The Gospel, the Church, and Conversion

By: Bonnie
June 17, 2012

We’re going to try something here at Wheat & Tares – call it Sacred Sundays if you will. We want to regularly take a break from politics and social issues to discuss the foundations of our personal faith as Latter-day Saints or people interested in the Latter-day Saints.

In April Conference, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom (Converted to His Gospel through His Church) discoursed on the differences between the church and the gospel. He makes the point that the church serves the gospel as an institution to improve our conversion.

“Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.

By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?

I repeat: we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel. We often wonder: How can someone be fully active in the Church as a youth and then not be when they are older? How can an adult who has regularly attended and served stop coming? How can a person who was disappointed by a leader or another member allow that to end their Church participation? Perhaps the reason is they were not sufficiently converted to the gospel—the things of eternity.”

I know a number of people, personally or by their story, who have left the faith because they weren’t converted – meaning not that they were insufficient as individuals but that they were not changed by their faith. I mean no accusation in that.

I also know people who have felt fundamentally changed by their faith, and I count myself as one of those.

We could have a lot of discussions about this issue, from the heartbreaking path of a writer at FMH who is now “less active,” to the less world-shattering but no less trying experiences of other ordinary people going through tedious, long tests of their endurance through any of a million permutations of the “tether and pang of the particular” (I love CS Lewis).

We could have those conversations, but I’d like to have another conversation.

I’m curious how we, a church (or perhaps a gospel) arguably more concerned than any other with forward movement and progress as individuals, measure the unmeasurable. We are loathe to measure one another (or know we should be even though evaluating someone else seems incredibly straightforward), but if we are truly interested in progress, we need some kind of metric. After all, SMART goals are specific, MEASURABLE, achievable, realistic, and timely/trackable.

Can we make our pursuit of conversion a measurable goal, and will that help us or derail us?

How does the church help you move toward a complete conversion, and how have you gotten over when it interfered?

If you’ve read enough, by all means, stop here and comment. You won’t need to read the rest to begin discussing. However, if you wish, read on.

I’ll share one personal experience, sort of my comment, and hope it doesn’t constrain your discussion. My former mother-in-law served as a Stake Relief Society President when I married her son in my mid-twenties. We were also visiting teaching companions. I was incredibly young in my faith, naive, credulous, and almost worshipful of position as an outward indication of an inward worthiness. As is bound to happen when one behaves in such silly ways, most of the people I placed on those shaky pedestals – fell – with the help of my MIL (this included her cultivating and gathering experiences of several women who had been inappropriately approached by the stake president, discussing white witchcraft in small group settings, etc.) For quite some time I felt a certain degree of repulsion toward her and everyone in authority.

The people in the church got in the way, for a time, in my conversion process. During that time I had a dream. In this dream I was helping my bishop (whom I served in waking hours in a special calling – sort of an assistant clerk to help with several organizational issues) serve a dinner. At this dinner my MIL sat at the head of the table (she dominated our small ward) and others sat around the table, including my husband and his ex-wife. He was openly affectionate toward her, I commented that that was inappropriate, my MIL told me to butt out and go back to serving, and I was devastated as I realized I would have no support for the sanctity of my marriage. I turned blindly to leave the dinner, which was being served outside on the top of a hill in the middle of a field. My bishop turned to follow me to keep me from leaving, but I was moving far too fast for him to catch up. My car was parked at the bottom of the hill and I was doing everything I could to get to it, slogging through mud that caused me to sink past my ankles with every step.

About halfway down the hill I heard my father’s voice. He was calling to me, and he was a lot closer to me than my bishop, but I still felt I could stay out of his range. The last thing I wanted was for someone to try to make me feel better, and the last person I would have wanted to try was my father, who had been austere and distant all my life. I got to the bottom of the hill, out of the mud, and he called one more time, and in his voice was an acknowledgment that I could avoid him but that there was more of comfort in his reaching for me than I was assuming. I awoke with my heart beating a thousand miles an hour.

It was Sunday and I thought about the dream on the way to church. I was familiar with the principles of dream analysis, which isn’t really much different from literary analysis, and I knew it was important – it had the feel of a message. I can still remember when I rounded a particular turn in the road and realized that my father represented God, and that I needed to create a relationship with him that was trusting enough to support me through any difficulty – that I would be painfully alone if that was my choice, but that “his hands were stretched out still.” It was a vital point in my conversion, and the beginning of seeing God as someone much different from my father.

Interestingly enough, most of the nutty stuff in my dream happened within a few years, but I didn’t feel inclined to outrun God down that muddy hill when he came after me to comfort. I’ve never suffered from shakiness since when a leader demonstrates his or her imperfection. The church, represented by my bishop, would not reach me as quickly as God would in any given crisis (even though members would try), so I’ve not since felt inclined to expect it to. In profound ways, that has freed me to enjoy the church on a whole different level. I can feel a measurable difference between the me now and the tender ingenue, and that’s one of the ways I gauge my faith.

So, going back to Elder Hallstrom’s quote, what are your thoughts about our public and private observance and how that contributes to a real conversion?

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50 Responses to The Gospel, the Church, and Conversion

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 17, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    Really well said. Perfect for Sunday.

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  2. Glenn Thigpen on June 17, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    I guess that one could call me “less active” at this stage in my life based upon the percentage of meetings that I attend. Yet, that percentage does not indicate the firmness of my conviction, my testimony, of the restored Gospel, Jesus Christ as my savior, or the prophets, past and present, that lead the church.

    Glenn

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  3. Howard on June 17, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    I love this talk because it is a beginning, it is an attempt at deconflating and defining. My gospel conversation came as an adult, it was intense and profound, my church conversation is still waiting to happen. The church has a four fold mission; Proclaim the Gospel, Redeem the Dead, Perfect the Saints and Care for the Poor and Needy. That seems to be in order of priority, in other words the church does an admirable job of proselytizing, building temples and doing ordinances for the dead. Perhaps the only thing needing improvement is retention. Perfecting the saints falls short due to it’s aloof but folksy corporate structure, over correlated sometimes lying for Christ curriculum and increasingly pharisaical rules and culture. Caring for the Poor and Needy is a mixed bag it does a good job of caring for members, a good job with disaster relief but it makes only a token effort at relieving chronic third world malnutrition, thirst and disease allowing many to die while providing colorful PR that leaves the impression that it is very much involved when it isn’t.

