Sunday, June 22, 2014

Charity Meets the Internet

I've debated writing this blog post because it is very personal to me. Its also a little out of the norm for a recipe/homemaking blog. However, I feel like it's time for me to say something. I have two main intentions with this post. 1) to explain some of my beliefs and 2) to do so in a loving way that invites open discussion.

For the last several months during my personal study I've been trying to narrow down some thoughts about avoiding contention and self righteousness. I am a person who likes to debate. Avoiding contention and being slow to anger are two things I struggle with on pretty much a daily basis. Studying out HOW contention and anger can have less of an influence in my life is the inspiration for this post. Because I am still learning, I would really appreciate your comments or feedback after reading.

In today's internet connected world you don't have to go very far to find contention. You can access the inner thinkings of many self righteous bloggers, journalists, and politicians at the click of a button. Contention is something that has existed, in my belief, since before the world began. But I also believe it will not always exist. Most who know me and/or read this blog know that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As such, I believe that Jesus Christ has been to this earth before, has atoned for our sins and will return one day to judge and bless our eternal futures. While he was not recognized as the Savior by everyone during his first mortal ministry, he will be during his second. The Book of Mormon is comprised of several smaller books (much like the composition of the Bible). In the book of Mosiah, Chapter 27,verse 31 it reads "Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God". The knowledge of what is to come helps me in my personal life: 1) It tells me that at some point the arguing and contending over doctrines, and religions, and beliefs will be over. 2) It reminds me that only God has the ability to righteously judge anyone and 3) It reminds me that I must do my part NOW in avoiding contention and unjustly judging those around me.

If you are LDS like me, or maybe even if you aren't, your news feed has probably been full or articles about women and the priesthood or Mormons' opinions about gay marriage or defending traditional families, etc. And it's honestly getting to the point that if I weren't LDS then I would think that the only things Mormons talked about were gender equality and gay marriage. Not that these topics aren't important things to discuss, but there are so many of our fundamental beliefs that we should be focused on first. Things like we believe in Christ, we believe in doing good to all men, families can be forever, we believe in modern day revelation and prophets, etc. (See LDS Articles ofFaith 1-13) Why aren't we talking about these things? If people were to ask me to explain my religion these are things I would start with...not my opinions about if I should have the priesthood or not. Yet on blog after blog about "Mormon beliefs" these are the only things being talked about. When we argue about these issues, no matter what side we are on, we are not focusing on the core truths that we need to be focused on. The Gospel is not just about priesthood or marriage. The Gospel is about returning to live with our father in heaven. Yes priesthood and marriage are important parts of the Gospel but our focus should be on the Savior and our path home.

Many defend their focus on these things by claiming they are threats to the family and to our path home. However, when we stop to think about the people who have the most ability to harm our families we realize it is ourselves! Our time would be much better spent trying to eliminate our own behaviors that pose a threat to our family. Am I being unloving? Am I being contentious? Am I spending more time talking about what I believe on social media than I am living what I believe? Am I angry? Am I letting feelings of betrayal effect how I treat my family? Being an unbalanced or unloving parent can cause much more harm to my family than gay marriage or gender inequality can. In Matthew we read about some symptoms leading up to the last days. Chapter 24 verse 12 says “And iniquity shall abound and the love of men will wax cold”. One of the ways that we can allow our love to wax cold is by giving into worry, fear and anger. Many people, in the pursuit of defending the truth have allowed themselves to become angry with their brothers and sisters who have different opinions. In the beginning of Alma (another book from The Book of Mormon) similar disagreements begin to arise within the church. At first members of the church ignore the persecution coming from others. When that doesn't seem to work some begin to take a stand. Sadly however, in verse 22 we read that some of the members feel proud in their righteousness and begin to “contend warmly” with those who oppose them. And that is how our love waxes cold. As we warm out heart to contention we place aside our charity. As anger grows, love decreases.

So how do we take a stand without "contending warmly" with those around us. And the answer is humility. What is our intent? Do we want to spread anger or love? Do we want to shame or to inspire? Marvin J. Ashton, in speaking about contention, offers up some other justifications we might make for engaging in a fight. “When one considers the bad feeling and the unpleasantness caused by contention, it is well to ask, 'Why do I participate?' If we are really honest with ourselves, our answers may be something like: 'When I argue and am disagreeable, I do not have to change myself. It gives me a chance to get even.' 'I am unhappy and I want others to be miserable too.' 'I can feel self-righteous. In this way I get my ego built up.' 'I don’t want others to forget how much I know!' Whatever the real reason, it is important to recognize that we choose our behavior. At the root of this issue is the age-old problem of pride. 'Only by pride cometh contention.'”

