James Fowler Stages of Faith

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I’m currently plowing my way through the surprisingly dense book, Stages of Faith by James Fowler.  This site is a  a pretty good summary of the stages but I’d like to add my own commentary as I try to dig into this way of thinking.

Caveats

I think there’s something helpful in quantifying a faith journey into stages, but I don’t think we should rely too heavily on them. We’re each on our own journey. We’ll each bring our own personality, perspectives, gifts and experiences into it. It’s far more complicated than can be easily quantified. But I think it’s helpful to have this language, perhaps as guideposts for us in our journey and as a tool to make our travel a little easier, with fewer bumps. And ideally, to help others in their journey with more compassion and understanding and less judgment.

James Fowler leans on Jean Piaget’s developmental stages, Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and Erik Erikson‘s life stages. In fact his first two faith stages are taken almost verbatim from Piaget. The point is he’s not the first to quantify developmental stages, but he is the first to do it within the context of faith. Fowler came up with the stages after interviewing hundreds of people from different backgrounds and ages on their faith journey. Based on the way they described their growing faith, and leaning heavily on the language and processes of developmental stages, he quantified the common themes. I believe he offers something helpful here that can help us understand ourselves and each other.

Faith

Before we can describe faith stages, we must understand what it means to have faith. To really understand faith from scripture is vague and circular.

From Hebrews:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

From Alma in the Book of Mormon:

21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

Circular because according to this logic, you can only really have faith in something which is true, without evidence that it is. The problem comes, obviously, with how do you really know that what you’ve placed your faith in, is actually true. Fowler makes it clear that even a newborn child, by necessity leans on faith as we enter and are forced to navigate this world within the environment we have been born into.

For Fowler, he needed a faith definition that would work universally and for people of all ages, from birth to end of life, to describe a baby’s dependence on a parent as well as the faith Jesus exemplified in his life.

For Fowler, faith is the means by which we find meaning in our lives and by which we place our center of value. In this sense it’s not exclusively religious and it is definitely universal. We all have faith and as parents we all are in the process of influencing the faith developing in our children. Some important thoughts on faith using quotes from the book.

Chapter 1: Human Faith:

Faith is a person’s or group’s way of moving into the force field of life. It is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives. Faith is a person’s way of seeing him- or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose.

Chapter 2: Faith, Religion, and Belief:

Faith, rather than belief or religion, is the most fundamental category in the human quest for relation to transcendence. Faith, it appears, is generic, a universal feature of human living, recognizably similar everywhere despite the remarkable variety of forms and contents of religious practice and belief.

Chapter 3: Faith and Relationship

Faith is a relational enterprise, triadic or covenantal in shape.

The centers of value and power that have god value for us, therefore, are those that confer meaning and worth on us and promise to sustain us in a dangerous world of power.

Real idolatry, in the Jewish and Christian traditions, does not have to do with the worship of statutes or pagan altars. Idolatry is rather the profoundly serious business of committing oneself or betting one’s life on finite centers of value and power as the source of one’s (or one’s group’s) confirmation of worth and meaning, and as the guarantor of survival with quality.

Chapter 4: Faith as Imagination

Part of what we mean when we say that humankind – Homo poeta – lives by meaning is that from the beginning of our lives we are faced with the challenge of finding or composing some kind of order, unity and coherence in the force fields of our lives. We might say that faith is our way of discerning and committing ourselves to centers of value and power that exert ordering and force in our lives. Faith, as imagination, grasps the ultimate conditions of our conditions, unifying them into a comprehensive image in light of which we shape our responses and initiatives, our actions.

Chapter 5. On Seeing Faith Whole

But as we look at the data of lives of faith, our own and those of others, we are struck by the recognition that faith is response to action and being that precedes and transcends us and our kind; faith if the forming of images o and relation to that which exerts qualitatively different initiatives in our lives than those that occur in strictly human relations. While this ‘X-factor’ in faith is not ou rprimary focus, it continues to impinge upon our work and to keep us modestly aware that we are encompassed in mystery.

