Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts

Healing Political Divides within the Church

I'm not saying this post at Segullah on healing political divides withing the Church is wrong. I'm saying it's an incomplete picture of how to achieve what this post author is asking for for failure to acknowledge that there's more to these divisions than a difference of opinion.

"I think LGBTQ people are all going to hell" is not an opinion. "Black people in America are violent thugs who deserve what they get" is not an opinion. They are bigotry, by definition. They are the rejection and devaluing of people for who they are, which inevitably lead to violence.

My inability to get along with people at church because of that bigotry is not a moral failure on my part. My disillusionment and feelings of betrayal at discovering how many people at church feel this way is valid. The problem here is not my refusal to be patient with or accept people who think this way. This isn't a political difference of opinion. Whether or not people deserve respect is not a political difference of opinion. It's a moral failure that requires real institutional action.

A necessary aspect of the unity this post calls for is genuine repentance within the Church, individually and from the institution as a whole. The rejection of old attitudes, the issuance of apologies, and a sincere commitment to changes in behavior. Unity without repentance is unacceptable. Tolerance is not a virtue when there are individuals in our community who are still actively being harmed and we are doing nothing to stop it. 

That's not what being a real Christian looks like.

Also, let's resist the urge—and I would even call it a temptation—to think that these divisions will be easy to heal from.
If we ever start to think that, it's because we're oversimplifying the problem and failing to acknowledge how hard trust is to rebuild once it's lost.

The Miracle of Forgiveness going out of print

Spencer W. Kimball's family is taking The Miracle of Forgiveness out of circulation. There's a reason they were able to do that. Even though the Church distributed this book through its official channels, they never actually owned the copyright. The Miracle of Forgiveness was always more similar to McConkie's Mormon Doctrine than it was to an official manual. Its official use didn't match its unofficial status, which has been a continual problem for most materials that fit that description.

The news got me thinking about my only experience with that book, and why I'm so passionately against any person ever reading it.

When I decided to read it on my own in college, I was specifically looking for talks on forgiveness. I was trying to understand forgiveness in the context of abuse, to contend with what my obligations are to forgive my various abusers I've had throughout my life.

You can understand why I would be confused. Just look at the title. It's presenting itself as a lesson on the miracle of forgiveness. I don't think I've ever seen a more misleading title. Less than a third of the book even directly addresses forgiveness at all. A huge part of the messaging in The Miracle of Forgiveness targets sexual misconduct and the repentance that attends it. Its methodology is a horrible, guilt-ridden treatise against sin, filtered through Kimball's thoughts on what it means to "deserve" repentance. 

It's basically what Mormons cosplaying as Calvinists would look like. It's the only book that ever made me feel guilty for stuff I wasn't even doing wrong.

The true power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The entire concept of grace and mercy. These are all harmfully distorted, if not completely absent from that book. It also mischaracterizes sexual assault and homosexuality with deeply hurtful and inappropriate language. 

I don't think anyone should ever read that book. I don't think there's any continuing value to its message. I definitely don't think anyone in any leadership positions should continue recommending it wholesale to members of the Church.

But I'm also aware that countless members of the Church have been encouraged to read this book as part of their repentance process, especially for sexual misconduct.

Why Sexual Violence Should Disqualify Anyone from Missionary Service

Is it a hot take to say that committed sins of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment should disqualify someone from full-time missionary service?

I am a survivor of sexual trauma. I've lived with this burden all my life. I was so young the first time I was abused, I have no recollection of ever being anything other than a survivor. It is all I have ever known.

I've had a lifetime to ask God about sexual trauma. From the earliest "why is this happening to me?" to now. I've spent years trying to understand what God's forgiveness looks like for the people who did this to me, and what that means for me as a survivor.

Here's what I know.

Restitution is Everything 

It is not enough for someone who is guilty of traumatizing someone with sexual abuse to confess what they've done to a bishop, a stake president, or even to the prophet himself. That confession is meaningless on its own.

Repentance for sin does NOT belong to church leadership. It is not theirs to bestow. It belongs to Jesus Christ alone. His is the standard for repentance and forgiveness, which is to confess and forsake sin. (See D&C 58:42-43)

What does it mean to "forsake" sin?

In the case of sexual trauma, it's not just a private rejection of the behavior. It's not just a personal conviction to never repeat it. It also means making restitution to the victim, their families, and everyone else affected by the abuse.

