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Sunday, February 13, 2005 

What I would, that I do not

Romans 7:14-15
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I

2 Nephi 4 17-19
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.




When I saw the topic for the week before any one had posted Romans 7:15 popped right into my head. 2 Nephi 4 (The Psalm of Nephi) also seemed appropriate, and has always been a section of scripture I quite enjoy.
When I was asked to guest blog, I was quite pleased. Various Stages has become my favorite of the Mormon blogs for reasons I’ve already mentioned. As some one who was not only fairly into scouting but is still considering a career working for the Boy Scouts of America- I had wanted to guest blog on the girls camp/scout camp question. However, I not only think that Christian did an excellent job there- I can’t think of a better week than this one for me to guest blog. Those who know me in person know that I am pretty much all about the conflict of not doing what I feel I should be doing. I think that “I should” used to be the most common couple words in sentences I spoke.
“I should be working harder on that”
“I probably should be visiting Velma in the Nursing home more often”
“I should be visiting other people too”
“I should have graduated by now”
“I should be studying”
“I should work harder”
“I should recycle more”
“I should really have a more vegetarian diet.”
“I should exercise”
“I should…”
“I ought to…”
“I should really stop…”
And obviously- a whole lot of the things I “should” be doing are trivial- but they are good things even if trivial. Some of the things I “should” be doing are closer to essential- some of which I am already doing, some which I could improve on, etc. This is probably compounded by my belief that James was right in his epistle when he said that to know good and do it not is sin.

After such a great week of posts from the regular contributors it is kind of hard to know which direction to take. When looking at the topic knowing what is right v. doing what is right there are so many parts to consider. How do we know what is right? How can we be sure? How can we do what is right when we aren’t certain? Why do we so often not do what is right when we are quite certain?
I kept myself from commenting much during the week- I wanted to read the posts and the comments and make sure that I didn’t totally throw out all my thoughts before putting them together in a formal post. But now I am left with the question of what to address- should I comment on what others have said? I think I want to talk about little parts of all the different questions that have already been looked at and answered by others- but hopefully I can give another perspective on those things- or at minimum write a few things that are entertaining.

I liked the reference to the CTR ring and the discussion that followed. (including the basic moral code that Kaycee talks about there.) I think both our perception and the perception of others of the “choose the right” concept is often interesting (and sometimes funny.) When I was in high school I wore a CTR ring (I still wear one actually) but it took on almost mythic proportions to many of my nonmember friends. People seemed intrigued by the ring itself- wondering what it was- what the initials were. Sometimes people before looking close assumed it was a superman shield, others for some reason thought it was the Warner-Brother’s logo. Explanation over time led to the basic understanding among my peers that it was my “mormon ring” – though it was still sometimes called my superman ring which was appropriate the way the ring itself seemed to be attributed powers. People would sometimes try on my ring and felt that because they had on the Mormon Ring they couldn’t swear or do other publicly non mormon things because of the ring. It was as though my CTR ring had some sort of magical powers- that when the rings in the Lord of the Rings were given out there was obviously the one ring to rule them all, 9 rings to the race of men, a ring to the Elves, A ring to the dwarves, some rings to the wizards, and a whole bunch of rings to the Mormons. (The mormon rings of course having the power of: instilling a moral code, reminding of said code, improved ability to make good choices, bestowing guilt, wearing your religion on your sleeve, and providing missionary opportunities.)
Along with the occasional fascination with the ring came the frequent belief that removing the ring would remove the moral code- that if friends could somehow get hold of my ring I would drink, smoke pot, and raise hell on a level never before seen in the sleepy upper-middle class suburb of Edmond Oklahoma. I ended up getting my best friend a CTR ring for graduation which led to a few instances of confused interactions in college classes with Mormon classmates. Basically he would explain that he wasn’t Mormon and he takes the ring off when he goes drinking.

