As It Is or As I Am – the Art of Becoming

A journey … towards … being

Tag Archives: empathy

Sacrament talk – life is messy


Latest talk from Church. There have been a couple of others since my last, but those were delivered without notes or being written out. Always a slightly dangerous thing for myself, as I never know where I’ll end up ūüôā

After delivering a talk there is for me a pause to reflect on changes I might have made. I ¬†don’t feel to alter anything here, though I could have added a lot more about empathy as being a key part of carrying others crosses, plus more about not trying to fix things. Empathy – perhaps a subject for my next talk?

The talk itself:

Life is messy. Things often don’t work out the way we want or anticipate. It would be nice if it were not so. To pretend otherwise is, well, ludicrous and a little bit crazy. And yes, often we do pretend life is not messy. I’m not sure it’s always a conscious, deliberate denial of the messiness. But, facing the messiness can be scary.

Occasionally someone will publicly own and share the messiness of their life. If they are doing so on their own terms, when they will ready to do so, I think that’s wonderful. It’s not something easily done. I recognise not everyone is happy to hear of other’s really personal issues. Whether such sharing is done one to one or more publicly in a lesson or perhaps a fast and testimony meeting, hearing the difficulties of others is an opportunity for compassion and empathy, for unconditional love.

Related to this, Fiona Givens, in September this year, at the 2015 International Affirmation conference in Provo, Utah, reported in the Deseret News, said this:

“But God has not left us alone to travel the darkness…. We as Mormons have made particular covenants at our baptism. In Mosiah 18 they are delineated. The first one is to bear each other‚Äôs burdens. Now I‚Äôm very visual person, and when Christ says pick up your cross and follow me, I see him out before us dragging his cross. And we‚Äôre all spread out behind him carrying our own. There isn‚Äôt a single person in this room not carrying a cross. We‚Äôre all carrying crosses. As we enter the waters of baptism, we covenant to bear each other‚Äôs burdens. Picture that with me. You are struggling along under the weight of your cross, and your friend besides you, or perhaps somebody completely unknown, collapses under the weight of his or her cross. As you bend down to help that person with the burden, of necessity you must touch that cross. It is only then that you understand the nature and the depth of the pain that person is carrying. Platitudes fail. It does not help to say, ‚ÄúRead your scriptures more often. Attend all three services, as boring as they might be, every Sunday.‚ÄĚ It is only then when we touch the pain that we are in a position to be able to mourn. To be able to enter that second covenant. To mourn with that person. It is only then that we can truly comfort…. Only then, when we understand the pain, can we offer words of comfort that reach deeply. And only then can we take upon ourselves the name of Christ.” – my emphasis

I find that imagery of the crosses we bear wonderful. If I’m going to really be of any value in helping you, I must touch your cross. If you’re going to really be of any value in helping me, you must touch my cross. With permission, we must touch each other’s cross. Let me extend the cross analogy a little. Picture Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha, having been dragged along, it would have been caked in mud. Also, it would be covered in the Saviour’s blood, from where he had been whipped and beaten, also from the crown of thorns on his head. It would have been dirty. It would have been bloody. It would have been messy. As Christ collapsed under the weight of the cross, Simon was compelled by Roman soldiers to help carry the Saviour’s cross.

The cross we carry may not be caked in physical mud or blood – though it may be – our crosses may be covered in bereavement, depression, divorce, widowhood, failing an exam, missing a promotion, being made redundant, a child or spouse losing faith, or having a faith crisis ourself – this list could be endless …

Some of us may feel compelled to carry other’s crosses, by virtue of our various callings. I’m glad though that a great many just help other’s carry their crosses. I don’t know everyone’s cross. Though, following sacrament meeting, I see people still seated talking with each other. I’m sure some conversations are just regular exchanges. Others, by the hugs being given and the facial expressions, are more than that. I don’t know what’s being discussed and as bishop don’t need to know, unless the person carrying their cross wants me to. What is beautiful to see is crosses being borne, being carried together. And, of course, there are countless acts of crosses being borne outside of Church on a Sunday.

One thing we need to acknowledge about helping to carry or bearing someone’s cross with them, is that, unless the person specifically asks, we don’t try to fix the situation. Simon didn’t fix the Saviour’s situation. The Saviour was still crucified. He bore with him until then.

We can’t fix someone’s divorce, bereavement, depression, etc. but we can be there with them as they work through things. Some things take a short period of time. Others can take months or years.

as we each share our burdens with each other, as we each help carry each others crosses, it all becomes part of the ward them for this year, becoming one through the sacrament.

How can we cope with our crosses? Yes, as mentioned we have support from those around us. There will though still be times when we are on our own. Going back to Fiona Givens, she makes some suggestions:

The other thing I would like to finish with is our paths are often lonely, even with friends. We experience loneliness. There‚Äôs this beautiful scripture in psalms that encourages us to draw cistern water from our own cisterns. We need our own holy places, out of the holy things that nourish our lives. For example, the scriptures may be able to provide a wonderful text, but it is interesting that in D&C section 91 the Lord says, ‚ÄúAnd are you also studying the apocrypha? Because there are many true things therein.‚ÄĚ And it is actually transmitted correctly, something the Book of Mormon actually does not say about the biblical text. And then in section 90 the Lord says study all nations, kindreds, tongues and people. Joseph said if you want to become a true Mormon, a good Mormon, study every faith tradition. Truth is out there. We are not the only repository of truth. Joseph never said that. Truth is to be found in all sorts of places. Most definitely in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling is a prophetess. She is part of my canon. So is The Hunger Games. There‚Äôs a lot of truth in that. I love Virginia Woolf. I love Oscar Wilde. Oh my gosh, that brilliant man! Every thing that he writes is brilliant. And his religious writings, which are covered in children‚Äôs literature, are stunningly beautiful, in his knowledge of Christ‚Äôs love and his atonement. My favorite band is Metallica. I have Radioactive as my ringtone. I find Macklemore‚Äôs The Heist really pertinent with profound truths. I love French rap. I love Vaughn Williams‚Ķ Now these are my things. This is music that Terryl does not share with me particularly. But what I‚Äôm trying to say, beloved brothers and sisters, is if we fill our hearts with those things, the music, the literature, the good books, not scriptures‚Ķ Those, yes, but whenever the Lord talks about good books, he‚Äôs not talking about the scriptures. You fill your lives with beautiful, uplifting music. I do want to remind us that arguably the greatest religious music of our time was written in the heart of the apostasy, where you will find much truth and much beauty.”