The effects of sexual trauma are lifelong. It's a burden many survivors live with every day of their lives. For as long as that suffering continues, there is more restitution to be paid. And until the utmost farthing has been paid, the perpetrator doesn't qualify for forgiveness.

Let me be clear about this for the church leaders in the back. You have no right to declare someone forgiven for sexually traumatizing someone who has done absolutely nothing to make restitution. You may give them institutional forgiveness, but it means nothing to God.

God gives justice to victims of sexual violence

Every tear, every pain, every heartbreak victims experience is seen by God. Weighed against the abuser's restitution. Measured. Remembered. Every victim of sexual trauma will receive justice. Otherwise, "God would cease to be God." (See Alma 42:13)

Individuals who have already sexually traumatized someone before mission age have much more important things to worry about than serving a mission. Their souls are at stake. The most important thing they need to do is begin the lifelong process of achieving their own repentance.

Some people mistakenly believe that serving a mission will help people in this situation achieve forgiveness—that giving up this time is a necessary sacrifice for that ongoing repentance. 
Here's why that's an unacceptable approach.

You Want Reasons? Here's Six of Them.

  1. Perpetrators of sexual violence are already at a serious deficit when it comes to forgiveness and repentance. They have no legitimate moral authority to speak on behalf of Christ about forgiveness to anyone.
  2. Male perpetrators especially have no business wearing a missionary name badge because they could hold leadership positions, in their missions and in branches throughout the world. They could oversee and administer to female missionaries, many of whom are survivors of abuse.
  3. As someone who was openly and repeatedly denigrated by elders where I served, I know what being abused by elders is like. I know how easily they can get away with, as well as the retaliation that follows when it no longer remains a secret. They don't learn the right lessons from these situations. They don't know how to make the situation right again. They only learn how to improve their abilities of getting away with it.
  4. It sends the wrong message to the perpetrator about what they've done and their abilities to handle it on their own.
  5. It sends the wrong message to the one they've traumatized. How many of them are sitting in pews, listening to a missionary mom read their abuser's letters over the pulpit in sacrament meeting? Why should that missionary get to live a lie before the whole world, while that person has to sit with what they know in silence?
  6. Being a returned missionary opens church members, especially men, to holding more leadership positions in the future. No person in this church should have to deal with the spiritual crisis of finding out their abuser is in a bishopric or a presidency.

I'm not saying abusers should live in public disgrace in our congregations. But there are opportunities they should relinquish as a consequence of their decision-making. Missionary service as a young person should be one of those opportunities. If that deprivation seems harsh, if that loss seems severe—good! Loss of opportunity is something victims of sexual trauma know a lot about. It'll be a chance for them to understand what it's like to have something you treasure forcibly taken from you.

It doesn't begin to compare, but it's a start.

Any consequence at all is a start.

I'm Sorry for what I said Before I Went Inactive

There's something I need to say, an apology I owe for my online behavior in earlier years of my life. I have said mean, heartless, hurtful things on Twitter in the past towards various progressive groups and members of the Church. For that, I'm truly sorry.

I'm sorry for bullying people on the fringes and outskirts of the Church. There's no better word for it than bullying. I was a bully to vulnerable people who were hurting. I had in my mind what it means to be Mormon and I was judgmental to anyone who deviated from that in any way. I saw it as my job to give uninvited correction instead of compassion.  I had no comprehension of how difficult it was to find yourself on the outskirts until I also found myself there. 

I have been in the spheres of online Mormon thought since 2007, and on Twitter since 2009. I was a completely different person then. I have planted my flag in the soil, as it were, with the very people I used to mistrust. There are moments when old threads reappear and I see some of the things I used to think. I'm appalled at how careless I was with people seeking any degree of nuance in our faith. I wish I could take it all back, and undo the damage I've done. I've lived to regret every word.

So if you ever come across anything from my past that makes me look like a compassionless stooge, I fully take responsibility for the disappointment you feel in me. My only hope is that how I live now can be an unrecognizable contradiction to that person in every way.

The very people I used to mock and hold in derision as "not real Mormons" have become my friends. Thank you, to each and every person who has ever engaged with me in meaningful conversation. You've given me the chance to see how wrong I was, and to become a better person. Not everyone gets that kind of second chance, and I love you all to pieces for it

Repentance and Forgiveness in Sexual Abuse Cases

My biggest frustration with being Mormon at the moment is how little the people who surround me understand the conditions of repentance, and how different that is from receiving divine forgiveness.

