Sunday, June 18, 2017

072. CS Lewis: An Archetype of Coming to Know God

CS Lewis published his 1st book, a collection of poems entitled Spirits in Bondage, in 1919, when he was just 20 years old. He had recently returned home from fighting on the front lines in the trenches of the Somme Valley in France during World War I. He had been wounded and two of his close friends were killed by a British mortar shell that had fallen short of its target. Lewis had also made a pact with another friend that was killed in the war that if either of them died the survivor would take care of both families; a pact which Lewis fulfilled and treated the mother of his fallen friend as his own until the day she died. His first book was also published nearly a decade before his acceptance of and full conversion to Christianity. Therefore, the content of his writings in this book are different from his later works. Here, his views on religion seem more pessimistic, and there is a sense that he believed that God had instilled in mankind deep, yearning desires for something much greater that could not actually be attained; things that were always, disappointingly, out of one's reach. He also takes an attitude toward nature that is somewhat inconsistent with his later works, with nature being for the most part cruel, hard, deceptive, and unworthy of trust.

However, contrary to popular belief, there are elements of his writings in this book that suggest to me that he was not an atheist; perhaps agnostic, but he was searching to understand God. He writes of forces of good and evil, God and Satan, obedience and disobedience; cycles of eternal lives, seasons, and stars; of differences between people who seek for truth and those who do not seem to care; and seers, and prophets, and deceivers. These poems to me are actually a reflection of the inner-workings of a person who is deeply seeking to know God. There is some occasional skepticism at God's power or benevolence (or lack thereof), and anger at why God seems not to care about what befalls His children, and confusion at how He could allow such wickedness to occur in our world. But haven't we all had the same wonderings and questions and doubts? Haven't we all wondered aloud or within ourselves, whether God is really there, or if He really cares? Yet, despite all the inconsistencies and lack of evidence for a benevolent God in Lewis' world, there was something inside of him that made him seek. I see in these writings Lewis working through the conflicts he observed in his world; trying to reconcile the loss, sorrow, bitterness, and disappointment of life against what he wanted to believe God to be.

In his writings, one can observe the transformation in understanding, light, and truth that Lewis acquired as he came into contact with the Divine and dedicated himself to the truth he received. I do not claim to know or understand the extent of Lewis' interactions with the Divine, but there are elements in his writings that I have only found to independently exist in very few trusted sources, the scriptures of the restoration included. To me, Lewis follows the same archetypal pattern, or the same path, as others who have come to know God for themselves. And although I do not know if Lewis was a type of messenger (even to his own people) or if he was just someone who received God's word for himself and then proceeded to share it with others in his own style and creative manner of writing, his life, at least to me, is another testimony of someone who sought and truly found. A life that moved along a continuum of belief as he struggled with doubt and despair and questions, and came into contact with something greater than himself, which he came to recognize and believe in as God. You can see in his later writings his deep respect and love for Mother Earth, her vegetation and animal life, as well as his understanding of the efforts of the Powers of Heaven to intervene here in this fallen world to redeem its inhabitants from their eternally cyclic wanderings. Lewis develops insights into the operation of evil and the cunning ways in which the adversary and his devils tempt mankind, thwart them from rising up into their true potential, and lead them into continual hell. His writings often seem to be inspired by a higher source, filled with content that comes from beyond what he could come to know through study or learning by himself, as if he had been exposed to some wider aperture of the heavens and had had thousands of dots about the purposes of life and our roles with the heavens connected within a short amount of time. In some of his writings, you wonder if it was of himself he wrote when he described people who have traveled to other worlds and times and who returned transformed, and from then on seemed as if they belonged elsewhere.

Most remarkably, and almost out of nowhere in the early 1930s soon after his full conversion to Christianity, in an explosion of light, depth, insight, and profound understanding, Lewis writes, in his now almost entirely forgotten Space Trilogy, about cycles of creation, Powers of Heaven vs. Powers of Darkness, choice, temptation, knowledge, the nature of the Fall, angels (good and bad), other worlds where there was no Fall, why God chooses to work with imperfect human representatives on Earth, eternal laws, priesthood, faith, repentance, and also manages to throw in an array of topics including sacrifice, eternal lives, polygamy (not in favor), love, marriage, personal transformation and redemption, etc. It is almost impossible to write a summary of such books, and perhaps it would be a disservice to do so...almost like the deep teachings of the temple, really meant to be experienced oneself. So, I will briefly say that I cannot recommend highly enough Lewis' Space Trilogy and Narnia series, particularly The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Final Battle, among others. The archetypal teachings in these books can serve to better equip you for the onslaught of temptation and evil that lies ahead; or, if someone you know who has fallen victim to great evil and deception, these books can be extremely helpful in understanding the source of such things and recovering through continued faith in Christ.