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  4. Mike S on June 17, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Can we make our pursuit of conversion a measurable goal, and will that help us or derail us?

    I think the measuring of “goals” in the Church derails us. Our ultimate relationship is between us and God, and the Church merely exists to facilitate that relationship – nothing more and nothing less.

    In the Church, we seem obsessed with goals and checklists. We have home teachings and visiting teaching stats. We take attendance in meetings and count people in sacrament meeting. We calculate percentages of donations to see if it is “enough”. We have Personal Progress and Duty to God and scouting. We have regular interviews to see if we are following a “checklist” of worthiness. We have rosters to make sure we clean the building a certain number of times. We are made to feel bad if we don’t read the scriptures enough or pray enough or whatever. We have a goal of zero porn, not a drop of alcohol, no coffee, etc. We have goals of getting married early and having children quickly.

    Being a “good” Latter-day Saint means meeting all of these goals. Unfortunately, it means nothing about your relationship with God. And, I would argue, for many people, falling short in many of these institutional goals is actually counterproductive, as people feel they are falling short in front of God – which leads to further feelings of self-doubt.

    Trying to measure things necessarily affects the thing being measured – in physics, in religion, in standardized testing at school, etc. But our relationship with God is immeasurable, and I would argue that the external “goals” set for us by the Church are, while well-meaning, are counter-productive.

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  5. Andrew S on June 17, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    With respect to this:

    I’m curious how we, a church (or perhaps a gospel) arguably more concerned than any other with forward movement and progress as individuals, measure the unmeasurable. We are loathe to measure one another (or know we should be even though evaluating someone else seems incredibly straightforward), but if we are truly interested in progress, we need some kind of metric. After all, SMART goals are specific, MEASURABLE, achievable, realistic, and timely/trackable.

    Can we make our pursuit of conversion a measurable goal, and will that help us or derail us?

    How does the church help you move toward a complete conversion, and how have you gotten over when it interfered?

    I don’t remember what it’s called as an official term, but I know there’s an idea I learned in several different disciplines that basically sums up as: what is most easily measurable isn’t necessarily what is useful. However, since what is easily measured is what gets measured, people end up making decisions based on metrics that aren’t really useful.

    I think this is exactly what is happening when we talk about conversion. We can’t really measure it…because it’s an internal subjective state mediated by spiritual experience — both of which are not really outwardly observable.

    We have metrics (‘activity’) that we use as a proxy for conversion, but these outward proxies are neither necessary nor sufficient to show conversion.

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  6. Julia on June 17, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    That talk touched me so much. I even figured out how to get it on my iPhone, so I can listen to it on a Sunday when I miss being in church, miss taking the sacrament, miss hearing testimonies born. Still, during the last several months, I have had several very sweet spiritual experiences as I watch conference on the DVR and wait for everyone else to come home.

    This is not the first time I have been put on strict bed rest for an extended period of time. I would guess that outside of my home teacher, visiting teachers, RS president and bishop, most of the ward can’t understand why that very active sister suddenly stopped coming to church and supporting her new convert husband as he gets ready to be ordained as an Elder.

    What they don’t see is that these times of enforced rest, make me reach out in others ways, and make me aware of just how thin the veil is when we aren’t letting outside interference make it thicker.

    I am not suggesting anyone go try prescriptions that their doctor doesn’t order, but one of the strongest spiritual manifestation I have ever experienced came when I was filled with prescription pain killers and a cocktail of other meds that I needed to control pain. Despite how loopy the meds made me, they weren’t controlling the pain, and I was going out of my mind trying to understand how Christ could have born that pain times billions!

    The exact nature of the answer is priceless to me, and it strengthen my faith in the Savior, at a time when my testimony of the gospel and church was strong, but I felt alienated from Christ. I don’t think I realized until that experience, where I actually asked Christ how he did it, that I was praying to the Father, without really understanding that I couldn’t approach God without Christ.

    I guess I am not sure whether there is a way to measure a man’s or woman’s “spiritual health,” within the limits of a lay ministry which will always have imperfect people filling calls from prophet down to deacon. I am not sure that I would want someone to ask me to explain every choice, thought and decision I made, and the spiritual experiences, promptings, scriptures, talks, etc., that led me to my choices. Some are painful, some are sacred, at least to me, and some don’t translate well into human.

    I am not sure that helps the conversation much, but as someone who will be at home today, but still celebrate the Savior on this sabbath, I do hope that I will feel promptings to do what I can, when I can, so that I get a chance to do more than pray, read scriptures, watch conference talks, and listen to truncated versions of the lessons and talks that my husband remembers by the time he gets home. Sometimes I wish we hadn’t been called to be in the Gospel Essentials class this year, since I have taught it before and so the material doesn’t seem as new as a Gospel Doctrine class might. Still, laying here and listening to the birds sing out my window, I still catch just the whisper of angel chatter.

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  7. Jared on June 17, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    This post is an important contribution to Wheat & Tares. More often than not the messages presented nourish the “tare” in our fallen nature, more than the “wheat”.

    The Book of Mormon is the key to our personal conversion. It is a handbook, as it were, showing us the way to conversion through the gospel.

    However, the B of M is not an encyclopedia arranged by topics for quick an easy access to pertinent information. To tap its message requires one to hunger and thirst after righteousness.

    It is interesting to note the smaller role the church plays in the Book of Mormon in comparison to the gospel.

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  8. Will on June 17, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Bonnie,

    Why would you ask, or suggest people stop reading prior to your personal story. That was by far the best part of the post. I always love stories of personal revelation.