I want leave you with a final quote from Fiona Givens, but before hand I want to mention something about God’s love. It is for all. In preparing this talk, I discussed God’s love being unconditional. I was told that there are some members who feel His love is conditional. For me that is heresy. How can He love us with conditions? Perhaps some blessings might be conditional, but not God’s love. Fiona quotes Paul from Romans 8

“I would like to leave this with you because this is my absolutely favorite quote of all time. And it actually is in the Scriptures. It is part of the biblical text. It‚Äôs in Romans. ‚ÄúFor I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.‚ÄĚ I so testify in his holy name. Amen.”
– Fiona Givens, International Affirmation Conference 2015, Provo, Utah.


Ward Conference talk – 22nd March 2015


Well, here we again – me posting another talk – at the request of some people who heard it delivered and others who anticipate it. I must admit to wondering if many will be let down by the content. I hope not! The ward theme is “becoming one though the sacrament“. This talk deals mainly, if not exclusively, with the becoming one part. The “through the sacrament” part will be a later talk.

The talk:

I gave a talk in January, but I was not fully prepared. Today is the talk I had wanted to give then, having since spent more time getting ready. Thanks to KT we know there were 97 people present then. Of course, my ego is happier giving it today, knowing there are substantially more people here. I’m sure B will count today.

The Ward Conference theme is “becoming one through the sacrament“. It is also the theme for the year. As I mentioned in January please don’t forget the previous years’ theme of “never suppress a generous thought“. Let’s keep that ideal in our lives continually. Indeed I consider it foundational to becoming one.

We each, no doubt, have our own understanding of what it means to be one. The scriptures speak of being of one heart and one mind. Was does that really mean? Does it mean we should all think and feel and be the same? My answer to such a question is absolutely not. If we did what’s the point of being? I’m glad that there are some General Authorities of the Church who agree with me.

Sister Chieko Okazaki, a former counsellor in the Church General Relief Society Presidency wrote:

‚ÄúHere‚Äôs one of my¬†favourite¬†proverbs: ‚ÄėIf both of us think alike, one of us is not necessary.‚Äô

I’ll repeat that sentence –

“‚ÄėIf both of us think alike, one of us is not necessary.‚Äô

Continuing on with sister Okazaki’s words – “Well all of us are necessary. We all think different¬†thoughts, have different perceptions, enjoy different opinions, and rejoice in our diversity. Diversity means uniqueness and difference. It is a cause for celebration within our Church membership. Diversity is not a danger to be stamped out, a broken thing to be fixed, or a sin to be repented of.¬†We’ll¬†be stronger, healthier, more interesting, and more capable when we learn to enjoy differences instead of feeling¬†frightened about them or angry because of them.‚Ä̬†– Chieko Okazaki, “Aloha,” p. 97

Similarly, President Uchtdorf, in April 2013 General Conference, said that we are not expected to be clones of each other:

“… while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold‚ÄĒthat each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.

The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”

Part of any diversity is having different opinions and views. And that is okay. Unfortunately, some members of the Church become afraid when things are questioned. They somehow think doubting and seeking answers is akin to apostasy. Hugh B Brown, an earlier apostle and member of the First Presidency wrote:

‚ÄúI admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent ‚Äď if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.‚ÄĚ (Apostle Hugh B. Brown, ‚ÄúA Final Testimony,‚ÄĚ from An Abundant Life, 1999)

We are not meant to be the same. If someones says otherwise I will vehemently disagree. Yes, we are seeking to be like Christ. He, and only He, the Saviour of the world is my ideal,who I seek to be like. The life’s of others may be stepping stones of examples towards Christ, but it is only Christ I follow. It is a misnomer to feel that following Christ means we should all think and feel and be the same.

As an example of appreciation and love for difference, I will share an experience a member recently had watching a television program. I have asked for and been given permission to share this person’s experience. It showed a young man who had had many surgeries to shape his body as he felt it should be. I will speak in the first person, using the person‚Äôs own words.

“My first reaction is that I found the young man grotesque and unnatural. My next thoughts were disapproving and self-righteous, thinking what a wrong path he had chosen for himself and how he had messed up his life by going so far down that path. Then I felt I saw his heart, and that he was only seeking beauty, perfection and self-affirmation. We all seek those things, one way or another, but the only place they can truly be found is in divinity. I felt I understood at that moment that, deep down, he just wanted to recapture what we have all lost when we left our Father’s presence. All my disapproval disappeared and I felt a deep love for him and with it a realisation that I mess up too, and that God had not rejected either him or me. It happened quickly, within seconds of watching him speak to the plastic surgeons. I learnt how inappropriate it was of me to judge (i.e. disapprove). His life experience had been very different to mine, so why should I expect him to live like me and disapprove of him¬†when he doesn’t?

A lot of people will start as this person did and stay fixed in their revulsion and feelings of righteousness. We need to feel for each other, the way Christ and our Heavenly parents feel about us. This I acknowledge is not always easy. Yet, it is the only way. Christ says He is the way, the truth and the life and that no man comes unto the Father, except by Him. What did he do? He loved us. He does love us. Paul speaks, in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

So the injunction is we love each other here today and everyone else, in our families, schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, neighbourhoods, communities, nations, countries and the world. There ought to be no exclusions.

I occasionally get criticism for supposedly singling out supporting the LGBTQ community. No one should be or feel excluded. A while ago I quoted sister Sue Bergin, a relief society president in the States about having no exclusions. Rather than just repeat her words, I have taken and extended them:

“I don’t care if you smoke, drink, abuse substances, are unchaste, hate relief society or priesthood meeting, don’t sustain church leaders, don’t have a testimony, don’t know if you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, have had an abortion, don’t love your wife or husband, don’t like being a mother or father, think women should have the priesthood, are gay or lesbian or transgender, don’t know if you believe in God, don’t relate to Jesus Christ, don’t want to go to the temple, wonder about polygamy. Continuing, I don’t care if you’re single, married, divorced, childless, bearded, beardless, have short hair, long hair, no hair, wear a suit or wear jeans and a t-shirt to church, wear a white shirt or a coloured shirt to church, whether you’re a member of this church or not, whether you come every week, or once a month or once a year or somewhere in between”.

I’ve tried to think of all the ways that we sometimes exclude people, or if we don’t exclude people, that people sometimes themselves feel excluded for. And even if the exclusion is not connected with anything others may be doing, saying or not doing or saying, it does not give anyone permission to say “oh, well, sad they feel that way. Never mind. It’s all their own fault, they just shouldn’t feel that way.”

I do not believe the Saviour would respond that way and do not believe He would like us to either.

No doubt I’ve forgotten or missed something or someone. Oh, one more. I don’t care if you’re politically right wing, left wing or centre. I’m not sure God cares either. In fact I’m not too sure if God is happy if we try to use Him as a means of carrying support for any political belief. It’s so easy to do, which ever way we lean.

