29 March 2007

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

AND she's being published! Not a big time deal, but it's a start!

Last year, I entered a combination poetry/art show. The students who entered wrote a poem, each based on one of the pieces of art that were to be displayed in a small art gallery in southern Maryland. I wrote one based on a painting by artist Greg Mort:




And my poem, inspired by his painting "The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars," is being published in his book!

My poem is as follows:

"The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars"
I never understood him

Every evening
He would abandon life
On this Earth
Turn his mind
To the vain
Celestial diamonds
That are the stars

Sipping espresso
Flavored with sugar
And moonlight
He would trace the paths
Of the constellations
Until the sun
Stole them from the sky

His routine
Was older than the
Sun-faded volumes
That took on the life
Of scripture
To him

Astronomy became
His religion

I had my suspicions
That he did not seek
To find himself
In his pursuit
Of Orion
Hercules
And Lyra

Rather that
He sought asylum
From his own faithless dreams

This poem is special to me for a number of reasons. The sun, moon, and stars represent a special symbolism to me because of the passages in the Doctrine and Covenants that compare their glory to the Kingdoms of Heaven. I like when my poems to have a religious emphasis because, in all honesty, my ability to write poetry is a gift from my Heavenly Father. If my poetry can inspire someone else to faith, or even just to think about Our Father in Heaven, I feel as if I will have accomplished something truly important.

The other reason I love this poem in particular is because of the lesson I learned about allowing others to edit my work. I went to a Summer Center for Gifted and Talented Youth, and it was a program for the arts. I went to do literary arts, obviously, and it was a residential program at Washington College down in Chestertown. The instructor for the writing program wasn't exactly my ideal of an instructor. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I remember one day in particular that I left the literary house so frustrated, I was on the verge of tears. I had never felt so discouraged, and I almost didn't want to write anymore that week to avoid his brand of "constructive criticism." This poem in particular was almost unrecognizable after he finished with it. He took out so much, I felt as if he stripped a lot of the meaning out of it, and I resented him for it. So for the original draft of this poem to be the first one I've ever published in a book is special to me. It reminds me that I do have talent. I just have to remember that the next time someone tries to tear apart something that I've written that I like, because there's a reason that I like it.

I had a conversation recently with a Quaker friend of mine that I met at the arts camp. She said she envies me for my talent, because there's a difference between talent and skill. And to see my work from that perspective really encourages me to get back to the pen and page where Heavenly Father obviously intends for me to be.

Believe me, Heavenly Father, if it weren't for AP exams, finals, and the SAT's, I'd be there already.

28 March 2007

The Future

"[Some] people say, 'I would have willingly endured persecution and trials if I might have lived in the early years of the Church when there was such a flow of revelation published as scripture. Why is that not happening now?'... The opposition and trials are different now. If anything, they are more intense, more dangerous than in those early days, aimed not so much at the Church as at us as individuals." Boyd K. Packer
What would any of us sacrifice for our faith? A tough question to answer. I find the early members of the Church to be inspiring because they made ultimate sacrifices for what they were promised. They endured unspeakable horrors from anti-Mormon mobs that threatened them no matter where they went. They persevered long after the "sensible" would have surrendered. Needless to say, I admire individuals like Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins from the early church; it would be difficult NOT to, in my opinion.

As I look to the future, I've had to question which sacrifices I will and won't make for my religion. Perfect example? Military. I've thought about being a Marine for years now. A great way to ensure my job as a journalist; the pay would be great, my college would be paid for, and I would be serving my country in a way I would be proud and honored to serve. However, boot camp would keep me from church for 13 weeks, nevermind what my actual work schedule would be like. I would be forced to travel for as long as I'm under contact, which would postpone my ability to start a family, or even establish a household. Could I sacrifice that for my country?

If I went into the military, I would go in as an Officer. In order to do that, I need ROTC for the Navy-- which BYU doesn't have. But the University of Arizona does. I've thought long and hard about which college I should go to. Both are out west, and get me out of the state of Maryland; something I've always wanted. And BYU, I've been told by many, is an experience like no other. To see for myself what Utah is like, to get the religious emphasis that BYU would offer, to have that experience is something I've been looking forward to. But now, considering the plans I've been concocting, BYU may not be the best option for me. Can I make that sacrifice for my future career?

