Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Apology

I guess its okay that we have Leap Year.  I don't mind.  It's just funny that it seemed such a big deal when I was a kid.  It seemed so tragic that we couldn't get the calendar right without such a clumsy adjustment.  It seemed so hard to bear that my birthday and Christmas had to be delayed for an entire day!  I could hardly bare thinking about the poor souls who were born on that misfit day.  Why couldn't the Solstices and Equinoxes advance through the year like by birthday advances through the week?

Every four years the February and March calendars no longer match.  I like matches.  I always felt that God would, one day, reveal a calendar without such flaws.  Perhaps he will; but by then the rotations, if there are any, will likely be more precise and the earth less telestial.  Don't you think?

Now, I think there is a lesson even in this small fly in the ointment. Sometimes we have to make adjustments.  That's all there is to it.  Almost.

It seems like my life is just one big adjustment right now.  Perhaps though, it wouldn't be so if I had made more regular and measured adjustments all along.

Instead, I've lived more like a tectonic plate; building up pressure as I tried to maintain the status quo; only to experience enormous upheaval when things finally broke.  And, of course, as always it is nobody's fault but my own.  That might be fine if it didn't rattle and shake the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside.  Sorry.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mormon Baptism for the Dead Not As Weird As They Think

When we were newly wed and living in Southern California we had a couple of Catholic friends who lived next door.  Wonderful, close friends they were.  When our first baby arrived and they discovered that Mormons don't get baptized until the "age of accountability" which we consider to be eight years old; they were alarmed, to say the least.  Their church taught that unbaptised people go to Hell.  A reasonable assumption considering Jesus' statement:
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.    (John 3:5)
Infant baptism is a topic for another day.  Suffice it to say that we believe that children have no need of baptism as they are innocent and don't require Atonement from the effects of the Fall.

We explained this to Don and Sue, but naturally, they had serious doubts.  When the baby was about three weeks old.  Our good neighbors offered to baby sit so we could have a quiet night out together.  Loving and trusting these two sweet friends we eagerly accepted the offer.  We had a great time!

Upon our return we sensed a bit of tension in the room?  The baby was asleep and fine.  Finally Don couldn't stand the strain and they confessed that they had taken our daughter down to the Catholic Priest and had her baptized.  They explained that they loved her so much and couldn't bear the risk we were taking.

They made it very apparent how horrifying the doctrine of the necessity of Baptism actually was among most Christians.  A mandate that must not be ignored.  They told us horror stories of folks who had, for various reasons, delayed the Christening of their child, only to lose her to Hell for their folly.  We began to realize that such is true of millions of people, who never even had the opportunity to hear of Christ, let alone, make the choice to receive the blessing of baptism in their lives.  Are those huge numbers of people condemned, without hope, through no fault of their own?  We felt we knew better.  We knew that God had provided a way through which those whose lives were not touched by the message of Salvation might also be afforded that most precious choice.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul expressed such notions:
 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?   (1 Corinthians 15:29)
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.   (1 Peter 4:6)
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.   (1 Peter 3:18-20)
 We believe that people who die without baptism and the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ will be given the opportunity to accept or reject that message so they may be judged as fairly as those who did have such blessings in mortality.  How could we call God just or no respecter of persons if those who were given no chance to accept him were summarily condemned through no fault of their own.

As baptism is an earthly ordinance performed with physical water and physical bodies we believe it must be done vicariously for those who no longer remain in the physical realm.  Vicarious performance is clearly acceptable doctrine, for Christ himself suffered vicariously for the sins of each of us.  Is it such a stretch to think that He might call upon us to stand in vicariously for those, who like all of us, are unable to fully redeem ourselves from the Fall of our original parents in the Garden of Eden?  He suffered and died for our sins, but He expects us to acknowledge that gift through Faith, Repentance and Baptism.  His sacrifice can only be called Infinite if it applies to every one of us.

It may be unusual doctrine, but I have far less trouble accepting it than I do the doctrine that whole populations of people are condemned as a mere condition of the circumstances, time or place of their birth.

As for you, Eli Wiesel, who are vicariously offended on behalf of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents, let me tell you of our reaction to Don and Sue's effort to save our daughter.  We shed tears of joy that we had friends who held such abiding love for us and our little baby girl.  We embraced them and rejoiced at their concern and divine intent.  They had done no harm.  When our daughter was eight she was baptized again according to our own understanding of God's plan for his children.  Where was the offence?  I think God smiled on all of us.  Besides, if it turns out Don and Sue were right and we were wrong, our little girl is in pretty good shape, don't you think?  In every such situation, someone is right and someone is wrong, unless we tolerantly choose to be right together.  If the Jews are right, then what the Mormons have done is just so much foolishness.  If the Mormon's are right Simon might just be calling you a Nincompoop right about now.  How about a little tolerance for the un-malicious intent of those who see things a bit differently.  In doing so I think God might just smile on all of us.