In the book, he spends these first five chapters diving deep into faith. He transitions from there to summarize the developmental stages of those he builds from, and then finishes with transposing faith development as developmental stages. I hope by scattering a few quotes from the book in this post, I can convey the complexity and hard to pin down nature of faith. It’s not a simple concept and one that takes study, prayer and pondering to really understand. I don’t think we should over-simplify this effort.

And then returning, for a moment, to the scriptural definitions of faith. The reason for their vagueness and circularity I believe is that they definitionally do not describe something you acquire quickly or in a moment. Rather, I think to get to a faith that leads one to hope for something that is true without evidence for its truthfulness, requires a lifetime of effort and evolution, as we learn through our mistakes and experiences, to lean more firmly on transcendent truth. As we go through life trusting and building our lives on foundations that are not exactly true, we evolve and learn until finally we come to a true, foundational, eternal understanding of a transcendent ordering of our lives.

In this post, I’ve tried to explain faith. In the next post, I’ll dive into the faith stages.

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Addiction, Food, Sleep, And My Body

Did I mention that sometimes I feel stuck. Stuck in my habits and distractions. I’m writing this on a fast Sunday. It’s 1pm now, I haven’t eaten since yesterday evening. I rarely make it to 24 hours, the time allotted for fasting, in fact I can’t remember the last time I did it – on my mission? I really like eating. Giving up food is difficult.

I have a phone in my pocket and 20 tabs open on my browser, two of them open to Facebook. I’m a member of a few different Facebook groups and I literally just posted something in one of the groups, and I see there’s a notification up. It’s taking all of the will power I have not to interrupt this post to check it.

In my church, we are asked to give up food and drink for a 24 hour period the first Sunday in the month. We give what we would have spent on food to the poor as a fast offering. We are encouraged to give even more generously as we have means to do so. Linking feelings of hunger to donations to the poor is no accident. There are people hungry because they have no food to eat. Once a month, we are asked to voluntarily come to know what that feels like. We are also asked to pray and direct our fast toward a specific purpose. This time around I’m asking for help with my addictions.

Now, I’m not all that interested in the technical definition of addiction. There’s a debate going on in communities I’m not a part of about whether sex addiction even exists, for example. I’m assuming there’s a debate about other types as well. Can I be clinically addicted to food? Exercise? Work? Again, not interested. I’m talking about addiction in the broadest sense of the word, in a way that likely includes most everyone. Because I think we live in the age of addiction and distraction. And I think it’s keeping me, individually, and all of us collectively, from really experiencing life, reaching our potential, and accomplishing what we could otherwise accomplish.

Or maybe the one thing we actually need to accomplish while we have our bodies is to learn how to really live in them.

I’m making my way through a collections of essays written by an author whose ideas have become somewhat of an obsession of mine, Adam Miller’s, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace. From his chapter, Watching:

The ease and user-friendliness of TV comes with real costs. TV offers an existential loan that is riddled with hidden fees and backloaded with balloon payments. “As a Treat, my escape from the limits of genuine experience is neato. As a steady diet, though, it can’t help but render my own reality less attractive (because in it I’m just one Dave, with limits and restrictions all over the place), render me less fit to make the most of it (because I spend all my time pretending I’m not in it) and render me ever more dependent on the device that affords escape from just what my escapism makes unpleasent.” (Quote from “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll never Do Again: Essays and Arguments: New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1997.)

Wallace was at his peak writing in the 1990’s, and at the time, the average American was watching on average six hours of TV per day. I’m sure, the number of hours of actually watching our furniture has dropped since then, but only because we’ve replaced it with different virtual experience pouring in at us from the web.

