Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Ninth Article of Faith

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

The heavens are not closed. We have a living church that continues to unfold, grow, and be perfected. Everything as it is now is not how it once was, nor is it how it will always be.

Case in point: Women and the priesthood. In the days of Joseph Smith, women gave priesthood blessings. Today, they don't. In conference yesterday, Sis. Stephens gave a beautiful talk on how the blessings of priesthood ordinances help us to become like God. I loved that talk because the crux of my study and learning on this issue was that women need the priesthood to become like God. Being baptized, receiving the Holy Ghost, being endowed in the temple, and being sealed in an eternal marriage are all priesthood ordinances that sanctify and bring us closer to God. This is truth.

UPDATE: Elder Andersen also gave a very beautiful talk on the role of women in the priesthood. He echoed what I've been learning and studying. That's always nice to have an apostle confirm your studying and subsequent testimony. It's like what general conference is for, or something. Anyways, he said that in the church, we have a tendency to equate men with the priesthood. It is not so. The priesthood is the power of God. He also went over the history of the priesthood and how men have always been the ones to hold it. Why is it like this? We don't know. He quoted 1 Nephi 11:17: "I know that he [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." My husband also says that Elder Andersen was addressing the fact that Pres. Monson is aware of this issue and question and knows how to ask and that he potentially has been asking. I'll have to go back and read the talk to get some quotes or the section to support this. He did not ever say, "No. This is how it is. It will never change. Only men can ever, ever have the priesthood, and those asking questions to this effect are damned sinners." Contrast that "we don't know" message with Elder Nelson's very firm black-and-white talk about sexuality and marriage.

I still stand by my testimony that someday, somehow, in this life or the next, women will have to necessarily be ordained to the priesthood because the priesthood is the power by which God created the universe. So if we believe that through exaltation we also become gods and "have all power" (D&C 132:20), we will need to have the priesthood to do so. So, to this view, perhaps women will receive the priesthood upon resurrection or exaltation.

If we're going to have the priesthood at some point, why not here? 100% of the faithful membership of the church having the priesthood seems to me that the work would progress faster, that more good could be done. I'm not seeking to counsel the leaders of the church or map out the future of the church. I'm stating what makes sense to me, through study, prayer, and logic.

The Ordain Women movement is, in my experience, a misunderstood effort. To help clarify the misunderstandings, this is their mission:
The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.
Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.
Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. 
What they're doing is trying to bring more visibility to this issue, to ask the brethren if they could ask God if women could be ordained to the priesthood. It is not thoughtless, selfish, or without precedent (think the 1978 expansion of the priesthood to all worthy male members, a policy/doctrine change received through revelation). These members are acting on the words of Pres. Hinckley from a 1997 interview:
RB: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church. Why is that?

GBH: That’s right, because the Lord has put it that way. Now women have a very prominent place in this Church. They have there own organisation. Probably the largest women’s organisation in the world of 3.7 million members. There own ???. And the women of that organisation sit on Boards. Our Board of Education things of that kind. They counsel with us. We counsel together. They bring in insight that we very much appreciate and they have this tremendous organisation of the world where they grow and if you ask them they’ll say we’re happy and we’re satisfied.

RB: They all say that?

GBH: Yes. All except a oh you’ll find a little handful one or two here and there, but in 10 million members you expect that.

RB: You say the Lord has put it that way. What do you mean by that?

GBH: I mean that’s a part of His programme. Of course it is, yes.

RB: Is it possible that the rules could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks ?

GBH: He could change them yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.

RB: So you’d have to get a revelation?

GBH: Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who administer their own organisation are very happy. Ask them. Ask my wife.
These members working with OW, or, like me, are simply expanding the conversation through blogs and facebook, are not satisfied. This is not a sin. Our dissatisfaction comes from our testimonies and understanding of the scriptures and the gospel. Again, they're asking for an answer to a question. This is the divine order of revelation and a great Mormon tradition (1978 priesthood expansion, the Word of Wisdom, the Restoration itself). The Lord will not answer a question that is not asked.

I also believe that He will not give an answer we're not ready for. The sociological statistics are that 90% of women and 52% of men oppose women's ordination. (The link is a very interesting article addressing potential reasons for the huge disparity between men's support and women's support of women's ordination. I personally find it fascinating that there is about five times more support [48% men, 10% women] among men, those who actually hold the priesthood and have had more specific and extensive training about what the priesthood is and how it works.) At least, those were the figures in 2006. If I were to bet on it, which I won't because I am an active, faithful, engaged member of the LDS church and I listen to, apply, and obey the counsel of the church's leadership (shocker! ;) ), I would say that those numbers have changed. I think more women are in favor of it now. That's purely from my own anecdotal evidence of now being in favor of women's ordination, being converted to the idea through study, prayer, and the workings of the Spirit. Back to the overwhelming number of people in the church who for their particular reasons oppose the idea of women's ordination, the official statement in denying the 200 sisters who asked to attend last night's priesthood session was:

"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive. Even so, these are our sisters and we want them to among us, and hope they will find peace and joy we all seek in the gospel of Jesus Christ."
The support for keeping women out of the priesthood session seems to have been a mandate from the people. I'm not judging this as right or wrong, please note. I'm just noting the grounds for the refusal.

The reasons for the opposition are undoubtedly as varied as the opposers are themselves. For myself, I see no sound, doctrinal reason to oppose it. Instead, as illustrated in my previous posts, I see plenty of support for it. (Believe me, I know that people will disagree with this. I respect that. I ask for reciprocated respect for my own testimony and understanding.)

So, going on the assumption that I personally have that someday women will be ordained--and if you don't agree with that, just bear with me--can you imagine what would happen if the revelation came in this environment? I have seen, heard, and been the target of personal attacks from people who are uncomfortable with this idea. Again, for me, the source of the discomfort was the fact that my understanding of the priesthood was the cultural notion that priesthood=men. So it seems the thing to do is to continue the conversation so that more people are aware of the issue and think about it and have the opportunity to come to their own studied, thoughtful conclusions. I'm not saying that everyone will become a supporter of the idea. I'm not saying that women's ordination will necessarily happen in this life. What I am doing is advocating for a safe church environment where people can honestly and safely discuss this.

Unity and Harmony

I think it is essential that we approach this issue, regardless of what side we're on, with a spirit of harmony and unity. The final sentence in the official statement on the denial of the sisters to attend the priesthood session is a great illustration of that: "these are our sisters and we want them to among us, and hope they will find peace and joy we all seek in the gospel of Jesus Christ." We must avoid judgment, alienation, accusations, and attacks. Pres. Uchtdorf's talk from yesterday is something I will use as a touchstone. He addressed having doubts and he addressed having honest, sincere questions. One of my favorite lines was when he said that an issue could cause doubt in one member but could be a testimony-building experience for another. Studying this issue has been key in helping me overcome a three-year-long crisis of faith. I can't remember being more engaged with my faith, and I haven't been this close to God for a long, long time. So while my faith and testimony and very special spiritual experiences I've had studying this topic cannot be shaken, it hurts when people outrightly condemn this issue as being worldly, sinful, ignorant, or saying that those who support this issue are "demanding something they have no right to." No right to God's power? Nothing could be further from the truth, as illustrated throughout all of the gospel.