Note:  As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a gesture of goodwill, agreed in 1995 to cease the practice of Baptism for the Dead in behalf of Holocaust victims, and as I sustain that expression of acknowledgement and sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish people; I am pleased that the bonehead who violated that agreement has been censured by the Church and personally apologize for the breach in trust that it represents.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Too often, in my quest for perfection, I lose sight of reality.  I lose sight of the very real fact that mortality is neither designed, nor meant for perfection.  Life is most certainly a learning, growing process.  One that has improvement as it's objective, but, for me, at least, the failure to measure up to some real or imagined standard has been quite incapacitating.  My quest for perfection, quite often, overwhelms and then shuts me down.  How can that be what God had in mind?

As you can see, I'm exploring my own weakness here.  Not pointing fingers.

I think I understand the problem - in my head, but making that knowledge part of my ongoing behavior is a real struggle.

I understand that:
.... if men come unto me (God) I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
(Ether 12:27)
God intended for us to be imperfect beings with weakness.  Mortality with its imperfection is a gift.  It is God who does the strengthening.

I understand that as Moroni implies in that scripture, growing strong and overcoming that weakness is intended as a principal part of the process.
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
(3 Nephi 12:48)
I even think I get that too often I put the cart before the horse in that, acknowledging the gap between my current ability and my lofty goal of perfection; I strive to strengthen myself rather than seeking to humble myself as Moroni admonished.  He knew something that I tend overlook; the fact that long before I can be perfect in and of myself, I must be perfected in Christ.  Perfection can be achieved in no other way.
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
(Moroni 10:32, 33)
Clearly I must, through humility and through Grace, be first perfected in Christ, as provided by the Infinite Atonement, before I can ever hope for the power to actually live perfectly.  Perfection is all about Jesus, and the ability to live perfectly comes only in and through Him; if I choose to allow that most wonderful process to take place.  Seeking to perfect myself in any other way is utterly doomed to failure.

So, I suppose that what incapacitates me in my quest for perfection is my lack of humility.  I suspect, however, that there is another factor.  I think I have an unhealthy fear of making mistakes.  Partially born of impatience, but mostly born of pride; I don't want to appear anything less than perfect.  I want to get it right - right now!

When I was a boy my sisters took piano lessons.  I would flee the house when they practiced.  I couldn't bear to hear the same old songs and sour notes over and over again.  Later, when I had daughters of my own, I loved hearing them practice.  The sour notes didn't bother me for I knew they were a necessary part of the growth process.  No one becomes a great pianist without making sour notes.  And even when they master a piece and no longer make mistakes, the instructor advances them to a more difficult piece and the sour notes begin again.  I think the Savior feels the same way about my life.  Sure I'm going to make mistakes, they are a requirement of growth.  My tendency, though, is to project my former reaction onto Him rather than my latter.  Clearly that doesn't make sense.

Recently, I watched a video which took my piano lessons metaphor to a whole new level.  In it Brother Brad Wilcox pointed out the power of the Atonement in the process.  He explained that a mother pays for the piano lessons.  A debt that cannot really be repaid.  In doing so she enables her child to learn and grow at the keyboard.  The child can only take advantage of the gift if she practices and actually takes the lessons.  Likewise, Jesus paid for our opportunity to learn and grow and eventually become perfect.  We cannot repay Him, we can only do our best to take full advantage of this great Gift.

So, here we are to my problem.  I am so intent on being perfect, so impatient with the process and so pridefully embarrassed by my "sour notes" that I tend to abandon the key board of life and do nothing.  Certainly, that is not what God had in mind.  It becomes very apparent now, why pride is such an enormous problem.  Clearly the difference between perfection and perfectionism is pride.  For me the greatest promise, then, is:
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.  (Doctrine and Covenants 1:28)
Wow!  Here is the great advantage that comes of journaling (examining a problem on paper) - a new discovery!

In this context humility means joyfully sitting at the keyboard of life and playing my heart out - mistakes and all!  Joyfully taking full advantage of the price Jesus paid that I might do so.  Quite often even playing a duet with Him!

Robert Fulghum once reported a visit to a Kindergarten Class in which everyone thought of himself as a singer, dancer, athlete, artist and scholar.  He then visited a College Class in which no one felt inclined to make such claims.  Was pride the difference?  Had fear of humiliation kept them from humility?  Is this what is meant by the admonition to become as a little child?

Leonard Cohen wrote a song whose chorus inspires me:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
I want to ring my bells!  I hope you'll overlook my mistakes and I want to do the same for you.  There isn't time to shut down and tremble for fear of imperfection or we'll just be shutting out the light.  And, we'll hardly progress toward that perfect state we seek.

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