From the chapter, titled “Assassins”:

An addiction moves from benign to malignant when, like a cancer, the addiction starts to spread and repurpose life for its own sake rather than being one part of that life. When the addiction acquires an entrenched, institutional, bureaucratic aspect that displaces the self and cares for little more than its own preservation and extension, then the head has begun to metastasize. The key moment is when the addiction becomes circular, when the addiction starts offering itself as a solution to the very problems it’s causing. If you drink because you’re angry and disappointed and drinking in turn makes you even more angry and disappointed, then the circle has closed. “What looks like the cage’s exit is actually the bars of the cage.” The addiction is ramping up. Your pursuit of transcendence is robbing you of transcendence. “In a case such as this,” Marathe warns, “you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage.”  (Quotes From Infinite Jest)

So what do we do about our addictions and distractions? How can we learn to live with our bodies. Here are some changes I want to make.

First I want to get enough sleep, at least eight hours. There is so much institutional and societal pressure not to do so. Not only must we succeed, we must succeed at everything and we need to do everything. I have my kids, I want to be a good father. I have my job, I want to do well at that. And to do well at that, I need to be continuously learning on my own time, and of course be working on my own projects outside of work. I have my church. 6:30 AM meetings on Sunday that extend right through the block and beyond. The list continues. Much of this comes at the expense of sleep as activities get pushed into the late hours of night even as my morning obligations stay firmly fixed.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m not as sharp or engaged. I find myself sleeping during church services rather than really listening to the speaker, with an open heart. I’m not as focused on my job, more prone to distractions. I’m not as smart. My brain is not working through the abstract thought required to program a computer at a high level. Getting enough sleep makes me smarter, less prone to distractions and a better human being. Going through life sleepy is like voluntarily signing up for a handicap.

Second, when I am working, I want to find more time for really focused, distraction-free work. I love the pomodoro technique and I want to do it more consistently. I set the timer for 25 minutes and do nothing but focused work in one area, eliminating distractions as much as possible. After the timer goes off, I take a 3-5 minute break before staring another. After four, I take a 15-30 minute break. Rather than staring at the vast expanse of an entire day,it’s so much easier to really dig in at 25 minute increments with regular breaks. I’ve tried it and it works. I’m more accomplished with less time.

Third, I want to practice listening, to my kids, my wife, other people, even strangers. This can be difficult. I’m in my head all the time. Listening forces you out of your head and into the life of another. Some people are easier to listen to than others. But those hardest to listen to gives me the opportunity to practice really listening. My mom gives me this kind of practice.

There are other things I can do. But here’s my thought. If I really want to “cure” my addictions, the answer is greater engagement with the world. Addiction, I think happens because we want to escape from it. Addiction keeps us in our heads and out of our body. In the chapter, Heads:

Hal’s problem is extreme but not unusual. Heads float free from bodies all the time, especially when they lack focus that connects them. Heads come loose when we get distracted. They come loose when we lose the ability to pay attention. Given the critical importance of such focus, it should be no surprise that for most us, Wallace says, ‘the whole ballgame [is] perspective filtering, the choice of perception’s objects’. Filtered connection is the key. Focused attention is what threads a head back onto a body. (Quote from the Pale King).

The goal is to get out of our heads and into our body. Engaging in the world. This is difficult, because the world is difficult, it’s not user friendly. It’s filled with awkward conversations, difficult encounters with others who may not notice or care about our lives and our difficulties. It’s easier to live in our heads.

I have so many painful experiences in my past where I preferred to stay in my head rather than connect with someone else. I remember, specifically, a church dance, my freshman year in college. Too shy to ask anyone to dance, I stood muted on the sidelines. Someone eventually asked me but I said no. She wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, which was ridiculous really. My expectations were too high, my confidence too low. I soon left the dance room, preferring to spend most of the evening with myself, out of the dance room, and in my head.

Older now, obviously more capable, not as shy, more engaged. But still struggling to get there more consistently, more fully. There are more distractions now than there were back then. More ways to stay away from the world.

The answer is not to kick out every distraction. I shouldn’t have to shun the internet, facebook, and sugar. The internet is an incredibly valuable, essential tool. I love my virtual communities, I love food, movies and television. In their place they can enrich my life, make it better. I just need to not let them be an excuse to avoid the challenges in my actual life.

