Soon after I married my Sweetheart, I was faced with figuring out how to "grow up." It was not always a smooth transition (the world is often unkind to dreamers and idealists).
My wife likes to tease me, saying if I could have had my way, I would have been an "eternal student" and never left the university. The library would have been my home and books my family.
But I left Eden (i.e., the academy) where I spent my hours studying and pondering the principles of life, and, like one of the Three Little Pigs, set out to make my way in the world.
Set out to make . . . money? Was that what life was all about? What all that schooling was for?
The Big Bad Wolf was waiting for me. He met me along the way and said, "Tim, you've got to earn a living. You've got to provide for your family. Other humans are depending on you now. You cannot afford to be a dreamer now that you're a family man."
He was not a very nice wolf. There I was, the father of a young family, tasked with bringing home the bacon . . . and discovering I was the hog.
I clerked for a brief time at a Multi-Level Marketing company (forgive me, I was desperate and I promise to never work for one again); I clerked at a law firm and worked my way up from an associate attorney to partner.
But all the while making money, billing my time in tenth-of-an-hour increments, something about it felt transactional and shallow; I struggled to find meaning in the rat race we call the "business world."
Wasn't life more than food and drink? How could I escape this banal economy that made me feel like a human resource (yes, companies literally refer to their employees as "HUMAN RESOURCES" ― as if we're all just fuel for Mammon's machine).
"Our young people are thoroughly intimidated. The Mahan Technique of converting life into property has become the normal world economy.
"Satan will control the world economy by putting everything up for sale to anyone who has money. And how will they get the money? By going to work for him.
"Students ask me in despair, 'If we leave his employ, what will become of us?'"
"If you are resigned or dedicated to a regime that you do not really like, or that wastes your talents, then you are a prisoner indeed — in Satan’s power."
I think now, looking back, part of my discontent arose from the fact that I wanted the Church to stand up against the "Mahan Technique" that converted life into property.
Deep down, I wanted the Church to be my white knight riding to the rescue with the gospel of Jesus Christ, with consecration and equality, here to defeat the dragon of Babylon's economy and free us prisoners.
But it was not to be. Instead of fighting against the adversary's economy, the Church joined forces with it (like the Allied Forces landing in occupied Normandy and signing up with the Nazis).
Somehow, against all comprehension, the Church "made friends with the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9), and took the relationship perhaps a bit too far, becoming bosom buddies, or "friends with benefits."
It was unrealistic of me to expect the Church to live the United Order or something; but the principles of equality were still an important part of our faith tradition and scriptural cannon.
Ideas of economic justice popped up whenever we talked about Zion, which led to some crazy whiplash, when we spoke of becoming "one" and having no poor among us, and on the other hand seeing the Church behave as one of the wolves of Wall Street.
We became the Poster Child for Babylon's wealth. Was this Joseph Smith's vision for the Church?
Surely, I wondered, I wasn't the only person who was discomforted by the fact that the Church, who was supposed to be a Bride, had shown herself to be an adulteress (Israel at it again, I guess).
I figured the Church had a plan. Surely they were biding their time; that we were in the Second Act and, if we waited long enough, the Third Act would reveal the Church playing a long game. I looked forward to a finale in which the Church turned against its master, Mammon, in an act of redemption, like (spoiler alert) Darth Vadar at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Scroll end credits.
I watched and waited, trying to understand the reasons for the Church's corporate compromises and for its pragmatic decision to adopt the Western cultural mores of mid-twentieth-century America (the era during which our current leadership were in their prime).
I studied the scriptures for scraps of prophecy to help make sense of what I was witnessing, reading D&C 82:22 and assuming our concessions to Babylon were to secure the Church's survival.
Well, we avoided destruction, alright; but I began to wonder if our fate was something even worse ―
Had we become unwitting henchmen for the Whore?
Cut the Flaxen Cord
How do we separate ourselves from Babylon's economy?
The time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon;
Awake and arise and go forth to meet the Bridegroom.
Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion.
(D&C 133:7, 9, 12)
When someone tries to defuse a bomb in the movies, sweat pouring down their brow as the bomb's ticker counts down to zero, and they have to choose which color wire to cut (the wrong one will explode them to smithereens), and they finally make their decision, shutting their eyes as they *snip* the wire, holding their breath . . .
. . . did they choose the correct wire?
Well, what wires do we need to cut in order for the Church to flee Babylon?
After all, we're standing before the bomb's ticker and we've got a couple seconds left before everything blows to kingdom-come.
