Being Meek and Lowly of Heart

One of my absolute favorite talks from this past October general conference was by Elder Ulisses Soares of the 70:

In the weeks since conference, I have found myself returning time and again to this talk as it really hit upon all of the things that I am trying to work (at times unsuccessfully to develop in myself).

I love that Elder Soares acknowledged that such transformation of character does not happen in an instant

“We are blessed to be born with the seed of meekness in our hearts. We need to understand that it is not possible to grow and develop that seed in the twinkling of an eye but rather through the process of time. Christ asks us to “take up [our] cross daily,” meaning that it must be a constant focus and desire.”

Each of us will continue to slowly grow more and more Christ like over time so long as we continue on the pathway of discipleship. As we strive, the Holy Ghost over time will sanctify and purify us…

What counts is that we continue to strive to perfect ourselves over time….

“President Lorenzo Snow, the fifth prophet of our dispensation, taught, “It is our duty to try to be perfect, … to improve each day, and look upon our course last week and do things better this week; do things better today than we did them yesterday.” So the first step to becoming meek is to improve day by day. Each day we need to try to be better than the previous as we move forward through this process.

President Snow added:

“We have our little follies and our weaknesses; we should try to overcome them as fast as possible, and … should [instill] this feeling in the hearts of our children … that they may learn to [behave] properly before Him under all circumstances.

“If the husband can live with his wife one day without quarrelling or without treating anyone unkindly or without grieving the Spirit of God … ; he is so far perfect. Then let him try to be the same the next day. But supposing he should fail in this his next day’s attempt, that is no reason why he should not succeed in doing so the third day.”

I found this quote incredibly encouraging. Each day when we are able to resist the natural inclination to anger or fight or quarrel is a victory. Each time we are able to overcome to the natural man we are perfect in that instance. This quote has helped me savor each small victory even as I continue to experience failure. I am grateful to God each time I feel a little more charitable than before… Without such a perspective, I don’t think change could come.

Indeed, I think that God knows we will fail at times… He sees our struggles and knows our heart and in due time gives us the strength we need. He enlarges our capacity to love and builds our Christ-like attributes. This process takes time and we should not get discouraged.

Elder Soares conclusion testimony in particular really touched me:

“I bear my witness that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I testify to you that, thanks to His love, it is possible to change. It is possible to leave our weaknesses behind. It is possible to reject the evil influences in our lives, control our anger, become meek, and develop the attributes of our Savior. He showed us the way. He gave us the perfect example and commanded each one of us to become as He is. His invitation to us is to follow Him, follow His example, and become like Him. Of these truths I bear testimony in His sacred name, even Jesus Christ, amen.”

I often need the reminder that change truly is possible. As many times as I keep making the same mistakes and failing to overcome the natural man, God continues to be with me helping me change. That change is only possible thanks to the love of Jesus Christ. Without his atonement I know that I would be stuck. I wouldn’t be able to progress. As slow as progress is even now, without him it would be impossible.

Upon acknowledging our dedication and perseverance, the Lord will give us that which we are not able to attain due to our imperfections and human weaknesses.

 

 

Pushing our Handcarts- Elder Oaks on persecution

I personally loved Elder Oak’s talk about the importance of serving God and not allowing the things of this world to become idols that draw us away from him. I know his words on controversial social topics such as abortion or gay marriage struck some as controversial, but I sustain him as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and know that he speaks truth. I was especially struck by what he said about the potential for future discrimination that members of the Church may face because of our positions.

“In this determination we may be misunderstood and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority… to serve god, and like our pioneer ancestors push our handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited.” (Around 14:00 into the talk)

In recent years I have heard this thought expressed repeatedly. We are living in a remarkable time where religious freedom is yet protected in a way that it has not been at any point in human history. In America, people are more free to believe, preach and practice than probably any time or place in human history. Persecution for faith seems like a thing of the past at least in the western world.

And yet, past often serves as prelude. In particular the persecution of the early saints as well as the persecutions that preceded the coming of the savior in the Book of Mormon may yet come to pass in our day. I doubt that I will ever have to choose between my faith and my life as did Joseph Smith and countless faithful members. However, I do not doubt that I will have to chose between my wife and a job opportunity, or my faith and a friend that I care about. Such choices will increasingly face those that seek to live righteously.

We each must be prepared as Elder Oaks suggests to push or handcarts and persevere in our faith.

President Uchtdorf and seekers of truth

One of my favorite talks at conference was President Uchtdorf’s wonderful invitation to those that have wandered to return. I especially liked that President Uchtdorf acknowledgement  that there are a myriad of reasons that people may leave the Church. He touched on something that I have long considered regarding the relationship between membership in Christ’s true church and the personal journey that each of us must undertake. 

 

“In This church that honors personal agency so strongly.that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers. We Respect those who honestly seek the truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship almighty god according to the dictates of their own conscience just as we claim the privilege for ourselves.” (Starting Around 6:55).

I love this suggestion. Those that sincerely seek to know God will follow him and follow their conscience. This may for a time lead them away from the true church. God knows the heart of each individual. He knows how to shape us and what experiences we need. Some may require time away from the Church. Like the prodigal son, some need time to come unto themselves. Others, require time on the road to Damascus before seeing the savior and turning unto him. Sometimes this process may be quick, but sometimes it may take years or even a whole lifetime.