I realize that I'm not required to go to BYU in order to be a faithful Mormon. But to go would be the safe plan; the one that doesn't compromise any of my standards. But then there's the path that could lead me where to what I've always envisioned from my life.

Which do I sacrifice? My career? Or my religion?

Fortunately, only I can make that decision, and I don't have to make it alone.

22 March 2007

Tolerance

"We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep us on our toes." Hugh Nibley
I must say, I was due for an anti-Mormon experience. Can't seem to go more than a few weeks without one. I take it in good stride, especially since I'm in the process of sharing the gospel with someone who could really benefit from having faith in his life.

In one of my past posts, someone has recently left his version of the 95 Theses for Mormonism as a comment. With Hugh Nibley's words in mind, I responded in the best way I could. I didn't feel, though, that the matter was completely settled.

I'm not one to function by negatives. I don't want to hear what I'm not supposed to do. Rather, I deal in action. What am I supposed to do? How should I co-exist with members of other faiths, or even the atheists who view faith as a malady? How should I approach such a delicate issue, I asked myself after reading what this person had to say.

I found an interesting essay (yes, Sean, on FAIR) that I think illustrates perfectly what Christ-like tolerance is supposed to look like. The author, Daniel C. Peterson, recalls the story of a Lutheran bishop who suggested how to relate to others of different faiths. To quote Peterson, the Lutheran bishop broke down his perspective into 3 rules:
  1. "When you want to learn about a religion you should ask the adherents to that religion and not its enemies."
  2. "Don't compare your best with their worst."
  3. "Leave room for what he called 'holy envy.' "
Looking at this set of ideals, I'm impressed by the inter-faith relations that could be developed by such paradigms. Instead of entering a situation and thinking, "How can I convert this person to my perspective of my God?" think of what could be achieved if we thought "What can I learn from this person's faith, and what they're trying to accomplish with it?" By looking at faith instead of denomination, a more peaceful co-existence is possible. And I suggest co-existence because I find I get more respect from people when I follow principles of being open-minded as opposed to being judgmental. I've cultivated more credibility as a faithful Church member by following the Savior's example than I ever could be being pedantic and forceful of my own understanding in order to convert others. But of course, that's just me.

I would like to add, however, a rule of my own to the quoted set of three that I believe is also important, albeit subjective:

4. Take into account the spiritual witness that has been given to others.

Heavenly Father loves all of his children. He has blessed us all at one time or another, no matter what our circumstances might be. Just because someone is not a member of my church does not mean that they lack guidance from Our Father in Heaven. For example, my martial arts instructor has received what she and I both believe to be divine guidance from Heavenly Father about how to grow her business (long story for a different post.)

It would be wrong of me to undermine that spiritual witness in any way, because it isn't mine to interpret. I have my own witness that has led me to the path I'm on. She has her path that her witness has created for her. Neither of us are wrong; only obedient to what we have been given. And a lot of the time, personal witness is something that cannot be explained; the full effect is only reached with the person for whom it was intended. Therefore, we have no place to question what has been given to others because there is no way we could ever fully appreciate or understand what was meant for someone else.

Many people don't agree with me, but I believe that we will never live in John Lennon's world from his song "Imagine," nor do I want to envision it. "Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too" is about as scary as even a pretend society gets for me, because my religion is the means by which I've learned to be less violent. Religion is supposed to be a means of peace. But denomination is the real tool of Satan here. The adversary, I think, would have us believe that we MUST be separate to be right, to have us believe that to co-exist is impossible. But by co-existing, imagine the great things we could accomplish. If instead of trying to destroy faith because is doesn't have the right NAME on it, we could instead celebrate the faith we have when there is so little of it left in the world.

Just a suggestion.

11 March 2007

Visible

I gave my talk today. Despite the fact that my printer wouldn't print my talk--it took me until 3:30 in the morning to figure that out--and I was tired as all get out, it went well enough.

The thing about being up at the podium is you can see everyone... for a short time, all of their attention is on you, and they're depending on you to say something that will inspire them, and present the gospel to them from a fresh perspective. I love being able to do that.

