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Radical Freedom, Radical Grace Part 2: That Weak Things May Become Strong

In my last post, I introduced an idea that is fundamental to the way I make sense of this world: a perspective of radical freedom and radical grace.

Today, I want to explore another implication of this approach: the value of weakness.

In our fast-paced, modern world — and, let’s face it, our self-reliant Mormon culture — there is a sense that weakness and vulnerability are signs of inferiority.  That when we struggle, it is because we are doing something “wrong”; or, perhaps, not doing enough things “right.”

And sure enough, with the radical freedom we possess, we create much of our own misery with our choices.  That’s part of the purpose of this life, after all; to learn by our experience to determine good from evil.

But not all struggle is “choice”-related.  Some of it is the inherent frailty of the flesh.  We might say that Nature is as Radically Free as we are, and that it evolves all kinds of problems, such as illness, appetite, brutality, and disaster.  For all its stunning beauty, the natural world is also viciously cruel: we have no power against a tsunami, for example.  We are polarized beings in a polarized world, with sparks of divinity competing against base, fleshly instincts and natural processes that can destroy us in an instant.

Of course, we would not be free otherwise.  Without both extremes, it would be like living in the Truman Show or the Hunger Games, with everything, even the weather, perfectly controlled.   There are some who view God this way, as Master Game Maker, but not me.  I believe that uncertainty, disease, and corruption are the price we pay for freedom.  And that it’s worth it.

The question is what we do with it.

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On Mourning

For R, M, and D

I recently studied The Beatitudes in a class I’m taking on the life of Christ.   I think they’re the most beautiful expressions of how to really live that I’ve ever heard — and one in particular struck me this time through:

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Jesus always surprises me.  On face value, His teachings never make much sense, for He operates in a world of paradox and parables.  Blessed are they that mourn?  What’s so great about mourning?  Surely Jesus isn’t suggesting some sort of masochistic approach to life, that when we’re hurting, we’re happy…is He?

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Ideas About Discovering Spiritual Truth

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to unlock spiritual truth.  This is a challenging matter, because spiritual truth is neither objective nor provable.  So how do you define and discover the truths upon which you’ll shape your life…without driving yourself crazy?

Here’s my approach — a work in progress, of course.  I guess you could call it Katie’s personal epistemology.  🙂

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A New Creature in Christ

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I taught Relief Society again this past Sunday.  I felt as though the lesson went extremely well and was well-received.  I thought I’d share my lesson outline here.  I’m trying to capture what happened as much for myself as for you, dear readers, so forgive the length of this post.  🙂

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What I Don’t Believe About God

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In my last post, I shared 10 tenets of my belief in God.  Today, I’d like to share with you what I DON’T believe about God.

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What I Believe About God

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So after a long conversation via IM today with my charming brother-in-law Brian (warning: his site contains extensive cursing), I decided to write a post about what I believe about God.

I’ll follow it up in a few days about what I DON’T believe about God.

But let’s get the positives first.  🙂

1. I believe in God. First things first, I believe there is a God.  While I think there are strong reasonable arguments for the existence of God, ultimately my belief in God has very little to do with reason.  (In other words, I think my belief in God is REASONABLE, but reason is not the SOURCE of my belief.)  Instead, the source of my belief is subjective personal experience with the Divine and intense spiritual longings that tell me it is so.  I understand this might not be satisfying to skeptics.  I don’t care. I believe for me, not them.

2. I believe in One God. In other words, I’m a monotheist.

3. I believe God is the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Still, I think there is NO conflict between science and religion.  I believe what we discover about science reveals more about God’s methods of creation and governance of the natural world as opposed to providing “proof” He doesn’t exist.  The two need not be incompatible.

4. I believe in a personal God. I believe in a God who knows us INDIVIDUALLY and is concerned with us PERSONALLY.

5. I believe in a loving God. More than just a personal God, I believe in a God who loves us.  This is because I have felt God’s love transform me.

6. I believe God is Good. Beyond the fact that God is personal and loving, I believe in a God who is All Good.

7. I believe God is Eternal, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Perfect, and Glorious. I don’t know exactly what all that means, but I believe it nonetheless.

8. I believe God is incomprehensible. As an extension of #7, I believe that the fact that I don’t know exactly what it all means is kind of the point.  I think if a person could comprehend God, He wouldn’t be much of a God.

9. I believe Jesus Christ is God. I’m a Christian, and believe that Jesus was in fact God, who condescended to take upon Himself our sins and sorrows.  I think the idea that a perfect, all-knowing, all powerful God would descend from glory to suffer with us is the most beautiful idea I’ve ever heard.

