From the Pulpit
A Challenge to Love
By Henry Miller
Adapted from a sacrament meeting talk given by Henry in San Diego in June 1990
tithes and offerings, read your scriptures, pray daily, attend
your meetings, obey the word of wisdom, hold family home evenings,
write in your journal, do your home and visiting teaching, fast
often, do your missionary work, follow the prophet, accept church
callings, be chaste, do your genealogy, attend the temple, repent
of your sins, keep the Sabbath day holy, etc., etc.
Why do we have so many guidelines, such seemingly
restrictive rules and commandments? How many rules and guidelines
does God worry about on a daily basis? Does he concern himself
over such things? I would say yes, but not in the same way that
most of us view them. If we are indeed gods and goddesses in embryo,
and assuming that our religious resources provide us with a better
understanding than most people on this earth, why then do we trifle
with such things? The answer seems obvious: Because we are to
God, what children are to their earthly parents. Like children,
we need commandments to grow and function at our present level
of maturity. But hopefully, we will grow and develop into strong
youth, and then young adults, and finally to become mature adults,
functioning as gods and goddesses. As we grow, so will our comprehension
of commandments. At present this may seem difficult to fully understand
and appreciate, and in fact it is for all but the most spiritually
mature. But it is our goal as Latter-day Saints.
So what of these commandments? They are, for
the most part, the "don't touch the stove or you'll get burned
set of guidelines" for God's earthly family. But there are
higher laws, commandments, guidelines, the "just be home
at a reasonable hour" rules, which we may follow as we develop
toward maturity. I won't tell you what I think all these higher
laws are except one. But that one law, if properly applied, will
make it possible for us to see and understand a little more like
God sees and understands, and thus be capable of discovering the
higher laws for ourselves.
What are the commandments? Why are the commandments?
For a few they are the wings that free us from earths' gravitational
pull. For all too many, they are the walls that dam us in.
"The explorer returned to her people,
who were eager to know about the Amazon. But how could she ever
put into words the feelings that flooded her heart when she saw
exotic flowers and heard the night-sounds of the forest; when
she sensed the danger of wild beasts or paddled her canoe over
treacherous rapids? She said, Go and find out for yourselves.
To guide them she drew a map of the river. They pounced upon the
map. They framed it in their town hall. They made copies of it
for themselves. And all who had a copy considered themselves experts
on the river, for did they not know its every turn and bend, how
broad it was and how deep, where the rapids were and where the
It is said that Buddha refused to be drawn
into talking about God. He was probably familiar with the dangers
of drawing maps for armchair explorers."
So how do we keep from becoming armchair explorers?
Should we avoid talking about the commandments? Should we cease
teaching them in our lessons? Fortunately, and unfortunately,
the answer is no. Because of our level of maturity, we need to
talk about these rules to avoid unnecessary burns from "hot
Commandments and Scriptures
Since two common sources of commandments are scripture or living prophets,
let's think about both for just a moment.
"Someone said to Buddha, The things you
teach, sir, are not to be found in scripture. Then put them in
there, said Buddha. After an embarrassed pause the man went on
to say, May I be so bold as to suggest, sir, that some of the
things you teach actually contradict the scriptures? Then the
scriptures need amending, said Buddha.
A proposal was made at the United Nations
that the scriptures of every religion be revised; everything in
them that leads to intolerance or cruelty should be deleted; everything
that damages the dignity of human beings should be destroyed.
When it was found that the author of the proposal was Jesus Christ,
reporters rushed to his residence. His explanation was simple:
The scripture, like the Sabbath, is for human beings, he said,
Not human beings for scripture."
The scriptures are written accounts, in human,
finite words, of someone else's spiritual experiences. But they
should not be equated with that experience. They challenge
us to enter our own experience in our journey with God. We can't
possess the experience by simply reading about it. And the prophets?
They too are human, using finite words to describe their spiritual
encounters with God and to teach us what He would have us know.
We should never follow them, obeying their every word, blindly
accepting whatever they may say, unless and until we have found
out for ourselves that what they have to say is true. The words
of Bruce McConkie, in speaking about the change in policy regarding
blacks and the priesthood, are powerful reminders of this truth:
"Forget everything I have said or what President Brigham
Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomever has said in days
past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with
a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that
now has come into the world." (All Are Alike Unto God,
August 18, 1978, BYU). For those whose minds are locked into unquestioning
obedience, such words can be unnecessarily disturbing.
