the crayon box; or, towards an end of liberal and conservative Mormons

Thomas Parkin is a friend of BCC and an all-around great person. We’re pleased to welcome him as a guest and fellow traveler for a while.

I really like the word ‘tension.’ I use it frequently. I often look at my life in terms of the various tensions that present themselves for negotiation. Here is an example. Steve has invited me to guest post a few times over the last few years. Each time I’ve said, ‘I’d really love to but not right now’. I have really wanted to do it. A big part of me loves being out there, feels that I have something to say, and even feels a need to be heard. At the same time, I have really, truly, deeply not wanted to do it. Not out of a lack of confidence. There is a tired part of me that doesn’t want to engage any of it. If it weren’t that I mistrusted the tiredness, it might be the deciding factor. But I do mistrust it.

There are very few important things in life  with which I don’t experience this kind of conflict. My relationship with Katie is one. As far as I’m aware, there is no part of me that doesn’t want to be doing it. The same holds true of my decision to get some degrees, reasonably late in life. I am consecrated to these things, in a manner of speaking. I’m all-in. That is a real gift, since consecration is not something one wakes up to on a regular basis.

Here is another tension. On one hand, in order to be useful to God,- or, if you’d prefer, it works just as well, useful to truthful inquiry,- one must suspend one’s ego to the greatest degree possible. The ego, like a false sun, casts blinding rays in all directions. On the other hand, “selflessness” is no ideal to aim for. When it says that God loves us, He does not love us for our potential nonexistence. Rather, He aims to maximize our existence – that is the work that flows from His love. The point is not the elimination of the self, as some religious and philosophical traditions have it, but rather but the growth of the self,- my-self, your-self,- towards the self’s fullest possible expression. “I am come that (you) might have life, and that more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The self and the ego are not the same thing, anyway, though the ego is always present with the self.  At some point in our growth, it is possible that the ego will be subsumed in a more perfect totality: an approaching Divine nature. In the meantime, we suffer the ego in all our communication. Even the whisperings of the Spirit pass through the nexii (my plural) of our personality and language and come out distorted. This is pretty much what I’m on about. Even when I’m on about something else, I’m also on about this.

I want to draw a metaphor. Like any metaphor, it can’t be stretched to cover all possible realities, but I find it useful. I hope you don’t feel like I’m treating you like a Primary child, even though I am.

Imagine that your soul is a box of crayons,- the biggest one they come in: 120 colors, iirc. Within your box are some crayons and some empty spaces for crayons. In a better drawn metaphor, even those crayons that you have would be broken and incomplete, but let’s keep it simpler and just say that you’ve got some colors but lack many others. Imagine that everyone’s soul is an identical crayon box, but with a different set of colors and empty spaces for colors. Some have many different colors, some are nearly destitute of colors. Now imagine that those crayons are divine virtues, or, to put it less dramatically but just as accurately, elements of goodness. Not every personality trait, talent or personal gift you might possess counts as a color, nor as an empty space, but might be inconsequential to this particular metaphor. By divine qualities, by colors in the crayon box, I mean those qualities possessed by Christ and necessary to His nature as such. It helps me to think of these qualities as something very like the Platonic Forms. They are things like Justice, Mercy, all kinds of Knowledge, Honesty, Patience, Kindness, Obedience to Law, etc. etc.  There are many that we do not immediately think of as divine virtues, but in fact are. I wouldn’t want to put a limit on the number.

Each color is also light, whatever light can pass through us into the world. The drawings we make may be of our personal preference as to subject matter but are only colored in by those colors we keep. Christ, on the other hand, keeps and can therefore color in every color. He does not only paint in pastel shades, but in the saddest deep violets, and in blood red, as well. When the _entire_ spectrum is reversed back through the prism, we see that it is holy sunlight. Man of Holiness is His name. He contains no empty spaces where a color should be, there are no vacancies. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”(1 John 1:5)

Each might also be called a grace, or the end point in a series of graces, and the word grace provides a key to understanding how we acquire them. The first half of Sec. 93 is given, we are told, so that we can know ‘how to worship … and what you worship.’ There we see Christ – the ‘what we worship’ – described as a being who ‘received not the fulness at first … but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.’ Then we are told – how to worship – that if we ‘keep His commandments’ we will also receive ‘grace for grace’ and ‘in due time receive of his fulness.’ By entering into a covenant to keep Jesus’ commandments we are meant to enter into a dialogic process with Him. Through that dialogue, as we press forward into reality, He unfolds reality to us and we acquire attributes of His personality as gifts – we get crayons to add to our box.