10. I believe that God wants to make us into something much more than we are. I don’t know exactly what the end result will look like, or even have the slightest clue what it entails, but I believe it’s gonna be good.

So those are the basics for me.  What about you?  What do you believe about God?

Wondering About Worship

I came to a startling conclusion today: I have no idea what it means to worship God.

So I did what any rational person in my situation would do.

I Googled it.

I came across all kinds of images of people raising their hands, singing praises to the Most High.  I thought, “I’ve never raised my hands.  I’ve never sung His praises.”worship1I saw pictures of people deep in prayer.  I thought, “The only time I’ve ever engaged God deeply in prayer is when I want something.”

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I saw people smiling and laughing and kneeling and shouting–publicly–and I tried to imagine myself in their place.

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I’ll admit it.  Even the thought of it made me a little embarrassed.

And now I’m stuck wondering why.

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Thoughts on Doubt and Love

“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was on my mission, my mission president’s wife told us,

“You can’t convert anybody above your own level of belief.”

I remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable when she said that, because I was never quite sure how well I believed.  Given the way my mission turned out, I guess she was right.

I have always doubted, from the time I was a child.  It’s difficult to describe how it feels to grow up in doubt.  When other kids were playing in the mud or dressing up dolls, I spent hours asking God to assure me I was right in His eyes.

And then comes the inevitable extension: when doubt evolves into something more. When familiar words and rituals that once brought strength become a source of confusion, even anger. When peace gives way to pressure.  When clarity becomes despair–

And you find yourself straddling two worlds that might look different but are really the same: those who know it’s true, and those who know it’s not.

Is there no fellowship for the uncertain?

I’m reading the Gospel of John right now, and I’m struck by the Master’s tenderness toward the outcasts, the unjust, and the downtrodden. And I’ve always loved the story when the man approaches the Savior with his sick daughter and cries out with tears, “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief!”

Christ doesn’t hesitate; He heals the child.

Doubt is a lonely road.  But there are moments, even when I’m languishing in utter confusion and near despair, that I feel His presence near me, urging me to look up, reach out, move beyond myself and lift another.

I think one of the most profound implications of grace is the realization that everyone–everyone–is in need of the Savior’s loving kindness.  The sinners.  The haters.  The overconfident. And the doubters, too.

The Ideal Starting Place

It’s been said that grace vs. works is the great tightrope/pretzel (love the pretzel image) of Christianity. Much like the chicken vs. egg debate, some argue that works lead to grace, while others insist grace leads to works.

When all is said and done, I believe they are both crucial.  And an emphasis of one over the other is damaging indeed. Is one more important than the other? It can be argued not. But is there a better place to start? I think there is.

I have come to embrace another view; that is, the kind of works that God will use to sanctify us are the works that spring from a converted heart.

Just as faith without works is dead, works without faith are dead.

There are any number of reasons to do good works. Fear. Habit. Compulsion. Duty. And yes, even pride.

But do the works of the gospel profit anyone who doesn’t do them for love?

There was a time I’d have said yes, because all my works were wrought from fear, and I knew it. And it would have destroyed me to say that I was doing it all for nothing.

But looking back on it now, I can honestly say I was doing it all for nothing! It didn’t bring me closer to God; it drove me further from Him. It didn’t create compassion for my fellow man; instead, it inspired suspicion, judgment, and pride. In my desire to be “righteous or else, dammit,” I was turning further and further from the humble, submissive, charitable, open, and caring person God really wants me to become.

My “good works” were turning me into a Pharisee.

This touches on an aspect of LDS theology I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, this so-called distinction between exaltation and salvation, where salvation is grace and exaltation is works. I think it’s important to remember that the sanctifying process, which might otherwise be called the path to exaltation, is inextricably tied to God’s grace.

Because our BECOMING doesn’t happen on its own; it doesn’t happen through sheer willpower, grit, and determination; it happens through our surrendering to God. It’s an act of opening up, of turning to Him, of allowing Him to work THROUGH us (receiving His image in our countenances, as Alma so beautifully puts it). This, like the gift of salvation itself, is not something we earn; it’s something God has already given us, if we will only allow Him to work in our lives.

Does that mean we don’t have a say in it? Of course not. We use our freedom to choose God each and every day. But I think it’s important to remember that it is God who is changing us.

Because grace *is* the mechanism through which we DO and BECOME. It is the enabling power that makes it happen.

That makes it the ideal starting place.