Which wire do we cut?
I want to suggest that if we're going to defuse this bomb, we need to cut the "flaxen cord."
And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes . . .
I discussed pride in my last post, #That Was Dope, so we won't say anymore about that. But in case anyone has forgotten, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are identified with these Gentiles (D&C 109:60). So Nephi was talking to us.
and have stumbled . . .
There's no need to sit around and list the missteps the Church has made over the past 200 years and the various ways we have "stumbled," because I think it would be more helpful to word-link Nephi's use of the term "stumble" with the source text he was using, Isaiah, who said:
And [the Lord] shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
This is very interesting: in this single verse, Christ is compared to three separate images:
1. A Sanctuary
2. A Stumbling Stone
3. A Snare
Which of those three things best describes Christ's role in the Church today? Well, I think if we're talking about the institution (collectively) and not its members (individually), then according to Nephi, it must be No. 2 because he said the Gentiles (Church) have "stumbled."
What does that mean? How could a Church called after His name have "stumbled?" Is it because we have built upon something other than Christ's gospel?
Luckily, Nephi gives us some clarifying information by what he says next.
Have a Nice Trip, See Ya Next Fall
Nephi explains that the Gentiles are filled with "churchiness" and yet are not built upon Christ's word, or gospel. So much religion, and so little pure love.
Because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches
As the Lord told Joseph Smith, they "draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (JS-H 1:19).
Does this description accurately describe the Church today?
1. Draw Near to Christ with our Lips?
I like the word "priggish." I think it describes us pretty well. We have become priggish, meaning "fussy about trivialities or propriety, especially in a self-righteous or irritating manner," with the name of the Church, haven't we?
(Convenient how we axed the term "Mormon" only after we had secured the internet domain name for the churchofjesuschrist.org, which had come up for sale just in time. Nice.)
In our meetings we hear about Christ a lot. So I think we're doing well drawing near to Him with our lips.
2. Hearts Far From Christ?
But where is the heart of the Church? Does it reside in Christ's word? In His bosom?
Well, I don't think it is difficult to discern where the Church's heart is when we look at its fruit. What is the Church's fruit?
Ask yourself: have the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22) caused our fruit to become rotten?
4. Having a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof?
We certainly have the "forms": the rituals, ordinances, covenants, temple rites, and so forth.
But do we have the power?
Back to Nephi and those stumbling Gentiles who are hanging by a flaxen cord:
Nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God
"Deny the power thereof"
and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning
"Teach for doctrines the commandments of men"
that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor
"Deceitfulnes of riches choke the word"
yea, and [the devil] leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord
Huh. That's awfully specific and grim. Who do you lead about with a rope around their neck? A dog? A slave?
until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.
(2 Nephi 26:20, 22)
Yup, Nephi painted a portrait of the Church worthy of Rembrandt.
The reason the Gentiles have "stumbled" and fallen is because they're pigeon toed.
A person is "pigeon toed" if their feet point toward each other rather than forward.
In our religion, we are pigeon toed when we look to each other and to authority figures rather than facing forward, towards Christ.
Do we "stumble" by seeking the security of certitude? "I'm in the one true Church. I don't smoke. I hold a temple recommend."
We believe, don't we, that obedience to carnal commandments, following a lesser law, and giving heed to priesthood leaders, is a sign of faith? When in fact, it is more often a sign of our faithlessness.
Saving faith is facing towards Christ with an eye single to His glory, listening to the still small voice that is the voice of God, hearing Him.
Marden J. Clark said:
"But surely a testimony, like education and freedom and creativity, is self-creative, is inwardly dynamic and alive, is something to be invested like talents.
"No hot-house plant, a testimony needs exposure to wind and rain and cold to give it toughness, resilience, endurance. It too responds to opposition in all things. It is not meant for a static life — if such a thing were possible." (Liberating Form: Mormon Essays on Religion and Literature, page 67).
The Lord calls us to "awake and arise." He calls us to "stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world" (D&C 78:14).
So maybe it's time to let us lay aside our testimonies that keep us captive in Babylon: our testimonies of books and of other men, of tithing and commandments, of a thousand things we hear testified to from the pulpit in which we're urged to place our faith.
For those testimonies will not save a single soul. Instead, let us lay aside all testimonies but one:
The testimony of Jesus.
Then, and only then, will we be freed from Lucifer's leash, the flaxen garrote, and will be in Satan's power no more forever.