September 16, 2009

"Consecrate Your Brain": A Short Series with Greg Smith

Plural marriage was only the catalyst 
for a much more fundamental question 
and that question was,"Do I trust Father?" 
And I see now, by the grace of God, that my 
instinctive reaction was to do that, to express 
my trust and, amazingly, to mean it. 
I did not realize it at the time, but what I 
effectively chose to do, if I can put it 
crudely, is I chose to "consecrate my brain." 
-Greg L. Smith 
(2009 FAIR Conference)

 During his 2009 FAIR Conference address on plural marriage, researcher Gregory L. Smith explained his decision to "consecrate" his mind to God. In this seven-part series, Greg explains the meaning of the phrase and explores the interplay of faith and reason in a relationship with God. Several installments also directly involve plural marriage. Click the images below to access each installment.

September 13, 2009

"Do You Trust Father?"

"Consecrate Your Brain," part 7
The final installment of the series with Greg Smith.
See also the Introduction, and parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

LifeOnGoldPlates: Initially you said one reason you decided to "consecrate your brain"  was your unwillingness to stop trusting God. You talked about the difficulties someone in the Church might face in regards to doubt and said your main question for such a person would be: "do you trust Father?" How did you get to that point of trust?

Greg Smith: How do we get there?  Well, that's the quest and point of a lifetime, isn't it?  It's the one thing which we certainly couldn't do in his presence—or, at least not in the same way: Satan's followers apparently weren't willing to trust him then either.

I can only speak from my own experience on that.  How do you establish and keep trust and a relationship with anyone?

1. You talk to them frequently.

2. You express yourself freely and openly, especially about the things that bother you.

3. You listen at least as much as you talk.

4. You consider that your friend might be right, and you might be totally wrong about something, and own up to it quickly.

5. You keep your promises, even if you may have some grounds to worry about what your friend is doing—e.g., you keep your marriage promises of fidelity even if you've heard a vague rumor that your out-of-town spouse has been fooling around on you.  If you trust them, you'd wait for irrefutable evidence before you started to believe such a tale, and you wouldn't leap to assuming the worst about them.  Until you'd heard from them, you certainly wouldn't start accepting every slander you heard about them.

6. You trust even—or especially—when you have no immediate reason to do so.  Faith or trust is the courage to act on past experience expressly without guarantees.

7. I would also slow down.  Many people seem so anxious to decide about such matters that they put themselves and God under a timetable that would be far too short to do the necessary intellectual work on a simpler question, much less the spiritual stuff which cannot be forced.

8.  You behave how He would want you to behave.  If you lose yourself, you will find yourself.  If you die, you will live.  Do not become consumed with yourself, because then there's no room for others or the Other.

9. Read their letters over and over again--particularly the Book of Mormon, patriarchal blessings, and journal accounts of God's past goodness in our lives.  (This is one reason to keep a journal--one can rationalize away past experiences long after the fact; it is harder to argue with and dismiss your own past self writing contemporaneously.)

10. Above all, you refrain from putting them to the test or demanding that they "prove" they love you or trust you.  We've all known people like that, and such demands are a bottomless pit of neediness that is never satisfied, and the relationship is actually harmed by each subsequent request.  "Be still, and know that I am God."  We panic too easily sometimes.
LoGP: What is your advice for someone who is not yet to that point but who yet encounters difficult information?

GS: As for what to do if you're not there yet and you encounter difficult material—well, that is the most difficult situation of all, I think.  I often point out to people that Joseph Smith did not suddenly walk out of the desert one day and announce that plural marriage should be practiced.  He had a long series of things which served to establish his prophetic bona fides in the minds of his followers:  the Book of Mormon, many of the D&C revelations, various prophecies, healings, promised witnesses of the Spirit which came, etc.  Plural marriage was the final exam, not the introductory material, even for the people to whom he taught it.  So, I think we make a grave mistake when we decide we will settle plural marriage once and for all, and that that will make the decision about everything else—the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, etc.

This is, of course, what many critics would love people to do—take the hardest question in the math book, as it were, and when we can't solve it (not having worked the previous ten chapters' worth of stuff; or having done so only superficially by looking the answer up in the back of the book if things got at all tricky), decide that arithmetic and algebra are all nonsense.  Its a convenient way of being able to brush aside the Book of Mormon, the three and eight Witnesses, etc.—but its not really intellectually rigorous, to me.

So, I think the trickiest thing that you may have to do in that situation is start with the basics—to "consecrate your brain" or your worries or your sense of disgust, or whatever it is.  Leave Joseph to one side if you must, and worry about the three fundamental questions:

1) Is there a God? (If no, none of this matters.)

2) If so, will he speak to me? (If no, he may as well not exist for all the good it does me.)

3) What does he want me to do?

And, for some people, perhaps their experience will be a little bit like mine—they may have to tell God that if he's there, they will follow even if they don't figure plural marriage out.  They may have to say that they will endure revulsion about it if that's what he asks.  What do you want more?  God or certainty?  God or comfort?  If you want anything more than Him, it risks becoming an idol.  Small wonder, then, that such matters always seem to hit us at the things that seem dearest.

Finally, remember you were warned. If we're to be like Jesus, can we escape his fate in our own small ways? (See Matthew 10:25, Luke 23:31, D&C 121, 122.) When we follow a crucified God who tells us to take up our cross and "Follow me," what did we expect would happen? According to John Taylor, Joseph Smith warned the Twelve:

You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God—…God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God (Journal of Discourses 24:197).

Thanks to Greg L. Smith for participating in the "Consecrate Your Brain" series. Questions and comments for Greg on any part of the series are welcome.  

Image adapted from Andreas Vesalius (anatomist, 1514-1564) and Stephen van Calcar and the Workshop of Titian (artists), "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," Basel, 1543. Woodcut. National Library of Medicine,