    Your post made me think of Emma Smith, who did not attend church the last 10 or 15 years of her life — not the church started by her husband or either of her sons. My great, great grandfather was President of the Eastern States Mission and was sent by Brigham Young to go back to Nauvoo to and visit with Emma. Biddamon (Emma’s husband) took my GGGF and two other missionaries around the town (Brigham Young and Parley Pratt’s sons) and visited all the historic sites. Emma finally agreed to meet with him and the conversations they had are recorded in his journal. She testified of the truthfulness of the restoration and of her husband as a Prophet, but was pretty exhausted by everything that happened after her husbands death. Clearly, the church got in the way of her conversion. In his journal I have correspondence (letters) between he and Brigham and in my judgement some mistakes were made on Brighams part, but Emma was faithful to her conversion to the end in spite of what was said or done.

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  9. Howard on June 17, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    Interesting story Will thanks for sharing it. Do you think Emma’s eternal life was in anyway hampered by her becoming inactive?

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  10. Will on June 17, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    No

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  11. Will on June 17, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Sorry, pushed send too soon.,,

    There are a lot of people that are converted that do not attend church, and a lot that are not converted that attend church. I choose to judge neither, but hope they will all be converted.

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  12. Howard on June 17, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    I agree Will perhaps the purpose of regular church is conversation after that it seems less important unless one’s conversion is weak.

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  13. Julia on June 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    Will,

    I have always identified strongly with Emma, especially after all of the trials she had been through while married to Joseph. I have sometimes wondered, if I was married to a prophet, who was martyred, would I want to be married to someone else who might feel the need to compete, spiritually, with my dead husband? I suspect that the Lord was aware that she needed done rest, physically, mentally and spiritually, and that her second marriage gave her that opportunity. I have no doubt that she stands by Joseph, or that the Lord considered her unacceptable.

    I have wondered two things though, and maybe your ancestor’s journal answers them. If not, no worries.

    1) Was Emma and Brigham Young’s animosity towards each other something that last after they were separated by space and time, or did it continue to their deaths?

    2) What happened to Joseph’s other wives, and how did Emma feel about that? I heard, probably back in seminary because I have no idea what he source was any more, that part of the conflict was that she did not want anyone else to “suggest” who she should be married to.
    (I can definitely relate to not wanting a church leader to play matchmaker. The one date I went to after my divorce, which was arranged by my bishop, alternately makes me laugh and cry when I think about how truly mismatched we were, even for a single date.)

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  14. Cowboy on June 17, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Contrary to popular opinion, I think most things can be measured, particularly those things which we say are immeasurable. More often than not, the problem lies in the fact that we really aren’t clear on the subject. So, if someone says that conversion can’t be measured, I’d ask, why not? What is “conversion”? What does it mean when someone is converted, or what does it mean when they are not. Answering these questions will provide us with indicators that can be used to reduce our uncertainty. No measure is “perfect”, but any measure that reduces your prior uncertainty is a good measure, even if it’s not perfect.

    Now on to the post:

    Like Andrew S, the part of the post that stuck out to me was this:

    “I’m curious how we, a church (or perhaps a gospel) arguably more concerned than any other with forward movement and progress as individuals, measure the unmeasurable. We are loathe to measure one another (or know we should be even though evaluating someone else seems incredibly straightforward), but if we are truly interested in progress, we need some kind of metric. After all, SMART goals are specific, MEASURABLE, achievable, realistic, and timely/trackable.

    Can we make our pursuit of conversion a measurable goal, and will that help us or derail us?

    How does the church help you move toward a complete conversion, and how have you gotten over when it interfered?”

    I guess I have a few questions here. First, who is the measurement for? Who will be doing the measuring? I can see why the Church would be interested in measuring this, but I don’t see why individuals ought to have any interest here. It is circular reasoning to say that I want to measure the progress of my conversion. Why would conversion be important to me before I am converted? For example, if you are training for a triathalon, measuring your progress makes sense. You assess your current state, and take actions to move yourself toward an already stated and accepte goal. In religion however, the race is ideology. In other words, the goal is the debate. To progress towards conversion is really a mental excercise to develop greater acceptance, be it emotional or intellectual, of an already determined conclusion. I have no doubt such a strategy would work, just that it probably isn’t the best goal. If the goal is to actually come closer to an understanding of God and the universe, then conversion should be byproduct of that process.

    Now, if we are concerned about how the Church measures it’s members then that is a whole different ball game. I’m sure there is room for improvement, but with worthiness interviews, Church attendance, callings, etc, I think the Church has a pretty good handle on this. There are certainly other things that could be done, but probably not without getting highly intrusive into the general memberships lives. Let’s not forget, that when God wanted to assess Abraham, he sent him up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. So, yes we could certainly get better readings from stricter tests, but I don’t know that that is necessary.

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  15. prometheus on June 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    I love this post – very refreshing. For me, conversion is all about relationships with Deity. How do you measure a relationship? I suppose that there are levels and depths to relationships, but measuring them? Each relationship is different and unique – a product of those unique individuals involved. I am not sure that one can have a standard metric that would be meaningful for such things.

    My view of the church has changed dramatically over the last decade or so – it has become smaller and smaller in my view as Jesus and our Parents have become larger. It is a great starting place where one can be introduced to certain ideas and doctrines, but I have come to believe that all it is is a starting line. If we don’t go beyond The Church, we fail to truly walk up the mountain and come to know the Lord.

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  16. Natsy on June 17, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I think conversion is something that can only be measured in your heart. Like Prometheus said, “Each relationship is different and unique…” God communes with us in his own ways. Some of my most spiritual experiences have been far removed from an LDS Church. The most Spiritual moments I ever had were in a hospital bed and in the Sistine Chapel.

    I believe going to Church can provide some needed instruction, but if you leave your spirituality only in the hands of others, you will never be truly converted. I don’t want anyone measuring my spirituality. I believe that is best left to me and God.

