a quick Jimmy

When I get a chance to grab some exercise after work, I tend to read. It helps me to focus my attention on something other than the exertion. Give the body enough attention to keep it working hard, but not enough for it to complain at me.

My current workout book is Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, and while reading this evening, I came across something that me really impresionó. To give a little context, the thing that impressed me was expanding on a comment from his 2002 Nobel speech, where he said, “The present era is a challenging and disturbing time for those whose lives are shaped by religious faith based on kindness towards each other.”

Christianity Today asked him to explain that further, leading to:

There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions—including the different denominations of Christianity as well as Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: “Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong.” And the next step is “inherently inferior.” The ultimate step is “subhuman,” and then their lives are not significant.

That tendency has created, throughout the world, intense religious conflicts. Those Christians who resist the inclination toward fundamentalism and who truly follow the nature, actions, and words of Jesus Christ should encompass people who are different from us with our care, generosity, forgiveness, compassion, and unselfish love.

It is not easy to do this. It is a natural human inclination to encapsulate ourselves in a superior fashion with people who are just like us—and to assume that we are fulfilling the mandate of our lives if we just confine our love to our own family or to people who are similar and compatible. Breaking through this barrier and reaching out to others is what personifies a Christian and what emulates the perfect example that Christ set for us.”

His comments about “I’m better because God’s on my side” and the human inclination to encapsulate ourselves parallel concerns of mine. I can’t count how many sunday school classes I’ve been in where we start talking about what people are like “in the world” and how much “the world” isn’t like us. In respect to a number of standards and norms, this is true. We’re different. In many core respects though, we’re very much the same, and sometimes that seems to get lost, especially when talking about groups of people that don’t hold to the same standards of conduct as one’s own group.

I think one of the most difficult parts of Christianity is the idea of loving people while hating sin. It’s so easy to confound the two, either hating people we consider sinful (potentially running through the “inherently wrong… inferior… subhuman” progression that President Carter mentions), or condoning sins because of our love for the people committing them. (They’re people like you and me after all.)

I come from a background where people have made serious, sinful mistakes, the most painful mistakes being those made by people I care about and am close with. I can look back at energy wasted in the past, raging over what people had done to me and how it wasn’t fair. I wasn’t really able to move ahead in life until I learned to let those things go and remember that I can’t control what other people do and I’m not meant to. With that sort of background, if I err, I tend toward letting something someone does slide.

I hope that leaves me in a good spot. It’s served pretty well thus far in my ecclesiastical work. That said, I’m not in a place where I have to judge the worthiness of others beyond referring them to other authorities when grave issues come up. Even in those cases, I’m often amazed at how easily forgiveness flows and people change. Contrition and atonement make quite the combination.

And with that… I really better get to sleep. Sorry to lose focus at the end here.

Post some thoughts. Kick me into thinking things through a bit more.

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3 Comments

Filed under politics, religion

3 responses to “a quick Jimmy

  1. Anonymous

    This is me kicking…

    Not really. I liked this post. I often feel like that at church, too. Discussions sometimes take the “us and them” form. But I think that’s mostly because people express their gratitude that way — by comparing. We probably shouldn’t do it so often, and if we do, it should be in a very tactful way.

  2. Dangling comments review time… wheee!
    I wasn’t sure how to respond to this one right off then forgot about it. Hopefully whoever posted it will see this…

    Comparisons can be illustrative, and I don’t mean to say that all comparisons are a problem. I see things entering scary territory when we talk about “them” in ways that are especially polar… where the “them” starts getting simplified to the point where we start demonizing or implying negatives that we don’t necessarily mean. (When it’s lacking the “very tactful”ness you mention.)

    An example I’d pull out is talking about “the media.” I can’t count how many Sunday school and priesthood lessons I’ve been in where the class talked about how bad the media is, how all it does is pump sinful garbage into our homes, etc. In theory “we all know what we mean,” but it tends to get into territory that’s either hypocritical or tangential.

    For one thing, this is the same media that makes it possible for the members of the class to see church conferences and other uplifting and informative programs that they’d be quick to agree that they want in their homes. In most of these discussions I’ve been in, the media talk has been uniformly negative, completely ignoring the positives. For another, if we’re so worried about how sleazy media companies are or how bad their programming is… what are we watching? Are we diverting our attention to how bad one “them” or another is for creating programs we find lacking when we should be focusing on whether we’re watching those programs and what we should do about it?

  3. liu bei

    On Sunday I was a guest teacher for Elders’ Quorum, giving a “Teaching for our Times” lesson with an open-ended subject. My first inclination was to teach something along the lines of emergency preparedness, and especially debt because I had just seen a great documentary on debt in America at South By Southwest (check out Maxed Out if it comes to a theater near you. But don’t search for it on the internet because unsavory things also have that name). As it turned out, something else spoke to me as the essential teaching for our time on March 26 2006. I gave a lesson based on President Hinckley’s last conference address on the topic of Forgiveness.

    Hinckley began with a statement that caught my eye, referring to right now as “challenging times”. I began my lesson by asking the Elders why our times are particularly challenging. I got the answers I expected: the Media bombards us, the World is pervasive and accessible, life is just so much faster now. All good concerns, but I felt there was so much more. So much that a Liberal Mormon Mystic hesitated to discuss in front the class because I didn’t want to get political. I wanted to get to the doctrine of Forgiveness.

    I felt that blaming the World is a cop-out. I don’t think that is our biggest challenge. That is the biggest challenge for Cults, but that is not our breeding as Latter-day Saints. I think our challenge is exactly what President Carter talked about. I think the challenge of our times is a challenge to forgive others for being different from what we demanded and forgive ourselves for being foolish. If we frame our religion as simply a war between opposites where we are absolute good and everything else is absolute evil, evil will overtake us. Its not about conquering. Its about integrating. Good and evil are both within us and outside us. We must embrace the good and forgive the evil. This is a dispensation of Gathering. Thrashing the Nations is a collection not a conquest. And that is why Forgiveness is the essential teaching of our time.

    I just wanted to take the chance to more fully say what I was not able to say on sunday. Thanks to Xuhoch and Jimmy for bringing it out.

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