Faith Crisis and Choices

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is the source of this wonderful quote:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Borrowing her line of reasoning, I firmly believe it is also true that beautiful faith does not “just happen.” There are decisions that people make. There are responses that are chosen. Some time ago, I was thinking through hundreds of conversations I’ve had among people who have either lost or regained their faith in the face of challenges. I tried to write out the choices I have observed, and here is what I came up with.

Continue reading “Faith Crisis and Choices”

An Inexhaustible Orthodoxy

When I was getting ready to leave on my mission, I asked the people who were participating in the Maxwell Institute Summer Scholars program with me for advice on books that I might consider taking with me to the mission field. I was worried that I would get bored with the approved missionary reading library and so I wanted some devotional material that I might find intellectually and spiritually stimulating. One of the books that were recommended to me was The Inexhaustible Gospel a collection of devotionals and speeches by Neal A. Maxwell. Most of those talks are available here

That book served me well so well as a missionary. I found Elder Maxwell’s teachings on discipleship so inspiring. In Elder Maxwell I saw a fellow traveler, someone who was committed to the life of the mind and also to diligently following the Savior. Reading Elder Maxwell provided me the reassurance that I needed as a still recent convert that it was possible to be intellectually curious, academically engaged, and fully invested in Church service.

When I read and decided to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto a few weeks ago, Elder Maxwell’s words were what came to my mind. More than anyone else, Elder Maxwell defined for me what it means to be radically orthodox. 

In a BYU Education Week talk entitled “The Inexhaustible Gospel,” Elder Maxwell spoke of “the vastness and preciousness of that enormous body of knowledge we call the gospel” as well as his “ever-growing excitement over it.” Elder Maxwell described the close relationship between “gaining knowledge and becoming more christlike.” These concepts were two sides of the same coin. “Thus, while we are saved no faster than we gain a certain type of knowledge, it is also the case, as Richard Bushman has observed, that we will gain knowledge no faster than we are saved.” The gospel was not only a course of knowledge but a pathway towards becoming like Christ. “So defined, the gospel is inexhaustible because there is not only so much to know, but also so much to become!”

Elder Maxwell explained that “Ultimate orthodoxy—and orthodoxy isn’t a popular word nowadays—is expressed in the Christlike life that involves both mind and behavior.” This type of orthodoxy involves both “perception and implementation” as “part of the same spiritual process.” Elder Maxwell put forward the example of the Savior. Even though the Savior had “the keenest of all intellects,” he nevertheless “leads by example and love” rather than “arrogance,” “vanity,” or “hypocrisy.”

We get into spiritual danger when we think we can “outgrow Christ’s example of knowing, behaving, and doing.” But “[b]rilliance, by itself, is not wholeness, nor happiness. Knowledge, if possessed for its own sake and unapplied, leaves one’s life unadorned.”

Elder Maxwell urged his listeners not to approach the Gospel narrowly or with a closed mind. Instead, members should seek learning both by study and by faith. And members should recognize that as we explore “this comprehensiveness and everlastingness, there will be some surprises. Our understanding of some things will be restructured and expanded, especially in the world to come[.]”

But Elder Maxwell nevertheless warned against study unmooored from Orthodox truth:

“How intellectually amazing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is! The gospel is truly inexhaustible! It is marvelous! It is a wonder!

Yet orthodoxy is required to keep all these truths in essential balance. In orthodoxy lies real safety and real felicity! Flowing from orthodoxy is not only correctness but happiness. Orthodoxy is especially vital in a time of raging relativism and belching sensualism. The world’s morality is constantly being improvised. Some views are politically correct one day, but not another.” 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives our intellect grounding by focusing and channeling it on Jesus of Nazareth the Savior. “Ultimate wisdom enables us to see Jesus as the Light of the World, but, further, we also come to realize that it is by his light that we are to see everything else! The gospel’s bright and illuminating light thereby helps us see God, ourselves, others, the world, and the universe more correctly and more deeply. Indeed, as Paul declared, ‘in [Christ] all things hold together’” (RSV, Colossians 1:17).”

On other occasions, Elder Maxwell further defined his conception of orthodxy. In a talk urging members to avoid intellectual extremes, Elder Maxwell explained that “Orthodoxy ensures balance between the gospel’s powerful and correct principles. In the body of gospel doctrine, not only are justice and mercy ‘fitly joined together [for] effectual working,’ but so is everything else! (Eph. 4:16.) But the gospel’s principles do require synchronization. When pulled apart from each other or isolated, men’s interpretations and implementations of these doctrines may be wild.”

