Friday, December 23, 2005

Nothing New Under the Sun

I was browsing through Wikipedia, and on their homepage today they were highlighting Joseph Smith. Well, being a good Utahn, I decided to peruse the article.

I had always known that there were a few splinter groups in the "restoration" movement, but after a few clicks I was overwhelmed with how many there were. I started bookmarking all of the different groups so I wouldn't lose track.

Since I live in Utah, I have been most aware of the LDS church which also happens to be the biggest of the groups. Of course, the mormons I know would state that theirs is the continuation of the church that Joseph Smith founded.

However, as I purused through the various off-shoots of what Joseph Smith started, most of them make the same claim. As you read through their websites, they talk about their authority, revelations God has made to them, and the testimonies they have received. These are all things each of them claim and most would say are exclusive to them.

I am not writing this as a judgment or critique of mormons, but rather with a fascination for how closely this mirrors various things I saw growing up as a charismatic/evangelical.

One of my earliest church memories is when the Pastor of the Lutheran church we were attending left Lutheranism with a bunch of his congregation to become independent. Then someone within his church broke off from him and my family went with that group. Over the years people left the church we went to to join other groups or make new ones.

The one thing I noticed as a kid was that we left churches because the church was wrong, or that people left our church because they were wrong. The convenient commonality was that everyone else was wrong.

Most of us who have grown up in church environments unknowingly have been indoctrinated that we are right and others are wrong (or at least, not as right as we are). Since being in Utah, I have found that for a Mormon to not buy the package deal of Mormonism would be apostisizing (is that a word?). For an Evangelical, to do less than buy the whole package is compromising. I believe Catholics use the word heresy.

In any case, if you want to pursue God, you have to kind of put yourself into a box - and to think out of that box is to damage your potential of getting to know God (and perhaps even damn you).

One of the interesting points of many of the sub-groups of Mormons, is that they justify their stance of being the "true" church by various signs and/or revelations. God revealed this or told us that. This or that event happened in response to our prayers said with the proper authority (therefore, we are the true one).

Again, I am not saying that to rip on my mormon neighbors, but rather I sit here slightly awed thinking, "That is exactly how I grew up!" Different churches, and different theological backgrounds... but almost the exact same wordings and events. The writer of Ecclesiasties had it right, there really is "nothing new under the sun". No church group seems to be safe from the belief that they have a corner on the god market. They have an insight that everyone else is less privy to or as Butch Cassidy said, "I see clearly while the rest of the world wears bi-focals".

Of course, any of my denominational, non-denominational, pentecostal, or LDS friends who read this would probably interpret it the same way - that what I am saying is true of all the other groups, but the difference in their case is that they really are the right group.

I remember hearing a sermon by Peter Marshall years ago called, "The blessing of being wrong". He asked how many times in our lives have we experienced an insight into a topic and felt we were right... then later, when our opinion changed on the topic, we were REALLY right. Perhaps a later change made us REALLY, REALLY right. He suggested that given those patterns in our lives and in our churches, that perhaps there might be a blessing in being wrong.

I don't know how one gets around this prideful arena. Even as I write this, as I suggest that one should be comfortable not knowing, that one should leave room for possibility, am I not also inferring that I have an insight that most are not privy to?

Monday, December 19, 2005

They will not grow out of it!

One of the phrases you will often hear if you deal with children to any great extent is "It's just a stage they are going through." I have even said it myself on occasion.

However, I am now inclined to think that it is an incorrect phrase, and one that has the potential for lasting damage. I think this is because the phrase implies that it is actually a mere valley the child is riding through at the moment and that, if we are patient, the child will come out of naturally.

One need only listen to conversations at work, or drive 10 minutes on the road, or stand at a service desk at Walmart to get another view. We meet people everyday who never grew out of that "stage". The pride, impatience, manipulativeness, stubborness, bullying, or any of dozens of horrid behaviors we find in adults, with a little research, could probably be traced right to their childhood. John's selfishess at 36 can probably be traced to Johnny's at 6. Perhaps some of it's rougher edges have been worn down, but the core of it still radiates smartly.

