Sunday, January 25, 2015

Darkness and Light

The first half of 3 Nephi begins to address some disquieting/depressing themes. Just a few thoughts/observations.

Miracles don't convert us. They might impress us in the short term. But in the long term we can always find ways to explain them away or ignore them if we wish. Conversion is ultimately a product of an inner yearning to reach out toward and be touched by God.

At the recent Affirmation Conference in Mexico City, a number of us witnessed protests in the wake of the brutal murders and burning of 43 student protesters, a tragedy that brought to the fore the pervasive, endemic problem of government corruption by powerful drug cartels. It was heart-breaking to hear our Mexican Affirmation members express despair about whether there is any hope for change, whether this terrible corruption can ever be rooted out and power returned to the people. Since then, I have been reading and watching documentaries about the drug cartels (fed by U.S. drug trade) to try to understand this whole thing better. The more I learn, the more heartbroken I feel. This is not just a central American problem... It's a U.S. problem. The cartels get their power from the gangs, and the gangs started here in the U.S., to feed the hunger for drugs. And the gangs have appeal because of the terrible, grinding poverty that the U.S. has allowed to fester within and beyond its borders.

At the same time, I have been reading in the Book of Mormon about "secret societies" set up by nefarious individuals for the purpose of accumulating personal gain and power; how they used terrible oaths of allegiance to blind and enslave people; and how they used fear and intimidation to undermine democracy. In one of the documentaries I watched (produced by National Geographic), a young man who had gotten involved in one of the most powerful narco gangs in the U.S. talked about how once he got involved in the gang, it was like some kind of darkness had descended over him (he used the image of his eyes being covered or blinded), how he could no longer see or act beyond what gang leaders told him to do. Gang members spoke of having lost count of how many people they had killed, including people they had considered their closest friends.

There is a real and terrible darkness in the world. 3 Nephi 8:20-23 describes a literal darkness that descended in the wake of the crucifixion, but there is a metaphorical darkness that is every bit as real in the world today, and that inspires the same kind of despair that 3 Nephi describes. We don't have to look too far to see the evidence of it. And if we don't believe in a light greater than the darkness, a light that can inspire us to stand up to the darkness, and if we don't believe in a life that transcends this mortal coil, a life that gives our deaths meaning, and that would permit us to defy the kind of death that the powers of darkness use to try to manipulate us, there is no hope.

The message of these chapters in the Book of Mormon is that there is light and life and hope. But it demands of us patience and humility; it demands of us a commitment to one another, to care for one another. At times, it can also demand a kind of courage or heroism that seems impossible. But I have a testimony of how God can strengthen us beyond what we thought possible when the situations we face demand it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If any man will do...

Last night I had a dream. In the dream, I saw Christ speaking, saying, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." After I woke up, I looked it up... John 7:17.

What a beautiful, happy, peaceful feeling I had during this dream! Thinking about it makes me yearn to be in the Savior's presence!

I had a few thoughts about it as I reflected on Jesus' words. First of all, the most important things about the Gospel we know from doing. So in any Gospel-related study we do, that gives us something to look for and to focus on: "How can I put this into practice in my life?" I think that can be a useful way of figuring out what is wheat and what is chaff. I definitely have a testimony of that, because there is so much peace and joy in my life that has come from practicing very simple, very basic Gospel principles.

The second reflection I had is that this is such a beautiful and simple hermeneutic. What is God's will in relation to homosexuality? There's a lot of contention and commotion over this question. I would suggest that we already have a lot of combined wisdom in relation to this question. Our experience, our "doing" is our teacher. Our various experiences have given us the most valuable data to "know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."

To me this doctrine allows us to put our minds at rest, to not be afraid. If something is working for you, giving you greater knowledge, keep doing it! If it's not working, if your gears are grinding, let it go... The truth is in a different direction.