The main thing is that, as sister Bergin said, we all belong here, we need each other. We really do need each other. We cannot be one or a Zion society without each other. Everyone belongs here.

That surely must be the same for a whole ward, stake, area and worldwide church and the whole world.

Being one we love and accept each other. We may not always agree with each other. And that’s fine. Love and acceptance is not always about agreeing.

Now, no doubt, some here will be sitting thinking, but…, but…, but…, but the Church teaches we should be chaste, we should keep the word of wisdom, we should do certain things, etc. etc.

Yes, from one viewpoint the Church does teach that. Yet, I will say that from one perspective the Church does not teach that “we” should do anything. If it teaches anything at all, it teaches what I should do or what you as an individual should do. Though, I personally think the word “should” does not help much. I hope I’m using the right words to convey what I mean here. Don’t you worry about how the person next to you is living. Worry about how you are living. As President Uchtdorf said last general conference we need to ask ourselves “Lord, is it I?” What or how Lord, do I need to be different?

Now yes, there are certain standards to adhere to for baptism, for going into the Temple. We teach the principles and as Joseph Smith said, we let the people, we let each other, govern ourselves.

If and when people ask for help then we give it as freely as we are able. Imposing help just doesn’t work. Imposing, or in other words, compelling someone to do something, will bring change in behaviour though not internalised change. It will not be lasting change. Forcing people to do right sounds more like the plan of the adversary. I think we forget that when we feel we must get people to do what we term “good things”, using guilt to get someone to do something is really akin to force. Not to be used. Years ago I’d do that. I hope mostly now I’ve given up that way of trying to get people to do things.

If any changes in anybody’s life is warranted it will come when the person is ready to make that happen. When we feel loved, we are more likely to ask a person who loves us for help. Change only comes through love – the love of Christ and the love of those around us.

Accept people and change may come. Don’t accept people and change won’t come or will likely only be short lived. We generally know whether a change is required in our lives or not. We don’t often need to be told.

If you really love someone, accept them, try to understand them, have empathy for them, love them.

I need your compassion, your understanding, your empathy, your acceptance, your love. As does everyone else here and elsewhere. If you find it hard to love someone, spend time with them, get to know them, listen to them. Really listening to understand someone is a hard thing to do. It means being vulnerable, being open, because listening to someone else might change the way you then think or feel about something. And often we just don’t want to change. During the munch and mingle after the meetings today, take the opportunity to be with someone who you know thinks differently to you on a particular subject. Ask them to share their feelings and then just listen to them. Don’t think about a counter argument or point of view, just listen to them. It could be on politics, it could be on gender, it could be on football, or another sport, it could be on teaching, it could be on employment or benefits, or rape or divorce or sex or birth control. Remember this is to listen and the person speaking is sharing not debating.

The main thing to guide us in how we approach each other is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit will help us listen to each other better. And listening to others to understand will help us to listen better to the Spirit. It will be upward spiral of understanding. Out of that understanding will flow a greater love for each other.

As Henry Chadwick, wrote in his book, East and West. The making of a rift:¬†‚ÄúDivision brings evils in its train ‚Äď evils to which we become insensitive by habit. Patient listening can uncover deep and wide agreement concealed by the polemics of the past.‚ÄĚ

As we listen with understanding we will find there is less disagreement than we previously thought and the oneness that our heavenly Parents seek for us, we will all be closer to.

If someone says “I love you“, following those three beautiful words with that ugly word “but” any love becomes slightly tainted. “But” might be considered one of the most destructive of words.

Mark Lowry wrote:”Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!

Let us remember what Elder Wirthlin said in April 2008 Conference:

Some are lost because they are different.¬†They feel as though they¬†don’t¬†belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from¬†the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they¬†don’t¬†fit in. They¬†conclude that they are not needed.
Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

Everyone is wanted and needed. Perhaps not everyone here feels that. As I said earlier:”We need you and you need us.

We need each other, no exclusions. Let us become one, as we love each other without conditions of worth.

President Uchtdorf said at a BYU fireside:
‚ÄúChurch members are wonderful in their desire to be obedient and follow the Lord. But sometimes, in spite of our good intentions, we delay doing what we should do or we misunderstand what we were taught. As a result, inspired words of counsel might not have the promised effect.¬† Unfortunately, we sometimes¬†don’t¬†seek revelation or answers from the scriptures because we think we know the answers already.

Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.

How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but¬†couldn’t¬†get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?‚ÄĚ

Whilst we can quote scriptures and the words of Latter-day prophets and Apostles, the real and full source of truth is within ourselves, coming directly from our Heavenly parents. We must be careful not to set ourselves up to fail by falsely worshipping men or women, even though they may appear to have authority. I hope never to forget the words written by Joseph Smith, in section D&C 121. In our interactions with each other let us remember these principles and attributes:

… the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved;¬†and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

Let us remember that anyone who says we should do anything solely because of their position (priesthood or otherwise) is going counter to Joseph Smith’s counsel and I include myself as bishop in this. Remember:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by

by long-suffering,
by gentleness and meekness, and
by love unfeigned; (real, genuine love)
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”

Finally, “Let our bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith… ” to become one.

I believe I have taught truth today. Our Heavenly parents are real. Christ is real. The Holy Ghost is real. Of all this I witness in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Art of Asking, Changing and Becoming Me

I love having a bath. At least, usually, once a week I take a bath. Generally I soak for at least an hour. During which I may read, meditate, ponder, dream, imagine, pray, visualise, compose poetry. Being secluded brings more ideas and feelings, than come at other times. Which is where a large part of this entry comes from.

I’ve not blogged very frequently the past year or so. A while ago I changed the blog title thinking it would prompt more entries. It has had the opposite result. There have been things to blog, yet as they didn’t seem directly related to counselling I’ve not made them. So today I’m changing the blog title again. Now it will simply be “The Art of Becoming Me – Neil”. Or perhaps, “The Art of Becoming Me”, or maybe “The Art of Becoming Neil”? Or even “The Art of Becoming… ”

The idea being the door is open to blog about anything, not feeling limited to purely counselling matters.

There is always though an overlap. Being a person-centred counsellor embraces all I am. Being more open about everything, is consistent with the concept of congruence, one of the three primary qualities of a person-centred counsellor – unconditional positive regard,¬†empathy and congruence – ideals I aspire to each day. Aspire to, yet no doubt never completely reach. A line from Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking”, my bath reading, fits here, about the purpose of life being for:


I didn’t take note, at the time of reading. Note taking not too easy in the bath 😇 If I later find it I’ll edit this post to add an exact quote here.

A lot of thoughts have risen from the book. Recommend it.


