Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Angry God of Love

My family history is filled with preachers of various backgrounds and denominations.  Even today my Southern family is highly impassioned regarding religion, and I am obviously no exception.  I have studied many religions and I have seen a very common theme in some of the arguments members of various sects have.  Some claim that God is a God of love.  Some argue that the Bible clearly states that He is an angry God and indeed, the Bible discusses both arguments and gives plenty of references to support both ideas.  So which is right?
Let's take a moment to step backward and look at things in context.  Religionists have a terrible habit of taking one scripture that supports their own philosophies out of its native situation and basing their whole idea of the universe upon it.  It's a very narrow minded practice.  So first off, the Old Testament clearly states that God is angry and jealous; indeed, we often refer to the God of the Old Testament as an angry God.  The New Testament says without question that "God is love" and sacrificed His only begotten Son for the love of the world.  Why the difference?  Firstly, let us remember that in the Old Testament, God had literally moved heaven and earth to give life and comfort to the Israelites who in turn became ashamed of Him and wanted to worship idols because that was what was socially acceptable.  The Book of Hosea, which is one of my favorites, likens the relationship between God and Israel to that of a loving husband and unfaithful wife.  My friends, if you had given an overwhelming amount to someone who didn't rightly deserve it, told and showed your love for them, treated them like gold, and loved them with reckless abandon, accepted their affection in return in private, only to have them become ashamed of you in public and treat you like dirt because you weren't low enough to be socially acceptable by vulgar people, wouldn't you be righteously indignant?  Anyone who has been cheated on understands that it is possible to be swelling with love for someone and also want to rip them limb from limb.
It is notable that the terms "jealous" and "angry" go together in order to describe God.  We aren't jealous of people we don't love.  Thus the anger of God arises because of His love for us and He makes it manifest because He wants us to return to Him because He knows that our happiness depends upon it.  I myself am known for being a very loving person and very difficult to offend.  But some months ago a select few saw another side of me.  I found myself consumed by a hysterical, white hot rage precisely for the same reason that God is sometimes angry with us.  I had for many years cared about someone innocently, purely, selflessly and deeply and for years this person had treated me as though I was nothing for no better reason than that it was socially unacceptable to treat me with more respect.  They were expecting me to give them all the attention and love I always had, but took no action to treat me as they should, and this had continued for a very long time.  At last, they decided to behave very arrogantly toward me at which point fury poured out of my soul in a manner surprising to all but mostly to myself.  I made it very plain that I didn't need this person and was in no way captive to them.  I asserted the fact that I had not treated them so well for so long because I was weak but precisely because I was strong.  I didn't act so out of hatred but out of overwhelming love and because I couldn't let the relationship remain as it had been, as there was no way it could survive in any measure if it continued as it had.  And if humans are capable of such complex emotions, how much more acutely does God Almighty feel when we, unworthy creatures, seek to trample Him under our feet?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Women and the Priesthood

I am presently reading the book Adam Bede by George Elliot, which carries as one of its protagonists a lovely Methodist woman named Dinah who, upon much prayer and turning her actions and thoughts toward God is often instructed by Him to look after the poor, tutor wayward souls in the gospel and at times to stand and preach before a makeshift congregation.  She is easily my favorite character in the book.  She discusses how she came to preach and act as she does, and it arises by acting on the inspiration of heaven, which directs her actions, words and movement.

Many may say then, that God has given her the priesthood and that this is proof that woman ought to have the priesthood today.  I must interject and say that she claims no authority of her own and says only that her will is captive to the will of God to be an instrument in His hands.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not at this time give women the priesthood to perform sacred ordinances and rites; that power at this time belongs exclusively to morally worthy men.   But I must ask, does a woman, or any human being need authority from God to feel His inspiration, or to teach concepts from the Bible?  Hardly.  What do I do with this blog if not in some measure preach?  What do parents around a dinner table do when they tell their children of the things of God?  And within Mormonism, there actually is no continual preacher at the meetings.  Members of the congregation, both men and women, take turns standing at the pulpit and teaching.  The pastor, or bishop, presides, but he rarely preaches before an audience.   But though I may teach according to the best of my understanding and a touch of inspiration either in a blog post or at the pulpit, does that give me the authority from God to perform baptisms?  I have not been ordained to that office by someone with the authority to give it me.

