The “influence of a broken heart”

I have a client let’s call him Mark, who a deep crush on his seventh grade classmate, lets call her Nina.  Mark had a crush on Nina in sixth grade. In seventh, Nina left his friend group and Mark started drinking beer every day.  Although the two went different paths in life the human connection was real. Twenty years later Mark found Nina on facebook and chatted her up. Impressed by the attention, and nostalgic for Mark’s 12-year-old style of romance, Nina agreed to meet him at a restaurant. Mark seemed his same sweet self, if dim-witted, self. He told her of his rambling life of drugs and petty crime, his being in and out of jail, his desire to make a new life for himself. Nina  refused his invitation to be his girlfriend, but she agreed to give him a job selling purses and accessories at trade shows.

Mark worked for Nina three or four times, but she fired him because he was an irresponsible worker. Mark became angry, later that day he came to her house, punched her and took her car.  During the year he spent in jail he wrote her every week. The letters became more  insistent that she respond, he threatened to send people to hurt her family. He called her as much as he could, dialing her ten or twenty times in a stretch. She was afraid to be at her home because of the harassment.

When he was released from jail he was fitted with a GPS device.  He went to Nina’s house, waited for her to arrive with her son, and pushed her inside. Her son went to the backroom and called the police. Mark savagely beat Nina until the woman next door came and in and told him to stop. The neighbor found him standing over her her, holding a tire iron. He fled when she told him to leave. Clumps of her hair were found in various places in the room.

Nina’s life was never the same.  She was still plagued with health problems due to the internal injuries from the attack, which remained after three surgeries. She lost her business as crippling anxiety kept her from selling in public as she used to.  At the time of Mark’s trial, she was struggling to make ends meet, having been denied disability benefits.

After the trial, Mark wrote the judge in an effort to receive leniency in sentencing. He explained:

I admit my wrongs and I am aware of what caused me to act in such a inhumane manner, I understand I am not the best of people, but inside lives a person who does have good intentions but unfortunately I struggle of substance abuse & misfortune – I do believe I acted under the influence of a broken heart.

Undoubtedly Mark was right.   Human behavior is always worse under the influence of a broken heart.  After spending his teenage years drunk or stoned every day, after his criminal record made him unemployable, I am sure he was heartbroken to realize that in the state he was in, he would never be valued by anybody. If Mark was more introspective he might have turned his rage and violence against himself.  Instead, his pride, combined with his heartbreak  — an unceasing disappointment in his own condition–  led to a sustained rage against the woman with whom he was so disappointed.  Having nothing but his pride to lose, he turned to violence for satisfaction. It is an all-too-familiar story.  The “influence of a broken heart” plays out in almost all violence and passion, collective and individual.

Mark is the sort of man that David referred to as a miscarriage in the 58th Psalm — among those who “go astray as soon as they are born”.Whatever that thing we call Mark is — a soul, a person, an animal, a monster, a child of God — it is not going to be worthy of our love and forgiveness.  Reason and our law of right and wrong have made Mark forever guilty of bringing his brand of heartbreak on this woman and ruining her life.  His crime cannot unhappen, and his disappointment will remain as long as he has reason and memory.  Like the vindictive king, many of the people of California would have been happy if he had been aborted before birth, and at the very least, condemned to prison for as long as possible. What sort of salvation from himself or his community can he find under these circumstances?

No matter what church you hail from, is there something that your religion can point to that will free him the expectations he had of himself, the expectations that his community had of him? Is there some reprieve from the ultimate source of these expectations?

A scientific materialist might say that nature offers no reprieve for Mark. They might agree with King David that there is no hope for such people, that they cannot be saved, and are better off dissolved to nothing, imprisoned, condemned or aborted.

The LDS might tell Mark that he can find joy now through first abandoning his evil mind and adopting the right practice. If he does, the Spirit will be there to help him do that if he really wants to be good. If he is worthy, he will be blessed and exalted, if not he will find himself loved by God after he suffers for his sins.

