The Gospel and Rebellion

death to the worldToday I tried to make the best of a Priesthood lesson on how the world is just getting worse and gay marriage is bad and the world will hate us and call us bigots for standing strong, etc. by reflecting on what it means to rebel.

(For the record, I dislike such lessons not necessarily because of my disagreement with the topic, but rather because I almost invariably recoil at the tone that such lessons dredge up in people. It’s usually 30 minutes of people complaining about liberals and the “gay agenda” and crazy things they read in the paper that somebody somewhere did, and it’s all incredibly vacuous and shallow, and sounds like a Glenn Beck routine.  But additionally, I also happen to disagree with the categorical assertion that the world is getting worse, and I’m pretty liberal in civic matters including gay marriage, so I guess I’m part of the problem according to some people.)

It’s interesting that when young people “rebel,” it basically means doing “bad” things and becoming/dressing/listening to the same music as/consuming the same media as the “bad kids.”  When I wanted to rebel as a teenager, I grew my hair long and listened to heavy metal.  I told my parents I was going to play in rock bands for a living.  I emulated prog and heavy metal musicians (I went through a Nick Drake phase, too – gosh I was insufferable).  When teenagers rebel, it’s just a quirky sort of conformity, really.

But I was thinking about the life of Christ, and it seems that Jesus’ Gospel was fundamentally one of rebellion.  Jesus rebelled against the Romans and the Jewish theocracy in ways that annoyed and enraged both.  By eating and spending time with sinners, he was flouting society’s conventions about right and wrong.  It was a message that appealed to the disenfranchised, dirty, poor, and sinful in society.  It really was an amazing type of rebellion, and it’s a message that seems to be lost wherever Christianity is the majority, and we get all upset when non-Christian minorities actually get some legal recognition.  I feel that the rebellious part of Jesus’ message makes more sense when Christians are actually in a position to rebel.

This is why I love the subheading of the Eastern Orthodox zine Death to the World:  The Last True Rebellion.  As writer John Valadez said in an interview with Mormon Matters:

Subcultures today are filled with young people wanting to fight for the truth through rebellion against this world. The punk subculture is a rebellion, but it is false rebellion that if one follows it to its end will lead to complete nihilism and despair. These rebellions within subcultures can be effective, but the truth they are fighting for is usually not the truth as we know it, Truth as a person, Jesus Christ. Unlike the rebellions of this world, death to the world is a rebellion without a dead end and the acceptance of something real, something otherworldly. This is why it is “The Last True Rebellion” because it is the only true one.

I remember specifically there was an instance in high school where I could have stood up for a kid who was bullied regularly by my friends.  The kid actually had used to be my friend – he lived down the street when I was younger and we hung out now and then.  But years had passed and I was hanging out with the “cool kids” now.  Unfortunately this kid had a strange voice and an unusual set of interests, combined with a tendency to lash out towards his aggressors (now I know through my developmental psychology studies that kids who are bullied tend to behave in ways that reinforce the aggression against them, causing a vicious, cruel cycle).  I could have intervened, but I didn’t.  I didn’t join in on the ridicule directly, but I laughed and failed to intervene.

If I really were a rebellious person I would have intervened and stood up for this bullied kid, but I wasn’t interested in that kind of rebellion – the kind of rebellion that would cause me to lose cool friends.  Rebellion, for me, meant listening to metal and wearing denim jackets.  But I wish I could go back and tell myself to stick up for that kid.

And now as an adult with children, it’s the moral failures such as failing to stick up for the bullied kid that really stick with me.

And so it is.  Rather than take the whole “The world is going down the toilet, everyone is against us” line of arguments, I’ll just say this: if you really want to rebel, be good.  Make the free choice to be good.  I think if the Gospel is true, it is truly a rebellion – and not necessarily against the structures that we commonly think.  It’s a rebellion against ourselves.

Honesty and More Cultural Appropriation

corner 2This recent post at a Patheos blog called “The White Hindu” had me reflecting about my Eastern Orthodox experience.

To summarize, the author is a white woman of a privileged background (her words) who has decided to become and live as a Hindu.  However, she is quite sensitive to the idea that it can be insulting to “borrow” cultural items (ideas, beliefs, clothing, etc.) from a historically rich and perhaps oppressed group, in order to make a fashion-type statement.  She doesn’t want to “play with Indian-ness.”  She loves the philosophy and traditions of Hinduism but admits that she may not be capable or willing to take on the burden of Hinduism.

Now just from my cursory reading, I don’t think she has anything to worry about – she seems like a sincere believer to me.  But the post did cause me to reflect on what I do in my spiritual life.

