Monday, January 15, 2018

Ask, Seek, Knock, Part 6: As a Little Child

For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables. 
—2 Timothy 1:10 RE

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


This series has been headed toward a conclusion for quite some time—years, in fact, at least in my own mind, and though it may not look much like it, we’re actually almost there. I had hoped to finish much sooner, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. I needed to learn some things from unusual places, pick up some golden threads woven into past events, and look backward down the trail I’ve traversed, with the sun angled just right, to at last reveal the gossamer threads filling the forest. Though I knew where this was going, I didn’t know how to get there, much less how to teach it.Thankfully, I do now.

I look forward to laying down this burden and picking up another, in the form of the unfinished Covenant Book series. This post and the next should (hopefully) get the present job done.

This series is best understood as a whole, and I’d encourage you to take another look at the previous posts in it before delving into this one and the next. In the first post, I made the following statement:

Let’s reconsider our Lord’s invitation and learn how to ask, seek and knock. This journey will not be brief, and will not begin as you might expect, but it will end, “when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.” (Lectures on Faith 2:56) This will take some “time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts” (TPJS 137) before we get where we’re going. This won’t be a light read, but there will be treasure buried here for those willing to put in the effort to uncover it.
We’re almost there.

The Problem

We’ve arrived at the point in this series where we can discuss THE fundamental defect that prevents us from receiving truth, and Christ’s sweeping solution to the problem. But rather than approaching it from a gospel perspective at first, let’s instead look at it from a human-nature perspective, or even a psychology perspective, to lay the groundwork. Once that’s done, we’ll proceed to the gospel side of things.

Warning: Psychobabble ahead. We’re going to talk about a couple of psychological terms, but I’ll do my best to give definitions that make sense. Don’t get discouraged; it comes together in the end.

Let’s begin with the phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. You’ve heard of it, haven’t you? In a nutshell, it means people get very uncomfortable when they find out they may be wrong—so they respond by defending their ideas, rather than changing them.

More specifically, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort you experience when you confront evidence that contradicts your current behavior or beliefs. 

In other words, you and I—we like to be right, we like life to make sense, and we need to think our beliefs and actions are correct. On the surface, this all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we want to get things right and have correct beliefs?

Well yes. Of course.

But that’s where the problem starts. You see, we’re not from here, but we’re stuck—even trapped—in this world where truth is a hard commodity to come by, and is devalued to the point of being suppressed, concealed, and discarded—all at the behest of one who would style himself “the god of this world.”

And yet, knowledge of truth is vital to salvation. As we’ve covered earlier in this series, the very definition of repentance is seeking, gaining, and acting in accordance with truth. Or as Joseph is said to have put it:

Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge. So long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation. If a man has knowledge, he can be saved; (King Follett Sermon)
And so here’s the issue: you and I and everyone you know—we all carry an internal map of how the world works, and how to understand things, and even, at the most basic level, what is right and wrong. We get our maps handed to us by our families, traditions, education and upbringing, molded by our experiences. Your map is different than mine, and, in fact, no two maps are alike. I do what I think is right, and you do what you think is right. Everyone acts according to their own map and sees the world through their own lens.

In short, what is reality to you is not reality to me. We each have our own version of reality, and we each believe ours is the correct one, and all others are more or less wrong. You and I could witness the same events, hear the same teachings, even read the same scriptures, and interpret them VERY differently, based on our own views of what is real and true. 

Philosophers throughout the ages have wrestled with this problem of differing realities, and the question of whether there is an ultimate reality—an ultimate truth—a reality that is THE correct one against which all others must be measured. Some have argued that there is no ultimate reality at all.

Well, the reality question brings us back to cognitive dissonance—which is at the root of the problem. We’re programmed to think we’re right, and we absolutely don’t like to be wrong, particularly about anything important enough to elicit emotion. 

What’s worse, when confronted with information that demonstrates we are wrong, our discomfort causes us to immediately create a fantasy or hallucination so we can still be right. We will create elaborate, and sometimes numerous explanations to show how we are actually justified in our falsehoods. Some of these explanations may seem quite logical, and some may be completely bonkers, but the pattern remains. Even our “apologies” for being wrong frequently include justifications to make us right. 

“I’m sorry, officer, I was only speeding because there’s an emergency at work and I have to get there right away.” 

The point is that rather than change our picture of reality, we defend the picture we already have, often at all costs. This is why argument almost never changes minds. Disputes only perpetuate the problem.