Repentance is the process through which a person makes an honest moral reckoning of their own actions and takes full responsibility for those actions. Not just before God, but openly with others as well.

Forgiveness is the absolution of sins by God, in exchange for full and sincere repentance. That is the condition upon which you receive repentance from God.

God does not forgive people for heinous sins when their repentance is unreal or unfinished. He has no obligation to do so.

Let's talk about this in the context of sexual assault and rape. Because "how can God possibly forgive rapists and sexual predators in a way that would ever be fair and just to their victims?" is a question I've lived with my entire life, long before I ever had the words.

Victims of sexual abuse live with the consequences of those actions for a lifetime. The idea that their abusers could apologize to God once and be forgiven is a farce. That's not justice. That's not repentance.
How is repentance measured then? How does God measure the sincerity of someone else's repentance? 
One word: Restitution

To whatever degree their victims suffer, abusers have to personally give that degree of restitution to their victims if their repentance is going to be real and just. That's before forgiveness, whether from God or from the institutional church, can even be on the table as an option.
God is not stupid. He is not mocked by abusers who care more about avoiding the consequences of their actions than the harm they've done. Abusers who are repentant don't deny the harm they've done. They don't expect cheap forgiveness because repentance is not a cheap experience—not for Christ who made it possible, and not the innocent person he suffered for.
If you advocate for easy forgiveness and repentance for rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault, you've imagined a God who would allow mercy to rob justice. Such a God wouldn't be worth the price of the paper his name is printed on.
There are a lot of bishops, stakes presidents, and abusers who are going to be in for a rude awakening when they see God turn away countless men who were formally "forgiven" by the Church for abuse. God is not bound to accept fake apologies and shoddy repentance, just because a church leader declared a predator to be in good standing. There is no power in that declaration except what God will accept, and he does not accept liars into his kingdom.
Repentance and forgiveness are two of the great Christian imperatives. We cheapen them at our own peril. We lift up counterfeits to them to the detriment of our own souls.

What "Shaking at the Appearance of Sin" Means

I can't sleep because menstruation is terrible. Let's play with complex ideas until I give up on ever sleeping again.

I've always found that last question in 2 Ne 4:31 to be very brave. I've asked it many times in my prayers, and I'm never prepared for the answers I get.

In hindsight, I realize I thought I would be reinforced with a comfortable feeling of superiority over those who didn't keep the commandments. The joy of the moral high ground. I didn't realize I was asking for my heart to shake at ALL sin, with no knowledge of who my teachers would be.

It's one thing to look upon someone who isn't on a level playing field with me, and congratulate myself on my performance for living the commandments. It's another to receive that correction from people on their territory, where I was at the disadvantage.

Twitter has played a very big part in this. 

I would learn about the sins of racism from Saints of color. Learning to shake at racism meant engaging with people I used to avoid.

I would learn to shake at the sin of sexism by engaging with women I once had no respect for. I listened to their stories, and realized I had judged them falsely. 

I would shake at the sin of prejudice by engaging with LGBTQ+ Mormons. The first time I ever spoke to a transgender Mormon was on Twitter.

I prayed to shake at the sight of sin because I thought it meant the sins of other people. I didn't realize I was asking to shake at the sins in my own heart. Racism, sexism, and all forms of prejudice are sins. I didn't realize they were there inside of me. But God did and has given me opportunities to change. My prayers were answered, not in the way I expected, but in the ways I needed most.

Reflecting on this has made me reconsider how I interpret verse 32, and leaves me with questions I can't answer. If shaking at the appearance of sin is about MY sins, and not someone else's, what does it mean to be strict in the plain road?

I realized that my understanding of being strict always seemed to involve correcting, controlling, or avoiding other people whose lives were different than mine. I asked for the blessing of correction, and I got it. I lost respect for the person I used to be. I am now changing myself, with the hope of being able to say one day that I have changed.

My heart grew to love different people. Now I can't bring myself to make anything else about their lives any harder. Especially not their religious lives, which were big enough to include me long before I could do the same. I'm not interested in being the person who aggressively, and with personal knowledge of my own hypocrisy, points out the flaws in my neighbor and threatens them with the view of damnation.