It seems to me though, that when we point to Christ it is generally in an attempt  to highlight our own virtues, or the virtues we think are implied in our various positions, those that we feel comfortable with. It is a kind of proof-texting. More to the point, we do everything we can to not look at our own darkness. This is quite natural. Says Carl Jung, “Since human nature is not composed wholly of light, but also abounds in shadows, the insight gained (into oneself) is often painful.”1 In the empty spaces, our darkness, lies our lack. We are powerfully designed to cover up our lack – the symbol is the fig leaf. Looking to Christ then can be painful, because to do it in honestly we are forced to acknowledge our utter lack. When instead we look sideways at the next guy’s crayon box and see that his constellation of colors is not the same as ours, that he has colors where we have spaces and emptiness where we have color, it creates a tension.

I’m going to end here for this episode. I want to discuss these ideas as related to the end of Iron Rod and Liahona Mormons. Probably you already see where I’m going, but I want a good chance to offend everybody. It might take me a week or two to get there, though … be patient with me and thanks for listening. Thanks also to for the charmers at BCC for giving me the chance to go on like this.



  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I look forward to more.

  2. Frankly, I think it’s lucky for me that you were treating us like Primary children. I absolutely love this post and found it fascinating, but I’m not sure I can pull my thoughts together well enough to actually say something intelligent about it (maybe I’ll make some progress after others comment and give me more to work from). I’ll settle for letting you know how much I’m looking forward to the next episode.

  3. I’m disappointed you didn’t get to liberalism/conservatism, but that won’t stop me from commenting. It sounds like you are going to try to replace the separate categories of religious liberal and religious conservative with a Spectrum of Love (your title may vary) that offers different mixes of values, beliefs, and approaches. But religious liberalism and conservatism reflect two distinct approaches that cannot easily be mixed. Religious liberalism, starting with Schleiermacher, applied the new ideas of the Enlightenment to how one reads the Bible and practices Christianity. Religious conservatism, a reaction to religious liberalism, gained strength throughout the 20th century as fundamentalists and then Evangelicals went back to 16th-century reformers in developing a theology that tried to avoid all the confusing and messy ideas raised for religion by the Enlightenment. These two approaches just don’t seem to mix very well, which is why they comprise such distinct approaches to religion that persist into the 21st century. Maybe you’ll discuss this when you get around to liberalism/conservatism.

  4. I love this, TP, so very much. Weaving Jung, crayons, Christ and prismatic suns into a post is sublime. Can’t wait to read the rest.

  5. observer fka eric s says:

    “On the other hand, “selflessness” is no ideal to aim for. When it says that God loves us, He does not love us for our potential nonexistence.”

    While I like this post, and will look forward to the next installment, consider whether there may be some conflating of the operant words here: Selflessness and self nonexistence. Selflessness–as used in context here–leads to or means the end of the Self’s existence. But that is impossible, so we believe. Said differently, nonexistence doesn’t quite capture the concept of selflessness. Selflessness is a state where the Self (our Spirit in momo talk) overides and subdues our Ego. It would be more accurate if there was a word called egolessness (or egoless) in this context. Its hard to understand what a nonexistent self state would be as the non-egoic Self will always exist.

    The process of being put into the egoic mortal world, having the world feed the ego, and then subduing and eliminating the ego is the very purpose of mortality. That’s the test. That’s the probation. Can our Spriit overide and subdue the illusory fears that prey on mortals and thus free the Self and commune with its Creator? Or does our Self become so gripped with the terrors, fears, and false pleasures of mortality that it becomes suffocated out by the Ego?

  6. Wow, powerful imagery.

  7. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    I would like this metaphor better if there were an indefinite number of crayons in an ever-growing box.

  8. John Roberts says:

    So imagine a Republican president in Mitt Romney, a Republican vice-president in John Huntsman, a Democrat Senate majority leader in Harry Reid, and a republican-majority House of Representatives.