"The monks were full of questions about
God. Said their master, God is the Unknown and the Unknowable.
Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is
a distortion of the truth. The disciples were bewildered. Then
why do you speak about him at all? Why does the bird sing? said
the master. Not because it has a statement, but because it has
a song. The words of the scholar are to be understood. The words
of the master are not to be understood. They are to be listened
to as one listens to the wind in the trees and the sound of the
river and the song of the bird. They will awaken something within
the heart that is beyond all knowledge."
When you think about children what pictures come into your mind? Sweet
bundles of joy bound in lace and curls endowing happiness wherever
they go. Sure. Ask any nursery school teacher if that's an accurate
description. He or she will say yes, and no. We all know that
children can also be unruly, selfish, even vicious, doing things
to each other that an adult would be arrested for if they inflicted
the same treatment on another human being. In short, they act
immature. After all, they are, in fact, children. And we too,
like children, have been given rules to live by while in our infancy.
But what about after our infancy? When do we move from the "don't
touch the stove or you'll get burned" level, to the "be
home at a reasonable hour" level? That's something for you
and God to decide. God will present new challenges for growth
(usually before you think you're ready for them), and will reveal
pure knowledge to make it possible for you to progress (usually
after you have made some wobbly first steps, but before you fall
down and hurt yourself).
For us to be ready to take on the additional
responsibilities that come with a more mature level of understanding,
we must open our minds to new ways of thinking. It's an attitude,
a frame of mind that I'm talking about. If you want to advance
from infancy to childhood, or from youth to young adulthood, you
will open yourself up to this idea: to obey the rules and guidelines
is not the singular goal of a successful life, they are only the
stepping stones to help us along the way, the iron rod, they're
the wings that free us from earth's gravitational pull. What's
really important is not how well we adhere to one set of rules
or another, or whether we happen to be male or female, gay or
straight, black or white, rich or poor, powerful or powerless
or even how we dress. What is most important for us to achieve
was stated by Christ when the Pharisee asked him, Which commandment
is the greatest of all? Jesus' answer reflected a mature level
of thinking when he said, " . . . love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall
love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment
greater than these."
Our understanding of this scripture allows
us to appreciate Jesus' willingness to break the "commandments"
of his day to achieve his goal of unconditional love. His radical
rejection of the laws of ritual observances and cleanliness is
one example, where he stated that it is not what goes into a person,
but what comes out of their hearts that makes them clean or unclean.
His interactions with women went against the accepted definition
of women as second class members of God's people. His willingness
to associate with tax collectors, prostitutes and non-Jews earned
him the scorn and suspicion of the religious leaders of his day.
I wonder how many of us would revile against Christ if he were
with us today and chose to break an accepted "commandment"
of our day? What would our leaders have to say about the Son
of God when they found him to be in opposition to many of their
own standards for conduct?
In spite of the message taught over the pulpits
at almost every church meeting, the glory of God is not Obedience!
Choosing to follow ones own heart, rather than adhering to accepted
religious practices, is an admirable trait, if it leads to a Christ-like
love. This is the example that Christ set for us. Like the religious
leaders of Christ's day, no church or religious leader today can
claim to have all the answers, or that today's policies, practices
or our understanding of truths to be perfect or unchanging. This
is a part of what it means to live in a human, finite world. This
is the understanding that allows us to dissent from anything or
anyone if we believe that the Spirit is leading us to do something.
This is what it means to love God with all our heart, might, mind
and strength: to follow wherever He may lead. A refusal
to do this would be the same as saying: "We have no need
for further light and knowledge . . . a Bible, a Bible, we already
have a Bible . . . our understanding of God's will is at present
perfect and unchanging." Of course, it should be obvious
that we have much to learn. The ninth Article of Faith implies
this when it states " . . . He will yet reveal many great
and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." The
fact that He has been unable to reveal the promised additional
scriptures since the early part of our Latter-day history could
be due to our slowness to understand and apply the ones He has
already given us. When will we stop pretending that we already
have a perfect understanding? When will we come to the understanding
that we are not much different than the men and women who lived
on the earth 2000 years ago, and yet, in spite of the fact that
Jesus Christ was among them teaching them face to face, they still
did not understand? Like the people of His day, our comprehension
will be severely limited if we fail to come to our own understanding
of Gods will through confirmation of the Spirit, but choose rather,
to listen only to the second-hand information made available to
us through the prophets which, according to the prophets, can
be "limited and without . . . light and understanding."
