Monday, September 25, 2017

Practising Religion

In the last talk of the last session of last General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke of the 10,000 hour rule, which states that a person must practice a skill for at least 10,000 hours to master it. Elder Cook related this rule to spiritual skills, saying "Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters." He reminded us of the importance of doing the simple, daily things that strengthen our spirits, such as praying and studying the scriptures. Our spiritual strength grows as we regularly exercise it.

As I mentioned yesterday, it is important for us to practice what we preach. If we don't, we may find that our spiritual muscles are atrophying, whereas if we do, we may find that our spiritual strength is growing stronger by the day.

Let us take time each day to practice our religion and exercise our faith, knowing that, just as with other skills, our spiritual skills grow stronger through such practice.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Setting the Standard

Given that General Conference has officially already started, I think I had better hurry and finish up blogging about the last one. As I reviewed Elder Benjamin De Hoyos's talk, That Our Light May Be a Standard for the Nations, I kept thinking that his message was similar to one I shared a few weeks ago: The Moral Necessity of Political Involvement.

I don't think God ever intended us Mormons to fit in. Ever since the restoration, if not a few centuries or millennia before that, God meant for His church to stand out in the crowd. We're not supposed to act like the atheists or agnostics or non-Christians or even like the other Christians. We are supposed to teach others, by by word and by example, how Jesus Christ wants His children to live.

This is a tall order. Elder De Hoyos spoke of letting our light shine and setting the standard, but in order to do that, we have to follow that light and the Lord's standard. Many prophetic quotes contain messages along the lines of not being able to lift others higher than we ourselves stand. That may be why the command to "shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations" is preceded by the command to "Arise" (D&C 115:5).

If we are to be the examples God wants us to be, we must try to be exemplary. We have to try to follow the commandments and teachings of God if we are to have any success in encouraging others to follow them. This doesn't mean that we have to be perfect, or even that we have to be good. We just have to try, and we have to let other people see us striving for the ideal standard of behavior that we would like them to also strive for. We have to practice what we preach, for their sakes as well as ours, and we have to preach repentance, for our sakes as well as theirs.

God wants all of His children to be righteous and set good examples for others, and that is especially true for members of His church. He has called us to be His "standard for the nations," but to magnify that calling, we need to be following that standard ourselves.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not Much to Say

With this Primary lesson, I am in a unique position of not having much of a history portion to share, meaning that I can focus more on the doctrinal portion. Yes, there were a few interesting events happening when Joseph Smith received those revelations about baptisms for the dead, but those events aren't important enough for me to have to share them. Unfortunately, or fortunately, what's left won't take a whole lot of time to discuss. Baptism is essential. Some people weren't baptised. We can perform baptisms for them in the temple. Of course, we'll want to explain what "vicariously" and "proxy" mean, but that won't take too terribly long.

I should plan activities to a) help keep the children engaged, and b) help fill time. The lesson plan starts with a suggestion for an "Attention Activity" that illustrates the concept of helping those who can't help themselves, and that could be fun, but the "Enrichment Activities" aren't really activities at all - just stories and topics for discussion. Maybe I should try to come up with a game for the children to play, but what game could they play that could go along with a lesson about baptism for the dead? Perhaps I ought to sleep on it. Maybe I'll think of something more engaging than hangman while I'm trying to sleep.

Undeserved Love

I didn't think I was going to cry today. I didn't cry at the memorial service (no matter what Cousin Carol thought she saw), but at the graveside service, my brother David said something that made me think and, ultimately, made me cry. Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly what he said, so I can't quote him, so I'll just share the thoughts I had while he was talking and the thoughts that I'm having now, as I reflect on those thoughts.

We may feel that Dad doesn't deserve our love, and maybe he doesn't, but God has asked us, or rather commanded us, to love one another, whether they deserve our love or not. Along the same lines, we should strive to follow God's example of unconditional love. God loves all of His children, all of us, whether we deserve it or not, and He loves all of us more than we deserve.