Further Revelation

I'm setting the issue of women's ordination completely aside, so please do not think I'm saying anything with a wink, or passive-agressively, or in any way related to that specific issue. Please set aside that issue in your mind. This is is about revelation and change to the church in general:

I do believe that, as the 9th Article of Faith says, we have yet to have many great and important things revealed. I think that to receive these further revelations, the environment of the church should be one of honest truth-seeking and acceptance of the Lord's will, whose thoughts and ways are not our ways, just as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9).

There might be issues that the Lord wants to address or reveal to us. Who knows what they are? I can't begin to say and don't want to try. The point is: Are we being too stubborn or close-minded or "notionalized" (see here and here) to receive what the Lord wants us to ask for and have?

I do have official support for my idea. In 2007, Elder Bednar was visiting the Jacksonville, NC 2nd Ward, the ward that shared my parents' ward's building. I home during my two-week break of being an EFY counselor, so I got to see him talk when we stayed for the other ward's sacrament meeting. He said that people ask him why we always hear the same things over and over at conference (go to church, pay your tithing, etc). He said that there is so much more the brethren want to share with us and tell us, but until we actually start listening to them and going to church and paying our tithing, the brethren are kind of stuck telling us the same things over and over, like "Go to church; pay your tithing."

Having heard him say that, I thought it was interesting that Elder Bednar's talk yesterday was about paying tithing.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Part 3, Popular arguments against women having the priesthood: A kind of Q&A

The following are the most popular arguments I've heard or read against women having the priesthood. I felt impressed to wind up my three-part post by addressing them.
As with my previous posts (Part 1, Introduction: Notions and Testimony; A reason why people may be reacting with fear or anger about women having the priesthood; and, Part 2, Scriptural defense of women having the priesthood), I approached this one in prayer and love. I have tried to be thoughtful and respectful, and to ground my thoughts in scripture. I have a strong testimony that women will have the priesthood, and I felt hugely prompted and subsequently inspired to write this (very long) three-part blog post. Four-part, if you count the kind of preface about the danger of notions. I have loved every minute of doing it. I hope it will be received in the spirit of love that it was written in.

1. “Women have babies. Men have the priesthood.”
The complement to motherhood is fatherhood, not the priesthood.
Both men and women create babies. Without sperm, the egg is useless for creating life. It is a man and a woman both working with God to create life. Beyond the biological facts, I am afraid that the equation “motherhood=priesthood” is damaging to the divine role of fatherhood. It separates and distinguishes fatherhood from priesthood. I am afraid this flawed equation can overshadow the office and duties of fatherhood, trivialize the father’s role in spiritual perspective of family and church, and alienate him from his children. Ideally, of course, fatherhood would be one in the same as priesthood, since priesthood is the power of God, and fathering a child, creating life, is also a power of God. But to delineate and separate fatherhood from priesthood in this way and to say “motherhood=priesthood” is to eclipse and trivialize fatherhood.
I’m not saying that women with the priesthood would suddenly start shirking their duties with their children. Rather, it seems like holding the power of God could only improve a woman’s mothering abilities in nurturing, teaching, and caring for her children.

2. “If women get the priesthood, we’ll all just become the same, and the differences between men and women are divinely appointed. Women who want the priesthood don't understand, cherish, or value their roles as women.”
I completely agree that men and women are different and those differences are divinely appointed. Divinely appointed means appointed by God. I cannot believe that introducing the power of God to women would obliterate the differences in men and women that God put there in the first place, and turn us all into a gender-neutral blob. I think both men and women having the priesthood would only perfect and enhance the different strengths, talents, and identities men and women have. We would all become Godly. It seems to me that seeking to become a Godly women is cherishing and valuing one's role as a woman.
           Also, please see point 7 for thoughts on judging the intents and understanding of others.           

3. “Women can still serve without the priesthood.”
That’s true. And so can men. The idea is that having the priesthood is having the ability to minister to others in an enhanced capacity. Service is kind of the point of the gospel, so I can only view the genuine desire to bless the lives of others in as many ways possible as consummately Christ-like. And think of the possibilities for the church to grow and expand if all of its members and their talents are available for use in whatever capacity or calling the church has need for. We are to build the Kingdom of God and to help bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (which is why we do missionary work, temple work, home and visiting teaching, everything that we do…to bring people to Christ and to give them an opportunity to have eternal life through the principles and ordinances of the gospel). How much more effective is a person serving in God’s work if he or she has His power? I’d say infinitely.

4. "I'm a feminist, but I don't support women having the priesthood. It's not my gender role to have the priesthood."
          I kind of cringe when I see the gender equality issue brought up. For me, it's more about the fundamental fact that we're all children of God, and we're all meant to become God one day, meaning we'll share His perfection, glory, power, and everything else that God is and has. The priesthood, remember, is the power of God. It is not inherently male. God can give His power to whomever He wants. As far as I've been able to find, there has been no official declaration that women cannot or will never legitimately hold the priesthood through ordination. There's a lot of status quo and "that's just the way it is" and these arguments here. But the church and the gospel are still being revealed and perfected, through the prophet asking questions and receiving revelation, and through the people of the church to be ready for revelation and change. To restrict the priesthood to being exclusively and forever for men is to, in my mind, deny God's infinite power to do with His own power what He will. To equate priesthood with man is a notion, which as we've discussed many times, is a dangerous obstruction to further understanding. To bind God to a notion is just plain not a good idea.
          Also, in the line of things that make me cringe: equating the priesthood with gender roles. It may well be that God will only ever, for all eternity, give the priesthood to men, which would be a divinely appointed role belonging to men. As I've said, I have yet to see a definitive answer on it. When I do, I will accept it wholeheartedly. I love this gospel. But back to the cringe-factor of equating priesthood with gender roles: Gender roles are part of man's society and culture. God is infinite, all-powerful, and ultimately beyond mortal man's total comprehension and supersedes a cultural set of mortal norms or gender roles. They're just different animals. It seems like it might not be such a great idea to equate the power of God with mortal gender roles like who typically makes money, does laundry, or takes out the garbage.
          My interest in this question is how women and men both become like God. To hold His power seems to be necessary to becoming perfected like Him. It seems beside the point and not fitting the case to argue that women asking for the priesthood are trying to become equal, more equal, or more than men. The standard is not men; the standard is God.

