A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

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Reuben
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A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by Reuben » 06 Nov 2016, 16:21

I'm the young men's president. One of my counselors is a former bishop who loves the youth and the youth program, loves the doctrine, and is one of the most rigid thinkers I've worked with.

We don't have enough young men to separate into quorums, so we all meet together. Today, this wonderful man gave a lesson that he felt was the most important ever, and which drove me nuts. It was about testimony. His source was Elder Bednar's talk Converted Unto the Lord. The money quote:
Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion.
The beginning of his lesson emphasized these two things:
  • It's not a testimony unless you know.
  • Only a testimony is enough to produce true conversion.
In my mind, this kind of rhetoric is damaging in the long run. One of our finest young men "struggles with his testimony." What if he accepts, as I have, that he either can't or won't know? Might as well give it all up, right? This kind of all-or-nothing logic drives good people away.

I know I'm preaching unorthodoxy to an unorthodox choir. What I really want to know is whether there's anything I can do about it. I can't correct him: he can just point at the talk and say, "Elder Bednar. QED."
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DarkJedi
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by DarkJedi » 06 Nov 2016, 17:35

You're right, that kind of black and white thinking can be very damaging - and you are preaching to the unorthodox choir.

And the news is sad. There really isn't anything you can do except subtly teach more "correct" principles. Is it possible to talk with the young man more privately sometimes? Let him know you understand he struggles and bear your own "testimony" that is more gray.
What if he accepts, as I have, that he either can't or won't know? Might as well give it all up, right? This kind of all-or-nothing logic drives good people away.
And there you have what I think is the crux of why 70% of those under 20 are inactive. I think this is exactly what happens all the time.

So, as daunting as it may sound, the life you are destined to live will have situations like this all the time.

In this particular case with your counselor, you can assign him lessons that you know are less black and white and take the ones like the one presented for yourself.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Curt Sunshine
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by Curt Sunshine » 07 Nov 2016, 07:43

He (and Elder Bednar) is wrong about this. It's okay to say and believe that, even if I wouldn't say it that bluntly from the pulpit. :P

I simply would teach a lesson soon about faith - and about how even a "knowing" testimony of Jesus as the Christ is not a gift that is given to everyone. That is in the D&C in crystal clear terms, so you could teach the lesson and be teaching totally orthodox doctrine.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

ydeve
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by ydeve » 07 Nov 2016, 08:31

There is a scripture that directly contradicts, talking about spiritual gifts and how for some it is given to believe on others' words. it's probably not helpful to share it right then as a rebuttal, though.

Roy
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by Roy » 07 Nov 2016, 08:51

You could talk to this counselor and let him know that you are concerned about some of the implications of the thought that he just mentioned. I would focus on that these are young boys with nascent testimonys. We cannot expect them to spring up fully formed like mighty redwoods. They start as saplings and need nurturing and support.

The church just released a short video called "Agents to Act" with Elder Bednar in it. Elder Bednar started by saying, "In my understanding" I like that because he is recognizing that we all see through a glass darkly. "The natural man and woman says - There is no way I'm moving into the darkness [to experiment with faith]...there is a little bit of uncertainty, even a little bit of apprehension which is quite normal." He also said, "I don't want to talk about faith in the Savior as if it is a ... formula and if I just follow the elements of the formula then I'm automatically gonna get one. It's a spiritual gift."

1) Faith is not to have a knowledge of things. It is to step out into the darkness believing that the light will be provided once we get there.
2) According to the scriptures (and Elder Bednar), faith is a spiritual gift that not everyone receives.

That to me is how you could approach this counselor from a perspective that he might understand.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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SilentDawning
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by SilentDawning » 07 Nov 2016, 15:43

If someone likes to do searches on LDS.org, I think a talk that presents a lighter perspective than the ex-Bishop did would help answer this question.

And then, using that different perspective/article/talk, I would find a way of presenting the different perspectives of what knowledge is. Present it as something about which everyone's understanding is evolving Present the whole area as one that has different approaches. If you can do this at a time the ex-Bishop is away, or do it one on one, or some other teaching moment where he can't disagree with you, then do it then.

I would even consider drawing an analogy between knowing, and believing, and how both are valid in living the gospel. For example, when learning math, sometimes we learn how to do it mechanically and it works -- we get the right answer. We might not completely accept the theory behind it, or even understand the why of some of the mechanics, but as we follow the steps, we see things line up. We get a round number. It looks right. We are able to duplicate in other contexts and it seems to work. But we still don't have full confidence in math. We only know basic algebra, in fact, we don't actually know it deeply, but we have faith in the theory to try the mechanics and find we get useful answers most of the time. Not all the time, because we still don't know the deep underpinnings, and we mistake which set of steps work in which specific situations. But that is enough of a testimony -- to have faith in theory to apply it in practice.

And what we find that in doing the steps, we start understanding the theory.

