Decide to Determine Your Change

Easter chickMy daughter was just singing a song with the lyric, “I’m never gonna change.”

That made me think.  What a stupid thing to say, and yet so many songs are filled with a variation of that lyric.  Why do I think it’s a dumb concept? Because, like it or not, we are all changing (just look at yourself in the mirror and see how many wrinkles have been appearing lately).   Now perhaps you feel that the lyric is noble – that it is about holding strong to an ideal.  It’s not.  Listen to the rest of the song.  It’s usually just hot air.

When my husband and I were talking about marriage, he said to me, “Laryssa, I hope that you are not one of those women who think that you can change your husband, because I am not going to change in our marriage, what you see is what you get!”

That actually almost made me call off the wedding.  I told him that if he wasn’t planning on changing in our marriage that there was no point in our being together.  Why would a person not want to change?  Not want to be better? Be content with sitting in the entropy that is life as we get older, fatter, lazier?  If that was his idea of our future, then I wanted no part of it.  If, however, he was willing to allow God to change him, then I was willing to marry him.  I wasn’t expecting perfection, nor was I planning on giving him a laundry list of what he should and shouldn’t do.  I was expecting him to go to the Lord and ask for direction, help, and advice and then work on the answers that he received from the Lord through prayer and study.

Change can be one of the great glories of mortality, if we control the change.  Education, repentance, health, patience, meekness, kindness, charity – all within the scope of our agency, if we would just start baby stepping in the right direction!

Every so often, I see a friend post on Facebook a triumph.  “I have been sober for ___ amount of time.”  “I have been drug free for ___ years.”  That is AMAZING!!! What a testimony to change (and in most cases because of AA, a change with God).

I cannot understand why our media (literature especially) is replete with examples of weakness without redemption.  What a small way to view mankind!  And what’s the point? So that we realize that we are all mortal? Gee, that’s motivating!

It’s the part of immortality inside of us – the spiritual chromosomes given to us by our Heavenly Father that I’m interested in.  Otherwise, why did the Savior make His exquisite sacrifice – so that we could be content to sit on the couch after a big meal and watch the world through our TV? No! He wants us to BECOME something great – better than we can imagine, but it all begins with the decision to control the changes that we have the ability to control.

So use your agency, and sing out “I am going to change, and I thank the Lord that I can!”

Earthly Fathers, Heavenly Fathers, and Dad’s Funeral

A good father is a thing to appreciate. A righteous father is a thing to celebrate. Many men are good, and some are both good and righteous. I was blessed to have a Dad that was both. He passed away just after Thanksgiving 2012 (hence my absence from writing as of late). It absolutely sucks to lose a parent. I completely believe in the Plan of Salvation and know that I’ll see him again, however, I was unprepared for the feeling of separation and loss that comes with the death of a loved one. I suppose that’s what the scripture means when it states that “the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ”.

HLW Graveside

Leaving the subject of death here for another discussion, I want to take a few moments in this post, to talk about good and righteous men and to share the talk that I gave at my Dad’s funeral.

A good and righteous man is courageous. He puts God first. When he stumbles and makes a mistake he says sorry and works to make things better, he’s only human after all. He is his wife’s companion, friend, and support. He is his children’s protector, provider, priesthood holder, and jungle gym. He always shows up (answering any time the “bat signal” goes up) with help, strength, encouragement, and a listening ear. In short, he is invested in his family and their physical and spiritual welfare.

I’ve been trying to teach my daughters that they need to listen and follow the directions and rules that we give them, because we are good parents. Our rules are for their benefit, welfare and well-being. The problem with Satan was not just that he rebelled (sometimes rebellion is necessary) but that he rebelled against a good and just and righteous Being. If my father, or husband, or Church leader is a friend of God, striving to follow Him and walk in His way (repenting and trying again when he falls) then I have no problem listening to the counsel of such a person. My dad was that kind of a person, and though at times we clashed, and I didn’t understand why he asked me to do certain things, it was a joy to have a father-daughter relationship with him because he always showered me with love and care and concern and help.

