Hospital for Sinners

I’m looking forward to going to church today. Boy, do I need it! Whoever said it was a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints nailed it. I go, not because I’m a Miss Goody Two Shoes, but because I need help remembering and applying all the things I need to do to feel peace…and to live a happy and effective life. There’s often a difference between what He says for us to do and what I actually do, and attending church with like-minded individuals helps me to try a little harder.

He says to love one another. We love those who are most like us, those of a similar social class, religious affiliation, race, and ethnicity. If someone is a Hindu, Jew, or Greek Orthodox, and we are Christians, well, you know what I’m saying. Woe unto those people for being so ill informed and heathen. I seriously do not have a problem with this one, but I have seen it over and over and over again in other Christians. If anyone reading this ever sees me demonstrating (by word or deed) intolerance or prejudice, please call me out on it.

And about that love thing, we often find it easier to love those who love us. If someone ignores us, hurts our feelings, or fails to appreciate us, then that person must have a problem! He or she is therefore unworthy of our love. To take that a step further, some people are so busy loving one another outside of their own homes that they have very little left to offer their own families. I’ve been guilty of this.

He also says to forgive one another. Seventy times seven and all that. But that’s hard to do. In fact, it’s evidently so hard that a member of our bishopric in Camden gave a talk about it last Sunday. Brother Adams reminded us to be humble, meek, and lowly of heart, and among several other scriptures, read Matthew 6: 14-15:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

That’s scary stuff! If we don’t forgive, then neither will He.

And how can anyone who knows anything at all about Christ remember His betrayal in the garden and his words from the cross? “Father forgive them.” If I had been in His position, I definitely would not have been so benevolent. But I’m trying. Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that the combination of religion and psychology have saved my life (figuratively) many times.

I’m reminded of David A. Bednar’s statement that we choose to be offended. It’s a personal choice. As a person who loves cognitive psychology, I can see the truth in that. For my own mental and emotional health, I choose to turn the other cheek, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not to take things personally. Not doing so is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Crazy, huh? And yet, I’ve been there, done that. It’s no fun.

I’m wondering how many stories there are in the scriptures about love and forgiveness. Christ and his mistreatment and suffering top the list. Then there are the prodigal son, Joseph and his brothers, and Jacob and Esau. And yet, sometimes we look right over these and other stories and think they are for OTHER PEOPLE. As most intro psychology students can tell you, we just don’t see ourselves the way we really are. It’s a protective mechanism.

No rat poison for this gal. I refuse to be offended and plan to look for the good in everyone I meet–and to try to love them in the best way I can. That doesn’t mean taking them in to raise. It means “in the best way I can.”

 

 

Waiting for the Rat to Die

When I was a young mother and had to miss church for some reason or another I always felt a tinge of remorse. My mother would often say, “The church isn’t going to fall down if you miss one Sunday, Jaynie.”

I knew that. And truthfully, I wasn’t worried about the church. I was worried about good old Jaynie. I needed help and guidance and support. And I needed to feel the love that was there. I didn’t want to fall down.

I remembered that conversation a week or so ago when I went to church despite being stressed out with preparation for a family reunion. Laugh if you want to, but for me, food preparation on that level is a stretch. Plus, because of the time of the reunion, I knew I’d have to leave right after Sacrament, and I found myself wondering, “Is it really worth it to get dressed and hustle to the church for only an hour?”

I went. And as soon as I walked in the back door from the parking lot, I felt peace. I slid in beside my former mother-in-law who told me she had been saving a seat for me. While that wasn’t exactly true, her statement made me feel good and happy and all of those other positive emotions. While we were singing the opening hymn, I remembered something I had read years ago.

If you make the effort to listen, the Spirit will speak to you. It might not even be about what the speaker is saying. But you’ll know it. You’ll get the message.

