A certain man traveled to a faraway village that was famous for its wine.
As he traveled through the village on horseback, he observed throngs of laborers in a large field with their backs bent, picking grapes, their countenances dirty and downtrodden.
Stopping by one of the workers, the man said, "Good sir! Is this where they grow the finest grapes in the kingdom?"
The laborer looked around, his eyes fearful. Just as he was about to speak, a large and mighty man carrying a whip shouted at the worker. "Hey! Why have you stopped working?"
The worker quickly resumed picking grapes, placing them in his basket, his movements tense. The large man scoffed. "Your basket is barely half full."
Turning to the man on horseback, the mighty man said, "You don't belong here, stranger. This vineyard is for licensed grape pickers only."
"I see," the man said. "And who are you?"
A second worker, who had been hiding behind a vine eavesdropping, jumped up. "Why, don't you know our gracious Foreman? His Handsomeness has transformed this vineyard into the finest in the kingdom. Under his supervision we have become very productive."
"Indeed," said the visitor.
The Foreman spat on the ground, then reached into the first worker's basket and grabbed a bunchful of grapes, throwing them to the second man. The man caught the grapes and bowed gratefully as he devoured them, obviously hungry.
"I'm in charge here," the Foreman said, turning to the man on the horse. "I maintain order. Mostly I keep these out of trouble," he said, gesturing towards the throngs of laborers. "I keep an eye on them. If I see any of them snacking on the grapes that belong to the master of the vineyard, or fooling around, I whip 'em good." His face was soft yet his eyes were hard.
From his saddle, the visitor surveyed the dispirited workers laboring in a desperate unison across the fields. "And the master of the vineyard?" the man asked. "Can you introduce me to him?"
The Foreman shook his head. "No, the master doesn't live here. It's just me keeping this place operational and profitable."
The man nodded. "I see. And when do you expect the master to return?"
The Foreman shrugged.
"Well, thank you for your time. I shall be on my way," the man said, turning his horse.
"Wait!" an elderly worker called from the furthest reaches of the vineyard, hastening towards him as quickly as his old bones would permit.
The feeble worker looked ancient, his face weathered with years of sacrifice. The visitor observed many scars crossing the old fellow's back.
The Foreman raised his whip indifferently. "Back to work you useless old man!"
The laborer fell to the ground, weeping. "I can't believe my eyes. I thought you'd never return."
The foreman appeared confused. Turning to the stranger, he said, "What did you say your name was?"
The man on the horse dismounted and embraced the old worker. "Friend, be at peace. I am here."
The man arose and faced the foreman. "Sir, I am the master of this vineyard."
1. Which was more important to the master: the quality of the wine or the quality of care his workers received?
2. Was the master's absence a test for the workers or for the Foreman?
3. How did the Foreman maintain order and control of the workers in the vineyard?
4. What could the workers have done to improve their working conditions?
5. Why did the Foreman treat the workers differently?
This morning I woke up a little earlier than normal and I couldn't fall back asleep, so I jumped out of bed and headed to the bathroom to trim my beard and nose hairs; I checked my emails; made a mental to-do list of things I needed to get done today; and on my way out the door I wrote a note from the Tooth Fairy to my daughter who lost two teeth this week, depositing some coins into a paper cup for her to find when she woke up.
I caught my train to work. As I looked out the window of the train at the winding green water of the Jordan river, I realized that I was feeling uncommonly happy. And grateful.
Was it because it's Friday? Was it because I was looking forward to the weekend? (Or was it because I ate a big bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream last night right before I fell asleep and was experiencing some sort of sugar high?)
Who knows. But this I do know: each day is a fragile potential.
Each day we stand at the crossroads of creation and entropy and decide which way to face.
Then, while still riding the train, a fare inspector got into an argument with a man who had failed to pay for his ticket.
As their argument became heated, I wondered, "Why is there so much contention in the world today? What is the cause?"
So I pulled out my cell phone and began reading the scriptures, pondering on the statement of the Lord, which I have always found very perplexing, that says:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
Ummm . . . .
That doesn't sound very Jesus-like, does it?
What on earth does it mean?
Father of Contention?
What if contention was the friction formed from darkness being burned by the light?
What if contention was an ocean raging against the shore, sending unrelenting tidal waves crashing against the cliffs ― but unable to reach the lighthouse above?
Jesus also said:
He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
(3 Nephi 11:29)
Why are we "stirred up" and "triggered" against righteousness? Why do we "taketh the truth to be hard" (1 Nephi 16:2)? Why do we get angry over others being "wrong?" Why do we suffer from so much cognitive dissonance? Why do we seek to make others "miserable like unto [ourselves]" (2 Nephi 2:27), captives to a dead, broken law?
A lot of the contention I have been part of (yes, I admit, the holier-than-thou Me is guilty) stems from me trying to split hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge and a pumpkin for a beetle, and getting frustrated.
