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Struggles of Faith

Just read a rather thought-provoking post about the struggles many younger, astute Mormons go through in their struggles of faith: http://youngmormonfeminists.org/2013/08/14/youngermormonsandleavingtheldschurch/

The responses make for thought-provoking and sometimes rather disturbing reading. I sometimes wonder if an Athanasian/Arian conflict might erupt in the Church.

Here’s my response…for whatever it’s worth [please forgive the errors...I'm rather tired and did not put this response through multiple drafts]:

Thank you, Hannah, for this thoughtful consideration. There are indeed some vexing questions in today’s Church history/culture. Sometimes, I have similar concerns… and I’m from an older generation–I was at BYU in September 1993 and remember the anxiety and even anger felt and expressed by some of the English faculty.

I often times find some odd sense of comfort in the fact that Alma 5 and Jacob 2 & 3 were delivered to the members of the church and that the narrative arc of the Book of Mormon and the two Testaments is actually one of failure (structurally, they are very similar [a group is called from the world to be "separate" and "chosen" but ultimately cannot live up to the charge]) . Those societies ultimately failed to really embrace the Gospel and be transformed by it. Certain generations or groups seemed to “get it”–for example, the People of Ammon–but the majority did not. I think the odd comfort I find in these realizations is that despite the odds, transformation can, in fact, happen.

In my spiritual life, I find myself focusing on those times when the Spirit touched me and I am convinced it was something beyond me and I try to let those moments guide me. I feel that Joseph Smith was, indeed, a prophet…an imperfect man, by his own admission, and a prophet. I feel that the priesthood is real…though I don’t understand why women are denied it outside the temple and it disturbs me deeply that many worthy brothers were denied it for so long (I believe that had more to do with the imperfections and blindness of the members than with anything else). I believe that homosexuality is a far more complicated issue than we heterosexuals can really understand (and I’m grateful that a BYU professor, whom I shall not name, expressed this thought as well when I became concerned about the topic and brought it up in an office visit). I believe the Church can offer the world a lot of good in spite of the fact that we tell a rather uneven story to ourselves and the rest of the world–there are, thankfully, many Mormons who are willing to pitch in and try to help alleviate acute suffering…would that more would be as concerned about chronic suffering as well.

I have come to believe that we are operating in a “by the skin of our teeth” drama. I believe that the Gospel and Truth (yes, I’m using the capitals consciously) will win out eventually, but that the victory may be rather messy and we may not recognize it as such in the actual playing out. I always keep in mind a wise insight a fellow missionary once said. I was having a very, very difficult spell and was struggling with some deeply “existential” questions (I still have yet to find an apt adjective), and this elder said, “You know, God is infinite in love and mercy. We don’t even really know what that means since we are so imperfect in those two qualities. It will probably be worth hanging on to find out what that means.” In my life since then, I think I’ve had fleeting glimpses of what a perfection of those qualities may be like; just enough to keep me going. (Yes…God is also perfectly just, but the Atonement was wrought to give us the chance to escape perfect justice.) I also try to keep in mind that the Lord has instructed on many occasions that love and mercy are supposed to be the guiding principles in our existence and I clumsily try to follow the Savior’s injunction.

That’s part of the view through my glass darkly. I think that sticking with the Church requires and will continue to require an act of will. Those of us who do stick with it trust that this act of will shall eventually be born out by the eternities/universe.

Serving, Not Leading

Interesting set of thoughts here! A few years ago, my wife ran for city council and was often asled about her thoughts on leadership. We talked about it and decided that when it comes to communal action, the more important questions have to do with cooperation. Will we see cooperation seminars and workbooks? It would be nice…but probably not as profitable…so maybe we won’t. Darn!

My friend alerted me to this great column from Henry Rollins on the Stubenville convictions.  I can’t say I really respect a lot of famous rock musicians, but Rollins is one of them.  He thinks deeply about issues and he considers many angles.

I think what bothers me most about this case is the depth of failure on so many socio-cultural levels.  In thinking about the Book of Mormon, it feels like this is nudging towards the absolute depravity of both the Nephites and the Lamanites at the end of the chronicle.  True, the idiots who performed this rape did not kill her and feed her flesh to her family, but in taking pictures and making videos about it, they symbolically cannibalized her by making her an object of consumption.  The thought is father o the act.  Will we see the sickening depravity of the last days of the Nephites any time soon?  Crap!  I hope not.