So we were singing “In Humility Our Savior,” and when we got to the second verse, I got choked up on these beautiful phrase “Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving, teach us tolerance and love.” Some specific situations were on my mind, and I thought “YES!” How could I convey the importance of this forgiveness, tolerance, and love to others without being a know-it-all self-righteous prig?

And then I was sitting there minding my own business when the thought “seventy times seven” popped into my head. I don’t think I’m holding on to grudges right now, but some people are. Let it go. Harboring feelings of unforgiveness and resentment are like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. I didn’t make that phrase up, but I like it.

I looked around me and saw all sorts of people. Big ones, small ones, rich ones, poor ones, black ones, white ones, brown ones, pink ones. Lots of variety. I thought of a friend who teaches at BYU-Hawaii who once mentioned that most of the women wear flip flops to church. She said many of the teachers kick them off while teaching and teach barefoot. I smiled to myself and thought, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The whole world, not just the select few who happen to look like you and mirror your background.

That was the first Sunday in June. I’ve had a lot of interesting insights sitting in church since then too, especially about love. What about you?

Involvement or Interference?

Pelicans

Because of a project I’ve been working on, I’ve become reacquainted with some of the women of the Bible. Although I knew about them and their families and histories, rereading their stories has given me additional insight into their courage and faith. The two women I’m referring to are Jochebed and Hannah.

In case your memory of Jochebed is a little sketchy, my version of her story is that she gave birth to Moses at a time when Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be murdered. The midwives refused to do this, and they lied to Pharaoh, saying that the Hebrew women were vigorous and strong and that they gave birth before a mid-wife had time to arrive.

Jochebed kept Moses close by for three months, but when he began to grow and become more active, she knew that she couldn’t keep him quiet forever. Trusting that God would preserve him, Jochebed put her sweet baby in a basket covered with tar and placed him in the Nile River. She knew that Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe there and trusted that the princess would rescue Moses.

When the princess spotted the baby, she felt compassion on him, and although she wanted to raise him as her own (my take on it), she knew that such a small baby would need a nursemaid. Out comes Miriam, Moses’ sister, from behind the bulrushes and tells Pharaoh’s daughter that she knows someone who will nurse and nurture the baby until he can be weaned. The princess agrees to this arrangement.

The day of separation for Moses and Jochebed comes at last, and he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace with many advantages, including an education that prepares him for his vital leadership role as an Israelite leader.

What would have happened if Jochebed had said NO to letting him go?

Hannah is the other mother on my mind. She had wanted a child for years, and yet she remained childless. Although her husband Elkanah never complained about her childless state, she was grieved by it, especially when she saw the children who had been born to Elkanah and his first wife.

When Hannah and Elkanah traveled to Shiloh, she went to the temple to pray for a child. Eli the Priest, after inquiring about what he perceived to be her drunken state, learned of Hannah’s fervent desire for a child and of her promise to give him to the Lord “all the days of his life.”

Eli told Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. She trusted in that assurance completely, and after Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her word. It must have been difficult to turn her precious little son over to Eli, but Hannah felt that Samuel was indeed a gift from God and wanted to turn he over to Him.

The day of separation for Hannah and Samuel came at last, and she went back to the tabernacle and presented the child to Eli to be raised there. I don’t know how often she saw her son after that day. Some speculate that she visited him regularly. I don’t know. I do know that (to me) it gives deeper meaning to the oft-cited phrase, “Let go and let God.”

What would have happened if Hannah had said NO to turning Samuel over to Eli?

Moses grew up to be one of the most influential men in all history, a man whom the Lord knew “face to face.” He led the Israelites out of Egypt and later gave us, through God, the Ten Commandments. Samuel was a remarkable man whom God used as a great prophet and judge of Israel.

I can’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if their mothers had continued to keep them close or to meddle in their lives. Sociologists and psychologists study a social phenomenon called helicopter parents who hover over their children, even adult ones, ready to swoop down and take over regardless of age or of the child’s abilities, desires, or predilections.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to step back and when to become involved. And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between involvement and interference. I have no answers to this dilemma. I just know that we might never have heard of Moses or Samuel if their mothers hadn’t turned them over.