Mormonism has an absolutely amazing way of combining the strengths of men and women, teaching each to excel in their own spheres and play to their own strengths.  True it is that men perform holy ordinances, but those ordinances are only as acts of service to others and cannot be employed to bless oneself.  Women are united under the banner of charity through an organization called the Relief Society, which praises and ennobles women and also gives them a chance to serve others in an extraordinary manner, in sympathy with those abilities most beautifully suited to femininity.  I have often thought that with all the service women render, all the love we give to others, all the natural sympathies we have, all the good we do in this world, and all the time we spend on being mothers - the most important job a person can have – it is only fair that the men do their share of the labor of God by formally holding the priesthood so we can have a welcomed respite once in a while!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Enjoying Femininity

This world has of late years become a vast, confused knot of spliced gender roles and gender confusion.  I speak more specifically regarding the world’s view of females and the feminine role.  In past centuries, men have ruled the world in virtually everything and true it is that in many ways they have treated women as inferiors.  It is well that this has had to be stopped, and I understand that the fact of women joining the work force, performing traditionally masculine roles, has played an important part in this most necessary change.  Men who have belittled women were wrong then, and if they do so now, they are still wrong.  But we have enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender.

I fear that women are losing their native identity, taking upon them masculinity as their new identity, and forgetting all those things that make them so glorious.  I have heard of women scoff at the idea of being referred to as emotional beings, and some would argue that the idea of baking bread from scratch is an old fashioned idea that keeps women in chains.  Truthfully, this financial executive loves to bake bread from scratch – it makes my whole house smell wonderful!  The thing most powerfully keeping women in chains now is their own decisions to cast home and children aside for things that are not ultimately as important and denying the glory of femininity itself. 

Ladies, rejoice in your innate power to create human beings, to act sympathetically, to love passionately, to create a powerful spirit in a home, to make the world a better place through service, and to be naturally and inexpressibly tender!  Rejoice in the fact that you have valid emotions, and relearn to trust your intuition.  Recognize that kindness is a more powerful force than violence and have joy that it is naturally wired into you to hold kindness in your heart.  Have joy that you have a woman’s body - sweet, beautiful and most sacred – and treat it with the awe inspiring reverence it deserves.   The world is in need of so much and certainly a great measure of what we can do to change the world lies in feminine hands.

Roll With The Punches

One of my greatest passions from my infancy is reading.  I have an unquenchable thirst for good literature.  In high school I also trained in voice and had determined to become either a professor of English or an operatic vocalist.  These were the things that interested me and I had my heart very much set upon one or the other.

Then the first blow came.  I realized that in my situation the directors and musical judges surrounding me were more interested in making their judgements based on politics and flirtation than talent.  I found it impossible to progress in this my first venue.  An inspired English teacher picked me up and impressed on my mind that English, the other passion of my soul, was still an open option.  Tearfully, I pulled away from music and set my sights toward literature as a college major.  It was one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things I have ever done.  Circumstances in college made it very difficult to pursue my PhD in English.  I had to choose to some extent between following my conscience and pleasing immoral professors.  My conscience won and my GPA suffered.  At the end of college, a career in English looked rather bleak and the family business was in need of some help.  Much to my chagrin I attained a real estate license and sat myself behind a computer to manage the bookkeeping of my parents' very lucrative construction firm. I've been here for about a decade now.

But though I couldn't immediately act out in the fervent passion of my desires, I think God gave me something better.  He gave me a life that is tremendously better balanced than it possibly could have been had I followed my own aspirations.  When people hear me speak about literature or read my poetry there is little question that I am well educated in that field.  Then they hear me sing and often ask if I am a professional vocalist.  Finally in desperation they ask me what in the world I do for a living and the answer "I'm the chief financial executive for a wonderful construction company and an associate real estate broker" tends to take them by surprise.  Adding to that the fact that I can help design and to some extent oversee the construction of a custom home, I cannot help but think that when God takes away a blessing we feel we need, He does it because He knows those things of which we are capable better than we do and is giving us the opportunity to expand our talents in a way we could never have foreseen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We Lived Before Birth

The Confessions of Saint Augustine contains a short, almost forgotten passage that contains his wonderings about the origin of the human being.  He traces his existence past his infancy, through his birth, in his mother's womb and then puzzles for a moment about whether he might have even existed in some way before that time.  He asks that one not laugh at his question and seems somewhat embarrassed for his thoughts in that respect.  

