30 January 2011

Random Sunday Thoughts

Today at church the theme was meekness and humility. Not particularly popular virtues in today’s self-obsessed society. But I’m glad I went. It has been an extremely demanding couple of weeks and I really needed the spiritual refreshment.

This past week the twins told me they missed being in elementary school. So comparatively carefree and innocent, they said. Not much homework, little responsibility, not nearly as many demands as in middle school. It was a bit of a shock to hear my own kids reminisce about the good old days! They’re not even teenagers yet. But we had a good conversation about stages of life, and escalating responsibilities, and the freedoms and privileges that maturity bestows, if one is wise enough to manage them.

I told them the story of King Henry V (the Shakespeare version) as he walked through his camp the night before the battle at Agincourt, ruminating about who had the better life, a farmer or a king. And when I explained his logic to the twins, they agreed with him that in many ways, the farmer had it better. I told them of one of my favorite scriptures, Ecclesiastes 1:18, “In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” That didn’t go over very well! Until I explained what it meant, then they understood.

This is a fascinating stage of life. My kids are just starting to be old enough to have these more serious conversations, and actually comprehend a more mature perspective on such questions. It’s delightful, really. And a nice contrast from last weekend, when we had their friends here for another sleepover, so the house was buzzing with noise and energy and shouts and kitchen cupboard doors banging and food foraging and video games and trips to the pool and all that stuff. It was all great fun, of course. Especially the early morning trip to our favorite beachfront donut shop, then we drove back down the coast, savoring the sea breezes, the view of the waves, the sunshine. With four sugared-up tweens in the car, it was quite a ride.

This morning as I listened and pondered meekness and humility, I was struck by something I heard earlier in the week. Or was reminded of, rather. With the rise of Correlation that’s taken over the LDS Church in the last 40 years or so, more and more the focus has been on obedience obedience obedience as “the first law of heaven.” Lots of encouragement to do things for no other reason than the leaders say so. Fake it till you make it. Don’t stray from the approved lesson materials. Don’t talk about “the mysteries.” Stick to the pre-packaged, pre-approved, nice vanilla flavors that Salt Lake sends out. This will be familiar to every active Mormon.

But wait a minute. The LDS Church sees itself as the modern restoration of part of the House of Israel, doesn’t it? Each person with a patriarchal blessing is told their “lineage” and it’s usually Ephraim, one of the ancient Twelve Tribes. Mormons think of themselves literally as another part of modern-day Israel.

Does anybody remember what the word “Israel” means? It means “struggle with God.” Yeah, that’s right. “Struggle.” Not “obey.” Not “stick to the manual.” Not “don’t discuss the mysteries.” Abraham’s grandson Jacob was renamed Israel because he “struggled”—wrestled, even fought—with an angel of the Lord, and he won.

So it strikes me as supremely ironic that the corporation which asserts that it’s today’s earthly vehicle for gathering the House of Israel should have morphed into a culture so antithetical to the origin of the name. I’ve always taken comfort from the fact that earthly covenants are not made with the organization but directly with God Himself. So I’m sure He will forgive me if I indulge in some of the same struggling, questioning, wrestling even, that Jacob did. After all, Jacob was rewarded for it. And as a parent, I know I am proud of my kids when they ask questions, try to reason things out, demand answers, struggle to understand new things, don’t take pat answers as sufficient, but ask why, what next, what if. How else will they grow? How else will any of us grow?

Seeing that I am straying close to ponderous philosophizing again, I will now veer back toward lighter stuff.

Dinner with a good friend Friday night, his first time with Korean food, which he loved. It won’t be the last time we go there, I’m sure.

We are out of bread again. This means I get the pleasure of waking up real early tomorrow morning and walking to the local bakery for something fresh and warm right out of the oven. It’s less than a buck more than a similar loaf of wheat bread at the grocery store, and it’s made on site just hours before, not in some factory hundreds of miles away two weeks ago and then frozen for shipment. Plus I like supporting local businesses. And the bread from this place is awesome. We had cooler weather, clouds and even a brief downpour this afternoon; hope it’s back to sunshine tomorrow morning. I like morning walks like that, they’re one of the little pleasures that make life great.

The last of the Christmas stuff is finally put away. I love Christmas but I don’t like Christmas decorations in February. And the house looks a lot cleaner. Well, at least till the kids come back. It’s remarkable the places I find kids’ dirty athletic socks sometimes.

I am grateful for washing machines. Imagine if we had to wash all our clothes by hand with a washboard.

The kids love my homemade chicken noodle soup with chicken stock I make from the remains of a roast chicken from the store. I made a particularly good batch today and then proceeded to spill most of it all over the floor. I’m glad I’ve learned to laugh at myself.

And I’m grateful for talented friends, one of whom appears in the video below playing the postlude from church today. I’ve played this piece myself and it’s riotous fun, like a roller coaster. A joyful and fitting end to a wonderful service.


INSIDE - Trevor said...

Oh I remember in high school talking with my friend about how we missed recess!
Trip to the beach, walking to a local bakery early in the morning.... do you like in the Caribbean? Where ever you like you make it sound pretty amazing.

Pablo said...

I'm casting my vote in favor of making your "Random Sunday Thoughts" a recurring blog post.

I particularly liked your thoughts about the notion of "struggling with God." That idea permeates much of Jewish culture, in which the asking of questions is just as important as arriving at the answer. Sometimes the question is more important than the answer. In modern Mormon culture, every experience in life must be ultimately distilled into a narrow interpretation of the scripture "be still and know that I am God." (For some of the more authoritarian-minded leaders in the LDS church, the implication is "be still and know that I speak for God, so follow, follow, follow, lest thou be smitten and cast out.") Supreme irony indeed.

Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the process of struggling with God (even the idea of God itself) was rewarded in modern Mormonism? It seems to me that such a struggle is a pure expression of "free agency." The obsession with definitive answers may be good cultural glue, but it keeps us stuck when it comes to spiritual and emotional growth.

Invictus Pilgrim said...

What Pablo said. Great post.

Gunarm Dyne said...

That's exactly the problem: If you think about the War in Heaven, who was the one advocating free agency while the other was advocating blind obedience and total reliance on someone else to save us?

Keaton said...

I love to find a soul that I connect with so deeply. I'm perhaps more blunt about correlation. It leaves me wanting and empty. I'm deathly bored. I'm fortunate to have a gospel doctrine teacher that is well read and bring his vast knowledge to the topic at hand. I also long for spiritual uplift rather that the obedient beat down. It's like having Bobbyy Knight as a coach when you long for a Jimmy Valvano. I have to take red rock hikes to heal...and it helps to read your stuff. Thanks for sharing.