*5. “Women having the priesthood will cheapen it for the men.”
Again, the priesthood is the power of God, not the power of the holder. He can give it to whomever He wants to. And God is all-powerful: God has created the universe and all creation; Jesus raised the dead, cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, healed the sick, cleansed the leprous; took all of our sins on Him and atoned for them so we had a hope and chance to work through our imperfect, mortal state to someday become cleansed, perfected, and one with Him; He himself rose from the dead…the list is endless. He has incomprehensible power. Alma 26:35 says He has all power. 1 Nephi 7:12 says he can do all things. Jeremiah 32:17 says nothing is too hard for God to do. Matthew 28:28 says God has all power in heaven and earth. There are tons more verses that will attest to the infinite power of God. So, His power is absolute, infallible, eternal, and inexhaustible. That power is also the priesthood, since the priesthood is the power of God. I don’t believe that giving God’s power to all of God’s children can weaken, cheapen, or degrade it. Rather, I think it would achieve its full efficacy if all of God’s children shared in God’s power. It seems like it would be that much more complete. After all, that’s the goal of mortality, for us all to live with and like God, to ultimately become God in the sense that we become one with His perfection, glory, and power. That is heaven. That is eternal life.

*6. “Women will overrun the church if they have the priesthood.”
This one makes no sense to me. We’re constantly being told that compared to men, women are the spiritual giants, the nurturers, the selfless givers (I’m not saying I agree with this; see point 10 for more on this). How would having something as pure as the power of God suddenly turn such saintly, angelic women into slavering, power-hungry demons bent on destroying the church, specifically all men in the church? Even if that were to happen, there is a really cool fail-safe in how the priesthood (power of God) operates, to prevent abuse of that power, in D&C 121:36-37:

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

(Quick note on use of “man”: it is used to comprehend both men and women throughout the scriptures, so its use here would not be a good argument for only men having the priesthood. Unless you also want to argue that only men can get into the celestial kingdom through a temple-sealed marriage [D&C 131:1-4].)
Cool, isn’t it? If you use God’s power in an ungodly way, you lose it. It’s as simple as that. You can have no place in or kinship with God unless you are really one with Him, by obedience to His commandments. So there is no danger of a new race of demonic harpy-women overrunning the church. They would literally be incapable of it.

*7. “It’s only power-hungry, vain, borderline apostate, malcontented sinful women asking for the priesthood.” And, spoken or simply implied: “They really need to be shamed and persecuted into silence.”
Again, the priesthood is the power of God, not the power of man. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 and 3 Nephi 13:33 to seek for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Endowed members have covenanted to build up the kingdom of God. That’s all we do, really, with our callings and missionary work and temple ordinances and home teaching and visiting teaching and raising our children. I don’t see how looking for an avenue to serve others and build the kingdom is a sinful thing. Besides which, see my previous point, if you are in fact any of those negative things, the priesthood isn’t going to do you any good, because you’ll be incapable of exercising it.
Also, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2). Because: “For thou [God] only knowest the hearts of the children of men,” “Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning” (2 Chronicles 6:30 and Alma 18:32).
So really, judging the intents of those asking for the priesthood is impossible, as we are not God, and is furthermore a sin, in that God has told us not to do it. I mean, feel free to go ahead and verbally or mentally judge me or anyone else supporting this discussion. It’s just not a good idea to do so.

*8. “I feel so sad for these women asking for the priesthood. They don’t understand the gospel. If they would just read their scriptures and pray and actually have a testimony, they’d see the error of their ways and come back to God.”
See my previous paragraph on not judging.
            Also, please be aware that if you're holding up your understanding of the gospel as absolute, unchangeable, and absolutely perfect (which you are doing, to some degree, when you bemoan someone else's "lack of understanding"--really, you're just saying that they don't see the room or the table the same way you do. Saying someone is wrong or ignorant doesn't make you right or enlightened), you are closed off to receiving further light and knowledge, from anywhere, even from the Spirit, because you won't be looking or asking for more if you think you have everything already. You may want to take a close look at your concept of the gospel to make sure you haven't made a notion out of it that is keeping you from growing and learning. This is a deeply personal thing that must be done with honesty, prayer, and the Spirit. I'm not telling you one way or another what to think. Only the Spirit can confirm truth, and the Spirit manifests the truth of all things when you ask with a pure heart and real intent and faith in Christ (Moroni 10:4).
Let me tell you from experience: As I’ve spent hours and hours researching, studying, reading, and praying about this, I have felt the Spirit very strongly. I have been prompted and guided all along the way. In my personal study, I have been prompted to certain scripture passages that were not anywhere near my mind that have illuminated my understanding. I have felt the Spirit witness to me over and over with power, love, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7) and peace (D&C 6:23) that I’m on the right path as I’ve prayerfully studied this. Few things can be more painful than to have someone (a stranger on a message board, your facebook friend, a home teacher from six years ago) outrightly dismiss or condemn such a faith-promoting experience and solid, Spirit-borne testimony as being sinful, or ignorant, or evidence of a lack of testimony or relationship with God.
I am a faithful member. I respect, love, and sustain the prophet, the apostles, the general authorities, my local authorities. I pray. I study the scriptures. I pay tithing. I go to church and take the sacrament. I do my calling. I teach my kids. We do FHE. We do family prayer and scriptures. My husband and I go to the temple. I have a question about women having the priesthood. You’d be surprised how many good people have questions.
It is not a sin to ask questions. We are told we should ask questions (James 1:5, Moroni 10:4-5). In fact, all of revelation comes from asking questions (see the Restoration, the Word of Wisdom, the 1978 expansion of the priesthood, your patriarchal blessing, any of your personal revelation, etc). If the question does not seem important to you, or if you have spiritual confirmation that keeps you supporting the status quo, that’s totally fine. But please don’t condemn people who have questions.
And please remember, what you say to one person who is studying this issue is to say it to everyone who thinks or feels the same. When you link an article on your facebook and bemoan the poor, ignorant, sinful soul who wrote it, be aware that you’re calling all of your friends who ask the same question ignorant and sinful. Degrading someone for seeing things differently from you do does not make you right. It only engenders pain and bad feelings.
For more on what may be a more constructive, testimony-building (and definitely not as judgy, condemning, or contentious) response to feeling fear or discomfort when someone asks a question or believes differently from you, please see my final paragraph on the post “Women and the Priesthood.”

*9. “I don’t ever want the priesthood. I have enough to do and worry about.”
That’s fine. No one is compelled to have the priesthood, as compulsion is directly contrary to the nature of the priesthood (see point 5). But like I said in point 6, the whole point of being in the church is to serve and build the kingdom. We are to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). Acting with God’s power can only bring righteousness, as that’s all God is: truth and light and righteousness. His power can’t be anything other than what He is.

*10. “Women have the priesthood. I have more claim on the priesthood than the priesthood holder does, because I can get a blessing from him. He can’t give himself a blessing. The priesthood is not a selfish thing.”
All true points. The point is off, though. A priesthood holder cannot give himself a blessing, true. But he has as much claim on another priesthood holder for a blessing as a non-priesthood holder or woman does. And yes, the priesthood is not for the holder to practice ordinances on himself. But again, the point of having the priesthood is to serve others, so I don’t understand the point of implying that a woman wanting the priesthood is being selfish. If she has the priesthood, she is equally unable to bless herself as a man is to bless himself. So it seems more selfish to sit back and lounge in the claim you have on others’ priesthood than it is to go and use your own holding of the priesthood to serve.

