the field of tensions; or, towards an end of conservative and liberal Mormons

Thomas Parkin returns to carry on the good work.

In our last episode, I painted a picture of the soul as a crayon box. I also talked a little about the tensions that exist in life. You can read that bit here (self-promotion). In this episode, I’d like to begin to paint another metaphor around the idea of tension, and then move on to begin bringing an end to liberal and conservative Mormons.

Primero, I want to take another quick look at the crayon box in the context of sin and repentance. We define sin as an action, or failure of action, contrary to the law. We think of repentance as a means of both eliminating those law breaking actions and inactions from our lives, and repairing whatever wounds our actions may have caused. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior ads an essential perspective when he says, concerning the sin of adultery, that when we ‘look on a woman to lust after her, we have already committed the sin in our hearts.’ This is not saying that lusting is the equivalent of betraying our sexual commitments. It is not saying that what happens in our heart has a primacy over our actions. What Jesus has done is effectively turn our gaze away from the matter of action to the ultimate matter of being. The question becomes not whether a person has committed murder, but whether a person is murderous.

If you’ll recall, I wrote that each of us has an identical crayon box, but that we have different sets of crayons and empty places for missing crayons. The crayons are divine qualities, or elements of goodness. The empty spaces are for those elements that we are not in possession of. The crayons are also light, and grace. We obtain them, piecemeal, as we enter into, and remain within, the covenant relationship that requires us to follow Christ. Through our following, He incrementally unveils reality to us. So that the crayons can also be called truth. (Note that every personality trait that we have cannot be related to a crayon, present or missing. In the course of following Christ, we necessarily learn Mercy, we don’t necessarily learn to play the piano.) The end result, at some point in the eons to come, is to be, like Jesus, in possession of a full box of crayons; to be finally whole, or, in other words, holy. To be joint-heirs with Christ of all the Father possesses, His Fullness.

When we act from a place of goodness, when we draw with a crayon, we do not sin, because light, grace and truth do not sin. When we sin we must therefore be acting from our lack, from our darkness. (Overcoming our sinful nature, the work of repentance, must then be matter of overcoming our lack, not simply of altering behaviors.) The whole shebang is complicated, however, by the fact that we do not color with a single color in any act. Any situation calls for us to draw with many colors; in fact, we need all of them to draw a life. Because acting (or not acting) in reaction to life requires us to draw with both colors we have and those we don’t have, all of our actions and reactions contain elements of sin. To make a rough instance: a person may have a well developed attribute of Justice, and see light through that virtue, but while he acts without a possessed attribute of Mercy (Spanish: sin clemencia) he will sin, even as he sees light. We can begin to see why King Benjamin says that there are so many sins he cannot count them, and why Paul mocks those who think they can please God by obedience to the law.

Everything we do is in these worlds of dark and light. I love the lyrics to Leonard Cohen song in which, praying to God, he refers to people as, ‘all Your children here, in their rags of light.’ (In their rags of light, all dressed to kill.)

Almost twenty years ago, I had a bishop who was concerned that I didn’t seem to be taking an interest in ‘getting anywhere in life.’ He gave me a this little illustrated book that had been written by friend of his. I don’t remember the name of the book or its author. I didn’t take much note of it at the time, but it has stuck with me, as sometimes random things will. The author’s basic premise was this: when we find ourselves in a place where we are not satisfied (my problem was that I was satisfied, at least in areas my bishop felt that I should have felt unsatisfied) we should paint for ourselves a picture of the place in which we will be satisfied. As we keep that picture in mind, it creates a tension between our not having and the having we desire. That tension then inevitably pulls us towards the desired state, almost without effort on our part.

Let’s imagine ourselves standing on a plowed field that is surrounded by trees, holding our box of crayons. I want to call this “The Field of Tensions.” The sun is shining.

And that is that for this episode. Looks like I’m going to have to get to my excoriating of liberal and conservative Mormons in my next post. (By the time I get there, it’ll be so gentle you might barely notice it. Like a tsunami in my heart lapping at Chile the next morning.)

Hasta la proxima vez.

Comments

  1. Oy … broken link in first paragraph should take you to my new blog, which I think you can get to by clicking on my name.