Religion is for the Every Day

I’m not sure I’ve changed more than in the two years I spent in the Alabama area serving a mission for my church. Up to that point, that experience was far and away unlike anything I’ve ever had to do in my life: completely separated from friends and family, given the charge to engage with, mostly devote Christians, of mostly conservative, evangelical protestant traditions. I was sent out very young, very naive, filled with unresolved issues with the charge to preach Christ to an area suffering from a deep legacy of racism, Jim Crow and slavery. Culturally, Alabama had issues far more complicated than anything I was prepared to take on.

And this is true for all Mormon missions, 18, 19, 20 year old kids are sent out to some location around the world, with a very short training period, and then asked to go find people who might respond and be helped by our message. It’s difficult, often unproductive and inefficient, but for me, life-changing.

When I came home from my mission, coming off the plane in Yuma, picked up by my parents, thrust right back in the life I had left. It was jarring, to be honest. I was expecting the world to have changed as much as I did. And it wasn’t like I was on another planet those two years, and in a sense, it was. I was in a bubble. No news, no concerns about money or rent, or food, not really. All of that was taken care of before I left. Money was being sent monthly. All I had to do was focus on one thing, studying, sharing and living the gospel, every single day. And suddenly, I had to face the life I’d left with every unresolved issue still waiting for me two years later.

A couple of days ago, I bought yet another book by Adam Miller, “The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction”. In the preface, he sets up the point of the book and essentially how he interprets a major theme in David Foster Wallace’s work:

“If you worship (and you do), this moment will come. You’ll pass the point of inversion, the spell of transcendence will break, and with that break, you’ll lose your religion. You’ll give up. You’ll have a mid-life crisis. You’ll get divorced. You’ll wonder what it all means. You’ll stop buying new clothes or going to church or wanting to impress people or reading the Bible or believing in the magic of television. You’ll be sad. This sadness is risky. It’s risky because it threatens to obscure the urgent revelation shining at the heart of your loss: the revelation that the end of worship was, all along, immanence and that, though your head may invent a thousand ways of escaping this world, the point of religion is to return you to it.”

Before I really dig into what I think this is getting at, I want to say how closely this resembles the primary thesis of another book I’ve just finished, The End of the World Plan B. In this book, Charles Shiro Inouye describes two types of turning, one toward God and out of the burning house and another turning, away from God and back into the burning house. The first turning is motivated by a sense of justice, wanting to get the mess of our lives in order. The second turning is motivated by compassion earned as we suffer through immense sorrow as we realize how hopelessly unjust the world and our lives in that world really is.
Cycle

Taking these two books together, the burning house is likely a more dramatic image than it needs to be. When I think back on my experience coming back home to live once again with my parents in Yuma, this returning from the mountain back into the burning house, I think of all of the other similar times this has happened. After a really great honeymoon with my new wife in London, visiting art, listening to concerts, enjoying the city, and then coming back into the clutter and mess of our first apartment together. Or the many times, I’ve been invigorated on a mountain hike and then returning back into the every day doldrums.  And what does a typical day look like? I’m sure you can relate:

1) Every single night, fighting with our kids to get them into bed on time.
2) Trying to make sure our oldest daughter’s blood sugars are high enough to get through the night.
3) Cleaning the same dishes that get dirty every single day.
4) Trying to figure out how to find an electrician we can trust to fix an electrical problem in our house.
5) Trying to find time to buy a new minivan to replace the old one we’ve been driving for far too long.
6) Hoping we’re saving enough money for retirement and our four kid’s college education.
7) Trying to find time to home teach every single month, families that I’m not sure really want us to come visit anyway.
8) Getting to work every single day, doing mostly the same thing, day in and day out.

Yes, I set goals, I get excited. I want to learn a new piece of music on the piano, I want to get into shape, I want to eat better food, I want to read a difficult novel, maybe I want to take on a new home project. What do each of these require?

