29 April 2008

Captain of Choice (poetry)

Captain of Choice

Forward march, the cry rang out,

And the ranks advanced in turn.

Holding fast, they marched en route,

A word of praise to earn.

Commands continue; all men obey,

Not one dares leave his place.

And so proceeds throughout the day,

Recognition's glance to chase.

Exactly, ever eager,

They execute without delay

The orders of their leader

Who shows and marks their way.

So, too, each man who dies and lives

Becomes one in a line

Behind his captain and he gives,

By choice, his heart and mind.

Each day we choose whom we will serve,

Enlisted in the hosts.

Eternally, we must observe

Which leader we love most.

They each have equal privilege

To teach in word and deed,

But ours the choice it is to judge

Which voice receives our heed.

Upward face, is the Captain's plea,

The Master of our soul.

We give heart, will, and loyalty,

And in Him are made whole.

26 April 2008

Teaching: the Bread of Life Sermon

After feeding the five thousand, the Lord profoundly taught "Moses gave you not that bread from heaven," (John 6: 32) referring to the manna provided to the children of Israel in the wilderness. This statement, coupled with his ensuing sermon declaring His divine role as the Bread of life, so shook the audience that "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6: 66)

A few years ago, an inspired bishop assigned this chapter to my then-fiance and me as companionship study as we prepared to be sealed. I realized then, for the first time, how radical the Lord's teachings were to his audience. Jesus was not merely preaching comforting words about how He is our daily Bread; rather, He was violently rending the veil of the Jewish worldview. By declaring "Moses gave you not that bread from heaven," Jesus declared His divinity, yes; but His audience would likely have perceived it less as a declaration of divinity and more as a slander against their founding prophet. Shattering preconceived notions of prophethood and Messianic ideals, Jesus' call required a response of His hearers.

In analyzing how the Lord teaches and trying to follow His example, do we work similarly? Does our teaching (or preaching) require our hearers to respond. Or do we allow enough platitudes and feel-good moments to eliminate such "hard doctrine" from our worship?

Alma 5 presents a similar strategy. We receive a series of questions that require self-evaluation and that destroy our tendency to megalomania and self-righteous complacency. Thus, the pattern of the Lord seems to call us to abandon our worldview and take up His. Abraham's call (which I have addressed elsewhere, see Conversaion and Abraham Paper here: http://www.angelfire.com/planet/morrisonwritings/), summoned him to abandon every sense of self that had previously defined him and to follow the Lord.
In sum, the Lord's teaching style presents itself as radical and revolutionary--hardly a traditional LDS conception of "reverence," yet more reverent to the Object of our worship than our "reverence." Teaching and studying the scriptures should evoke the same discomfort that the Lord's audience experienced when hearing "Moses gave you not that bread from heaven." If this call does not accompany our interactions with scripture, we are not properly teaching or studying. The scriptures, whether ancient or modern, can provide us an opiate to feel good about our current belief system. Or they can do violence to that belief system, replacing it with the daily Bread for which we pray. If we approach the scriptures merely to take comfort in our current understanding and find our interpretations or personal versions of doctrine verified, we will find what we look for. But we miss the Lord's call in the process and end up starving.

23 April 2008

the day of life

"the day of life"

outstretched arms
fingers flailing
as blackness surrounds

blurry eyed
looking yet unseeing

knees bruised and bloody
knuckles raw
tendons and sinews strain
strength failing

step follows step
the way still not clear
darkness remains
clouding vision

afar off
whether mirage or hope
an Image appears

but stumbling blocks
and murky waters persist
no respite

my God
my God
why hast Thou


eden fled
or did i flee
golgotha beckons
and gethsemane

and between gardens
pathways poisoned by
shackling self

looking ahead
seeing darkly
hoping against hope

unseeing eyes strain
losing sight
and gaining vision
with bowed head
and bent knee

no pathway appears
veering from the ordained course
no traveling companion
where expected