As I’ve been thinking about fathers and this post, an absolutely fantastic video was posted in Mormon Messages which corresponds exactly with what I’ve been talking about.

Finally, I want to talk a little about his funeral. My Mom asked each of the kids (four of us) to speak. I include my talk, though I have edited it in part from the actual talk because speaking and the written word are different mediums and there are some nuances (facial gestures and vocal tones) that need larger strokes when written out, as well as ideas that need more explanation.

I am happy to be with you.  I am so touched that so many of you came.  I am so touched that many of you came from far away.  I am overjoyed to be Harv Wilhelm’s daughter and I am overjoyed that you would be here as our friends and our loved ones.

Of all of the children in the family, I am the most like my Dad.  That similarity led to a lot of clashes, (and not a few arguments) because we were so similar.  However, I knew that my Dad loved me, and despite the fighting, I was a daddy’s girl.  

The greatest thing that Dad taught me was how to have a relationship with a loving Being.  My father taught me who Heavenly Father was.  I knew who Father was because of my dad – because my Dad loved me, because he always let me come back when we argued, because he always forgave me, because we always started over – I knew that Father in Heaven was the same way.  I knew it.  I knew that I could go to my Father in Heaven the same way that I could go to my father.  We would sit and talk, we would be together.  I knew the Savior was like that, too. 

My father was love.  My father would drop anything, to be with us.  My father would listen, he would counsel, he would guide. When we had a family meeting after he died, we sat together and I said, “I don’t know where to go now that Wikiharvia is gone.”  But, then I realized, of course, that I would go to my Father in Heaven, (to whom my dad always pointed me).  He would always be there for talks and for love and for comfort and for guidance.  

I want you to know how much our Father in Heaven treasures each of you.  You see, my dad taught me that we lived with Father in Heaven before we came to earth.  I knew that truth.  I knew it because my dad told me.  I knew it because he talked about it all the time.  I knew it because I found it in the scriptures.  The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before you were born, before I formed thee in the belly.  I knew thee and I gave you your mission.  I told you what I needed you to do.”  Dad would tell me that.  “Laryssa, Father has a plan for you.”  So, I constantly went to Father and said, “Okay, we did that.  What is next?”   I got taken to strange places, the same way my dad had been taken.  Very strange places!

One of those places was the Army, like my dad.  I know it is strange that a girl, his daughter, went into the Army.  I told you I was the most like him.  My dad called me up one day and he said,

“Hey, Laryssa, how would you like to join the Army?”

“Um…no.”

But the problem was, my dad had taught me how to follow the Holy Ghost, so when the Holy Ghost said,

“Ya, I want you to go into the military,”

I knew that I had promised Heavenly Father that I would go to the military and I thought,

“Darn it!”

When the Holy Ghost told me I needed to go on a mission, I knew I had promised Heavenly Father that I would go on a mission and I said,

“Darn it, Laryssa! Why? Why did you do that?”

One of the most amazing things about our Father in Heaven is that He has things for us to do.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  My dad always talked about seeing beyond the veil, seeing who people were inside.  Dad looked at people for who they were on the inside (even total strangers and acquaintances) and treated them with care and concern.  Father in Heaven knows you and He loves you, just as my dad did, and He wants you to be in His life.  He will give you assignments and, if you take them on, you will become the transcendent being that He knows is inside of you.

When the Savior died on the cross, the veil of the temple split open.  The veil had never been broken open before, no one could even be in the Holy of Holies, no one could be where Heavenly Father was, because this veil kept them from Father, both physically and spiritually.  When the Savior died, He broke that veil open so that you and I could be with our Heavenly Father in spirit on earth, here, now.

He wants a relationship with you.  He wants you to pray to Him, He wants you to be with Him.  