Can the essence of the book be summed up in a word? Perhaps, connection is one word I’d choose. Another, vulnerability. Trust and faith are others. And of course, asking:

Some days it’s your turn to ask
“Some days it’s your turn to be asked

     “Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.
     Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
     I deserve to ask
     You are welcome to say no.
     Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.”

Some other words or phrases that stand out for me:

“Conditional love is:
     I will only love you if you love me.
     Unconditional love is:
     I will love you even if you do not love me.
     It’s really easy to love passing strangers unconditionally.
     They demand nothing of you.
     It is really hard to love people unconditionally when they can hurt you.”

“You can never give people what they want, Anthony said.
     What do you mean?
¬†¬†¬†¬† We were lying by the side of Walden Pond in Concord, two towns from Lexington, where we’d crested a ritual of ambling around the circumference of the water, then lazing under the trees with a picnic for a nice long grok.
¬†¬†¬†¬† People always want something from you, he said. Your time. Your love. Your money. For you to agree with them and their politics, their point of view. And you can’t ever give them what they want. But you —–
¬†¬†¬†¬† That’s a dreary worldview.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Let me finish clown. You can’t ever give people what they want. But you can give them something else. You can give them empathy. You can give them understanding. And that’s a lot, and enough to give.

On their own the words quoted above may not mean much. Read the book and hopefully they will. You will no doubt take different things from it than I did. And that is okay. And perhaps that’s another principle, idea, concept, of the book – difference is okay.

Not everyone will like Amanda’s writing style. If you have read and valued Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”, then the ideas in “The Art of Asking” should resonate with you.

15th December – sacrament talk on not judging


Okay. It’s been months since ¬†last made an entry. I’m wondering if the title of the blog is hindering me, as much of what I do experience as a counsellor is obviously confidential and cannot be shared here at all – even if names were changed, clients could still feel betrayed if I started outlining anything of a session we had shared. So, today I share a sacrament talk I gave recently. Some people have commented that it should be shared more widely. Am I feeding my ego in posting it here? In seeking further validation? Yes, probably I am. But, does that mean I should not post the talk? No, I don’t think it does.

Why, though, post it? Perhaps, to give an opportunity to look at how we do (sometimes inadvertently) judge others, that it can initially take great effort not to judge other people and ourselves. Judging ourselves is subject for another talk or post. Would I change anything? I would add things, probably quite a few things. Don’t think I’d take anything anyway. As a sacrament talk I spoke for 30 minutes. It would have taken another 10 minutes ¬†to complete, so bits were left out, that I hope did not lose the meaning. Posting it here also gives everyone a chance to read the complete talk.

Will it be misunderstood? Potentially. Unless you are familiar with the LDS Church (culture and doctrine) there will be some parts that make little or no sense. Or will at least be confusing. If you are familiar with the LDS Church much, it not all, should make sense, even if you don’t agree with everything.

I’ve still put a “counselling” tag on this post. Why? As people come to me for counselling I see the damage that has been/is done when judgement has been received from others. Whether it’s deliberate or inadvertent judgement, doesn’t seem to matter. In particular, coming from significant others, like family, close friends, work colleagues or other Church members, it can be hurtful in the short and long-term. Empathy is a key quality or trait that helps us to avoid judging. Maybe more on that in a future post.

The Talk Itself:

Like many talks, I’ve written this talk in my head several times over the past couple of months. I’ve researched extensively on the subject. I’ve talked to people face to face, posted on Facebook forums, plus of course prayed, all from which I’ve gained a deeper insight into what on the surface seems a simple injunction. You may be thinking, why don’t we ever get that much time to prepare a talk? Well, if anyone has a talk on a particular subject they’d like to give, please let a member of the bishopric know. I’m sure we can work out a time for you to speak.

It’ll soon be Christmas day!! So I’d better say something about Christ’s birth!! Even though it wasn’t at this time of year, we celebrate with other Christians around the world. Most of us know the history – born of the the virgin Mary, visited by the shepherds in the manager, then a couple of years later by the wise men. The question is what does His life mean to us individually? Not just now, but each day?

What was His main teaching? When asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? ¬†Jesus said …, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”¬†If we want to honour Christ at Christmas time, that is what we do. We love each other. Yet, that is something not limited to the Christmas period. I still remember Wizard singing “I wish it could be Christmas everyday”. Whilst the lights and the trees and the decorations and the presents we may or may not give and receive would probably become less special over the years, love does not become or feel any less.

Today, I want to talk about a particular aspect of Christ’s command to love.

First, an interjection. At 7pm this evening (15th December), 37 years ago, I was baptised into this Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Epsom chapel, as part of the Kingston Ward, as then there was no chapel building in Kingston. I’ll come back to this later.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of attending a Union training course. On the journey, there is a one way bridge where cars stop at traffic lights. As I slowed down to stop at the lights, I noticed what was obviously a pornographic magazine lying in the middle of the road. By the time I stopped it was between me and the car behind me. The lights changed green and I started to drive off. I noticed when checking my rear view mirror that the driver behind me, moved forward a little, stopped, opened his car door and picked up the magazine. My immediate thought was he’ll be having an interesting read later. Straightaway, though, a strong rebuke, coupled with a really uncomfortable feeling, from the Spirit came.
The words from the Spirit were: “Do not judge another of my sons or daughters. How do you know that he was not just picking the magazine off
the road, to throw it away, so pedestrians will not have to view the magazine. You do not know, so do not judge“. As I said, coupled with the words was a strong feeling, a feeling of “How dare you!!”. “How dare you judge one of my sons or daughters”. Did it really matter if the person was going to read the magazine? Surely the command to not judge is not conditional. Whether or not the magazine was read, it was not my place to judge.

It has been said, “love the sinner, hate the sin”. These words even have a kind of scriptural tone to them. But, they are not from the scriptures. They¬†are¬†from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains a phrase¬†that¬†translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” This¬†phrase became more well known as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate¬†the sin and not the sinner” (this latter form appearing in Gandhi‚Äôs 1929¬†autobiography). Ghandi, though, later retracted the saying.

Unfortunately, it has become prevalent across many parts of society, in particular amoung Christian religious groups. As I mentioned in Sunday
School, a while back, I don’t feel comfortable with the statement. I think there are many other such short statements or quotes, that give the mistaken idea that everything in life is very cut and dried, black and white or right and wrong, good and evil. Nothing, however, is as clear as we’d like it to be.

On Facebook, pinterest and other social networking sites, images with quotes on, known as memes, are often overused, taken out of context, so
they do not convey the fullness of what the original writer or author meant. Words are often placed over a poignant image, so the whole thing
elicits an emotional response. One¬†problem with such memes is that they can also be used to justify oneself.¬† For example, from one of my favourite talks from the recent general conference, comes the phrase “doubt your doubts, don’t doubt your faith” that has been turned into a meme, as if that was President Uchtdorf’s main message. It was certainly part of his message. Though, if that was all you got from his talk, you missed a whole lot.

