27 June 2013

I Can't, I'm Mormon

Back when the Gateway Mall had just opened, my sister and I were strolling along the upper level when we saw a fellow coming towards us in the opposite direction.  I don't remember if Kimmie noticed or not, but a smirk found its way onto my face as I read the all-caps white writing on his black shirt:

I CAN'T, I'M MORMON

If you live in Utah, where there are lots of Mormons, and still more folks that talk about Mormons, you might have also seen the shirt, and perhaps a similar smirk stole across your face as the kernel of truth struck you as is the nature of these kinds of jokes.

And it is just a joke...right?

Actually, Latter-Day Saints have high expectations for themselves, myself included.  We don't drink addictive teas, coffee, or alcohol.  We don't smoke.  Many eat only a little meat.  We don't have sex before marriage.  We don't have sex with anyone other than our spouse after marriage.  There are several "don't"s that accompany the faithful Latter-Day Saint which are no longer part what was once the average American's way of life.  

With all that we are asked to do, there are times that we might be inclined to phrase our desire to take higher ground in the form of the above's jocular resignation, but really, the more ideal tone is one that is found in this story about King Louis XVII:

Many years ago I heard the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.
They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”
King Louis XVI was humbled and empowered by his call to higher ground.  To him, it was infused with divine purpose, one that was destined to help other people and make the world a better place.  Does "I can't, I'm Mormon" come off the tongue a little differently when thought of in that light?

The story here of King Louis has always been inspiring to me; however, the other day, I heard a phrase while I was watching "Hungry for Change" which caught my attention, too.  One of the nutritionists was saying that when we are on a diet, we see some food that we would like and we say "I'd like to eat that, but I can't, I'm on a diet."  He said that we are defeating ourselves psychologically when we say it that way.  Instead, he said, we should say "I could eat that, but I don't want to."

I think this is a better approach both as a way to discipline ourselves to the high hopes that the Lord has for us as well as a way to explain it to others not of our faith.

In fact, it lines up nicely with what Steven Covey taught in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he said that we should never use the word "can't" lest we be blaming our choices on circumstance.  Instead, we should use proactive phrases like "I prefer".  "Being Mormon, I prefer to abstain from alcohol" instead of "Being Mormon, I can't drink alcohol" is a much more powerful commentary on our own exercise of free agency and makes our true identity as a child of Royal lineage much more self-evident.

Speaking from my own life, this perspective has helped me.  I like to work.  A lot.  The pleasure I get out of work has in the past made drinking coffee a temptation of pragmatism.  Happily, I've always kept my covenant with God in this regard.  I could go down to a nearby Starbucks at any time, get some coffee, and God would not keep me from doing so.  In fact, He would still have the exact same amount of infinite love for me either way.  God intends something better for me, though, and I prefer to follow Him instead of indulging my carnal (read: untrue) nature.

But, what if I genuinely prefer the thing that God commands me to abstain from? A co-worker of mine brought to light this aspect recently when he invited me to have go have a drink with him by asking me if I liked beer.  I was a bit caught off-guard by the question since it is typically phrased closer to "Do you drink beer?", "Does your religion let you drink beer?", etc.  I, in fact, have never tasted beer, so I guess I technically don't know if my five senses would like it or not.  Still, I answered "no" because that seemed to be the closest in alignment with my co-workers intentions.  What if I did like beer, though? How would I answer the question then?

Of course I didn't want to contradict my co-worker then and there, but in all reality liking beer or not really has nothing to do with it.  Liking, even craving something should not be the dictator for our actions.  In the end, it's what God wants, not what I want, and such dedication reveals things about our eternal nature and its strength over the carnal.

Recently, Joshua Johansen gave a great talk about his experience with same-sex attraction; Joshua experiences same-sex attraction, but he explains that he also likes chocolate cake.  Briefly summarized, he chooses not to have the chocolate cake because he knows it is bad for him, and he likewise chooses not to indulge in his attraction to those of his same gender because he also knows it is bad for him.  Indeed, whether he likes it or not gets only a meager say when it comes following the higher ground the Lord has asked him to take.  Joshua has decided that he is a child of God, and this is the prevailing source of his identity.

In the LDS canon of scripture, Lehi, a father in the narrative, teaches to his children that "the Lord gave unto man that he should act for himself" (2 Nephi 2:16).  It also teaches that we are to "[put] off the natural man" (Mosiah 3:19).  In the Bible, Psalms 82:6 teaches "Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High."  I put these teachings together to mean that the blessing of putting off the natural man is to be able to act according to one's true nature.  In this process, we find out who we truly are, even children of a King.

It's been sometimes painful but rewarding to teach this principle to my children.  There is a song on the radio by Train that my children love to listen to.  It has a good beat and my kids know a lot of the words.  What has escaped the notice of my kids is that there is a swear word in the song.  I suppose that there are folks out there who are not bothered by mild language in a song, but I am.  It was interesting in hindsight the level of courage it took for me to turn the radio to a different station when that song came on next.  My children asked me what I was doing--"Grayden likes that song!" they said--and I explained my thinking.

Now that the bridge is crossed, though, my children ask to have the station changed on their own when that particular song comes on; they are learning that one does not need to be subject to everything that everyone else would choose to present to them and that there are discernibly higher roads that one can take.  It's not that they can't listen to that song.  Instead, they choose to not listen, even though they like listening to it.  (Side note:  I realize that my kids' world is largely what I am presenting to them; they are currently choosing to not listen more because Dad said it was not okay and less because of the principle.  They will grow past that, though.)

What I believe God is trying to teach me, and what I try to teach my children is that a lifetime of such choices reveals your true identity to you and others.  If we as Latter-Day Saints "cannot" do something it is because we so strongly identify with our love for God and with the promises that He has made to us that we cannot imagine ourselves in any other light.  Really, we could go see that movie or try that cigar or what have you, but we don't want to.  Our true nature is the "polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty" that is revealed by God chipping away at the "rough stone rolling", and I believe most Latter-Day Saints see that as a welcome exchange.

The world would have each of us be content with mediocrity that is focused on the here and now.  Even better, it would have each of us be content with whatever diet it offers to us.  I believe that God has something much greater planned for us in the hereafter that is dependent on us denying our carnal nature in order to discover our true nature.  So, yes I could, I just don't want to.