The more emotion we have invested in a topic, the more likely we are to experience cognitive dissonance when we are wrong about that topic. For minor questions and decisions, being wrong is no big deal. But for major questions, life-and-death questions, salvation-and-damnation questions, or what Nibley called, “the terrible questions,” cognitive dissonance is the normal, expected and nearly universal reaction.

What’s more, cognitive dissonance travels with a companion called confirmation bias. This simply means that, as crazy as it sounds, evidence we are wrong only serves to further convince us we’re right. The more facts you throw at someone to prove theyre wrong, the more likely they are to believe theyre right. A great example is the doctor, years ago, who published an article explaining that he smoked cigarettes to benefit his health. His argument?

  • Smoking raises my heart rate—thus eliminating the need for exercise!
  • Smoking releases brain chemicals that increase memory and concentration! 
  • Smoking reduces anxiety, which is known to have ill effects on health.
  • Smoking aids in relaxation and alleviates stress (and stress is bad, right?)
  • Smoking gives me a break from my work and a chance to walk outside and be in nature!

You get the picture. No amount of evidence would convince this doctor smoking was harming him. His thesis is not rational, but that's the point. We are not, at our root, rational creatures at all.

Now here’s the kicker: this isn’t a flaw in our programming. This IS our programming. We will engage in preposterous and lengthy justifications to keep our own world view before we will change it. We must be right at all costs, you see, and will go to whatever extremes are necessary to stay right. Call it programming. Call it psychology. Call it biology if you want to. We all do it as naturally as breathing, and as predictably as the next sunrise, and yet, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

You may be tempted, at this point, to agree that other people do this. You’ve seen it thousands of times, after all. But let me reiterate: part of the nature of this thing is that you do it so naturally, you don’t even realize you do it. Cognitive dissonance MUST be explained away to preserve your world view. You do this daily. So do I. This defines humanity, and is as deeply programmed as breathing.

God, in fact, calls it our natural state, which, unfortunately, puts us at odds with Him. “An enemy to God” is the scriptural phrase. Not good—but true. Cognitive dissonance leads to untold sin and carnage. It leads to murder. Said Christ to the Jewish leaders:

If you were really Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But instead you plan to kill me. And why do you plan to kill me: I am a man that has only told you the truth that I have heard from the Most High God. (Testimony of John, 6:19 RE)
Question: Why would you kill someone for telling you the truth? 
Answer: To eliminate cognitive dissonance, so you can keep believing what you want to believe, rather than having to admit you are wrong and change your beliefs to align with truth. 

An Ultimate Reality

I spoke earlier of the idea that there’s not, in fact, an ultimate reality, but just individual realities for individual people. I didn’t say I agree with this idea—and that’s because there IS in fact an ultimate reality! It is God’s reality—the way He sees things from His point of view—and it is, by definition, the absolute truth.

And truth is knowledge of things as they are and as they were and as they are to come…(D&C 33:7 RE)
This is the truth we must receive to be saved, and this is the truth we are, by our very nature, utterly unequipped to receive. And THAT, more than anything else, is the problem that damns us and keeps us damned. How deep the problem runs, we scarcely realize; how dire our circumstances, we fail to fathom. The nature of the problem blinds us to its existence, and thus we reject our Lord’s proffered solution.

Christ spoke to the Jewish leaders of these very matters, pointing out they preferred to follow their true father (Lucifer) rather than change their views:

Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me, for I am sent by and represent God. I am not speaking my own words or pursuing my own agenda, but the Father's words and agenda. Why do you fail to comprehend my words? Your refusal to hearken and submit to my teachings makes you deaf indeed. Your father is the accuser, and you share the envy and rebellion of your father. He was a rebellious destroyer from the beginning, and fought against the truth, because he prefers lies. When he spreads a lie, he advances his agenda. He is the source of deceit in this fallen world. 
And because I am the Source of truth, you are unable to believe me. Which of you can truthfully show that I have missed the mark? And if I teach the truth, why do you refuse to believe me? Everyone who follows the Most High God hearkens to God's words. Because you do not follow the Most High God, you cannot hear him. (Testimony of John 6:19-20 RE)
Is there a Solution?

Well, yes there is, but it may not be what you think it is. What’s at issue here is actually the need to transcend your own humanity, which you are humanly incapable of doing. I’ll illustrate with a story:

Edgar was quite disappointed when, in the middle of a construction project, the head fell off his only hammer. He tried to put it back on, but the handle was no longer tight, and the head fell off again. So Edgar called the hardware store, hoping someone could tell him how to fix his hammer.