Now for the asterisks, in points 5-10. These are all damaging, sexist, ignorant arguments. They all characterize women, whether they want the priesthood or not, as basically selfish, domineering, corrupting, evil, and lazy. Not a good thing. I would find it hard to find a general conference where there wasn’t at least one talk about how Satan is trying to attack, degrade, and derail women from their divine roles. Characterizing women in such a condemning way is bad news.

Along the same lines, here are two more arguments. These ones are also sexist and condemning, but they condemn men. Actually, the first is sexist and damaging to both men and women.

11. “Men need the priesthood. Women are so naturally pure and good and charitable. They’re much closer to God than men are. So men need the priesthood to elevate them to the spiritual level of women. And that’s why women don’t need the priesthood, they’re already spiritual and good enough.”
The standard is God, not women. We are all to become perfect, like God, not just spiritually exceptional. Having God’s power (the priesthood) is essential to becoming like Him.
I also have more faith in men than to believe that they’re essentially spiritually inferior to women. To propagate this myth is to continue false and damaging perceptions of men and women. It disempowers men and provides them a cop-out: “Well, I’m a just a man, you’re a woman, it’s your job to be the spiritually strong one.” It also puts women on a pedestal and elevates them to the level of a false god, when men are compared to women for spiritual perfection.

12. “Men need the priesthood, or they won’t come to church.”
This is kind of a rehash of the previous point. Again, I don’t believe men are spiritually inferior. I believe that a true convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ will go to church, whether they have the priesthood or not.
But this is kind of moot point. Since men have the priesthood.

13. “Men will stop coming to church if women have the priesthood.”
I have no idea where this one comes from. Maybe I’m just really lucky in that I have an awesome husband, dad, and father-in-law that I cannot even imagine men refusing to go to church if women have the priesthood.

            I want to thank everyone throughout the church who has contributed to this dialogue. It is scary to be a voice different from the rest, but once you hear someone say what you think and feel, they have created a safe place for discussion. I think it's going to take more time and voices for this issue to gain ground and for people to really be safe from persecution when they talk about it, so I'm doing what I can to help out. I have felt prompted to write what I have and I have been undeniably inspired while writing. I feel confident about what I have said. It has been a hugely spiritual, very testimony-building experience for me. If there is a mission for these posts beyond that, I hope they fill their duty. I hope these blog posts get spread far and wide J

And I’d like to thank my kids for taking such great naps over the last few days so I could finish this. J And my husband, for picking up the slack while I spent the last few nights glued to my computer and my scriptures. You guys are the best.

Part 2: Scriptural defense of women having the priesthood

Definition of the priesthood:
I’m going to keep it to basics to avoid as much risk as possible of “notionalizing” the priesthood.
True to the Faith says that the “priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. Through the priesthood God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power He redeems and exalts His children, bringing to pass ‘the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39)” (TttF, 124). Doctrine and Covenants 107:5 says that “all other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.”
            So, the priesthood is the power of God. It is not the office or duty of the priesthood. I think the difficulty in church culture comes from our tendency to equate the priesthood with men. The priesthood is not the power of the holder; it is not the power of men. It is the power of God. It may well be that God has designed it to be held exclusively by men, but that still doesn’t make it male in its nature or essence. It is first and foremost the power of God.
            As I said before, I have a testimony borne out of study, prayer, and the Spirit that women will someday have the priesthood. How or when I don’t know. But women will have the priesthood. Now, let’s get into the scriptures and insights that have led me to this conclusion.

The Nature of God:
            Since the priesthood is the power of God, it is necessary to look into the nature of God. I’m a fan of the teaching that “all spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7). I like to think of God beyond God the person, in the sense of God as the power that created the universe. God is everything that is reality and truth. God is light, God is gravity, God is love, God is thermodynamics, God is peace, God, again, is everything that is reality and truth. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). God the person, as we know Him as our Heavenly Father, and also as Jesus, is within God the power. God the person was once a mortal man, like us. Like Lorenzo Snow said in his famous couplet, "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1984], 1)." How could a mortal man also be “without beginning or end of days” (Moses 1:3)? How could a mortal man exist at all without his existence first being created by the divine power of God? I think that God the person became Himself, became God, when He was perfected (exalted) in spirit and knowledge and intelligence and glory, or, in other words, became one with God the power. So, God is in everything, because God is perfection and wholeness. “All truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.” I think of that whole as God. You don’t have to subscribe to a set definition or notion of God to feel or know God, in whatever sense or medium you do. In fact, clinging to a notion about God limits God in the sense that you refuse to look beyond your notion to experience God as God actually is.
Anyway, the idea of God as power makes sense to me for the idea of our own exaltation. When we are perfected, we also become one with God. Again, "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be." We become “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48; footnote for “perfect” is “Greek: complete, finished, fully developed). We become God. We share God’s power and glory and knowledge and intelligence. We are subsumed by the power and reality that is God, just like God the person was. So we become God, one with God the power, and become God the persons, too.
The scriptures also support the idea of multiple God the persons within God the power. The name “Elohim” is Hebrew for multiple gods. The creation accounts are particularly fascinating for this idea. Since God (or the Gods, plural, if you read Abraham 4) created man in His/their own likeness and image, male and female, it’s safe to assume that God includes male and female. God, therefore, would comprehend all exalted beings, male and female, who have become one with God the power. So it would follow that the title God would comprehend male and female. Please note, I’m not saying that Heavenly Father, the physical personification of God, comprises male and female. I’m saying that the title, office, and power of God comprises male and female. This, subsequently, clears up, for me, the difficulty of “What about our Heavenly Mother?” God the title, power, and office comprises male and female, so God would be both Father and Mother. This idea is further supported by Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:11: “Nevertheless neither is man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” To be complete and perfect, you need both male and female. God is complete and perfect. God would need to be both male and female.
So it follows that the power of God would be for all of His children, both male and female. Particularly since the point of our mortal life is to become like Him, to be exalted and perfected and one with Him, with God. It seems to me to be impossible to become perfect like God without God’s power, and it seems impossible to become perfect like God without also receiving God’s power.
There are a few places in scripture that describe exactly who receives the priesthood. In Alma 13:3-6, it says that priesthood bearers were

called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling…on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds…and thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they might also enter his rest.