I feel strongly about this, because I know that my experiences before joining the Church were all essential in leading me to it. I was raised Jewish, for a time as a teenager explored protestant Christianity, and became an ardent atheist before eventually becoming a devout Latter-day saint. Each of these have been a source of great learning and growth for me. Though at times I wish I could have skipped straight ahead, God knew exactly which experiences would help me to grow into the disciple that I am today.

Elder Scott’s talk about the father’s of the stripling warriors also fit into this theme for me. Like the Father’s of the stripling warriors,  we may sometimes feel inadequate because of our different backgrounds and experiences. We may feel unworthy because we at one point or another drifted. God does not work that way. He uses our virtues and our weaknesses alike to help refine us into an instrument in his hands. 

If we follow the promptings of the spirit, I believe with all my heart that it will lead us sooner or later directly towards the Good Shepard. He is the keeper of the gate and he employs no servant there. Some will come sooner, and other later, but all who yearn, seek, prayer and strive will eventually come unto him. 

 

Reactions to Conference

This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to see the Sunday Morning Session in person with a group of international delegates as part of the law school’s Law and Religion Symposium.  I loved every minute of the session and especially loved the beautiful hymns ( O Divine Redeemed and Master the Tempest is Raging are two of my all time favorites). I felt inspired and nurtured by the words of the prophet and his apostles. I felt a confirming testimony that these men are called of God.

Because I was at conference, I didn’t see the myriad of tweets and blog comments about the session. As I got home, I went to several of the top sites on the blogosphere and began to look at the comments. I felt like I was stepping into a parrallel universe. Instead of focusing on the incredible spiritual bounty of the session, the comments were often petty or focused on trivial matters. Even worse, many were openly derisive of the inspired teachings of the Lord and his servant.

(Examples of Trivial Comments: “President Uchtdorf’s tie selection this morning isn’t one of his better choices, ”  “I love President Eyring’s talks. He’s a very wise man and he doesnt mince words.BUT: his mouth noises make my flesh crawl, to the point that I literally can’t listen to his talks. It’s a problem I struggle with a lot during GC” (BCC).

(Examples of openly derisive comments: “Well this talk is a downer compared to the prior talk “Marriage is between a man and a woman who are legally married.” Well, guess the guys in the bible with the concubines are screwed. And all the polygamists;” (BCC) “(DOES THIS TALK NOT END????);” “QUITE offended atm. he gets up there and starts slamming mormon feminists. Stay in the home dont neglect childbearing. UGH AND THEN he starts slamming gay marriage and tells us that we need to get married younger and that young women are making bad choices by choosing careers instead of childbearing. REALLY. mind your own flipping business about sexual relations.” (Feminist Mormon Housewives)).

One of the worst comments I saw on  a recent blog suggested that the poster wished that Elder Packer would die already so that the church could progress. How sad, petty and disgusting. I think such comments ( depending on the spirit with which they are uttered) are close to speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed. Dissenting or disagreeing is fine, but questioning the inspiration of the Lord’s servants or wishing them ill is not acceptable for an individual who has made sacred temple covenants.

A note to those that make such comments. When almost half of the talks by the Apostles of God at a conference reiterate the same theme and same message ( at times almost word for word)… If you disagree then maybe you should consider that it isn’t them that are out of line with the will of God, but you.

I wish I could find a place on the internet for spiritual discussions that do not devolve into such irreverent or sacrilegious discussions…. If anyone has a suggestion of such a place, please let me know.

The imperative of religious freedom: thoughts on the European Council’s proposed bans on circumcision

I was absolutely aghast to learn of a recent declaration by the Council of Europe urging European Nations to ban practices which are a  “violation of the physical integrity of the child” including circumcision which is widely practices by two of the worlds largest religions– Judaism and Islam. I view such a ban as a clear violation of the rights of religious conscience and religious freedom.

In a religious sense, circumcision was of course a command that God gave to Abraham which was a mark of an eternal covenant. For Christians, the importance of the ritual has in some ways been replaced with other rituals has been replaced through baptism, confirmation and other sacred rites. Nevertheless, the ritual remains a way that many individuals set their children apart as members of a covenant or chosen people. Although in my church, children are not baptized until they reach an age of consent where they are able to make such a choice for themselves, I respect the rights of religious individuals to raise their children in faith and according to the dictates of conscience. Indeed, parents have an obligation to teach children and to help them to make correct decision in life. For those that believe in the religious significance of circumcision, such a ritual carries the utmost significance. It is a moral obligation and imperative. If such a ban is passed, individuals will be forced to decide between worshiping God and facing serious consequences or even jail time. Such a dilemma is exactly  what religious freedom is meant to protect.

Fortunately. Such a ban would be very unlikely to succeed in the United States. Even under Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court’s dominant case about the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, such a law would likely be struck down.. This is because such a policy can easily been seen as animated by anti-religious animus (particularly anti-Muslim bias). Moreover, such a law unequally burdens religious individuals as others are unlikely to view the issue as an especially important one. Likewise, I wonder if given the conflicting medical opinions about circumcision that this policy would even be considered a rational government interest under the most discretionary standard of review. If a higher standard applies under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or its state-based progeny, this law would almost certainly fall short. 

Nevertheless, religious freedom is still in jeopardy even in America. The Elaine Photography case where a Photography was fined for refusing to photography a gay marriage because of her religious convictions is a striking example of this. As the influence of secularism continues to spread, religious liberty will be at jeopardy. For this reason, I am so proud to belong to a church that speaks out frequently and forcefully on this topic.

I loved the LDS Church’s recently released video about religious freedom, and I recommend that everyone watch and take action…