“Oh sure, that’s easy to fix,” said the hardware man. “All you have to do is put the head in place, then pound a wedge into the top of the handle to tighten it up.”

“Oh good!” said a clearly relieved Edgar. “I can do that. What shall I pound it in with?”

“Well, with a hammer, of course!” said the hardware man.

“But my hammer is broken!” lamented Edgar.

Are you starting to see the problem? You can’t repair yourself. You and I—we’re computers with faulty programming, utterly incapable of reprogramming ourselves, and telling ourselves, against all evidence, that there’s nothing wrong with our programming. Because that’s what we’re programmed to do, after all. You can’t use your broken nature to fix your broken nature. It takes someone else.

Fortunately, Christ does that heavy lifting. He has power to snatch us from our fallen, broken state and make us anew. He
’s the repairman who has the knowledge and experience to repair EVERYTHING that is amiss in us. The only ingredient we can contribute to the recipe is willingness, which, happily, is all He requires of us. 

And it starts in a startlingly simple way.

A Little Child

Here’s a piece of good news: All this business about cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias only applies to adult minds. This level of brokenness is not congenital, but develops over the course of years spent in this place, drinking in the poison of this world. Little children lack both the reasoning skills and flexibility with truth that adults employ to justify themselves. Little children do not suffer from cognitive dissonance or confirmation bias. They relate to the world in a completely different way.

Hence, Christ’s repeated invitations to become as a little child. I could provide a hefty group of scriptural passages on the topic, but for now, let’s focus on this one:

For behold, he judgeth and his judgment is just. And the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy, but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children and believe that salvation was and is and is to come in and through the atoning blood of Christ the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be for ever and ever — but if he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man, and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 1:17 RE)
Notice the contrast between the natural MAN and the little child. The man is an adult, who has drunk damnation to his soul, and is described as both natural and an enemy of God. The child, by contrast, is associated with sainthood, and described as submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. The “submit” to what the Lord “inflicts” idea has less to do with trials and punishments inflicted by God, and much more to do with truth and God’s reality. Adults will not submit to God’s truth; children will.

Little children don’t automatically believe they’re right. Rather, they know they’re wrong. They keenly feel their ignorance, and readily believe what they’re told by anyone they think knows more than them. In such a state, they are prepared to learn truth. As adults we would do well to imitate them.

To put a finer point on it, look at this chart. Normal adult psychology is expressed in the left column. The place we need to get is in the right column:

Be honest with yourself. How many of the items in the left column describe you? How possible is it to truly, unreservedly, apply the statements in the right column to yourself? What needs to be done?

This problem isn’t fixed by degrees. It is not a matter of minor course corrections, but rather wholesale surrender.

And the wise and the learned and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning and their wisdom and their riches, yea, they are they whom he despiseth. And save they shall cast these things away and consider themselves fools before God and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 6:11 RE)
Can you humble yourself as a little child, admit your profound ignorance, your desperate brokenness, your fundamental unholiness, and put your world view on the altar? Such is the only way around cognitive dissonance, and the starting point where Christ’s doctrine takes hold and transforms from mere ideas to actual power. Christ expressed this very idea explicitly as part of His doctrine:
And again I say unto you, Ye must repent and become as a little child and be baptized in my name or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, Ye must repent and be baptized in my name and become as a little child or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily I say unto you that this is my doctrine. And whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 5:9 RE)
Properly applied—even by the weakest among us—Christ’s doctrine results in reception of the Holy Ghost. And that is the key to it all.
Now this is the commandment: Repent all ye ends of the earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 12:5 RE)
To sanctify is to make holy—in every sense of the word; to become a saint through the atonement of Christ; to be renovated, changed, renewed, reprogrammed, made a new creature. The renovation restores your programming, snatches you from your fallen nature, and gives you access to God’s mind, which is, in the end, the only source of the ultimate reality we call truth. This is the beginning of the ascent. This is the purpose of Christ’s doctrine.

Born Again

The first time you were born into this world, though you came as a little child, you soon found yourself poisoned and broken, a headless hammer, with no means of repair. But Christ offers the opportunity to be born again—returned to that state of childlike innocence and belief, but without childishness and ignorance. The Holy Ghost can, and will, put you in contact with the source of all truth, and give you all you will receive, as quickly as you will receive it.