In other words, trying to convince others of something that goes against their traditions.
Well, I like to think I am reformed now. I no longer get "triggered" when others disagree with me (or at least, I haven't in at least . . . a week). I'm learning. Slowly.
But I've noticed that the ugliest contention comes when we try to defend what we believe to be right with righteous indignation (read: anger) ― when we think we are standing up for truth in our persecution of those who are "wicked."
Perhaps this is what the Lord was referring to; after all, He was talking about contention in the context of His doctrine.
And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine.
(3 Nephi 11:28)
Why are disciples arguing over "points of doctrine?"
Well, what if a big part of the "spirit of contention" is caused when we dig in our heels to defend a broken, dead, and impotent (i.e. telestial) law, getting defensive about someone challenging one of the "traditions of our fathers" with Christ's higher law?
Wasn't this why the Jews got so angry with Christ?
I am sorry to say I have made some people angry (without intending to) by pointing out that things like tithing and home teaching / ministering and leader-worship are not celestial practices.
Our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things . . . because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
I want to suggest that many of our ideas about what is right and what is wrong are "not correct" because we have been taught the traditions of our fathers over the mysteries and commandments of God.
In other words, we are much more like the Lamanites than we are the Nephites.
Saul Became Paul - And So Can We
I don't blame anyone for wanting to clutch onto the corpse of a dead law when the apostle Paul himself was once "exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14).
But Paul set aside those traditions and found a "more excellent way" when he embraced Christ: when he learned that all are alike in Christ and that charity was the greatest of all.
And the result? Paul caused a whole lot of contention.
Wait . . . what? Why were the Jews and Greeks so opposed to Paul's teachings of love and grace? (Why are we?)
Is it because it destroys our priestcraft?
Why does following Christ mean we're actually going to make others angry? Including our family ― including or "fathers" and "mothers?"
Because Jesus's gospel tears down our false traditions.
Who Are Our "Fathers" and "Mothers?"
Who are these "fathers" and "mothers" that Christ is referring to?
In order to figure this out, let's look at this passage from the Lord:
If thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.
Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.
(JST Mark 9:42, 44)
This seems to run counter to what we're taught in Church, doesn't it? Why is Christ saying we aren't supposed to depend on others for our spiritual light?
Well, isn't that what we have Christ for! His messengers invite us to "come unto Christ" and do not point to themselves.
Anyone who points to themselves as our "standard," saying we should follow them, is a four-letter-F-word:
That F-O-O-T has spiritual gangrene and will kill our body.
Cut it off!
Notice something: who does Christ say is a F-O-O-T?
NOT the bloke down the street who smokes and gets drunk and who supports the LGBTQ community ― no, that's our neighbor whom Christ said we are to "love as thyself."
This parable is not about shunning sinners (or those we think are "sinners").
No, this whole parable is about keeping our spiritual leaders accountable. You know, the ones at our head who are our "standard by whom [we] walkest."
If this seems strange, then I want to quote the next part of the scripture where Christ (in case we were asleep during the first part of His speech) repeats Himself in a slightly different way:
If thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.
(JST Mark 9:46)
Okay, here again the Lord is saying that a person who is "appointed" over us to "see" (could this be a seer?) to "show us light" (because they are NOT the light, themselves; Christ is), if this eye gets too big for their britches and begins to think that they ARE the light we are to follow, then "pluck him out."
In other words, we will have better eye sight with only ONE eye than with two eyes fixed upon a leader.
(Maybe this is why the Lord said our "eye" should be single to His glory?)
Time for a 12 Step Program?
We are all addicts.
We are addicted to following Authority Figures. In fact, we'll follow them over the light of Christ in us ― and even over the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.
Why? Because Authority Figures are our crack cocaine.
Authority Figures tell us what is right and wrong. We feel justified when we defend their honor.
Without Authority Figures we would go through withdrawal. I mean, where else would we get our next fix of carnal security?
We would shiver with indecision and uncertainty; we would be sick with fear and self-doubt. We need that jolt from the opioid of obedience to mortal authority which gives us such a high(!) of moral certitude and self-righteousness.
Our supplier? Authority figures peddling the philosophies of men mingled with scriptures. (For example, the evolving views of the Church on homosexuality, or polygamy, or race and the priesthood, or the hundred other subjects the pulpit has flip-flopped on.)
(You know who wears flip-flops? F-O-O-Ts.)
The Savior's celestial law is unchanging and eternal.
Someone might protest, "But Tim! We need leaders to show us the way, to help us navigate the dark and dreary wastes; to give us an anchor in these tumultuous times!"
Someone might say, "But Tim! Even Paul said to 'be followers together of me' (Phil. 3:17) and 'Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ' (1 Cor. 11:1)!"
Someone might argue, "But Tim! We are Moses' disciples (John 9:28)!"
Well, that's the point. Whom do we follow? Are we disciples of Jesus Christ, or another?