Elder Maxwll also linked the concept of orthodoxy closely to the need to be “settled” in the Gospel. In this respect he described orthodoxy as “emancipating and discovering.” 

For me that is what the concept of “radical orthodoxy” ultimately stands for. It means being “settled” and firmly rooted in the Savior and in his eternal doctrines. Being firmly settled in the things that are not negotiable frees one up to engage in further intellectual exploration with confidence and conviction. It means that one is not tossed to and fro by trends and popular opinion. It is a firm foundation. 

This kind of orthodoxy is not intellectually self-absorbed. It is not primarily concerned with boundary maintenance or seeking to tell others they are wrong. It is not defensive. Rather, it is humble and meek. It is focused on becoming more Christlike and in engaging others with charity, patience, temperance, and other Christlike virtues. These are the things that Elder Maxwell taught me through his sermons with such clarity and conviction while I served a mission. And those lessons are what led me to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. 

Famine of Meekness

From pandemics and presidential elections, to social and justice reform, the year 2020 has provided many events for which people can respond or react. While the virtues of kindness and goodwill were present, those characteristics seemed to be the exceptions not the defining trait we observed on social media or even news coverage. 

Some have loudly and legally declared a loss of first amendment protections as Churches were forced to close, while liquor stores remained open. Others site face mask mandates and oppressive regulations on businesses as an overreach of government authority that has caused immeasurable human suffering—emotionally and economically. A vocal majority have championed the use of such coercion and tyrannical force as a justifiable action to “save lives.” This position is further enforced by leveraging oppressive shame and heavy fines of $10,000 or even jail time for not wearing a mask to further legitimize such enforcement. Treating everyone who sneezes as if they were a gunman mowing down the masses of innocent bystanders would seem like sarcastic hyperbole even a year ago. Yet, these responses are just some the many ways in which life in the year 2020 has caused many to fear for the future of humanity.

In the climax of such a “tumult of opinions” shines a bastion of hope: #GiveThanks. Just prior to the American holiday of Thanksgiving President Russell M. Nelson issued an invitation for people all over the world to share expressions of gratitude on social media using the hashtag #GiveThanks. This counter-cultural invitation persuaded people to turn (or repent) from the pervasive negativity that was dominating the narratives, and replace it with something more Christ-like. For one week, those who participated in the #GiveThanks effort were introduced to a principle that is disappearing from our world like food during a famine. At the heart of this turn to gratitude was the unspoken call for meekness.

Elder David A. Bednar in his April 2018 General Conference address stated, “Meekness is a defining attribute of the Redeemer and is distinguished by righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness, and strong self-restraint. The Christlike quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others. Whereas humility generally denotes dependence upon God and the constant need for His guidance and support, a distinguishing characteristic of meekness is a particular spiritual receptivity to learning both from the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise may not appear to have much to contribute.”

When reviewing the years events, does the descriptor righteous responsiveness resonate? Is self-restraint the natural consequence of government-enacted Marshall Law? Do our political leaders or social influencers demonstrate self-aggrandizement? Do our social media posts and comments illustrate restraint, or not being easily provoked?

In 1986 Elder Neal A. Maxwell, almost prophetically, made the following statements in a presentation at BYU on Meekness, “Meekness ranks so low on the mortal scale of things, yet so high on God’s: “For none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart” (Moroni 7:44). The rigorous requirements of Christian discipleship cannot be met without the tutoring facilitated by meekness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly” (Matthew 11:29). Meekness also protects us from the fatigue of being easily offended. There are so many just waiting to be offended. They are so alerted to the possibility that they will not be treated fairly, they almost invite the verification of their expectation! The meek, not on such a fatiguing alert, find rest from this form of fatigue. Meekness mercifully lets us retain the realistic and rightful impressions of how blessed we are, so far as the fundamental things of eternity are concerned. We are not then as easily offended by the disappointments of the day, of which there seems to be a sufficient and steady supply. When we are thus spiritually settled, we will likewise be less apt to murmur and complain. Indeed, one of the great risks of murmuring is that we can get too good at it, too clever. We can even acquire too large an audience. Furthermore, what for the murmurer may only be transitory grumbles may become a cause for a hearer that may carry him or her clear out of the Church.”