forsaken frail fickle
while walking alone
yet accompanied unaware

baptized by fire
knowing it not
and persevering

staying the course
but fight unfinished
moving forward
strengthened straining

plodding onward
forward focused
still unseeing
yet not unseen

soft sounds
call resounding
comfort comes
amidst lingering lonesome

how can the God of heaven

yet approachable
or is it perfection
while imperfect

course unfinished
muscles aching
journeying upward still

no man steps silently
while wandering
while returning

reunion sweet
within reach
not grasp

it is finished

the words mark end
and beginning
alpha and omega

then Life gives life
a living soul
Light returns
despite outer darkness

calm clarity
still waters
soul restored

22 April 2008

On Counseling and Councils

As Latter-day Saints, we encounter many forms of counsel and councils. The scriptures set some patterns and provide insight to these ideas while simultaneously opening questions to the inquiring mind regarding how best to apply the teaching we so frequently receive regarding counsel and councils. Certainly these thoughts are in no way meant to detract from the appropriate instruction handed down by divinely inspired and appointed leaders on how to effectively use councils or on how leaders may appropriately counsel church members approaching them in confidence; however, to restrict the notions of counsel and councils to only those contexts would obviate teachings of scripture. Hence, it is in the spirit of augmenting our conceptions of counsel and councils that I proceed.

Jacob 4:10 instructs "Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand." Matthew 7:1 likewise provides "Judge not, that ye be not judged," with Joseph Smith clarifying that the author intended the command to read "judge not unrighteously . . . but judge righteous judgment."

These passages, taken together, posit an instructive line of thinking and inquiry in that they leave open the idea of sitting in council with other saints while reserving judgment to specifically delegated situations of "righteous judgment."

The concept of counseling in a gospel context, as informed by Jacob 4:10, presents its own internal aporia. How can we counsel with the Lord without counseling the Lord? Some might regard such a question as fundamentally flawed. Jacob clearly contrasts counseling the Lord with taking His counsel. Thus, on at least that level, the dilemma dissolves.

In a different sense, however, we might question whether taking counsel from the Lord's hand involves more than complete passivity. Indeed, Lehi taught that we "have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for [our]selves and not to be acted upon." 2 Ne. 2:26. In that light, then, I proceed my inquiry as to how we take counsel from His hand without reverting to that state of being acted upon--a state upon which Lehi frowned.

To counsel seems to implicitly require interactivity. A person can give counsel without actual counseling taking place, a situation that many parents of teenage children may recognize. One-sided "counseling" would be characterized more appropriately as exhortation in such circumstances.

This returns us to the interactive aspect of counsel. Such counsel can be informed by the humility required to submit one's will to that of the Father; however, the interactivity cannot be eliminated therefrom. Despite our decision to submit, we must not merely resign ourselves. Even our Lord Jesus sought the interactive form of counsel in asking that "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" before ultimately receiving the counsel of the Father and submitting, "nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matt. 26:39. Hence, the injunction to receive counsel at the Hand of the Master does not preclude our meaningful prayers and expressions of our own intents, preferences, and ideas.

Likewise, interactive counseling does not allow us the latitude to pray exclusively for our own wants or desires or to attempt at imposing our understanding on God. Instead, we must "seek not to counsel the Lord." This, again, requires interactivity. Attitudes reflected in prayer, meditation, study, or behavior that fails to acknowledge that our "one-sided counsel" falls short of true counsel destroy the interactivity of the counseling relationship. To offer a "prayer" that merely states or requests (or demands) what we want individually, without making time and creating space for the Lord's return counsel abuses the relationship of counseling just as violently as the passivity approach.

With this brief sketch of what it means to counsel, we turn naturally to the councils of the church, in which counseling constitutes a part of the sacred responsibility to "sit in council." D&C 107. In such councils, righteous judgment comprises a theme that ought to always inform appropriate council actions. Outside the context of disciplinary councils (wherein a specifically designated delegee of the Lord's authority acts as an inspired Judge), the councils of the Church address the topics, doctrines, policies, programs, and activities of the church (among other things). In this process, judgment is passed on those items. Thus, the theme of righteous judgment becomes an appropriate area for discussion among church members.

Just as the idea of how to counsel presents a paradox, the injunction to not judge unrighteously creates pause to its recipients. We might well ask ourselves how we determine whether our judgment is righteous without adding judgment upon judgment. When we pass judgment, whether it be upon an individual or upon the fit between a proposed policy, program or activity and its intended audience, the judgment must be undertaken seriously. For "with what judgment [w]e judge, [w]e shall be judged." Matt. 7:2.

How, then, should saints approach judgment. Here, the concepts of councils and counsel overlap. Councils must counsel together and with the Lord. Their decisions must align those two counseling relationships. The ultimate decision of such councils typically falls upon the presiding member of the council, who has been consecrated for this decision-making role.