I'll close with this, a poem that CS Lewis wrote nearly 100 years ago, published in 1919 in Spirits in Bondage, called Tu Ne Quaesieris, ("Do not ask"); his own version of Horace's famous ode of the same name (my comments in parentheses). It is a somber reflection of his own state and struggle at this time in Lewis' early life, and what he wonders might lie ahead for him in may have your own interpretations.

Tu Ne Quaesieris

For all the lore of Lodge and Myers      (late 1800s spiritualist researchers)
I cannot heal my torn desires,
Nor hope for all that man can speer       (speer = seek after)
To make the riddling earth grow clear.

Though it were sure and proven well
That I shall prosper, as they tell,
In fields beneath a different sun
By shores where other oceans run,

When this live body that was I
Lies hidden from the cheerful sky,
Yet what were endless lives to me
If still my narrow self I be

And hope and fail and struggle still,
And break my will against God’s will,
To play for stakes of pleasure and pain
And hope and fail and hope again,

Deluded, thwarted, striving elf
That through the window of my self
As through a dark glass scarce can see
A warped and masked reality?

But when this searching thought of mine
Is mingled in the large Divine,
And laughter that was in my mouth
Runs through the breezes of the South,

When glory I have built in dreams
Along some fiery sunset gleams,
And my dead sin and foolishness
Grow one with Nature’s whole distress,
To perfect being I shall win,
And where I end will Life begin.

Friday, June 16, 2017

071. Institutional Shell Shock: The Lost Art of Respectful Disagreement

Coming from a religious institution that tightly controls almost all facets of ones life, there is little room or tolerance for disagreement or differences of opinion of any kind. In such settings, if any such differences arise, they are quickly swept under the rug and settled by a deference to an authority figure who makes a judgment call. Additionally, since decisions come from the top down, by the time the layperson could possibly have a say in the matter, "the thinking has already been done”. This system works well to keep things neat and tidy and moving forward, and the ends are more important than the means. Thus, in such institutions there is little chance to openly discuss and debate issues of real importance, unless you sit in the inner circle at the top of the hierarchy or find yourself perching on one of its mid-level echelons. Instead of a reliance on the spirit, exercising persuasion, unfeigned love, and gentleness, and viewing one another as equals, such institutions resort to a reliance on much more conventional means of control, such as authority, hierarchy, rules and handbooks, insider knowledge, history/tradition, "unwritten orders of things", myths, and all sorts of rubrics to sort things out. It is much easier to automatize the process of decision-making, rather than to muck it up with the personalities, problems, weaknesses, opinions, and egos of real people. In such polished institutions, disagreements and differences of opinion are therefore viewed asbad”, “contentious”, orof the devil”, and in violation of the "unwritten order of things." Such internal discord, at any level, seems to conflict with the outward image of perfection, peace, and harmony that such institutions wish to project. If you speak up you are at risk of beingout of line with the brethren,” which can place your very own salvation in jeopardy, so they say.

When a person exits from such a system, they often carry the institutional baggage and scars gained from their experiences therein. For example, in a newfound environment, where choices do actually need to be made and opportunities for disagreement do arise, how does one share their deeply held opinions on topics of religion with another person and work through differences in point of view in a faith-filled way without deferring to an authority figure, rules and handbooks, history/tradition, etc? Or, if presented with an opinion that differs from your own, how do you maneuver through the discussion without automatically labeling such a person ascontentious”, “bad”, andof the devil”, or "out of line with the brethren", or violating some sort of "unwritten order of things"? 

Have our years inside such institutions atrophied these kinds of skills and abilities to the point where we no longer posses them, if we ever possessed them in the first place

On the one hand, have we lost the art of how to respectfully disagree with one another and still come away as friends, even if we disagree? Do we know how to put forward an argument for our point of view in a way that is non-combative, allows room for discussion, and is more of an invitation to dialogue? And then do we know how to listenconsider, evaluate, persuade, reflect, ask questions, and respond in a sincere and respectful manner? And on the other hand, are we programmed to throw down the field flags ofcontention”, “jarring”, andstrifeas soon as someone offers an opinion that differs from our own, cutting off the discussion and perhaps more significantly, cutting off the warm hand of fellowshipDo we take disagreements personally, viewing them as a personal attack on our beliefs and who we are

As individuals trying to work together towards real unity, does that mean we simply sit around smiling at one another and agreeing with every idea that comes out of every person's mouth when inside we might have significant disagreement? Is that charity or is that a lazy way to create a sort of false unity, or does it depend on the situation? Or, do we work towards true unity by hearing one another out, really listening and trying to understand, asking questions, and then exchanging our own point of view in a loving, kind, and open way that allows for dialogue and discussion? Can we be unified if we don't agree on every topic? Many believe that in an effort to keep the peace andavoid contention”, the best thing to do is to simply put their head in the sand and wait for the gray clouds of possible contention to float on by. However, are opportunities for greater unity lost when we do this? Are opportunities for greater unity also lost when we dominate in conversation or use leverage to silence another's opinion, refusing to be persuaded or consider another point of view

Are all of these perhaps some of the symptoms and manifestations of institutional shell shock that we must cure from ourselves if we are to rise above our current state and become one

There is a scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants that describes why, in part, the early saints failed in their efforts for Zion (D&C 101:6): “Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.What really are these attributes manifested by the early saints? How do we know if we are falling into the same patterns? Here are some definitions from the 1828 Websters Dictionary

1. Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.
2. Strife in words or debate; quarrel; angry contest; controversy.