I read about the results of the rape trial today and wanted to puke!  Thought I would just let you all know I have no sympathy whatsoever for what you are experiencing right now.  The convictions of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond are, frankly, not even close to justice for the crime.  The crime itself is bad enough, but the fact that your community tried to cover it up all for the sake of your petty civic pride and love of football are practically inexcusable!  This kind of utterly disgusting incident should have been dealt with harshly and quickly, but your institutions tried to sweep it under the rug.  According to the accounts I have read, even more young people should be on trial…I recall reading that one of the stops on this atrocity parade was an assistant coach’s house.  Really?  How is it he was also not convicted for contributing to the delinquency of minors?  Turning a blind eye towards this kind of abomination (and all that that word implies) is revolting to the highest degree! 

A Great Prayer!

This week I was on the website of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin doing some work for my German class.  Before World War II, this was one of the most spectacular and beautiful churches in Berlin and was, unfortunately, pummeled during the war.  The citizens of Berlin made an interesting decision about the building, however.  Rather than tearing it down and rebuilding it, they decided to leave it standing as a memorial and reminder of the horrors and Hell of war.

Gedächtniskirche1                           me-kaiserwilhelmGK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser_Wilhelm_Memorial_Church

In fulfillment of a long-standing desire, I was able to finally visit the church in 2010 when I traveled in Germany with students.  (Yes. I know it’s a bad picture of me on the right…but, there I was.)  It struck me again, that we Americans know so little about the total costs of war primarily because we have not had a standing war on our own soil in more than a hundred and fifty years.

Anyway, while on the site, I found this wonderful prayer.  It is titled Versöhnungsgebet von Coventry and is a translation of The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.  As a simple exercise, though, I translated it from German back into English…and it came out slightly different, but beautiful nonetheless:

Father, forgive the hate that separates race from race, nation from nation, and class from class.

Father, forgive the striving of people and nations to possess what they do not own.

Father, forgive the possessiveness that wastes the labor of people and ravages the Earth.

Father, forgive our jealousy over the success and happiness of others.

Father, forgive our complicity in the suffering of the imprisoned, homeless, and refugees.

Father, forgive the degradation of women, men, and children through sexual abuse.

Father, forgive the haughtiness that leads us to trust in ourselves and not in Thee.

Father, forgive!

Thoughts on Infallibility…

A post I read earlier today got me thinking.  The post was from Joanna Brooks. a very bright and quirky Mormon…Gott sei Dank! [German for "Thank God."]  The post has to do with how we teachers in the Church should handle “sticky” historical situations.  What an important topic!  We don’t live in a perfect world.  We don’t have perfect leaders…and we never have.  Unlike Medieval popes, LDS general authorities have never made claims to infallibility…and the smart ass in me wants to add that even if they did, their wives and children would make sure the truth got out.

If we are to have a well-grounded faith in the Gospel, we have to recognize that the Church has made some rather significant mistakes in the past and we need to be aware of those mistakes before we can learn from them.  For example, the Church made a huge mistake in withdrawing the priesthood from African-American members (for a timeline, see http://mormonstories.org/top10toughissues/blacks.html).  This bungled policy not only violated one of the most beautiful teachings of the Book of Mormon (see 2 Ne. 26:33) but was clearly an extension of conventional 19th and 20th-century American racial/racist consciousness.  Thankfully, we’ve been growing away from that.

An important concept here is that just as we don’t expect perfection of individuals we shouldn’t expect it of the institution as well.  In Doctrine and Covenants 1, the Lord states that He’s “well pleased” with the church as a whole (v. 30), but that does not imply that there was no room for development in the church.  As a father, I am well pleased with my five-year-old son, but I recognize he has a long way to go in his development.  An analogous situation exists with the Church.  We will always have room to grow, develop, improve, and someone who cannot accept that is operating with very unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.  (I can well imagine that a marriage with an intractable spouse must be an absolute Hell.)

Now, all of this is not to say that we should parade the Church’s mistakes in Sunday school lessons or conversations, nor should they become the focus of our study.  But, as questions come up, we ought to be open to learning and always asking ourselves questions like, “What can this teach me about being a better follower of Christ?” or “Is there something I can do in my family or in my ward to keep us from going down this path or one like it?”  Ultimately, historical mistakes can be embarrassing, painful, and even detrimental, but they can and should also be educational as well.  They should also teach us humility.