1)Piano: To really learn the piano, you have to practice, regularly, working through technique and theory that can be tedious, frustrating, mundane and repitious.
2) Exercise: Regular and consistent and difficult.
3) Diet: Grocery shopping for fresh food, cook healthy meals, plan ahead. Junk food is easy and convenient, healthy food isn’t.
4) Hard books: Careful reading, note taking, sticking with it to the end, even if the plot doesn’t get you, even if the novel takes you on tangents you’re not always interested in. Persisting through the boredom anyway.

It’s regular, day in and day out, the same thing over and over again.

In her book, “Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life”,  Margaret Kim Peterson puts it this way:

“Housework is akin to these natural and human rhythms of the day, the week, the year. We fix lunch because it is lunch-time. We wash the clothes or the windows because it is Monday or because it is sunny. We pack away coats and boots and get out of shorts and sleeveless shirts because winter is over and summer is coming. As we engage with the litany of everyday life, we engage with life itself, with our fellow human beings, with the world in which God has set us all, and thus with God himself.”

In my day job it’s no different. I spend big chunks of my time at work, in front of a  monitor, developing software. There’s been some fairly recent innovations on the way software gets developed that I think is relevant here. We come up with big, transcendent ideas for something we want to build, architect the software down into size-able chunks, and then organize a set of Scrum teams to build the software. But we just don’t build it. We organize our time into two week sprints and try to make small, demo-able improvements toward our larger goal. The day-to-day activity of building software is often a bit like housework. It’s redundant, often tedious, sometimes difficult.

I stare at the screen; think deeply about the problem; work through a low-level design; write the code in a way that solves the problem elegantly enough to be easy to read, maintain and extend; build appropriate re-runnable unit tests; think of all the possible ways the software might break; try to find new ways to break it; fix and re-test; deliver, demo and then start again.

I think this is just life. Life is hard, it’s boring, it’s mundane, it’s filled with distraction. But this is the hard work that’s required toward real-authentic moments of transcendence. This is how we get out of the burning house toward the top of the mountain. And when we reach the top, its what we must do all over again. Go back into the world and re-engage with boredom and repetition and climb up that mountain all over again.

This is also what religion is about.

To be honest, it’s taken me far too long to understand this. Like most people, I hate doing my taxes, I hate paying my bills, I hate cleaning toilets, I hate cooking, I hate shopping. It’s hard, it’s boring. And like most people, I love feeling connected, uplifted and inspired.

And in our modern day, it is possible to get cheap inspiration without having to endure the boredom, the work and the difficulty. But there’s also a price. I discovered this very young. You can feel a sense of connection and inspiration. It comes to us streaming through a screen, on our computer, television set or in a movie theater. I’ve always loved movies. It can be transportative, a distraction from boredom. I’ve often been inspired, I’ve seen a lot of really great movies in my life.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.The  internet has amplified these possibilities. It offers a chance at transcendence and a fix against bored one and makes this ever-present and in our pocket.

In Adam Miller’s book, the subtitle is “Boredom and Addiction in the Age of Distraction”. The antidote I think is in what I just described. Being in the world, fully and completely in it, and not of it. I think being in the world means being present, really living in it, fully engaged, even though it’s mostly boring, repetitive and mundane.

This is my challenge as a Christian, as a Mormon. I can do better.

 

When You Disagree with Church Leadership?

They say you should not talk about religion or politics in polite conversation. I’m sorry but these are the two topics I just can’t seem to stop thinking, talking and reading about. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon; I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t doing this. Growing up in a conservative church with conservative parents got me started down a pretty conservative path. But for a variety of reasons, I made a leftward transition down the political spectrum while still maintaining faith in a conservative church.

