who are skeptical of anyone darker than their pasty shade of white, love him -- his deep brown complexion and all. When he worked at Wal-Mart as a student, he was the favourite among co-workers. But like me, I think he likes to push the envelope -- although perhaps in different ways than I do.

Georgie went through some difficult times the past couple of years in his marriage (which thankfully seems to be back on track). Through a sequence of events, we discovered -- to our shock -- that he had begun drinking and partying during a rough time. I and the other siblings were angry and felt betrayed by Georgie. When I confronted him about it, he assured me it was a one-time thing and I took his word for it. When I later discovered that wasn't true, I was furious. Even an ocean away, I really let him have it and for a while it looked like maybe he wouldn't have contact with me or any of our siblings anymore.

I think that perhaps it's difficult for us to understand how others can struggle with something that comes so easily to ourselves. In a way, those who struggle with the Word of Wisdom are at a disadvantage because it's harder for them to hide their weaknesses than for those of us who struggle with other things. It's hard to cover-up clothing that reeks of smoke, dilated pupils, or breath that stinks of alcohol. On the other hand, someone who struggles with a porn addiction can easily delete their internet browser history, switch off their computer, and chances are that no one except God will know. How many of us watch something we know we probably shouldn't be watching or listen to music that is raunchy but so dang catchy? Mea culpa.

When it comes to the Word of Wisdom, I'm a rock. It's perhaps one of the few aspects of the Gospel that I can say I live without any problem or hesitation. Nothing about alcohol, coffee, tea, or tobacco has ever been the least bit tempting to me, so it's hard to me to appreciate the temptation that it is to others. A couple of years ago I cut out meat, which you could also say is a part of the Word of Wisdom that is often ignored or rationalized by most Mormons, and no matter how good a turkey or hot dog may smell, I'm happy with my soy and never feel tempted to cheat. Perhaps I inherited the willpower of my stubborn old English great-grandfather, who quit cold turkey after smoking for many years, even with the pack of cigarettes laying on the table, staring him in the face. I'd like to think that I have the willpower to give up any food or drink if I made my mind up to do it. My biggest challenge would be chocolate, but I gave it up completely for 40 days once and did alright.

So even though I'm a Word of Wisdom wizz, it's painfully evident to anyone that reads this blog that I'm not much of a wizz in a lot of the other important areas of the Gospel. For all I know, Georgie is more of a spiritual wizz than I am -- drinking and all -- but I spent more time focusing on the beer in his hand instead of on the fact that he expressed a testimony of the Gospel, despite his shortcomings. Since that time, all my many flaws, weaknesses, and doubts have seemed to have been amplified and I can find myself wishing that I "only" had Word of Wisdom problems to deal with. I have often thought that it perhaps isn't just a coincidence that I entered this spiritual hurricane after my conflict with Georgie. It's amazing that I was even able to see the mote in his eye for the huge beam in mine.

Things between Georgie and me are good now. We both apologized to each other for a lot of things and things feel more like the way they were before. I know nothing of his current spiritual state or way of living and have no reason to ask. I do, however, have one major regret that I still have not resolved. I haven't really apologized for chastising him so harshly for his drinking or actually said that my love for him as a sister is not dependent on whether or not he drinks or does whatever else. Although it wouldn't be entirely true for me to say that I don't care whether he drinks or not, I do want him to know that even if his drinking should put Larry Hagman to shame, our brother-sister relationship should never be dependent on whether or not he breaks the Word of Wisdom. And to his credit, I have to say that he took a beating from me in written form when I confronted him about his behaviour, but he just took it and never reacted with the same anger or harshness that I dished out.

This past Sunday in Relief Society, I arrived just in time to hear a sister read a short story from a small book which I think was entitled "Finding Christ." I thought this story was so great, I asked her for a copy of it, knowing that I just had to share it on my blog. Luckily, it was already in English, so it saves me from having to translate. The story was in a chapter called "Giving Him Everything -- Misunderstanding Grace."

