Showing posts with label 1 Thessalonians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1 Thessalonians. Show all posts

Flattery and its Role in Conflict

I've spent a lot of time thinking (because all I have now is time to think) about how my country got to where it is right now, via open combativeness and the obtuse refusal to acknowledge or live in the reality of facts. I think at least part of the answer to that is flattery.

I think we all have people in our lives where we feel like we're at an impasse with in terms of meaningful conflict resolution. Do I cut this person out of my life because they've gotten in bed with truly despicable people? Or do I try to maintain some peaceful coexistence?

I've found myself returning to the scriptural places I've looked for answers throughout my life on how to handle these situations. It's simpler to me than looking to living leadership, whose relationship to all of this has been hopelessly complicated by ineffectiveness. What came from that is recognition that I haven't fully understood the problem, which is why I've felt so lost in how to confront it with my own loved ones. This is why I still love reading scripture. There's nothing new under the sun. I don't have to figure out everything alone.

Scripture has a lot to say about flattery. And, true to my Mormon roots in discourse, examining it as a subject made me realize I don't know exactly what it means. "Excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one's own interests." 

When we think about the people in our lives who are giving into their worst impulses right now in relation to their civic duties and the pandemic, this is how they arrived at that place. People around them give license to all those impulses through insincere praise.

The language surrounding flattery in our standard works is not morally neutral. Multiple records talk about flattery akin to sin itself. Let's view some examples: 

"For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue."
Ps. 5:9

How did Paul define a deceitful, unclean ministry? One that uses flattery, prioritizing "pleasing men" over serving God. (1 Thess. 2:1-5)

What was at the heart of the disintegration of the Nephite generation after Nephi's death, culminating in the wickedness of King Noah and his priests? Flattery. (Mosiah 11:7)

How were the people in the Church during the reign of Mosiah led into committing sin? Flattery. How was the situation handled by church leadership? Open admonishment from the Church. (Mosiah 26:6)

And who could forget the time when democracy and the rule of law in the Nephite civilization were under attack by those who wanted to delegitimize the government and replace it with a fascist monarchy, to the benefit of the autocrats who were flattered into that support. (Alma 61:4)

Scripture openly condemns flattery repeatedly as a source of idolatry, conflict, corruption, and societal collapse. The people who choose to believe it and submit to it are not innocent. They stand condemned for it by the God they claim to worship. Let's look at why.

Flattery relies heavily on dishonesty. You cannot flatter without lying. Those whose positions in government are maintained through lies cannot be good leaders, no matter what else they might accomplish. 

Flattery in these cases I've copied from the Book of Mormon were especially dangerous for how they introduced inequality into Nephite society. Governments cannot have a privileged class to whom law does not apply without standing condemned before God. If you walk away from a lifetime of reading the Book of Mormon without picking up that crucial lesson, you didn't understand a word of what you read. That is the entire message, the central warning of the entire text.

The Book of Mormon warns against and condemns people like Donald Trump and his family. People who rely on lies, wealth (or the illusion of it), corruption, and oppression to get what they want.

Why do people in the Church support them anyway? Because they honestly believe they will be the beneficiaries of all that corruption. They think they are the autocrats to whom Trump and his administration will be beholden. It's choice made out of selfishness.

The last conversation I may ever have with my mother was one deeply entrenched in everything I just shared with you. She's so deep into Trump's cult of personality, she is cutting everyone out of her life who doesn't support him, her children included. Part of this on her part is untreated bipolar, which causes her to live in a psychotic mental state where she has no grasp on reality. There are times when I don't she even remembers she has children. I have no idea if she's dead or alive right now.

The last thing I said that got through to her at all was to remind her, with no emotion in my voice whatsoever, that Trump and his supporters don't care about her. As much as she worries about him, he doesn't care if she lives or dies.

I'll never forget her response. 

"I know."

What makes someone okay with living in this kind of arrangement with their government? 


What's the only way to get through to someone like that? 

The moral reckoning they will have to live with when it all falls apart and they're left holding an empty bag.

Flattery doesn't change truth. It can only manipulate how other people perceive it for a time. That approach to leadership is not sustainable. It will fall apart. This will end. 

Why do I believe that? Because the scriptures told me so. 

If you need a new approach with the Trump supporters in your life, try pointing out all the ways they're already standing there holding an empty bag because of him.

Eventually they'll realize that's all they're going to get for their loyalty.

The Custodian

Scrawled into grime covered walls of where I used to work, a revelation written in purple ink greeted me every time I had to empty the bowels of the floor machine down the drain of the trash compactor room in the Wilkinson Center.

Taught by suffering:
drop by drop
wisdom is distilled from pain.

Clearly, I was not the first person to consider such things while trying to ignore the smell of wet cardboard, rotten bananas, and stagnant water.

As I’ve contemplated the concept of Dante’s stratified Hell, I imagine that my early morning cleaning jobs would be somewhere closer to the deepest pits—reserved primarily for the people who have thrown full cups of water into a trash can, pushed staples onto the floor to be ground into the carpet, or stuck gum ANYWHERE it doesn’t belong. I could wish for no greater disgust on the guilty that would still be appropriately reciprocal to the sin.

It’s hard not to think about Hell when you’re a custodian—especially when the batteries in your iPod die before you do and you’re stuck talking to yourself for the rest of your shift. The bars between reality and insanity have never been so thin as those in the corner of an iPod screen at 5 in the morning.

Also nearby is the idea of repentance—as gentle as teasing hidden dirt down the stairs with a broom, as seemingly fruitless as spraying one’s own reflection with glass cleaner and scouring the dark circles under the eyes with a white rag. No visible difference sometimes. Sometimes all you have to show for your effort is a half smile before you round the corner and trip over your own vacuum cord. If perfection, or even grace, were a given—well, I’d certainly be out of a job.

But instead, there is much to be thankful for. Take, for example, insatiable fatigue. I know enough about REM cycles and sleep debt that I couldn’t repay mine in blood. The 5 A.M. shift isn’t a shift, it’s a way of life. To be willing to sleep anywhere at any time is constant, but to be able to is not. To stay awake out of necessity is a lesson I have no problem believing comes straight from Christ.

As painful as this experience has been, as abject as I feel when I throw myself onto the floor each morning in order to rouse myself from sleep, I see a greater good in learning, as my mother taught me, to “live tired.” If nothing else, I might actually stand a chance to miss out on hearing these words, which so often pierce my heart when I fall asleep in yet another class:

“Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

I mean, the Savior didn’t ask me to do anything hard—just to stay awake in American Heritage. And Comparative Literature 201… and 202… English 251… Anthropology 101… Intro to Archaeology. In the immortal words of President Monson, “I’m embarrassed to add any more to that list.”

And despite the fact that I fail as surely as those noble and great men before me have failed, I cannot help but be critical of myself; the kind of critical that comes from being a custodian and having time to myself every day to work out my salvation as I watch the sun rise over a still sleeping world—wishing so desperately that I could find that peace. Fortunately, what better thing can I do with that time but learn what Paul taught to the Thessalonians when he said, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”

So I press forward, my alarm clock set to 4:30 AM, a prayer in my heart, and the expectation that I’ll someday be able to rest—if not from mine afflictions, then perhaps from knowing what O Dark Thirty looks like.

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