But as soon as you become a liberal in a conservative church, you start to grapple with those issues where  politics and church contradict. Because what happens when you join a political party? You start swimming in its ideology. And because I feel there’s goodness, depth and breadth in both conservatism and liberalism and the best ideas come when the two work in tension with each other, I start to see all of the good in liberalism – not just politically but religiously as well.  And seeing the world with this perspective can, at times, put me in tension with church policy, theology, doctrine or I think most commonly the  culture within a conservative church.

So how can one go about reconciling personal faith with theological disagreement?

Ross Douthat has this beautiful and far too short essay on this subject that I keep coming back to. There are liberal Catholic reformers who do want to reform Catholic doctrine. Surprisingly though there are some who just want the space to be Catholic without always living up to every belief.

Linker is putting his finger on a real tension within liberal Christianity today — or, if you prefer, a real fork in the road, with one path leading in the direction that he assumed dissenting Catholics wanted to take (which seeks to alter church teaching precisely because it still believes that teaching really matters), and the other leading toward a kind of Emersonian, therapeutic, basically post-ecclesiastical form of faith, in which “Roman Catholicism” just happens to be the name of the stage on which your purely individual spiritual drama is taking place. The Commonweal-reading wing of liberal Catholicism would certainly reject the latter idea, but the kind of “post-Catholic Catholicism” Linker describes is clearly more of a force in our culture today than it was during the early days of the American Church’s post-Vatican II civil war (it’s hard to understand the controversy over American nuns, for instance, without recognizing its impact), and the Trishes of the culture have a strong wind at their back in a way that would-be reformers of the old, 1960s-era school of liberal Catholicism arguably do not.

I went to a Sunstone conference a few weeks ago, my first one ever. It’s not an indulgence I can often partake in, but circumstances aligned exactly right to make it possible for me this year. There were two presentations that stood out for me above the rest, one of them was John Hamer‘s entitled, “Stepping Back from the Dead-End Belief/Disbelief Dichotomy and Recovering the Path to Meaningful Spirituality”. A simplistic summary of his point, as far as I understood it and with plenty of my own personal biases and interpretations mixed in, is that our relationships, with ourselves, with those around us and ultimately with God is more important than any specific belief system. His point was more sophisticated than that, I believe, and his argument for it was also fairly complex. He spent time showing the commonality between religions across sects throughout history; how our shared history is more complicated and nuanced than perhaps we realize; and that we should grant our ancestors access to more sophisticated thought, realizing how squarely upon their shoulders we currently stand.

But this thesis, that our individual spiritual journey should matter more than belief in specific theological claims is certainly one way to manage cognitive dissonance. Ross Douthat offers another:

But Gordis is actually making a more subtle point, which is that Modern Orthodoxy has held the line while also allowing space for the cognitive dissonance of the sabbath drivers and non-kosher-eating vacationers to persist — and that dissonance, that tension, has often been a spur toward spiritual growth and more serious practice, rather than curdling into either an outraged critique or a Trish-esque indifference.

Now for a variety of reasons this may be an easier wire for Judaism to walk than Catholicism. But Gordis is raising an issue that any tradition-minded religious body needs to think through: Namely, how to make its hardest rules seem like aspirations rather than just judgments, and how to deal with the many fine personal gradations that can exist between orthodoxy and apostasy, fidelity and dissent. And I suspect there are many Catholics who would be classified as “liberal” who want something like what he’s describing in Modern Orthodoxy from their church. That is, they want room to dissent from a teaching or fail to live up to it in practice, but they don’t necessarily want the church to change that teaching so that the dissonance or tension they feel simply goes away. Hence their positive reaction to Francis’s rhetorical shift and their lack of urgency about actual doctrinal change. They aren’t necessarily all Trishes who have decided that they don’t care about what the Catechism says. Some of them, at least, might be more like the Orthodox Jews who parked their cars around the corner without demanding that the rabbi be okay with it, and whose children turned out to be more observant, rather than less.