Christ discusses self righteousness in the parable of the pharisee and the publican. Luke 18:9-14 says, “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Have we seen others use social media in order to exalt themselves? Blogs dedicated to thanking God that they are not as bad as other men? Elder Oaks says “Those who engage in self-congratulation over a supposed strength have lost the protection of humility and are vulnerable to Satan’s using that strength to produce their downfall. In contrast, if we are humble and teachable, hearkening to the commandments of God, the counsel of his leaders, and the promptings of his Spirit, we can be guided in how to use our spiritual gifts, our accomplishments, and all of our other strengths for righteousness. And we can be guided in how to avoid Satan’s efforts to use our strengths to cause our downfall.”

Many times the way we say something is just as important as what we say. This is why Christ was such an effective teacher. There are just as many lessons to be learned from HOW Christ says things as there are from WHAT he says. And the reason Christ knew how to do things is because he had a perfect knowledge of WHY he was doing what he did. I feel like bloggers today spend so much time deciding what they are going to say they spend very little time on how to say it and even less time on why they are saying it. This goes back to intentions. Christ's intentions were clear. He taught the people because he loved them. In Matthew 22 he teaches that the first and second commandments are about love. The first and great commandment to love our Father in Heaven and the second to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, if as members of the church our goal is to become more like the Savior, then it seems that our intent should be to love those with whom we associate. That includes being loving in our blog posts. Christ didn't use shame, guilt, or sarcasm to convert those around him and when we use those things in our everyday speaking we are not being like Christ. So are we writing about the priesthood and gay marriage because we have a true belief that we want to share with others or are we writing to put people in their place? Is our intent to build and help or is to tear down? Are we trying to put ourselves on a pedestal by only discussing the things we think we are doing right while ignoring our own shortcomings? Can you imagine a world where everyone is worried more about their own shortcomings than about each others? The truth really is that you can only change yourself. So the beginning of any significant change in the world starts with people loving and changing themselves, not with ranting and raving against others on the internet.

Matthew 7: 3-5 says "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” President Monson told a great story about a woman who judges her neighbor for having dirty laundry on the line until one day she realizes that she's viewing the laundry through her own dirty window. I have been guilty of this in my own life so many times. However, being judgmental and self righteous doesn't just hurt the other person, it hurts ourselves. Being overly preoccupied with the mote in someone else's eye makes us suffer because we are allowing the beam to remain in our eye for longer than it needs to.

One of the stories that we read about in the Book of Mormon is the vision of the Tree of Life. For those unfamiliar with this story you can read it on by clicking here. There are two main groups in this vision: a large group in the great and spacious building and a smaller group making their way to the tree of life. The large group represents the world while the small group represents the followers of Christ trying to make their way to God. Most of us identify ourselves as being in the small group making our way toward the tree. So when someone disagrees with us about something we tend to get self righteous and assume that they are in the great and spacious building pointing and mocking us for being different. And we use this analogy to justify ourselves in getting upset with them or defensive. But there is a big problem with that. In the vision of the tree of life, those who make it to the tree are the ones who don't get upset or defensive. They instead love those around them and are desirous that all will come and partake of the fruit with them. They don't point, or shame, or write scathing blog posts about the people in the great and spacious building. They enjoy the fruit for themselves and then lovingly offer to share it. Their focus is always on the fruit. So my point is that no matter what side of an issue you are on, if you find yourself spending a lot of your day pointing at others or feeling upset inside, it could be that you have put yourself in the great and spacious building by your actions. Don't let yourself get angry because of what other people do. Don't let yourself get so preoccupied fighting every fight that is thrown your way that you stop focusing on the fruit of the Gospel. Don't let your life get so clogged up with articles and opinion columns about “what makes a good Christian” that you forget to read the Bible, or pray, or act like a Christian. Focus on the source, the fruit, the good. In order to share the fruit you have to stay close to the tree.

We cannot fight others into salvation. Each of us has been given the power to choose for ourselves. When we require others to choose the same things as we do in order to participate in our lives we are not allowing them the free agency they have a right to. Obviously, if there is abuse or dangerous behavior involved we must protect and distance ourselves. But in matters of differing opinions I truly feel we must forgive and we must love everyone. I've had family members leave the church. I still love them. I've had friends who hate the church. I still love them. I've had times where I doubted and almost gave up. Luckily I had others who loved me enough to lift me up. Yes, There are times in our lives when we have to stand up for our beliefs. There are times when as a parent, or a church leader, or a friend we will have to correct someone who has gone astray. As a member of the church we believe our leaders are called of God and with His help can lovingly do this. Doctrine and Covenants 121:43 tells us how this is done. “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy”. We are commanded to love our enemy as well as our friend. The easiest way to do this is not to allow people to become our enemy in the first place. Often times we allow ourselves to believe that because someone disagrees with us they are our enemy, which is not the case. Christ had true enemies. People who betrayed him to death. People who actively sought out and succeeded in killing him. In comparison our “enemies” are usually born out of miscommunication, differing backgrounds, ignorance, or extremism. When compared with the trials of our Savior, the argument of “they were meaner to me on the internet” hardly seems a valid excuse for withholding forgiveness or perpetuating contention. If Christ can forgive others for killing him, surely I can love someone who is in a different political party than I am, or has a different sexual orientation than I do, or someone who disagreed with me in Sunday School.

