The field of tensions; or, towards an end of conservative and liberal Mormons
In our last episode, I painted a picture of the soul as a crayon box. I also talked a little about the tensions that exist in life. You can read that bit here (self-promotion). In this episode, I’d like to begin to paint another metaphor around the idea of tension, and then move on to begin bringing an end to liberal and conservative Mormons.
Primero, I want to take another quick look at the crayon box in the context of sin and repentance. We define sin as an action, or failure of action, contrary to the law. We think of repentance as a means of both eliminating those law breaking actions and inactions from our lives, and repairing whatever wounds our actions may have caused. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior ads an essential perspective when he says, concerning the sin of adultery, that when we ‘look on a woman to lust after her, we have already committed the sin in our hearts.’ This is not saying that lusting is the equivalent of betraying our sexual commitments. It is not saying that what happens in our heart has a primacy over our actions. What Jesus has done is effectively turn our gaze away from the matter of action to the ultimate matter of being. The question becomes not whether a person has committed murder, but whether a person is murderous.
If you’ll recall, I wrote that each of us has an identical crayon box, but that we have different sets of crayons and empty places for missing crayons. The crayons are divine qualities, or elements of goodness. The empty spaces are for those elements that we are not in possession of. The crayons are also light, and grace. We obtain them, piecemeal, as we enter into, and remain within, the covenant relationship that requires us to follow Christ. Through our following, He incrementally unveils reality to us. So that the crayons can also be called truth. (Note that every personality trait that we have cannot be related to a crayon, present or missing. In the course of following Christ, we necessarily learn Mercy, we don’t necessarily learn to play the piano.) The end result, at some point in the eons to come, is to be, like Jesus, in possession of a full box of crayons; to be finally whole, or, in other words, holy. To be joint-heirs with Christ of all the Father possesses, His Fullness.
When we act from a place of goodness, when we draw with a crayon, we do not sin, because light, grace and truth do not sin. When we sin we must therefore be acting from our lack, from our darkness. (Overcoming our sinful nature, the work of repentance, must then be matter of overcoming our lack, not simply of altering behaviors.) The whole shebang is complicated, however, by the fact that we do not color with a single color in any act. Any situation calls for us to draw with many colors; in fact, we need all of them to draw a life. Because acting (or not acting) in reaction to life requires us to draw with both colors we have and those we don’t have, all of our actions and reactions contain elements of sin. To make a rough instance: a person may have a well developed attribute of Justice, and see light through that virtue, but while he acts without a possessed attribute of Mercy (Spanish: sin clemencia) he will sin, even as he sees light. We can begin to see why King Benjamin says that there are so many sins he cannot count them, and why Paul mocks those who think they can please God by obedience to the law.
Everything we do is in these worlds of dark and light. I love the lyrics to Leonard Cohen song in which, praying to God, he refers to people as, ‘all Your children here, in their rags of light.’ (In their rags of light, all dressed to kill.)
Almost twenty years ago, I had a bishop who was concerned that I didn’t seem to be taking an interest in ‘getting anywhere in life.’ He gave me a this little illustrated book that had been written by friend of his. I don’t remember the name of the book or its author. I didn’t take much note of it at the time, but it has stuck with me, as sometimes random things will. The author’s basic premise was this: when we find ourselves in a place where we are not satisfied (my problem was that I was satisfied, at least in areas my bishop felt that I should have felt unsatisfied) we should paint for ourselves a picture of the place in which we will be satisfied. As we keep that picture in mind, it creates a tension between our not having and the having we desire. That tension then inevitably pulls us towards the desired state, almost without effort on our part.
Let’s imagine ourselves standing on a plowed field that is surrounded by trees, holding our box of crayons. I want to call this “The Field of Tensions.” The sun is shining.
And that is that for this episode. Looks like I’m going to have to get to my excoriating of liberal and conservative Mormons in my next post. (By the time I get there, it’ll be so gentle you might barely notice it. Like a tsunami in my heart lapping at Chile the next morning.)
Hasta la proxima vez.