On a musical note, Brooks’s post made me think back on the lyrics for one of my favorite songs by Rush, “Entre Nous”:

We are secrets to each other
Each one’s life a novel
No one else has read
Even joined in bonds of love
We’re linked to one another
By such slender threads

We are planets to each other
Drifting in our orbits
To a brief eclipse
Each of us a world apart
Alone and yet together
Like two passing ships

[Chorus:]
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes fear to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow

We are strangers to each other
Full of sliding panels
An illusion show
Acting well rehearsed routines
Or playing from the heart?
It’s hard for one to know

[Chorus]

We are islands to each other
Building hopeful bridges
On a troubled sea
Some are burned or swept away
Some we would not choose
But we’re not always free

[Chorus]

 
 

Well, as a species, we seem a bit stupid.

This year I am reading from the Old Testament, which I have actually never read cover-to-cover, despite seminary, institute, BYU religion class, and teaching the book in Sunday school.  And, last night I read something that really bothered me from the book of Genesis, a detail from the account of Noah and the Deluge: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11, my emphasis).  Having just finished the Book of Mormon again in December, I could not help but think about the bloody ends of two of the major civilizations in the book: the Jaredites and the Nephites—the Lamanites, of course, were also no strangers to violence.  What bothered me is that the quality of violence was a condition for the Lord to cause the Flood and the demise of two civilizations (and actually, one could make the case that the demise of the biblical civilization had a lot to do with violence, as well) coupled the violence we’re witnessing at this moment on the Earth.  The blood of Sandy Hook is still fresh on my mind and a Facebook friend of mine recently commented on the upsurge of gun buying—especially assault weapons—in Utah in response to anticipated changes in gun control laws.  I have had conversations with other Mormons about these attendant issues and what deeply disturbs me is the quickness with which it seems many in the Mormon community seem to accept violence not only as a necessary course of action, but a desirable one as well.  It seems we are swayed more by NRA jingoism than the scriptures.

To illustrate the absurdity of the “more guns=less violence” argument (an argument of causality not correlation) thrown around by gun-rights advocates, let me offer an analogous situation, one that will be distressing to our Australian brothers and sisters at this moment.  If a community were to have problems with forest fires, how illogical would it be to offer as a solution an increase in match and lighter ownership?  I think most clear-thinking individuals would argue that it would be an unacceptable solution because it actually increases the likelihood of the problem’s occurrence.  We could formulate the problem in this way: the more the means become available, the more likely an outcome will be achieved.

To return then to the original concern of gun violence, gun-rights advocates are making the same argument: the answer to gun violence is more guns.  Again, the more the means become available, the more likely an outcome will be achieved.  The more guns are available, the more likely they will be used.  Is there evidence that this is the case?  As a matter of fact, there is a great amount of evidence.  In a commentary on the Sandy Hook shootings, staff writers at The Economist recently pointed out:

America’s murder rate is four times higher than Britain’s and six times higher than Germany’s.  Only an idiot, or an anti-American bigot prepared to maintain that Americans are four times more murderous than Britons, could possibly pretend that no connection exists between those figures and the fact the 300m guns are “out there” in the United States, more than one for every adult.[i]

But, there’s something else at play here besides mere numbers.  Many gun-tottin’ Mormons simply parrot the NRA line that we have a higher murder rate because we have more people.  This argument rests on the assumption that if other countries like Germany, Canada, etc. would have similar numbers of murders if they had as many people.  Unfortunately, this claim has very little support.  As a matter of fact, if we look at per capita murder rates, we find that this claim falls flat on its butt.  Max Fisher in a recent Washington Post article points out that per 100,000 people, the US murder rate is 20 times higher than the average murder rate for other developed countries.[ii]  Per capita comparisons, of course, are calculated to mitigate discrepancies in population differences.  Thus, according to this research, if the population of Germany or another developed country were the size of the United States, we would still be twenty times more likely to be killed by a gun in America.

