Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Prodigal Father

A catholic scholar, Kevin Hart, taught me about the Parable of the Prodigal Son via this Mormon Times article.

Hart argues that the main character in the parable, the one we are called to identify with, is the father rather than either son. The father, against all reason and custom, pours out love on his children.

"The younger son had seen his father first as dead, then as a master, and then as a true father," Hart said. "The elder son had seen him as a master, but not yet as a true father."

The elder son had not yet seen as his father had seen, that life is embedded in relationships of love.

Hart said the parable is not a parable about choice -- about which son we should be more like. Both sons had refused the love of the father. One was fixated on freedom, the other fairness. The story of both sons is unfinished. Did the younger son truly repent? Would the older son accept the younger?

The center of identity, the person we need to be more like is not either son, said Hunt.

"We should decide to be more like the father than like either son," Hunt said.

The parable calls to us to be excessively wasteful, to be prodigal: prodigal with love.

'God of Nature' or 'God in Nature'?

The Old Testament has some remarkably relevant lessons for our day, my wife and I discovered in conversation this week.

Is God the creator and provider of "nature" or is he somehow embodied in nature? Many people, including me, feel so close to God when we are in the quiet of a beautiful natural scene. I believe there are good reasons that prophets have communed with God on the isolated mountaintops.

Nevertheless, there is confusion for some about whether they feel close to God in nature because he IS nature, or because it is merely an atmosphere conducive to communion with the Divine.

Ask yourself this question. (alt) Do you receive any moral instruction--any guidance on how to be--from the trees? Did a tree ever give a commandment or promise redemption? Did a tree build a hospital?

Really, the question isn't about where you feel God. The question of location has been a diversion for many people who decide they don't need a church. They can just spend their time in nature, they say. But God isn't interested--ultimately--in how we feel. He is interested in what we do. And the doing is to be done with our fellow men, not on a lake in the mountains.

Think of how many times a prophet in the Old Testament tried to get his people to stop worshiping nature. All the people surrounding the Israelites drifted from allegiance to one nature god after another. They were willing to honor whatever nature god might bring them relief in the moment. Elijah's competition with the priests of Baal is one such memorable story.

Nature worship is quite common today. Perhaps we could be reminded of the people of the Old Testament who had to struggle so hard against that tendency.

My wife noted that there are other forms of idol worship today that closely parallel the abominations of old. What were the parents thinking when they sacrificed their children to Molloch in the flames? What did they hope to achieve? What greater good did they think would come upon them, their children, and their community for this abhorrent act? Are there women today who sacrifice their children, born and unborn, to the gods of "freedom" and "convenience" and "timing" and "career"?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad to be True to Yourself?

I'm sure many good people have used the phrase, "be true to yourself." Reading a talk by Terry Warner put the phrase in a different light for me. He said he'd twisted the goal of being "true" into the goal of being "true to me." The gospel invites us to look beyond ourselves as the only way to become like our Father. Anytime we focus on ourselves, we risk goofing up our priorities in the ultimate sense. Thought provoking. Here is the quote in context. You can read the whole talk here.

The problem did not lie in my objectives. My objectives were lofty--never stooping to dishonesty, not compromising my principles, standing forward to defend the right and make corrections when things didn't go as they should. The problem was that pursuing these objectives was a project too much in behalf of myself. I could not see it then, but in a very subtle way my quest continued the very preoccupation with myself I was trying to overcome. And it twisted my goal of being true into the goal of being true to me, and being true to me, for my sake, often came before the interests and needs of others. Perhaps my way of pursuing my quest was like that of the prodigal son's elder brother, outwardly ever faithful in his duty but inwardly resentful when his brother received the public honor he thought should be his. My way showed itself as I responded in a hurried manner to a student's question in the hall--because, after all, I had important things to do; and in a conversation with a colleague, thinking of what I would say next instead of listening appreciatively; and in becoming inwardly indignant about a brother's false doctrine in priesthood meeting. No matter how rigorous, a quest to be true when undertaken on one's own behalf can never put to silence the disquieting voice that says, "You're not honest, simple, solid, and true. You're still in it for yourself. It's your own agenda that you care most about." Stubbornly setting out to be true cannot be glorious if I do not lift my focus higher than myself.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Elder Oaks on speaking privately versus speaking to the world

Sheri Dew asked Elder Dallin H. Oaks what it was like talking publicly in a world where you can finish a talk and in moments your words can be spread around the globe. The question is at 47 minutes into this broadcast interview. His words made me think differently about the appropriateness of reporting the words that you hear someone speak in a smaller setting.

Oaks: In the last 12 months, I never stand before an audience at a stake conference--these are in small audiences where you don't anticipate that it will be broadcast--without confronting the possibility that someone there is putting it on some electronic transmission, or would make notes and then go send an email to family members...

Dew: Or a blog.

Oaks: Or a blog... which they would press a key and send that to 150 people and so on. So when I want to speak very candidly to a particular audience, I have begun saying before I begin to speak to this audience of a 100 priesthood or auxiliary leaders, "I would like to know whether I am speaking to 100 people or whether I'm potentially speaking to the world. Because it is going to affect the talk that I will give. Now if I can understand that I'm just speaking to you and that you won't appoint yourself as an agent to transmit my words to the world, I'll speak one way. But if I can't have that commitment from all of you,  I'll speak differently. Because I simply have to speak differently if I'm speaking to people unseen. And generally they get the message and I've not been disappointed by the outcome.

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