I wish I could have a "reader appreciation" day. Give out owl buttons or something?
I know my posts are long (so my mother tells me) and require a modicum of charity to get through (so my wife tells me), so I am grateful you've chosen to share this telestial time with me.
Over the weekend I realized I had omitted from my last post the perfect scripture in support of Christ being our "Finish Line." And so, to complete the record, here you go:
Relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
While I am not going to win any Peabody Awards for this blog, I continue to write so my children may know to what source they may look for redemption.
Each year I collate my posts into a Word Document and send them to Office Depot to be printed into a single hardbound volume (that way, when the internet fails, I'll have a print copy I can use as evidence when the dead are judged from the books that are written.)
For whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven.
I don't know about the celestial permanency of digital records, so to be on the safe side I will keep a paper copy; and I'd like it recorded that: I am 6 feet tall and 165 lbs. of pure muscle with thick black hair and good breath.
Just in case.
Adventures of a Church Sunday School Counselor
Many of you have enjoyed reading about my adventures with Clark Burt during our time together in the Stake Sunday School Presidency ― a period of time I like to call (to plagiarize Leonard Arrington) "Camelot."
Camelot is famous for its knights of the Round Table. The symbolism of the circle represents equality.
According to legend, the Round Table depicted the world. King Arthur placed his Knights around the Table so none could boast of a higher position than any other (not even the king).
The legend of the Round Table fits with our teachings about ZION, where "they who dwell in [God's] presence [are] equal in power, and in might, and in dominion" (D&C 76:95).
I've written before that equality doesn't mean we all possess the same aptitude or skill (our intelligences vary as the stars in heaven).
But while we are not equal in our natures, we can be equal in our status.
This summarizes the work of God, which was to take unequal intelligences and exalt them as "one" by becoming joint-heirs with the Son.
School of the Prophets
As Stake Sunday School President, Clark wasted no time. He emailed the dozen-or-so Ward S.S. Presidencies about informally holding a modern-day School of the Prophets:
Clark said, "In 1833 Joseph Smith was inspired to begin a School of the Prophets where saints could 'teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom' (D&C 88:77) and where members could learn the law of the gospel together through 'the grace of God in the bonds of love' (D&C 88:133). We wish to do the same.”
And so it was that we began meeting together to be nourished by the good word of God ― not in administrative meetings or leadership trainings, but simply sitting in a circle and teaching each other the Good News.
It didn't take long for murmurs to reach the Stake Presidency about what was going on.
One of the Ward sunday school presidents got out the Church Handbook (horror of horrors) to show us the error of our ways.
Hearkening to this dutiful informant, the Stake Presidency told us we were holding too many meetings.
This resourceful young man pointed to the place in the Handbook where it prescribed a schedule of annual (or semi-annual?) meetings, as opposed to our monthly ones.
And so, we got shut down.
I have often reflected on Hugh Nibley's statement in "Zeal Without Knowledge," that members put up with "sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity, and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom . . . that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds."
Isn't it ironic that this person who complained was fine going to all the Church ward council meetings, trainings, service activities, youth campouts, priesthood leadership meetings, firesides, presidency meetings, general conferences, welfare classes, interviews, morningsides, face-to-face meetings, coordination meetings, ministering appointments, missionary dinners, and a hundred other types of meetings―
But this was the meeting that broke the camel's back?
Hmmm. Why was that? Looking back, I suspect we would not have gotten in trouble if we had served up regular fare; but we were trying to do something different; exhorting one another to repentance and praying together and debating gospel truths.
Funny how we're willing to dutifully endure (if silently resenting) a multitude of meetings until one comes along that pricks our hearts.
If experience has shown us anything, it is the most dangerous thing we can preach in Church is repentance; and the greatest threat to our testimonies steeped in carnal security is unadorned truth.
But some of the participants in our little School "got it."
One wrote, "I wonder if the faith crisis people have is partly the result of believing things that they feel secure in, only to learn some of those things were actually false."
Where I Eat My Hat
Could faith crises be the fault of hierarchies, since imperfect institutions invariably let us down? Only the pure love of Christ "never faileth" (no one ever had a faith crisis because the gospel is too loving).
What happens when imperfect men and women place themselves between us and God, casting an umbra that occludes our ability to stand fully in Christ's light?
