Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Patience with the World (Invited to Speak in Church)

Patience with the World
Sacrament Meeting Address
May 30, 2010

[I gave this talk in Sacrament Meeting May 30, 2010. After the meeting I overheard one person say to another, “Did you hear that talk? It was so unusual.” And I think that is a fair enough critique.  My daughter Natalie (age 12) showed the most appreciation after the meeting and even asked if she could read my talk. She was happy to tell me that she understood when I mentioned Galileo because she had learned about him in school. (A few months earlier she had told me that she wanted to read Darwin’s book to settle some controversies that she was perceiving in her own mind because of what her teacher taught her about Charles Darwin and religion.) Most of all, Natalie was happy to see me wear my suit coat. She repeatedly remarked about the coat.]

Brothers and Sisters, if you will look up at the podium you will see standing before you an ignorant man. Good morning. From Socrates I have learned that I know nothing. From Joseph Smith/Moses 1:10 I have learned that I am “…nothing, which thing I never did suppose.”

It must seem a bit ironic that this ignorant man is employed full-time to fight ignorance in this world. I am a professor at Imperial Valley College who patiently battles on the front lines.

I have been asked to speak to you today on the subject of Patience and was given a discourse by President Uchtdorf to inspire my thoughts.

And just like a professor, I will not only teach you about patience, but I will also test your patience.

Patience is having a good attitude while waiting for something to happen. For example, patience could be having a good attitude while waiting for me to finish this talk. “Impatience, on the other hand,” according to Elder Uchtdorf, “is a symptom of selfishness. [Impatience] is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.”(April 2010 Conference)

There are many things in the world that try our patience: slow drivers in the fast lane, Republicans or Democrats, Arizona’s new immigration law or illegal aliens, global warming enthusiasts or greedy capitalists, Islamist terrorists, and health care reformers, etc. The issues of the day have always tested our patience. Every current event is surrounded by people arguing in ignorance. It is easy to see ignorance in our government and public policies. It is easy to spot ignorance in our spouses, in young people, even in our Church.

Because we are an integral part of this world we have no other choice than to wait for the rest of the world to become as smart as we are. We might as well wait patiently.

Ignorance is everywhere and it always has been. We have been battling ignorance for some 14 billion years across the universe; 4.5 billion years on this planet alone. But in spite of the many years, there has always been steady progress—think two steps forward for every one step backward. Recently, over the last 200,000 years, homo sapiens have been getting better at making tools, we have discovered fire, named the animals, invented writing, and technology, and even gone to the moon. The man Adam is awake and rising.

There are probably some people in this room that have a hard time accepting that God would use evolutionary means to create us. Could it be that they think God lacks patience? Certainly God patiently waits as all of creation learns by experience (D&C 9:8). And mankind is the sum of this accumulated experience.

But why, some may ask, doesn’t God just tell us whatever we have always wanted to know? Why doesn’t God get to the point. Why does God make us struggle, and wrestle, and reach for what we get? Well, the answer is simple. We appreciate what we work for and we understand what we experience. “There is no other way.” We struggle to live…we experiment…we learn…we resolve issues…we cure diseases…we improve the world…sometimes we backslide…and then we try again until we find the clear path. Meanwhile, God patiently waits for us like a parent who reaches out to a toddler who is considering taking his first steps . God doesn’t compel us to do anything. He waits for us to study things out in our minds (D&C 9:8). We are free to make choices and witness the effects and consequences of our choices.

Eventually we learn. We gather and sort knowledge into principles, and grow in wisdom. We build libraries and internets to share what we have learned. And in obedience to God’s command, “Awake and arise,” we have become the most conscious of beings and have “filled the earth,” and are causing rapid changes in this world.

Sometimes senior people may feel weary after seeing so many changes in the world during their lifetimes. Some seniors might fall into the trap of becoming disgusted with the world because of changes that they do not understand or like. To avoid this pit of negativity one must take the long view of the world and recognize that on the whole, all of these changes in the world are necessary steps in the evolution of the world. People who are negative in their thinking have a narrow and short-term perspective. Let us remember that God has pronounced that the world and all life are good (Genesis 1). How can anyone doubt that life is not progressing exactly as it was always intended to progress--that is my faith. My faith is that the world is exactly as it should be for the moment and is evolving exactly as God expects it to evolve. But, of course, by no means am I suggesting that we should be satisfied with the way things are in the world. Of course not. We must always struggle to improve the world in every way that we can. We must combat ignorance and promote education; that is how evolution works. We must always be improving; that is the purpose of life--to improve (and to find joy while doing it). And it takes time.

In the years since Charles Darwin first published The Origin of Species, there have been many individuals who rejected the bigger world that Darwin described. Yet his book was so logical and full of good examples that many people became intellectually conflicted. And ever since, the Christian world, has been trying to reconcile the theory of evolution with the book of Genesis. At first, our church was relatively open-minded about Darwinism but in the latter half of the 20th century we started to lean toward the literal creationists. Anti-Darwinian views were embraced by many within our church and even taught in our church. However, the Church itself, officially and quietly, remained noncommittal on this matter.

It seems very interesting to me that after so much intellectual battling about Darwinism, our children seem to take it all in stride and don’t quite comprehend the misgivings and apprehensions of their forebears on this issue. In time, short run battles become forgotten while the enduring principles emerge.

We spend our lives discussing controversies. When one controversy is solved, another is waiting to be addressed. Even in our church there are many controversies that God expects us to resolve, and many more waiting in line. But in the church we resolve controversies in a very uncommon way. We try very hard to discuss issues patiently. We reason and persuade one another “by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” These are the ground rules for debating in the church. If we cannot obey these rules, we do not discuss. However, if we agree to these rules then there is nothing that we cannot discuss.