So, maybe we shouldn't try to figure out whether or not people deserve our love or how much of our love they deserve, and instead try to love them anyway, even though they probably don't deserve it. Love doesn't always mean forgiveness, though we've been commanded to forgive everyone, too. And love doesn't always mean kindness, though we should always try to be kind. Love can take many forms, including "tough love" and, occasionally, pity.

What, exactly, Jesus meant when He said to "Love one another" may be up to interpretation, but in my opinion, no valid interpretation includes an addendum based on whether or not the recipient deserves it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Missing Dad

Tomorrow is my dad's memorial. I'm still not sure how to feel. I'm not heartbroken or anything, but I'm still, strangely, a little sad, and I'm not entirely sure why. I know this isn't goodbye. I already did that part the day he died, his spirit has passed on, and I'm going to see him again in the afterlife anyway. "Goodbye" doesn't really apply here.

Then, if I'm not saying goodbye, what am I going to do tomorrow? Pay my respects? To Dad? I can't really do that, either. My dad wasn't a terrible person, in my experience, but he wasn't a great person, either. I didn't respect him much when he was alive, and I don't respect him much now. I mostly still respect him as a person. I could pay my respects to him for that.

But I have another reason to feel the way I do. I'm not going to miss my dad because he was never a big part of my life to begin with, but I still feel like there's something missing. I think it's not so much that I'm going to miss him but that I'm sorry to have missed out on the dad he should have been. I wish we had had a better relationship. I wish I were going to miss him. What I miss is the opportunity to have had a normal, loving Dad.

So, I'm going to the memorial. I don't think I'll say anything, since it probably wouldn't be appropriate for me to say what I feel. I won't speak ill of my dad at his own memorial or graveside service. But I will say this, if not there, then here: I'm sorry my dad and I didn't spend more time together. I'm sorry we weren't better friends. I'm sorry I didn't really get to know him very well. And, in a way, I'm sorry he's gone.

I won't pretend he was a saint or anything. I'm probably not going to cry. But in a weird, roundabout sort of way, I think I am going to miss him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Post-Mortal Repentance

Now that I've gotten this week's quizzes and exams out of the way, I can focus my thoughts on the Primary lesson I'm going to be teaching this next Sunday. The lesson will be on baptisms for the dead, and it involves the belief that people can learn and accept the gospel, change their lives, repent, be baptised, and receive all of the other ordinances as well, all after that person has died.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important beliefs in Christendom. It means that those who had previously rejected that gospel, or who had never had a chance to accept it, would be given a(nother) chance. It means that the billions of people who never became members of Christ's church wouldn't just be automatically consigned to hell. It means that there is hope and a future for everyone, even those who had never heard of Jesus Christ or who had acted as though they never had. Post-mortal repentance is one of the most hopeful doctrines I've ever heard.

Of course, post-mortal repentance has its limitations. Those who procrastinate repentance until after their deaths, hoping to "live it up" while alive and still reap eternal rewards, may find that the repentance process is more difficult than they anticipate. And the sacred, saving, essential ordinances still need to be performed, even if only vicariously - hence the need for baptisms for the dead. But it is comforting to know that, even if it's difficult, and even if there are still a few hoops to jump through, it is possible for a person to repent and be redeemed, even after they've died. Deathbed repentance still isn't a good plan, but it's nice to know that God has a plan that goes even beyond that point, a point that many consider to be a point of no return.

The God we worship is a God of second chances, and third chances, and basically as many chances as He can justify giving us. Even if a person spent their entire life acting wickedly, God wants to give that person, and everyone else who ever lived, one last opportunity to repent. I expect that there will be many atheists who will be surprised and converted after their deaths, and many others who subscribe to different beliefs may become converted as well, and God has room in His kingdom for all of them as well as for all of us. God wants everyone to have the opportunity to live a celestial life, and I am so grateful that He keeps extending us those opportunities, even after death.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Can We Know God?