I hate that my dad is gone, but in the hospital when I knew it was the end, I put my arms around my dad and said, “Dad, I will be okay. But, promise you will come visit me.”  I know he will.  I know he will because I know that the gospel is true and I know that dad is in the Spirit World.  I know that his spirit still exists, I know he has work to do, I know that he will be in your lives just as he is in mine.  I know that.

So, I talked to you about the veil of the temple and that the Savior opened it up so that we, through the Savior, could be with our Heavenly Father – so that we could walk through and be with Father in Heaven again.  Now, let me tell you something about the veil.  The veil is as thin or as thick as you choose it to be.  You are in control of whether or not you feel God’s presence.  You determine whether or not you feel Heavenly Father with you.  

Isn’t that incredible? It is like an onion, you just keep peeling the layers. How do you get close to your Father in Heaven? Well, sometimes something inside just says,

“Why don’t you open that scripture.”

You’re like, “Uh, it is just the scriptures.”

But, I promise that if you open it up, you will feel something and another layer of that onion will be peeled away. I use that onion just as a little metaphor because the closer and closer you get to God, the more you will know that He exists, the more you will feel the spirits around you and the more He will show you what work He has for you on this earth.

I have a final story to tell and hopefully I can make it through.  The very last week that I was on my mission in Bulgaria, my mom knew that I wouldn’t get her weekly letter.  Since I had been in my last apartment for ten months, she had the phone number, so she gave me a little phone call in place of the letter and she said, “Oh, Laryssa, we are so excited. We will see you in three days, but, Dad is out of town and he is not going to be able to fly in until Saturday.”  I said, “Okay” with a lump in my throat.

Eighteen months without your daddy, it is kind of hard. (It is going to be a lot harder now, I know that.) But at that time, eighteen months without my dad was kind of hard and I just thought, “I will be okay, it’s only going to be two more days.  After all this time, what’s two more days?”  

All missions are different, but my mission was particularly strenuous.  It was just a very, very difficult time to be in Bulgaria.  The people there did not like our church, we were abused and we were mocked and we were not allowed to wear our name tags and I feared for my life often.  It was very challenging to be there and as I came home I was exhausted – mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  At one point I was particularly low.  My companion had a different plane to catch and I would be alone on the final flight from New York to Salt Lake.  I  just needed the strength to get on that last plane, but I wanted to collapse.  I just looked at myself in the restroom mirror and I said, “Okay, I can do this.  I can do one more plane and then I can be with my family.  I am almost there.”  

I walked out of the restroom, squared my shoulders, and walked to the gate when I heard, “Hello, Ryss.”

I stopped.

“Wait a second, I am that name!”

I hadn’t been called my nickname, my childhood  family nickname for so long, and I wondered who could be calling me by that name.

As I turned, I saw my dad standing there in the New York airport.

I said, “Daddy! What are you doing here?”

He said, “Laryssa, they let me off early and I am on this flight, in fact, I worked it out so that we get to sit together on the way home.”

I said, “Oh, Daddy!  Take me home please.  I am so tired.  Please help me get home.”  And I threw my arms around him. He put his strong arms around me and I was just so happy to be with him.

Years later, as I was telling a seminary class that story,  I suddenly realized that it is a metaphor for being with Heavenly Father. One day He will come up to us and He will call us by our spirit name, a name that is more home and more familiar to us than anything we have ever known in this life. We will look at Him and, according to President Ezra Taft Benson, we will be shocked at how familiar His face is to us.  Can you imagine that?  Your Father in Heaven loves you.  Your Father in Heaven will carry you through this life, if you allow Him to.  Though I grieve that my dad will not be with me anymore, I love that he has taught me who Jesus Christ is.  I love that he has taught me who Heavenly Father is and that I, as well as every single one of you, have access and opportunity to be in Father in Heaven’s presence any time that we desire through our beautiful Savior, who made it possible. I bear testimony of His life. I bear testimony of His love and His desire to help you with your lives to finish your mission, like my dear father, and to move on to your next one.

I bear that testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Good luck, Bad Luck? – Maybe.