{So what does it mean to give him everything? Some of us simply have more ability, more talents, than others. Yet according to the parable, those with only one talent or only two talents are not expected to earn five. Only the one with five talents is expected to earn five.

et me illustrate with an example. Many years ago I came into contact with a woman who was, initially at least, one of the roughest persons I have ever known. Abused as a child, she had run away from home and had lived on the streets for years. As a young woman, she traveled around the country with a motorcycle gang. In late middle age, her beauty gone, she spent most of her time in a pub, where some missionaries met her when they went in to get change for a pay phone outside. When she was baptized, many of the members worried that her conversion wouldn’t last, and there were good reasons to suspect it might not.

For a long time after her baptism, this sister still swore like a trooper, even in Church, and never quite lived the Word of Wisdom one hundred percent. On one occasion during her first year in the Church, she lost her temper during a Relief Society meeting and punched out one of the other sisters. Her ex-husband is an alcoholic, and her children have all spent time in jail. Now the question before us is whether someone like this can seriously expect to be saved. What hope does a person like this, with all her faults and weaknesses, really have? With her background and problems, why bother coming to Church at all?

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God does not lie. Whoever will come, may come. All are invited, none is excluded. Though this sister had further to travel than most, the same covenant was offered to her: “Do all you can. I will do the rest while you learn how.” And she was as faithful as she could be under her circumstances. She never said, “No, I won’t,” or “Get off my back,” or “Why talk to me? Talk to him, he started it.” She always said, “I know; I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.” Then she would try to do better. Often she would fail, but little by little over the years, she improved a great deal. First she gave up coffee, tea, and alcohol. Then she stopped swearing. Later she overcame smoking and got her temper somewhat under control. Finally, after she’d been in the Church many years, she was ready to go to the temple. Can such a person really expect to inherit the kingdom of God? Of course.

But now the harder question. At what point did this sister become a candidate for the kingdom? Was it when she finally gave up her cigarettes, or when she got her language and temper under control? Or was it when she finally qualified for a temple recommend? No. It was none of these, though they were all important landmarks in her progress. She was justified through her faith in Jesus Christ on the day that she repented of her sins, was baptized, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, for she entered into that covenant in good faith and in all sincerity. She believed in Christ, and she believed Christ. Like the widow with her mite, she gave all she had and held nothing back. It may not have been much, but it was everything.

Every week she took the sacrament, having repented of her mistakes and resolving again to eliminate them. Some things took years to overcome. Other things perhaps haven’t been overcome yet, but she still tries, and she won’t give up. And as long as she won’t give up but endure to the end in the gospel harness, pulling towards the kingdom, her reward is sure. God knows our circumstances, and he judges us accordingly. He knows who is standing in a hole and who is standing on a chair, and he does not just measure height – he measures growth.

Each of us operates at a different level of performance within the covenant boundaries. The percentages vary both from person to person and, even for the same person, over a period of time. In my case, my efforts might take me twenty percent of the way to perfection. The Savior covers the other eighty percent. In your case, your efforts might take you fifty percent – or two percent – of the way. The Savior still covers the difference. But in every case the sum of the joint effort is the same – anyone’s best efforts, however great or small, plus the atonement of Christ will equal 100 percent of what is needed to enter God’s kingdom.}

I think that only we ourselves know just what percentage we are personally capable of contributing towards Christ's atonement. But perhaps even we aren't always able to give an exact figure. Some of us are maybe a little too optimstic, while others think that they can sail along comfortably at 1-2% when they are, in fact, capable of much more. Although I think that we can and should encourage others to reach a higher percentage point, we should never make them feel that they have to get an A+ to justify their activity and participation in the Church and in the Gospel.
I've been musing about whether or not I should tell Georgie about my blog. We seem to share a sense of humour, so he might actually enjoy it. Part of me worries that some of the subject matter here is too "heavy" for him, but then again most of this stuff is only a couple clicks away from anyone who googles "Mormons." He could be struggling with the same things that I do, for all I know. Maybe it would help him to discover that there are plenty of Mormon Misfits out there who fall miserably short of perfection and get ticked off with things, still knowing that there is something good enough about it that makes us want to stick around. And yes, there is, otherwise I know that most of us would have been gone long ago.

So maybe this Christmas season we we can try to make amends with someone in our lives that perhaps deserves more slack than they've gotten from us.

If all else fails, you always have your shoe.


Gay LDS Actor said...