Funny thing, the day after I blogged about how we can't even know if our thoughts are our own thoughts, I listened to a Conference talk about how we can come to know God. Part of me is still semi-existentialist about whether or not we can really know anything, and the other part of me is thinking about faith. As far as I know, God has only physically revealed Himself to a relatively small number of people, which, among other things, has led to many people doubting His existence. Of course, God could reveal Himself to everyone and make the reality of His existence obvious to everyone. But He doesn't. God usually only shows Himself in subtle ways, and usually only to those who ask Him to and who probably already believe in Him. For the most part, God requires us to have faith.

I think that part of the reason God doesn't offer the world proof of His existence is so this can be a real test for us. Will we follow the impressions of our hearts, or will we rely solely on what we can see and hear? If we knew all about God and the Plan of Salvation, and the rewards for righteousness (really knew them, not having to take them on faith), then this life wouldn't be as much of a test of character as it would be a test of patience and determination. A greedy person may act generous, if he knew there was something in it for him. If such a man knew about the rich blessings of eternity, he might be generous with his earthly goods out of a greedy desire for eternal rewards. If this life is supposed to test our character, it's important for us not to really know what all is at stake here.

Then, why would God allow some of us to come to know Him? If religious knowledge might skew the test, why take the risk of letting some of us learn of His existence? Why tell us that there's even a test at all? Wouldn't it be a better test of character to have us all do whatever we felt like doing, without the risk or hope of consequences influencing our decisions? I'm sure that God knows better than I do, and I'm sure that He did what's best for everyone, but this just doesn't make much sense to me right now.

I had intended this blog post to be about faith. I wanted to blog about whether or not faith could count as knowledge and whether it could be as sure, or even more sure, than knowledge. Unfortunately, I went off on a tangent, and now I, once again, have more questions than answers. I look forward to having God explain this all to me at some point. In the meantime, I'm going to have a lot of questions, which, come to think of it, might actually be the point.

What if God doesn't just want us to know things? What if He wants us to learn things by figuring them out? If a child asks you how some bugs are able to stand on water, and you tell them, they'll have learned a few things about surface tension, but if you tell them to figure it out themselves, and they do, they'll have learned how to learn. The same may be true of spiritual matters. Perhaps God gave us enough information to ask meaningful questions, hoping that we would learn how to ask questions and find answers. Perhaps God gives us just enough evidence of His existence for us to know that it's a possibility, but little enough evidence to leave room for some doubt, hoping that we would study and ponder and reason and learn.

Then, I have to wonder, what is the endpoint of this learning? Are we meant to discover the truth ourselves? Are we meant to stay somewhere between doubt and faith, never quite reaching certainty, just so the learning process can continue indefinitely? If so, what's the point? Is there some eternal benefit to learning how to learn?

Of course there is.

Even if we spent a lifetime learning the mysteries of the universe from God Himself, it would probably take us longer than our natural lives to grasp it all. Therefore, learning must continue in the afterlife. And if we are to learn throughout our eternal lifetimes, we must first learn how to learn. That may be the reason God is reluctant to let us learn anything for certain during this mortal life. As long as there's something we don't know, there is a reason to try to learn it, giving us a compelling reason to practice learning. Once we've gained enough experience in learning, we'll be good enough at learning for us to be able to learn everything God wants to teach us. In the meantime, there have to be things we don't know, because they give us reasons to learn how to learn.

This finally brings me back to the question in the title: Can we know God? In this life, no, I don't think so. The existence and nature of God are such important pieces of information that many people are eager to try to learn them by any way we can. Those questions create an intense desire to learn how to learn. They are too valuable as questions for God to let us just find or be given the answers. On the other hand, I think that it is possible for us to learn a few things about God, even in this life, and I am certain that God wants us to learn all about Him eventually. Those who seek Him will eventually come to know God. In the meantime, those who seek the answers to life's most important questions will first find out how to learn.