That cognitive dissonance, then, is the point of belonging to an institutional church. It’s through the practice of dealing with this tension that one finds spiritual growth. There’s a lot to like about this point of view. For one, if we fall in line with every single teaching we hear over the pulpit each and every Sunday, we probably aren’t thinking, feeling, praying and living our religion hard enough. Our lives should be a wrestle. Now I get that this isn’t for everyone. In the real world, each of us struggle with real-world difficulties: disease, poverty, addiction, abuse. At times, these struggles can take every ounce out of us that we simply have no mental energy to think through doctrinal minutia. It’s enough to go to church, find strength in the community and then return to your life to struggle through another day with as much grace that we can muster. I am sympathetic to that point of view, and feel it in my own life, really. I’m forever grateful for the strength of a community.

But at other times, a person has no choice but to face this reality square in the face. My last post talked about a specific example in fact, gay marriage. Mormonism is nearly impossible and getting more difficult to manage as a gay person, but I’m fascinated by the stories of those who have found a way to make it work. I don’t think there are many, but John Gustav Wrathall is a rather remarkable example. He left the church, embraced his identity as a gay man, married but then after several years of marriage and because of strong, spiritual urgings, returned to Mormonism as a happily gay, married man. Listening to his story, I can’t imagine someone navigating a spiritual journey with as much cognitive dissonance as that. His story is important.

I guess the claim I’m trying to make here is that for me one’s personal spiritual, individual journey is important. We should claim it with all of the sincerity and authenticity that we can muster. We should claim responsibility for and a willingness to work through our struggles, to wrestle with our doubts and to claim our faith as our own. But I also believe in the value and importance of doing so within the structure of an institutional church. We don’t need to nor should we even have complete and total agreement with every piece of doctrine or policy. We recognize our church leaders at times make mistakes. I still believe in modern day revelation and that doctrinal decisions are not final. We are still growing as a church.

But I also believe Joseph Smith did something significant, important and inspired. I believe in his prophetic mission. The institution is important, I sustain it. My own individual, spiritual journey is also important, and I sustain it as well. At times they come in conflict. I think that is by design. I think there’s room for it, I think there’s spiritual growth that can be gained by it and through it.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Remembering

In 1 Nephi chapter three, Nephi and his brothers made two attempts to get the plates from its owner, Laban. First they simply ask for it, then they try to buy it. Both times they are rebuffed. Nephi’s older brothers are inclined to give up after attempt one, after attempt two where their gold and silver was stolen, they are angry and beat Nephi with a stick. I think seeing their riches stolen from them represents perhaps a point of no return. They are now destined to leave Jerusalem forever and they are angry and resort to violence. An angel intervenes.

In the beginning of chapter four, Nephi points to the example of Moses who was able to do amazing, miraculous things with the help of God and surely God can help them as well.

And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us befaithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why notmightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.

In these verses Faulconer says that this idea of using stories of the past to teach lessons to the present is a common technique. Why is remembering what the Lord has done for those in the past so important in helping us face the challenges in front of us today?

I have two thoughts here. The scripture stories of the past, stories of Moses, Abraham, or Peter seem to have happened in a different world and at times I have trouble relating. Also, we as Mormons have I think mistakenly almost deified our past prophets, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others. I wonder if it is even possible to follow their examples of courage, leadership and faith once we have done so. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to humanize both them and those in the scriptures, and then to dig in to what makes them just as human, just as weak as us. Because then it becomes possible for us, in our weakness and humanness to imagine the possibility of overcoming our own challenges and obstacles in the same way they were able to face and overcome theirs.

My second point is that really digging into the doings of God in my past, in the lives of my parents, and my grandparents, and my ancestors connects me with both my past and with ancestors in important ways. It gives their lives meaning. In real ways, it makes their stories poignant, powerful and important, that the sacrifices they made were done for a reason, to help and bless me. We should take advantage of every opportunity to stand on their shoulders and to project our lives beyond them with the help of their stories and with the help of God. That inter-generational connection can be powerful. We can learn from them just as much as we want our children to learn from us.

#book-of-mormon, #religion