Do you remember the story of Galileo? He was the one that told the churchmen that contrary to their teachings, the earth went around the sun, and not the other way around. Galileo’s story has been retold since then millions of times. Basically the story is that Galileo was a great scientist and the church refused to listen to scientific reason.

Galileo found himself in the uncomfortable position of knowing more about some things (certainly not all things) than his church leaders. Galileo was a smart man, but was he a patient man? I wonder how the world might have evolved differently if he had been a little more patient in his attitude toward the church, and the church more patient toward him. Galileo wrote a scathing satire about the church, and the church reacted in ways that it has long regretted. Since the renaissance, and the days of Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo, scientifically-minded people have been judging the church to be backwards-looking, dogmatic, and unable to adapt to a changing world. A long-lasting rift developed between the church and its more intellectual parishioners. Neither side showed much patience toward the other side.

In defense of the church I will say that there is nothing unusual about a large organization being sluggish about change. All large organizations tend to be slow to change. The larger they become, the slower they tend to change.

Because of the church’s inability to adapt to a changing world, it experienced schisms. Eventually, much of the flock within the Christian tradition was scattered and many lost. Especially in Europe, Christianity was gutted, and spiritually disemboweled—yet it lives on. A thousand protestant and restorationist movements have attempted to fill the void. Arguably one of the greatest tragedies in the world since the enlightenment is the loss of churches and the loss of spiritual communities instead of the evolution of such communities.

Meanwhile, God waits patiently and allows us the time we need to learn for ourselves how to rise out of our state of ignorance. We learn in an evolutionary way—“hold[ing] fast to that which is good” (1Thes. 5:21) and discarding the rest. Our own church history provides ample evidence of this evolutionary sorting out of ideas. In our church we have planted many ideas like seeds. If the seed bears delicious fruit, then it was a good seed. If our ideas produce desirable results, then we know that they are “true” ideas (comparable to William James). But when our ideas produce bad results, like sometimes they have, we try planting something else. We just move on. Such is the evolutionary way, such is God’s way. And it is also the godly way, to be patient about it all. (Alma 32)

About a week and a half ago it was reported that the famous and very influential book entitled Mormon Doctrine would no longer be printed by the Church, nor would it be sold by the Desert Bookstore. Now this is a very visible change in the Church. When I was a missionary this book was on the recommended reading list for missionaries. At some point missionaries were told not to read this book any more. Now, suddenly the book is unavailable at any Deseret Bookstore. Of course this does not mean that the whole book is bad. I am not suggesting that the whole book is incorrect but some parts of it no longer ring true, and so the “living Church” is moving on. Frankly, I am very pleased with this change for which I have waited patiently.

But the struggle against ignorance continues. Or in other words, the quest for "greater light and knowledge" continues.

Not long ago I was watching some movie clips on youtube of the minutemen groups that were demonstrating along the US/Mexican border. I also watched clips of the various counter demonstrators. I watched and listened as many demonstrators angrily and emotionally declared their arguments. I tried to look through all the anger and emotion for the logical arguments upon which these people were basing their demonstrations. After listening to many arguments I began to feel heartsick. I was saddened that among so many arguers, I could not find anyone who apprehended the whole issue.  However chaotic these protests are, they serve as a mechanism for prioritizing the order that we address the issues and seek learning. In the long run border issues will be resolved and forgotten. But in the mean time, let us be peacemakers when in the company of those who would protest without complete knowledge.

In the news these days, we hear much of global warming, another confusing issue that is not yet well understood but there is every reason to believe that we will sort it out as well. It will take time, and we may take many wrong turns, misinterpret data, disagree on how to proceed, but we will eventually figure this issue out as well. In the mean time, let us be patient and not create emotional static that would slow the progress.

Healthcare reform is another hot issue. Many think that the government is making big mistakes, and they might be, but in the long run we will figure out how to run a better health care system. We will muddle through and the world will progress. It will take some time so we might as well be patient.

We could easily worry too much that the worlds financial institutions are falling apart, and they might be falling apart. But this will provide the necessary impetus to rebuild smarter. In the long run we will have better financial institutions. We might as well be patient.

In the short run partisan politicians bicker while the news media is always right there to catch the reality, and even to produce a little drama whenever it can. In the long run we will learn to speak more civilly; and in time, our journalism will improve too. After all, we are still very new at organizing ourselves into world-wide governments.

When we suffer earthquake damage, we respond by redesigning and building smarter. We learn from our mistakes. In the short run there is suffering in Haiti. Could it be that the rebuilding of Haiti with foreign aide will produce a stronger Haiti than would have existed if there had not been such a destructive earthquake, and perhaps, even put Haiti into more of the economic mainstream than it was before? I hope so.

In the short run there is often suffering. But in the long run there is always progress. So when we are suffering, let us try to take the long view. This will strengthen our resolve and give us hope. The history of the world is full of examples of good things that are born of short-term suffering. Let us be patient with the world.

There is every reason to be upbeat about the future of this world; and ours should be an upbeat church. We don’t need prophets of doom, nor do we have any. I think the Church has been very careful in recent decades to restrain anyone who would sound like an apocalyptic doomsayer. We do not try to motivate with fear and we do not try to motivate with hyper enthusiasm—just gentleness and love unfeigned. Let us not be discouraged by events that happen in the world. Let us take the long view and understand that the world is working just as it is supposed to. And then let us stay busy, always looking to improve the world—with patience. “There is no other way.”

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