Being strict in the plain road, to me, doesn't mean being exacting or demanding of the people around me anymore. That's not who I want to be. I don't want to see this in myself anymore. The nearest I can come to making sense of it is only being strict with myself. To be consistently true to my own values in all the ways they change and grow. I'm also not interested in the messages of any person who tries to entice me to act in any way that resembles this person. Her behavior is inconsistent with my values. I won't do it anymore.

It's absolutely no coincidence that I'm reading this chapter right now and getting this from Nephi. I'm in a very similar emotional place. For years, he has felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually responsible for leading his older brothers. This is his recognition that it's coming to an end and he can let it go. I feel this same way about breaking with my old ways, and conservative elements in my own faith that want me to continue in it.

I need to make peace with myself about how my conscience is breaking with some in my own faith. I need to let my desires carry me into my work and purpose. It's not my job to live the gospel the way others want me to live it, or to live it for others. I need to be secure enough in my own heart to let God work in it, whatever that looks like.

Whatever goodness springs forth from my heart, God is in it. That's what I learned from Nephi today. And I don't need to concern myself with how other people would do it differently. Their experiences and advice are for them. Mine are for me. And they don't have to be the same for us to both be right.

The Gospel in My Life

Studying the scriptures through Preach My Gospel has been one of the most powerful transformations to my testimony I have ever experienced. I love Preach My Gospel, and I love the changes it has brought to me. I never realized that all the "dailies" and all the commandments we keep are functions of the gospel, and that the gospel is what brings Christ into our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of salvation we, as members of the Church, are under covenant to share with the world. That message includes 5 fundamentals:
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord, the only one who has/will ever atone for all of the sins of mankind
  2. Repentance to be reconciled with Jesus Christ for all of the sins we have ever personally committed
  3. Baptism under restored priesthood authority, as existed in Christ's church anciently
  4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, a confirming ordinance of that same authority
  5. Enduring to the End--to become continually converted to Jesus Christ by remaining true to the gospel

That's it. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those five things are the root of true conversion. And, as I recently learned, that gospel is not just a preliminary set of steps for new members to go through. Once the first four are finished, a person does not stay permanently at step five, in a vague state of generally doing what we know we should.

No, the gospel is a repeating cycle. To endure to the end means to repeat the cycle continually. The Sacrament becomes the symbolic representation of baptism and confirmation after someone has already been baptized and confirmed. The commandments we follow are then supposed to work together as functions of that gospel, to bless our lives for good and help us grow spiritually.

I attended this talk by Elder Ballard on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I came into it hoping to gain much-needed insight on time management.

Afterwards, I realized that if I would strive to make a schedule that is based on the gospel itself, I would feel the Holy Ghost's influence more abundantly in my life. So I sat down and categorized how all the things I have to do fit into the gospel itself.

For example, I was reminded that scripture study is inseparably tied to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ is almost impossible to maintain unless you consistently read the scriptures--especially the Book of Mormon. Personally, that's also where I chose to classify my studies and college classes because in order for them to be worth my time and money, they need to be building my faith in Jesus Christ. I've found that when I put forth the effort to find Christ in even my most secular subjects, He makes it possible for me to understand many lessons that only He can teach me.

Repentance, for me, is largely grounded in prayer. Once I understood that a crucial part of my prayers needed to be daily repentance, it became a lot easier for me to remember to pray every day, and for my prayers to be more than 30 seconds long. When prayers are a constant vehicle for repentance, they become the conversational prayers I have heard so many teachers strongly recommend, but never instruct anyone on how to begin. For someone who is trying to have more conversational prayers with the Lord, I would recommend starting with adding repentance to them each and every day.

Baptism by immersion was an interesting one. I associated that with temple worship because I'm still in the baptism-by-proxy phase of my temple experience. But this could also apply to the Sacrament, and thereby Church attendance. Because baptisms performed outside the temple are almost identical to the ones performed inside, the jump from the first to the second is not hard to make. But how often do we think of Church meetings as being a place to be immersed in the goodness of God? That's what Zion and the Church are supposed to be like--and whether they are or not depends entirely on what we personally put into them, i.e. all of ourselves. If we continually plop ourselves down in a chair and expect to be spiritually fed without putting any effort into it, we will continue to be disappointed when that feeling of immersion does not come.