    :)

  2. Wow! I like that, and that definitely sticks with me. This can apply to everything. Reminds me of that talk on desires. What we desire most, we will be pulled towards it.

  3. TP, I can only add that I love your beautiful and artistic analogy- I can’t wait to see where you take this.

  4. TP

    I love your calling into question the inadequacy of our current ham-handed language in categorizing Mormons. I want to add that the use of the terms of “liberal” and “conservative” provide a specific stumbling block in making sense of our community of faith. The interpolation of political categories on to the field of beliefs continues to cause major problems in our community discussions including in the blogosphere. Three discrete points:

    1) First the obvious. The C-L language politicizes our religious life. While there is some correlation between political beliefs and approach to the gospel (and for many it is more than just association) it over emphasizes the division between members and injects political rancor where there need be none. This is especially true when trying to engage Mormons new to these discussions.

    2) I hate these terms applied to Mormons because the Mormon community doesn’t control them. Conservative and liberal are labels defined by forces well outside our community. For example, the meaning of conservative has shifted rapidly in the past 10 years with the rise of things like the Tea Party. This makes it a labeling system that is poor in trying to understand our theological/praxis diversity within the church. There are a lot of orthodox believing (political) liberals and heterodox believing (political) conservatives. It is such sloppy categorizing. By using these terms we give at least some of our community agency over to a political establishment all too eager to use organizations like the church to further their own agendas.

    3) I find the use of conservative and liberal is really, really US-centric. Having lived in France I can tell you that the “conservative” Mormons there were almost all far more politically liberal than your average “liberal” Mormon here, for example. If we are ever to become culturally a world-wide church (an issue many here on the blogs deeply care about) we need to stop defaulting to American political categories to describe ourselves.

    While we will always need some type of categories to define and frame discourse it is high time to get rid of these! If anything can we just replace them with “heterodox” and “orthodox” as a starting point and build from there? At least these are specifically about religious belief and observance and not who we might pull the lever for in the ballot box. So how about it? Can we just agree to an informal ban on the use of “conservative” and “liberal” Mormons as terma unless specifically referring to their political leanings? At least it will force us to come up with new language! Per your post I think it can help us move on to a better understanding of our community.

  5. “(Overcoming our sinful nature, the work of repentance, must then be matter of overcoming our lack, not simply of altering behaviors.)”

    Amen! The “steps of repentance” model works perfectly for those who are caught up in a particular sin to the extent that they can be called “addicts” – but it doesn’t capture at all the idea of acquiring godly characteristics that also is a core part of repentance (“change” to our natural [wo]man state). Frankly, I believe this is one of the elements of “lacking” in our current collective crayon box within the Church’s standard teaching discourse.

    ‘all Your children here, in their rags of light.’

    Beautiful – and simply stunning.

    “we should paint for ourselves a picture of the place in which we will be satisfied. As we keep that picture in mind, it creates a tension between our not having and the having we desire. That tension then inevitably pulls us towards the desired state, almost without effort on our part.”

    That describes my own situation right now perfectly. I am feeling that tension, and it is forcing me to consider things I would not consider without it. I have no idea where it will lead me, in practical terms, but it is there and compelling.

    Thank you for this post. I am looking forward to the next one.

  6. Thomas,

    You probably didn’t read this almost four years ago when I wrote it, but, if you are interested:

    “A Fresh View” of Repentance” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/01/rethinking-repentance.html)

  7. My MIL gave my wife and me the video version of The Secret a few years ago, which we watched just for kicks. But while we laughed at the faux-spiritualists describing how the universe really wants us to have a bigger house, the underlying principle has always struck me as true (and I’ve used it throughout my life, starting with my mission).

    You described the concept perfectly in your recap of the little illustrated book. Perhaps Oprah made the wrong book selection.

  8. A new blog by Thomas Parkin? I thought today was Halloween, not Christmas!

  9. If I only work hard enough on my salvation to get the primary colors in my crayon box along with black and white, will I be able to create all the other colors I need?

  10. Mark N: that sounds tempting but I’m worried the wax won’t mix very well. We’ll have to add some heat, like a magnifying glass.

