7/27/14

The Unanswerable Question

There are actually three unanswerable questions to my mind. Not that they can’t be answered but that seeking the answer leads us away from value, not toward it. They are: when does life begin? are gay people born that way? is there such a thing as universal truth?

The last question pertains to Mormons because we say we are “the one true church.” Like the other two questions, the answer can be argued hotly on either side—that’s why asking the question leads away from value. The truth is, the answers don’t matter because we can’t convince anyone, and no one can convince us, which one is right. We have to frame our lives and interactions beyond the questions, take a step back so to speak, to the level of agency.

I’ve pondered “the one true church” for over a decade, and I think I’ve come up with a helpful, at least to me, analogy. I think the gospel is like nutrition: no matter how you strive to live the gospel, you can always do better; no matter how healthy you are, you can always be healthier.

I don’t know that there is anything we all agree on, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that daily exercise and a Mediterranean diet are the healthiest way to live. I believe that, can even say I know it to be true, but I don’t care. I don’t want to live that way. Knowing all the facts perfectly, I still choose a relatively unhealthy life of minimal exercise, white sugar, lots of fat, and plenty of red meat. That’s why the answer to the question doesn’t matter. My truth, my heaven, where I want to live, is not the celestial kingdom of nutrition, and I’m okay with that. I would and do resent anyone who tries to get me to eat/move their way because it’s the “right” way. I agree it’s the “right” way; now leave me alone.

Even if we could prove absolutely that the LDS Church is true, which we can’t by the way, it doesn’t matter. Some people just won’t care. So rather than ask the question “is it true?” and waste a lot of time arguing about the answer, reframe the perspective. It isn’t about what’s true, it’s about agency.

With perfect knowledge of gospel, nutrition, or anything else, some of us will go in a different direction. Heavenly Father knew that when he gave us our agency, when he gave Adam and Eve the choice of eating the forbidden fruit. God himself told them not to eat it—as perfect a knowledge as anyone can have—and they did it anyway.

God didn’t agree with their choice, and there were consequences for not doing what was “right”—like my expanding middle—but in all their interactions, God never disrespected their choice, or told them they were wrong to make it. It makes no sense that disobeying God was the right thing to do and yet the existence of humanity proves that it was.

I had a poignant conversation with a good friend, someone who used to be a weekly Temple patron and now has only the barest of shadows left in the pew. I adore her, admire her, think she’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. How can we see the Church so differently? She is so much happier with her new truth of moving away from the Church. I am so much happier with my new, fourteen years old now, truth of moving into the Church. How can it be true and she not know it? How can I be so sure it’s true if it’s not?

There are four principles that guide my thinking: 1) the Church is true; 2) it is, I believe, universally true, i.e., the one true church; 3) some outstanding people have a different truth, as true for them as mine is for me; 4) there is no connecting the dots between these principles in this life.

Just as it makes no sense that disobeying God was right, it makes no sense that universal truth and contradicting personal truth can both be right. It makes no sense in our three-dimensional reality, but that’s what God is for. I leave the unanswerable questions to him.

7/20/14

Is She In The Church?

That’s the question I have deliberately not asked my son about his new girlfriend, a darling girl who has good manners, two jobs, and plans for college. I don’t want that to be the way I sort her, and I don’t want that to be the way my son thinks I sort her, like sending her to either Gryffindor or Slitherin.

They’re both eighteen, so who knows, she could be a keeper, could be my daughter-in-law someday, the mother of my grandchildren. I don’t want her to think the first thing I cared about was whether she was “in the Church.” I care much more whether she answers my son’s texts without too-typical girl games, whether she’s kind to him, whether she has self-respect.

When we first moved here from California, my kids would come home from school saying they had met so and so, and “he’s in the Church” or “she’s not in the Church,” picking up on the pervasive cultural sorting into us and them. I instituted our own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Instead I wanted to know whether the kids were nice, whether they showed respect for the teacher, whether they stopped to help a kid who got hurt. I said sooner or later I would come to find out whether they were “in the Church” but that it isn’t supposed to be the lens through which we view all people all the time, especially since Church membership can be so dynamic.

When we sort people by Church membership, we subtly and sometimes not so subtly communicate it as the most important thing about them. What happens if it changes? If we’ve based our relationships on their identities as Church members or non-members, what happens to their identities if Church membership changes?

Church membership isn’t an identity, it’s a behavior. Their identity—each of our identity—is as a beloved child of God. If that’s how we approach everyone, then inflow, outflow, and abstention from Church membership is secondary. 

I think it’s ironic that so many of us view Church membership as a check, as in “check, he went on a mission” or “check, she was sealed in the Temple.” I’ve been here only four years, but I’ve lost count of the returned missionaries who have gone inactive and the temple patrons who have rejected the Church. I’ve also lost count of the faith-affirming stories—such as my own—of people who come to the Church or back to the Church later in life. My friend who baptized me likes to joke, “If the Lord can get to Donna, he can get to anybody.”

7/6/14

Are We Supposed to Fight at the End?

Bible-believing Christians face a dilemma these days. The world “is going to hell in a handbasket” as my mother from Texas used to say. We who know our scriptures, know how the story ends, know it’s an ultimately happy ending. We also know that the pain, distress, and suffering are going to get much worse before they get better. If we know this has to happen, do we fight against it or go with the flow? If we fight against it, do we delay Christ’s coming?

I look to Heavenly Father to see how he handles knowing the end from the beginning. He watches his children in the present, knowing they will make future changes, some for the better, some for the worse. Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 says, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” I take that to mean that no matter what Heavenly Father sees in our future, he responds as if the present is all that matters.

If someone is living the commandments today, someone who will one day abuse a child or murder, Heavenly Father is bound to bless him or her today. If someone is committing sin today, and Heavenly Father knows that one day, with much effort, the individual will turn his or her life around, he is still bound to deliver consequences for sin today.

I know how the story ends: Christ comes back. In the meantime, I’ve decided to respond to what is happening in the present like Heavenly Father. I have to do what is right in the moment, even if if doesn’t affect the ultimate outcome. And I suppose thinking that my individual action can delay Christ is like thinking individual humans can heat or cool the earth’s temperature.

I imagine it’s a little like children who one day lose their intact family because of divorce. Any positive interaction on the part of the parents, any positive memory prior to the end, only makes the children stronger. When we bear disappointment, despair, or the end of our world as we know it with strength, courage, and hope, it only makes us stronger. I am only one small entity in the cosmos, but how I respond to anything builds my eternal destiny.

I love that every answer to every question is in the gospel if we look for it.