Friday, July 12, 2013

Maybe It's Not All About Me

I feel there's been an interesting trend in the social-media-using-young-adults of the church lately.  Or at least over the past few years I've noticed more types of these things showing up on my facebook newsfeed, so maybe it's not such a large trend as much as a trend among my few acquaintances.  Regardless, I finally have an opinion I'd like to share.

The trend that I'm talking about is the "Let's all write controversial posts about how we've been oppressed by the Utah Mormon state of mind and how we need to break free of their chains".  First and foremost, whenever I read said posts, my immediate reaction is:  "This isn't controversial.  This is common sense and logic."  (Well, there are a few posts that on occasion I don't agree with, but I don't mind that others live their opinions even if I don't want to live that way).  Mostly, I can never understand where my friends find so many people that act in ridiculous ways to make them feel oppressed.  Maybe I've just been lucky in my life to not be surrounded by people that make me feel like my various freedoms have been taken away, or who reject my ideals.  For example, all during my undergrad at BYU, I planned on becoming the first female athletic trainer in Major League Baseball.  Not once did any of my professors tell me it wasn't a thing that a woman should do, or that I should stay at home and have babies, or anything else like that.  In fact, anytime they ran across some sort of internship, or organization, or anything of the like that would help in my pursuit, they passed it on.  So it is sometimes hard for me to relate to "feminists", not because I don't think they have valid and worthwhile things to say, but because I haven't experienced the things that others have that cause them to feel the need to rant about the injustices of the world.

My post is not actually related to or directed at feminist, per se, but more towards people who are judging others about how they choose to keep various commandments.  The above anecdote was just included as a disclaimer of maybe why I don't understand the need for stirring up controversy.  I've been lucky enough in many aspects of my life to be able to live the way that I find works best for me.  However, if one is to judge from facebook posts of my friends, or the endless amounts of comments in Sunday School or Relief Society, I am very much alone in this camp.  And lately at church most lessons seem to be centered around the theme of "People need to stop judging, I want to live the life that I want to live, and people need to stop telling me what to do.  And everyone else needs to stop being so strict in their lives as well". I generally agree with some of this.  People do need to stop judging.  Every one has their agency, and should be allowed to use it as they will.

However.  There are two things that cause me to cringe a bit at this attitude.  One is the condemnation of those people who would actually rather choose to be a little more strict in their observance of various commandments.  The other is the attitude that suggests that it's MY life, and I should be able to do what I want, because it doesn't involve anyone else.  So this is where I get into the meat of my post.  I'm taking this from two different sources, a lesson I had in an Isaiah class at BYU, and two chapters in the New Testament, and various thoughts I've had while pondering said sources.

In one of my lessons in my Isaiah class at BYU, my professor talked about how when Jesus and the Pharisees argued, they never argued about the actual law itself, only about the fences that were created to keep people far away from breaking the actual law itself.  For example, the law said Keep the Sabbath Day holy, do no work on the Sabbath.  So a fence was created to prevent people from even coming close to working, saying that no harvesting of grain could happen.  So when Jesus and his disciples were walking through a wheat field one day and they were famished and picked some kernels of grain to eat, the Pharisees proclaimed them as Sabbath breakers.  But it wasn't the actual law that had been broken, just that the disciples had different fences around the actual law.  My professor said that fences around the laws are good, that they really do protect us, but we need to remember that our fences are personal, and that they should be temporary.  We should not expect others to live our fences, and we need to realize that what may be a good fence for us at one time in our life, may not be so necessary at another.

So this goes along very nicely with the "Don't Judge" sort of attitude.  What may be a good fence for you might not be applicable to another person, so don't judge.  This goes both to the uber conservative person who is scandalized by how others choose to live, and to the uber liberal who is offended by anyone who tries to be strict in their own personal way of worship.  I don't mind the comments in church of "This is one way I've chosen to live my life and have found helpful",  but I'm tired of the ones that state that their way of life (whether the conservative way or the liberal way) is the way everyone needs to live.

I've also been reading in the New Testament recently.  Two chapter in particular stuck out to me:  Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.  Paul is talking to two different groups of people in these 2 chapters, but both groups are struggling with a division among people who eat meat and people who don't.  I don't know the historical context extremely well, but I believe the Romans were struggling with the issue of the conservative Jews who still stayed away from anything that wasn't kosher arguing with the recent Gentile converts who still ate their meat.  The Corinthians on the other hand had a group of saints who worked in areas where idols were worshiped, and though they didn't participate in the idol worship, they were allowed to eat the meat that was offered to the idols after the various ceremonies were completed, which didn't sit well with other saints in the area.

I love how Paul starts the chapter when talking to the Romans.  In referring to their judging of each other, Paul's response is a paraphrase of President Uchtdorf's delightful wording:  Stop it.  He goes on to tell them that the group that is not eating meat is consecrating that action to the Lord, and He accepts it.  The group that is eating the meat is also consecrating that action to the Lord, and He also gladly accepts that action as well.  I think most people in the church can easily agree on this issue, even if they don't exactly act on it.  People live differently, and that is okay.

Much of Paul's council to the Romans and the Corinthians however, would probably not be very popular in today's way of thinking.  He talks to both groups quite extensively that if their actions cause their brother to stumble, then they need to stop, no matter if the actual deed itself is not offensive to the Lord.  There apparently were instances among the Romans and Corinthians where some people were led astray by the fact that some members were eating meat.  In Corinth, some members thought that those eating the meat leftover from idol worship meant that they were allowed to worship idols.  So the meat eating issue quickly stopped being an issue about meat, and became an issue about idol worship.  Over and over again, Paul says that we need to be aware of our brother's weaknesses, for if our actions cause someone else to fall we need to stop.

I don't think this is an idea that many people are comfortable with.  First of all, no one likes to realize that they could be the cause of someone else falling.  Secondly, we all like to believe that it is up to us to work out our own salvation with our Savior, and that no one else is involved.  What a great and tragic lie that is.  When we look at the example of the Savior Himself, He spent His entire life looking after others.  The last word in the world that could be applied to the life of the Savior is Self.  The most important thing that we are sent here to Earth to do is become like the Savior.  That is the whole point of this life.  Learn of Him and draw closer to Him by becoming like Him.  When all is said and done, what will these little worldly cares matter compared to the souls that could have been saved.

It is very likely that you are the sort of person that could wear bikinis, or drink coffee, or watch/play sports on Sunday, eat meat or any other semi-controversial activity in society today that I may or may not agree or disagree with, and be completely fine in your standing with God.  And if you lived on a deserted island, than it would be a wonderful way to live your life.  But we don't live on deserted islands, and our actions do effect other people.  This doesn't mean that you can't live your life in a way that would be pleasing to you, or that you have to restrict yourself in all sorts of ways.  But maybe we need to start looking more at the people that surround us, and understand better their needs.  What sorts of actions would help bring them closer to God?  In some cases it might be loosening our interpretations of our fences around the laws.  In other cases it might mean being a bit more strict.  In all cases we should consult with the Lord in prayer, and understand where He wants us to be in order to best help our brothers and sisters around us.

So let us stop judging others and start looking to how we can change our own lives to help our brothers in their weaknesses.  Let us not be afraid of progress and drawing closer to the Lord either.  Our fences are personal, and they are also temporary.  If we have lived with the same fences for years, let us take that to the Lord and see if anything needs changing.  Maybe we need to loosen up a little in one area.  Maybe we need to become a lot stricter in another area.  As we commune with our Heavenly Father, He will help us to better understand what is needful for our salvation, and how we can best help those around us draw closer to Him as well.

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