In sum, the ultimate beginning and end of Church councils reverts back to the individuals constituting the council and their relationship of counsel with God. So our inquiry returns our thoughts to their outset and reaffirms the need to develop a truly interactive relationship of counsel with our Master.

17 April 2008

A beautiful spring day merits a post...

“Prima vera”

Beside colored leaves,

Crisp and cool,

The awaiting bud.

Opaque ornamentation clings

To naked branches

Still dormant.

Blood-red, burnt-orange and amber,

The death of days gone by,

Surrounded by life.

Sun rises,

As did the Son,

Illuminating and irradiating.

White light shines down,

Revealing the spectrum

Unseen before.

Soon, blooming in full,

Flowers fill the fields,

Prima vera echoes again.

15 April 2008

How Blessed the Day When The Lamb and the Lion...

For an initial entry, I considered introducing myself in more depth or giving some sort of preface. Perhaps one or both of those will come about in a subsequent post, but instead, I choose to begin with some thoughts regarding this line from a beloved Latter-day Saint hymn (#2), "The Spirit of God." I have reflected on the line "How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion shall lie down together without any ire." This phrase is traditionally, and accurately, understood to refer to the millennial era when it will be literally fulfilled. At the Lord's coming, an era of peace and paradise will ensue, during which the Lord's creations will cohabit without enmity.

However, I have been giving thought to an alternative interpretation. When we as Christians analyze the Bible, many of us see a distinction in the way God is perceived in the two testaments. Whereas the God of the Old Testament manifests Himself, and His people proclaim Him to be a God of vengeance, war, plagues, and the like; the New Testament draws on some of the less dominant Old Testament themes (i.e., Isaiah's Suffering Servant) and presents Jesus as a seemingly different God of the New Testament or covenant--a meek (though not feeble) and graceful presence in contrast to the brazen Old Testament Jehovah.

Some might discount one of these two figures in favor of the other, seeing the two as utterly irreconcilable. Truly, the portrayal of Jehovah commanding Israel to utterly destroy entire communities seems to contradict Jesus' teaching to love our enemies. Nevertheless, the line of thought that would discount the Jehovah of the Old Testament in favor of the Jesus of the New Testament undermines its own reasoning. To teach that the Jews misunderstood their God would suggest that Jesus inadequately reformed Judaism during his earthly ministry. Would His godly outrage at the money changers of the temple be credible if He omitted correction of the Old Testament conception of Jehovah as God? Surely Jesus would have assisted His adherents to reconfigure their world view if He perceived such a fundamental flaw in their worship.

Thus, rejection of the manifestation and proclamation of Jehovah conveyed through the Old Testament becomes unpalatable. As such, the accounts of Israel being commanded by their God to utterly destroy neighboring nations remains binding on a Christian understanding of God. How then are we to reconcile the Old and New Testaments' portrayals of God? How can the Lamb and the Lion lie down together without any ire?

A third testament, The Book of Mormon presents itself as a bridge between the two testaments, proffering itself as the beginning of the restored gospel. This restored gospel is the reconciliation. Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. On more than one occasion he observed them and grew to understand their nature and character. With this understanding, he could see that the Lamb and the Lion were both God, whom we worship. The gospel of Jesus Christ, as restored through the prophet Joseph, embraces both Lamb and Lion. The Book of Mormon teaches of God through the lenses of both Old and New Testaments. It teaches that God blesses and prospers the righteous and sweeps the wicked from the face of the earth, echoing the Old Testament themes. Its editors (primarily Mormon) and prophet-authors selected narratives that highlight these themes. Additionally, it contains passages that highlight the Messiah in ways that reflect the gentler God presented in the New Testament, including a direct reference to Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Yet the Book of Mormon does so in a way that presents a unified God.

Thus, the advent of the restored gospel inaugurates the blessed day alluded to in the hymn, and allows worship of John's "Lamb of God" and the Deuteronomist's Lion of Judah. The day of the restoration creates the space for both to lie down together in harmony, "without any ire." How blessed, indeed, is the day, when as disciples we embrace this space and allow Lamb and Lion to lie down together, empowering us against the external foes we face as were Old Testament armies and enabling us against the internal weaknesses we must overcome through the grace taught in the New Testament. So why wait for the Millennial day?