I have found a rewrite of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” phrase that I’m much more comfortable with. Mark¬†Lowry wrote the following:
Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!

In, what is known as, the Sermon on the Mount, the Saviour taught us to “judge not, that ye be not judged“. In the Joseph Smith translation it is
expanded slightly to say “judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgement“.¬†But what does “judge righteously” actually mean? Sometimes I wonder if it’s used as an excuse, or used, to put another person down, as in “look at what brother or sister so and so is doing! A member of the church shouldn’t do that!!” Well, of course, none of us are perfect. ¬†Are we not all far from where we would like to be?

In Moroni¬†7:18,¬†Mormon, being quoted by his son,¬†states: “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.” This gives the impression it is okay to judge, if we don’t do so wrongfully.¬†I’d still suggest that attempting any judgement is a minefield we all best keep well away from. A few verses earlier Mormon teaches:¬†“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.” We need to be very careful in judging and in my reading of Moroni 7, it is interesting that when there is discussion of judging, it is things, never people that judgement is being talked about.

The next few verses of the Sermon on the Mount are clearer for me, as to where we should be with judging. Before I read that, it¬†has been said that if we are really comfortable with ourselves – who we are, where we are, where we are heading and being, then there would be little impetus to find fault, either with others or with situations we may find ourselves in. An example from the writing of Brene Brown: “Have you seen what’s he’s wearing? His backside looks huge in those trousers!!”¬†Why would anyone make or, perhaps more often, think such a thought?

Research shows that if we’re happy and content with our own backside, we’re a lot less likely to make judgements about other people’s backsides.
Research shows, we often judge others, because we are unhappy, we are not content, with something about ourselves. Judgement often comes from within us. Sometimes referred to as transference.

This is what I feel the Saviour is alluding to in the Sermon on the Mount, about not judging, but particularly:

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother‚Äôs eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Are we familiar with the reference to the beam and the mote? When I first came across these verses, I knew they were about judging, but had no idea that the beam was referring to a beam of wood and the mote was a spec of dust. In other words, we can’t see clearly to judge another’s issues or concerns, because of the size of our own issues.

Is this not really what Mark Lowry was saying, though, in language we use today?¬†“Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just¬†love each other!

There will always be things others do or think or feel that we may disagree with. There can be a tendency to justify our position, often with scripture, which can then, if only inadvertently, lead to judging the other as wrong. We can end up thinking we have the truth all sorted.

At a CES Devotional in Jan 2013, President Uchtdorf stated:

The ‚Äútruths‚ÄĚ we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these ‚Äútruths‚ÄĚ are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives.

“Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth,¬†thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be¬†true. Conversely, we sometimes¬†don’t¬†believe truth or¬†reject it‚ÄĒbecause it¬†would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is¬†rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous¬†experiences.

“When the opinions or ‚Äútruths‚ÄĚ of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be
helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed,
mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive. 

“Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives‚ÄĒfrom sports to family relationships and from religion to politics.

In regard to politics – some people have, what are termed, left wing views, some right wing, some are somewhere in the middle. I can find many
scriptures supporting a right wing political view. I can also find an equal number supporting a left wing political view. This is not the time to discuss them. I mention this to suggest caution in using scripture as a way of defending one point of view against another. I’m not just talking politics here either.

There are many areas where people may disagree, in or out of the Church. For example:

  • Some are feminists, some are chauvinists, some are in the somewhere in the middle. Are those words really opposites though?
  • Some support same-sex marriage. Some venomously oppose same-sex marriage. Some haven’t made their mind up.
  • Some people live the Word of Wisdom. Some don’t.¬†Some people think as part of the Word of Wisdom we shouldn’t drink coke. Some do drink coke. Some haven’t made their mind up.
  • Some are vegetarians or vegans. Some eat meat.
  • Some people wear crucifixes. Some don’t. Some don’t really worry about them.
  • Some think women should be ordained to the priesthood. Some are completely opposed to such a thought. Again, some are somewhere in the¬†middle. I separate this thought from the earlier one concerning feminists, as one does not necessarily follow the other.
  • Some believe without question all that is said at general conference by the Brethren. They feel anything else leads to apostasy.¬†Some question, study and pray, to get a conviction about what has been said. Some are somewhere in the middle.

And this is where the problems of determining “truth” that President Uchtdorf mentioned can occur. There can be a feeling that because the Brethren said something at one time or another about something, that that thing should always be that way. Well, I think we only have to look at the history of the church and we can realise that policies, programs and even doctrine can and do change over time and circumstances. Isn’t that why, the Lord, in section one of the Doctrine and Covenants, described the church as a “living church“, because living things are not stagnant, but change, develop and grow over time?

Isn’t this also what the 9th Article of Faith is talking about: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

If we think the restoration is complete and over and done with, we may be in for a big surprise one day. And I’m not just speaking about policy, such as we had in missionary ages changing. We had a change in doctrine and policy in 1978 and will, no doubt, have one again. I don’t know what about or when. If we’re not open hearted enough to accept further change, we may be in for a struggle when it does come.

In the same talked just quoted, President Uchtdorf¬†continued:¬†“But how can we know that this ‚Äútruth‚ÄĚ is different from any other? How can
we trust this ‚Äútruth‚ÄĚ?¬†

“The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us from the responsibility to know for ourselves. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation‚ÄĒand it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth.

“Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth.
“Brigham Young said:¬†I am . . . afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.

“We seek for truth wherever we may find it. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that:
“Mormonism is truth. . . . The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or . . . being . . . prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.

So, we have to discover what is right for ourselves. This, of course, can be scary.

What if someone discovers something different for themselves from us? It is not up to us to judge or become intolerant of someone’s differing views or differing revelation that they may have experienced. We are all learning and developing. We each do so at different paces. Perhaps one of the biggest areas of development is loving each other unconditionally.

Why did I mention those areas of difference earlier? Because there are so, so many other differences, these are some obvious differences people have to consider. Are they important? Yes. Absolutely. All differences are important and to be respected. You may not agree with me. I may not agree with you.

That is fine. So long as we don’t classify each other as a sinner for feeling and even acting differently. as was mentioned in a comment in Sunday school last week, my sin is between me and my God. Your sin is between you and your God.¬† As President¬†Uchtdorf¬†said, quoting the words on a car bumper sticker:¬†‚ÄúDon’t¬†judge me because I sin differently than you.‚ÄĚ

I would paraphrase: ‚ÄúDon’t judge me because I believe differently than you.‚ÄĚ

I use the word “believe” deliberately. Sometimes I think the impression is given that we all must “know” or there is something not quite right with our testimony. Some of us do only believe certain things. And that is okay. Isn’t that why in the Doctrine and Covenants in section 46:13-14, the Lord said:

To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

As Elder Ballard has said: “… sometimes we … disagree …, but we can do so without being disagreeable.