    Bonnie – I thought your analogy was a beautiful example. God will always reach us faster than Church will.

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  17. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    I agree with you all in asserting that external measures (applied either by other individuals or by the church) will always be inadequate to measure the unmeasurable.

    I do think that there is some level of measurement available to us, else why would Alma say to the church in Zarahemla “have you sufficiently …” all those things he asks of them. He wants them to take their own temperature, and that’s got to be measured.

    Here’s an example of the range of measures available to us. In evaluating the Bay of Pigs disaster, which was discussed ad nauseum before it occurred but nothing in that discussion preventing them from moving ahead, someone later asked (I think it was Kennedy), “How sure, in percentage terms, are you that we will be successful?” Even though they had discussed pros and cons extensively, they had not chosen any measure to the discussion. The answer: 30%. Had Kennedy had that number, which was a subjective analysis because that’s the best they could come up with, they would have been less likely to proceed forward.

    I make myself do that now when I’m looking at a problem that is entirely subjective. Can I rank alternatives from 1 to 9? Can I pick percentages that begin to get me close to something measurable? Can I simply say, good, better, best?

    Sometimes I look at past experiences and say, “I did that better than the last time I faced that,” or “whoa, I’ve made absolutely no progress whatsoever on that.” Sometimes I ask my kids, “Hey, do you think I lose my temper less or more than I used to?” They have no problem giving me feedback.

    So, what do you think? Am I full of it to think that you can do this with your faith?

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  18. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    #5 Andrew: in my field, where we talk a great deal about goals displacement, we say, “YOU GET WHAT YOU MEASURE.”

    We also say, “what is least important is most measurable and what is most important is least measurable,” much as you suggest. Behavior modification as a field grapples with this constantly.

    So do you have things in your life that are really important that you try to measure? How do you do that?

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  19. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    Cowboy, I’m with you on the process. Do you ever ask yourself how you’re doing on that process, like Alma does? How do you reason with yourself on this?

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  20. Mike S on June 17, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    Great post, BTW.

    I absolutely think that you can and must measure yourself individually to see where you stand in relationship to God, and how you are changing there. This is one of the things that attracts me to some of the ideas in Buddhism. It is very difficult, and frightening at times, to truly and honestly try to objectively evaluate yourself and look for ways to improve. Yet, it forms the core of true meditation and is a powerful process.

    While the external goals that the Church sets for us can potentially help some people along the way, for me, they are counterproductive. They turn us as a people into somewhat of a “check-box” religion, where we feel if we are doing a particular set of tasks we are doing “ok”. This is what this talk is getting at, in my opinion. We are good in the Church but poor in the gospel.

    Yet, I think with all of the programs and rules and lengths of clothing and numbers of earrings and all the minutae that it takes to be a “Mormon”, we are losing something profound. I think we are losing pure faith in grace – something I think other Christian faiths are MUCH better at than we are. And ultimately, we are all weak; we are all dependent on the grace of Christ to make it. And to the extent that our Church decreases faith in grace, it is a bad thing.

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  21. Jared on June 17, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    The question Bonnie asked is important to consider if we’re serious about the gospel.

    “Can we make our pursuit of conversion a measurable goal, and will that help us or derail us?”

    The word “conversion” needs to be defined in order for Bonnie’s question to be meaningful.

    The scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, provide many examples of those who were “converted to the Lord”.

    From my study and experience, I am aware of three “conversions”.

    1. Conversion by testimony (see the kingdom of God).

    2. Conversion by receiving the Holy Ghost (like Enos and the people of king Benjamin had prior to receiving full conversion).

    3. Full conversion by receiving fire and the Holy Ghost.

    I believe each of these three conversion is measurable in the following ways:

    We can tell we have a testimony by our willingness to follow Christ.

    We can tell we have the Holy Ghost by the feelings we have, the guidance we receive, and the gifts of the Spirit we experience.

    We know when we’re fully converted by having similar manifestations of the Spirit that Enos, king Benjamin people, and the two groups of Lamanites had (remission of sins).

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  22. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Jared and Mike: these dichotomies (internal and external measures) are really brought home to me in Alma. Here we have the church being set up for the first time in the BofM. Prior to that the gospel is preserved largely in a clan setting with the priesthood tied to nobility. Alma sees firsthand the problems associated with that in Noah, and goes about setting up a different system: a church. Immediately, however, problems creep in. When your political and religious structure is clan-based, you have different ways of dealing with misbehaviors. When you set up a church a whole new thing presents itself: what do you do with agitators? Equally important, once you’ve stripped familial and political loyalties from a church, how do you motivate the members?

    I’m absolutely fascinated by this. For the first time in the BofM we have this discussion about what it means to be a church because there exists this option to NOT be in the church.

    So, what does Alma say to the church? He asks chapters full of questions about their collective and personal memory. He asks them if they’re measuring their progress. Some of those things could be conflated into checklists, but they’re of all types. Are you doing this? Are you doing that sufficiently? Can you imagine?

    When he talks to the poor Zoramites, he gives them options when they don’t feel they have any. When he talks to the people of Ammonihah, he discourses about the atonement and plan. When he talks to the people of Gideon he makes promises to them. But when he talks to the church in Zarahemla, he asks them to think about questions. They don’t feel “checklisty” to me, and I think the church has done a good job of getting away from measures. There are MANY fewer reported measures than there used to be.

    So, Jared, how do we avoid the checklist traps when we start measuring the outcomes of our conversion?

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  23. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 3:09 PM

    Mike, I forgot to ask about your meditation. How does that employ the principle of self-examination?

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  24. Howard on June 17, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Yet, I think with all of the programs and rules and lengths of clothing and numbers of earrings and all the minutae that it takes to be a “Mormon”, we are losing something profound. Yes, I completely agree, it diverts us from having a profound relationship with deity and it substitutes obedience for that relationship. This is why the church retains the authority but not the power of God. Many on a spiritual path outside the church use meditation to experience God’s manifestations in ways similar those enjoyed by the early saints but meditation isn’t even taught and it is largely ignored by the church except for David O. McKay’s mention of practicing it in the early morning hours.

