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

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Sacrament talk – life is messy

Introduction:

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 🙂

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’s burdens. Now I’m 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’re all spread out behind him carrying our own. There isn’t a single person in this room not carrying a cross. We’re all carrying crosses. As we enter the waters of baptism, we covenant to bear each other’s 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, “Read your scriptures more often. Attend all three services, as boring as they might be, every Sunday.” 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’s 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, “And are you also studying the apocrypha? Because there are many true things therein.” 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’s 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’s literature, are stunningly beautiful, in his knowledge of Christ’s love and his atonement. My favorite band is Metallica. I have Radioactive as my ringtone. I find Macklemore’s The Heist really pertinent with profound truths. I love French rap. I love Vaughn Williams
 Now these are my things. This is music that Terryl does not share with me particularly. But what I’m 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
 Those, yes, but whenever the Lord talks about good books, he’s 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’s in Romans. “For 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.” I so testify in his holy name. Amen.”
– Fiona Givens, International Affirmation Conference 2015, Provo, Utah.

Sacrament talk on love

Introduction:

A talk given in Sacrament meeting, today, the 26th October 2014. As on a previous occasion, a few people requested a copy. So I’m posting it here for easy access.

The talk itself:

Often the General Authorities begin their talks with a personal story. I sometimes wonder why. Maybe it’s to get people’s attention concerning their subject? So, I’m starting with a story, of where I was last weekend. Apparently, some people thought I was ill. No, I was in good health and enjoying myself. I was on a counselling course, on the Saturday and Sunday. I have two more such weekends, to complete this course, in mid November and December. The course was “Essentials in Gender and Sexual Diversity”. Brilliant stuff. Why so? Well, there was all the information shared. I’m not about to share it all here. Though, I don’t think that would do any harm. Maybe that could be a topic for a fireside? What was really brilliant was the acceptance and love felt. I was one of five so-called “straight” people there. As might be expected, due to the nature of the course, the other ten students, were a mixture of different genders and sexual orientations. What was wonderful was that even after sharing that I was a Christian, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that love and acceptance did not lessen, change or alter. In any thing it increased.

How does this relate to the theme of the last few months, where people have been asked to speak on parts of the sermon on the mount, as xxxxx did before me.

6 verses, in particular about love. The last verse often being used completely out of context. It has even been the title of a Priesthood manual. It sets everyone up for false expectations, for failure – both of themselves and of others. It leads to inappropriate guilt and even to the destruction of families and individual lives.

So what is this awful verse?

Matthew 5: 48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

What is so wrong with this verse?

Firstly, the word “perfect” is mis-translated. The original Greek means whole or complete. Our current usage of the word “perfect” has become very different. The Latin has a similar meaning. In Latin it reads “having been finished or completed.”

So we are looking at something to be achieved later, not necessarily now. We often look at it as doing something absolutely correct, as in I’ve always paid a 100% tithing. I’ve never smoked. Never been in debt. I pray and read the scriptures 365 days a year. We have weekly FHE. Of course, I’m not saying these things should not be done. Nor am I saying they are true for myself.

This scripture verse, taken on it’s own, sets not only us up for failure as individuals and families, but also creates a problem for or perhaps with the church. Amongst many there is the thought that the prophet and apostles are perfect, that all they say is absolutely from God. Not only is that not the case, it can create a false sense of security.

Joseph Smith once commented “freedom of speech”

Joseph Smith’s imperfections and that of the current Brethren, actually increase my testimony and faith in our heavenly Parents and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. If they can work through such imperfect people, who achieve so much good, surely the same is true for you and me. As I’ve mentioned several times, don’t look for perfection in me. I mess up. I try not to, but on occasion things still go wrong. Yet, I hope I’m still able to do much good. And that will be and is the same for each of us. Most of the good I do here is in conjunction with others. Again, the same for all of us. A lot of the good achieved is as we work with others.

Of course, the greatest good we accomplish is working with the Saviour, as through His atonement we are enabled far beyond our own natural talents and abilities.

As I continue hopefully the context of my thoughts will become clearer. Maybe not. If not, come and see me after and let’s have a discussion.

Secondly, and for me more importantly, when this verse is separated from the preceding verses it is out of context. Now, I’m not a grammar expert. But I understand the word “therefore” is an adverb. I think that is the right term, which means there is a connection to what comes before. So what is happening here? I submit that verses 43 to 47, coming prior to verse 48 are what makes one perfect or whole or complete. What are they about?