I just read a story to my children the other day that had a couple of Zen proverbs as part of the tale. I was so struck by one of the stories, that I want to share it in light of all of the things that are happening in the world today, especially with the Supreme Court Ruling on President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act.

It goes something like this:

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

“How wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.

The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune, “Such bad luck!” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Several years ago, I had a blessing. I don’t remember the particulars of what it was for, but I very clearly remember one part of the blessing. It stated that in the next few years leading up to the Second Coming of the Savior, I would see the hand of the Lord guiding, intervening, overruling, and overturning events on the earth. Since then, I’ve been trying to look at the big picture as things happen, always looking forward to the possible outcomes of those events, rather than getting caught-up with the emotions of the masses. In the past decade-plus there have been many moments that have made people say, “WHAT IS GOING ON????” Things that have been absolutely historic, devastating, and amazing but as I’ve looked at the results of some of those events, and tried to focus on the Plan of Salvation and the destiny of this earth, I’ve begun to say with the farmer, “Maybe.”

People all around are stating that things are good, or things are bad. They are trying to make sense of other’s thinking, of decisions, platforms, politics, and laws. I’m just trying to enjoy watching and seeing how God makes His arm bare in the face of all the Nations (see Isaiah 52:10). After all, He is the God of the Universe, we ought to give him some credit that He is able to do His work ( see 2 Nephi 27: 20, 23 and Moses 1:39).

Grace: The price has been paid, the opportunity has been opened.

I had a wonderful Sunday School lesson today.  At the beginning, the teacher decided to stray from the lesson momentarily and share an excerpt from a talk that he had come across.  I am so thankful that he did.  It was worth the trip to Colorado to learn (of course road trips and visiting with family and friends is fantastic as well).  I think that acquiring gospel knowledge is like putting together a gigantic puzzle.  There are parts that you are working on, and then you get that one piece that illuminates the area that you had been focused on.  Today, I got one of those pieces.

It was from a talk by Brad Wilcox, BYU Professor and Sunday School General Board member, given at a BYU Devotional, 12 July 2011.  The  talk is entitled,  His Grace Is Sufficient and the full transcript can be found here.

He began by discussing a conversation that he had with a female student about grace.  I quote from the talk here (excerpts of the talk will be in italics) –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

He went on to draw on a paper two dots – one that represented God, and the other her, and asked if she would draw a line to God that represented how much was her part.  She drew a line just over her dot to which he answered, “Wrong.”   He said the following:

“The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a
few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we
plan to stay there.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”

“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”

Then he went on to provide a fantastic analogy, one that really resonated with me –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. … Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange forhis paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to. …

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us — part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Think about the difference between a person who has just started practicing the piano, and someone who has been playing for years.  What’s the difference?  Practice.  What’s the difference between someone who has just started to learn a language and someone who has been speaking it for years?  Practice.  But remember that the more effort you put into the task, the better you will become.  Can you imagine what a lifetime of someone trying to put the teachings of Jesus into practice would be like?  Brother Wilcox then began a section that I think is so important to understand because we all live in the world.  The world (as Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it) is a laboratory for learning to be Christlike.  And it can be a very harsh lab, very real, and very difficult –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice?  I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they <graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.

There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.

I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.

In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13). …

As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus
Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. … The task ahead of [us is] never as great as the power behind [us].

Now, doesn’t that make you fell more confident in your ability to become something great with the opportunity that has been so greatly given.  It does for me.

A Surprisingly Spiritual Royal Wedding

I freely admit that I am sappy.  I spent my time today sharing in the happiness of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  I was so pleased to be watching an event that brought joy, in the midst of the many tragedies that have been on the world stage lately.

It was also thirty years ago, when I was just older than my daughter is now, that I watched Charles and Diana’s wedding with my sweet British Grandmother who was so patriotic that it left me with a deep love for England and the Monarchy.