We do not stand on the shoulders of giants, but in their shadows.
Now I am going to say something that will shock you:
Sometimes hierarchies can be good.
Wait, what? Isn't that the opposite of what I've been saying for years?
Well, one of my problems is that I reach for the ideal. But the world we live in is far from ideal.
That is why for some of us a hierarchy can be better than nothing.
Were the children of Israel better off with Moses, when they asked Moses to stand between them and the Lord so they wouldn't have to endure His glory?
Moses was able to bring his people up more than if they had been on their own, right?
But Moses, interestingly, could not bring them all the way up to the "higher law."
Why is that?
The Church Can Only Take Us So Far
Hierarchies are beneficial when someone out there can be inspired and edified by the reflected light of those who lead them, like Moses.
So I guess it's better to follow the prophet than to follow the unbridled passions of the natural man.
But please notice that any good that hierarchies accomplish diminishes the closer we come to Christ, the source of all goodness.
As we ascend the telestial and terrestrial spheres and enter the celestial, hierarchies become at last obstacles to our progression.
Why? Because there is no way for hierarchies not to block the light of Christ.
Perhaps this is why Paul taught us that the organizational structure of the church and its priesthood offices come with an expiration date:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till [Till! TILL!! TILL(!!!)] we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children.
You see? Some day we'll "outgrow" the organizational Church when we are no longer in spiritual diapers.
This is why we won't see a "rank and file" organization in Zion, which is a company of Kings and Queens who are equal, who hold hands in a circle around Christ, as genuine brothers and sisters, even the congregation of the Saints and the Church of the Firstborn, so that no one comes between us and Him.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me: [and he that loveth prophet or apostles more than me is not worthy of me]. (Mark 10:37)
Here is my own depiction of Zion (and why I did not get an MFA):
"Prophet or Disney Princess?"
Clark took the Stake Presidency's chastisement humbly and discontinued our monthly meetings.
No more School of the Prophets. How soon it had all happened: I felt bad; it felt like a minor injustice had been done.
Clark counseled: "It's alright. It was prophesied that instead of becoming a more Zion-like people, the Church would acquire more of the characteristics of Babylon. Instead of becoming God's peculiar people, a nation of kings and priests, we would become an idolatrous people, a people under condemnation, treating lightly the things we have received."
I see now he was right. Who was I to rage against the tide of prophecy being fulfilled? I was witnessing, in real time, Alma's words coming true before my very eyes:
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
Notice that the "chains of hell" are not fire and brimstone. It is the bondage of being bereft of God's word.
I want to suggest that nothing about this is new. It is a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme.
When the Sons of Mosiah went on their mission to preach the gospel to the Lamanites, not all of them were as lucky as Ammon (who was offered a princess in marriage).
Some of the sons, like Aaron, stumbled upon the Amalekites and Amulonites.
Talk about a tough crowd:
(1) They did harden their hearts; (2) They did wax strong in wickedness; and (3) They did practice abominations.
Or, if you were to look at it another way, from the perspective of the locals, and interviewed an Amalekite on the street, you'd learn they:
(1) Were a righteous people; (2) Built churches and assembled together regularly; and (3) Worshipped God.
Hmmm. Which was it? It can't be both ways.
The Amalekites told Aaron:
How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent?
I hear variations on this theme in Church when members defend "the only true and living Church" while turning a blind eye to the rampant hypocrisy in the name of sustaining the Brethren; when their loyalty to the hierarchy is greater than their valiancy towards Christ's word.
But here's the test: Did the Amalekites receive the word of God when Aaron preached it, or did they reject it?
Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them . . . and, as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.
Years ago I went to a family BBQ and the topic of the Church came up. When I went off script and gave some unorthodox opinions, things got pretty tense.
There's not much I can say anymore at family picnics about the Church without angering someone; and so I have learned to mind my own business. Like Aaron, who, when they rejected his words, "departed" (Alma 21:11).
Aaron hoofed it to Middoni where it went from bad to worse. They cast him into prison.
So if you're expecting a warm welcome when you speak the word of God in Church, be prepared. We are more like the Amalekites than we'd like to believe.
Nevertheless, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Shall we hide the talent God has given us?
Because, like Aaron, there are some few followers of Christ out there who might be "convinced of their many sins, and of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct" (Alma 21:17).
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."