Sunday, December 03, 2006

Explaining Mormonism

I came across a blog posting by Richard Bushman at "By Common Consent" and "Times and Seasons." Dr. Bushman is the author of the critically aclaimed biography of Joseph Smith"Rough Stone Rolling. The post talked about an upcoming religious conference at Yale this February. The proposed focus of the of the conference is to be, "Explaining Mormonism" using C. S. Lewis', Mere Christianity as the governing text. The concept got me thinking and I had a few ideas to pass along.

Lewis was a master at building on common beliefs. In his book "The Case for Christianity," Lewis begins by saying that even when 2 people disagree, there have to be certain things that the 2 agree on in order to have the disagreement. He also points out that many times people engaged in a disagreement spend less time debating right and wrong and more time explaining why they are the exception to the rule. Lewis was a master at identifying and using universal beliefs based on human experience to make his case for Christianity. He was so sucessful in his method, his ideas seem to transend Christian belief. So much so, that nearly all Christian denominations claim him as one of their own.

Similarly, The Master Teacher Jesus Christ, drew all of his parables from the fountain of human experience. Ammon, in the Book of Mormon, exemplified this as he defended the kings sheep and then asked King Lamoni "Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?" The LDS writer which has done the best at explaining Mormonism following this paradigm is Stephen R. Robinson in his books "Believing Christ" and "Following Christ". The parable of the bicycle and the divers are masterful. Who could argue with them? Therefore, when these parables are used together with the spirit, like Nephi, it becomes "not possible that they could disbelieve his words" Using anecdotes and parables based on life experiences is an offshoot of teaching by example and neighborly service. Few can argue when it comes to righteous living and selfless sacrifice for another.

So, the key to explaining Mormonism is to use anecdotes and parables based on human experience. In this way, we are teaching scripture without reciting scripture. People disagree too much about scripture interpretation. But people more generally agree on human experience. For fun I'm going to list a few stories from my experience which relate to gospel principles with or without commentary.

#1 Eternal Progression
My brother Mike is hard-of-hearing and struggled with mental illness. Because of his mental illness it has been difficult for him to complete college and maintain steady employment. Years ago, while roommates in college, he was working at a local department store. He had an entry level position and like anyone had aspiriations to work up at the company and maybe become a manager at some point. One day, he expressed this aspiration to his manager who told him point blank, "you will never be a manager because you are deaf and cannot hear people on the phone." Notwistanding violating the "Americans with Disabilites Act," becuse of that comment, Mike went into a deep depression. He didn't even want to get out of bed in the morning. Mike had desires to one day support a family, and he knew that a minimum wage job wasn't going to cut it. He needed employment which would grow with him by giving him more responsibility as well as providing increased earning potential.

#2 Eternal Progression
I am a 2nd-year resident in Emergency Medicine. There are a lot of people in the hospital required to make it work. There are nurses, radiology techs, lab techs, unit clerks, respiratory therapics, physical therapists, social workers, and physicians etc. When I was in college, I volunteered in an ER and saw how everyone in the ER worked together to deliver patient care. Everyone's job was important. But there was something special about the job of the physician. He was the boss, the big cheese. He called the shots, made the difficult decisions. When someone was dying, everyone eyes focused on the doctor as the savior. The physician had the training and capability to orchestrate the team to save the patient's life. I was like the football team looking to their quarterback to lead the winning drive in the 4th quarter for a needed touchdown. Now the physician was careful not to think himself better than the others. But, when it came to entering the health field, I wanted to be a physician. I wanted to call the shots, I wanted to make the difficult decisions. It would require great personal sacrifice. But it would be worth it.

#3 Eternal Progression
I have a friend who is a nurse and another who is a radiology tech. Right now they make twice as much as I do. I was suprised to learn how disatisfied they were with their jobs. They made their career decisions based on what career would provide good pay with minimal schooling. Now that they have been in their careers for 10 years, they are bored. There are few new opportunities for learning and they are somehow dissatisfied at the idea that they will never be the decision maker. They take pride in their work, they go the extra mile, but in the end they will always be doing what someone else tells them to do. Now, my nurse friend is going back to school to become a nurse anesthnetist. As a nurse anesthnitist, in the OR, he will make all the decisions a physician anesthesiologist would. He won't make as much money, and will work under the direction of an anesthesiologist. But, he has an innate desire to gain the training and credentials to in order to expand his dominion at work.

#4 Eternal Progression
Before medical school I was doing reseach in a chemistry lab. I was able to complete a Masters Degree in Biochemistry. I was grateful for my time in the lab and the great research experience preceeding medical school. However, I remember thinking if I would be content with a Master's Degree if I didnt get accepted into medical school and needed to go into the science field. I realized that If I were to stop my schooling with a Masters Degree I would probably be a tech in some PhD's lab or at some pharmecutical company operating some piece of equipment or doing someone elses research; never being able to come up with my own ideas, never able to create, never able to explore my own interests and inspiration.

#5 Divine Parentage (generic)
My family is the source of my greatest joy. I have a son who is 6 years-old. I want him to experience the same joys that I have experienced. I want him to become a father just like my father raised me, and my grandfather raised my father. When my son has children of his own, he won't become a threat to me. His children will only further add to my joy. God sent us to earth and gave us a part in the power of creation. The home is our classroom and laboratory. As we become children and deal with the struggles of raising children we grow closer to our own father in heaven. And if we do well, throught the grace of Christ, the power of creation which we have been given in part, will be added upon.

#6 Divine Parentage
My wife tells this story about her mother. Oft times her mom would be working in another room of the house preparing a meal or cleaning and my wife would call out to her for help. Her mom would immediately reply that she was on her way to assist her. Then for some reason she wouldn't immediatety come. After some reminders, her mom would come to her aid profusely apoligizing that she had gotten side tracted. My wife used to feel that she was being flaky. Until she became a parent herself. Now she understands what her mother was going through. Now that she has 3 children of her own she can now more fully understand what it must have been like for her mother who had 6 children at the time. And only now after my wife has become a mother herself has she been able to understand, relate, and connect with her mother in a new may.

#7 Grace and Works (generic)
There is a addage that nearly everyone agrees with which explains the LDS view on grace and works. "Work like everything depends on you and then pray like everything depends on the Lord."

#8 Eternal Relationships
A woman came into the ER a few months ago after passing out at church. After getting some history from her friend who accompanied her, and getting what information I could from her directly, I learned that she was grief stricken after the recent deaths of her father and her boyfiend. She was in the middle of the sermon at her Christian church when the feelings of grief built up so much she hyperventillated and passed out in the middle of the congregation and was taken by ambulance to the ER. She was still very tearful in the ER. I remember feeling what a shame it was that her faith had failed to comfort her in her darkest hour of grief. Her christian belief taught her that relationships ended with dealth and family relationships where only for as long as a person should live or until death do us part. However, I shared with her my hope that relationships were a treasure that we could lay up in store where moth and rust didnt corrupt and where theives could not break in and steal. Our family and social relationships can be our treasure in heaven. Despite what the egyptions thought, we can't take our gold and silver into the next life, but we can take friends and family.

I'm sure you could think of many examples in your own life.

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