Also, I was invited – 😉

The thing that surprised me about the day, however, was the actual wedding ceremony.  I was so edified by the beauty of the traditional Anglican ceremony, the hymns, readings, prayers, and the Bishop of London’s Sermon. I truly felt that the wedding was a testimony of the  importance of Marriage and the sacredness of that Union in the eyes of God given to the entire world.

I know that the depth of the ceremony will not be replayed on the news stations, it was far too religious. 😉  And I highly recommend watching it if you have the time!

For today, I will give you part of the text from the Sermon of the bishop of London.  I set in bold some of the thoughts that were particularly beautiful to me –

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.  

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

You can find the full text here.  The full program from the wedding is downloadable here.  I HIGHLY recommend reading pg 9 – the Welcome and Introduction, particularly the reasons for marriage.

It was a very lovely, very spiritual, and edifying ceremony.  It makes me desire to love my husband more deeply and work on the communication and unity of our marriage with more dedication.

The First Amendment in the Classroom; or Is it Constitutional to Teach about Religion?

I recently read a book called, Religious Literacy: What every American needs to know and doesn’t (Harper Collins, 2007), which I enjoyed very much.  It really made me ponder a lot of things and I wanted to share a few notes. 

The author, Stephen Prothero is chair of the religion department at Boston University, and he has authored many nonfiction books on religion  and writes many reviews and articles for various journals and newspapers.  He treats religious beliefs with a great deal of respect and he discusses the history and ideas that support his thesis in a very scholarly way.  His website can be found here.

The basic premise for the novel is (from his website):

Do you get tongue-tied when asked to name the Twelve Apostles? Do you think Adam’s wife was Joan of Arc? If so, join the crowd. The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of religious illiterates. Many Protestants can’t name the four Gospels, many Catholics can’t name the seven sacraments, and many Jews can’t name the first five books of the Bible. And yet politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed, or misinterpreted, by the vast majority of American citizens. This is in my view a major problem in contemporary civic life. “Religious Literacy,” … explores this problem, pinpointing key moments in U.S. history that spawned our current epidemic of religious illiteracy and offering practical solutions to remedy this problem, including mandatory religion courses in the public schools. The book also includes a Dictionary of Religious Literacy with key terms, beliefs, characters, and stories that every American needs to know in order to make sense of religiously inflected debates: from abortion and gay marriage to Islamic terrorism and the war in Iraq.

He begins by talking about a quiz that he made for his students (which can be found here if you’d like to take it) and proving that Americans fared very poorly on their knowledge of  things that they profess to believe.  (No small surprise there, simply because we live in a society of entertainment, and to become literate in Culture or Religion is usually only done if one is self-motivated.)

Prothero goes on to give the history of Religion in the USA and how it was the Believers and not the Atheists that led to the secularization of  American schools.  At the beginning of the public schools in the US, readers like Noah Webster’s Spellers, and the McGuffy Readers were pious schoolbooks and were slanted toward Protestant teachings.  Roman Catholics took opposition to these teachings in the schoolhouse (and rightly so, considering that many were aimed at teaching against Catholicism).

Now, I’m summing up a great deal of highly interesting information here, but eventually, the first amendment was invoked and religion began to take it’s place out of the schools and the responsibility for religious instruction fell largely on the American Home and the Sunday School.

Prothero then suggests a remedy  – which is to bring religious studies back into the Public School.  This of course, as a teacher, is the part that intrigued me the most.  His main premise is – Religious people make huge life decisions based on their beliefs.  Since most news stories are about religion (Iran, Iraq, Israel, etc) and many major political decisions are based on religion, then we need to do a better job of understanding faiths, our own and others.

But the question is, can we talk about religion in schools?  Is it Constitutional?  Many teachers are fearful to even mention the subject at all.

The answer, that the Supreme Court has given, is  – yes. It is Constitutional to teach about religion in the Public Schools.  WHAAAT??? 🙂

What is illegal is to teach “Sunday-school-style religious instruction” (Prothero, p.128) or in other words, a school teacher cannot proselytize his/her pupils into a religion, but s/he may teach about religion.