As Christ said to Nicodemus:

All who are devoted to the ambitions of the flesh remain imprisoned by the flesh, and those who are born anew through the ordinances, receive the Spirit of Truth, and are able to know the record of heaven by the Spirit of Truth. Do not question if what I say is true because the Spirit of Truth confers light, knowledge, and understanding of the mysteries of heaven within every soul who receives it. (Testimony of St. John 2:2 RE)
On The Altar

Christ explained to the Nephites the offering he requires to make this possible:

And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood: yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings, and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life and have taken it up again, therefore repent and come unto me ye ends of the earth and be saved. (3 Nephi 4:7)
The idea of a broken heart and a contrite spirit is the antithesis of our natural adulthood. You can’t have cognitive dissonance when you believe, at your core, that you are wrong, not right. There is nothing to defend, nothing to excuse, no arguments needed. What Christ is asking for is everything; or more specifically, your view of everything. When you place your very reality itself on the altar, with everything you think is true, believe is right, or feel is good, willingly giving it up—all of it—in exchange for the correct view, well, this is the sort of surrender that results in rebirth.

Of course, this can’t be faked or half hearted. It takes sincerity. It takes humility. It takes desperation. It is, in fact, best modeled by a 14-year-old Joseph Smith kneeling, anguished, in a grove on his father’s farm. As with Joseph, though not necessarily in the same way, the adversary will attempt to thwart you—but don’t let this dissuade your efforts. Like Joseph, exert all your power to call upon God.

Promised Results

If your faith is real and your surrender complete, the light will come, or as Joseph described it, the pillar of fire—perhaps not around you, but within you, as you are baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost—born anew in Christ, with a new understanding of reality and a new view of everything. I’m not stating this as theory. 
I’m a witness of the truth of Christ’s promises, and I know what I’m talking about. I’ll add my voice to Alma’s:
And the Lord said unto me, Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women — all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people — must be born again, yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters. And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. I say unto you, Unless this be the case, they must be cast off. And this I know because I was like to be cast off. Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning; and I am born of God. (Mosiah 11:28 RE)
Our Lord’s promises are sure. His offer is open to all, and available to any who will meet its terms. It is a personal offer to you. If anything in this post spoke to your soul, caused you discomfort, or invoked your need to defend your current views, I invite you to consider why that is, and what you can do about it. 

And finally, with this groundwork in place, we can discuss, in part 7, the Holy Ghost.

At the same time the disciples came unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the middle of them, and said, Truly I say unto you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  

Matthew 9:10 RE

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Request for One Heart

We have been asked to post the following invitation:

In the The Covenant, the Lord asks us 2 important questions:
Do you agree to assist all others who covenant to likewise accept this standard to
govern their lives to keep the Lord’s will, to succor those who stand in need, to lighten the burdens of your brothers and sisters whenever you are able, and to help care for the poor among you?
And do you covenant to seek to become of one heart with those who seek the Lord
to establish His righteousness?
Taken together, this includes efforts on our own part to help others come to be of one heart.

This issue goes well beyond the Guide & Standard mess. It affects many of us in many different parts of our lives:
And he also saw other multitudes pressing their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain, and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. (NC 1NE 2:12)

In the hope of turning our focus in the right direction and perhaps bringing our hearts a bit closer together, I'm inviting anyone interested to participate in a general fast this coming Sunday, Jan. 14, and a united prayer at 2 p.m. MST on that day for the Lord to help us become of one heart. We can also keep a prayer in our heart throughout the day for the same purpose.

This can be an opportunity for those who feel they are ready to press forward to pause and show charity to those who are struggling with their personal stumbling blocks so that we can all move forward together with one heart.

A sister in the Covenant

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Spring General Conference

There will be a general conference this Spring in Phoenix, Arizona. All are invited to participate, either in person, or by live internet stream. 

You can get details at this link:

I'm intrigued by the theme of the conference, and look forward to exploring the topic of wisdom.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ask, Seek, Knock, Part 5: Ponderables

The shepherd guards the entry, and his sheep respond to his voice. He calls his sheep by name and leads them up. He leads his sheep by his example and asks them to follow in his path, and they follow because they trust his words. His sheep will not follow another, but will flee from a stranger. They do not recognize the stranger’s voice. Jesus told this parable to them, but they could not understand what he meant by the parable.
—Testimony of St. John, Chapter 7

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Here are a few not-quite-random, somewhat-related thoughts I’ve been pondering lately. They bear on current events, and they likewise lay important groundwork for the remaining posts in this series.

