22 September 2016

Self-Righteousness

I've begun the analysis of my note-taking process in preparation for general conference in October. I decided to play catch-up with the Worldwide Devotionals and BYU speeches, and have made it to my first April conference addresses. I'm happy with the progress I'm making, but I still have some additional details to hammer out. Once I'm satisfied, I'll dedicate a post to it here.

The talk I listened to today was Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You by Jeffrey R. Holland. Because part of what I'm trying to determine in my study involves how to handle scripture references, his message was great to analyze because it relies on so many scripture verses and examples. As I was listening, his statement on self-righteousness caught my attention: "We are to deal justly, never unjustly, never unfairly; we are to walk humbly, never arrogantly, never pridefully; we are to judge righteously, never self-righteously, never unrighteously."


Listeners Learn of the Higher Law
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library


He makes a necessary distinction here about self-righteousness I've never explored before, so I decided to examine the topic today in my scripture study. Because hypocrisy and the moral treatment of his laws and commandments is a topic Jesus taught about extensively in his ministry, it would be a mistake for me, as his disciple, not to consider how these relate to self-righteousness.

What does it mean to be self-righteous?

In considering the definitions of self-righteous from Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Oxford, and Urban Dictionary, it was Merriam-Webster's definition that best represents the reason for my initial response. I found several of the presented definitions vague, and potentially problematic.

self-righteous
convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others : narrow-mindedly moralistic

Surely this definition does not mean to suggest that having convictions is a problem. Providing moral guidance upon which people may confidently base their beliefs and decisionsespecially moral choicesthis is the objective of all religious teaching. Because this process often exists within the tenets and systems of organized religion, it unavoidably becomes a comparative exercise. I have decided on my beliefs as much by adhering to and adopting beliefs from my own faith, as much as I have by considering other beliefs, and choosing not to adopt them. By virtue of taking any stance that contradicts another person's religion, I exist in contrast to their beliefs. The degree of certainty in which I, or they, hold to those personal beliefs is not an issue. Presenting this "contrast" as the defining principle of self-righteousness is deeply problematic.

The discernment between ideas, and the rational choice whether to adopt or reject them, this process cannot be defined as self-righteousness. Rather, the formulation and reconciliation of a personal belief system is an individual exercise of human reasoning. Confusion related to this language is why I prefer Oxford's definition:

self-righteous
Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.

The problem with self-righteousness is not a person's "contrast from" the beliefs and actions of others. Rather their attitude, the spirit in which they engage with others, in choosing or communicating their personal moral choices; their "unfounded" self-perception, when they assert their personal superiority or degree of correctness; this is self-righteousness.

These various definitions emphasize various elements of this attitude:

  • Haughtiness and self-aggrandizement
  • Intolerance, specifically an unwillingness to consider other points of view, or coexist with those whose beliefs and actions differ from your own
  • Hypocrisy and "showboating", especially when one's moral code forbids lifting up oneself, or tearing down another person for their differences


Examples of these behaviors of particular relevance to religious people, including Latter-day Saints, would be:

  • Asserting moral dominance over others. Examples I've witnessed have included heritage in the Church, politics, sexual orientation, and financial status. 
  • Extolling the virtues of one's own lifestyle or choices in exclusive language. In the church, the moments when I notice this most are when people say that being married or having children is the most important thing, or the greatest thing about being alive. You may feel that way about your own life, and the rest of us are happy for you. But expecting everyone else's life or happiness to be exactly like yours, or to believe that others don't deserve happiness because they aren't married or don't have kids, that's just absurd.
  • Refusing to educate oneself on the religions, cultures, and experiences of others—yet harboring suspicion against them. Contemporary examples include a mistrust of refugees, immigrants, and Muslims.
  • Offering uninvited correction on principles or standards, especially in public ways that are humiliating or embarrassing to those who receive it.
  • Exceeding the necessary amount or severity of correction for the sake of drawing attention to oneself.
  • Expecting accommodation for one's beliefs, but refusing to give the same courtesy to others.

Most of us can recognize how reprehensible this behavior is to our sensibilities. But are we willing to admit to that behavior when we're the ones who perpetuate it? The only thing worse than being accused of self-righteousness is when the accusation is actually true. By taking the time to reflect honestly, we can avoid learning about this particular shortcoming in a much more painful fashion.

What did Jesus teach about self-righteousness?

We often refer to Jesus Christ as a patient man. Patience and long-suffering are two of his hallmark traits. However, based on numerous examples from the scriptures, the Savior has no patience for self-righteousness. Some of the harshest language he uses against anyone includes the Pharisees, for all the times they use their position and influence to lift themselves up, and find fault with others.