As meekness is a defining attribute of the Redeemer, it seems to be less and less an adjective appropriately attributed to many modern societies. Yet, there is tremendous hope in even recognizing this disparity. As G.I. Joe cartoons repeatedly drilled into my head at the conclusion of every war and violence filled episode, “now you know; and knowing is half the battle.” Knowing that there is a famine of meekness in the land is the start of combating the direction we seem to be heading. In this “war,” shooting and killing are not the other half of the strategy—in fact quite the opposite is the tact of a disciple of Christ.

Taking a moment to even study and reflect on the principle of meekness will help to fulfill the promise of the Savior, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” As we learn of the Savior, specifically the attribute of meekness, that study will bring rest to your soul. Peace is the promise for coming unto our living and loving Savior. I want to invite you to listen, read, and study from these three talks on meekness (linked below). As you do so I hope you are filled with the same sense of peace and resolve that I experienced. These are presented by Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I consider their words to be urgently, but meekly important. Developing meekness will help you to see the hand and face of the Lord in your life.

Meek and Lowly of Heart by Elder Bednar – April 2020 General Conference

Walk in the Meekness of my Spirit by Elder Bednar – BYU Presentation – August 28, 2017

“Meek and Lowly” – Neal A. Maxwell – BYU Devotional October 21, 1986

Old Promises, Made new

The last few times I’ve read the traditional nativity account in Luke 2, I’ve been struck by the stories of Simeon and Anna the Prophetess. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between these two extremely elderly individuals and the 8 day old newborn Jesus. We don’t know how old Simeon was, but he was expecting to die anytime (“now let thy servant depart in peace”). Anna was at least a hundred years old.

It strikes me because I turned fifty earlier this year, and as this half century mark, my admiration for people who can remain faithful for a very long time impress me more and more. These two individuals exemplify “waiting upon the Lord.” I don’t know if they had moments of doubt, questioning if these promises would really be fulfilled after so much time had passed. This resonates as well, because here we are nearly two thousand years after Christ’s death, it seems like we can be forgiven for questioning just how soon Christ’s promised return really is. I love these stories because they suggest our patience will be rewarded, just as their was, if we stay faithful to our promises.

I also love these stories because of what they were hoping for, because of what hope kept them going, day after day. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and Anna associated herself with those who “looked for redemption in Jerusalem”.

Have you been waiting for consolation? I have. Simeon’s joy when he finally gets to lay his eyes upon the Source of that consolation fills me with joy and comfort.

Have you looked for redemption from oppression and the reestablishment of holiness in what should be a holy city? I have. Anna’s gratitude fills me with gratitude and hope, and also the desire to serve the Lord faithfully night and day.

This is the darkest time of year, but in that manager lays the source of brightest light. I want my heart to have the newness and life that Jesus can bring (as He has before), and also the faithfulness to the promises that have been made to me, even if they seem far off and impossibly distant.


The Book of Mormon, Cover to Cover again

This week I finished the Book of Mormon again, and if I were to guess, I would estimate it was somewhere around my 40th completion of the book.

This was one of the most impactful and mind-expanding readings I’ve ever done.  And yes, I’m aware that I say that every time.

Continue reading “The Book of Mormon, Cover to Cover again”

Follow The Prophets

Following the Prophets means embracing their current teachings, especially the united voice of the Q15:

President Dallin H. Oaks

October 2019 General Conference

As to all of these, the wise cautions of Elders D. Todd Christofferson and Neil L. Andersen in earlier general conference messages are important to remember. Elder Christofferson taught: “It should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.”
In the following conference, Elder Andersen taught this principle: “The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk.” The family proclamation, signed by all 15 prophets, seers, and revelators, is a wonderful illustration of that principle.

Continue reading “Follow The Prophets”

President Kimball, Redux: They Really Believe It!

As a kind of follow-up to my friend Dan’s touching post about President Kimball, I had a couple of additional thoughts and stories. The first is a story similar to Dan’s Bolivia story. My High Priest Instructor told us the story a few years ago, back when the High Priests still met. His father was mission president of the Washington, DC Mission, and his father got word that President Kimball had a brief layover in Dulles Airport. President Kimball didn’t have enough time on his layover to leave the airport, but he wondered if he could meet with all the missionaries there. So the mission president quickly assembled all the missionaries at the airport (obviously this was before security would prevent such things) and President Kimball came to meet with them. He shared some brief words, and then said, “now I would like to greet each of you and shake your hand.” He went around the room, looked each one of them in the eyes, and shook their hands, telling them he loved them. When he got to the end of the room, he said, “I’m worried I may have missed someone. I’m going to go around again.” So he went around the room a second time, repeating the same gestures, but this time with even more sincerity. Our instructor said no one in the room doubted that President Kimball loved them.

