Feb 26, 2010

When The Spirit "Speaks," What Does It "Say," And What "Language" Does It Speak?

Mormons are big on feelings. We're supposed to study, fast, and pray in order to get confirmation of the Church being true. Investigators are encouraged to read the Book of Mormon and attend church. People do this and then they may sometimes have a profound spiritual experience, but most often it's based on a feeling. They feel that it's good, that it makes sense, and often that's enough for them to conclude that the Church is true and that it's the only true church.

I certainly don't need to discount or dismiss the "warm and fuzzy" feelings or spiritual experiences that I've heard others describe. I've had them myself. Sometimes I still do. They're just as real as they ever were. But now they just mean something different to me.

As we discussed in a previous thread, the more I studied and observed the different faiths of others, I realized that there was a lot that I couldn't reconcile with the "one true church." I know of some very Mormon-specific spiritual experiences that have occurred in my circle of family and friends, but I also know of some other very faith and denomination-specific spiritual experiences outside of Mormonism. And I can no longer believe that mine are more "true" than theirs.

Recently the missionaries challenged me to read the Book of Mormon. Again. I think they hope that I'll get those feelings and that it will restore my faith in the "one true church." But I tend to take those feelings at face value now. If someone reads the Book of Mormon and gets a good feeling about it, then it means it's a good book with a good message -- divine, even. But if the book is good and even divinely-inspired, does it have to mean that the LDS Church is the only true church on the face of the earth? Does it have to mean that Lehi and Nephi really existed? Does it have to mean that an angel really threatened Joseph Smith with a sword if he didn't marry all those women? Does it have to mean that God really ordered genocide in the Bible? I know that some would see it as a cop-out to say no to all of these things, but maybe it's just unreasonable to say yes.

I think that many fellow Mormons would be hurt or offended by my rejection of some of the things they deem to be literal truths. But maybe we want to invest way too much into our spiritual experiences and feelings -- so much so that they overreach their ability to stand firm in the face of reality and we end up obsessing over their literalness at the expense of focusing on what we're actually supposed to learn from them (i.e. stressing the Book of Mormon as literal and historical, while discussions about its nonviolent message in a very violent world are relatively few).

Maybe our expectations are simply unreasonable.

In a recent Mormon Stories podcast with a woman named Jacque, she talked about Mormonism being her "spiritual language," just like English is her spoken language. As someone who has learned four different languages, this was an analogy that I could really relate to. I've learned through my studies that languages are different. Although one is not really superior to the others, some languages have their strengths. French can be beautiful and poetic, German is very literal and ordered. There are things I can say and express in Norwegian that I simply can't in English. And vice versa. We are missing certain words and expressions in English that are incredibly useful in Norwegian, which I use on a daily basis, that cannot be translated literally into English in a way that will make sense. And vice versa. Isn't religion the same way? We are getting certain things in Mormonism that we simply can't get in other religions. And vice versa. It doesn't make any one religion superior to another, but we cannot practice them all -- just like we can't learn every language. We need to find the one that works for us, use it, but realize that it can be helpful to learn additional "languages" because we may be missing out on certain elements.

So when you hear the spirit, what is it actually saying to you? And what language does it speak?

Feb 19, 2010

Who's The Prophet?

Recently my husband and I watched the movie "Gandhi." Of course, we all know he was a fascinating character and an exemplary man but the more I thought about him, his message, his motivations, and how the "gospel" that he preached could change the world for the better if human beings would actually take it to heart, I wonder why we (as Mormons or Christians in general) don't consider him -- or anyone outside of the Judeo-Christian scriptures or the modern-day LDS Church -- to be a "prophet."

Even within the Judeo-Christian scriptures, questions arise for a Mormon. As a friend of mine recently said:

"On the one hand, we declare that the President of the Church is the prophet for the whole world. On the other hand, all of our ancient scriptures have examples of prophets, and prophetesses, who are not necessarily the "line of authority" church leaders."

Gandhi was a Hindu. He wasn't a Christian and he wasn't a Mormon. And yet what he preached seems to have more similarities to what Christ himself preached than most of the modern-day "Christians" that I know in terms of creating peace of earth and turning the other cheek. Gandhi was not a man of lip service. He was, of course, a man -- a fallible man -- just like all those in the Mormon faith that we consider to be prophets, but don't always want to believe really were fallible. But I do wonder why we consider some to be "prophets" and guys like Gandhi to be merely "good men."

There were several times throughout the movie when a passage in Matthew kept coming to mind:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly
they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth
good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot
bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the
fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
(Matt. 7: 15-20)

I couldn't help but contrast Gandhi's words with, for instance, Brigham Young's fiery rhetoric -- the kind of stuff that preceded Mountain Meadows, for instance. And I'm not trying to diss Brigham here. I realize that he did great and important things in his lifetime and that we must allow for mistakes. The same can be said of Gandhi, no doubt, who certainly made mistakes.

But who's the prophet? "By their fruits ye shall know them...."

How does one examine the "fruits" of people like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or Mother Teresa, or any of the other peacemakers that have risen throughout time and inspired the world to do better and given their lives to their noble cause, and conclude that they "just didn't have" what Brigham had or what Thomas S. Monson has? Why is studying Mormon prophets over and over again, year after year, so important that the others will never even make it into the lesson manuals?

Feb 1, 2010


This past weekend I went to the cinema with some friends and saw the film, Precious. Here is a short synopsis from Hollywood.com:

"Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She's pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her. Threatened with expulsion, Precious is
offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. Precious doesnt know the meaning of alternative, but her instincts tell her this is the chance she has been waiting for. In the literacy workshop taught by the patient yet firm Ms. Rain, Precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination."

This movie is certainly not a "feel-good" movie. "Viewer discretion" is certainly advised. It's raw. It's brutal. It's depressing, really. But I'm glad I saw it because it stirred something within me and I hope that it would do the same for anyone else who sees it. The young actress who plays Precious was born to play this role, in my opinion. Movies these days are full of pointless profanity and violence, but occasionally one comes along that actually gives meaning to it all. And since most of us aren't going to move to Harlem and live this young girl's life, seeing a film like this is probably as close as any of us are going to get to understanding what it must be like to be born into and live under such circumstances. And once you're aware of it, you want to do something about it.

The day after seeing the movie, I went with my friend to a Community of Christ meeting (formerly known as the RLDS church). The meeting was simple and I enjoyed it. Since there were only 5 or 6 of us and we were in a private home, there was no organ or hymn singing, but they played some spiritually uplifting music on CD. One of the songs they chose was by one of my favourite groups, Secret Garden, the Norwegian-Irish duo who composed the original version of "You Raise Me Up" (the song made famous by Josh Groban). The song they chose to play is called "Sometimes A Prayer Will Do" and the vocalist is the same African American gospel artist who sang in the original version of "You Raise Me Up." My friend and I both reflected upon the movie of the previous night as we heard the song and I think we both felt pretty moved.

The movie's tagline is:

"Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is
rich. Life is precious."

Indeed. But sadly, I think that many get stuck in the "painful" parts, never to attain the "rich," and are robbed of the "precious."

So I've been thinking about the huge gap between my life and that of a person like Precious. How do we bridge that gap? How do we truly "bear one another's burdens?" I can sit and cry about her circumstances, and my heart can be filled with all the compassion in the world. But how does that help her?

I'd like to believe that "sometimes a prayer will do," but sometimes it just seems so horribly inadequate.