The one that jumped out to me the strongest, however, was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This made me think of the priesthood, and the question I had to ask myself was "How can I get the priesthood to be more of an active force in my life?" The answer that came to me immediately was the Relief Society, and thereby Visiting Teaching. (If you're curious as to how I made that jump, read this and this.) FHE also came to mind, which actually surprised me way more than Relief Society and Visiting Teaching did. I never thought of FHE as being a means of having the priesthood in my life. As I continued to ponder, I realized that service opportunities fit well under this one because the Holy Ghost inspires people to serve. The laying on of hands in itself is a giving act--one we are commanded to extend to anyone who will receive it.

I have a white board I use to do my planning and time management, and I decided to color code each of the four principles with its own color. I plan to continue doing so as I implement this plan, in order to track the gospel's presence in my life. Once I can build the habits of following through with my plans, and assessing my performance, I can more easily identify how to add things to my life when I feel I need extra help in an area. By being a careful steward over the gospel's influence in my life, I can fortify myself against temptation and the attempts of the adversary to lead me astray.

From this I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a catch-all phrase to describe every good thing. The gospel is how every good thing--every commandment, every truth, every principle--is tied to Jesus Christ. When we see those connections as they really are, and keep them unimpeded in our lives, we magnify the ability of God to bless us and endow us with great faith and power. We become more true to what we know, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our light is more able to shine because it is more easily magnified through our righteous actions, and I know that as I strive to lay that gospel foundation in my life, that gospel will lay a foundation in me for greater things to come.

I testify of this in the holy name of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose gospel this is. Even so, Amen.

Understanding Polygamy: A Brief History

In 1882, Congress passed the Edmunds Act--legislation that made polygamy a felony. This act was solely in response to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' practice of plural marriage.

However, to make polygamy illegal would have been ineffective because evidence to prove polygamous marriage wasn't easy to obtain. To prosecute fairly would require testimony and evidence only the Church and its members could give, which obviously wasn't going to happen.

So the U.S. government tried to be clever and pass legislation that would make "bigmous" and "unlawful cohabitation" a felony, which would allow for circumstantial evidence to be enough to prove that polygamy had taken place.

Further disregarding the rule of law, the Edmunds Act provided a cover for arresting people who said they believed in plural marriage, but did not practice it themselves. Men were also arrested ex post facto, or for polygamous marriages that were performed before the law was passed in 1882.

Due process was simply ignored as more than 1300 men were arrested, including many prominent leaders in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency of the Church. Included among these is George Q. Cannon (center) who would serve as First Counselor under 4 Church presidents before the end of his life, including when this picture was taken in 1888.

The mentality behind this legislation was that no woman of her own accord would ever participate in polygamy. Female members of the early church needed to be liberated from their husbands and the pressures of the Church to conform, and the opponents were willing to come at the Mormons with everything in their arsenal.

Yes, including cheesy political cartoons.

These pressures and prejudices inspired what, to me, has always been one of the most powerful pieces of Mormon literature ever published.

And, to no one's surprise, it was written by a woman.

Is it Ignorance?

This is the question that Emmeline B. Wells posed in an article published in The Women's Exponent on July 1, 1883. Speaking to the federal legislators and civilian critics, Wells writes:

It seems a very common thing with people unaquainted with the facts to say, it is the ignorance of "Mormon" women "that keeps them in bondage," that "makes them submit to plural marriage," when in truth the very contrary is the case. It is because of the intelligence they possess on subjects connected with their existence here and hereafter, as well as that of their posterity and kindred, the hopes entertained, and the actual knowledge concerning the future that causes them to embrace a doctrine so unpopular and so objectionable in the eyes of the world. Such paragraphs as the following and similar ones abound in the newspapers and journals of the day: "It was hoped by giving the women of Utah the ballot they would use it for the destruction of the monster, which keeps them under its iron heel, in hopeless misery." These people may be well meaning, but they talk nonsense and folly in the extreme...

If anyone supposes these same women citizens to be ignorant of the rights the ballot gives them, then they know very little about the women of this Territory, and our advice to them is, let the matter rest until you have an opportunity of solving the problem by thorough investigation, and not from one side, and remember the words of the Savior, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (Source:

For someone on a leash and horribly repressed, she sure does seem to know what she's about.

The first time I read Is it Ignorance? I was in high school. I don't remember if I was baptized yet or not, but Wells' testimony of polygamy impressed me. Her conviction was sincere, and her answer was consistent and full of doctrinal substance. Her question was compelling.