To the LDS, I would ask, is there something that offers joy and love to the worthy and unworthy alike?  What words will point Mark to that joy?


Time For a New Word

The word “evangelical” is quickly getting stretched into incoherence thanks in large part to lazy reporting about the Trump Presidential campaign.  This is an excellent argument about the need to imagine a new word.

So it’s time redefine—or better, reimagine—what “evangelical” means. If the very heart of the evangelical movement is actively living out the Bible’s message that the world can have hope in the person of Jesus Christ, then nothing could be further from the heart of a true evangelical then siloing off from the rest of the world in order to advance a political agenda. True evangelicalism is not about maintaining a particular earthly kingdom, but about calling people into the kingdom of God.
So what kind of word should we use to rename this blog?

What Mormons are like. . .

Jack inspired me to get off my butt and write some jokes about what Mormons are like:

Like Punks, Mormons are  lower-class people that don’t want to conform to traditions.

Like Rastafarians, Mormons are lower-class people that use religion as a way to get higher in life.

Like Catholics, Mormons are lower-class people that respect priesthood authority.

Like charismatics, Mormons are lower-class people that are not ashamed of whatever comes out of their mouths when they are feeling the spirit.

Like Democrats, Mormons are lower-class people that think that one can win in the world through will and intelligence.

Like Republicans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that charisma is more imporant than coherance.

Like Americans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that their holy documents are somehow superior to everything ever written.

Like Hindus, Mormons are lower-class people who believe that their pathetic lives fit in with some cosmic order of things.

Lke Muslims, Mormons are people who swear by prophets.

Like the Insane Clown Posse, Mormons are chaotically creative lower-class people who believe in God.

Like New Agers, Mormons are people who think they they are in constantly in touch with extra-terrestrials.

Like wrestlers, Mormons are lower-class people who torture themselves for an imagined glory only they can understand.

Like Christians, Mormons are lower-class people that condemn themselves under the law.

Like ranchers, Mormons are lower-class people who spend their time herding livestock stamped with their own brand.

Like police officers, Mormon are lower-class people who think that special rules apply to them because they enforce the law.

Like soldiers, Mormons are lower-class believe you receive more glory if you die in the line of duty.



Because I’m Tacky: Mormon / Ex-Mormon Style

tackyRecently, some short-sighted YSA leaders in Provo urged ward members to go to Amazon and post positive reviews of the Book of Mormon. When their suggestion got out, the ex-Mormon community exploded with class and rushed to Amazon to saturate the book with negative reviews instead.

Consider this my plea to both parties: don’t. Giving Amazon reviews to books of ancient Scripture (or even, you know, relatively modern, nineteenth-century Scripture) is tacky in the extreme. It’s like giving a Yelp review to your local McDonald’s.

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How do we answer the realists?

In my ongoing attempt to explain the Christian law to my children, and gain a clearer perspective on it as well, I thought I would try present an ancient view that I often shows up in public discourse and then compare it with a common Mormon view and a classic Christian response.

[The original writer’s name has been changed because I am not claiming to represent his views accurately.  (Yes, I am deliberately twisting an ancient view to fit the present conversation what can you expect, I’m Mormon.) ]

Here goes:

Cal the Realist: I am getting fed up with Christian moralizing. The truth is that you Christians who pretend to be engaged in the pursuit of truth, are – especially in your rejection of gay marriage and naturally driven sexuality- are appealing only to the popular and vulgar notions of right and wrong, which are not natural, but only conventional. Conventional law and nature’s law are generally at odds with one another and hence, and if a person is too conventional to say what he actually thinks, he winds up warring against himself and solidifying his own mental slavery to the conventional law.

Christians perpetuate slavery to convention by telling  people that they should reject sin and live in righteousness.  But most sane men understand that to endeavor to live according to the  “righteousness” described in the Christian law is patently unnatural.  This is because all men are naturally disinclined to obey the Christian conventions.  Thus, socially ostracizing those who have the courage to disregard the conventional rules – as the Christians do with gay people – is a recipe for stagnation of civilization.  This is because the Christian law is in a pathological war with the law of nature.