We all need open hearts and minds, to learn from each other, to discover new things. I’m so grateful for promptings to learn more about¬†life, as it is not made up of simple yes and no choices. A few years back, in 2007, Elder Dallin H. Oaks talked of choosing between “good, better and best“. What is good for me, may be best for you. What is good for you, may be better or best for me. Or visa versa. Or any other combination of those.

Elder Russell M Ballard, in October 2001 general conference, gave a talk titled “Doctrine of Inclusion“.¬†Whilst Elder Ballard was speaking about
members of the church’s relationship to those who are not members, surely his message is equally, if not more, relevant to us all here today towards each other. He said:¬†“Perceptions and assumptions can be very dangerous and unfair. There are some of our members who may fail to reach out with friendly smiles, warm handshakes, and loving service to all … At the same time, there may be those who move into our neighborhoods who are not of our faith who come with negative preconceptions about the Church and its members. Surely good neighbors should put forth every effort to understand each other and to be kind to one another regardless of religion, nationality, race, or culture.

Occasionally I hear of members offending … others by overlooking them and leaving them out. This can occur especially in communities where our members are the majority. I have heard about narrow-minded parents who tell children that they cannot play with a particular child in the neighborhood simply because his or her¬†family¬†does not belong to our Church. This kind of behavior is not in keeping with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot comprehend why any member of our Church would allow these kinds of things to happen. I have never taught‚ÄĒnor have I ever heard taught‚ÄĒa doctrine of exclusion. I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant, and benevolent to our friends and neighbors of other faiths.¬†The Lord expects a great deal from us. Parents, please teach your children and practice yourselves the principle of inclusion of others and not exclusion because of religious, political, or cultural differences.

“Each of us is an individual. Each of us is different. There must be respect for those differences. …

I particularly feel relevant the paragraph where President Hinckley is quoted:

‚Äú‚Ķ We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse. Concerning these you and I may disagree. But we can do so with respect and civility‚ÄĚ “(Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley¬†[1997], 661, 665)

As I said, whilst Elder Ballard was talking about members of the church’s relationship to those who are not members, surely his message is equally, if not more, relevant to us all here today towards each other, toward those of our family, towards others we know, as members of our Ward, Stake and Church at large.

Did the Saviour judge others during His ministry? On occasion he did, describing the Pharisees and others, in not particularly pleasant language.
However, most of us do not have the discernment the Saviour had and He has told us not to judge. I particularly like His response when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Him. Not only did He not judge the woman, but neither did He judge or condemn the Pharisees. After the woman was pushed in front of Him, he was quiet for some time. He paused. He didn’t react, as we might when confronted with an angry person or group of people. He sat down and wrote on the ground. Then he responded. He didn’t tell them they were wrong. He didn’t condemn them. He simply asked them a question:

who amoungst you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.

He didn’t condemn the woman either. Waiting until the crowd had dispersed, He simply said “go and sin no more.” As the Son of God, he was entitled to use the words “sin no more“. Are we? I’m not sure we are regarding others.

In October 2003 General Conference, Elder Holland quoted Joseph Smith:

‚ÄúOur heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. ‚Ķ God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but ‚Ķ the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.‚ÄĚ

Let us all, as far as we are able, be merciful to each other, to all we meet.Some will not like what I’m saying today. Some will absolutely like what I’m saying. Again, some will be in the middle somewhere. Perhaps the majority will be somewhere in the middle. Some may think I’m advocating a policy that anything goes. That is not the case. The Lord has laid out the plan of salvation and happiness for us. It is up to each of us to follow that as best we each can. It is not up to us to point out where we may think another person may be lacking. If we are not sure about something we must feel able to approach others to ask questions and not to feel judged, condemned or put down.

Whether we’re discussing which television programmes or DVDs we watch, the clothes we wear, the places we visit, the haircut or style we have, the makeup we wear or don’t, the jewellery we wear or piercings we have, these are all things we may have an opinion on. We may even base such opinions on our reading of what the Brethren have said, or our interpretation of the scriptures. Whatever we base our views on, if someone else does things differently to us, we should not judge them in any way, that is really between them and their Lord God and their Saviour.

As I mentioned earlier, 37 years ago, I was being taught by the missionaries, attending Church and was baptised on the 15th December 1976. I am
grateful that no one, not the missionaries who taught me, not my then bishop, or my elders quorum president or anyone else in the Ward told me, or asked me or even suggested, I should shave my beard off, get my hair cut or take out my one earring or wear a suit and a white shirt. I did those things, bit by bit, over time, as prompted by the Spirit and as the money was available. Did it make me a better person by doing those things? Some may think it did. I’m not really sure. The Spirit does bring the¬†greatest¬†and¬†most lasting change.

We can all be made to feel guilty over something and then feel pressured into making some change in our lives. But, when the prompting for change comes from the Spirit, that change will most likely be greater and more long lasting and real.

Another talk from President Uchtdorf, from October 2009 General Conference:

‚ÄúIf ye love me, keep my commandments.‚ÄĚ

“This is the essence of what it means to be a true disciple: those who receive Christ Jesus walk with Him.

“But this may present a problem for some because there are so many ‚Äúshoulds‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúshould nots‚ÄĚ that merely keeping track of them can be a
challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles‚ÄĒmany coming from uninspired sources‚ÄĒcomplicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person‚Äôs good idea‚ÄĒsomething that may work for him or her‚ÄĒtakes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of ‚Äúgood ideas.‚ÄĚ

“This was one of the Savior‚Äôs criticisms of the religious ‚Äúexperts‚ÄĚ of His day, whom He chastised for attending to the hundreds of minor details of the law while neglecting the weightier matters.¬†

“So how do we stay aligned with these weightier matters? Is there a constant compass that can help us prioritize our lives, thoughts, and actions?
“Once again the Savior revealed the way. When asked to name the greatest commandment, He did not hesitate. ‚ÄúThou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,‚ÄĚ He said. ‚ÄúThis is the first and great commandment.‚ÄĚ Coupled with the second great commandment‚ÄĒto love our neighbor as ourselves ¬†‚ÄĒwe have a compass that provides direction not only for our lives but also for the Lord‚Äôs Church on both sides of the veil.

“Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is¬†the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and¬†our talk.

“When we truly understand what it means to love as Jesus Christ loves us, the confusion clears and our priorities align. Our walk as disciples of Christ becomes more joyful. Our lives take on new meaning. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father becomes more profound. Obedience becomes a joy rather than a burden.