    Bonnie behavioral modification is what the church is all about! But behavioral modification is just the first step, it brings social order but it does not lead us to a profound spirit to spirit relationship with God! Behavioral modification does little to remove our subconscious psychological blocks and resolve our early life experiences. In other words the original craving or desire remains underneath the newly modified behavior. Over time we may think the craving is gone or lessened but we just pushed it deeper into our subconscious creating a new block or adding to an old one. Spirit to mortal spirit communication depends on the mortal becoming a efficient low noise conduit so transcending psychological and spiritual dissonance improves reception dramatically so does meditation and the reduction of internal noise through therapeutic meditation. Be still and know that I am God.

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  25. Jared on June 17, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    #22 Bonnie–

    I’ll say up front, I don’t really understand why checklist are a problem (see #4).

    I’m not a huge fan of church culture as it is today. If it were up to me I would meet once a month, two times a month at the most, and only for sacrament meeting.

    The rest of the time we currently spend in meetings during the month I would like to see the membership doing something in the community.

    When it comes to conversion experiences, they are between ourselves and Heavenly Father.

    The church for the most part is left out of the equation. Being active in the gospel is accomplished more on our knees than in any other way.

    The greater our conversion, the greater the manifestations of the Spirit. For me, the manifestations come in help for practical things. Things like guidance in making family decisions, work decisions, dealing with health concerns, and fulfilling church callings.

    I think its important to evaluate our spiritual health as many do for their physical health. If we’re lacking, then we need to make a plan to improve. Goals and checklist can be useful aids.

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  26. lessonnumberone on June 17, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    The thought of measuring …ugh. So unhelpful. How do you measure love? I’ve always imagined that the test of a true conversion was how much love and peace I was sharing, feeling, and receiving. I would hate to think that a checklist or multiple choice test or stat sheet would be used.

    It reminds me of education. The best test of what a person knows is what they do and what they can say. I think this is best measured in a one on one chat or by them showing what they do. I’m not at all advocating more interviews…I’m thinking prayer is the best indicator of conversion. Maybe that’s just for me? How is my prayer life? What are my prayers like? The other would be random acts of service.

    Which reminds me of a wonderful zone conference in which we talked about spontaneously finding…just sharing the gospel in more natural settings, starting conversations with people…that sort of thing. It was very inspiring..until they committed us to PLAN to spontaneously find for 2 hours a week. Nothing more spontaneous than 2 young, over dressed people with a blue planner and their pens deciding when precisely they should be spontaneous.

    the good news is we found it very funny and that meant more laughter in our lives and what missionary doesn’t need a good laugh?

    I don’t think the Alma 5 checklist works with a 10 point scale. Have you seen the Prach my Gospel test (see page 126). We took this as a family which led to wonderful comments like: on the section for humility-”I’m going to do SO much better at this than you!” and many many obvious comparisons…not with ourselves, but with each other. sigh.

    have I met the ramble quotient yet? do we measure that? mission story…check. cute kid story…kinda check.

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  27. Mormon Heretic on June 17, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    When I first read the post where a GA discussed “the differences between the church and the gospel,” my first thought was the Elder Poelman talk back in the 1980s. I’m glad to see there was no re-recording of this talk that I am aware of.

    Checklists and reporting aren’t in an of themselves evil. They can be a good tool to see how we’re doing. The problem comes when we focus on the the reports at the expense of the overall goal. Since Mike has recently been discussing the problems with being overweight, I think it is important to note that when people record what they eat, they often start naturally improving. In this case, the checklist is helping. So I don’t think that throwing out checklists and reporting is all bad. It is when we focus on the report that the problem arises.

    Are we doing our home teaching because we care about who we are supposed to watch over, or simply to be a 100% home teacher? I admit to being guilty of trying to be a 100% home teacher, rather than a good home teacher. But there are some other dynamics at play here. Some people are just plain easier to home teach than others. I currently have one family that I home teach that we have become great friends; hometeaching is easy. I have another family that is very needy; while taking care of their needs isn’t easy, in a way they are easy to home teach because the needs are obvious. However, other families I have home taught in the past are good people without needs, but we don’t “click” personality-wise, and I am simply doing it out of duty. My current home teacher seems to do it out of duty, and frankly I’d rather that he not come. But other home teachers, I have really enjoyed in the past.

    I wish that I could “click” with everybody, but I don’t. I think Cowboy’s note that many things can be measured, but we have to be more creative. I don’t know how to measure conversion. With my current set of families, I might score good on the conversion scale, but on my previous set, not so much. I do think metrics are useful, but shouldn’t be the only goal.

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  28. Mike S on June 17, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    #23 Bonnie: Mike, I forgot to ask about your meditation. How does that employ the principle of self-examination?

    This is far more complex than a simple comment, but a very brief summary:

    There are many types of meditation. First, it involves calming our mind, watching our thoughts come and go, realizing that we are not the fleeting emotions like anger and longing that pop up, but it is much deeper.

    We can practice loving kindness, where we mentally express empathy and profound love and connection towards someone we love. We can progress slowly through neutral people until finally we honestly and truly have the same deep feelings for an enemy, for someone who has truly wronged us. It can be very hard, it can be frightening, but the end result of barriers dropping is amazing. It is freeing and enabling.

    There are many other meditations we can do. Rather than a “rule” about avoiding alcohol and wondering if cooking wine counts or neer beer or whatever, we might embrace the principle of “avoiding intoxication”. We might meditate on what that means for me, personally, and internally. One person might be fine with a single glass of wine with dinner, someone else might not. One person might feel that caffeine is intoxicating and decide to avoid that. One person might feel that certain types of music are intoxicating. And so on. Internally generated guidelines for life based on principles are much more powerful than externally defined “rules”. This can also be difficult, as we have to face where we are and where we want to be. It, too, can be frightening as we face head on things we may have suppressed. But it allows us to work through these things.