My friends, I know for a certain fact that we did indeed live before we were born.  You, me, and every person that has ever lived on this earth existed before the shadow of shallow mortal life darkened our memories.  It is a fundamental truth that I have always instinctively known.  Though I might, I will not seek to back this claim with academic argument or scriptural quotations but rather through the single, weak testimony of this one person who knows and has always known that it is true.  Our souls come from a place far more glorious than our mortal minds can recall and in a state in which we utilized intelligence, creativity and individualism to bring to pass beautiful things.

How can I know this?  True it is that Mormonism teaches this concept but I knew it long before I learned it in a formal manner.  For many years in my infancy and young childhood I knew it with such force and passion that it seemed to me agonized drudgery that I should have to stay for the moment in this temporary life.  It has been more self evident to me than my existence on this earth and I used to literally weep into my pillow from a homesickness for something I had long known and loved but which I could not in definite detail recall.  Perhaps an echo of that past age still rings in my soul loudly enough to recognize the fact that we are glorious spiritual beings, capable of greater things than this world can understand.  Sit quietly and listen with your heart.  Perhaps it still rings in yours.

Professor Mommy

My sole ambition in life as a youngster was to become a university professor.  In fact, I wanted to be a professional student, racking up countless PhDs and teaching only very select students.  I imagined myself quite happily buried under mountains of books until my hair turned grey, imparting the best of what I had learned to others.  It was the only way I felt I could truly satisfy my passionate lust for education.  Life, however, has a way of altering both one's plans and perspective.

God surprised me twice in less than two years by making me a mother to two adorable little angels.  The scholar within me, still aching to come unleashed, found some solace in reading to these two toddlers, in teaching them about languages, linguistics, mathematics, religion, history, music, art, biology and the like.  Now ages six and seven, my little ones don't remember the first time I introduced them to the works of Charles Dickens, Mozart's Don Giovanni, the accomplishments of Dr. Louis Pasteur, or the history surrounding World War II.  Yesterday, over folding a basket of clean laundry I explained to them some quantum physics about which I had read the night before. 

So what's my point?  It's well and good to be a university professor.  We need them.  Their roles are extremely important, and if I ever have the chance to follow my dream, I certainly will.  But the most important mortal teacher in this world is not the one who stands before a lecture hall.  It is the one who rocks the cradle.  Mothers, take the time to improve your mind and expand your horizons.  You owe it not only to yourself but to the children you teach.  Their lives will be blessed beyond measure by a mother who can teach them, in their own innocent language, the mysteries, history, beauty and wisdom of the world around them and the infinite, individualized potential within them.   

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sexy Churchgoing Mommy

I had the opportunity recently in my usual hip hop class to ponder the nature of what makes a woman sexy.  My typical instructor being out, I had a substitute who I had known before and whose classes I had found admirable in the aerobic sense but rather lacking in terms of style, and which generally failed to hold my attention for very long.  I suffered through it for some time and eventually heard her instruct the class to "be sexy!  You aren't a church going mommy right now!  You're sexy!"  Shortly thereafter I became so violently bored that I skipped out the door and headed for the treadmill instead.

It seems strange to me that such a notion exists which dictates devotion to God makes a person boring.  In truth, it is part of what makes a person tremendously exciting!  Society tends to paint a picture that religious fervor deadens one's personality.  Hardly.  It enhances the beauty already within a person and weeds out the flaws that makes him or her less than awe inspiring.  It adds dignity, strength, poise, wisdom, and life to one's character.  It is the religious individual who is willing to take risks, who has purpose, and who respects and admires the human form enough to know how to best employ it.  Just sayin'.  Cheap and easy hardly means sexy.  It just means cheap and easy.  The best things in life aren't easy and neither are they cheap.

This talk may be all well and good of course, but what of proof?  What of those things that matter right here and now?  In this world, isn't being sexy important?  These are valid questions, and they have tremendous bearing on whether or not a person is willing to devote themselves to a life of moral decency.  Well, much to my chagrin, I have only one way of answering that.  Last night I attended a different dance class with a more graceful and respectful teacher.  I am not about to take a video of my antics on the dance floor, but to illustrate the point I took center stage, attired in form fitting black shirt and pants with crimson lipstick, between the beautiful Hispanic instructor and a gorgeous, very modestly clad Mexican woman who was all curves and passion.  And between the hip swinging salsa and body rolls I don't think anyone would have argued that we three self respecting, poised, classy ladies made the most confident, sexiest trio on the floor.    