I think in many ways our heavenly parents, are in the middle of most things, where we, as imperfect beings, may think in extremes. I really don’t believe God is an extremist or that He wants us to live the letter of the law.¬†Whether we are at one extremist end of a point of view or at the other end, or somewhere in the middle let us have respect for differing points of view and behaviour. Let us love each other fully. Yes, let us have discussions about such difference in thought, behaviour and being. Let us each share our point of views. Let us, though, fully accept the other person or groups, right, and yes, I use the word “right” on purpose, for is that not what agency is about, the right to have a different view for¬†yourself, to feel free to question things.

Is this not what the 11th Article of Faith means: “We/I claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our/my own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

President Uchtdorf expressed the same at the most recent general conference, October 2013, when he said:
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history‚ÄĒalong with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events‚ÄĒthere have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.¬†

“Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.¬†Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the ‚Äúfacts‚ÄĚ really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.

There is no sin in doubting or questioning!!

President Uchtdorf in April 2012 General Conference, also said:

This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:

“Stop it!

“It‚Äôs that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His
children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters.

Sister Cetti Cherniak, in a talk entitled: “The Theology of Desire” expressed her thoughts that empathy is the¬†solution¬†to¬†all such differences:
In our well-meaning efforts to thwart evil, we have blunted our¬†awareness of physical and emotional sensation; and yet, paradoxically, it is¬†from this very physical-emotional awareness that all ethical behaviour springs, for only to the extent we connect with our own feelings are we able to connect with those of others. Social psychologists remind us that¬†the roots of morality are to be found in empathy, since it is empathizing¬†with the potential victims and so sharing their distress that moves people¬†to act with altruism. Empathy is the essence of the mothering instinct; a¬†mother who is bonded to her infant feels on some deep level what he feels¬†and so can meet his needs. Empathy – not sympathy, which sets one person apart from and above another, but empathy, which dissolves ego¬†boundaries – can also be considered the root of friendship. In its power to¬†unite two souls, it could even be considered the essence of romantic love.¬†In erotic love, empathy reaches its highest expression, as, ideally, our pleasure depends on one another’s pleasure. Our consciences themselves can¬†be said to depend on a sense that not only have we hurt or helped others¬†in some way, but that we have hurt our Father’s feelings or given him great¬†pleasure. Only with empathy can we keep the spirit of the two greatest¬†commandments, and of our baptismal covenant to “mourn with those¬†who mourn.” Only with compassion, a true feeling – with, will we know¬†how to offer felicitous comfort to those who stand in need of comfort.

When people feel understood they are more likely to listen and understand another point of view, even though they may not actually change their view on something. An example being, those who oppose same-sex marriage often find it hard to listen to the thoughts of those who do support it. And it can be the same the other way too, that those who support same-sex marriage find it difficult to listen to those who oppose it. As each side listens to the other, with a desire to really understand, hearts will be more at one, even if there is no agreement on the subject. This applies to all of the areas of difference I mentioned earlier and many, many more. We can learn from each other.¬†Think for a moment of someone you really like or love. You may love them for their passions, quirks, sense of¬†humour,¬†shared experiences, and more. If we separate our care of a person from their thoughts, beliefs and desires, is that to love a person not for him or herself, who they are, but merely to love a person for being a member of the human race? Can you imagine a more meaningless or shallow form of “love”?

Surely, we love not in spite of the other persons idiosyncrasies, quirks, differences or peculiarities, but because of them.

Let us love each other with a full unconditional Christlike love. Let us love each other here, those who are not here, those in our families, those in our nurseries, schools, colleges, universities, places of employment, neighbourhoods, let us love everyone.

Didn’t Joseph Smith say something about, overlook my sins and I’ll overlook yours???

This is a great and wonderful ward. We have much diversity here. I feel though that there is more diversity awaiting us. Let us prepare for such now. There should and can be more people here, of all types of diversity, joining with us in seeking to love as the Saviour.

In John chapter one, Philip is telling Nathanael about the Messiah. Nathanael, reflecting on the Saviour’s birthplace replies: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”¬†Do we¬†ever think similarly, that nothing good can come out of – substitute any part, area or community within the ward geographical boundaries. Substitute any area you may have negative thoughts about.

Do we ever similarly think no good can come out of certain individuals? Perhaps they smoke or drink or behave in other ways we may feel
inappropriate for members of the Church. Does that mean they cannot do good? Of course not. Our heavenly parents can and do work good, wonderful and amazing things through people who do all sorts of things, both in and out of the church. Let us remember the ward theme, to never suppress a generous thought. Let us avoid judging others’ circumstances, rather let us have continuous generous thoughts for and towards each other here and everyone we meet who is not here, whether in or out of the church. Let us give help to and receive help from everyone, regardless of their circumstances.

A final quote, from Thomas Merton, a Catholic mystic and monk: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

As I mentioned earlier Brigham Young said we should ask God if our leaders are telling us the truth, to not blindly accept what they say. I say the same to you today. I’m not expecting you to accept what I’m saying today or at any other time, just because I’ve been called as the bishop of this ward. Whether you agree or not with what I’m saying, when you get home, go and ask God, whether you should accept what I’m saying or not. I’d be interested in the answers received.

Now, of course, no one is really able to do not judge others continuously. We, including myself, will mess up in not judging others. That is part of what the Atonement is about. As we seek the Saviour’s help in not judging, in extending mercy to others, I believe, we will mess up less. And we will warrant the Saviour’s forgiveness for the times we do mess up.

May our heavenly parents strengthen us in loving unconditionally, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The power of books … Lisa Bu

Another wonderful TED talk. This time on “How books can open your mind“. Only 6 minutes long. I wonder where I would be without books to read. I like how Lisa Bu reads books in pairs, so she gets different perspective on the same event, not just being blinded by one. Books take me on journeys – sometimes within myself, sometimes outside myself. They help in discovering myself and the world around me. Books enable me to have great empathy. Having read more of other experiences, does help me be able to see the world from different perspectives and then to feel that difference too – empathy being feeling more than just seeing another point of view.

Do I have a favourite? I do, but favourites change over time. I can not say I have one favorite above all others. I have many I consider such. My current favourite, though, is:

Yes, this is a counselling book. The appeal for me goes beyond counselling Рmore toward a way of being.

Do you have a favourite book – either one overriding all others, or a current favourite?

What are books to you?

Bren√© Brown at the Up Experience 2009

Another amazing presentation by Bren√©¬†Brown. Shame – something we all (women and¬†men)¬†have, but don’t want to talk about. Worth 24¬†minutes and 45 seconds¬†of your time.

