A Kingdom Not of This World

For the new year, I have been re-focusing on gospel study.  For what feels like the millionth time, I am beginning the Book of Mormon again.  I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…. Each time I begin, it’s the same book, but yet it’s different because I have changed.  The world has changed.  

The impeachment Senate trial of Donald J. Trump has begun.  Hours and hours of arguments have been presented to show the contours of the Ukraine scandal and the reasons for the House to take the extraordinary step of impeaching the President.  I assume that hours and hours will be spent by the President’s defenders to cast suspicion on the House investigation. The country is divided with each side determined to remain so to the detriment of our country.

It reminds me of the sons of Lehi.  Laman and Lemuel on the one side, Nephi and Sam on the other.  Laman and Lemuel were suspicious of their father. He was a strange and visionary man.  He had coerced them into leaving the comforts of their home and community to wander in the wilderness, hunting game, and living in tents.  It brings to mind abusive families and cults who isolate their followers and subject them to privations. And Nephi and Sam support and believe.  They are the “good sons” who hang on Dad’s every word. Laman and Lemuel saw the good in the Jewish people that their father had condemned and they felt judged.  Why did Nephi and Sam see things so differently?

Nephi was himself a visionary man.  It might be said that he saw even more than his father did of the designs of God and His Son.  He clearly recognized the evil that had steeped itself in the culture of the Jews and knew that destruction was near.  He knew this in a way Laman and Lemuel did not because he inquired of the Lord. In making a sincere connection with the Spirit, he saw the truth; his family could not continue to follow God and remain in Jerusalem.  I assume Sam must have come to the same conclusions.

I’ve been reading the history of my mom’s great-great-great grandfather John Lowe Butler.  He lived in Tennessee in the 1830’s when he and his wife joined the Mormons. He moved to Far West and then to Nauvoo.  His wife’s sister, Charity Skeen, had also joined back in Tennessee, but was not able to migrate. She was a deaf-mute and her brothers were hostile to the church and felt she was being manipulated against her will.  He traveled back to Tennessee in 1842 on a mission. He visited Charity and learned that she was still strong in the faith and wanted to join her sister in Nauvoo. Her brothers threatened to kill John if he took her with him.  

He made an interesting observation of his former friends, and neighbors.  He said that the society was “all pretty well and bitterly opposed to the principles of the Kingdom of God.” He felt they were “full of the devil and persecution.”  He, like Nephi, could see that people were hard in their hearts, immune to the truth, and determined to walk their own way, away from God.

Like Lehi, John Lowe Butler had to leave his home and society in order to follow his conscience and become the man God intended for him to be.  In his day, as in our day, as in Lehi’s day, there are divisions that no calm recitation of “the facts” will bridge. The devil rages in the hearts of men.  He distorts the minds and hardens the hearts of those who allow him to. The narratives are many. The cynical insinuations multiply like rabbits. There are many warriors fighting supposed bad guys; each side certain of their own superiority.  Like the people of Babel, we hardly speak the same language anymore. Where is the truth? Who is the enemy? Is it Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Muslims, Muslims or Jews, rich or poor, white or black? What tribe do you belong to? How can you project the faults of your own tribe onto your enemy?  How can you defend your own people regardless of their crimes? That is the name of the game.

But the truth is there for those who are willing to inquire of the Lord.  In the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees our day. He sees a vision of the rise of “two churches,” one good and one evil.  The evil church oppresses the humble followers of Christ and puts them in bondage. Their creed is not of principle or ideology, but of power and lust.  Their God is not of heaven, but of mammon. This church is not exclusive. There are members in all parties, religions, ethnicities, nations, and economic means.  They see themselves as above the rules. They put the pursuit of power and wealth over everything else. They look down on those who behave honorably and act with integrity.  They subject them to persecution and bondage.

I was listening to NPR in the car on the way home from dropping Austin off at preschool.  The news talked about the Rohingya in Myanmar and the severe persecution of those people. I imagined in my mind a mob of angry men full of hate and violence.  Their victims were the Rohingya; and then they were my ancestors, the Mormon pioneers in Missouri; and then they were the Kurds in Northern Syria. And the mob changed too in my mind.  They changed from back to white, from poor to rich, from educated to ignorant, etc. Their weapons were likewise fluid. Sometimes guns, sometimes household items, sometimes laws, sometimes judges and lawyers, sometimes social media shaming.  