What do you think? How can mothers know when to when to let go? How do they stay on the involvement side without crossing over into interference?

Less Debate, More Love

I met Ahmed about 20 years ago. I’d never seen or known anyone like him in my entire life. Quiet and attentive, he was a student in one of my classes. One day I distributed a handout of a dozen commonly used clichés as a way of introducing the topic of the day, communication, and I was a little surprised when Ahmed didn’t get a single one right. Didn’t people from Egypt know what “as the crow flies” meant?

After graduation, Ahmed was hired by the college to work in the IT department, and one of his primary duties was to help instructors who were teaching what we called teleclasses. Since we had three campuses, this teaching format allowed us to transmit our classes from one campus to the other two, thus cutting down on travel time and allowing more student needs to be met.

That’s when I really got to know this outstanding young man. His huge brown eyes and serene demeanor were arresting, and his calm competence impressed everyone. One day as he was working with me, he seemed a little weak, and I asked if Ahmed if he wanted to break for lunch. He said no and remarked that it was Ramadan and that he had not yet become accustomed to the day long fast.

Being nosey, I had to ask what that was. I learned that Ramadan is a sacred month of the year, a period in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Fasting encourages spiritual reflection and takes the focus off of worldly activities. It also helps one develop more compassion and empathy for the less fortunate, thus increasing charity towards others.

Intrigued, I purchased The World’s Religions by Huston Smith and my awakening began.Some more serious scholars may scoff at Smith’s work, but if not for his easy-to-understand and comprehensive overview of the world’s major religions, I might still be a narrow-minded Southern gal who understood God only in the way I had been taught.

Recently I read Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and fell in love with (talk about clichés!) her writing and perspective. Towards the end of the book, Dillard brings up an incident that involved the disappearance of a child on a school field trip. On May 4, 1995, Suri Feldman and her classmates were in a state park in CT. Suri wandered away from the group, and her absence was noticed when it was time to load the buses and leave.

Concern was especially high because of the murder of a young girl a few months prior. The missing child was Jewish, and here’s what happened. “Among the thousand volunteers searching for Suri Feldman were six hundred Hasidim, bearded men in black three-piece suits, who drove from New York, from Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C.” When Suri was found a few days later, thirsty but fine, “the Hasids in the woods danced.”

When the vehicle bearing her drove into the Brooklyn parking lot, it could scarcely move. Hasids filled the lot, Hasids in black coats from the eighteenth century and black beards and black hats. A local volunteer said, “I’ve never seen so many people dance in a circle.”

The LDS community is pretty tight, and yet I marvel at the concern and support for Suri and her family. Two of the tenets of our faith are family and service to others, and we earnestly strive to walk the talk. Still, what support there was for this family! To me, it’s “pure religion, undefiled.”

Hmmm. Where was I? What was the point of these stories? Truth is everywhere. Why do some people want to argue points of doctrine and berate others’ way of worshipping? It’s pointless and ineffective.

 Why can’t we just love one another?

Child Brides and Monkey Pox

Last week a couple of good friends and I went to a Women of Vision exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, and we had a great time.

Wait. It was great, but it was also consciousness-raising and thought-provoking. Although I have a copy of the book by the same name, seeing the enlarged photographs up close and personal was a sobering experience. Reading more about the stories behind the images and hearing the photographers discuss them have haunted me all week.

We saw a child with Monkey pox, a virus caused by eating contaminated meat. In this case, the child had eaten Gambian rat, the only choice in town so to speak. Starve or eat rat? That’s what psychologists call an avoidance/avoidance situation, one in which neither alternative is good.

 My friends and I had just dined at Chicago Dog across the street, a diner with lots of atmosphere and several delicious food choices. Our conflicts were of the approach/approach variety since all options were attractive.