As I recount that story, it occurs to me that such experiences are legion, and not limited to President Kimball. I have stories about President Monson, President Hinckley, Elder Maxwell, and Elder Ashton.

When we might be in a critical or doubtful spirit, we can sometimes wonder if the Church leaders are in on the fraud, or if they genuinely believe what they are saying. It’s easy to assume others are thinking and feeling the same thing we are, they just aren’t saying so. But in this case, that would be wrong. The latest example of this is from Elder Holland’s testimony, released just a week ago. I can’t really do it justice, but here is a snippet on this point:

This is not a fairytale. This is not something that I get up every morning and ask myself, ‘How can I go fool another group of people today? How can I go pretend that something is true? How can I go and work a great fiction on the public?’

I would not do that, and my life is worth more to me than that, and my witness to my children and my children’s children is worth more than that. [He gets emotional at this point.] It means more than that. My integrity is more than that. I get up every morning saying, not, “God, how can I pretend, how can I act that this is true…” [instead], my plea every morning of my life is, ‘How can I convey what I know to be more true than anything on the face of this earth? How can I convey to some person or persons the reality of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the fact that God lives, that the heavens are open, I have a commission to stand by the Savior of the Lord, to defend Him, and defend the rock that He is?

Joseph Smith and Hyrum did not sit in Carthage Jail, ready to be executed by a mob. They did not pull out the Book of Mormon, and say, let’s tell some jokes from this book we made up. No one would do that. No one would do that! They read from that book because they knew it was true, and they knew it would be their salvation… Every day I am giving my life for the church, because I know it’s true.

Thomas Keating, C. S. Lewis, Russell M. Nelson on Christian Healing

This post is not about the practice of healing people from illness; it’s about the personal healing experienced in Christian life. In Isaiah’s theophany in chapter 6, the Lord makes an extraordinary statement that has puzzled scholars and scripturists for ages:

And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Isaiah 6:9-10, KJV
Continue reading “Thomas Keating, C. S. Lewis, Russell M. Nelson on Christian Healing”

President Russell M. Nelson and Identity

Do you see a common theme in the ministry of President Nelson?

January 2017:

Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation.

Continue reading “President Russell M. Nelson and Identity”

What is a Manifesto?

Since the launch of the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto, I have been following the reactions with some interest. One common criticism I have seen is the suggestion that it is presumptuous to issue a manifesto that attempts to dictate what is orthodoxy. The suggestion is that this manifesto is an effort to set what are the acceptable boundaries of discourse. While I understand the concern over attempts to set the boundaries of orthodoxy above and beyond those set by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would argue that this criticism fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of a manifesto generally and this manifesto in particular.

Merriam Webster defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” According to this definition, the primary purpose of a manifesto is the expression of the views, motivates and intentions of those that issue it. In other words a manifesto first and foremost serves as a platform to allow those issuing the statement a platform to voice their aspirations and goals. Put yet another way, a manifesto serves to articulate ideals and to hold the issuers accountable for living up to those ideals. While it is possible for a manifesto or any article of faith to become used as a weapon to exclude others or impose conformity, that is not the primary purpose of such a document.

I know that is certainly not why I signed on to the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. Instead, my purpose for joining is to express publicly my commitment to the values and principles that the manifesto articulates. The manifesto speaks of key virtues that I aspire to embody: Truth, Humility, Integrity, Fidelity, Seeking, Revelation, Faith, Hope, and Charity. I know that I fall short of those virtues. We all do. Signing onto such a public document does not mean that I think I am perfectly living all of these principles. Rather, it is an expression of my desire to do better and more fully strive to live up to these ideals. It is a way to hold myself accountable for trying to better embody these principles in my actions, my conversations, and my thoughts.

What is striking is that this Manifesto actually makes all of this explicit. The Manifesto explains that it is “not a faction, nor a label intended to set forth boundaries for any particular group or organization.” Instead, it is a “a rallying point, and invitation to embrace conviction and fidelity.”

If you feel moved by the principles of the Manifesto as I do, then I invite you to embrace it either as a signatory or simply by trying a little bit harder to embody these principles as you strive to live the Gospel, debate with those you disagree with, and try to follow the example of the Savior.