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An “exit narrative” you can’t put on a bumper sticker.

death of arthurI have thought quite a bit about exit narratives in the LDS church since writing about John Dehlin’s recent interview.  In fact, I have tried to construct in my head what I’d say if someone asked me why I have switched affinities from traditional Mormonism to Eastern Orthodoxy (though I am still very much in flux).  I have no idea what I’d say at this point.  I know what I wouldn’t say, though:

Q: Did you lose your testimony from reading “anti-Mormon literature?”

A: Not really.  I actually read more “anti-Mormon” stuff when I was a very conservative, “true-believing” young Latter-day Saint, and I found it more and more distasteful the less conservative I got.  I think lots of that stuff is dumb.  I find ex-Mormon websites terrifying, angry, dark, and they generally make my day worse when I read there.  I really don’t read that much “anti-Mormon literature.”  I just read the best of Mormonism, the best of Eastern Orthodoxy, and prefer the latter.  In fact, I could probably promote this blog quite a bit better if I haunted the DAMU blogs, I just don’t like being there nor do I really like the personalities I see there either.

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A more “appealing” afterlife.

lorenzo snowA person I really like and respect in our local ward recently gave the priesthood lesson on Lorenzo Snow’s “infamous couplet.”  While Snow’s little snippet isn’t the primary source of the unique Mormon doctrine of exaltation, it is definitely a sort of crystallization of it – a concrete yet succinct view of what some might call the “traditional” view in Mormonism.

As man now is, God once was:

As God now is, man may be.

Now I have mentioned before some problems I have with this doctrine in Mormonism.  For instance, I don’t think there can be more than one God.  I think having multiple contingent gods renders reality inexplicable, and turns morality into a subjective free-for-all.  I think the LDS church has done a great job at completely watering down, deflecting, and abandoning in practice that doctrine, but a lot of its practices and teachings seem to rest on it in some way (For instance, in what sense is God our “literal father” if He was not like us and we cannot be just like Him?  That’s what being a father literally means.  If that is not what Mormons mean by saying God is our “literal father” then they are equivocating on what it means to be a “literal” father.).

But I also think that the more Mormonism distances itself from this and other unique doctrines that set it apart from mainstream Christianity, the more it renders itself pointless.  So it’s a Catch-22 for the LDS church – Mormon exaltation creates scores of logical problems, but denying it makes Mormonism seem like a quirky version of plain Protestant Christianity.  The doctrinal limbo of this teaching has resulted in a large church full of Mormons who can’t seem to agree on whether it’s true, true-with-qualifications, non-canonical, false, dangerous, or essential to their faith.

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“Unclean” and the Sensory Boundary

uncleanRichard Beck has written a lot about our sensory boundaries in the context of ministering.  I have his book Unclean and it is wonderful, and he has written a bit on the same topic in a recent post.  Here is a comment I left on that post:

I once worked at a guitar shop and a man came in to buy a guitar.  He was in a horrible condition – he smelled as though he were rotting.  Literally rotting.  He was limping and I supposed he had a leg injury of some kind that was infected.  He had not bathed in a considerable amount of time, and probably spent time around lots of cats and dogs.  He smelled worse than anyone I’d ever met.  The strange thing was he was driving a brand new truck and purchased a very nice guitar.  I am guessing that he was an extremely poor or homeless man who had experienced some kind of settlement or inheritance that he was now blowing on brand new items – or he was a wealthy but mentally ill person.

All the other employees of the store left me to “deal with” him because they couldn’t stand the smell.  And I pointed out the acoustic guitar room and just left him in there to sample what we had.  I couldn’t even walk in the room with him.

All he did was sit there, motionless, and look at the guitars we had.  It was as though he were in too much pain to even get up.  And I looked him in the eyes and I could tell there was pain there, too.  He was in so much emotional and physical pain.

To this day the fact that I couldn’t go in to help him still haunts me.  I couldn’t even get near him.  And I knew, standing in the doorway of that guitar room, that Jesus could have overcome the odor and gone in and even kissed or hugged that man, and discovered what pain existed there and helped him.  I just could not overcome my body’s natural reaction to that man’s condition and smell.

I rarely talk about this and sometimes when I do people tell me that what I did was reasonable and hardly anyone could have ministered to that man.  But I consider it one of my biggest personal failings in my life.  I should have helped that man, but I felt like I couldn’t.

I often wonder whether I’d die for my faith.  I want to feel like I would.  But why does it seem harder to bear another person’s odor than to give one’s life?