    There is passage meditation where we focus on a single moving passage of scripture or literature. There is walking meditation. We can meditate as we go through the tasks of life. We can dedicate our actions to God, even something as simple as sweeping the floor or peeling potatoes.

    And so on. Mediation is powerful. It calms the mind and calms the soul. I have felt closer to the divine in these various types of meditation than anywhere else. I feel closer to God through these types of focus than in another 3-hour block. I feel amazingly connected with my fellowman, with each patient I see, with everyone I encounter – a profound love that is deeper than anything I have encountered in my LDS background.

    When it comes back to the 2 great commandments – Love God, Love your Fellowman – meditation has helped me achieve these goals vastly more than what I hear in church. I go to church because that’s what I’ve always done. I study Buddhism and Hinduism because it connects me to God and mankind.

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  29. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Mike, what a wonderful practice. I do some of these forms, but I find that my meditation often takes the form of a conversation (no surprise since I often don’t have a clue what I think until I express it in words). It is wonderfully calming to find my mind aligning as I talk to God about my day, the thing I happen to be doing, the concerns weighing on me, the wonders around me. As you suggest, apparently random thoughts arise and I need to resolve an unproductive attitude, reorient a wrong-headed thought, or check my motivations. As I garden I find great peace in talking to the flowers, and even though people laugh when I say that that’s the secret to my wonderful vegetables and flowers, I believe it. Their spirits appreciate respect. By simply respecting the life around me, I find myself more respectful of the people around me. Thanks for taking the time to type that out. I too find those moments as surpassingly converting as taking the sacrament.

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  30. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    MH – I thought about that talk too as I wrote this. We’ve come a long way, baby.

    I think about that “click” factor too. I wish it were more natural. Heck, I wish it were even consistent. There are certainly days when I would much rather be a hermit than a person with real friends that I should go talk to. And yet other days I could visit teach the world. Bipolar. Go figure.

    That business of doing things out of duty. It’s hard because sometimes we are enlivened after creating good habits, but sometimes we have to be enlivened to create those habits. I had VT who came out of a sense of duty for many tedious months, a pair of more mismatched women you couldn’t have found. Yet now they visit excitedly, I’m glad to have them, and there is a tender affection between them that leaves me feeling more tender after they leave. We all had to be patient and let the enlivening grow.

    I don’t know the answers. I just like asking questions.

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  31. Bonnie on June 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    lessonnumberone: I haven’t seen the PMG test, but I laughed right out loud at your description. We do know how to kill anything good, don’t we? Prayer is my best indicator too. That conversation has gotten measurably richer, and nobody but me and God knows how much. That’s probably the way all our measures should be.

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  32. Michelle on June 18, 2012 at 3:03 AM

    “I do think that there is some level of measurement available to us, else why would Alma say to the church in Zarahemla “have you sufficiently …” all those things he asks of them. He wants them to take their own temperature, and that’s got to be measured.”

    I think Alma gives one measure: “Can ye feel so NOW?” I’m reminded of Virginia Pearce’s book, A Heart Like His. I’m definitely not there yet, but I think deep down I can tell when my heart is closed vs. when it’s open, when I’m really “feeling so” now and when I’m not. How honest I am and how willing I am to truly give up all my sins to know God is, to me, one measure of conversion.

    I think part of conversion is also learning to see things — and ourselves — as we really are. For example, we’re wired to REact to events, people, stressors, but I think conversion means we are more able to act and not be acted upon. We’re prone to either be too hard on ourselves or not hard enough. to dance in hard tensions both doctrinally (grace or works?) and personally (are we fallen nothingness beings or trailing clouds of glory?) I think is a measure of conversion.

    I think how we treat others (and ourselves), how we react to stress, how we face trials — these can be measures of conversion.

    I think you also hit the nail on the head here — it’s a personal measurement, and I think for each person that measurement might look different…because God works with us each in our own language, with where we are, responding to how much we personally seek and allow Him to guide and direct and correct and cover us. He helps us see where we need to improve and how we have improved as our hearts change, line upon line. The Church provides the essential scaffolding of ordinances and doctrine and prophetic and priesthood authority, but God is the one who comes to our house to make it a mansion, from the inside out (loosely channeling C.S. Lewis there for you, Bonnie). ;)

    To come to understand what it tastes like to sing the song of redeeming love is the journey of a lifetime (and probably beyond). I think it can ultimately only truly be measured and written on the fleshy tables of the heart.

    I do think the temple recommend interviews give us some Alma-5-like opportunities for self-reflection as well. I think that once we see them less as checklist questions and more as change-of-heart questions, the more we can start to ‘measure’ our conversion. Do we see them as minimal lines to walk close to, or do we see them as invitations to understand what God might be getting at when He asks about our testimony of Him, of the Atonement, of the restoration…of our commitment to chastity and charity and Church activity…of our own declaration of our worthiness to enter the temple.

    Just some meandering thoughts….

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  33. Glenn Thigpen on June 18, 2012 at 5:00 AM

    I will add my second two cents worth here. Conversion cannot be measured, only experiences. It may happen in one of activity, or after a powerful spiritual experience, but I see no way of actually measuring it. I have had a couple of spiritual experiences, but my conversion really has come during a life time of struggles. I don’t know at what point I can look back and say that I was actually converted.
    And as I noted in my previous post, that conversion would not be reflected by my current level of activity if that were used as a measuring stick. My church attendance is down for various reasons. I am not doing any home teaching at all, because I have not been assigned as a home teacher.
    But my testimony is firm. One might even call me a TBM.

    Glenn

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  34. Geoff-A on June 18, 2012 at 5:12 AM

    There are a whole page of references to PERFECTION in the Topical Guide. Yet in the church we don’t believe in Perfection even though many people in the bible are described as perfect and Christ told us to be perfect.

    The verses before Matt 5:48 are all about loveing and caring.