And I saw the truth of this moment.  Like Lehi did. Like Nephi did. Like John Lowe Butler did.  There is a rising of evil. There is a hardening of hearts and a blinding of minds.  The humble followers of Christ; not only Christians, but everyone who seeks to elevate mankind to greater civility, kindness, and devotion to true principles; will face persecution.  We will be driven out. Metaphorically and literally. Driven from councils and schools. Driven from houses of government and places of employment. We will increasingly find ourselves excluded from parties consumed with hate and tribalism, who seek power and revenge.  To follow Christ is to reject these things. Christ had a crown of thorns, not gems. He stood above the people nailed to a cross, not elevated on a throne of gold. He was willing to face rejection and death rather than deny the principles and truth he held sacred. If he had lived transactionally, compromised his principles, and made friends with the right people, he would likely have been embraced by the Jews. Perhaps he would have been made a king.  A fallen king for a fallen people. Instead He became the King of a different Kingdom. As he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I made this image based on Zelda Breath of the Wild, but I made her naked. To me, she is being reborn as a member of a new kingdom of light and hope.

And it has never been of this world.  His Kingdom is Zion; where the pure in heart dwell.  Zion is all around us, just as the great and abominable church is all around us.  We choose which church we belong to by what we set our hearts upon. Will you be driven out with me?  Will you take upon yourself the name of my King? Will you become my countrymen in a kingdom that is not of this world?  Let us purify our hearts together. Let us partake of a cleansing sacrament of renewal. Let us join hearts and hands in devotion to a higher law, a better way, a holier path guided by the light of truth that resides in the minds of the pure in heart.  The Lord will not forget His people. He will not leave us comfortless. As long as we have one another, we will never be alone.

Honoring Adam and Discovering God through Self-Knowledge

On Sunday there was a guy sitting in front of me that was obviously a visitor. I love seeing these people in our congregations because they add variety and interest to what is often the same stale mix. (No offense to my ward family.) He had a beard and a darker complexion. I thought he looked Middle Eastern. He had on some nice jeans and a casual shirt. He didn’t seem to have come with anyone.

During the opening song, I sang mostly soprano because a sister I love was sitting behind me singing alto beautifully and it was nice to harmonize. I put extra effort into phrasing and vowel pronunciation. I just started MCO practices again and so I had had a refresher on good singing and was putting it to use. After the hymn the bearded man turned around and said in a thickly accented voice, “My God bless and protect your singing voice!” I was surprised and flattered.

After the meeting I spoke to him and he said a curious thing. He said, “Remember, the first commandment of God is to honor Adam.” This was news to me. I had always thought that the first commandment of God was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. Seeing my skeptical expression, he elaborated saying that it was not literal, that we were to honor the Adam in us.

I have been pondering that interaction for several days. Jung taught about a phenomenon called “synchronicity” which I haven’t studied much about yet. The basic (very basic) idea is that things happen for a reason and that when you are working hard to improve yourself and your life, help will come in unexpected ways. I think that this swarthy gentleman was supposed to say what he said, and that it was meant to emphasize the thread of understanding that I have been weaving about the self and God.

Jung understood the profound difficulty of studying the human psyche. It’s like trying to study a microscope while using the microscope to do the studying. We are fairly competent at studying lower order creatures on this Earth, but the study of ourselves, our morality, our motivations, our core needs and desires; we are still cavemen drawing stick figures in the dirt. Self knowledge begins by knowing that you know nothing.

Have you ever thought that you don’t really know what you look like? Even mirror images or selfies reverse the image. What we see is also usually a stagnant image that is often posed and inorganic. My husband and children probably know a lot more about what I look like than I do. That goes for the psyche as well. Often we don’t know nearly as much about ourselves as we think we do.

There have been numberless multitudes of human beings that have lived on this planet since Adam and Eve, and yet each of us repeats the same patterns of behavior; birth, development, often parenthood, and finally death. It’s like reinventing the wheel over and over for eternity. Often parents and grandparents are able to pass on useful traditions and helpful maxims and morals to their posterity; but there is so much more that we can do.

This iconic painting shows God’s connection to man who is created in his image.

Imagine for a moment what Adam must know. I believe that once we leave this world, we watch with our spiritual eyes as our descendants go through their mortal experience. Adam, having experienced mortality himself would have first hand experience, and then also the opportunity to witness his countless descendants experience mortality. Compare his knowledge about us and our current challenges contrasted pwith the pathetic lack of knowledge that we have about ourselves. We are not mortal beings, we are eternal beings. Do we honor the Adam that is in us? Do we seek to know ourselves as we are, and resist the urge to see ourselves as the flat two dimensional image on our cell phone screen?

Picture of me taken yesterday with my cell phone when I got home from choir.

I have heard the argument that there is no point to this quest for self-knowledge. It won’t put bread on your table, get your chores done, or fill your 401K. Why do it? It’s hard work! The response I have to that is that it is the only way to keep the first great commandment of God.

My thickly accented friend at church said that the first commandment was to honor Adam, or the Adam within us. The Savior said the first commandment is to love God. They are the same thing. Think about it. How do we love God? We’ve never seen him, we don’t understand him, and he is pretty much unknowable. Kind of like the Self. In fact, we are told in scripture that we are created in the image of God. (A lightbulb should be popping up over your head about now.) We can only love God if we know him. We can only know him if we study the one who was created in his image. That would be you. The Self.