Bren√© Brown: The power of vulnerability

Last week I posted the video of Bren√© Brown: Listening to shame, saying I would post her other video, on vulnerability. As mentioned this video was recorded in 2010, whereas the “shame” one was recorded earlier this year. So here it is:

Interestingly it was also posted on the following person-centred forum:

However, I first came across it from a Linkedin group:

I find both videos enlightening, to the extent that last week I purchased Bren√©’s book: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You are. This can be a very scary thing to do. In a short summary, it is having empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence toward and for ourselves. In other words accepting and loving who we are. Not necessarily being content but acknowledging where we are and NOT destroying ourselves because we’re not perfect. For many, many people this can be very hard to do, particularly for members of the LDS Church, with an ideal of being perfect. This is not the place for a theological discussion on the subject, expect perhaps to say that while there may be a goal for perfection, it is often sought inappropriately, leaving people with immense guilt and stress which is avoidable. For me this comes back to Carl Rogers statement, shown on the right and side of this page: ‚ÄúThe curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.‚ÄĚ

Bren√©’s book gives ideas on how to come to terms with where we are. An interesting part is her take on love:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them‚ÄĒwe can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.” (bold highlight added by myself).

The question, for me, that seems to flow through the book, so far, is: how can I love you, if I do not really love myself? Also, how I can really accept your love, if I do not love myself?

Post edited at 18:30 GMT.

The Curious Paradox – a poem

The Curious Paradox

can I accept myself just as I am, so then I can change?
to do such, seems unlikely, to accept something so strange …

perhaps, though, if you can accept the strangeness I feel within,
the silliness, the faults, the weirdness, the wrongs I feel, even the sin,
real or imagined, felt or imposed, they all lie within,

myself … just as I am,
as you accept me as I am,
so I am able to accept myself just as I am

as you listen, as you accept me, just as I am
as you feel as I feel, just as I am,
at least, a possibility of change becomes real,
thus change encircles me as I heal,
as I embrace you fully in return,
together we change, as from each other we learn
as, both of us, the healing encircles,
changes come, as unrecognised miracles

so then I change?
so then we change?

one type of strange,
to another type of strange
to yet another type of strange,

from a moth, to a chrysalis, to a butterfly,
from where I was, to where I am, to where I will be,

yes, for as was once written:

“The curious paradox is that
when I accept myself just as I am,
then I can change.‚ÄĚ

so then will change come?
yes, if … you desire
yes, if … we desire
yes, if … I desire

New blog title …

Felt to change the title of my blog today. ¬†It now makes more obvious my¬†membership¬†of The¬†Church¬†of¬†Jesus¬†Christ of Latter-day Saints. ¬†Such¬†membership¬†was always¬†available¬†in the “About me” page, so¬†whilst¬†never¬†hidden, it is now more¬†open. ¬†Why the change? ¬†That¬†I cannot really¬†put¬†an¬†explanation, thought¬†or feeling to at the moment. ¬†Perhaps it will spark more¬†interest? ¬†Perhaps not. ¬†Perhaps¬†the opposite?

Time to state again that this blog is about me, not any clients I see, whoever they are or may be.  Part of me is being a member of the LDS Church, so is that where the title change comes from, a desire to show more openly to the counselling world and others who may read this blog that I am a member of said Church?  Should it matter to make such known?  From much of the Press recently about Mitt Romney it would seem some think it does matter.  Whilst the blog is about me, mainly in connection to person-centred counselling, other aspects of my life no doubt come through.  Now a main part openly does.

Of course this then¬†raises¬†the¬†question¬†of “parts”. ¬†What¬†is¬†a part? Do¬†all¬†the¬†parts¬†add¬†together¬†to make a sum great¬†than¬†the¬†individual¬†parts? ¬†Can we really have parts or roles? ¬†As mentioned else where here,¬†being¬†a¬†person-centred¬†counsellor¬†is¬†not a role that can be¬†put¬†on and off as one enters or¬†leaves¬†the¬†counselling¬†room. ¬†So¬†being¬† a¬†member¬†of the¬†LDS¬†Church¬†is¬†not¬†something¬†that¬†can be put on or off as one¬†enters¬†or¬†leaves the chapel¬†each¬†Sunday. ¬†Then comes the question of what does it mean to be LDS? ¬†Perhaps¬†another¬†day¬†with¬†ample time¬†to¬†write, I’ll¬†answer¬†what it mean to me to be LDS. ¬†A quick, very short answer is being¬†congruent, having empathy,¬†and¬†unconditional¬†positive¬†regard¬†for¬†all (qualities vital for a person-centred¬†counsellor)¬†– being filled with love.

‚ÄúDependency and the Person-Centred Approach‚ÄĚ

Months ago I said¬†I’d¬†answer this question – so¬†answer it I¬†will, though it will be from¬†my own¬†perspective¬†as from my reading, browsing¬†and¬†searching¬†have¬†not¬†yet¬†discovered much that¬†relates to the subject. ¬†Apart from¬†the¬†quote to the right from Brian Thorne: “If therapy has been successful, clients will also have learned how to be their own therapist“. ¬†The implication I¬†take¬†is that is you no longer need a¬†therapist, there is no¬†dependency. ¬†That of course is the ultimate aim, hopefully the end¬†result¬†of¬†any¬†counselling that has¬†taken¬†place. ¬†Before¬†that¬†is reached there¬†will¬†no doubt be some¬†type¬†of¬†dependency. ¬†¬†Ideally there should be none,¬†as any¬†relationship¬†between a person-centred¬†counsellor¬†and¬†client¬†should be as equal as possible. ¬†There¬†will¬†no doubt be some inequality, but that¬†should¬†be very¬†limited. Through the attributes of acceptance, empathy and congruence the client will hopefully see the counsellor not as an expert or the expert, in knowing what the client should do or be, but as¬†someone¬†who is there to assist the¬†client¬†in getting to¬†know¬†them self¬†more, to¬†discover¬†things¬†that¬†had¬†either¬†been¬†deliberately, or¬†unconsciously¬†hidden. The object being¬†to¬†come to¬†terms¬†with who they were, who¬†they¬†are now and who they wish to be,¬†recognising¬†that we are never static¬†in our being,¬†that¬†‚ÄúThe good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.‚ÄĚ ¬†This links for me with¬†another¬†statement¬†from¬†Carl¬†Rogers:¬†‚ÄúThe curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.‚ÄĚ ¬†As I come to¬†understand¬†where¬†I¬†have¬†come from, where I am, then I can¬†more¬†powerfully¬†change¬†my future, if I wish to.

Reading this over, it probably¬†doesn’t¬†really¬†answer¬†the¬†question asked. ¬†Ah, well …¬†maybe¬†next¬†time ūüôā
As always, any thoughts or comments appreciated (or¬†further¬†questions ūüôā ).
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