When you put joy first, what happens to your mind?
In college I heard a statement that resonated deeply, that many understand but even more â€“ far more â€“ simply do not recognize. It was, â€œLiberals are nothing more than conservatives with more friends.â€
At the extreme, a conservative says, â€œI am right; everyone who disagrees with me is wrong.â€ At the â€œotherâ€ extreme, a liberal says, â€œNobody is right and nobody is wrong â€“ except for those who disagree with me.â€ Itâ€™s the exact same position; the circles of inclusion simply are different sizes.
I believe that one of the greatest challenges in life, for those inside and outside of the Church, is the temptation to gravitate to one extreme or the other and fail to grow from the muddle in the middle. Essentially, this challenge is to take full responsibility for the lives we choose to create – the joy we choose to pursue – not relying on others to make our decisions for us. This can be seen in interesting ways, like the following:
The Protestant world, in general, claims all truth has been revealed in the distant past and only through canonized scripture â€“ that if it hasnâ€™t been recorded in the Bible or written into the creeds, it canâ€™t be authoritative; many Mormons essentially take the same position by claiming that all truth is revealed only through canonized scripture plus official church pronouncement and the words of the living prophets â€“ that if it hasnâ€™t been said by a prophet or apostle, it canâ€™t be trusted (and if it has, it can or must – again, echoing the infallible Word of Protestantism).
Our own scriptures, however, tell us to seek learning from every source â€“ defining, I believe, our “claim” on truth as the possibility of an endowment of insight and discernment if we are willing to study and contemplate any particular issue or topic â€“ no matter where our search takes us. It’s not that we “have” all truth, but rather that we can be motivated to access truth in all its manifestations and then recognize it when we find it. Joseph Smith said that any one who understands any truth can find that truth in the restored Gospel. I believe the reverse is true, as well â€“ that the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the attendant understanding of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ allows us the ability to find, understand and accept any truth that currently lies both inside and outside what we currently understand within the Church â€“ wherever it might lie.
For those who have reached a point where they do not doubt in such a way that their foundation testimonies are threatened, I believe the challenge is to avoid the condition of arrogance and pride and hypocrisy and stagnation that was the only thing, apparently, that really ticked off Jesus â€“ of letting themselves become closed to the truth that still lies out there in the world around them and gravitate to their own insulated extreme.
I am fascinated by Moroni 7, because it is addressed specifically to those who accept the Book of Mormon in the last days. The central message I take from the first half of that chapter is quite simple:
“After everything I and my father have written about the apostate condition of the world in the last days, be very careful not to accept evil as good â€“ or get judgmental and dismiss good as evil. Develop charity and discernment, so you don’t become what you condemn in others. Study and ponder and pray about everything, rather than automatically and unthinkingly rejecting what might appear at first glance to be wrong or evil â€“ or automatically and unthinkingly accepting what appears to be right and valuable on the surface.â€ An implicit claim seems to be that there are many examples of both inspired truth and well-disguised error out there in the world, so we must keep our minds and hearts open to whatever God has revealed to whomever – even if that is outside our own religion or religious tradition.
That’s the intellectual answer for the question of how I strive to find truth in everything around me – to build an intellectual superstructure upon my own foundation of joy. The far more powerful and motivating answer is that I have experienced an uplifting, enabling, exalting foundation (my faith and hope and joy) that allows me peace and security as it drives me to accept the risks inherent in avoiding the extremes and dealing with an ever-changing construction plan. I feel that the Gospel has been restored along with the mechanical organization of the Church, and I am willing to accept the fluidity of the organization and its doctrine (even as it seems to shift around me) in order to have the rock-solid foundation of the joy of the central Gospel principles as my own. I find peace and contentment and joy in the Church and the Gospel, even as I muddle in the middle â€“ trying to make sense of what I experience away from the extremes. The choice is not between two easy solutions (the extremes), nor is it between an easy answer and a complicated one. It is between multiple, evolving, complicated answers â€“ and it never settles into one tidy spot from which I can buy a rocking chair, kick back, relax and – perhaps – sleep.
Nothing is as easy as the critics or the zealots make it seem. I simply choose the path that, while sometimes intellectually and emotionally painful and difficult and â€œmuddled,â€ allows me to stake out my own position with full understanding that, by avoiding the equal ease represented by both extremes, my life will entail pain and difficulty and â€œmuddlingâ€ that the enticing extremes would eliminate. However, I donâ€™t want to settle for the easy life; instead, I have chosen to muddle in the middle of the only journey, I believe, that has brought and brings me the type of joy I desire – and that will bring ultimate, complete and whole joy in the end.