Let’s read them. The reason for just taking these verses and not all of chapter 5 of Matthew is what is known as a pilcrow mark by verse 43. The pilcrow mark depicts the beginning of a paragraph. It’s kind of like a backwards P with two legs. This makes verses 43 to 48 one paragraph.

Let’s read through the verses:

43 and 44 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Okay. Four things are admonished here:
Love your enemies
Bless those who curse you
Do good to those who hate you
Pray for those who despitefully use you

Quite straightforward statements – but not always easy to fulfil

Now who are our enemies? Who are these people we are supposed to be praying for? Do we as a Church or do you as an individual or family really have any? Perhaps you do have some enemies. I’m not sure I do. There are some people I do not agree with about some things, but that doesn’t make them my enemies. I have close friends who I do not always agree with, nor they with me.

Sometimes I think these days we try to create enemies. It can kind of make us feel good about ourselves, if we can point out that there are enemies out there against us. In a way having enemies can give us a sense of superiority of being more righteous than others. But, of course, it’s a false sense of security and righteousness.

Sure the early church had people being violent against members and who stated they were enemies of the Church and therefore did persecute individuals and families. But today? Some say the family is under attack, from gays and lesbians who want to marry. How is that an attack? It’s people the church disagrees with. They actually want to get married, to increase the number of people who are married. No one I’ve heard of is trying to get rid of marriage. If anything it seems we are trying to create enemies were there are none.

Are there those who curse you? Again, who is it that really curses us? Some people might think we’re a bit crazy for our faith. But that’s not really cursing us. Anyway, if anyone does, let us bless them.

Who is it that actually hates you?

Do good to them.

I  think it easier to think of those who might despitefully use you. Again, pray for them.

I think the whole object of these verses is to get us to look outside ourselves, to get away from the victim mentality. If we do find ourselves in a bad situation, let’s bless and pray and do good for those people who are trying to hurt us.

However, I must bring in some words of Elder Oaks:

“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. there are exceptions to some rules … don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.'”
(Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006)

The result though of living in such a way results in the following, in verse 45:

45 “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The next two verses I see as a rebuke for those who don’t live this way. The Saviour said:

46 and 47 “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”

If we’re only kind to those who love us what reward should we expect? Well, I’m not sure we do such things out of expecting a reward, either a reward now or in the eternities.

President Marion G Romney in 1984, but then published again in 2009 said: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

We cannot limit our service or love to our families, our Ward, to members of the LDS Church. We must reach out to all.

Then we come to that perfection verse!!

48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

“Be ye therefore” – therefore links what has been spoken before to what comes next. “Be ye therefore perfect, because you have done what I’ve just said. Tyndale’s 1529 translation words it this way: “ye shall therefore be perfect”.  This perfection spoken of, is not an injunction to do something. It is describing a result of us being something.

As we love we shall be perfect, remember – whole or complete – as you do what I – the Saviour – just said. Again, it is the love we have that makes us whole or complete.

Often in the Church we have myriads of tick box like activities that we can do:

Quite straightforward statements – but not always easy to fulfil

Now who are our enemies? Who are these people we are supposed to be praying for? Do we as a Church or do you as an individual or family really have any? Perhaps you do have some enemies. I’m not sure I do. There are some people I do not agree with about some things, but that doesn’t make them my enemies. I have close friends who I do not always agree with, nor they with me.

Sometimes I think these days we try to create enemies. It can kind of make us feel good about ourselves, if we can point out that there are enemies out there against us. In a way having enemies can give us a sense of superiority of being more righteous than others. But, of course, it’s a false sense of security and righteousness.

Sure the early church had people being violent against members and who stated they were enemies of the Church and therefore did persecute individuals and families. But today? Some say the family is under attack, from gays and lesbians who want to marry. How is that an attack? It’s people the church disagrees with. They actually want to get married, to increase the number of people who are married. No one I’ve heard of is trying to get rid of marriage. If anything it seems we are trying to create enemies were there are none.

Are there those who curse you? Again, who is it that really curses us? Some people might think we’re a bit crazy for our faith. But that’s not really cursing us. Anyway, if anyone does, let us bless them.

Who is it that actually hates you?

Do good to them.

I  think it easier to think of those who might despitefully use you. Again, pray for them.

I think the whole object of these verses is to get us to look outside ourselves, to get away from the victim mentality. If we do find ourselves in a bad situation, let’s bless and pray and do good for those people who are trying to hurt us.

