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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Empty Calories

by ldsbishop:

For the past two years my wife and I have given up refined sugar for Lent. It isn't a Christian tradition that Mormons follow but we thought it would be a good idea to have an excuse to keep healthy with the added benefit of giving us the opportunity to think of the Saviour whenever we started jonesing for the white stuff.

The entire process was hellish. I would look for any excuse to cram some sugar into my body. In the end, I justified that Green & Blacks organic chocolate contained organic raw cane sugar which was less addictive, therefore nowhere near as bad for me (right? right!). If you disagree that refined sugar is addictive, try giving it up for over a month. The fact is, sugar can be addictive the same way heroin or cocaine can be and it is a cause of increasing health problems in western society.

Anyway, this isn't going to be a rant about sugar, but the process of attempting to give it up for a month made me consider some of the other figurative empty calories that we consume on a regular basis and struggle to get away from. There can even be many such examples in the Church.

Some years ago, Boyd K. Packer gave the following parable:
"A merchant man seeking precious jewels found at last the perfect pearl. He had the finest craftsman carve a superb jewel box and line it with blue velvet. He put his pearl of great price on display so others could share his treasure. He watched as people came to see it. Soon he turned away in sorrow. It was the box they admired, not the pearl." Boyd K. Packer - "The Cloven Tongues of Fire,"  April 2000 General Conference
I firmly believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be - Christ's Church. Without Him and his Atonement enabling us to return to our Heavenly Father, the Church would be little more than a social grouping of damned souls. However, as with any organisation, there can be plenty to distract us in the same way as described in President Packer's parable above. Some examples I've noticed include:
  1. The trend to sloganise General Conference talks. A good example of this is President Uchtdorf’s talk from October 2013. It was a fantastic sermon which admitted past mistakes in Church history and included a passionate appeal to broaden the tent of Mormonism by helping people back who have been struggling with their faith. After all of that, what gets repeated more than anything else - "Doubt your doubts." Yep, that looks good on a pretty background with a trendy font, let's take that away. The risk with this is that when someone approaches their friend or Church leader with genuine issues they end up being given this quote, which alone doesn't help much, rather than the healing depth that the rest of President Uchtdorf's remarks can bring.
  2. The old chestnut of Standard Sunday School (SSS) answers. Most questions in our Church lessons can be answered with one of the following: prayer, scripture study, attend church, do your home/visiting teaching etc. etc. All very nice, but problem x is very rarely solved by solution y alone. Life is complex and individual problems are rarely ever solved by one-word answers. Complex problems require hard-work solutions, helped in part by a mix of SSS answers, but that isn't always the total cure. A complex application of the Atonement of the Saviour (the pearl in the above parable) is the main part of the solution. The SSS answers are like reading the information leaflet that comes with medication from a pharmacy. The Atonement is the medicine itself.
  3. Taking one part of a Church programme or practice and obsessing over it. Some people are big Family History buffs yet rarely, if ever, attend the temple to perform the ordinances. Others obsess over food storage and emergency preparedness. Being dedicated to Church programmes is not a bad thing, but if you find that your testimony is more based on "box-like" programmes or policies rather than Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation you can be at risk.
  4. The need to improve Home/Visiting teaching and get more members involved in member-missionary work is a continual need in pretty much every Church unit. Telling me I need to do more Home Teaching or be a better missionary will never produce positive long-term results. Helping me better understand my baptismal and temple covenants give me the greater motivation to do better. If we only concentrate on the end result (better numbers on a report) we don't have success. If we focus on the motivation behind those Church programmes (the covenants we've made) we can genuinely improve lives by being more like the Saviour.
The risk we have as a culture is that we try to boil down our message into smaller and smaller slogans and simpler and simpler answers while at the same time forgetting the whole point any of us are members of this Church.

A little bit of sugar won't do us much harm, just like enjoying the occasional photoshopped slogan or giving the occasional SSS answer can give us a tiny boost. But the real spiritual nourishment comes from concentrating on the Atonement of the Saviour and our part in the Plan of Salvation, the only things that give us the real hope we need to continue.

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ldsbishop grew up in the land of Shakespeare, Milton and Monty Python. Looking for some culture, he moved to Utah for a while where he seduced his future wife with his accent. They now live back in the UK. He was called as the Bishop of his ward in his mid-twenties. That's where the similarities between him and President Monson end, though he can also wiggle his ears. He and his wife are the parents of two sons, the type of boys that have people suggesting we need more talks on reverence. He keeps his sanity by tweeting his thoughts under @ldsbishop.

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