With the population factor accounted for, we cannot avoid the possibility that what makes our gun-related death rate so high is the presence of guns.  So, how do we rank on gun ownership?  The Economist article points out that in the United States we have more guns than adults.  More detailed information comes from the 2007 Small Arms Survey, an independent research project sponsored by the Graduate Institute of International and Developmental Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, which reports that American gun ownership is 43,560 per 100,000 people[iii] and our firearm murder rate is more than three per 100,000 people (referring to the piece in the Washington Post).  How does this compare to other developed countries?  Sweden’s ownership rate is 40,910, yet their firearm homicide rate is less than 0.5 per 100,000 people.  Germany’s ownership rate is 34,870 and their firearm homicide rate is even less than Sweden’s.  Canada’s ownership rate is 32,590 and their firearm homicide rate is right at 0.5 per 100,000 people.  Switzerland actually has a higher per capita ownership rate at 55,320 and yet has less than one firearm murder per 100,000 people.   Thus, there are other developed nations with comparable gun ownership rates that experience far fewer firearm homicides.

Thus, when we account for differences in population and in rates of gun ownership, we find that raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.  Trying to figure out what the other pieces of the puzzle are is an important task and is crucial to addressing the situation.  Let me just quickly suggest that one vital factor is America’s embrace of violent media.  We love shoot ‘em ups, whether they be TV shows, movies, songs, or video games.  What happens, though, as we consume all this violent media is that violence becomes normalized, a sociological term that refers to the fact that our norms are set by social practice and interaction.  If we perceive that violence is normal and acceptable, then it is so because we have chosen that to be the case or we have not chosen to resist it.  There are other choices available and we are not making those choices.  Per 100,000 people, almost 12,000 more Swiss own guns, but they choose to use them on each other far less than we do.  The fault for our violence lies with us and with our perceptions of the world, which is both reflected in and strengthened by our media culture.

The number of Mormons supporting the increase of guns in America is troubling on at least two levels.  Number one, this support seems to support a pattern (violence) that the Lord, through the scriptures, has tried to teach us is a bad thing.  If we are His followers, why would we rush to embrace something He has actively punished mankind for, in the case of Noah, and passively punished the Jaredites and the Nephites for? Why would we embrace the means of violence?  Number two, this support evinces a willingness to embrace the ways of the world that should cause us to pause.  Gun-tottin’ Mormons assert the right to defend their homes at the point of a gun—a problematic assertion.  One particular aspect of this defense bothers me as a follower of Christ: how many times does the Lord promise of “fight our battles” if we will rely on Him?  In this hypothetical scenario, these Mormons would rather rely on a weapon, an extension of the “arm of flesh.”

My concern here is that many Mormons, as evidenced by their behaviors and pervasively expressed attitudes, seem a bit too willing to resort to or rely on violence as a means of addressing cultural violence.  Again, this is similar to saying we will address forest fires by buying more matches and lighters.  The more I engage with the scriptures, the more convinced I am that we should expressly reject violence as a problem-solving strategy.  Human nature, or the “natural man” if you will, shows that it will resort to violence often times with little or “cheap” provocation.

When all else fails, WWJD, right?  I cannot quite picture Christ showing up with an AR-15 in hand (a tool, by the way, created solely for taking human life) to an NRA rally. Given His words in the scriptures, I think it is far more likely He would show up unarmed to a pro-peace or a human rights rally.  Until we learn this lesson that Noah’s dispensation, the Jaredites, and the Nephites all failed to learn, to resist violence, we are doomed to realize their failures.

 


[i] The Economist. 2012. “New Town’s Horror.” 22 Dec. Print., p. 12.

[ii] Fisher, Max. 2012.  “Chart: The US Has far more Gun-Related Killings than any Other Developed Country.”  14 Dec.  Web. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/chart-the-u-s-has-far-more-gun-related-killings-than-any-other-developed-country/ Accessed 9 January 2013.

[iii] http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/publications/by-type/yearbook/small-arms-survey-2007.html, see specifically Chapter 2, Annexe 1: Seventy-nine countries with comprehensive civilian ownership data

Community and Worship

With some of my Christmas money, I bought a book by one of my favorite Protestant theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a mid-twentieth-century German pastor and professor and Nazi resistor executed on the orders of Heinrich Himmler.  The book, Life Together (translated by John W. Doberstein, published by HarperCollins), was written as he led an underground seminary near Stetten (now Szcezecin, Poland), northeast of Berlin.  This intense setting forced the seminarians to create a very tight-knit community, thus the book is an extended meditation on the concept of Christian community.  Here are some points that have struck me as I have been reading:

1.

