“Preparing minds to be faithful”- A Sacrament Mtg Talk

I spoke in Sacrament meeting a few weeks ago. My assigned topic was anything to do with Institute. I spent a few weeks mind-mapping, and delivered the following. Then recently, Ardis linked to President Uchtdorf’s talk, which showed me I was thinking along the same lines he was.

Here’s my full outline, which I edited a good bit for time on the fly. (WordPress doesn’t import nested outlines very well, so I’ve had to futz with the formatting. After the intro, the major principles are bolded.)

“Heber C. Kimball once said that the Church had yet to pass through some very close places and that those who were living on borrowed light would not be able to stand when those days came. Thus, we need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas just don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether the Church has given them the stamp of approval. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction as they come to us. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels others may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear. Our encounters with reality and disappointment are, in fact, vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding.”-Bruce C. Hafen, “On Dealing with Uncertainty,” Ensign, Aug. 1979.

I believe Alma 48:7 captures Elder Hafen’s intent in a nutshell. “while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.”

How do we prepare our minds to be faithful, that we may withstand the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction? I have six principles that I’ve come up with over the course of my studies.

  • Ground yourself in revealed basics.
  1. What are basics? Those principles and doctrines heard repeatedly in general conference, found in the Articles of Faith (faith, repentance, etc.), and those things talked about in temple recommend interviews. Faith in Jesus as redeeming messiah, baptism, the restoration of the gospel, and so on.
  2. Study the scriptures, but be aware. Though they are a basic source, they are rarely themselves simplistic or basic.
    1. Scripture may answer some questions, but closely studied, they often raise them. Different times, cultures, revelation and other reasons.
    2. Example- How is the passover lamb to be prepared? Exodus 12:8-9 (roast it over fire, do not in any way use water) with Deuteronomy 16:7 which explicitly says in Hebrew to boil it (i.e. in water, contrary to Exodus).
  • Learn to be intellectually curious, to think and ask questions. I will again hide behind General Authorities, here the First Presidency.
    1. President J. Reuben Clark who served in the First Presidency for 27 years felt that “too many of our people have quit thinking- politically, socially, spiritually.” J. Reuben Clark- The Church Years, 165.
    2. Twelve years later President Hugh B. Brown, called as a Third Counselor in the First Presidency due to President Clark’s failing health, told BYU students “…be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts. One may memorize much without learning anything.” Presumably a bit tongue in cheek, but he makes a good point. “An Eternal Quest–Freedom of the Mind” http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=109
    3. Much of our unique doctrines and understanding came because JS was thinking and asking questions
      1. First vision- response to questioning
      2. D&C 76- explicitly a response to reading scriptures, thinking, and asking.
  • Develop a tolerance for ambiguity and unanswered questions
    1. “There are many subjects about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Doctrine”
    2. Instructions to BYU religion professors state that students should “feel free to raise honest questions… [knowing that those] questions will be discussed intelligently in the context of faith. Where answers have not been clearly revealed, forthright acknowledgment of that fact should attend, and teachers should not present their own interpretations of such matters as the positions of the Church. Students should see exemplified in their instructors an open, appropriately tentative, tolerant approach to “gray” areas of the gospel. At the same time they should see in their instructors certitude and unwavering commitment to those things that have been clearly revealed  and do represent the position of the Church. Teachers should be models of the fact that one can be well trained in a discipline, intellectually vigorous, honest, critical, and articulate, and at the same time be knowledgeable and fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Church and Kingdom, and His appointed servants.” http://reled.byu.edu/policies.php
    3. For an example, let’s go back to Exodus and Deuteronomy. 2 Chronicles 35:3 doesn’t know what to do with these two passages, so it has it both ways, boiling the sacrifice in fire “as prescribed.”
      1. Elder Callister- “There will always be some seemingly intellectual crisis looming on the horizon as long as faith is required and our minds are finite, but likewise there will always be the sure and solid doctrines of the Restoration to cling to, which will provide the rock foundation upon which our testimonies may be built.” October 2009 General Conference.
      2. Put things on the shelf, come back and revisit them later. “I used to tell my children, when they would ask questions to which I could give no answer, “There are some things you just have to put on the shelf for a while. Later you take them down and reexamine them. Sometimes then the question can be answered by new information or understanding that has come your way. Sometimes the question no longer holds any interest. Sometimes it must be put back on the shelf for another day. In the meantime, you just bide your time and go ahead on the basis of what you do know.” -Writings of Camilla Eyring Kimball, 87
  • Be aware of and careful with your assumptions
    1. Don’t assume you know it all. Be humble
      1. President Brown, again from the same talk at BYU. “We have been blessed with much knowledge b revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover.Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.”
      2. Arabic Prof. Dil Parkinson on Laman and Lemuel “we have received and we need no more.” http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=4506&x=64&y=3
        1. “The Book of Mormon gives a wonderful detailed example of Laman and Lemuel figuring out, “knowing,” that Nephi’s motives are evil and that the whole point of the game he is playing is to fool them so he can get power over them. This leads them from one bad decision to another until they literally lose contact with God or anything spiritual and become more and more angry, finally
          becoming murderers. The problem was the first thing that they thought they had figured out, that they thought they knew. It seemed logical, and they were pretty sure of it, but they were wrong. Nephi’s motives weren’t evil, and he wasn’t in it just for the power. But look how sure they were: We know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. [1 Nephi 16:38; emphasis added And later:We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment. . . . And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous
          people.
          [1 Nephi 17:19, 22; emphasis added Look how many times they used the word know, how sure they were of what they had figured out. Are we ever as wrong about what we know and what we are sure we have figured out as Laman and Lemuel were?"
    2. Don’t assume an idea is either right or wrong simply because it’s popular or the majority opinion.
      1. Statistically speaking most Mormons in the US are Republicans, and a minority are democrats, libertarians or other. Some Mormon Republicans think that Mormon Democrats are simply less faithful or apostate for simply belonging to the Democratic party. "If they were really faithful to the Gospel, they’d be republican."
        On the other hand, some Mormon democrats think Mormon republicans are simply mindless sheep who aren’t thinking. "If they weren’t such
        mindless sheep, they’d be Democrats."
      2. While surely there are important political and moral issues
        at stake, we must refrain from such simplistic assumptions on all sides.
        Such rhetoric is destructive and impedes the spread of the Gospel and
        church unity. Don’t assume an idea is either right or wrong simply
        because it’s popular or the majority opinion.
  • I believe one of the biggest obstacles to “preparing our minds to be faithful” is not evil or sin (something that afflicts us all), but entertainment. Step away from the tv or internet and read something!
    1. Cultural idea we all take for granted, that we have jobs so we can have money to relax and enjoy ourselves.
    2. I’ve never been able to help anyone because I’ve seen every episode of every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I have been able to help people in very particular cases because of things I’ve read and studied. [personal story I didn't tell, and won't repeat here.]
    3. D&C is full of exhortations to study, particularly reading and books.
      1. D&C 88:118 seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
      2. D&C93:53 obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man,and all this for the salvation of Zion.
      3. D&C 88:79 Learn “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.
      4. D&C 90:15 “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” I do not believe “good books” even on scriptural, doctrinal, or historical subjects are limited to the scriptures or Deseret Book.
    4. If you need book suggestions, talk to me, I have plenty. Biographies of Joseph Smith, Presidents McKay, Hinckley, and J. Reuben Clark have all been very instructive to me recently.
    5. President Uchtdorf in Priesthood session of this recent October conference. Story about a desk and books. “I got a job at a research institution that had a large library. I remember spending much of my free time in that library. There I could finally sit at a desk—by myself—and drink in the information and knowledge that books provide. How I loved to read and learn! In those days I understood firsthand the words of an old saying: Education is not so much the filling of a bucket as the lighting of a fire.”
    6. I am not suggesting a moratorium on entertainment- Joseph Smith and wrestling, unstringing his bow. Rather, I propose that we examine how much we’re entertained, and look for time we can “prepare our minds” through good books.
  • Attend Institute. (Yes, you knew there was a plug coming.)
    1. At Institute, revealed basics are taught, questions asked, and assumptions pointed out. You’re given lots of new information to think about,  at least, in my classes.
    2. If you’re at Institute, you’re not watching TV, and you’re hearing about good books and articles. Hopefully, your teacher is modeling these principles for you in a positive, upbuilding way.