I love that book. I can't remember if that's from "Believing Christ" or "Following Christ," but they're both excellent books by Stephen Robinson. I really feel like he has a good handle on explaining the complex concepts of the Atonement in simple ways.

Some quotes I really enjoyed are:

"And she was as faithful as she could be under her circumstances."

"God knows our circumstances, and he judges us accordingly. He knows who is standing in a hole and who is standing on a chair, and he does not just measure height – he measures growth."

"Each of us operates at a different level of performance within the covenant boundaries. The percentages vary both from person to person and, even for the same person, over a period of time. In my case, my efforts might take me twenty percent of the way to perfection. The Savior covers the other eighty percent. In your case, your efforts might take you fifty percent – or two percent – of the way. The Savior still covers the difference. But in every case the sum of the joint effort is the same – anyone’s best efforts, however great or small, plus the atonement of Christ will equal 100 percent of what is needed to enter God’s kingdom."

I really have felt that way about my own circumstances. I genuinely feel, as I have stated many times, that I am doing the best I can under my own life's circumstances and that God will judge me according to my capabilities and the intents of my heart. I am trul grateful that my judgment is between me and my Father and us alone. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says or how I may or may not be judged by others for my choices and decisions. I have peace in my heart knowing that I am trying to do my best and that God knows that. That's all that counts to me right now.

Thanks. Missed you while you were offline.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Yeah, I love how he explained it in terms of percentage. I never thought of it that way but it helped me to "get it" in a way that I don't think I did before. Before, I always just thought that anything less than 100% was just failure but I think the focus needs to be on effort and not just our final "grade." Unfortunately, sometimes when we see someone fall short of 100%, we just assume that they're not even making an effort. That was probably why I got so upset with Georgie. I guess only he knows how much of an effort he was making, just like only we and God know our thoughts. We have to stop assuming so much. I probably assume way too much about way too many things.

derekstaff said...

Sensational post. Very intimate. Like so many other faiths, we tend to get caught up in works, and forget about faith and the heart. It is understandable, since works are tangible and concrete, while faith/heart are abstract quantities which defy quantification. But in reality, again and again, the scriptures tell us that the heart is what really matters, and that the entire reason we need Jesus is because he can make up the gap if we have faith.

Karene said...

Yep, you've nailed it! The way you've described it here, I see my problem being that I tend to go around assuming that I know what percentage everyone around me has to give and feeling critical if I don't think they're giving it. My willingness to cut slack to nonmembers is based in my assumption that they can only contribute a small percentage due to lack of knowledge. I think I've laid a blanket assumption that all members of the church can contribute as much as I think I can contribute. How unfair is that? When I put it in this context, I also realize that it's probably not really fair of me to assume that a nonmember's percentage would be smaller than mine. Who am I to say?

Moral of the story...I need to do my best to give my all, and knock it off with my tendency to make assumptions about everyone else (which results in judgmental feelings...)

Thanks for a great post.

Karene said...

One more's the flip side of this coin that leads me (and probably others) to feel inferior as well. We could probably do a lot to get over our inferiority complexes by realizing that just because Sister So-and-So appears to be able to do 99% herself doesn't mean I can or should try to do the same.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Good point, Karene. I know of a sister that I met in Germany who has had 6 kids in about 8-9 years, with #7 on the way. I ain't even gonna attempt that one. :)

Papa D said...

That is a fabulous post, TFD. I will be linking to it on my blog in the future.

Thanks. This needs to be read by everyone, imo.

Papa D said...

You might be interested in the following:

The Faithful Dissident said...

Papa D, that was a great post. I can't believe it took me so long to realize that you had a blog. I'll be adding it to my roll, along with yours, Derek.

Natalie said...

You are so inspirational. This was a beautiful post, and a beautiful story.

I too have been attempting to rebuild some bridges that have been shattered for years. Just three days ago, I dropped a letter in the mailbox addressed to my father, someone I haven't seen or heard from in over 8 years.

I have no expectations, good or ill, but your post really has comforted me.

Natalie said...

Btw, the BEST book I have ever read about weilding the power of the Atonement is called "The Peacegiver" by James L. Ferrell. This book was seriously transformative. "Believing Christ" is also great.

If you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift for someone, this book would be a great one.