Prothero gives  five different quotes from Chief Justices that very clearly outline the Court’s decisions about teaching religion.  I will repeat those ideas here (more detail can be found on p.128-129 of this text or from the court rulings themselves).

  • Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson (McCollum v. Board of Education, 1948) –  “Music without sacred music, architecture without the cathedral, or painting without the scriptural themes would be eccentric or incomplete, even from a secular point of view. … Certainly a course in English literature that omitted the Bible and other powerful uses of our mother tongue for religious ends would be pretty barren.  And I should suppose it  is a proper, if not indispensable, part of preparation for a worldly life to know the roles that religion and religions have played in the tragic story of mankind.” Jackson also stated,  “The fact is, that, for good or ill, nearly everything in our culture worth transmitting, everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences.”

 

  • Justice Thomas Clark (Abington v. Schempp, 1963) – “[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.  It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities.  Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the Fist Amendment.”
  • Justice William Brennan (Abington v. Schempp, 1963) – “The holding of the court today plainly does not foreclose teaching about the Holy Scriptures or about the differences between religious sects in classes in literature or history.  Indeed, whether or not the Bible is involved, it would be impossible to teach meaningfully many subjects in the social sciences or the humanities without some mention of religion.”
  • Justice Lewis Powell (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987) “Courses in comparative religion, of course, are customary and constitutionally appropriate.”  and The Supreme Court (Stone v. Graham, 1980)  –  “the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like.”

Prothero states:  Few school administrators understand the crucial disctinction that these justices have repeatedly made between studying the Bible academically (which is constitutional) and reading it devotionally (which is not). He says that schools that educate teachers don’t understand or teach the distinction that the First Amendment makes in teaching religion, and so the teachers remain silent.

But, [s]ilence can lie as well as words, of course, and in the case the lie is that religion doesn’t matter: it has no social, political, or historical force so students can get along just fine without knowing anything about it.  This approach flies in the face of decades of Supreme Court rulings.  It also lends credibility to the complaint, common in conservative Christian circles, that public schools, far from being religiously neutral are actively promoting a ‘culture of disbelief’.

… the First Amendment requires of state governments not just neutrality among religions but also neutrality between religion and irreligion.  The current state of  obeying the law by avoiding religion may well be violating the Constitution, by indoctrinating students into a secular world view.

He goes on to say that when we don’t teach the youth about religion in general, it fails to prepare students for citizenship in a world in which religion matters.

At the end of his book, Prothero gives a Dictionary of Religious Literacy that covers topics from Abraham, to Buddhism, to yoga,  Zen, and Zionism.

I highly recommend this book, both for it’s historical account of religion in education and it’s very informative section on what we can do under the Constitution.  As a teacher, I find it encouraging to know that I will not be “put in the stocks” for saying the words Bible or Jesus Christ in my classes.

Agency and the Plan of Salvation

I just overheard a professor of philosophy discussing God and agency with his class.  Since I am not able to walk into his class and give my opinion, I will write it here to you.

His main argument was that God knows everything that we will do and therefore we don’t have true agency.   (A very common argument, meant to place the blame for our lives on God and not ourselves.)

My rebuttal is this.  God is omniscient, he does know everything.  But,we don’t.  We have no knowledge in this mortal state of what our individual future will hold.  We have only the knowledge of the present moment and the past here on earth.  Thus our agency is in absolute full force.

We can decide for ourselves, “I will make it to live with God again, no matter what.”  If we act appropriately, following the guidelines prescribed by God to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, there is nothing that says, “oh, sorry, you’re slated for the Telestial Kingdom, too bad!”

Therefore, my ignorance of God’s knowledge of my future makes me innocent enough to believe that I can have all that He’s promised me.  I have the choice and the ability here and now, to make that come to pass.  Or I can decide I don’t want it.  That’s my choice.  My lack of knowledge makes it so.