LDS Culture

There is so much chatter on resisting the culture that exists within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Moving here to Rexburg almost four years ago caused me to even enter that discussion and really work through my own thoughts on the subject.  I would even admit that I was starting to become a little cynical and defensive about how we live gospel principles (me personally, and in our home as compared to others in the community).  Recently, it dawned on me that there is another way to look at it, a way that makes the culture a positive thing and not something to fight against. 

We have a beautiful and rich history that has created such a culture.  Joseph Smith didn't just create a bunch of blind followers, he created a community of Saints.  It is within this community that we learn to work, to love, to discern, to serve, to sacrifice and to make covenants with our Father in Heaven.  Actually, it is through our interactions with one another that those covenants become deeper and more meaningful.  I once heard a speaker say that the Atonement is not only vertical (between us and God) but also horizontal (between you and me).  

I believe what we really kick against is the culture of perfectionism.  This is not just within the Church.  This is in our worldly culture as well.  The images we see on social media affect how we see one another.  We are a culture afraid of mistakes and vulnerability (Brene Brown has done extensive research on this shame culture and vulnerability). And so, of course, these same feelings will permeate into our wards.  It is impossible to connect with a group of people afraid of being human - - which includes making mistakes and being imperfect.  

And yet, what a blessing it is that we have Sunday, a day set aside for us to dress our best act our best.  Being our best does not mean we are being fake.  There is some of that out there - - go to church on Sunday with a smile on your face and then spend the rest of the week being completely the opposite.  But for the majority of those I know who go to church, they are simply trying their best to be good people - on Sunday and not on Sunday.  What a blessing it is to have just one day a week when we can truly act the way we wish we could act all the time! What a blessing it is to have one day a week we can partake of the sacrament and renew that person we want to be and know is in there somewhere.  What a blessing it is that we have a day when we can "become unspotted from the world."  And what a blessing it is to know that after we make a million new mistakes, we get to go back and refresh ourselves again!  

Another struggle with have with regards to this strong culture, is that of conformity.  How do we keep our individualism amongst so many others striving to live the same teachings?!  One of our greatest doctrines is that of unity - - growing together in love, creating Zion.  The world's definition of unity is equality or "sameness."  This is much different than the Lord's view of unity - to become one.  Erich Fromm talks about the idea of "herd conformity," which is basically the fear of being different.  And so we as members of the Church need to realize we aren't so much resisting becoming the same as one another as we are fighting against the world's definition of unity.  Because the draw for conformity is so strong, we fear we will lose our identity, our personal stamp on the world.  Yet, we also strongly desire the sense of belonging in this great cultural community!  This is the real conflict. 

So what do we do to combat this culture of perfectionism and conformity?  If we were to listen to the words of Brene Brown we would become more vulnerable and build deeper connections through sharing our humanness with one another.  Does this mean every Relief Society or Sunday School lesson needs to be a time to "air out our laundry?"  Of course not!  The purpose of our time at church together is to build one another up through the principles of the gospel, to discuss ideals and possibilities.  Overcoming these struggles means we aren't so afraid of judgment that we then become the judge.  It means we love people where they are on their personal path to perfection.  It means we share the messy parts of ourselves as much as the righteous.  Joseph Smith has said, "Let not any man publish his own righteousness, for others can see that for him; sooner let him confess his sins, and then he will be forgiven and he will bring forth more fruit."  

We can also commit to putting our best selves forward!  We can't settle for being mediocre because we fear others will think less of themselves if we show our goodness.  Nor are we to puff ourselves up, so to speak, in declaring our own righteousness.  Our best selves are who God intends us to be and who He sees us as being.  Only He knows the true intents of our hearts.  It is in our righteous motivations that we behave our best and then motivate others to do the same - - not the same as us, but the best of themselves. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does have a very thick culture.  Maybe it's time we take this great culture and embrace the goodness it has to offer rather than fighting against it.  We all know that a house divided cannot stand.  This does not have to be a battle within the Church, it is a battle against the natural man, against worldly views rather than spiritual. I am so grateful I am a part of a community that expects the best of me.  I'm grateful for a Father in Heaven who believes the best in me.  This is what I learn from this cultural background from which I came. 