Jar (as in jarrings):
1. To strike together with a short rattle or tremulous sound; to strike untunably or harshly; to strike discordantly; as a jarring sound.
2. To clash; to interfere; to act in opposition; to be inconsistent.
3. To quarrel; to dispute; to clash in words.

Envy (as in envyings):
1. To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another's prosperity; to fret or grieve one's self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account.
2. Rivalry; competition.
3. Malice; malignity.
4. Public odium; ill repute; invidiousness.

1. Exertion or contention for superiority; contest of emulation, either by intellectual or physical efforts.
2. Contention in anger or enmity; contest; struggle for victory; quarrel or war.

To me, collectively, these words describe an open, often public, vitriolic, mean-spirited, angry, personal, caustic, biting, ferocious interchange or quarrel that rises above the level of a disagreement or a difference of opinion.

In my profession, I am constantly engaged in debate and discussion with othersWe all have different perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. Therefore, it is only natural for us to have differences of opinion, and therefore we should expect that to be the norm, not the exceptionIn such cases, I do not ask or expect others to share my opinions or convictions, and my goal is not to change othersviews so they accord more nearly with my own. I want to learn and share, plain and simple, and perhaps we can both come away from the exchange for the better. Any time I engage in debate and discussion with another person, for me, it is outside of who that person is, it is not personal or about them. Although any discussion has the potential to rise to the level of contention, jarrings, and strife, that is up to the people involved to regulate themselves. Therefore, discussion and debate and differences of opinion should not be feared, and on the contrary, they should be welcomed. WhyHaving different perspectives on issues and challenges can be enormously helpful. They can help us to make our own thinking and ideas clearer, and most importantly of all, we ourselves might be in error. In my profession, there is a maxim that holds true for me in all of life, and it sort of goes something like thisIt is not a matter of being right or wrong, it is a matter of determining the degree to which you are (or I am) wrong. In other words, I just assume I am always wrong to some degree. I lack the full picture, all the pieces of the puzzle, all the cards in the deck, etc. I lack full truth. I gather intelligence from as many sources as I can, I compare and contrast ("by proving contraries, truth is made manifest" - Joseph Smith), and then I use the mind and heart that God gave me, along with whatever degree of inspiration I can gather, to help me sort out how off I am and determine the best path forward. And with all of that, I still make plenty of mistakes and errors in judgment, huge ones sometimes, so I thank God for the atonement.

However, I try not to let disagreements become personal. I try to distinguish the person from the persons opinion, and I try to differentiate between a healthy argument and a personal quarrel. Sometimes it is important to agree to disagree and just move on, but it is important to not fear someone who holds an opposing view. If we are comfortable with our own standards, we can be accepting and tolerant of variety and differences of opinion. As I respect the opinions and views of others, I genuinely feel that in most cases they in turn respect and better understand my own. Often, I am pleasantly surprised by how my own views are improved by a healthy discussion with others who hold opposing views. This mutual respect can transcend a mere difference of opinion on a minor issue, but can lead to friendships with people quite different than yourselfyou can truly be one with a variety of individuals without having to agree on every topicJust because you listen to another's opinion, that does not mean you have to act on it, and of course, there may come a point, or there may be some topics, where you do not want to listen anymore for various reasons, and you have the right to walk away or discontinue the conversation

A near Zion-like society is described in the Book of 4th Nephi the prophet says that there was no contention among them four times

2 and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

18 and there was no contention in all the land.

Certainly these people were in harmony on many things, but does this also mean there were no differences of opinion or disagreements among them? Obviously their hearts were filled with the love of God, so might this mean that the people also loved their brothers and sisters so much that they learned the importance of listening to one another respectfully, considering differences of opinion, asking each other questions, and engaging in the art of respectful disagreement when needed

There is no need to waste time hating people with whom you disagree. We can try to focus on the fruitful nature of such disagreements; how they have helped you to shape our own views of what we are doing, or who we are, or why we are doing something in a certain way. We can be magnanimous and generous in accepting othersfailings. It might be the case that sources of disagreement and differences of opinion can be an important vehicle for arriving at greater unity