    If you repent when you say your prayers at night, you can wake up perfect in the morning. It is so much easier to stay perfect than to start from some undefined position, measured or otherwise, and try to proress to a bettr position.

    I am talking about “no more disposition to do evil” typer perfection, and from there you can refine your positivees by methods that work for you like Mikes meditiation.

    I’m not including the standard Church things here, just Gospel things, just yourself and your relationships.

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  35. Howard on June 18, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    The mighty change of heart resulting in no more disposition to do evil only to do good is the same thing as the eastern enlightenment experience of opening of one’s heart through crown chakras. It is much, much more than repentance plus a new attitude it is a very profound and tangible life changing spiritual epiphany. Early christian paintings show Christ with a halo, what does this halo represent if it isn’t the aura of his crown chakra? Christ was enlightened in the eastern sense. The result is one IS perfected if they choose to continue on this path due to this new disposition and walking in the Spirit with whom they are now in near continuous communication. If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

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  36. Cowboy on June 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Hi Bonnie:

    No, you asked a thoughtful question, but the simple answer is no. At this point I never ask myself that question, because I don’t feel that it is a reasonable goal. My point in making my comment about the process, was a bit hypothetical. If religous concerns became important to a person, I would think that the person should not unnecessarilly constrain their inquiry to a specific ideology.

    As for me, I’m not interested in searching for God among any of the religions. Nor am I interested in going about trying to please a being that may or may not exist, but ultimately who has absolutely no apparent involvement in my life. I don’t say this to issue veiled insults towards God, just to say that if he does exist I expect that he knows where to find my if he wants something from me.

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  37. Cowboy on June 18, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    P.S.

    However, just because I don’t see the point in trying to please God, doesn’t mean that there aren’t people that I try to please or that are worth pleasing. I try to focus my energies on the people that I actually interact with, rather than trying to second guess and mysterious and absent deity. So, please don’t take my comment to mean that I am suggesting that ethics are irrelevant.

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  38. Andrew S on June 18, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    re 18,

    Bonnie,

    So do you have things in your life that are really important that you try to measure? How do you do that?

    I haven’t been keeping up with the discussion as I should have (missed signing up for followup comments by email)…but I’ve been thinking about this question independently…will probably have a post on my personal blog on it.

    On a personal level, I’m trying to work on not losing my temper…but even more so, to not let that drive me in a “reactive” mode. A lot of the things that I’m working on trying to improve are the kinds of things that the scriptures talk about — being patient, kind, long-suffering, humble, having charity, etc.,

    My issue is…I don’t feel that I was really learning to get better at those things in the church. I’m not saying that the church can help *some* people in these ways, but I’m thinking it’s a matter where different people can learn in different ways and different styles.

    Anyway, as far as “measurement” goes, what you said in an earlier comment describes me:

    “Sometimes I look at past experiences and say, “I did that better than the last time I faced that,” or “whoa, I’ve made absolutely no progress whatsoever on that.”

    where, unfortunately, most of the time, I’m closer to the “made absolutely no progress” than “did that better than last time” end of things.

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  39. Bonnie on June 18, 2012 at 7:45 PM

    Michelle – I love anyone who channels CS Lewis. :D

    I agree that the checklist/external evaluation falls away when we choose a stronger internal motivation. The temple recommend interviews are the perfect example. I love the open-endedness of the questions and the fact that the person asking is doing so for our thought process and our benefit. He takes whatever answer we give him.

    I remember saying once in a stake interview that I couldn’t answer “yes” to supporting local priesthood leaders. The situation was egregious (with potential legalities) and I needed to go think about it and decide what to do about it before I came back. So, that’s what he said: please do whatever you need to do to feel clear on your side and then come back – please come back. He would have taken my “yes” answer without question – it was my choice to say “no.” To me, that places the checklist in my corner as respectfully as the visiting teaching checkup does – they’ll take whatever answer I give. My answer is my measure.

    Glenn – I agree that we measure our conversion by experiences, though not necessarily checking off the dramatic ones (angel visit, profound dream, hearing voices, check, check, check) but rather comparing our personal experience of the divine within over time.

    GeoffA – I think you are describing the standard church things. We really do teach that perfection is decreasing our disposition to do evil over time. That’s the whole point of church! To fellowship with one another while we each move in baby steps toward a common goal – a disposition to do good continually!

    Howard – I am familiar with ayurveda and practice some chakra balancing myself, but I find it empty without Jesus Christ. To me, the covenants are an energy source millions of times stronger than the pale energies that enliven our present souls. When I touch that deeper matter, that powerful dark matter if you will, I invite much greater things into my soul, and the mighty change is mighty instead of … earthly.

    Cowboy – I respect your view. But what if the door really does only have a handle on our side? What if that is the purpose of our life and existence here – to test whether we will seek after him when he’s not immediately present? I understand your ethical alignment, but what if loving God really is the first (and more important) commandment, and loving fellow men is the second (like unto it)? Curious.

    Andrew – I agree that we have phases of our lives where we find growth in different venues. I remember a visiting priesthood authority once say, “If you aren’t bearing testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ or exploring scripture regarding the atonement, you may as well have gone to church in another denomination. We aren’t just about becoming good, we’re about becoming saints.” It really stuck with me. It spoke to me that 1) I can and should seek good wherever I can find it, and that much of my perfecting will happen outside the walls of the church experimenting with doing good, and 2) that what has the real power to save me, to magnify the good I find elsewhere, is the atonement of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t automatically happen just because we park our tuckus in a pew weekly, but if we are mindful …

    So while I appreciate your path, I still take the tack of encouraging you to turbo-charge your path by taking your tuckus to church. Who knows? Maybe someone there needs you to help them turbo-charge their path. (And you can’t get mad at me for encouraging that, because you’re working on your long-suffering.) ;)

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  40. Andrew S on June 18, 2012 at 10:50 PM

    re 39,

    Bonnie,

    there are plenty of comments that have gotten my blood boiling just a little bit today…yours wasn’t close to being one of them.