1. God is not the author of confusion.

2. The test is always the same: Can you discern the Lord’s voice from all others? 

He came as He comes now. It is a test. It has always been a test. The test is no different now than it was then. Do you hear Him? Do you listen to Him? His voice resonates in the words of His true disciples. They do not resonate in the words of the pretenders and the faithless. His voice cannot be faked. The voice of inspiration cannot be breathed into the lifeless words of a false or faithless or disobedient disciple.
The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord through the Veil, Chapter 11

3. Whenever truth is presented in its purity, imitators offer counterfeits, also containing much truth, but also enough falsehood to mislead. This is always the case, and is part of the necessary balance that must be preserved. The difference is hard to detect unless you are filled with adequate light. Discernment is difficult and rare, despite the fact that most of us think we are good at it.

4. I recently read these interesting facts:
  • Humans are irrational by nature, and nearly always make important decisions based on emotion alone. 
  • When asked to explain our decisions, we will attempt to use reason and logic to justify our decisions, rather than recognize the emotion upon which the decision was based. 
  • If shown facts that contradict our conclusions, rather than changing our conclusions to align with the facts, we most often double down on our errors. No amount of proof will change a mind that’s made up.
All these are universal parts of human nature; this is how we ALL operate, though most of us don’t even realize we do, and will, in fact, claim we don’t. We actually believe we make decisions based on reason and logic. We always tend to believe we are right. Effective salespeople utilize this situation to great advantage.

5. A great exception to the tendency to invent rational explanations for our decisions is in the realm of religion, and particularly in Mormonism, where we’ve been handed a false tradition that “feeling the spirit” is the correct basis for making decisions. This unbelief elevates emotion above reason, knowledge, understanding, or rational thought, and leads to a great deal of error. The Holy Ghost is a revelator, not a feeling. Period. I hope to write more on this topic soon. 

6. The adversary appeals to our emotions, selling destruction through polished presentation. But a well-expressed falsehood is still a falsehood. Flattering language and appealing ideas deceive the uninformed, as the Book of Mormon goes to some trouble to point out. The Lord does not offer flattery or ease. 

7. Part of the legacy we inherit as Mormons includes a lack of critical thinking skills. This results not only from the “feeling the spirit” deception, but also from a lifetime of conditioning to do as we’re told, never think or question, and actually fear any idea that does not agree with what we already believe. The result is that we struggle to think rationally and often fear to investigate information that could be important and useful to us. This bears directly on the need to hear and heed the Lord’s voice from among all others. 

8. Truth matters. Only correct knowledge has power to bring us to salvation and lead us in its path. It is unkind to mingle truth with falsehood, and thus deceive the uninformed. It is unwise to claim Christ is the author of anything deceptive. Hence the need for extreme care when invoking Christ’s name or claiming to deliver His words. 

9. Both fools and sociopaths are attracted to truth, but for different reasons. Ultimately, truth retains neither of them. There is middle ground between these extremes—something Moroni called having “a firm mind in every form of godliness.” Standing on that ground requires you to be able to discern and obey truth. This is where faith originates. 
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2 RE)
10. Becoming godly requires that you first be capable of self-examination and course correction. And that’s why it’s such a struggle. We have many disadvantages to overcome, as I’ve pointed out here. The Holy Ghost, properly understood and utilized, is key to gaining the light by which we can discern the Lord’s voice, our own error and bias, and the firm pathway of truth. But obtaining the gift of the Holy Ghost is neither automatic nor easy. If it were, more people would do it.

As it is, many still believe the Holy Ghost consists of their feelings, providing a self-perpetuating loop of confirmation bias that their thoughts and decisions are always correct. The only way to break this cycle is to be snatched from it by One who is more intelligent than us all. But this requires abject humility and recognition of our own weak, ignorant state. You have to first know you lack truth before you can obtain it. You have to first recognize you are wrong before you can embrace what is right. 

Well, that’s a lot to ponder. I’ve written on a fair number of these topics already, but they remain at the forefront of my attention. With these ideas in place, I hope to move ahead and finish this series soon.

Have a Wonderful Christmas! (And His name shall be called...)

When I am the Spirit of Truth, I can then reveal to you the record of heaven and knowledge will be poured into you. The spirit is the means to communicate my words, and my words will lead you on the upward path. The knowledge poured in to you will come from me. I will depart, but only briefly because when I ascend back to the Head of the Household of Heaven, I will also be by your side to guide you by my voice from heaven.
—Testimony of St. John, Chapter 10

Thursday, December 14, 2017


And there shall be no disputations among you as there hath hitherto been, neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine as there hath hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger one against another, but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (3 Nephi 5:8 RE)

I’ve been thinking more about the Lord’s definition of mutual agreement: “As between one another, you choose to not dispute.”