We saw a frail-looking 5-year-old bride posing with her 25-year-old husband and another child bride howling with fear and as she rode with her family to her wedding. We also looked into the eyes of an 11-year-old who had attempted to commit suicide by catching herself on fire rather than succumb to a life of sexual and physical abuse.

 On the way to Charlotte we had talked about gender issues, including the incidence of cohabitation, the elaborate venues of today’s weddings in America, and the quest for romantic love.

We also saw girls in Mumbai standing in front of their cages. They were prostitutes with no education and few choices.

Here in the United States, education is a right and responsibly for all of its citizens…including the females.

After viewing the exhibit, I was a feeling a bit melancholy, not for myself but all of the injustice and unfairness in the world. How and why did I get so lucky?

Something else that niggled me was the oft-quoted reminder that no one gets to heaven without a belief in Christ. And yet I was 99.9 percent sure that none of the above people had heard of Him. Did the child in the Congo with Monkeypox go to hell? And what about his mother who sat weeping beside his bed day after day, week after week?

 I could not/will not believe that something so unfair can happen.

A couple of days later, I read a Face Book comment by one of my nephews that sent me to Mere Christianity, one of C.S. Lewis’s most profound and popular books. Although I had read it many times (especially some chapters), on this day I opened the book right to the following sentence:

But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangement about the other people are.

It’s not that Lewis knows the answer to all mysteries, but he’s certainly further along the path of understanding than I. For the moment, I feel better about the child brides, the Monkey pox victims, the starving children, and the prostitutes. God has not told us about His arrangements.

Have you ever had similar thoughts and feelings? How did you deal with them? 

Sam’s Line


“I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s a line from one of my favorite movies, and I’m using it to follow through with a WordPress writing prompt: Take a quote from your favorite movie — there’s the title of your post. Now, write!

Yesterday my daughter Carrie shared a blog on Facebook about pit bulls and how they are often unfairly maligned. In this post, a 4-year-old child had been attacked by a pit bull and will be permanently disfigured because of the assault. I couldn’t bear to look at the picture of him. Too heartbreaking. Animal lovers are raising money for the dog’s defense (I guess he has a lawyer) while meanwhile this child, Kevin, has to breathe and eat through a tube.

Don’t even bother telling me that the child’s mother should have been watching him more carefully or that pit bulls are normally adorable. I’m close-minded on this one and would say without hesitation, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” In Moonrise Kingdom, that’s what Sam says to Suzy after she tells him that sometimes she wishes she had been an orphan.

Sam and Suzy are running away together, and at some point they even manage to get married before her parents, Social Services, the town police force (Bruce Willis), and the Boy Scout leaders find them. Sam’s parents are deceased, and he had been living in a foster home and knew firsthand how difficult being an orphan could be.

I love the quote because it applies to so many circumstances in life. Below are several examples of things I hear and read on a frequent basis:

Mormons aren’t Christians. “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Homosexuals are going to hell. “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re….” As an aside, I just have to share something I realized yesterday. Jesus said this about homosexuality: NOTHING. Interesting, huh?

Southerners are illiterate bumpkins. “I love you, but you don’t know….”

God loves the believers (American Christians) more than he does the Hindus, Jews, or Muslims. “I love you, but….”

Mormonism is a cult. “I love you.”

Here’s what Mormons believe. Whether black, white, red, yellow, polka dotted, rich, poor, Buddhist, dull, clever, beach bum, Bedouin, gay, strong, or weak, we’re all brothers and sisters of the same Heavenly Father who loves us all.

And about those pit bulls, they’re dangerous.

So if you and I are having a conversation, and I’m smiling sweetly at something you’re saying but am not speaking, it’s because I’m thinking, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Come Follow Me

mike walking

I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.

For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.

As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.

That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.

Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.

I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”

As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”

It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could.  People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.

Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.