I think that the question of “Is the CTR concept flawed” is a good one- but I think it is kind of inevitable to have that flaw. Even if we did attempt to try and teach children how to understand complex moral distinctions or determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong- in a lot of regards some of that is beyond the cognitive ability of most children. So the “good” kids understand the cookie cutter list of what is right and what is wrong and they do their best to follow it. Hopefully they have opportunities to develop greater understanding in ways that don’t have too serious of consequences. I think that sometimes we don’t give teenagers enough credit in complexities they can understand- and the oversimplification makes it seem like the whole thing is flawed (often because for that person it is) and it all gets thrown out.
Really, it reminds me of the DARE program. Anybody else have to do DARE in school, or maybe Just Say No? Some studies have shown that the way they oversimplified in those programs may have led to more serious drug use later on. I haven’t done a statistical analysis on the subject- but I do have an entertaining personal anecdote. My senior year in high school one of my good friends (who would have liked me to temporarily lose my ring so I could go smoke out with him and had fairly recently discovered what he believed to be the wonderful world of marijuana) while completely sober and not on any drug at all is driving with me in his GMC Jimmy and somehow has a conversation turn to the his statement “They lied to us in DARE. They f**king lied to us- drugs don’t make you completely lose it and flunk out of school and not able to think. Drugs are cool.” (I swear, this wasn’t an after-school special- this was actually said with real intent) There wasn’t really any anger- mostly there was just amusement. Kind of a “hey- I figured out what’s really up.” And the thing is- they do lie to you in DARE, kind of. They distort and demonize drugs- especially pot. They don’t really make distinctions between drugs in severity and they don’t give any opposing view. If you smoke pot- bad things will happen and they will happen right away.
Unfortunately, according to some studies (and according to my personal interaction with my friend) this simplification once revealed discredits the messenger and a lot of kids really just throw out everything that was said. Pot isn’t as bad as they say, thus it must not be bad at all, thus all the other drugs must not be as bad as they say, etc. Yeah, these kids should probably know better- but when they are looking to justify their actions not much does more to help than finding out that the people who told you those actions were wrong weren’t completely truthful.
(by the way, my friend went on to use more drugs more often, be kicked out of the University of Chicago twice, work at the Foleys department store back in Oklahoma while not attending school, and eventually getting fired there due to lack of reliability. He eventually got his act together and is now in school here at OU.)

I think the whole CTR concept can be a bit the same way. Because things are oversimplified- even in sincere desire to help kids in the future- sometimes later on it is easy for people to either continue to rely on the simplicity and not learn to really make complex moral decisions, or to throw out much of what was taught when they realize it was oversimplified. Some go so far as to reject their former “brainwashing”- and really that may not be too terribly inaccurate a term for the positive social conditioning we apply throughout primary.

I really liked Cameron’s post and his discussion about how in general he thinks a lot of good choices are being made and that people generally want to do what is right. Cameron came down pretty hard on the black and white side of the black and white vs. gray discussion and was kind of surprised his actual post was as broad based as it was (good on ya Cameron!) I kind of want to talk about black and white vs. gray- but I need to use the British spelling when talking about grey areas- because somehow “grey” seems to so much more accurately capture the color than “gray” does.

I think there are concrete black and white right and wrong. I think truth is eternal. I do think that there a lot of things that really don’t matter eternally- so it isn’t even that they are in the black and white, or the grey- they just aren’t part of the discussion. We as Latter-day Saints try to be, and claim to be, a principle centered people. The Church attempts to teach proper principles. We understand that commandments exist as express direction from God as to how to best fulfill eternal principle and law- thus commandments in some regards are circumstantial- and we as Mormons accept a system of morality much closer to conditional than many traditional religions. (Or at least our doctrine is more open to the fact that we do so- even though most Latter-day saints will balk at the idea of embracing conditional morality. I suppose what we accept is only partly conditional.) But really with the scriptural narrative which we have unique from other Christian churches- The completely different understanding of the fall, the book of Abraham and his being commanded to lie, Nephi being commanded to kill a drunk and defenseless man (even if the man was a jerk) show a much greater understanding of the competition of different “goods” and the necessity in choosing not simply a good choice or a choice in line with the commandments- but seeking the better part.
I think the grey areas come when we have competing morals or commandments and we are trying to figure out how to properly balance what we do. We have all these different competing values and commandments:
Avoid the appearance of evil vs. don’t judge. Go into a closet and don’t do works to be seen vs. be a light on a hill. Make good friends who have the same values as you vs. be in the world, reach out to others, be a sincere friend even to those with different views.