But while you can see everyone... they can see you. And my secret hypocrisy was woven throughout my voice... the way I hesitated, and stumbled over words, and couldn't find the words I wanted... I work enough in public speaking that I don't have that problem anymore, unless I'm trying to hide something. I could hear the rotten lie in my voice, and couldn't tolerate it. So I did what any conscientious Mormon laurel giving a talk on charity would do.

I told the truth. I told them all that I haven't been taking my own advice, and I committed to stepping up to my own plate.

And as much as I don't want to, I know I have no choice. I can't be afraid of this skeleton anymore. I have to reach out to my father...

I have to be Christ-like.

07 March 2007

Stubborn

Has God ever told you something over and over again, and you knew it was Him, and you knew what He was saying, yet you tried not to hear it because of what it might mean for you?

I have no relationship with my father because I've chosen to remove him from my life. Seeing as it's March, this makes 2 years since I decided that I didn't want anything more to do with him.

When someone destroys your family with addictions and abuse, you want nothing more than to escape. I finally found the courage to end things when my father went to jail, and I haven't spoken to him since. He has since been released, and has tried numerous times to contact me, but I don't allow for it. If he calls, I hang up on him. I tear up his letters, and throw away his cards. I refuse to call him, and avoid seeing him at all costs. I know I'm being bitter and holding a grudge, but I don't trust him. I don't trust him not to hurt me again.

I received my patriarchal blessing shortly after I was baptized last year, and it says that I need to forgive my father; that I must pray for him because it will bring about a miraculous change. I've also received promptings from the Holy Ghost to contact him and tell him about the gospel. But I haven't done it. I know what I'm doing is wrong, it's against God's will, and I will probably suffer the consequences for my insubordination, but I refuse to be hurt anymore for my father's sake.

He has taken advantage of that too many times as it stands, and I can't bring myself to be rational. Years of living with him has programmed me to perceive him as a threat. My body temperature shoots up, my heart races, my palms sweat, and the only thing I can think is "Get away." It's the fight-or-flight response, and there's nothing I can do to change it that doesn't involve exposing myself to him... it's a Catch 22. I would have to break the reaction before I could make myself sit there with him, but in order to expose myself to him, I have to break the reaction.

And for what? I've made it 2 years without him, and they've been the best I've ever had. As far as I'm concerned, he's not my problem anymore. And having me step out of his life hasn't been enough of a wake-up call to him. I know he still does all of the same crap he did before. What else am I supposed to do? He only cares about himself, and nothing I can do will ever change that.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: I just finished my first talk. I'm to give it this Sunday, and it's on Charity, "the pure love of Christ." Here's a section of it:

"So what did the Savior, our loving Brother, teach the disciples when he was on the earth? What would he have us learn from Him? In John 13:35, we read “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” We are all missionaries in this life. Part of that mission is following the example of Christ as we prepare for our responsibilities in the next life. We have a duty to love our fellow man, no matter what his faults; just as the Savior loves each of us. The difference, for me, between charity and service is motivation; charity is what I do out of love, and service is out of obligation. If you’ve ever done an early-morning service project, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve been striving to transition from service to charity, and I urge all my fellow Saints to do the same."

Do you see my dilemma? I'm a hypocrite! I fully intend to give this talk on Sunday, to stand up there and preach to our branch about charity, yet I do not follow my own advice. And what's worse, I realize that I'm being a hypocrite, and yet I refuse to change! Heavenly Father and I have been at odds about this for almost a year, if not longer, and here I sit, just as stubborn as ever.

I have faith in my Church, my God, and my Savior, so long as they don't require the biggest sacrifice they could possibly ask of me... I knew that before I converted. And I knew it would be asked of me. I'm not surprised that I'm in this situation; only frustrated that I had to be right.

I don't like what I'm seeing in myself right now, but I know I won't change. My mom says it's the stubbornness I inherited from my father that makes it so...

The issue isn't what to do. I know what I should do... and I take the responsibility for what I'm doing right now. To me, that's how it should be. God should not be blamed for my mistakes, when chances are, he's trying to lead me to something that I could not reach without my father.

Unfortunately for me, I'm just that stubborn.

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