  11. Mommie Dearest says:

    I feel cast adrift by the way repentance is usually (not) taught at church. I hate our heavy reliance on the steps of repentance model because it does almost nothing to include the way Christ teaches repentance (as opposed to Law of Moses repentance.) Mostly though, we eschew examining repentance altogether. Ray, your blog link was refreshing.

    I know I should find this on my own, but where does Paul mock those who think they can please God by their obedience to the law? Paul’s curmudgeonity comes in handy at times.

  12. Tracy and Sarah and all, thank ye very kindly for your niceness.

    Kajabada, Every day is Halloween!

    Ray, I do remember reading your bit. As usual, I agree completely.

    Mark N, the answer is no you may not. But trying is a-ok; in fact, required. Old enough to remember the old Primary song, My Primary Colors? My primary colors are one, two, three … red, yellow and blue. And then each color meant something. I think red meant courage.

    My Xingfu, Snatch this pebble from my hand …

    Mommie, I would try the first handful of chapters in Romans. When President Kimball famously changed the lyric from know to do he might have been doing something necessary to the times. But I personally feel that the pendulum has swung too far the other way. All the metaphorical colors could be thought of as types knowledge … all that I must know to be like him someday. (Possibly it is starting to swing back again … I don’t know.)

    Kyle, Do recall the name of my then bishop. I think he is Southern Cal now, but not sure.

  13. Red is for courage to do what is right, yellow for service from morning till night, blue is for purity in thought and deed–we will be happy, for this is our creed.

    Old fogeys, represent!

  14. so we used to be credal, but it got correlated out of us. i liked our creed.

  15. There are lots of good things in this series. I’m going to re-configure the analogy of the crayon box, though, to better fit my understanding of life:

    I don’t see life in quite the linear progression toward a fuller crayon box that is painted (colored?) here. I’m not exactly accumulating crayons. I’m using them.

    Sometimes I break the crayons. Sometimes I can’t find them because they’re stuck in the cushions of the couch. Sometimes a neighbor friend lets me borrow some new colors for a while. Sometimes I buy new ones. Sometimes I decide that I don’t like certain colors at all. Sometimes I latch onto a color that I really, really like for a while, and then decide later that I don’t like it so much any more. Sometimes I use only the cool colors. Sometimes only the warm colors. Sometimes someone else loses my crayons, or leaves them in the sun to melt into the carpet.

    Life isn’t like a crayon box, and my soul is not full of neat slots for new crayons. Life is the stories that one can tell about the use of the crayon box. My soul is the accumulation of those stories, and how I choose to remember them and incorporate them into my current and future stories.

    Life happens in all kinds of ways. There are a few linear trends, but I’m not stashing crayons as I go. The crayons are there (until perhaps they’re not), but I am not the crayons or the box. I’m the artist.

    And there is no such thing as a perfect crayon box. There are only past drawings, the current drawings, and the drawings of the future. It is the act of creating those drawings — not the inert stash of crayons — that become our story.

    And our story is what we are.

  16. Paul, I really like your comment, but if you think Thomas is talking about an “inert stash of crayons” I think you’re misreading him.

  17. Paul,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. As I said in Episode 1, no metaphor can be used to paint all of life. Think of, say, the lost sheep. Of course, there is more to the life of the lost sheep than just just wandering off and then being fetched. You have stretched my metaphor past the breaking point! I acknowledged that “In a better drawn metaphor, even those crayons that you have would be broken and incomplete,” but said, “let’s keep it simple.” That is because I am not wanting to talk about the nitty gritty of life, but to take a very broad view of the development of our soul. From that broad view, I think it is right to look at the soul as accumulating, or failing to accumulate (or shrinking). So that when when we look back over our life, or some meaningful segment of it, we ought to be able to say, I am in possession of more light and truth than before. (Even if our capacities shrink as we age – because I’m not talking about capacities so much as about traits present in spite of the limitations that this life presents to those traits manifesting as capacities.) We should be able to say, not only have my experiences altered me, they have altered me in the direction of Christ. Some people have experience on experience without ever developing Christlike qualities. The story of those lives may be dynamic, interesting and worth living, but are not the story of a I’m on about.

    Cool.

  18. beautiful. and enlightening. reading this was like a prayer. thanks.

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