It was said that we have agency- but we don’t have freedom to avoid consequences. A whole lot has been made of growing and learning from these consequences- I think that grey areas often become a whole lot larger or more prominent when we have to face the consequences of initially choosing to not act in accordance with the commandments, what we knew was right, societal pressure, or all of the above. JP provides a good example of this. She spent her whole life doing what she was supposed to- and then when she had an experience where she stepped outside of that the consequences forced her to choose where none of the options seemed perfect. It wasn’t even that there was solid white and solid black with grey in between- all that was left due to the circumstances was grey. She chose her family and I think she made the right choice. Other people probably disagree. But people would have disagreed if she decided not to get married- if she did get married but her marriage didn’t work because she did things she knew would tear it apart, etc. I think sometimes we don’t do what we think is supposed to be right because we are doing the best we can to do what we feel is right, or what we think actually is right. I think it was Rebecca that talked about the synthesis of what your heart wants and what your head wants- I think this can be a pretty good guide. For me personally this has to be there along with the things that Carrie Anne discussed in seeking the spirit. I think sometimes Heavenly Father will tell us pretty directly what we should do- but most of the time he gives us some guidance and direction but requires a lot out of us in figuring it out. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise, how else are we supposed to grow? I agree with Cameron’s comment that I think I really want to side on the advice fro my Father and following God over man or my own wisdom- because frankly on occasion I can be a real idiot.
Despite all this I often fall. But a lot of the times I don’t really fall and then rise because I never try. I don’t rise in the first place. I don’t fall, but I’m really in basically the same place where I would be had I fallen. Right there on the ground. Sarah talked about feeling nothing inside- about seeking new experiences and consciously trying to stretch boundaries and find new experiences. Sometimes I have similar feelings of just a numb or a nothing inside- but I don’t really address it the same way. I don’t seek to actively go out and do- much of the time I seek to just avoid. Most of the time, my not doing what I consciously feel and or know I should do stems from somewhere else.
But then I feel super guilty about all the things I’m avoiding. In his book Healing the Shame That Binds You John Bradshaw says some interesting things. I agree with some of them but not with others. One interesting thing he talks about is the false success/failure dichotomy that we as a society have largely embraced- it often causes us to be hyper critical of others- but much more often it influences the way we judge ourselves and can lead to a lot of self hatred. This is remedied often by two opposite approaches- trying to do everything or experience everything or fear and not doing anything. And strangely they sometimes show up in the same person. With me it is largely a feeling of obligation to do everything- but also a requirement that it be done very well vs. fear. This does a couple things. First it means that sometimes rather than fail at something where I put all of myself in it I either avoid it or half-ass it. Conversely I feel overwhelmed at the need to do everything since I have a knowledge of what needs to be done- I know I have been blessed with a halfway decent intellect and an occasionally very good perception, which in turn means great obligation. So- I see this obligation, know that all of the things individually should be things I can accomplish- and further assume that collectively they should as well but I just don’t know where or how to start- so I pretty much do nothing.

So why do I personally not do what I know I should-
Well, lots of reasons.
Not overcoming the natural man and a fair bit of laziness
Fear
Confusion
And a whole lot of other things.

Boyd K. Packer said something to the effect of correct doctrine understood changes people and changes their behavior. You will do more to change behavior through the study of correct doctrine than you will through the study of behavior.
We talked about this a bit in institute this last week- Alma’s in Alma’s discussion with his sons we see little actual discussion of the sins Coriantimur committed or how to change- but we see a lot of discussion on the doctrine Coriantimur misunderstood.

But sometimes I hear this and I think- now wait a minute. More correct doctrine and understanding of obligation is only going to make me feel more inadequate, make the task seem more large, and give me less of a starting point.