The use of the imperative “shall” in the above scripture makes “no disputations” a commandment, not a suggestion. And Christ’s own words here make this commandment a part of His doctrine. Therefore, choosing not to dispute is required of those who wish to obey the Doctrine of Christ.

I marvel at how consistent our Lord has been in His view of what matters, and I likewise marvel at how blind we can be to His words.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mutual Agreement and Dispute

In the ongoing Guide and Standard effort, I realize people have been offended, disappointed, angered, and hurt, in some cases by me, though this has never been my intent. If you fall into this category, I acknowledge my contribution to your pain, even if unintended, and ask your forgiveness. I also pray you’ll indulge me a more personal story to begin today’s post:

To be honest, I never expected to get involved in the Guide and Standard issue at all. Though I observed everything that happened from the beginning, and heard many points of view, I avoided taking a side or expressing an opinion. When I inquired of the Lord, I obtained no answer, so I concluded I had no more obligation to act than anyone else. 

That’s why I was so surprised, when the voting began, to hear the Lord request that I get more involved than merely casting my vote. So I wrote an explanatory statement regarding the importance of this effort, and encouraged all to vote. I cast my vote in the initial runoff and thought that was enough. 

I found myself surprised again when the August vote came and the Lord again urged me to do more. I carefully studied the document then up for vote, formed an opinion about it, took it to the Lord, and with a great deal of trepidation, both voted against it and wrote a 6-page, 17-point statement of my concerns with it, which I submitted privately, and with great trepidation, to the scripture committee.

My trepidation came because I’m generally an advocate and promoter of all efforts to obey the Lord’s direction. I’ve publicly promoted a number of initiatives and groups on this blog, attempting to offer encouragement, support, and even defense. I was shocked and heartbroken to find myself now opposing what many hoped would be the conclusion of the G&S effort. I wanted to second guess my motives, to back down, or to at least remain silent, and I agonized over the direction the Lord gave me.

As I struggled with the situation, I studied the Answer and Covenant, looking for direction, or at least solace, in the Lord’s words. The more I read, the more disheartened I became, fearing that I had gotten it wrong, and had offended God, that I had become an accuser. I struggled continuously with anxiety about my own standing before Him, and the efforts I was then making to promote a different approach to the Guide and Standard.

In the midst of this very real anguish, I was led to ponder the phrasing from the Lord’s command:

“You are not excused from writing a statement of principles that I have required at your hands…But I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people”

That specific wording, “mutual agreement” struck my interest, so I studied the definitions of these words, still quite doubtful that true mutual agreement would even be possible among so many independent personalities. I wore myself out in prayer, thought, study and anguished discussion with my wife. I asked the Lord to help me understand His requirement, while I felt truly lost and mostly hopeless as others began to attack me personally for my opinions.

That particular night, I lay in bed a long time, seeking sleep that refused to come. At some point in the early hours of the morning, I finally drifted off, and that was when the Lord spoke to me in a dream. I did not see Him, but rather heard Him. He spoke in a voice that pierced my very being, consuming and surmounting every part of my body and spirit, and the message He shared filled me with such indescribable comfort, that even now, months later, I can’t reflect upon it without weeping. 

As He spoke, He showed me a picture I did not understand, and can only describe with difficulty. It involved geometric arrangements that moved, came together, and ultimately culminated, in part, with this:

I didn’t understand, at the time, what the arrangements themselves meant, but He did speak to me about the final version of the picture, and that it pleased Him. The dream was brief, powerful, and caused me to awaken with a jolt. After a prayer of gratitude, I lay in bed and wept as all the fear, anxiety, doubt and sorrow left—having been immediately swept away by His words. From that point until now, I’ve labored, attempted to persuade, suffered personal attacks, scorn, and accusation—and have only been able to bear it all because of what He told me that night. His word alone has been enough to get me through what has easily been the most difficult period I’ve faced in my life. 

Mutual Agreement

Not long after this happened, I needed to explain my understating of mutual agreement, which task I didn’t find easy. As I prayed for the words to write, the pictures from the dream immediately came to mind, along with a flash of sudden, particular understanding of what they meant, and how to explain them.

I’ve written at length about mutual agreement, and that it involves every person being in agreement with every other person, and not merely rule by a majority. I stand by that definition; it is accurate, and it is a high standard indeed. More on that in a moment—after we talk about the Nephites.