            Further, in Alma 13:10-12:

            Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;
Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

            So, here, those who are called to the priesthood are those who, one, have kept their first estate, or who followed the Savior’s plan for redemption, rather than Satan’s; two, have had faith and accepted the Savior; three, have exercised faith and repentance; four, have been baptized (that’s my interpretation of “having their garments made white”); and five, have been sanctified by the Holy Ghost. This describes any faithful member of the church. There is no mention of it being exclusively for men. Unless you argue that the use of “priest” or “brethren” implies an exclusively male priesthood. And if you want to make that argument, you’d have to reconcile the fact that “man” is used to describe all of mankind, male and female, as read in the creation accounts, and that only “man” is described as being able to enter the celestial kingdom after having entered into the new and everlasting covenant of celestial marriage (D&C 131:1-4).
            There is more support for accepting and receiving God as a prerequisite to the priesthood:
D&C 11:30 says “as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name. Amen.” The footnote for “sons of God” points you to the “Topical Guide: Sons and Daughters of God.” D&C 25:1 says “all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.” Then in D&C 76:58, in referencing Melchizedek priesthood holders, it says “they are gods, even the sons of God.” Again, the reference is the “Topical Guide: Sons and Daughters of God,” as well as “TG: Exaltation,” and “TG: Man, Potential to Become Like Heavenly Father.” So, as the sons and daughters of God, we have the potential to be like Him, that is, to be exalted, to become one with God the power, and in so doing, become God ourselves. “And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:37-38). God cannot lie. If we receive Jesus, if we receive our Father, if we receive God, we receive all that God has. That would include His power, the priesthood.

Why Should We Desire the Priesthood?
1. To serve; to build the Kingdom; to fulfill God’s purposes and glory
            “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do goo they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:27-28). The point of this church is to serve: to serve each other as brothers and sisters, to serve in our callings, to serve in perfecting the saints, in proclaiming the gospel, in redeeming the dead, in building up the kingdom of God, in establishing Zion. We are to help bring about God’s glory; we are to help bring about “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Remember the definition from True to the Faith: “The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. Through the priesthood God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power He redeems and exalts His children, bringing to pass ‘the immortality and eternal life of man.’” So, the priesthood is the means by which God’s purposes are fulfilled. We’re all supposed to be fulfilling those purposes. It makes sense that we’d all have the perfect power to do so.

2. To learn of God
D&C 84:19: “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.”
We can’t become like God, or even approach Him, if we don’t learn of Him. The priesthood holders have received revelation and restored ordinances and knowledge, yes, absolutely. And I think this also means that when you hold the power of God, you have the ability to learn more, to have the mysteries of the kingdom revealed to you. To hold the power of God is to grow closer to Him, to learn of Him, and to ultimately become one with Him.

3. To be sanctified, resurrected, and receive a perfected body
In order to be in God’s presence, to be one with Him, everything about you must be perfected. That includes your physical body. And, “whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken [Aaronic and Melchizedek], and the magnifying of their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” (D&C 84:33). So, at some point, you have to obtain the priesthood in order for your body to be resurrected and sanctified by the Spirit. Then “they [faithful priesthood holders] become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God” (D&C 84:34). Again, as discussed previously, please note that “sons” does not mean the exclusion of women. Unless it makes sense that only men will be the church and kingdom and elect of God. It doesn’t make sense to me.

4. To become one with God
D&C 107:19: “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.”
Again, can you really become God without holding His power? I’ve talked about this issue a lot, so I’ll just let this scripture speak for itself.

So, that is the bulk of my study on this topic. As I’ve written this, I have had the Spirit remind me of scriptures, out of the blue, that have enhanced my understanding and have led me to further inspiration, questions, and thoughts. I have felt peace and a sound mind as I have discovered what the Spirit is telling me is truth. I am confident that women will have the priesthood. I don’t know how or when, and my testimony of the gospel and my relationship with God, do not depend on it happening in any certain timeframe or manner. But it will happen. I think that the major obstacle to it happening right away is a tendency in our church culture, as I said at the beginning, to equate “priesthood” with “man.” This is flawed and dangerous. Priesthood is the power of God, not the power of the person who holds it. This flawed notion obstructs the free discussion of the possibility of all of God’s children, who are all meant to do His work and become like Him, having His power. People get scared, offended, or threatened when the inaccurate notion of priesthood=man is threatened, so they fight, contend, persecute, shame, or punish those who are asking the question that threatens their notion. Remember, only God knows a person’s heart. Only God can judge whether I or anyone else asking this question is doing it with a pure heart, real intent, and faith in Christ. If your reaction to what I’ve shared is one of fear or aggression, please be honest with yourself: is it the Spirit telling you I’m wrong? Or is it fear coming from your notion of the priesthood being questioned? A notion of a thing is not the thing itself. You cannot have faith in a notion; that is like setting up a false god for yourself.
           I remain open to further light and knowledge on the topic. I do not want to publish this entry and close the book on this topic, assuming I have learned everything there is to know about it, that it is full and complete and I need no more understanding. That would be turning this into a notion and obstructing my ability to experience the priesthood for what it really is. If I am wrong about this, I will freely admit it. I want to be corrected by God if I'm wrong. But all of my experience and feedback (the spiritual kind, not the
internet kind 
J) thus far tells me that what I've written is true. If you have any sort of fear-reaction to what I've shared, please remember that fear is not from God. God confirms truth with power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7. I keep referencing that verse because it is true. And I love it. J) Take your fears to God. Get your answer from Him. I'm not saying you have to have the same answer I do. But it is imperative that whatever answer you get be free from fear, that it be accurate, and that if come from God.

Part 1, Introduction: Notions and Testimony; also, a reason why people may be reacting with fear or anger about the idea of women having the priesthood

Continuing the idea from my previous post about notions: If people will fight over their notion, or snap shot, of a single table, imagine dozens of people in a room with dozens of tables. Try to reconcile each person’s notion of each table with everyone else’s. It's impossible, If everyone takes a snapshot from their vantage point in the room and clings to it as the one and only way to view the room, you're going to have a lot of frustrated, scared and angry people:

"This blue table here is way bigger than that red table over there," says the lady next to the blue table.
"No, the red table is at least twice the size of the blue table," says the guy next to the red table.
"Hey, that black table in the middle of the room...that's a really pretty table," says someone else.
"What are you talking about? There is no black table in this room! There is only a purple table in the middle of the room!!" says the person whose view of the black table is blocked by a purple table.
         Fighting ensues. Bad feelings, anger, antagonism, fear, shame, guilt, abound. And no one is even a tiny little bit closer to gaining accurate, increased understanding of the room by experiencing the room as the room really is. All of this could be avoided if people realized that their snapshot is not the ultimate definition of the room. A snapshot is not even the room at all. Only the room is the room. You can only see the room for what it is by throwing away your snapshot and leaving your vantage point to move around the room, by experiencing the room and every single table in it.