One of the first points Bonhoeffer makes is that “the Christian…belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes” (p. 17).  Elsewhere, Bonhoeffer refers to this concept as being “called to the world,” by which he means that Christians should be engaged with the world, involved with solving the world’s problems.  As a Mormon, sometimes I think we too often call ourselves away from the world, seeing the problems of the world as results of sin.  In many cases there is something to this perspective, but it by no means excuses us from action.  Bonhoeffer quotes Martin Luther who wrote disparagingly of the Christian who always “wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but with the devout people” (qtd. in Bonhoeffer, p. 17-18).  He calls such Christians “blasphemers and betrayers of Christ.”  “If Christ had done what you are doing,” Luther continues, “who would ever have been spared?”

When I was teaching at a low socio-economic school, I had many students who were from severely disrupted families, who were born into sin in a major way.  A number of my students were born into families of drug addicts and habitual criminals, many even had rather robust criminal records themselves.  If I had called myself away from the world, and refused to work with these students, what good would I have done?  Despite the difficulty and sometime hopelessness of working at that school, one thing I can feel good about is that much of the time, I was able to be of some Christian service to a number of students.  If I had refused to interact with them, I might have denied them exposure to the Gospel.  Isn’t this what Christ was referring to when he admonished us to “let [our] light so shine before men”?  (Matt. 5:16)  If we refuse to interact with the wider world, then we refuse to share the light of the Gospel.

2.

While we are to share the Gospel through interaction with the world, we should also rejoice in the presence of our Christian brothers and sisters: “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian bretheren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God” (p. 20).

3.

In America, we tend to think in terms of individualism, possibly even to a fault.  American Mormons are no exception.  Having grown up in the Church, I can say that while lessons may often acknowledge the importance of others, just as often or even more frequently we talk about the church in very individualistic terms.  While we often talk about service, we often remind ourselves that we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12; see also Mormon 9:27).  I’ve even noticed that we often talk about service with rather individualistic, even selfish language; we talk about how service makes us feel good, for example.

Bonhoeffer, though reminds us that a “Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ” (p. 23).  How does this work?  “Among men there is strife.”  Like most Christians, we acknowledge this as a result of the Fall—though we resist the language of original sin, of course.  There is also “discord between God and man.”  Through the Atonement, though, “Christ became the Mediator and made peace with God and among men.  Without Christ we should not know God…But without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him.  The way is blocked by our own ego.”  The Atonement provides the only real and lasting way to overcome ego.

 

Image Engraved

This is the text of a talk I gave today.  I played around with structure, a bit, putting it together more like a personal essay than a typical talk.  Hope you enjoy!

Several years ago, I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The focus of the seminar was the Reformation. One of the guest speakers was Dr. John D. Roth, a professor of history at Goshen College , a Mennonite school. Dr. Roth was there to talk about what’s come to be called the Radical Reformation, the movement that gave birth to the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and German Brotherhood. He talked about their historical origins and practices, and shared some of the stories of the martyrs who were killed by both Catholics and Protestants for their aberrant beliefs. He passed around a nineteenth-century copy of Der Märtyrspiegel, in English The Martyr’s Mirror, a book that documents the martyrdom of many believers in Europe during the sixteenth century. It may seem morose, but I find a number of these stories inspiring.

One of my favorite of these martyr stories actually comes from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and concerns two disabled men that were burned at the stake in London, 1556. One was blind, while the other was lame in one leg. When the second’s crutch was taken away from him, he caught hold of the other and exulted, “Be of good comfort, my brother; for my lord of London is our physician. He will heal us both shortly; thee of thy blindness, and me of my lameness.” (i) What appeals to me in this story is the assurance the lame man has in Christ’s mercy and goodness at the moment he is to be martyred—and being burned alive is a particularly gruesome way to be killed. For many of these martyrs, they could have easily preserved their lives by denying their association with the Anabaptists, as they were called, but this man’s faith was no mere mask to be worn for company. His faith was his very essence.

The Martyr’s Mirror contains a number of very meticulously articulated etchings to accompany these stories. After passing around the book, Dr. Roth then pulled out a velvet packet and explained that a man in Holland had been cleaning in his attic and found a series of twenty-five copper engraving plates, originals from the fifteen hundreds, images of men and women being tortured or killed for their beliefs. He donated them to the college.