Nephite Zion

When you study the period of Nephite peace that followed the Lord’s ministry, you encounter three statements regarding the level of unity among the people, as follows:

  1. And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them and every man did deal justly one with another and they had all things common among them. Therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free and partakers of the heavenly gift.
  2. And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people in all the land, but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
  3. And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people, and there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness, and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. 
These statements represent three increasing levels of unity among the followers of Christ. In the first, they dropped their contentions and disputations—which is to say, having been converted to the Lord, they stopped trying to kill each other, both literally and figuratively. As followers of Christ, they dwelt in righteousness and took care of their poor.

In the second, the level of unity among all the people was such that mighty miracles became possible as they received an increasing measure of faith and connection to the Holy Ghost. They became one in mind, connected to the mind of God.

In the third, the love of God knit their very hearts together, such that envying, strife, tumults, and all sin had no place among them. They became one in heart, filled with the pure love of Christ. 

These three progressive levels of unity form a pathway—a ladder, if you will—to becoming Zion. It appears to have taken the people about two years after Christ’s ministry to reach the first level of unity—at which point they dropped their disputations. 

Now consider this statement regarding Enoch’s Zion:
And the Lord called his people, Zion, because they were of one heart and of one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there were no poor among them. (Genesis 4:10 RE)
There they are—all the elements, shown as a progression, but in reverse order, because the statement is retrospective, looking backward from the state of being Zion, along the path that led to that point. We see the same progression in this path:
  • First, they dwelt in righteousness and took care of their poor.
  • Second, they had one mind.
  • Third, they had one heart.
And thus, they became Zion.

In reflection, it seems much like three degrees of glory, doesn’t it? And the highest degree of unity—a Celestial unity—is required for Zion to exist:
But behold they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I require at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them, and are not united according to the union required by the law of the Celestial kingdom, and Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the Celestial kingdom, otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself. And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be by the things which they suffer. (D&C 40:1 RE)
As always, it begins with caring for the poor, and ultimately leads to a Celestial unity of hearts, minds, and righteousness.


Given these increasing levels of unity leading to Zion, let us now consider the issue of mutual agreement. Ideally, and in its fullest sense, at its highest, Celestial level, mutual agreement means we’re all of the same mind and heart in embracing the same truths. Being only of the same mind, without our hearts in it, is still a form of mutual agreement, though inferior to the highest. And at its lowest level, even in disagreement, when we make the choice not to dispute, we yet have a level of mutual agreement. 

I’ve written in favor of the highest level. But it’s clear we’re not there yet. The Lord, in His wisdom and mercy, has offered to meet us where we currently are, by providing the level of mutual agreement He requires at this time:

“As between one another, you choose to not dispute.”

It appears this is the lowest standard He can offer His covenant people—with the expectation that we’ll yet improve and rise to higher levels of unity. On the other hand, if we can’t meet even this low standard, all that remains is for the Lord to take away the covenant and give us a lower law—as He did with ancient Israel, as He did with the saints of Joseph Smith’s day. 

Hopefully, we can learn from the past, and choose not to dispute.

The Current Document

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss the current situation, starting with the document written by the seven chosen by lots. Among all the proposed documents, this one is unique in the following ways:

  • The process to create it was established by the voice of the Lord’s covenant people, as the Lord required in the Answer and Covenant. He laid this responsibility on us all, and this effort started with the voice of the people. 
  • The entire process and the path to completion were explained PRIOR to ANY action being taken. The plan was presented to the covenant body as a complete beginning-to-end idea on how to move forward. 
  • The process was voted on and overwhelmingly accepted by the Lord’s covenant people, based on the presented plan
  • The rules never changed, and the plan, as approved by the people, was followed exactly.
  • ALL covenant holders were invited to contribute their names to be drawn
  • ALL covenant holders were invited to submit documents and ideas for consideration, including the Aug 5 document, and any other documents anyone wished to submit.
  • The Lot drawing was done publicly and in complete equality. 
  • The Lord’s hand was undeniably involved in the drawing process. Other signs followed as the process continued.
  • The document consists ENTIRELY of the Lord’s words from scripture and His recognized servants, using the ideas submitted by the people as the foundational basis for the principles expressed. It demonstrates our understanding and acceptance of the Lord’s word as a covenant people.
  • The document is free of doctrinal error.
  • The document doesn’t contain opinion, advice, cultural overlay, or ambiguity. It teaches principles, as the Lord requires.
  • Every statement is footnoted and traceable to scripture or direct revelation. This is a kindness to those who will follow later and seek deeper understanding.
  • Every principle is rooted in the covenant we have already agreed to. We have mutual agreement by virtue of that fact alone. Every covenant holder agrees that the principles it teaches are true. 
  • The document was presented to the Lord on behalf of the people, by those the Lord selected and the people sustained.
  • The document was approved by the Lord by direct revelation to the group.
  • The Lord said “At this point, you have a unity with the body. They agree with these words, and this document will suffice.” He said this PRIOR TO THE VOTE OF THE PEOPLE. We agree with the words because they are HIS words.
  • The document was presented to the covenant people for acceptance AFTER the Lord accepted it and said “It is enough”. 
  • The document received 93% approval initially, and has since received more as people have changed their “no” votes to “yes.” 
  • To fulfill their final obligation, the Lots committee presented the completed, written, accepted document to the scripture committee to format and publish, per the Lord’s instructions that this statement be added as a guide and standard.