          That’s the gospel. It's made of all of these solid and true principles, all these tables in the room. And that's what happens in the church when people are so invested in their notions of gospel principles. You get obstruction to understanding the table for itself; you get spiritual stagnation. And you get a whole lot of fighting and bad feeling: contention and people feeling angry, scared, ashamed, persecuted, self-righteous, domineering, and confused. What you don’t get is the Spirit. You don’t get insight, revelation, peace, love, light, truth. You don’t get God when everyone clings to their notions of what the gospel is, rather than releasing their notions and experiencing the gospel for what it is. And when you have so many disparate notions of the gospel, it’s even more important to the notion-holder to prove all of his or her notions as the be-all, end-all of all notions. Because the gospel is true and infallible and absolute, they feel their notions of it must be the be-all, end-all. That there’s only one way to interpret the gospel. And their interpretation, their notions,
have to be right. Their salvation, they think, depends on it. So they must prove everyone else wrong, so that they can be right. They miss the point that the gospel is not notions. The gospel simply is. You can’t take a snapshot of the gospel and call it the gospel any more than you can take a snapshot of the table and call that the table, or of a room full of tables and call the picture the room. No, the table, the room, is over there, waiting for you to go over and experience it directly.
            When we bear our testimonies in testimony meeting or to each other, what we’re ideally sharing is our direct insight and experience with God and the gospel. You feel the Spirit witness to you that what you or someone is saying is true. That is direct experience with God. You can’t get a testimony from someone else’s experiences, but their experiences can trigger some thought or action in you that leads to your own insight and testimony.
When someone shares their testimony, you have to assume that they are sharing genuine, heartfelt, spiritual insight and experience. It’s not your responsibility to “keep them honest” by accusing them, out loud, on the internet, or in your heart, of ulterior motives or disingenuousness or lying. It is your responsibility to keep yourself honest. This is especially important when what you’re hearing makes you uncomfortable. Is this the Spirit telling you that what you’re hearing is wrong? Or is it that you have a dearly-held notion that is being threatened? Remember, a notion is not the thing itself. It is misleading and dangerous, an obstruction to further spiritual growth, understanding, faith, and knowledge. Notions do not lead to salvation, so there’s no reason to cling to them and defend them at the cost of real growth and knowledge, or at the risk of engaging in contention. “Contention is of the devil” (3 Nephi 11:39), so where contention is, there the devil is. Where contention is, there God is not. Rather, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
In my experience, when my notion comes under attack, I feel scared. Scared to death that my notion, upon which I’ve hung my faith, is wrong. And if it’s wrong, my salvation is at stake. When this happens, the only way forward, the only way to have real, founded, living faith and understanding, is to throw out your notion and go to the thing itself. Throw away your snapshot of the table and go to the table itself so you can see and experience it for what it is. Or, to be explicit in my analogy, throw out your notion of whatever gospel principle you’re feeling fear over. Go back to the scriptures, to God, go and experience it as itself. Then you will have a foundation for real and living faith, in the thing itself, not on a fundamentally useless notion that you’ve created for yourself. Then you will have a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind.
            This is my story of tackling a particular “table” that is quite popular in church conversation at the moment: women and the priesthood. When I first heard a sister talk about women having the priesthood, I was shocked, slightly offended, and incredibly scared. “The priesthood is for men. Men are the priesthood,” my mind sputtered. But, knowing that fear and faith cannot coexist, I took the issue back to the source. I studied the scriptures. I prayed. I was blessed with promptings, insight, inspiration, peace, and love. It has been an unending round of pure intelligence, and

“When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 151).

This whole process of studying the issue of women with the priesthood has strengthened my relationship with God. I have had ideas and scriptures brought to my mind as I’ve studied it. I have felt the Spirit. I have felt peace, confidence, and love. I have felt God. It has increased my understanding of His nature, and of the nature of mortality, exaltation, of ultimate reality as a whole. I am confident that women will have the priesthood someday. Let me share with you my testimony, what I’ve learned and experienced through the Spirit. I pray to do so with the Spirit, thoughtfully, and with love.

And I’ll do my best to keep my own snapshots out of it. J

Addendum: Cultivating living faith; and, more on perfect knowledge

I forgot to put in this quote in my last post. It relates to perfect knowledge, how when you have it, you are perfected and become one with God (see Ether 3). Perfect knowledge comes from engaging with God, because through God and His Spirit you get knowledge and truth (Moroni 10:5). So if you are still here alive on earth and not currently one with God and the divine, your knowledge is not yet perfect. There's still more to learn and there are still ways for you to grow. When you believe you already have perfect and complete knowledge and therefore allow your notion (your snapshot of the table from your vantage point) to block your experiencing God as Himself, you stagnate on your spiritual path. You don't learn or grow. So, spiritual growth, growing faith and understanding, is two-fold: one, you have to make sure that your faith is in the thing itself, not your notion of it; two, you have to actively seek to experience and engage with the thing itself.

Or, as Thay so much more eloquently puts it, in Going Home, pages 62-63:

"Faith is a living thing. It has to grow. The food that helps it to grow is the continued discoveries, the deeper understanding of reality. In Buddhism, faith is nourished by understanding. The practice of looking deeply helps you to understand better. As you understand better, your faith grows.
As understanding and faith are living things, there is something in our understanding and faith that dies in every moment, and there is something in our understanding and faith that is born every moment. In Zen Buddhism, it is expressed in a very drastic way. Master Lin Chi said, ‘Be aware. If you meet the Buddha, kill him.’ I think that’s the strongest way of saying this. If you have a notion of the Buddha [or anything divine], you are caught in it. If you don’t release the notion of the Buddha, there is no way for you to advance on the spiritual path. Kill the Buddha. Kill the notion of the Buddha that you have. We have to grow. Otherwise we will die on our spiritual path.
Understanding is a process. It is a living thing. Never claim that you have understood reality completely. As you continue to live deeply each moment of your daily life, your understanding grows as does your faith." (62-63)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nurturing a true and living faith; also, not fighting with people.