However, I must bring in some words of Elder Oaks:

“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. there are exceptions to some rules … don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.'”
(Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006)

The result though of living in such a way results in the following, in verse 45:

45 “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The next two verses I see as a rebuke for those who don’t live this way. The Saviour said:

46 and 47 “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”

If we’re only kind to those who love us what reward should we expect? Well, I’m not sure we do such things out of expecting a reward, either a reward now or in the eternities.

President Marion G Romney in 1984, but then published again in 2009 said: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

We cannot limit our service or love to our families, our Ward, to members of the LDS Church. We must reach out to all.

Then we come to that perfection verse!!

48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

“Be ye therefore” – therefore links what has been spoken before to what comes next. “Be ye therefore perfect”, because you have done what I’ve just said. Tyndale’s 1529 translation words it this way: “ye shall therefore be perfect”.  This perfection spoken of, is not an injunction to do something. It is describing a result of us being something.

As we love we shall be perfect, remember – whole or complete – as you do what I – the Saviour – just said. Again, it is the love we have that makes us whole or complete.

Often in the Church we have myriads of tick box like activities that we can do:

Daily Scripture study
Daily prayer.
Weekly Family Home Evening
Keeping the Word of Wisdom in not smoking, not drinking alcohol, or tea or coffee
Researching our family history
Getting a Temple recommend and attending the temple
Doing a 100% home or visiting teaching
Attending various meetings

Such a list could go on and on and on, but we don’t have the time for that.

President Uchtdorf recounted an experience of a friend of his, that relates to such a list:
“An acquaintance of mine used to live in a ward with some of the highest statistics in the Church—attendance was high, home teaching numbers were high, Primary children were always well behaved, ward dinners included fantastic food that members rarely spilled on the meetinghouse floor, and I think there were never any arguments at Church ball.
My friend and his wife were subsequently called on a mission. When they returned three years later, this couple was astonished to learn that during the time they were away serving, 11 marriages had ended in divorce.
Although the ward had every outward indication of faithfulness and strength, something unfortunate was happening in the hearts and lives of the members. And the troubling thing is that this situation is not unique. Such terrible and often unnecessary things happen when members of the Church become disengaged from gospel principles. They may appear on the outside to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but on the inside their hearts have separated from their Savior and His teachings. They have gradually turned away from the things of the Spirit and moved toward the things of the world.
Once-worthy priesthood holders start to tell themselves that the Church is a good thing for women and children but not for them. Or some are convinced that their busy schedules or unique circumstances make them exempt from the daily acts of devotion and service that would keep them close to the Spirit. In this age of self-justification and narcissism, it is easy to become quite creative at coming up with excuses for not regularly approaching God in prayer, procrastinating the study of the scriptures, avoiding Church meetings and family home evenings, or not paying an honest tithe and offerings.
My dear brethren, will you please look inside your hearts and ask the simple question: “Lord, is it I?”
Have you disengaged—even slightly—from “the 
 gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to [your] trust”?6 Have you allowed “the god of this world” to darken your minds to “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ”?7
My beloved friends, my dear brethren, ask yourselves, “Where is my treasure?”
Is your heart set on the convenient things of this world, or is it focused on the teachings of the diligent Jesus Christ? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”8
Does the Spirit of God dwell in your hearts? Are you “rooted and grounded” in the love of God and of your fellowmen? Do you devote sufficient time and creativity to bringing happiness to your marriage and family? Do you give your energies to the sublime goal of comprehending and living “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height”9 of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?
Brethren, if it is your great desire to cultivate Christlike attributes of “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and service],”10 Heavenly Father will make you an instrument in His hands unto the salvation of many souls.11″

Am I saying such things are not important? No, of course not. They are good things, important things, things that bring blessing to ourselves and others. I’m hoping the message is similar to what the Saviour said, when speaking to the Pharisees:

Luke 11:42 “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

What I am saying is don’t get too stressed about the minutia of the Church. Particularly don’t get caught up in the church culture that certain things are expected. Because a lot of time it is the traditions of men in the church that need forgetting. Love must be supreme in all we do. Forgiveness is part of that love.

My hope is for the Ward to be a place of full inclusion.

Sometimes, members of the Church, it seems, feel as if loving someone gives them the responsibility to tell others what to do or perhaps more accurately what not to do. For example, using the list just cited, a brother or sister may visit someone and say “you know sister or brother Smith, you really should stop smoking.” Does that really help? If anyone is not doing something right, they invariably know that already. They don;t need to be told. Perhaps they need to be offered help, but even that can hurt.