One of the favorite stories among the Mennonites is the story of Dirk Willems, who was imprisoned for his beliefs. While waiting to be executed, he was able to escape the tower in which he’d been locked. He ran out into the winter’s night, chased by guards. They came to a frozen river, over which Willems quickly crossed. The guard immediately behind, fell through a weak spot in the ice. Most people, of course, would have taken advantage of that opportunity and kept running, but Willems returned to the guard. Not wanting the other man to suffer or die, since his comrades had refused to go out onto the ice after him, Willems crept as close to the man as he could, extended his hand, and pulled the guard from the ice, whereupon he was arrested, detained, and subsequently burned at the stake. In rescuing the guard, Willems showed that his faith was likewise, not a mask, but a manifestation of his true and Christian essence.

The Willems story presents an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, he could have preserved his own life by continuing to run. In doing so, he would have saved himself from suffering and death, if only temporarily. Additionally, many would argue that he did not owe the guard good will, since he had been part of the killing mechanism. But Willems was not everyone. Dr. Roth, in retelling the story, asserted that Willems stopped to help the guard because of the love of Christ that was in him. He could not 1 allow another to suffer while he had the chance to stop it, so he turned and aided his captor.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma the younger had been both the civic leader and the ecclesiastical leader of the Nephites, but after noticing “with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another” (ii) and that there had arisen a “great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.” (iii) In general, the church became wicked and this very wickedness caused it to become a “great stumbling–block to those who did not belong to [it]; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” (iv) In consequence of this, Alma decided to give up his civic position, to concentrate on teaching the Gospel. I wonder if this situation also posed a dilemma to Alma. On the one hand, he might have been able to pass laws or judgments that might have protected the humble, faithful saints who were still committed to the Gospel, who walked after the ways of God. I’m sure that holding the position he did in the government brought with it a sense of prestige and status, but Alma chose to serve the people through serving God exclusively and explicitly instead. He gave up his position as chief judge and set out on a mission—a mission not of conversion, as it were, but one of re-conversion.

He began with the congregations in the Nephite capital of Zarahemla. He rehearsed to them the number of times the Lord had delivered their ancestors and even themselves from the Lamanites and other enemies. He rehearsed to them about when the Lord had delivered them from the sorrow and suffering of sin. More specifically, he focused on the recent delivery of some of the people from the bonds of wickedness and war through the ministry of the prophets Abinadi and his own father, Alma the elder. Alma then turns the focus on the people themselves and asks, “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?” (v) He asks if they have remained clean and can “look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (vi)

To make an etching, the artist must first create the image in negative on a sheet of brass or copper with ink. The plate then is introduced into a strong acid bath, the most common etchtant, as the solution is called, is ferric chloride which is so strong it is now used in water purification and sewage treatment plants. The solution eats away slightly at the metal, but is most aggressive on the ink, oxidizing it and the metal it has come in contact with. When the plate is removed from the acid bath, treated with baking soda or another base, then rinsed and cleansed, the image is ready for processing. To do this, a thin layer of ink is spread on the plate, and a piece of clean paper or cloth is laid on it and pressure applied. When the paper or cloth is removed, the image remains upon it. The process can be rather time consuming. Sometimes it takes up to 24 hours to fully neutralize the etchtant; but, in the end, copper etching plates are very durable can yield extraordinary images that can be used for years before fading. The great Dutch artist, Rembrandt is quite well-known for his etchings. As a family, we have been fortunate enough to see several Rembrandt prints, including several depicting important scenes from the life of Christ. They are exquisite and the detail is extraordinarily clean, even after four hundred years.

Alma’s question of whether we in the church can look up with the image of God engraven in our countenance relies on a kind of metaphor called synechdoche, in which a part of a person is used to represent the whole. By implication, if the face has God’s image, then the whole body must also be good and, thus, the spirit must be clean as well. One can, of course, ask whether other images can be engraven upon us. Paul, in First Corinthians, offers a rich, logical argument about the nature of bodies. Comparing Adam, through whom death and corruption were introduced into the world, and Christ, through whom salvation came to humankind, he observes:

The first man [Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (vii)

Paul’s argument here is set up by a series of three parallel statements, the second two amplifying the first. If we are of the earth, then we will have an earthly body and an earthly image. If we are of heaven, we will have a heavenly body and a heavenly image.

Putting ourselves in the place of the copper plate, we may ask ourselves, “What is it that can engraven the Lord’s image onto me?” There are many possible answers, but one I would like to focus on is tribulation. We tend to look at tribulations as burdens or even punishments, and sometimes they may be a result of our own action or inaction. But, the Lord tells us that there are other reasons they come upon us. In Revelations, the Lord states unequivocally, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent…[and] To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (vii) Rather than bemoaning our tribulations, we can look at them as evidence of the Lord’s attention and affection. From personal and difficult experience, I know that this is not at all an easy thing to do! As we writhe in physical, emotional, or spiritual agony, it can be very difficult to see beyond the pain and see the hand of the Lord. The trick then becomes how to work through tribulations in a positive way.