You may say that your Christian law is based on nature, but as the lives of your saints show us, nobody who carefully obeys the Christian law has any real power in this world. According to the Christians, everything your body tells you it wants is sin, and following the law is almost always the unnatural path: turning the other cheek, avoiding all litigation, proclaiming peace through forgiveness of enemies. Christians themselves are loathe to tolerate this sort of “righteousness” in their leaders.

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Kicking Against the Pricks

On the road to Damascus, Paul found Christ.  Seeing Paul lost in his sin and murderous self-righteousness Jesus pointed out: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.)  In this metaphor, the “pricks” are the sin that dwells within us. The sin sprouts the thorns that goad us when we recognize that we cannot be what we demand ourselves to be.  Joseph Smith seemed to almost grasp the biblical meaning of the phrase in D&C 121:38 where he described those in church leadership that sought to hide their own sins with their authority as those “left to kick against the pricks.” The message of Paul’s ministry was that in Christ can we dissolve these thorns so they never bother us again.

Spencer W. Kimball — the beloved LDS Prophet — put a new spin on this phrase. Starting  in a conference talk in 1955, Kimball began to use the phrase as a description of the state of those who stand against the leadership of the LDS Church:

There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).”

Here the “pricks” are not the thorns of sin but the psychological and political consequences of criticism of Church leadership. On an all-too-poignant level, this passage represents hard reality of the Church’s position. The church has determined that there are some sins the gospel does not reach, and the sin of participation in gay marriage is one of those. The latest of the Church’s responses to its critics gave me shivers because it’s tone reflects the same terrifying chant of: “thinking differently than the leadership will destroy your family”. It really sucks.

The problem with the way the LDS deal with same-sex attraction probably stems from the way Mormons ignore original sin. Mormons simply cannot believe that humans might be really screwed up from birth in a way that willpower won’t fix. The good news of the New Testament is that in Christ, God has both seen and forgotten these screwed-up ways and granted you freedom to do so as well. The biggest problem I see with the policy is that the message the Church is giving its membership is not  “our sins can be dissolved in Christ”, but that “our sins will keep us from God.”   This was Paul’s message before Damascus, not after it. Paul’s ministry was focused on the fact that, in Christ, our sins will not keep us from God.

Like the Pharisaic Jews, Mormons believe our path to the celestial is through obedience to the law. However, in siding with the pre-Damascus Paul, Mormons are actually mistaking the law with the gospel. The “gospel” according to the Latter-day Saint tradition is what Paul refers to as the “law” — i.e. the combined commandments of God. Mormons believe that “living the gospel” is obeying the law.

A New-Testament Christian would understand that the law was the source of the pricks that goaded Paul. It was the law that Paul was trying to enforce when he persecuted the Christians, and the law that he found safety from in Christ on the road to Damascus.

Because Church leadership cannot distinguish the law from the gospel they now are denying the gospel to those that may break their law.  As I said, this really sucks for those denied access to the Church after being told as children that the Church is the only source of the “gospel”.

But I think those of us who despair at the new policy do not need to rally against the Church, any more than Paul needed to rally against the Pharisees or Rome.  His message was simple, straight, and narrow and so is our path to peace.  Whether the pricks are our sins as Paul describes, or the church leadership, as President Kimball describes, we don’t need to kick against these pricks — in Christ we are made free from their control.

Explaining Why Rob Bell No Longer Attends Church

In a 2014 interview with Religion Dispatches it was reported that the post-Evangelical author Rob Bell and his family are not part of a local church:

Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church.  “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”

Based on other interviews it seemed the Bells felt called to move to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in television. Meanwhile Bell has refashioned his message into a psuedo-spiritual, Self-Help, Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism much more inline with the other prophets in Oprah’s spiritual stockade.

What’s strange to me about the Bells move is that they have not found a church home. Continue reading