[Note -- in practice, as a math teacher of a few years, I found I actually start philosophizing about the theory, and realize math is an art as you get higher up in it, with different perspectives exposing different assumptions. Sometimes you reach the conclusion you can't conclude a damn thing due to the new assumptions and weaknesses you expose in the method. But I would leave that out of it for now. To get there, you have to at least experience the basics...]

Another approach is to use Alma 30 and talk about how gaining knowledge is a process. It can take decades to have "perfect knowledge", if we can even define what that means (an actual visitation?? Confidence? Familiarity and commitment to the concept?? What does it actually mean, anyway).

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Reuben
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by Reuben » 08 Nov 2016, 15:33

DarkJedi wrote:Is it possible to talk with the young man more privately sometimes? Let him know you understand he struggles and bear your own "testimony" that is more gray.
I think I'll want to have a talk with his dad first. We're on good terms. I'm also on good terms with the young man, so this sounds like it might be a good way to go short-term.
Curt Sunshinew wrote:I simply would teach a lesson soon about faith - and about how even a "knowing" testimony of Jesus as the Christ is not a gift that is given to everyone. That is in the D&C in crystal clear terms, so you could teach the lesson and be teaching totally orthodox doctrine.
ydeve wrote:There is a scripture that directly contradicts, talking about spiritual gifts and how for some it is given to believe on others' words. it's probably not helpful to share it right then as a rebuttal, though.
Nice idea, Curt, to teach this from the D&C. (IIRC, it's said in the BoM and NT as well.) I think I'll make this my long-term strategy. Like you say, ydeve, I need to let the lesson on knowing cool for a bit so I don't sound like I'm contradicting. My counselor really is a wonderful man, and I'd hate to undermine his good influence on the young men.

Even before my FC I was highly annoyed at church culture for putting so much emphasis on knowing, and so little emphasis on faith. (Guess which shows up more in the scriptures?) Pre-FC, teaching a strong lesson on faith is totally something I would have done to try to correct the overall imbalance anyway.
Roy wrote:You could talk to this counselor and let him know that you are concerned about some of the implications of the thought that he just mentioned. I would focus on that these are young boys with nascent testimonys. We cannot expect them to spring up fully formed like mighty redwoods. They start as saplings and need nurturing and support.
This will be easier now than it was before. My counselor already broke the ice: he confided in me tonight that he chose that lesson specifically for our struggling young man. ("Someone's not getting it? Time to double down!") Next time we speak, I can start with, "You know, I was thinking about what you said the other day, and I'm worried..."

I can refer him to the new Elder Bednar video, too. :D
catamount wrote:We had a great discussion about how the prophet and apostles are men doing the best they can and it's up to us to figure out how to make the teachings work in our lives and how to start developing a good belief system.
Wonderful! Did you really manage to talk about it in exactly those terms? "Doing the best they can?" Owning your own belief system? :shock:
SilentDawning wrote:I would even consider drawing an analogy between knowing, and believing, and how both are valid in living the gospel. For example, when learning math, sometimes we learn how to do it mechanically and it works -- we get the right answer. We might not completely accept the theory behind it, or even understand the why of some of the mechanics, but as we follow the steps, we see things line up. We get a round number. It looks right. We are able to duplicate in other contexts and it seems to work. But we still don't have full confidence in math. We only know basic algebra, in fact, we don't actually know it deeply, but we have faith in the theory to try the mechanics and find we get useful answers most of the time. Not all the time, because we still don't know the deep underpinnings, and we mistake which set of steps work in which specific situations. But that is enough of a testimony -- to have faith in theory to apply it in practice.

And what we find that in doing the steps, we start understanding the theory.
I love this. It really works for me. I can just imagine walking the young men through proving the correctness of the multiplication algorithm everyone learns in grade school, using the distributive law. A pillar of fire surrounds us all as I bear testimony of the field axioms.

OK, so I worry about the time it would take to draw this analogy. :) But I do love it.

[It reminds me of the first time I proved a differentiation rule from the limit definition, and when I constructed the reals from the naturals as an exercise. Stuff just clicked that hadn't before. I wish I could pour that kind of experience right into people's minds, but it's something you have to work hard for. Also... another math nerd! Yay!]

Thanks, everyone, for your ideas.
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Love before dogma. Truth before loyalty. Knowledge before certainty.

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Reuben
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Re: A rigid lesson from a rigid counselor

Post by Reuben » 12 Dec 2016, 07:31

Well, the problem has mostly fixed itself. Yesterday, my rigid counselor taught a nice lesson on gifts of the Spirit, using D&C 46 starting at verse 13. The first two:
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
(This is exactly the pair of verses Ray and ydeve mentioned.)

He identified the first gift as "having a testimony." I could tell he wanted to move on, but I threw a wrench in his lesson plan by asking a question: "Would you also call the second gift a 'testimony'?" He admitted he would. Then one of the bishopric counselors dove in to support the idea. So my counselor had to back up the bishopric. I barely had to do anything.

Even though this worked out so well, I still plan to have a strong lesson on faith.
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Love before dogma. Truth before loyalty. Knowledge before certainty.

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