An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Sunstone Symposium’

Change of Heart

My aunt who has been blind and suffering severe dementia
since a major stroke last summer has been on blood pressure drugs, blood
thinners, and heart medication ever since. She has resided in a care center following
her initial hospitalization except for three weeks spent in a hospital
psychiatric ward for dementia patients to evaluate and prescribe for her
anxiety and hallucinations. Currently, she is in the hospital with acute
respiratory failure, urinary tract infection, and heart problems.

Both she and her son are ardent Republicans although neither
is prosperous, and both have loudly criticized health care reform or any kind
of assistance to the needy. The tab for my aunt’s medical treatment is picked
up by Medicaid.

A pollster on the evening news last week reported that
Republicans’ take on the current battle over deficit reduction versus
maintaining Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits now divides on an
income basis. Affluent Republicans prioritize deficit reduction while middle
class and lower income Republicans favor saving their benefits. I suspect my
cousin now has a different view on the need for Medicaid in modern America.

I’m in favor of reducing waste in government spending as
much as anyone. But what has puzzled me for years is relatives and neighbors (who
are not particularly affluent) quoting talk show hosts and politicians(who are extremely
affluent) about the fairness of tax breaks for the rich and the unjustness of
social programs for the poor.

An abstract for a Sunstone Symposium session scheduled for
August 4, “Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?” explains it. “Society
ends up shaping the very thoughts in our minds so that the world as it is seems
natural and normal, the end result being that many of us accept it without
question.”

Women aren’t the only group who often fight against their
own interests. Too bad humans can’t question the status quo until it impacts
them personally.

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The Kingdom Within

A speaker at this year’s Sunstone Symposium opined that the natural man cannot be perfected by keeping commandments. He offered as evidence the fact that Mormons attend church for three hours every Sunday where we are exhorted to keep the commandments, but we don’t see a general increase in righteousness and perfection among the members. I’ve blamed our general lack of improvement on the fact that repetition isn’t the best teacher, but I think this good brother hit on something more profound.

Tackling a list of commandments is external and often leads to external measurements of improvement such as numbers of meetings attended, amounts of money donated, substances not ingested. Changing the natural man or woman—the one the Book of Mormon tells us is an enemy to God—requires going within—getting acquainted with the ego that runs our show—the deceptions it practices and the illusions it maintains. This requires personal time for prayer, meditation, contemplation—quiet time—time not often found in our group religious practice.

A person who understands herself is far less likely to harm others either physically or emotionally and can function with far fewer rules than a person whose behavior is extrinsically motivated. My dad insisted that anyone who didn’t believe in God would be a total degenerate with no fear of hell or hope of heaven to keep him in line.  But my circle of friends and acquaintances includes many non-believers who not only refrain from crime, but show compassion in individual and community service to others.

And we all know, via the news if not personally, regular church attendees who bilk their neighbors, abuse family members, and cause enough misery to justify  a lightning bolt frying them to an unhallowed crisp. When I taught at Utah State Prison, I found a high degree of religious belief in the inmates—but they weren’t able to translate their belief in God into living a crime-free life.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Maybe we need to spend more time seeking for the kingdom within.

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