The danger for the parent is the assumption that the child will grow out of it. I now believe that there is little to no chance of that happening. Entropy applies: without work, a system will move towards disorder. Why do we think that a child will lose a negative trait and develop a positive one with no intervention?

Lewis commented in Mere Christianity that it is not damning to be on a wrong road, but one's redemption relies on moving to the right one. One can correct a flawed math problem by going back and reworking it... not by simply going on.

There was boy in the park this summer who had no concept of sharing. Sharing his toys that is, he felt other children's toys should be group property. The boy was very loud in his stance, and the mother finally blushed and anounced to the other moms present, "It is just a stage he is going through".

The mother did her son no service that day. That teachable moment could not have been more ripe. But her personal embarassment, or perhaps laziness, won the day. Social pressure may cause the boy to settle down a bit over time, but he is not learning from his parents that the behavior is wrong - and this at a time when his foundations for right and wrong are being laid.

One thing that being a teacher has taught me over the years is that very little learning occurs where there is not explicit instruction. Children are intelligent, but they are not sophisticated. They have too little background knowledge to develop a proper ethos through everyday observation. There are too many mixed messages. Modeling good behavior in the home is not enough. Good behavior must be taught.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cursing Men

I have an idea of something I want to write about that is new, and not simply a rehashing of something I have submitted in another group. However, I do not have time at the moment to get into that idea, so here is the latest rehashing:

I am going to use James 3 as a starting point.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

I find it interesting that James did not say "we curse fellow Christians", but rather opened the floodgates to include everyone. We curse men who are the image of God. I think I used to unconsciously interpret "they will know we are Christians by our love" to mean our love for each other as fellow Christians. As if "worldly" people would see our clique of loving fellowship from the outside, and desire to jump in so they could be loved too. I now see that my image of Christ is best represented to others in my ability to love and apply grace to everyone as best I can.

Ok, let me swing this around to my ultimate point, because my burden with it has been growing since I moved to Utah and it is starting to peak. I have this T-shirt that some of you may have seen. It says "Lord Jesus, your sheep have sharp teeth", and it has a drawing of a sheep with oversized, vampire-ish, teeth. Silly picture, but it is supposed to shine a light on how out of place we look as Christians when we use our speech to dig into someone.

It has been troubling to me how socially acceptable it is in Christian circles to mock and belittle the faith of our LDS neighbors. If someone were to make a belittling comment about race during a small group or at church, they would probably be met with stunned silence. I am finding we are not so graceful when it comes to "cursing", as James would say, our LDS brothers who have been made in the image of God.

I have a friend of mine in Michigan who has never cut someone down in front of me. It is an amazing gift that I have tried to emulate. We have as a K2 core value to "watch each other's back", what if, as James encourages, we applied that to all men who are made in God's likeness. I know this is easy for me in a way. One of the best friends that I have made in the Valley here is LDS. Because he is my friend, I am committed to protect him and support him. It is harder for me to do that with my Charismatic brothers and sisters since I grew up charismatic. It is easy for me to be more critical there, so it is often best that I simply hold my tongue. I know for many here in the valley, since they have a history with the LDS, it is hard not to launch into some digs.

James goes on to say: 11 Can both fresh water and salt[a] water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The interesting thing is that Salt water ruins fresh water. Any fresh is instantly ruined by the application of salt water (even in small doses). It does not work the other way around. Our cursing of men is not sanctified by our praise to God. However, our praise to God will be spoiled by our cursing of men.

Everyone I know needs to know Jesus better tomorrow than they do today; my evangelical and LDS neighbors included. I do not necessarily know the best way to encourage someone of the LDS faith in their relationship with Christ, but I am confident we cannot portray a Christ who loves and adores them through our rolling eyes, snickering, pot-shots, impatience, and superior attitude.

I think because the LDS faith is so Huge here, we consider our words of no harm (like the way people around the world trash America - they almost deserve it for being so dominant). It affects the individuals though. They are not knowing us by our love.
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