Polygamy--even faith itself--was it ignorance?

I had my faith and my witness from the Holy Ghost. In these I had my answer, my certainty. No, it wasn't ignorance. It was God.

But because polygamy was the only thing the people around me knew about the Mormons, it was the subject that was raised the most to me both before and after I became a member. The issue became an irritant, not to my testimony but to my patience, because the matter seemed so entirely irrelevant to the question they were really asking:

Is the Church true, despite polygamy? Or even simpler than that, is the Church true?

I wasn't the sort of person who could look at Joseph Smith and think, Oh my gosh, he was a polygamist and he kept it a secret, the Church must not be true!

Pardon my French, but that's nonsense.

Unless someone out there has a flux capacitor and a Delorian, the future still has no logical impact on the past. The First Vision had already happened and the Restoration was underway by the time polygamy ever became an issue. That Joseph revealed polygamy in 1831 has no logical impact on whether or not the First Vision took place in 1820. Or the restoration of the priesthood in 1829. Or the formal organization of the Church in 1830.

Unless of course the critics saying Joseph wasn't the prophet of the Restoration want to base that claim on something that hadn't even happened yet. In which case I should probably ask, Does God deny you blessings or punish you for sins that you haven't committed yet?

I hope not. That would suck.

Beyond chronology, it made perfect sense to me that Joseph would be commanded to implement polygamy, and then hesitate to widely publicize the practice.

No one need look any further than the Old Testament to see whether polygamy is allowable to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--considering Abraham and Jacob practiced polygamy. Polygamy is as eternal as the gospel itself, seeing as its the gospel that binds it. Its ancient origins are evidence enough of that.

But I can see two simple reasons why Joseph would hesitate to be too public with polygamy. On a personal level, Joseph was well aware that plural marriage would make his enemies want to kill him, not to mention break his wife's heart and cause many of his friends to abandon him. Those prospects are not pleasant to anyone, but especially not to someone who knew the loneliness that Joseph felt from having been mocked and hated from a young age for the destiny God had given him--what he could not deny or escape.

No one who hasn't felt that pain should never discredit it. It is not an easy burden to bear.

What critics must also remember is that Saints past and present, even though we no longer practice polygamy, still view it as a sacred marriage ordinance. We view polygamy with the same respect we view for our standard, monogamous marriage ceremony because we believe both are bound by the same God. To make certain details public would be extremely blasphemous to God and deeply offensive in our eyes. Being too open about polygamy would invite conversations with others about something that is not ours to discuss--something too sacred to profane even with well-intended words.

The Church's reserved approach to polygamy today reflects much of this same caution and reverence.

Is it Choice?

In short, you can look at Joseph Smith and the Church in regards to polygamy (or anything else, for that matter) and see secrecy, or questionable activities of a surreal nature that are too strange to believe. Or you can see a man and an organization that were destined to become much greater than they had the ability to become on their own--requiring transformation and struggle, a deep and abiding reliance on Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandments.

That's the choice. You can make it with God through prayer, with the faith that the Holy Ghost will reveal the answer unto you with clarity you cannot deny. Or you can do what a fair number of members are trying to do right now by trying to find conviction through history. Evidence. "Objectivity."

But expecting history to give you impartial, neutral certainty about anyone or anything is impossible. Relying on a secular approach to history when you're in search of religious conviction, is madness--the equivalent of relying on the understanding of stupid people who have studied the deeds of other stupid people in an attempt to find God.

If there's anything I learned from being a history major, it's that people are stupid. They've been stupid for a very long time. I include myself in this gladly. I'm one of the stupidest people I know, and I can say that with a smile for one reason.

I'm stupid because I'm human. Mortal. Fallible. It means that all of the glorious experiences I've had exist despite me. They have nothing to do with any capability I have. And to my great joy, studying history has revealed something quite amazing to me.

People all over the world are stupid, just like me. And somehow, we all go on living. We live despite our frailties, we endure despite our penchants for things that are self destructive, and we go on experiencing what we can't understand--only to discover there was a design to them all along.

I don't take that as a sign that people somehow manage all of that without God. On the contrary--I think the existence of God is the most self-evident, inescapable reality there is. I don't think our humanity could exist without Him, and in that way it's a gift. Learning relies on that frailty because that frailty allows for change.

So reader. After all this, the choice is yours. What's it going to be?

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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