Matthew 12 and 23 provide a wealth of examples of this Pharisaical behavior, and Jesus' response to it. Even the Sermon on the Mount, when cross-referenced with the Savior's interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees, condemns them in almost every point. Their behavior, in all of its self-righteousness, becomes the defining line between between heaven and hell in the teachings of Christ. (See Matthew 5:20) Because they also encouraged other people to engage in this same behavior, he warned others to beware of the "leavening" of the pharisees: the doctrines, cultures, and traditions of men that had polluted their moral senses. (See Luke 12: 1-3 and Matthew 23: 15)


Jesus Teaching Pharisees
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library


Christ repeated some of these same instruction when he instituted his church among the Nephites. He also addressed their ongoing tendency to exclude people from their places of worship. (See 3 Nephi 18: 22-34) When he addressed the general populace in verses 22-25, he forbid them from ostracizing or excluding anyone from the Church. In verses 26-34, he addresses the twelve disciples he previous called to administer in the Church, outlining the disciplinary process still in use today. But he emphasizes twice more, in verses 30-32, that they should not exclude anyone from coming to church.

He tolerated no such self-righteousness in the old world, and certainly wouldn't tolerate it the new world either. His condemnation, and the consequences of divine disfavor for self-righteousness, remain consistent in both accounts.

How do we avoid becoming self-righteous?

As a Latter-day Saint, I believe Jesus Christ is the most important moral authority for all of my beliefs and decisions. I will consider his teachings and actions before those of any other personincluding adherents within my own faith, men and women of other faiths, or in any other educational, civic, or professional capacity. I can't be who I am, and live up to what I value, if I compromise or temper my desire to serve God. I can't be less true to the promises I've made to the Lord, even at the risk of potentially making someone else uncomfortable.

When I maintain my devotion to him in the best way I know how, it brings out the best in me. The ability to negotiate, to solve problems, to listen, to respond with compassion to others, even if they disagree with me; all of this depends on me putting first things first. For me, that means loving the Lord and keeping his commandments.

All of the examples I've examined of self-righteousness have one thing in common: the self-righteous people put themselves and their own methods and preferences before the Lord. Doing so to make other people happy, therefore, is not a sustainable approach to avoiding accusations of being self-righteous. If anything, one could easily see how yielding to the demands of others upon our faith is how otherwise lovely people become insufferable. As the "salt loses its savor" only by contamination and mixture with outside forces, the meekness of James' "pure religion" becomes offensive to others only when it ceases to be pure. (See 3 Nephi 12:13 and James 1: 27)


Witnesses of Christ Healing a Possessed Man
Image courtesy of LDS Media Library


Nothing good ever comes when people of faith, especially disciples of Christ, put others before God. In a way I've never fully considered before, I can see why loving God is the first great commandment; because loving others without pretension isn't possible until I learn to do so with God. When I approach him with total honesty in my spirit, I can have no illusions about my nothingness before him, and the esteem he has for me and everyone else, despite our imperfections.

18 September 2016

Overhauling My Approach to General Conference

General Conference is two weeks away, and I've got so much on my mind. Between finishing my book on patriarchal blessings, preparing it for publication, my calling in Young Women, and my responsibilities as a temple worker, I don't know that I've been this busy in a long time. I'm enjoying the feeling of pushing myself to limits I didn't think were possible. I'm already thinking about how I can carry that energy into General Conference, and make the most of it.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


My usual approach has been to formulate some questions ahead of time, to listen for answers throughout the sessions, and take notes generally throughout. Generally, I do a lot of writing. Some of it includes impressions, but most of it tends to be writing or rephrasing what the speakers are saying. I've noticed this has become more of a habit over time, especially since I've been live-tweeting more over the past several years. As I reflect honestly with myself, I'm not happy with my results. And I'm very aware that my approach is the problem.

I'm deciding I need to find a more personal method of studying General Conference. Something that:

  • translates into more engaged study, prayer, and church attendance after conference ends
  • uses a format that works equally well for the Women's Meeting, as well as other broadcasts, stake meetings, and sacrament meeting
  • forces me to spend less time writing, and more time listening
  • incorporates, but is not controlled by, live-tweeting
  • allows me to prepare questions and receive answers like I always have, without leaving behind other important messages
  • brings me closer to my Savior, not just my own goals

Even though I recognize this is what I need, I don't know exactly what this will look like. So I've decided to begin experimenting with different ideas with messages from last General Conference. I'll be better prepared to learn from this next meeting, because the words from the last meeting will be fresh in my mind.

I've got some ideas in mind of places to start, I'm excited to try them out. I'll also pray about it and see what ideas come to me in Sacrament Meeting.

I know Heavenly Father wants to educate and communicate with each of his children. General Conference perfectly represents those desires. General Conference has blessed me immensely throughout my life, and I'm looking forward to having another chance to be blessed in similar ways. Above all else, I know General Conference is the chance to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, as he has promised the Saints in his church: "For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father." (D&C 84: 36-37)

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

13 September 2016

WANTED: LDS Beta Readers for My Book!

As many of you who follow me on Twitter know, I've been writing a book on patriarchal blessings for a while now.




Well, I'm done writing! I'm moving onto the next phase of the publishing process, known as beta reading. And I want you to be a part of this journey with me!


What is Beta Reading?

For those of you who don't know what beta reading is, it's the first public read of an unpublished, unedited manuscript. By sending a chapter of my book at a time to a test audience of its potential readers, I can ask for feedback. This constructive criticism lets me know what I did well, and what I can improve.

My ideal beta reader...


 ...is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 

And I don't just mean the ones with perfect attendance, if you catch my drift. If you're willing to offer feedback on a book like mine, regardless of how simple or complicated being a member is for you right now, I value what you have to say. And who knows? Maybe you'll find something along the way that might help!

...has received a patriarchal blessing OR is planning to receive one in the near future. 

Anyone who has not yet received a patriarchal blessing will only be eligible to read chapter 1, and qualifies for only one incentive (listed below)

...loves to read, especially inspirational nonfiction

You don't need to know a ton about grammar or spelling. Leave that stuff to the editors that come along later in the process. I want to hear your thoughts, ideas, and opinions on what I've written so far. If you've ever offered a book review, you've got the kind of insight I'm looking for!


What does my beta reading process look like?

 

Step 1: Send me an email 

You can reach me at templeboundparadox@gmail.com, or by clicking here. In the subject line, let me know you're interested in beta reading.

In order to aid in the selection process, please tell me a little bit about yourself. The following questions will help me to understand where you're coming from with your feedback. Any other details you wish to share about yourself or your feelings on patriarchal blessings are completely optional.

  • Your age and gender  
  • Are you a convert, or were you raised in the Church?
  • Are you the only member in your family?
  • How long have you had your patriarchal blessing? (Doesn't have to be exact)
  • Was receiving your patriarchal blessing a positive or a negative experience for you? (Include as much or as little detail as you like.)

If nothing else, just let me know what made you interested enough to beta read a book on patriarchal blessings, and what you hope to get out of it.


Step 2: Read a Chapter

I will email you chapters one at a time. The book is organized into five chapters, broken down into the following topics:

  1. The Basics - Focuses on who patriarchs are, what a patriarchal blessing is, how to prepare to receive one, and some basic insight into how to use them
  2. Study Methods and Topics - Examines various methods and learning styles for using your patriarchal blessing. For a more in-depth look at the type of study methods that appear in this chapter, see one of my previous posts on annotating patriarchal blessings.
  3. Family and Relationships - Explores how patriarchal blessings enrich our relationships. Includes a variety of reflection questions that will help you interpret your own patriarchal blessing.
  4. Testimony, Doctrine, and Church Service - Deepens the connection between the doctrines of the gospel, and the principles taught or mentioned in patriarchal blessings. From Angels to Zion, this chapter answers the questions you never thought to ask.
  5. Life Experiences and Challenges - Divorce, addiction, mental health, homosexuality: members of the Church have used their patriarchal blessings to face their challenges in life. This chapter builds upon the foundation created by the other four to show how patriarchal blessings address the complexities of life. 

As of right now, the page count (including the front and back matter pages, not part of the beta read manuscript) is about 50,000 words and 240 pages. That number is subject to change as I complete my own final edits.


Step 3: Fill Out the Questionnaire

Each chapter comes with a questionnaire. These will be similar, but not identical. Fill it out after you finish the chapter, and email it back to me. And please be honest! I can't fix problems I don't see. Even the problems I do see, I may not know how to solve them. By pointing them out and offering your insights, you will help me to see what I've written in a new way. Sometimes all we need to solve a problem is a look through someone else's eyes.

And that's it! You're done! Sit tight, and I'll send the next chapter and questionnaire soon!


What's in it for you?

Beta reading takes time, and I know your time is valuable. So as a thank you for your support in the formative phases of this project, I want to offer you some incentives.

If you are selected to beta read for me, and you finish the questionnaires for all five chapters, you will receive:

  • A FREE download of the e-book
  • 25% OFF of the list price for the paperback (Limit: one)
  • First access to some of the study charts and printables I've developed to accompany the book. These are going to be posted online for everyone to use after book launch. But you, as a beta reader, will get to see and use them before anyone else.

If you're ready to see the first book on patriarchal blessings written by a convert--the one only a convert could write--be the first one to read it!

We'll make history together!

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