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Here is a great series on how we can stay unified as a Church while we are becoming more diverse: 


So Many Thoughts!

My mind is exploding this week!  I had a discussion with a dear friend on Monday and something she said sparked something in me that helped me see some things more clearly.  I've also been studying and reading about God's love and what that really means.  Trying to put my thoughts together in one succinct statement has been difficult, but I want to try!

So far this year, I have seen a theme in the new LDS Come, Follow Me curriculum.  Beginning with the births of John and Jesus, we see their parents preparing themselves to be worthy of the call to raise them.  Elisabeth and Zaracharias, in particular, seem to be creating a worthy place for his divine birth.  We then explore the worshiping behaviors of the witnesses of Christ's birth.

Fast forward to Christ as an adult and we immediate watch as He then turns His devotion to God.  His baptism is monumental in now only showing us the way to God, but in showing us that by baptism of fire we can be sanctified and have the capacity to be cleansed spiritually.  Eventually, we get to His works and miracles, beginning with the changing of water to wine which signifies our own changing required to fully come unto Him. From Jesus's works and His teachings we learn how He loves and how to love.

What does it really mean to Love as God Loves? 

In his talk this past General Conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained, "The love God speaks of is the kind that enters our hearts when we awake in the morning, stays with us throughout the day, and swellings in our hearts as we give voice to our prayers of gratitude at evening's end."   Wow!  What would that feel like to have that kind of love?  How do we get to that point when love simply permeates our hearts the whole day? 

This is what my friend and I have been chewing on the past few weeks and suddenly things became more clear for me.  We've talked about the changing process and how we often feel like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other - - light to darkness and darkness to light.  This week she described it a bit differently.  She said, "What if we don't swing clear back to the darkness, but we simply swing to our natural state (kind of in the middle)?  So when we experience the light, we catch a glimpse of where we can be, and yet we can't stay there forever because we are mortal, so we go back to our mortal state."  In other words, it's not that we go from good to evil, per se, but that we are inherently good and simply can experience feelings of greatness every once in awhile to give us the motivation to keep on reaching. 

As I have pondered on this analogy, this concept, I have been flooded with thoughts.  I can see now what it really means to be "good enough" (for lack of a better term; *see note below for thoughts on this).  I can feel the difference between discouragement and divine discontent.  Ultimately, looking at changing, love and the gospel in this light we can take unrighteous judgment out of our hearts because the Lord sees His children as good who have the potential for greater light and love. 

For example, all that is required of us is to follow the commandments (Mosiah 2:22) and to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven all that is required is baptism (Moses 6:57).  Yet, if we desire more light or glory, the Lord makes it possible for us to obtain it.  We can make more covenants (the temple), seek more diligently, and serve more readily.  If we want to feel a deeper love for and from our Father in Heaven, we can seek it and He will grant us the true desires of our hearts. 

Yes, God's love is "perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal.  However, President Russell M. Nelson explains that the "full flower of divine love and our greatest blessings from that love are conditional - predicated upon our obedience to eternal law."  In his article he further notes, "...many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and Son feel for each of us are conditional."  We are taught, "If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love."  The more committed we are to following the Savior, the more light and love we can feel.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us!  It is evident in their greatest sacrifice, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We have access to the greatest love God has to offer us.  All that is required to obtain it is to reach for Him.  The question for me is now longer, "Does God love me?"  The questions that now burn in my heart are, "Do I love God and at what depth do I love Him?"  With this thought we no longer need to worry about being good enough or doing enough, we can move forward knowing God is in our hearts and leading our steps.

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In today's world trembling with terror and hatred, our knowledge of divine love is of utmost importance. We bear responsibility to understand and testify that Heavenly Father and Jesus the Christ are glorified, living and loving personages."  
President Russell M. Nelson

**Note: I feel like we use the term "good enough" to imply that we don't need to improve, to stay settled where we are.  And ironically, when we focus on being "good enough" we don't necessarily feel any better about ourselves.  The gospel is one of change and growing. So, yes, God loves us as we are, but He also knows our potential to be so much more! 

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