The crayon box; or, towards an end of conservative and liberal Mormons

(posted as a Guest at By Common Consent)

I really like the word ‘tension.’ I use it frequently. I often look at my life in terms of the various tensions that present themselves for negotiation. Here is an example. Steve has invited me to guest post a few times over the last few years. Each time I’ve said, ‘I’d really love to but not right now’. I have really wanted to do it. A big part of me loves being out there, feels that I have something to say, and even feels a need to be heard. At the same time, I have really, truly, deeply not wanted to do it. Not out of a lack of confidence. There is a tired part of me that doesn’t want to engage any of it. If it weren’t that I mistrusted the tiredness, it might be the deciding factor. But I do mistrust it.

There are very few important things in life  with which I don’t experience this kind of conflict. My relationship with Katie is one. As far as I’m aware, there is no part of me that doesn’t want to be doing it. The same holds true of my decision to get some degrees, reasonably late in life. I am consecrated to these things, in a manner of speaking. I’m all-in. That is a real gift, since consecration is not something one wakes up to on a regular basis.

Here is another tension. On one hand, in order to be useful to God,- or, if you’d prefer, it works just as well, useful to truthful inquiry,- one must suspend one’s ego to the greatest degree possible. The ego, like a false sun, casts blinding rays in all directions. On the other hand, “selflessness” is no ideal to aim for. When it says that God loves us, He does not love us for our potential nonexistence. Rather, He aims to maximize our existence – that is the work that flows from His love. The point is not the elimination of the self, as some religious and philosophical traditions have it, but rather but the growth of the self,- my-self, your-self,- towards the self’s fullest possible expression. “I am come that (you) might have life, and that more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The self and the ego are not the same thing, anyway, though the ego is always present with the self.  At some point in our growth, it is possible that the ego will be subsumed in a more perfect totality: an approaching Divine nature. In the meantime, we suffer the ego in all our communication. Even the whisperings of the Spirit pass through the nexii (my plural) of our personality and language and come out distorted. This is pretty much what I’m on about. Even when I’m on about something else, I’m also on about this.

I want to draw a metaphor. Like any metaphor, it can’t be stretched to cover all possible realities, but I find it useful. I hope you don’t feel like I’m treating you like a Primary child, even though I am.

Imagine that your soul is a box of crayons,- the biggest one they come in: 120 colors, iirc. Within your box are some crayons and some empty spaces for crayons. In a better drawn metaphor, even those crayons that you have would be broken and incomplete, but let’s keep it simpler and just say that you’ve got some colors but lack many others. Imagine that everyone’s soul is an identical crayon box, but with a different set of colors and empty spaces for colors. Some have many different colors, some are nearly destitute of colors. Now imagine that those crayons are divine virtues, or, to put it less dramatically but just as accurately, elements of goodness. Not every personality trait, talent or personal gift you might possess counts as a color, nor as an empty space, but might be inconsequential to this particular metaphor. By divine qualities, by colors in the crayon box, I mean those qualities possessed by Christ and necessary to His nature as such. It helps me to think of these qualities as something very like the Platonic Forms. They are things like Justice, Mercy, all kinds of Knowledge, Honesty, Patience, Kindness, Obedience to Law, etc. etc.  There are many that we do not immediately think of as divine virtues, but in fact are. I wouldn’t want to put a limit on the number.

Each color is also light, whatever light can pass through us into the world. The drawings we make may be of our personal preference as to subject matter but are only colored in by those colors we keep. Christ, on the other hand, keeps and can therefore color in every color. He does not only paint in pastel shades, but in the saddest deep violets, and in blood red, as well. When the _entire_ spectrum is reversed back through the prism, we see that it is holy sunlight. Man of Holiness is His name. He contains no empty spaces where a color should be, there are no vacancies. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”(1 John 1:5)

Each might also be called a grace, or the end point in a series of graces, and the word grace provides a key to understanding how we acquire them. The first half of Sec. 93 is given, we are told, so that we can know ‘how to worship … and what you worship.’ There we see Christ – the ‘what we worship’ – described as a being who ‘received not the fulness at first … but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.’ Then we are told – how to worship – that if we ‘keep His commandments’ we will also receive ‘grace for grace’ and ‘in due time receive of his fulness.’ By entering into a covenant to keep Jesus’ commandments we are meant to enter into a dialogic process with Him. Through that dialogue, as we press forward into reality, He unfolds reality to us and we acquire attributes of His personality as gifts – we get crayons to add to our box.

It seems to me though, that when we point to Christ it is generally in an attempt  to highlight our own virtues, or the virtues we think are implied in our various positions, those that we feel comfortable with. It is a kind of proof-texting. More to the point, we do everything we can to not look at our own darkness. This is quite natural. Says Carl Jung, “Since human nature is not composed wholly of light, but also abounds in shadows, the insight gained (into oneself) is often painful.” In the empty spaces, our darkness, lies our lack. We are powerfully designed to cover up our lack – the symbol is the fig leaf. Looking to Christ then can be painful, because the act by definition shines light on our darkness. When instead we look sideways at the next guy’s crayon box and see that his constellation of colors is not the same as ours, that he has colors where we have spaces and emptiness where we have color, it creates a tension.

I’m going to end here for this episode. I want to discuss these ideas as related to the end of Iron Rod and Liahona Mormons. Probably you already see where I’m going, but I want a good chance to offend everybody. It might take me a week or two to get there, though … be patient with me and thanks for listening. Thanks also to for the charmers at BCC for giving me the chance to go on like this.



2 Responses to “The crayon box; or, towards an end of conservative and liberal Mormons”

  1. Ok Thomas, this is pretty deep and I’m gonna have to come back and read it again… a couple of more times at least. There is something very important here.

  2. Tom—you are just like your father, very profound. can’t wait to read what else you have to say!

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