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Game's Afoot!

Welcome back to MVSB Radio!  Tonight we have with us a delightful guest.  Doctor, author, moralist, knight, thrill seeker, and creator of one of the most adored literary icons of all time, please welcome to the table Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

Michelle: Shaking hands with Conan Doyle.  It's a great pleasure.

Conan Doyle:  Likewise.  Thank you.

Michelle:  You are a man of a million adventures, Sir Conan Doyle.  And your literary works are staples to every human's formal education in the English speaking world.

Conan Doyle: Smiling ironically and sighing.  You're going to talk about Sherlock Holmes, aren't you?

Michelle:  Smiling and shrugging. Sorry. 

Conan Doyle:  Ah, I suppose I'm used to it.  Rolls his eyes.

Michelle:  But I have read your other work as well, so have no fear because we will in fact get to that.

Conan Doyle:  That is incredibly refreshing.  What have you read?

Michelle: I've perused much of your life, some of your notes and some of your less known works, but I really fell in love with The Lost World.

Conan Doyle:  Smiling afresh.  Ah!  You liked it?

Michelle:  Swooned!  Great story with an amazing ending!

Conan Doyle:  Well, that's something.

Michelle: And I appreciate your fine sense of moral decency in so much of your work and life.  Truly inspiring.

Conan Doyle:  Thank you.

Michelle: I know you are going to hate this, so I will try to tread lightly, but you exhibit a great deal of honest justice in your plots, particularly - dare I say it?  In the Holmes stories and in The White Company.  Your conscience is not captive to the law of man but to a higher law of humanity.

Conan Doyle:  I liked The White Company.  And yes, there is a higher law than the law of black and white, just as there is a higher way of thinking than the immediately obvious.   I proved that in my own life a few times.

Michelle:  You refer, I think, to the times you investigated some cases in order to clear convicted men of crimes they hadn't committed?

Conan Doyle:  Smiling.  And proved their innocence conclusively.

Michelle:  Bravo!  Now, Sir Conan Doyle, it seems that there is something of a mystery about you that has created a great deal of sadness among certain circles, but I believe I have the problem solved.  Shall I disclose this to you?

Conan Doyle: Smiling.  Certainly.

Michelle:  It concerns A Study in Scarlet.  You see, (leans forward and smiles) I am a Mormon.

Conan Doyle: Slowly smiles and leans back in his chair.

Michelle:  Smiling widely. Now, it seems strange that a man so dedicated to truth and morality could take a such a religion and demonize it in the cruelest manner imaginable.  I cannot help but think that there is something amiss in this line of reasoning.

Conan Doyle: Well?

Michelle:  So I will tell you what happened and you will let me know any details I might have missed. 

Conan Doyle: Laughing.  Very well, Sherlock.

Michelle:    Firstly, you grew up in a very religiously contentious area in Edinburgh where you learned from your youth to use your fists in arguing doctrines and faith.  Religion was from the first a very contentious, unpleasant idea to you.  You were forced into a Jesuit boarding school which you hated and in which you learned to despise many aspects of religion and corporal punishment.  You never once in your writings, at least to my knowledge, condone religion or speak of it with anything save disgust.  You learned to hold to science and things you could see and prove in order to distance yourself from religion in general.    Secondly, you were raised opposite an ocean from where the religion began and most members of the church living in England quickly immigrated to the States so as to join Church headquarters in the Salt Lake Valley.  Thus you could not have had many dealings with the members and thus understood who they were and what they believed.  This is evident by the idea in your story that Mormons worship the angel Moroni, which is not and has never been the case.  Indeed, there are many ideas in that story that do not at all hold to the facts of Mormon practice.  So many lies and persecutions arose against Mormonism that people in the States had no idea as to the true nature of the faith, so certainly it would be inconceivable to suppose you could have, from such a distance, known the kindness and generosity that served as the center of our lifestyle. Have I missed anything?

Conan Doyle:  You have certainly done your research on my life.  No, I think not, except that rumors did in fact circulate in England about the evil, inhuman practices of the Mormons.  But you seem normal enough, I think.  And the church has proved generally well meaning.  Well done, Michelle!  Extraordinary work!

Michelle:  Smiling with a twinkle in her eyes.  Elementary, my dear Sir Conan Doyle.