    To close- To give God our heart and strength is nothing if we do not also give Him our minds, in studying and thinking about the Gospel deeply, asking questions, and seeking answers.

    • http://www.keepapitchinin.org Ardis Parshall

      I better understand your earlier comments now, Nitsav. Although the chronology is the other way around, it’s like you’ve taken those few sentences by Pres. Uchtdorf and expanded them into your talk — you’re that closely in sync with him.

      Thanks for linking back to Keepa.

    • Carolee

      Thanks for a thought-provoking talk. I love the spirit in my ward in Lagos,Nigeria. But the talks yesterday were less than satisfying –the high councilor speaker made me shake my head wondering what point he was trying to make, so it’s good to have a bit of edification this Monday morning.

    • CJ Douglass

      Nitsav, I’m not sure how I missed this one. I must have slept in that day.

      Sounds like a much needed talk for any ward in the church. I liked this line best –

      Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.

      I often complain to myself about being less-fulfilled by my 3-block experience. Its quite silly when you consider that it was never intended to be the bulk of our gospel learning anyway. That should really happen before you hit the pews.

    • CJ Douglass

      The last three lines being mine… [Edit: fixed]

    • http://faithpromotingrumor.com Nitsav

      CJ- My talk was given in another ward, that’s why you don’t remember it ;)

    • Servant at Dothan

      Nit, I ran into Elder Hafen in the hall after he presided at the reorganizing of our stake recently and thanked him for writing “On Dealing with Uncertainty.” Having it on my mission helped me learn to calm down when it came to companionship differences.
      Great talk, especially the part about finding balance in entertainment.

    • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

      Great talk! Thanks for putting it up here to share. Keep up the great work!

    • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

      I pretty much want to second what TT said. Though, I am not sure about the institute part…just kidding.

    • SmallAxe

      I think you do a great a job at walking the line between being critical, yet faithful. Awesome talk.

      Develop a tolerance for ambiguity

      I’ve always struggled with making this assertion. Maybe I’m taking this farther than you intended, but should ambiguity be valued by all LDS (adults)? There seem to be quite a few members I’ve met that prefer to see the world in black and white. Are we to presume that these people are immature in their understanding of the world?

      I realize, of course, that “tolerating” ambiguity and “valuing” ambiguity may be two rather different things.

    • Kerry A. Shirts

      Niiiiiice. I always enjoy reading what you write….. when I’m not being entertained on my ipod – GRIN!