The aim of all Stakes and Wards I would assume is to become a place of Zion. That is why we sometimes get very enthusiastic about having everyone do everything that we feel is right. “Brother so and so or sister so and so is not ….” and here we can put anything from the list I gave above and/or add a multitude of other things. But, you might say, didn’t the prophet just say something in General conference about doing x, y or z? Probably he did. Maybe though, we should take on board what President Uchtdorf said in the Priesthood session of Conference. As a side note, I’m not sure why we have separate priesthood and sister meetings anymore. Isn’t most, if not all, that is said in each applicable to both male and female? Anyway, President Uchtdorf said the following:

“It was our beloved Savior’s final night in mortality, the evening before He would offer Himself a ransom for all mankind. As He broke bread with His disciples, He said something that must have filled their hearts with great alarm and deep sadness. “One of you shall betray me,” He told them.
The disciples didn’t question the truth of what He said. Nor did they look around, point to someone else, and ask, “Is it him?”
Instead, “they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”1
I wonder what each of us would do if we were asked that question by the Savior. Would we look at those around us and say in our hearts, “He’s probably talking about Brother Johnson. I’ve always wondered about him,” or “I’m glad Brother Brown is here. He really needs to hear this message”? Or would we, like those disciples of old, look inward and ask that penetrating question: “Is it I?”
In these simple words, “Lord, is it I?” lies the beginning of wisdom and the pathway to personal conversion and lasting change.”

I really don’t believe that Zion is all about keeping the individual commandments. As we are all sinners, in a very real and literal sense, under the definition in Moses 7:18 where “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” if we take “dwelt in righteousness” as being how good we all are in keeping the commandments, are we not thus doomed to failure in building Zion?

Zion in the way I see it, is in having love for each other and ourselves. It is a place of diversity where everyone feels accepted and fully loved regardless of who they are. My hope for the ward is a place of inclusion. Sue Berlin, a recently called relief society president, at the conclusion of a lesson she taught, summarised my feelings, as she said:

“I don’t care if you smoke! Drink, abuse substances, are unchaste, wear pants (trousers) to church, hate relief society, don’t sustain church leaders, don’t have a testimony, wear tank tops, don’t know if you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, have had an abortion, don’t love your husband, don’t like being a mother, 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 – you belong here. We need you and you need us.”

She “said this in the context of women supporting one another as we try to receive Christ in our lives and let Him heal us. We talked about building a ward relief society that is a ‘No Judgement Zone’ and a ‘Safe Zone’.”

We will become a Zion Ward when, both literally and figuratively, we can put our arms around someone and say “I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for being part of Bracknell Ward” and when they reply, “but I smoke, I drink, I’m unchaste, I don’t have a testimony, I don’t believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, I had an abortion, I don’t read the scriptures or pray every day – in fact I hardly pray at all, I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m transgender, I’m bisexual” or anything else we might feel not quite in line with how we see the world or the church, if we can truthfully say in reply “That’s okay. I love you and am glad you’re here”, then I think we will be approaching Zion.

We love each other not in spite of who are we but because of who we are. I hope we can love each other not in spite of the things we see in each other that we may not appreciate, but that we can love each other because of them.

If we fully love each other, then if any change is supposed to come, it will come from within an individual. If needed, they will then ask us for help in making any changes. Change made from within will be more significant and lasting than if coming from feeling they have been judged as lacking. Making a change just to be accepted is not the right reason.

Let us become whole or complete as we love unconditionally.

Let us forgive each other when this does not happen. And it won’t happen everyday. As an example, as much as I love everyone here I mess up. Sometimes spectacularly. No doubt, I’ve offended some people here. Let us forgive each other our mistakes and sins and try a little harder to love unconditionally that we may become “the children of [our] Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” and closer to becoming whole and complete.

This is what the atonement of Christ is about. Helping us to love as He and our heavenly Parents love us.

In  the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

15th December – sacrament talk on not judging

Introduction:

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’s 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’s 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 “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” 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—because 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 “truths” 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—from 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 “truth” is different from any other? How can
we trust this “truth”? 

“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—and 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: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”

I would paraphrase: “Don’t judge me because I believe differently than you.”

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—nor have I ever heard taught—a 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:

“
 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” “(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:

“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. 
 God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but 
 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.”

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:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

“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 “shoulds” and “should nots” that merely keeping track of them can be a
challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of “good ideas.”

“This was one of the Savior’s criticisms of the religious “experts” 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. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” He said. “This is the first and great commandment.” Coupled with the second great commandment—to love our neighbor as ourselves  —we have a compass that provides direction not only for our lives but also for the Lord’s 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—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there 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 “facts” 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’s 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.

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