I’ve been seeing a lot of fighting going on about LDS gospel doctrine and practice. It’s frustrating to me to see people hold their perception as the one and only way to view or understand an issue, and then try to impose it on others. I think it comes from the idea that the LDS church is the only church with the full gospel. This is true. It has the saving ordinances (baptism, endowment, marriage, etc) you need for exaltation. But I think we trip up when we assume that everyone has to have the same interpretation and understanding of the gospel. And I mean, issues beyond the obvious ones, like the law of chastity. I think that we assume that, since we understand a doctrine in the gospel, and the gospel is true and infallible, that our interpretation must also be infallible, and the only way of understanding it. So we panic when others interpret it differently. If they’re right, we must be wrong. If we’re wrong, we could somehow lose out on salvation. So we’re very invested in our interpretation, and there is still a 50% chance that we are wrong. But if we can convince the other person to switch over to our way of thinking, we’re 100% guaranteed to be right, and in rightness there is safety. And the other guy is in the exact same position: he wants to convince you he’s right so he feels safe. So we fight. We name-call, we judge, we condemn, we persecute, we alienate, we punish. Because if we can prove the other guy wrong, or at least get him to admit he is, we’re right, and we’re safe on the road to salvation. Right? Or are we setting up static, stagnant concepts and notions that actually block us from understanding the doctrine, or the teaching, or God Himself? And then, not only are we following, in a sense, false gods, but we’re picking fights with each other over them? That’s not good for anyone!
I’m reading a really excellent book right now that has a section that addresses this. The book is by a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. His students affectionately call him “Thay,” which I will do, because I already feel really close to him. Reading this book brings the Spirit like crazy. He’s an amazing philosopher and teacher. The book is called Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. I’ve always felt a strong pull to Buddhism. After I read Paul F. Knitter’s Without Buddha, I Could Not be a Christian, where this serious long-term divinity school scholar and professor draws theological parallels between Christianity and Buddhism, I could see why I’ve always been so prompted to look into Buddhism. It has helped me look deeply and ask substantial questions that have helped me understand the nature of God and my religion beyond the tragically literal concepts I’d carried my whole life. When I say "tragically literal," we’re talking me basically just lazily thinking of God as this more-than-mortal guy hanging out up in a heaven situated somewhere in space watching our every move, waiting to rain down blessings for obedience or punishments for disobedience. I never really stopped to think, to consider, to study, to feel. I have now what I think is a clearer insight into His true nature now, but my experience with Him and faith in Him continue to grow and develop and evolve. And don’t worry, I substantiate everything I learn by going back to God in the scriptures and in prayer. :)
            And that is where this entry comes in. How do you nurture and grow a dynamic, living faith in a church it’s so easy to get lazy and say, “This is how it is, this is the whole, absolute truth, and it will never change”? And how do you coexist with people who see things differently? Who's wrong here, because we can't both be right, can we?
            Before you scoff, dear LDS friends, remember the “line upon line, precept on precept, here a little, there a little” pattern of God revealing truth to His children that shows up all over scripture (Isaiah 28:10, D&C 98:12, D&C 128:21, 2 Nephi 28:30). There will always be more truth and light and knowledge given, until it is perfect, that is to say, complete and full. If you have a perfect knowledge, like the brother of Jared did, you are subsumed by God. You become one with Him, because He is perfect and you, through obedience to God and His Spirit, have become perfect. So it’s a safe bet that if you’re still here on earth, you still have more knowledge to receive.
Also, remember that all truth can be gathered into one complete big picture. You might think it’s weird that I’m drawing truth from a religion other than the LDS faith, but truth is truth, no matter where it is. And you can know it’s truth by the confirmation of the Spirit (Moroni 10:4-6) and by its fruits. A good tree brings forth good fruit, according to Matthew 7:17. The good fruit would be peace and love and power and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You know it’s truth when you feel God.
I felt God when I was reading this. So I want to share. First, Thay talks about what constitutes true faith:

“When you have faith, you have the impression that you have the truth, you have insight, you know the path to follow, to take. And that is why you are a happy person. But is it a real path, or just the clinging to a set of beliefs? These are two different things. True faith comes from how the path you are taking can bring you life and love and happiness every day. You continue to learn so that your happiness and your peace, and the happiness and peace of the people around you, can grow. You don’t have to follow a religious path in order to have faith. But if you are committed to only a set of ideas and dogmas that may be called faith, that is not true faith. We have to distinguish. That is not true faith, but it gives you energy. That energy is still blind and can lead to suffering; it can cause suffering for other people around you. Having the kind of energy that can keep you lucid, loving, and tolerant is very different from having energy that is blind.  You can make a lot of mistakes out of that kind of energy. We have to distinguish between true faith and blind faith. That is a problem in every tradition.
            In the teaching of the Buddha, faith is made of a substance called insight or direct experience. [I just want to interject…this is what we call our testimonies in the church, this insight and direct experience.] When a teacher knows something, he or she wants to transmit that to disciples. But she cannot transmit the experience, she can only transmit the idea. The disciple has to work through it by himself. The problem is not to communicate the experience in terms of ideas or notions. The issue is how to help the disciple go through the same kind of experience. For instance, you know how a mango tastes, and you may like to try to describe the taste of the mango, but it is better to offer the disciple a piece of mango so that he can have a direct experience.
If you call yourself a Buddhist [and I would replace “Buddhist” with whatever your religion is] but your faith is not made of insight and direct experience, then your faith is something to be re-examined. Faith here is not faith in just a notion, an idea, or an image. When you look at a table, you have a notion about the table, but the table might be very different from your notion. It’s very important that you get a direct experience of the table. Even if you don’t have a notion of the table, you have the table. The technique is to remove all notions in order for the table to be possible as a direct experience.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home, bits from pages 71-82)

            I want to take a second to expand on this analogy of the table, particularly in light of my experience in the church. We are in a wonderful and tricky position to be in a church that we believe is the only one to have the fullness of the gospel. That makes gospel doctrine very black and white, which it is: truth is absolute and is not subject to culture, time, or country. The tricky part is when we get into thinking that people’s unique perceptions, definitions, and notions must also be black and white.
I’m going to push the table analogy further. Say that you’re in a room full of people, and there’s a table in the middle of the room. Everyone is in a different place in the room, in relation to each other, in relation to the table. How they got to their specific location isn’t really important: life choices, conscious decisions, freak accidents, random luck of the draw, whatever. The important part is that everyone is in a unique position within the room. Now ask all these people to look at the table from where they’re standing. Then have them describe the table they see. You will get a different description from every single person, because of their position and vantage point. They might agree on certain aspects, like, it’s brown, but no two descriptions will be the same. And think about it: If you were to take a picture of the same table from each person’s point of view, it would be a different table, based solely on the picture. Some people might see the tabletop as square, other as a diamond shape. Some people might see all four legs, others might see only three because one leg is covering another. And if you use these unique viewpoints, these snapshots, and call them the table, you’re going to have a bunch of people fighting about which snapshot of the table is the most accurate.
            The thing is, they’re all equally accurate and equally fail miserably to actually be the table. You have to throw away your snapshot, move around the room, go up to the table and actually experience it. You can’t cling to your own snapshot from your unique viewpoint and call that the table. That’s like going to a restaurant, and instead of ordering and eating food, you try to cut up a menu and eat the words that describe the food.
            I think you probably know where I’m going with this. Say the table is God. Everyone’s looking at the same God, but from different vantage points that are a result of their life experiences, so God looks different to everyone. If you sit there and fight with someone over your fixed snapshots of God, you’re never going to be able to get past your own preconceptions and notions to walk up to God and experience Him as He is. You’re just going to waste a lot of time and energy engendering bad feelings and participating in contention, which will only take you away from God, because “contention is of the devil”.

            Back to Thay, now on the topic of how notions and concepts (your “snapshots” of the divine) are dangerous:

            “We have so many wrong notions and ideas; it is dangerous to believe in them, because someday we may find out that that idea is a wrong idea, that notion is a wrong notion, that perception is a wrong perception. People living with a lot of wrong perceptions, ideas, and notions, and when they invest their life in them it is dangerous.
Let us discuss, for instance, our idea of happiness. Each of us, young or less young, has a notion of how to be happy. We believe that if we get this or that, we will be happy, and that until we realize these things, happiness is not possible. Most of us tend to have that kind of attitude.
Suppose someone asks you, ‘What do you believe or think to be the most basic conditions for your happiness?’ They may suggest that you reflect a little bit on it and write down on a sheet of paper the basic conditions for your happiness. This is a very wonderful invitation for us to re-examine our notion of happiness. According to the teaching of the Buddha, our notion of happiness may be the obstacle to our happiness. Because of that notion, we may remain unhappy for our entire lives. This is why it is so crucial to remove that notion of happiness. Then you have the opportunity to open the door to true happiness, which already exists inside and around us.
If you are committed to one idea of happiness, then you are caught. You may not be happy all your life. You think that if your idea cannot be realized, then happiness will never be possible. That is why a notion is an obstacle. There are many ways to be happy, but you are committed in only one way. That is a loss. A young person may say, ‘If I can’t marry that person, it’s better to die because happiness cannot be possible without that person.’ But you don’t have to die. There are other ways to be happy, but because you are only committed to one idea—that happiness is only possible with this person.”

