When asked why life is hard, the Sunday school teachers of my youth replied, “Life is a test. It’s supposed to be hard.” The scriptures support the life-as-test perspective — a “probationary state” where we “prove” ourselves. Of course, if life is a test, then that means it’s designed to prepare us for what comes next. We test medical students on anatomy (as opposed to, say, Russian grammar) because knowing anatomy will help them after they’ve graduated. So if I can be justified in taking the life-as-test perspective seriously, perhaps I can draw some inferences about the next life by our experiences in this life. What are we being tested on here? In other words, what kinds of hardships do we experience in life, and how can they prepare us for what is to come? Here are the major ones that come to mind for me, and the ways we address them: Want — managing limited resources to meet needs effectively Contention and Loneliness — building constructive relationships through kindness, patience, wisdom, love, and effective communication Pain — learning to avoid suffering through preparation and wise decision making Ignorance — planning for the unknown future by extrapolating based on our limited knowledge and experience Emptiness and Fruitlessness — finding meaning by coming to know God, engaging in rewarding work, and living in accordance with eternal principles Confusion — understanding the world through study, experience, reflection, and analysis So if want,…
I’m sitting in my organizational management class right now. That (combined with having just finally finished Lengthen Your Stride, which opened my eyes to the challenge of managing a global organization) has got me thinking about why the church is structured the way it is. Many attributes of the church that we like to complain about here in the bloggernacle serve very useful purposes in maintaining cohesion across dozens of nations and millions of people. Here are some ponderings, none of which are grounded in anything other than my teacher’s lecturing and my own mental meanderings, so take them for what they’re worth. Why is the church conservative? I don’t mean politically conservative, but conservative in its sense of “resistant to change”. Change is risky, short-term loss with no guarantee of long-term gains. Members who disapprove of the change are more likely to leave that non-members who approve of the change are to join. It’s kind of like speaking in general conference — there’s nothing you can say that will get people to join the church, but there’s a lot you can say to get people to leave the church. In other words, people join a volunteer organization for what it is, not for what it’s not — and that means the current membership of an organization is going to tend to be satisfied with the way that organization is. (Of course, that ignores the issue of those who were…
“Once upon a time, numberless spirits inhabited the vast chaos of space and unorganized matter. They exercised their minuscule powers to organize little creations, but these quickly vanished in the swirling chaos, like sand castles against the tide. Having spent an eternity without achieving any lasting accomplishments, these spirits mostly just despaired and drifted.
One of these spirits, however, discovered the skill (perhaps through ingenuity, or perhaps just through persistence and luck) to build works that could endure the chaos. So, with much effort and with limited power, he began to build a habitation from the unorganized matter around him. This new dwelling attracted the attention of the other spirits, who desired to take shelter from the constant chaos.
I love my God. He loves me. Sometimes I suffer, and sometimes there is nothing He can do about it, and I love that. I love my God because He is limited, like me. He prepares my way to eternal joy, but He does not put me there. Why not? Is it because He chooses not to? How disgusting would that be? An almighty God who could obviate suffering by obviating the need for suffering, but who chooses not to? An almighty God who could save all His children, but allows some to burn in hell? What a horrible God is that. If my God does not save me, it is because He cannot. If He cries for my sins, it is because that is all He can do. He has prepared the way, but it is I who choose to walk the path. And so, when He reaches down to hold my hand, I reach up to hold His, and together we are comforted.
We human beings don’t handle technological progress very gracefully. Those of us who have spent years doing things “the hard way” can feel cheated when suddenly someone invents an easy way. Take, for example, the ballpoint pen. This little invention (and its immediate predecessors) essentially obsoleted centuries of tradition in penmanship, calligraphy, and pen care. And it’s not just pens. The same thing happened with the advent of painkillers. Or television. Or typewriters. This sort of change leads to all kinds of post hoc justifications for why the old way is better. We don’t like to feel like suckers. We don’t like to feel that our sufferings have been needless, and we especially don’t like to feel that skills we’ve obtained “the hard way” are suddenly invalid and irrelevant. So we create narratives whereby “the hard way” is recast as “the right way”. Problems come when we introduce this moral element of “rightness” to technological advances. These narratives discourage us from improving our situation by claiming that our suboptimal way is, in fact, the ideal way. That’s when we really become suckers. We’re not suckers for having gone through the hard way when the hard way was the only way. We’re suckers for sticking with the old hard way when we see there are better ways to be tread. Once we’ve become suckers by morally obligating “the hard way” to ourselves, we become monsters when we apply our self-defined lens…
I love the interactive nature of blogging. I had planned to close this series with a post neatly tying everything together, but all of your contributions have challenged my premises and preconceptions to the point that I can’t do it. I started this series with some really good ideas, as well as some very naive ones. In a year or so, as I’ve been able to sort between the two, perhaps I’ll come back with a follow-up series. In the meantime, let me close this series by touching on friendship.
This isn’t to discourage anyone from trying the “forty acres and my friends” approach. However, the beautiful vision of “let’s get all my friends together, buy some land, and live happily together forever” has a tendency to gloss over some of the very real issues that communities have to deal with. Here are a few:
If you’re feeling moved upon to bring together a community of your own, here are some approaches you might consider. I’ve divided them into two sections: organic and venture.
Organic approaches to community building grow fairly naturally out of everyday living. They may sound mundane — you’re probably already doing some of them — but that doesn’t mean the resulting relationships are any less rewarding. In contrast, venture approaches to community building take significant planning, time, and money.
Programs and lifestyle are the main repositories of culture in a community. Programs are optional. Lifestyles are not. The person who declines to participate in a program still gets to sit in the audience at the awards ceremony. The person who declines to participate in a lifestyle is excluded from the flow of community life.
Could we make zion building into a hobby? Like scrapbooking, except that it requires a little more money. And instead of gathering memories in a binder, you would gather loved ones in a community. Anyway, here are some visual examples of intentional communities that exist here in the United States and Canada.
My initial interest in building a green hill was just to live near my friends and family — something as simple as purchasing land, building houses, and inviting my loved ones to come on over. But, while that would be wonderful, I realized that my dream was about more than just building a “friends of Dane club”. I don’t want to be the linchpin that holds everyone together.
Green Hill Communities | Next About fifteen years ago, I had a dream. In my dream I saw a green hill with several people silhouetted against a cloudy sky. These figures were engaged together in various activities, some speaking, some playing or dancing, and some resting. The clouds in the sky moved quickly by, like in a fast-motion movie, which I understood to signify the passage of time. Then I woke up. Although the dream was brief, its images — the people, the hill, and the sky — have stayed with me. The attitude shared by the figures on the hill was one of deep peace and joy. Finding no greater happiness than in the company of my family and friends, I have been working to make the community of the green hill a literal gathering in my life. I am apparently not alone in my desire to live in a rewarding, purposeful community. Eco-friendly groups and religious fundamentalists have achieved a dramatic increase in intentional communities over the past two decades. A quick look at the Northwest Intentional Communities Association directory shows over 200 communities just here in my beloved Pacific northwest. However, I am struck by the absence of an LDS presence in the intentional community movement — this really seems like the sort of thing Mormons would do very well. What influences have acted to discourage the saints from building their own communities? First, we are looking…