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. And He told us not to put our trust in men.
Is it time we enter Rehab? It is time we wean ourselves off the arm of flesh; off trusting in our leaders; off idolatry? And begin clinging to the Iron Rod (which is the Word of God, which is Christ, who is the Word)?
Who's got the NARCAN?
Watching Their (Authority) Figures
Question: is there a problem with taking our eyes off of the Lord, if it is only to admire His prophets or apostles?
Let's see if there are any doctrinal problems with these statements:
1. "But until we all come to the unity of the faith, and have grown to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom He has designated to declare Church doctrine and to guide [us]" (internal citations omitted).
2. "Following the prophet is always right."
3. "We cannot go astray if we listen to the prophet's voice and follow him."
4."My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he tells you to do something wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it."
5."Happiness and spiritual progress lie in following the leaders of the Church."
Contrast those teachings with the Doctrine of Christ:
I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
(3 Nephi 11:32-35)
Is there a difference between the Doctrine of Christ and the Doctrine of the Brethren?
Why does the Church insist so insistently that the Brethren are the way, the truth, the light?
Are we good at community-building? How well does the Church equip us with the skills we need to build a righteous society?
Occasionally I hear people praising the Church for the way its members create such strong communities filled with casseroles and covenants (as if it's our trademark).
Umm. Hold on. Let's back up.
What Is "Community?"
Communities come in all kinds of flavors:
1.Community of Place. This is a group of people who are united by geography, like our wards.
2.Community of Action. These communities seek to make changes in larger society, like Black Lives Matter and the Red Cross.
3. Community of Interest. This is a gathering of people who share a common interest, like fly fishing or videogaming.
4.Community of Circumstance. Sometimes we find ourselves belonging to communities based upon a situation or challenge we face, like the Cancer Society.
(Seefeverbee.com for more examples.)
If you're reading this Blog, then chances are you belong to a very special sort of community ― a community we call . . .
5. Churches are Communities Comprised of People Who Follow a Particular Authority Figure
There's a lot of ways to define a church. One way we could do it is to see who the members of the Church follow. The Pope? Mohammad? President Nelson?
What's the difference between a Church and a Political Party? Both are comprised of ideologies and fundraising and Sunday picnics.
- When a community forms around a common religious authority figure, we see religion being born.
- When a community forms around a common political authority figure, we see a Political Party being born.
- When a community forms around a person who is BOTH a religious AND a political authority figure, then you get an authoritarian community like the Holy Roman Empire, or Jihadists, or Mormonism.
Crusaders have a romanticized notion of being on God's errand while slaughtering those belonging to different communities (if not literally, then figuratively) ― striking down those awful intellectuals (infidels!) or whatever the enemy-du-jour is.
A theocracy is when men govern in God's name.
Like Moses. (He was a good guy, right?)
So what's wrong a theocracy? What's wrong with the LDS Church wanting to operate like a theocracy?
Well . . .
(1) Earthly theocracies (as history shows) can only reach a terrestrial level of glory (at best).
(2) Zion, on the other hand, is aiming for a celestial glory.
What's the difference between a theocracy and Zion?
In Zion, the Lord dwells among His people. Whereas in a theocracy you've got to burn incense and hold fast to your rosary beads.
If I could make an appeal to authority (yes, I said it), I think Mosiah knows what he's talking about when he said:
Because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
Get it? Got it. Good!
Too Much Presiding Makes Jack a Dull Boy
When I hear people say the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is good at "community-building," I wonder what they mean.
I guess our Church is good at delegation. For example, the Relief Society President delegates to a Compassionate Care specialist the assignment to delegate to a Ministering Sister the assignment to take a meal to a family in need.
When you think about it, we really have mastered the art of delegation.
"Return and Report" Much?
I mean, our whole religion is centered on the idea that God delegates his authority to Christ who delegates his authority to men who delegate their delegated authority to certain women delegates (see, e.g., "Area Organization Advisors" at https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/new-international-area-organization-advisers-strengthen-global-church).
But . . . if we're talking about the community of Zion, then that's something totally different. Zion is a:
(1) fellowship of equals (2) who are precious to each other (3) living authentically in grace and love (4) following Christ in all things.
I want to suggest that we are terrible at building that sort of community. We just don't have the skills necessary to build a Zion community.
Because the LDS people do not build communities ― they build hierarchies.
The Pharisee Problem?
Hierarchies depend upon authority and social control to smooth out the wrinkles of a community (you know, the obnoxious friction that arises from diversity of thought).
Members of a community governed by a high demand hierarchy find it difficult to live authentically because obedience to the hierarchy's leadership devours freedom and personal autonomy.
We see this whenever religious authority figures place greater importance on appearance than they do on real intent; when they value obedience over love; when they require orthodoxy instead of faith.
So we are left with communities that appear outwardly like a 1950s toothpaste commercial advertising white teeth ― but inwardly those teeth are full of rot and decay.