So, if we cling to notions, to snapshots of the actual thing, rather than going back to the thing itself and experiencing it over and over, we stagnate. We cling to something that is not real, that does not promote real, living faith. If you have one concept of God and say, “This is it. This is all there is. This is exactly how and what and why God is,” you’ve replaced God with a snapshot. Actually, more like a sketch that you drew yourself. And that sketch is elevated to the status of a false god, if it takes the place of your seeking to continue to experience God Himself. Your certainty keeps you from experiencing God. And really, who can definitively say exactly what God is? God’s ways are not man’s ways. We have a very limited understanding through a very mortal lens. We see through a glass darkly, as it were. So, to a mortal mind, the divine will always defy description. God is not to be bound be mere words. I think that’s important to remember. It would save a lot of bad feeling of people arguing about how they see God.
            And in that vein, back to Thay, on suffering that comes when people are closed and persecute others when they think they have the only and full truth:

“Faith here is a living thing, and as a living thing it has to change. We allow our faith to change. That does not mean that today I believe this, but tomorrow I will no longer believe in it and will instead believe in something complete different. A one-year-old lemon tree is a lemon tree, but a three-year-old lemon tree is also a lemon tree. True faith is always true faith, but since faith is a living thing, it must grow. If we adopt that kind of behavior and know how to handle our faith and therefore our love, it will not make people suffer.
When we believe something to be the absolute truth, we are closed. We are no longer open to the understanding and insight of other people, and this is because the object of our faith is just an idea, not a living thing. But if the object of your faith is your direct experience and your insight, then you can always be open. You can grow every day in your practice, in sharing the fruit of your practice, and in making your faith, love, and happiness grow.
There are many people who in the name of faith or love persecute countless people around them. If I believe that my notion about God, about happiness, about nirvana is perfect, I want very much to impose that notion on you. I will say that if you don’t believe as I do, you will not be happy. I will do everything I can to impose my notions on you, and therefore I will destroy you. I will make you unhappy for the whole of your life. We will destroy each other in the name of faith, in the name of love, just because of the fact that the objects of our faith and our love are not true insight, are not direct experience of suffering and of happiness; they are just notions and ideas.
There is something more important than notions and perceptions, and that is our direct experience of suffering and of happiness. If our faith is made of this direct experience and insight, then it is true faith and it will never make us suffer. … Suppose you have learned the art of making fruitcake. You have made fruitcake several times, and because of your experience you now have faith in your capacity to make fruitcake; you are confident as far as fruitcake-making is concerned. There is only one thing that you have to bear in mind: Your art of making fruitcake can be improved. You know how to make fruitcake, but you have to be aware that there are people who are better than you at making fruitcake, and you can always improve your art of fruitcake-making.
Life is so precious, too precious to lose just because of these notions and concepts. Very often we feed ourselves only with words and notion and concepts…we do it all our live. Concepts like ‘nirvana,’ ‘Buddha,’ ‘Pure Land,’ ‘Kingdom of God,’ and ‘Jesus’ are just concepts; we have to be very careful. We should not start a war and destroy people because of concepts.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home, bits from pages 71-82)

I can’t wind it up any better than that last paragraph, so I’ll leave it like that. J

Monday, August 13, 2012

Penciling It In

While I was pregnant, I was so exhausted that if I didn't plan things in advance, my poor little toddler would be stuck inside with me all day, every day, because I just didn't have the energy to think of something to do with him every day and then actually go do it. I found a great suggestion on a parenting discussing board on how to keep things exciting and productive for you and your child by planning a different activity every day of the week. It was specifically for kids home during the summer, but since my son isn't in school yet, it's like summer all the time, and I want to keep him stimulated, happy, and hopefully that will be good tantrum prevention. The idea is as follows:

"Make It Monday": Make a fun craft
"Time to Read Tuesday": Go to the library and check out some awesome books
"What's Cooking Wednesday": Do a recipe with your child. Not only is it fun, it teaches great life skills!
"Thoughtful Thursday": Do some thoughtful act of service for someone, like writing a note or taking a treat to them
"Somewhere Fun Friday": Go somewhere exciting and, obviously, fun

Like I've said, I'm a list/chart junkie, so I immediately wanted to make a spreadsheet for this :) I switched my library day to Thursday because our local library has toddler story time on Thursday mornings. I also added a "Family Outing" on Saturday to make sure that I wasn't staying inside all day Saturday doing chores on the one day that my husband doesn't have to be at school. I need to remember that family memories are more important than a clean home. (But I do have another spreadsheet to help me keep up with my chores :p )

We don't go anywhere on Sundays because they're reserved for going to church and other quiet, Sunday-appropriate activities, like spending time at home with family, reading good books, etc., so I used my Sunday line for FHE (Family Home Evening), which is typically held on Monday evenings, where we have a short gospel lesson and a fun family activity and, of course, a treat. Right now we're going through the Nursery manual because our toddler is 2 and has a short attention span. It's the best. I'm not sure what we'll do once he graduates from Nursery, lol.

Anyways, here's my spreadsheet! It's the month at a glance, although I fill it in one week at a time so that we go places that are interesting to my son at the time, and do service for someone who really needs it at the moment.


Family Activities Week of: 
Sunday FHE Lesson: Treat:
Monday Make It Monday Craft:  
Tuesday Thoughtful  Tuesday Person: Item/Service:
Wednesday What's Cooking Wednesday Cooking:  
Thursday Time to Read Thursday Library  
Friday Somewhere Fun Friday Destination:  
Saturday Family Outing Destination:  
Family Activities Week of: 
Sunday FHE Lesson: Treat:
Monday Make It Monday Craft:  
Tuesday Thoughtful  Tuesday Person: Item/Service:
Wednesday What's Cooking Wednesday Cooking:  
Thursday Time to Read Thursday Library  
Friday Somewhere Fun Friday Destination:  
Saturday Family Outing Destination:  
Family Activities Week of: 
Sunday FHE Lesson: Treat:
Monday Make It Monday Craft:  
Tuesday Thoughtful  Tuesday Person: Item/Service:
Wednesday What's Cooking Wednesday Cooking:  
Thursday Time to Read Thursday Library  
Friday Somewhere Fun Friday Destination:  
Saturday Family Outing Destination:  
Family Activities Week of: 
Sunday FHE Lesson: Treat:
Monday Make It Monday Craft:  
Tuesday Thoughtful  Tuesday Person: Item/Service:
Wednesday What's Cooking Wednesday Cooking:  
Thursday Time to Read Thursday Library  
Friday Somewhere Fun Friday Destination:  
Saturday Family Outing Destination: