Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moral Agency, Rebellion and Reconciliation

This has been an eventful week. Two stories from real life have become a useful metaphor for me in helping to describe what has just happened in our country.

My wife and I took a long weekend trip to a distant city for a little R&R. We had a delightful weekend enjoying the splendor that is Southern Utah's color country. Without being too specific to protect the identity of the family we witnessed in action, a small drama played out in front of me that has some metaphorical value.

We attended a sacrament meeting while we were away. We happened to pick a ward where the ward conference was happening. Presiding at the meeting was the stake president. Their stake theme was published in the program - "Coming to understand the use of priesthood keys in the Church and our personal lives." Maybe it was because it's a topic with which I am very familiar and I've written about extensively, but I had a feeling their stake was in good hands and they were well-led by the man from whom we would be hearing later in the meeting. I was not disappointed in my early assessment.

The bishop bore a brief five-minute testimony. Then the stake president called on a youth leader and a young woman, both of whom had attended the stake girls' camp that week. They reported on the camp, their feelings about it, and what a spiritual uplift it had been in their lives.

Then a mini-drama played out in front of me. A mother and one of her daughters (it was a family of five children seated in the row in front of me), began exchanging hand-written notes on the front of the printed program. Because I was situated a row behind and between them, I could easily read their written exchanges.

The mother began, "Did you feel anything at girls' camp this week?" I should mention this was her oldest daughter whose natural hair color was red. But this daughter had dyed the front of her hair blue.

The daughter took the proffered note from her mother and returned it without comment, a look of loathing and rebellion on her face as she handed it back defiantly.

By now the stake president was at the podium and was developing a topic, ironically, of standing firm in our faith by choosing correct principles and aligning ourselves with the Lord and His admonitions through living prophets.

The mother then wrote: "You will NEVER be able to feel the spirit in your life with such a BAD ATTITUDE!"

The stake president from the pulpit: "Even God had to bow before the agency of His children in their poor choices, because He decreed that each would have the freedom to exercise moral agency. When our children rebel, it must never be because we have failed to teach them or to berate and judge them harshly for those choices. We must love and succor unconditionally as He would each of His children. His patience with us must mirror our own with our children."

The daughter had finally had enough. She grabbed the program and the pen and screamed on paper, "STOP IT!"

The stake president, continuing to develop his theme: "Obedience is the key to having the spirit in our lives to direct us. As we obey, as we love one another in our families, and as we give heed to the counsel of our living oracles, we develop the power of the priesthood in our individual lives to weather the storms of adversity and sin that will continually beat upon us until the Lord comes again."

The mother, seemingly oblivious to the counsel of their stake president and determined to have the last word with her daughter, then wrote: "You will NEVER be happy until you obey the commandments." This time the daughter refused to even pick up the program or look in her mother's direction. She simply ignored the note. The icy exchange had ended and her mother put away her program. I was struck by the fact that this blue-haired daughter had gone to girls' camp and she was sitting in Church. She could not be considered in my quick calculations as a total loss.

Another human drama between a 91-year-old father and a son who has rejected him as a father was also playing out last week. A copy of a letter from the father to the son was shared with me. This is a father whose history with this son has been tempestuous their entire lives. Now, the father, attempting a final reconciliation in the gathering sunset of his life writes in part:

"Your refusal to accept my telephone calls makes my efforts to reach you very difficult. . . I have faithfully written to you each month to express my love and to plead and beg for some response from you. All this has been to no avail and only painful silence has resulted. After a year I am still bewildered by your failure to respond [he then postulates on the possible reasons for being ignored]. . . There are other possibilities of course, but I have concluded that I cannot continue on with my practice of writing letters to you each month when I never know after a whole year whether they are even read, welcomed or useful in any respect. So, unless I receive an answer to this fervent inquiry, I will cease formal writing. Then, what are we left with? A father-son relationship that only I acknowledge and treasure. That is so saddening and empty. Only you can make it otherwise and I pray with all my heart that you will do so."

Two real-life examples of the painfully poignant feelings of distraught parents who are grappling with the rebellion and rejection by children of their parenting efforts. I would suspect these examples are not isolated. Perhaps they are universal.

Now take those two stories and imagine that pathos and the disappointment of our Father in Heaven who looks down on the SCOTUS rulings against DOMA and Prop 8 in California last week, having the effect of further bolstering the LGBT agenda for gay marriage in the name of "marriage equality." He has given revelation upon revelation, following centuries, even millennia since creation's dawn, of confirming conformity from the majority of His children with respect to marriage being defined as between one man and one woman, then having His doctrine ridiculed, derided and decried as "discriminatory." Imagine the patience, the irony, the disappointment and the long-suffering of God who is also a Parent. Yet how does He react? Does He harshly condemn, berate, brow beat, work with guilt to compel His children to do what He commands? No. He bows beneath the rod of moral agency. He warns, He continues to instruct through His living oracles upon the Earth today, and He continues to patiently nurture until the day of the final harvest. He must submit, even the God of the universe, to the immutable principle of moral agency. Even He. And so must we.

There are natural consequences involved with poor choices. It is Parenting 101. Children must be taught correctly to see and to learn what those consequences will be. Sadly, they must often suffer painful experiences to learn those natural consequences. Only last night, little munchkins living for the weekend with their parents under our roof for the holiday weekend, were reminded gently by their parents that failing to eat their dinner resulted in the natural consequence of having to forego Grandma's homemade cookies for dessert. Screams of how HORRIBLE their parents were rang through the house. Screams of protest and anger, harsh judgments about their abilities as parents were rendered. "You are the MEANEST mother in the whole world!!" But the consequences stood. They were learning as little ones, not having to wait until they had dyed their hair blue, or were still stoutly refusing the impassioned entreaties of aged parents after a lifetime of rejection.

It was Kahlil Gibran who wisely stated: "We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them."

And so it is. The day will come when America will pay a terrible consequence in its rebellion against God and the natural law of marriage between a man and a woman. I hope before the final judgment day arrives I will be living on the other side of the green, green grass in the cemetery. There is nothing in the scriptures suggesting to me things are going to get dramatically better before we see the Second Coming.

But I am cheered by the hope that out of all this chaos will someday emerge the Zion for which I long:

"And now I give unto you a word concerning Zion. Zion shall be redeemed, although she is chastened for a little season. . . Therefore, let your hearts be comforted; for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly, and to the sanctification of the church. For I will raise up unto myself a pure people that will serve me in righteousness; And all that call upon the name of the Lord, and keep his commandments, shall be saved. Even so. Amen." (D&C 100:13, 15-17).

I suspect before that day comes even young ladies with blue hair and recalcitrant sons who refuse to accept their aged father's earnest entreaties will also submit.

An additional valuable insight was reinforced the other night as we were participating in a sealing session. "I seal upon you the blessings of the holy resurrection." Fathers will someday resurrect their children. The keys of the holy resurrection are a patriarchal priesthood entitlement to the faithful. And knowing the patience of our Father in Heaven, I suspect patient patriarchs seeking to become just like Him will also wait for as long as it takes for their children to be given every possible chance to repent and align themselves with the revealed gospel of Jesus Christ even beyond the grave.

Just a thought. . . sometimes reconciliation takes a very long time, but it is ALWAYS possible.

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