There is a significant difference between human and divine love and
it lies in this: that humans often love only when they are loved
in return. God, however, loves us, not because we return it, nor
indeed because we have earned or deserve it, but because we need
it. God knows that, like water to a plant, without his love we
could not possibly grow or progress. This is the miracle of unconditional
divine love. This is the type of love which we are challenged
to develop within ourselves.
A wise old woman told the following story:
"I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer
to God was Lord, give me the energy to change the world. As I
approached middle age and realized that half my life was gone
without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to Lord,
give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with
me. Just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied. Now
that I am an old woman and my days are numbered, my one prayer
is, Lord give me the grace to change myself. If I had prayed for
this right from the start I should not have wasted my life."
You are only allowed to live your life for
yourself. You can't change anyone but yourself. Your relationship
with others is simple: you can set a proper example through righteous
living, but you must love them regardless of the route they may
Is it right for us to judge others unfit,
less than ourselves and therefore inferior? Like children, we
often label and exclude those who in our view don't fit into our
circles. And even more damning than this act itself, we often
pervert Christian ideas to justify our unChristlike attitudes.
On one occasion I heard a mother debating with an "upstanding
and exemplary" member of the Church on whether it would be
appropriate to invite her daughter to the family reunion. She
was concerned because of the fact that her daughter was not living
the kind of lifestyle that most members of the Church would approve
of, and she didn't want to appear to be approving of that lifestyle
by inviting the daughter to the reunion. I was shocked that they
even found it necessary to discuss such a topic. Their understanding
of Christ-like love would seem to be immature in this instance.
When is it right to judge? In spite of our
infancy and because of it, God does permit us to judge in certain
situations, but only as directed by the Spirit. No one on this
earth at present has attained the maturity necessary to enact
a righteous judgement on anyone else. Not even the prophet should
judge another unless directed by the spirit. It takes a God.
"When the Son of God was nailed to the
cross and died, he went straight down to hell from the cross and
set free all the sinners who were there in torment. And the devil
wept and mourned for he thought he would get no more sinners for
hell. Then God said to him, Do not weep, for I shall send you
all those who are self-righteous in their condemnation of sinners
and hell shall be filled up once more until I return."
For many people, following the commandments becomes the only focus
of their lives, and they lose sight that there is more to life
than simply following a set of rules. Much more. For these people,
the rules become walls that halt their progress. Some truths are
found outside of the rules. Life itself is the greatest teacher.
"The commander of the occupation troops
said to the mayor of the mountain village, We know you are hiding
a traitor. Unless you give him up to us, we shall harass you and
your people by every means in our power. The village was, indeed,
hiding a man who seemed good and innocent and was loved by all.
But what could the mayor do now that the welfare of the village
was at stake? Days of discussions in the Village Council led to
no conclusion. So the mayor finally took the matter up with the
priest. Priest and mayor spent the whole night searching the scriptures
and finally came up with a text that said, It is better that one
man die to save the nation. So the mayor handed over the innocent
man, whose screams echoed through the village as he was tortured
and put to death. Twenty years later a prophet came to that village,
went right up to the mayor, and said, How could you have done
this? That man was sent by God to be the savior of this country.
And you handed him over to be tortured and killed. But where did
I go wrong? pleaded the mayor. The priest and I looked at the
scriptures and did what they commanded. That's where you went
wrong, said the prophet. You looked at the scriptures. You should
have also looked into his eyes."
Let's practice this concept of divine love right now, with a modern
day story. Picture this: lying before you on the street is a man
who has just been attacked. He is bloody, broken and near death.
You, being a "good Christian," run to his aid. As you
try to stop the bleeding by tying bandages made from your own
torn shirt or blouse, you ask him how this happened. He coughs
frequently as he explains that he is a homosexual, and was just
attacked by a homophobic street gang, out for a fun night of gay
bashing. (In fact, this happens all the time.) Now, being a "good
Christian," do you leave him to die? Some people would, using
so-called Christian ideals to justify their actions. Or do you
continue to help, even when you notice sores on his face brought
on by Kaposi's Sarcoma? Some people would say You have AIDS, you
deserve to die in your sins. I could get AIDS myself just by touching
you. Some people would have him banished to an island to die alone,
thus protecting the rest of society from not only the disease,
but from a circumstance that can't be explained, changed, or justified
using their so-called Christian ideas.