In a class I am taking on the atonement, the teacher recently pointed out that when we try to facilitate someone else's salvation we can actually be putting ourselves between them and the Savior. We try so hard to connect them with the savior that we actually stand between the two trying to get them to meet. But when we put ourselves in between our loved ones and the Savior it can have unintended consequences. Instead of being a bridge, we become a wall. When we argue with our neighbor we become a wall. When we use derogatory names we become a wall. When we turn our backs on our family or friends because they choose a different lifestyle than us we become a wall. When we invite people to leave the church, such as saying “why don't you just go find a different religion” or “why do you even stay” we become a wall. In the end, not only will we have to account for the positions we took, we will also have to account for how we treated those who disagreed with us. I wonder will Heavenly Father care more about our views on homosexuality or will he care more about how we treated our gay child, sibling, or friend. Probably both. We can disagree and still love, because of Christ.

Having faith in Christ means having faith that he will be judge and savior for the world (including our loved ones). Having faith that Christ will do these things means having faith that we don't have to. And if we free ourselves from needing to judge and save others, that leaves plenty of time to love them. As we allow ourselves to feel more love for others, we will allow ourselves to feel more love for ourselves, which will allow us to feel more joy. And as we feel more joy and love, guess what, others will naturally be more open to hear what we have to share! The Gospel message!

Because Christ has atoned for our sins he is also our advocate to the Father. He is allowed to judge us because he knows us perfectly. He knows our background, our baggage, our heart and mind. He knows our fears, and pains, and desires. He knows all of the intricacies that make us individuals and influence our choices. While others see only our actions he can see our intentions. And because of this he has asked us not to judge one another. The parable of the wheat and the tares demonstrates this well. Only God knows which are wheat and which are tares. And he allows them the entire season before he reaps them. To the untrained eye a small wheat may appear to be a tare and could be weeded out before it was given a chance to grow. Some tares might appear strong and hearty but when consumed will disappoint. When we judge others with our untrained eyes we run the risk of damaging the entire crop. When we begin to think we can distinguish between the wheat and the tares we place our faith in ourselves more than in our Heavenly Father. Consider the conversion of Paul or Alma the Younger. They antagonized the church for many years before becoming two of the greatest missionaries in the scriptures. What if instead of loving his sons, Mosiah had just told them to go join another church? I'm sure many believed them to be tares in the beginning but look at the fruits they eventually brought forth. The only righteous judgments are those we make for ourselves. The only person we can judge as a wheat or tare is ourselves. Do our words and actions nourish like wheat or do they spread the weeds of contention?

Satan will try to use our pride to lift us out of a moderate life and into the extremes. For some it may be to the extreme that nothing matters and that a loving Heavenly Father wouldn't require any action from his children. For others it may be to the extreme of thinking everything matters and that Heavenly Father would require complete conformity in all things (such as the Pharisees). My belief is that God's plan for us is a plan of moderation (there are a few ordinances and practices that he requires exactness in and many other practices that are more flexible and moving and changing). Each of us will have to decide for ourselves what Heavenly Father requires of us. As a member of the church I believe in Prophets and leaders that can help us navigate these questions. I also believe in continuing personal revelation which is the light that can lead each of us out of the darkness. I believe in scriptures, where we can read about those who have gone through similar trials that we now face. When we know what God expects from us and actively strive to do those things, we will have peace in our lives. As we strive for peace in our lives the Spirit can be with us and more peace can be added to us. As we turn away from extreme anger we can begin to feel the ultimate power of love and healing in our life.

Let me finally end by quoting the 13th chapter of Paul. Yes the entire thing. It is that good. For me it is the summation of the Gospel.

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

We are all of us imperfect. We all know only in part. We don't need to criticize and demean others because they are imperfect. We don't need to speak childishly about one another. It doesn't matter our credentials, our callings, how many followers our blog has. If we have not charity we have nothing. Paul reminds us that even though the day will come when “every knee shall bow” we still live in the now. And even though contention may abound, we also know that faith, hope and charity live in the now. Do our actions and words promote faith? Do they give others hope? As a member of the church I am ever trying to live by this council. I know that I have hurt others. I know that I've written snarky blog posts. I know that I have overlooked needs, miscommunicated, and fallen short of being charitable. But it is something that I'm working on. I hope that others on the internet will join me in first seeking to have charity. It is the only thing that will never fail. It is the only thing that will convert. Before you write that blog post, before you copy that link, before you leave that comment, ask yourself, am I showing charity? Because no matter how smart, or funny, or true, or well written it is, if it has not charity, it is nothing.

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