A wise answer was suggested by Martin Luther, the central figure in the Reformation. Because Luther was wise and so well loved, dinner guests used to write down what he said and these writings were published after his death as Die Tischrede des Martin Luthers, or The Table Talk of Martin Luther in English. He often spoke of tribulations, but one statement stands out as particularly significant:

When I am assailed with heavy tribulations, I rush out among my pigs, rather than remain alone by myself. The human heart is like a millstone in a mill; when you put wheat under it, it turns and grinds and bruises the wheat to flour; if you put no wheat, it still grinds on, but then ‘tis itself it grinds and wears away. (ix)

Luther’s prescription, then, is to render service to others. (He may have gotten that from Elton Jenson.)

In the October 2009 General Conference, Elder L. Whitney Clayton discussed burdens, noting how they can bring us closer to the Lord. They “may help prepare us to hear the word of the Lord” or “may humble us and motivate us to seek heavenly shelter from societal storms.” But significantly, “bearing up under our own burdens can help us develop a reservoir of empathy for the problems others face.” Furthermore, Clayton observes, the Apostle Paul taught that “we should ‘bear … one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’” (x) Alma the elder noted that baptism signifies that we are “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea… willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (xi)

Beyond these points, though, I believe there is something of deeper importance. As we seek opportunities to serve others and help them with their burdens, we become more Christ-like. We begin to see others as he sees them, to love them as he loves them. The love of Christ is a transformative experience. When we experience it and accept it, we necessarily change in ways that can affect others. Let me illustrate by telling you a story from my mission. There were two elders who had contacted a woman and her son. After leaving this woman’s apartment one cold January night, they ran into a man entering the building. The three merely exchanged customary greetings, but the brief meeting left an impression on the man. During the next visit, the woman asked the two elders, “What did you say to my ex-husband?” The elders, a bit surprised what she meant. The woman proceeded, “The night you were here, you met him at the door. He had come over to bring my son a Christmas present, and when he came up here he asked if I knew two young men. He described you two, and then he said, ‘They were really good people, I could just tell it.’ What did you two say to him?” The two missionaries were just trying their best to be good ambassadors of Christ. They were trying to serve the beautiful people of Germany, whom they had grown to love. Brothers and sisters, others can feel it, can sense the Spirit if we live worthy of it and carry it with us. On that night, those two simple servants had the Lord’s image engraven on their countenances and others could sense it and were touched by it.

Brothers and sisters, I believe the Lord himself felt burdened by his cares. I can easily imagine Him being tempted in His sorrows to ask questions and to doubt. Isaiah asserts that he was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” (xii) yet he never allowed the sorrows and grief keep him from loving and serving others, thus working beyond his temptation. It is my testimony, that when we are in tribulation and turn our gaze outward to do even the smallest acts of service for others, we will find that we will more frequently carry the image of heaven marked upon us.

i From Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, p. 399 (Spire Books, 1998)
ii Alma 4:8
iii Alma 4:12
iv Alma 4:10
v Alma 5:14 – 15
vi Alma 5:19
vii 1 Corinthians 15:47 – 49
viii Revelation 3:19 – 21
ix From The Table Talk of Martin Luther, p. 166 (Dover Publications, 2005)
x http://www.lds.org/liahona/2009/11/that-your-burdens-may-be-light
xi Galatians 6:2
xii Isaiah 53:3

Oi veh…

Long time, no speak. Blame grad school for that. I’m going to keep this short.
A) I’m glad the presidential race is over.
B) I’ve avoided news and blogs for a bit because, frankly, I don’t want to hear the whine storm.
C) I didn’t vote for Romney and I didn’t vote for Obama. I wrote in Dennis Kucinich. As an American citizen I have the right to do that and, for goodness sake, I don’t want to vote for someone because I like their opponent less…what kind of voting is that? Crap voting!!!
D) I read a cool essay today by Hugh Nibley about how world mythology is ritual based and can validate the teachings of the Gospel. I love world myth and want to jump on this one.
E) Oh, yea…I have grad school to do…

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