    I guess my issue though is…I’m not mad at you for encouraging me to “turbo-charge” my path by taking my tuckus to church…I just feel like we’re talking at odds. To me, taking my tuckus back to church is good for taking my tuckus back to church. It is not really a net gain anywhere else. For me, “bearing testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ” is only really good for “bearing testimony of the divinity of Jesus” Christ…it’s not really a net gain anywhere else, although it is a net loss for my sense of personal integrity, since I’d be saying something I don’t believe (and that I *know* I don’t believe). There’s a basic disconnect here…the visiting priesthood authority you mention says, “we aren’t just about becoming good; we’re about becoming saints.

    But that’s just the thing. Being a “saint” doesn’t mean anything great to me. The “atonement of Jesus Christ” doesn’t make much sense to me (at least, not in a Mormon context), much less feel as if it has much if any power to “save” me (whatever *that* means, because the church’s idea of what I needs to be “saved” from doesn’t always exactly agree with what I think I need to improve upon.)

    p.s., this sounds like something Ray/Curtis Degraw would say or has said.

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  41. Bonnie on June 18, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    You perfectly make the point that all discussion begins with where we agree, and isn’t terribly productive until it has that foundation. We agree on ethics, respect, patience, kindness, long-suffering (thank heavens!) …

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  42. Howard on June 19, 2012 at 1:22 AM

    Bonnie,
    I think you misunderstand enlightenment, it isn’t balancing chakras of pale energy it is opening all of them enabling you to commune with deity today and forever with or without Christ your choice with or with out covenants your choice! Think of it as a turbo package that can simply be added to the faith you already know and love.

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  43. Bonnie on June 19, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    Howard, are you sure you have a feel for what I understand? Kundalini energy, when awakened, begins the process of transformation in prepared individuals (those who approach their transformation with respect, effort, and willingness to release ego) through the nadis to Sahasrara and a profound spiritual experience, a unification of prana through the release of the boundaries of the self.

    It’s a different vocabulary for spiritual experience, esoteric to us because its foreign, but useful and meaningful. Until we’ve had the awakening, we are working with pale energies, but that’s where most people are.

    Mindfulness. Humility. Interconnection. It’s the same process.

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  44. Howard on June 19, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    Bonnie,
    Of course I’m not sure what you understand but having experienced a full kundalini awaking it doesn’t sound like you know that experience. It is this awakening both in part and in total that I’ve been discussing. Christ was enlightened and I strongly suspect Joseph was as well, D&C 85:6 “…maketh my bones to quake” is very good description of kundalini in action. A well accepted explanation is kundalini is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and it is my testimony that this is so. This experience is fundamental to the restored church and necessary for Joseph to have been the great Prophet he was. Is Christ not our exemplar? What about Joseph?

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  45. Bonnie on June 19, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    And I’m curious what occurred in your awakening that gives you superpowers to determine if others have experienced it? I’m not being sarcastic. I perceive prana differently than you do, equating it to the power of God that is in all things and through all things, that gives light and life to all things. This power, in my awakening, is borne on the atonement and invited through covenant. I simply define the awakening differently than you do, though the power of the experience manifested similarly to a (what I considered reduced) secular awakening.

    I don’t think it’s beneficial to compare personal experiences, which was why I kept my observations general. That people don’t choose to fully flesh out their thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have them. I’m quite happy to leave this at “agree to disagree” without tossing condescending missiles at one another.

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  46. Howard on June 19, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Not being sarcastic? Condescending missiles?

    Bonnie, have you experienced a full kundalini awakening? Partial?

    I welcome your interest and comments on this topic.

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  47. Cowboy on June 19, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    Bonnie (#39):

    That’s exactly the trouble with the whole religious argument, in my view. It ultimately play’s “what if’s?” against our uncertainty. Perhaps the purpose of life is to seek God in his apparent absence. How am I to do that reasonably? Of course I could pray, but how am I to know that this is the way God want’s me to communicate? How long should I try? How do I sort through the infinite technicalities associated with trying to navigate “what if”?

    Furthermore, the big problem with “what if?” is that it implicitly begs the the question “what if not?”. What if God doesn’t even exist? What if he/she does exist, but their purpose has nothing to do with me finding them? What if God’s a jerk, and it turn’s out that seeking and finding God is a personal let-down of Eternal proportions?

    Suffice it to say, while I think we respect each other, I am not at all persuaded by “what if?” arguments.

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  48. hawkgrrrl on June 20, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    Measuring conversion is tough because it seems to me that it’s a turning point, a shift in trajectory, not necessarily a series of events.

    But I do think we can measure the formation of our character and our spiritual development which might be even more useful. Ben Franklin identified a set of core virtues that all people should have, and he created a tracking system for them. Every day, if he violated the core virtue as he had defined it (e.g. moderation meant “not eating unto drowsiness”), he got a mark in that area. The object was to have fewer and fewer marks as time went by. And he did.

    The tough thing is that the church (like all organizations) has become self-sustaining, not really focused on the spiritual development of members. Buddhism and Hinduism is often at the other extreme of course. I do think that nurturing the organization as we do by cleaning the church, serving in callings, and so forth, creates spiritual development as a byproduct. It just seems a bit incidental.

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  49. Howard on June 20, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    hawkgrrrl,
    I think you summarized spiritual development of members well particularly the concept of spiritual development as an incidental byproduct of service and perhaps we can add obedience and suffering. I would like to point out that ironically Mormons tend to see eastern spirituality as a competing religion that happens to be wrong and therefore many roll their eyes and discount it in spite of the fact that a westernized version of it served as the means for the restoration!

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  50. [...] that maybe I just don’t get it, yet. Maybe I’ve missed the point. So, reading Bonnie’s posts at Wheat & Tares, such as hers on The Gospel, the Church, and Conversion, has meaning for me. In this post, she quotes Elder Donald L. Hallstrom’s talk from [...]

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