The book is here:

The Faithful Dissident said...

Natalie, thanks for sharing that. I really hope that things work out with your dad. But even if he doesn't respond, I hope that you will feel some peace now that you've sent him the letter.

I told Georgie about my blog a couple days ago and I got a really nice message from him. He really appreciated this post and it was good to hear. I'm looking forward to spending a few days with him when I go home in April.

Anonymous said...

I found a Wonderful site on Isaiah!
The site has free lessons on every chapter.
Very well done and in the author’s own voice.
Every Isaiah Chapter has the Analytical Commentary of Isaiah. Enjoy this personable verse-by-verse commentary of Isaiah by well-known Hebrew scholar Avraham Gileadi.

“Dr. Gileadi is the only LDS scholar I know of who is thoroughly competent to teach the words of Isaiah”—Professor Hugh Nibley, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. (1. 6. 2003)

“It is my testimony that this man has been brought forward and trained at this time to help those inside the Church into Isaiah, and those outside the Church, Jew and Gentile, through Isaiah into the Church” —Arthur Henry King, author, former BYU professor and London
Temple President.

“Dr. Gileadi has achieved a major breakthrough in the investigation of a book of such complexity and importance as the Book of Isaiah”—Professor David Noel Freedman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Dr. Gileadi’s work will render obsolete almost all the speculations of Isaiah scholars over the last one hundred years . . . enabling scholarship to proceed along an entirely new line . . . opening new avenues of approach for others to follow”—Professor Roland K. Harrison, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada.

“Only one who is truly at home not only with the Hebrew but with the ancient manner of biblical thought could have produced such an insightful and ground-breaking book”—Professor S. Douglas Waterhouse, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“Avraham Gileadi’s unsealing of the Book of Isaiah will forever change people’s
understanding of Judeo-Christian religion, lifting it to heights hitherto known only to prophets and saints”—Arie Noot, corporate executive, Edmond, Oklahoma.

“Isaiah Decoded is a huge breakthrough for the seeker of truth—Jew, Christian, Moslem, and agnostic. From an ancient writing, Gileadi has brought to light eternal truths about the nature of God and our relationship to him that have lain buried for centuries in the dust of time”—Guy Wins, fifth-generation Jewish diamond dealer from Antwerp, Belgium.

“Gileadi is the only scholar I know who has been able to express the Jewish expectation of the Messiah in relation to the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth”—Daniel Rona, Israeli tour guide, Jerusalem, Israel.

“Dr. Gileadi has clearly demonstrated his mastery of the Book of Isaiah and of the scholarly literature dealing with it”—Professor Ronald Youngblood, Bethel Theological Seminary, San Diego, California.

“Avraham Gileadi’s books and tapes take the casual observer of Isaiah’s words and transform him into an enlightened and lifelong student of the Word of God”—Allan and Nancy Pratt, LDS mission president, Toulouse, France.

“Dr. Gileadi has awakened a whole new depth of my understanding of Isaiah’s prophetic message. His books and tapes illuminate the urgent relevance of Isaiah’s writings to our own day”—Becky Douglas, supervisor and sponsor of three orphanages in India, Atlanta, Georgia.

“Dr. Gileadi’s translation [of the Book of Isaiah] is clear and smooth, allowing the reader to appreciate the power and beauty of Isaiah as conveyed in the Hebrew original”—Professor Herbert M. Wolf, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

“Gileadi has uncovered an amazing message written in a divine code by the prophet–poet Isaiah. This will give comfort, hope, and joy to masses of people as they cope with the perplexing events now unfolding before their eyes”—Fenton Tobler, thirty years elementary school principle, Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Dewey, I'm sure the site is wonderful, but one comment was enough. I'm going to delete all the others under the earlier posts.

anonymous so Dewey doesn't spam me again said...

Dewey is spamming that exact same message to every comment on every main page of every blog visited, including mine. I would delete it without a second thought.

Papa D said...

FD, A lot of people don't associate my personal blog with my Bloggernacle commenting, since I don't publicize it actively. I link things from it occasionally on the main group blogs, but it's essentially an on-line journal of my perspective - with links to great posts I've seen on other blogs.

This post will be one of them - probably posting around next March or April.