We find an ancient but exact parallel to this
story as we read the very first chapter of Mark, the first of
the New Testament books written:
"And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues
and casting out demons. And a leper came to him beseeching him,
and kneeling said to him, 'If you will, you can make me clean.'
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and
said to him, 'I will; be clean.'"
For us today, it is easy to hear this as a
beautiful story of love, compassion and faith. To the Jews in
Mark's day, it was a horrifying story of an act that flew in the
face of all reason. Mark could have just quoted Jesus' words,
"Be clean"; but no, Mark adds the simple but striking
observation that Jesus touched the leper. As 20th century
Christians, we can pass over this detail without ever grasping
its implications. In ancient Palestine, everyone knew that it
was absolutely forbidden by all the laws and social mores of the
day no one ever touched a leper. Lepers were often forced
to wear bells and had to cry out "leper!" as they walked
to give warning of their approach. They were banished from all
cities and villages where "normal" people lived. Was
Jesus just being a rebel or a psychopath or a hero? No, his action
of touching the leper was a teaching tool. He had a perfect knowledge
of the laws of the day. He could have spent his entire life, like
some Pharisees, reciting laws and rigidly obeying them. But he
chose more than once, by example, to teach something greater than
simple obedience to rules.
Our Greatest Threat
The world is full of empty people, passionately adhering to strict
religious commandments that will never see the face of God. I
am afraid that many of these same people are the very ones who
would claim to be examples of Christian ideals for the rest of
society. The warnings in the Book of Mormon are directed to the
readers of this scripture, namely the members of this Church,
not some distant sinner who will never read it. Each of us must
examine ourselves, and the way we treat our brothers and sisters
in the Family of God to be sure we are not one of those to whom
Christ will be forced to say: "I never knew you; depart from
me, you evildoers." (Matt. 7:23)
We must begin to realize our greatest threat
is not the "Anti-Mormons" at Temple Square, or churches
who speak unfavorably of us, or unchristian or Godless peoples;
our greatest threat comes from within. It comes when intolerance
is expressed. It comes whenever we judge improperly, or hate,
or cheat or lie. Our actions speak louder than any "outside"
source for concern.
This is not only a call for us to be more
Christ-like in our dealings with each other within the church.
It is essential to our spreading the gospel to all "the corners
of the earth" that we treat all of God's children with the
love and respect that we are all worthy of. There are no people
who are unloved by god on this planet at this time or at any other
time. God loves everyone, and has asked us, pleaded with us, and
shown us through his son's example what this means. Christ asked
us to love even those whom we call our enemies. Every race, color,
sex and age is included. God the Father and Jesus Christ have
made no exceptions. Hate is not now, nor has it ever been a characteristic
of God. We read in scripture "God is love." We recall
Joseph Smith's words "Our Heavenly Father is more liberal
in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than
we are ready to believe or receive" (DHC 5:136). We hear
the testimony and see the examples of prophets past and present
of God's love for his children, but do we grasp the depth of that
love? Do we fully understand what he asks of us in how we should
relate to each other? Can we tell our society, fellow church
members and leaders no when they ask us to do things that
find their inspiration in prejudicial thinking, fear, homophobia
or willful ignorance?
In a letter to Dear Abby, a concerned writer asked "Can religion
be taught without teaching bigotry as well? If one teaches, for
example, that having a particular faith makes one a better person,
is the teacher not also implying that the non-believer is an inferior
one? An experienced and motivated teacher might be able to do
so, but how many parents or members of the clergy have both the
will and the skill to do so? Teaching 'tolerance' alone is inadequate
in that it still implies that the other fellow is wrong but should
be tolerated anyway, i.e., forgive his ignorance.
As long as the "true believer" is
taught that he is in any way superior to the non-believer, he
is well on his way to becoming a qualified bigot, religious fanatic
or member of one of the many hate groups that have been spawned
by such teachings through the ages. To the extent that your column
encourages readers to think for themselves and to realize that
there is nothing more wrong than self-righteousness, you will
have again performed a great social service."
If we consider that we, the members,
are the Church, then we must also realize that this church
has been guilty of bigotry, and any and all other shortcomings
somewhere at some time. This is not an unhealthy thought. It is
an adult understanding of the imperfect nature of mortality, and
a reminder for us to work continuously at becoming more like the
members of a Celestial family. It is a realization that we have
not yet "made it."
Imagine how an investigator of our church
would react if, in addition to the spiritual witness from God,
they also saw and felt God-like love and unconditional acceptance
in all of the church's members. We would become an example of
a celestial Christian family, and our numbers would swell at an
unprecedented rate. We are doing good at present. But we can and
should be doing better.