    (Sorry, I can’t come up with a reasonable LDS Speaker of the House)

    What would this mean for Washington D.C. gridlock?

  9. observer,

    It is probably just a semantic difference. I agree with what you’ve said.

    The word “selfless” is in vogue, though. And I do not think it is useful. We shouldn’t take our selves out of the equation – which is what the word implies. (As opposed to “selfless”, I love the word “unselfish.”) I’m against the feeling / idea that goodness is a matter of effacing the self. I don’t think that considering one’s decisions in light of one’s own well being is helpful in dealing with the ego. I think this religious feeling of needing to efface the self is part of the problem for people who never learn how to take care of themselves, even though they are great at taking care of everyone else. Many, especially women of the passing generations, withdrew from even having an intimate relationship with themselves. Willing sacrifice is only one of the ingredients in seeing that we are spiritually well nourished.

    But, like I say, I don’t disagree with you, and if the word we used was ‘egoless’, then I’d have less concern.

  10. Grasshopper,

    Snatch this pebble from my hand. When you can snatch this pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to go.

  11. David,

    Somethings to think about. I’d note that building Zion is radically a-historical.

    Thanks to the rest of ya.

    Did you know guests on BCC could look at the site stats? I know what y’all are looking at, and where y’all got here from. Bwahahahaha!!

  12. “I don’t think that considering one’s decisions in light of one’s own well being is helpful in dealing with the ego.”

    strike out “don’t” … these graveyard shifts are going to be the end of me.

  13. Mommie Dearest says:

    I spent the afternoon examining the visible spectrum, and I can assure you that there are millions of identifiable colors and it’s quite possible that there exists an infinite number of different and discrete colors, especially when you include the areas of the ROYGBIV spectrum outside the gamut of the human eye. I may not be philosophically prepared to comment on ego and self, but I can tell you that in speaking about our souls, the crayon analogy is apt. For our purposes here, it probably isn’t going to break down.

  14. One of the big divides between liberal and conservative Mormons is whether and to what degree there should be exclusionary standards and definitions.

    Either you agree that there should be some standards, in which case your metaphor does nothing to illuminate where they should be, who should decide where they should be, and who is right in the debate.

    Or else you are simply calling on conservative Mormons to abandon their position and become liberal Mormons. Which, admittedly, would solve the problem, although its not very creative. The idea that we are part of a gorgeous mosaic and should respect and embrace our differences, etc., etc., is itself part of a ‘liberal’ polemic.

    Paradoxically, embracing the tension is not consistent with the tension.

    The virtues I lack are usually flipsides of the virtues I possess.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Adam, do you still wear a vest on occasion? Just wondering. Completely off-topic.

  16. Yes, but less frequently than hitherto on the advice of my medical advisor. I’ve found other ways to be affected.

  17. Adam,

    That is not my point, at all. Your last sentence is the only thing in your comment that is going to be close to where I’m going. I’m going to be an equal opportunity offender. I am not going to privilege liberal Mormons – far from.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:

    By the way, your reading of me is shallow and reactionary.

  19. TP,
    you made me day, you socialist.

  20. Steve Evans says:

    Adam – what are you with talk like that, a pirate?

  21. Fun stuff, TP; looking forward to the rest.

  22. Love it, friend. I’m sure I’ll use it in a talk at some point – attributing “a friend”.

    Looking forward to the rest.

  23. Adam,

    Socialist doesn’t quite say it.

    It’s true that sometimes conservative Mormons make me cry at church. Fortunately, the woman got me a talking Mao doll for Xmas. He’s very cuddly with his soft grey pajamas and slippers. I can skip Priesthood and Sunday School and come home and snuggle with him under the covers. You pull the string and he says, “Let’s have a Cultural revolution!” Or, you pull the string and he says, “Religion is poison!”


    Thought of you as I was writing. I recall we’ve had some exchanges along these lines. :)

  24. Thomas,
    Where does a woman go to get one of those dolls? X-mas is coming soon and my man gets lonely when I’m at R.S.

  25. I believe she got mine at Liberal Mormons R Us, by the mall.

  26. If fondness for Mao is what it takes to be liberal, this self-identification with moderation makes sense. A bit like the millionaires who don’t feel rich since they know people a whole lot better off than them.

  27. I always love your thoughts, Thomas. Thank you.

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