That’s quite a list. I’m not aware of any other document or effort that rises to this level or that matches this rather impressive list of ways it complies with the requirements set by the Lord. In fact, to me the difference is quite stark. This is not to disparage other documents, all of which I believe were necessary precursors to this one; rather it is to point out exactly how strong a case can be made for this Guide and Standard. If this is not a strong enough case, I don’t know what is. 

And yet, we’re not in the clear. We have not met the Lord’s standard, even though the document does. Disputes yet continue—and that’s what I’d like to address. 

What Do You Dispute?

I realize people have strong opinions, hurt feelings, disappointment, even anger. I also realize people prefer other documents. Heck, to be honest, this document, as good as it is, wouldn’t have been my first choice either. I’ve heard the objections based on people, process, and prior efforts, and I honor the valid feelings people have about these things. I don’t feel to call anyone wrong, nor do I feel to criticize the very real struggles people have. 

But I want to look at this from a slightly different perspective—by looking at the document itself. 

If you object to this document being adopted as our guide and standard, I would simply ask the following, in all seriousness and humility, hoping to understand:

Please point to the part of the document you dispute. 

Again, I realize people dispute the process, prior documents, the actions of other people, etc. I get that. But none of that has anything to do with the document in front of us. Regardless of what has already happened in the past, we have in front of us a document consisting of the Lord’s words, and blessed with the Lord’s approval. Regardless of how we ultimately got it, it is here, it is offered, and you either dispute it or you don’t. 

Preferring another document does not mean you dispute this one. Preferring another process to get here does not mean you dispute the things written in this document. I hope we can all see that, regardless of circumstances, the Lord has asked us to adopt a statement. That means words on paper. So, if you dispute these words, please help us understand which ones are the problem.

If You Voted No

I invite anyone who voted against this document to carefully read through it again, and consider whether there is anything within the document itself you dispute. If so, please make your dispute known to the seven so they can consider your persuasion. You can email them at

If you don’t actually dispute anything in the document, even if you don’t like it, we still have at least the lowest level of mutual agreement—and the Lord has stated that’s good enough for now. But again, the seven need to know. So even if your vote remains “no,” but you choose not to dispute, I would invite you to make that known to the seven. Because in the end, if there’s nobody who chooses to dispute, we have mutual agreement, according to the Lord, and we can fulfill His commandment. Until the “no” votes are clarified, there’s no way to tell if such a vote only signifies disagreement, or stands for an actual dispute.

By the way, The Lord said we can respectfully disagree. We don’t all have to be on the same page yet. It’s OK to prefer another document or another approach. That’s all just fine, and doesn’t prevent mutual agreement. All that prevents mutual agreement is disputation.

Therefore, the real question only has to do with anyone who disputes this document. And you can’t dispute this document unless you can point to the words you dispute. 

So, to the handful of “no” votes that remain, please know you are valued, loved, and important to the covenant body. Your insight and opinion are needed. If there is fault with the words in this statement, please make it known so it can be corrected. If you choose not to dispute, please also make that known. The Lord has laid this burden on us all—including you. Each one of us has just as much obligation as all others to come to mutual agreement. If you voted “no” please, please help your covenant brothers and sisters. We need you the most.

Do you still choose to dispute? If so, what would it take to solve your dispute? Please make it known. I believe the Lord is serious in His requirement that we eliminate disputations to have mutual agreement. 

The Lord’s mercy in only requiring the lowest level of mutual agreement of us at this stage in our development, fills me with hope and gratitude. It provides me with another dimension of understanding for the images the Lord showed me in my hour of desperation. Though we may not precisely agree, such is not required. Let us choose not to dispute.