How many of us would feel negative feelings
if a drunkard came into our sacrament meeting? Or an openly gay
couple known for their involvement in radical political activitism?
Or what about a well known prostitute? Or a crime figure? Or any
one of the many social "outcasts" of our day? If we
find ourselves feeling anything other than love and compassion,
then we have something to work on. God loves them all.
A Change of Heart
To be a true follower of Christ is more than just appearances. It
requires a change of heart. It is an internal development that
will reveal itself through external means. A follower of Christ
does not view the world through diametric eyes; he does not see
others as "us vs. them." In his eyes, as it should be
in ours, all of God's children are one unit. We are one family.
The god and the bad, in God's eyes are all good. The beautiful
and the ugly, in God's eyes are all beautiful. The fortunate and
the unfortunate, are all blessed in some form. Each one of us
is loved and accepted equally. Differences in our political views,
religious views, or our commitment to following Christian ideas
makes no difference to God. Our Heavenly Parents love each and
Continue the process of growing up, by opening
your mind to additional possibilities for understanding God's
will for us. Break down the self-erected barriers of self-righteousness.
Realize that we are all capable of making mistakes, that's life's
way of teaching us new things. Learn first to love yourself, including
all that you have believed to be unlovable. Then, expand that
love to include family members, then friends, and finally everyone
you meet. You will be happier, and closer to God than at any other
time in your earthly life, and God will be able to use you in
blessing the lives of others in need. By doing this, we will prepare
ourselves in part for the second coming of Christ and eventually
for Eternal Life with our Heavenly Parents and family in the Celestial
Love itself is the greatest lesson. As Thornton
Wilder expressed it at the end of The Bridge of San Luis Rey:
"And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten.
But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love
return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary
for love. There is a land of the dead, and the bridge is love,
the only survival, the only meaning."
Bernie Siegel, in his book, Love, Medicine
and Miracles, makes this powerful observation:
given us free will to make love and life meaningful. This creates
a critical risk because we now have the ability to destroy our
universe if we choose not to love. However, it is only in this
critical time that the archetype of the miracle can appear. When
one believes in love and miracles divine intervention can occur.
We have an infinite number of choices ahead, but a finite number
of endings. They are destruction and death or love and healing.
If we choose the path of love we save ourselves and our universe."
George G. Ritchie shared his insight obtained
from beyond the grave in Return from Tomorrow. Whether
or not we believe his full account, his words find special significance
for those seeking a Christ-like love. ". . . this was the
Son of God, . . . His name was Jesus. . . . Above all,
with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man
loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence
was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my
wildest imagination. This love knew every unlovable thing about
me . . . and accepted and loved me just the same." Later,
in the same book he shares: "God is busy building a race
of men [and women] who know how to love. I believe that the fate
of the earth itself depends on the progress we make-and that the
time now is very short. As for what we'll find in the next world,
here too I believe that what we'll discover depends on how well
we get on with the business of loving, here and now."
A New Day
Let us look forward to the day when all will be alike within the Church,
as they already are within the view of God. I know it is only
a matter of time until the "rejects" of our day, like
the "rejects" who were accepted by Christ during his
lifetime, will be accepted and loved for who they are. They will
not be challenged to fit any particular pre-conceived mold, defined
for them by well-meaning, but extremely ignorant members of the
Church. They will simply be accepted for who they are. Their God-given
differences will be encouraged and supported. I believe God would
have it this way already, if it were not for the fact that we
have not prepared ourselves to receive and love them. I appreciate
hearing the mind-expanding ideas presented by forward thinking
liberal people. This is not to say that I reject all that has
been said and look forward to a day when the real truths
will be spoken. I am simply understanding that we have much to
learn about God's will, about Christ-like love, about the way
God would have us live within his family, and only by opening
our minds and hearts to the Spirit can we make ourselves able
to learn new insights.
Let us choose to grow. Let us understand why
commandments were given. Let us resist the temptation of becoming
armchair explorers by learning to stand on our own two feet and
cease relying on the experiences of others to bring meaning and
purpose to our life. Let us abstain from judging others. Let us
love God and all our brothers and sisters, in our family of God,
with all our might, soul, mind and strength. That we may learn
to love, even as our Heavenly Parents love, is my prayer, in the
name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
[All unreferenced stories taken from Anthony de Mello's book, The Song of the Bird.]