But then I think- maybe it is a matter of which doctrine I’m not understanding. For a long time through some study, through some spiritual experiences and through just making sense the principles of balance have seemed very important- but often a bit out of reach. I don’t really know how to achieve that balance and often desire it right away and see reaching a good spiritual and overall balance as another aspect of that big unattainable (unattainable because I believe it should in fact be attainable for me) whole.
But I think that I start to be reminded of things. I need to remember that a man can’t run faster than he has strength. I need to remember how repentance and how growth actually happens. We learn line upon line and we grow that way too.
I posted on my blog about Jacob 5- and I have always loved applying this to me personally and to people as individuals rather than simply being an allegory of the history of the house of Israel. But I somehow had kind of missed the verses in the 60’s talking about how that change happens. You can’t do it all at once- if you don’t do enough the wild will take over- but if you do too much the tree will be overwhelmed.

I think it is a good message. I don’t have to be overwhelmed. I don’t have to know exactly how and where to prune- just keep nourishing the roots little by little and do what you can to prune out a little bad and add a little good each day. It doesn’t matter where you start just start and don’t over do it.

I think when I more fully learn this I can then more fully join with Nephi in his psalm and not just stop at the sorrow. I can rise above- and the fact that I still haven’t yet (because even Nephi felt like he hadn’t yet) doesn’t mean I’m not on my way. Doesn’t mean I can’t recognize where God’s hand has been, and doesn’t mean I can’t praise him and thank him even though I’m far from perfect.

2 Nephi 4:30
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.


-Mike

Sorry it took so long post this- I spent most of the day helping my former college speech team at their tournament. I had a couple chances to stop in the computer lab throughout the day and write a bit- looks as though I got carried away.

Thank you guys for the opportunity to guest blog here- I hope being so late and writing so much don't persuade you to never invite me again.

Interesting post. Thank you for guest blogging Mike.

Great job, Mike. You seem like a fascinating person, so thanks for sharing with us here.

The sections of your post that resonated with me were the part about degrees of sin and how sometimes the CTR thing over simplifies certain sins (to the average Mormon teenager smoking is SO MUCH WORSE than moral issues)... and also the part about choosing what's right over what's better. This is a sophisticated quandry, and tough to explain. Again, great job.

Mike, I would be lying if I said that post was short, but you said a lot of great things.

Some things that I was really impressed with were the reasons you, or I should say all of us drop the ball, i.e. laziness fear confusion.
The part I liked most was in teh closing. Its not meant that we run faster then we have legs. We need to take it step by step and day by day. I think a lot of members, and ex-members of the church have frustrations because their eternal progress here on earth does not appear to be going the direction or speed they would like it too. We see people making giant steps in teh church, we see peoples whose lives appear to be perfect, and it drags us down and makes us feel depressed. But the reality of the matter is, no one is perfect, if you are still here on earth, your not much better then me or the next guy. We need to take it a little ech day, and focus on our progress, adn not the other guys.

Mike, I love what you had to say. I love your referance to Jacob 5 again. I think one of the points we missed in all of this is that we are ALL going to make mistakes, everyone is going to make the wrong choice at many points in their life, it is the nature of being mortal. It is important that we apply the atonement in our lives, then let go of the guilt, and the pain, and allow forgiveness to heal us.

Mistakes will always be made, But redemption is so real. The atonement is real... of the few things that I know without doubt, this is number one.

I think you hit upon something as you mentioned our posts. Various Stages has a wide variety of experiences to offer, just like a person has a wide variety of life experiences.

I especially liked your comments about how CTR can be an oversimplification. I completely agree.

Thanks for guest blogging!

Mike,

Great post. It seems obvious to me that oversimplification can cause some serious problems--anyone observing the "first drink" of college freshman should attest to that. But the question is: how should we approach teaching (kids and/or adults) without this technique. If we say "responsible and moderate use of alcohol cause few problems" (a statement I mostly agree with, btw, from a non-spiritual standpoint), well, it just doesn't have the same effect, does it?

I grew up around the "responsible and moderate" use of alcohol, so when I had my first drink I didn't go overboard, crazy, etc. etc. It was the example of the adults around me that made me responsible and careful with "dangerous" things. It is also true that many, many people have a problem with it--so how do we adequately explain the subjectivity of experience (from both a non-Mormon and Mormon standpoint)?

So, how does one deal with this (that is, not oversimplifying but still being effective) when one doesn't have personal experiences to relate or relate to?

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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