One way that I have found nuggets of self-knowledge is by keeping a dream journal. In our dreams we are uninhibited by the social constraints that force us to mask our true selves. We are free to engage in all kinds of crazy behavior. My dream self has jumped off of buildings, murdered people, possessed a pet lion and a pet tiger, worked in a prison, worked as a secret agent, married many different men, had sex with many different men, given birth to babies I’ve never seen in real life. Each one of these dreams tells me a little about myself and who I am underneath the layers of other’s expectations and my own masks of self-protection.

Several of my mandalas that I made during my last depressive episode six years ago.

Drawing mandalas is another path to self-knowledge. A couple of days ago I was drawing a mandala and taking videos periodically to document my process. I plan to do a post on here with the videos and pictures since several of my friends on Facebook expressed interest in making them. During this process I saw something unexpected. I saw a repeating pattern of birds in my mandala. Then I saw sunrises, trees, mountains and wind. Gradually the mandala took shape in my mind. It is going to be something of an image of direction, new beginnings, facing challenges, and fostering hope in eternity. As I drew, I found that what I thought were birds were actually butterflies. I have also had two dreams of butterflies in the past month, so that is a powerful symbol of metamorphosis that is consistently coming to my conscious mind.

This mandala has taught me a lot about myself and how I see the world. Nature is very important to me and being in the city all the time is hard for me. Trees, butterflies, flowers, and mountains fill me with joy and soothe my anxiety. I need connection with nature, which makes winter harder for me emotionally than other times of the year. I must prioritize some time each day to get out of the house and away from the city, even if it is only at the park or something. I need to make time to go out in the garden and get my hands deep in the soil and in contact with living things. During my meditation, it would be useful for me to visualize mountains. Little things like that will help my mental health just as well or better than taking another pill. I will post a picture of my mandala when it is finished as well as the video of my process.

Another thing that has helped me develop self-knowledge is to revisit my childhood. Children don’t wear masks. Children are their true selves and that is one of the things I love about them. They have not yet learned to be polite, project a false image, and conform to the expectations of society. Because of this, your childhood can tell you a lot about yourself.

As I child I lived in the country. I loved to play in the water, ride my bike, explore new places, and have adventures. I liked to spend a lot of my time alone or with only one or two friends. I spent a lot of time reading, dreaming, and imagining adventures. This tells me that I have an active imagination, an introverted type of psyche, and a thirst for novelty. I engage in risky behavior at times. It also tells me, again, that I have a need for nature. I have a curious disposition and a ready intellect, but I am unmotivated by social pressure and competition. If something is difficult or boring, I will avoid it which can limit me in my achievements. I crave novelty which makes habitual behaviors distasteful.

With this self-knowledge I can anticipate what career options would work best for me, where I am likely to feel bored and under-stimulated verses where I would thrive. I would probably enjoy working in a nursery and teaching gardening classes. I might like being a children’s swim instructor. I might enjoy a career as a flight attendant because of the novelty of new people and places. It helps me to have a close friend and mentor to help encourage me to do hard things and push through boring tasks to accomplish more than I would do on my own.

Anyway, to the man who sat in front of me in sacrament meeting, thank you for your insight. I hope that I can always keep God’s first commandment to love the Self by honoring Adam and discovering God. I hope that as I share my journey with you that you might find self-knowledge that can enrich your life. God bless!

Finding a Safe Place

Speaking out on political subjects can be dangerous to your social life. Still, I have been remarkably vocal about political things on Facebook, and especially since the rise of Trump and Trumpism.

Trump has been a polarizing figure among my friends and acquaintances. He has become something of the elephant in the room in many of our wards, families, and other social circles in the U.S. He is a symbol of many things to many different people, for extremely personal reasons. I want to show some vulnerability here on this post about what my feelings are.

Early in the Republican primaries, I had a dream. I was on a very fancy yacht. I’ve never been on a yacht in my life, but that was what I was in. There was a Jacuzzi, flowers, beautiful furnishings, and a bed. Donald Trump came in and we talked for a while. I knew why he was there and what he wanted from me. I was dressed in some kind of lingerie and a silky robe. His voice was so gentle and fatherly. He promised me that he would take care of me. He said that he would give me everything I ever wanted. He told me that I was important and special and that all the mean things that all the mean things people had said or done to me in my life, that he would make sure they were sorry and would never to it again. His words melted my resistance because it was exactly what I always wanted. To be special. To be heard. To be safe. I let him kiss me and take off my clothes. Then I woke up.

I have thought back to that dream many times. The entire dream had a terrible feeling about it. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew that I was married and had kids and that this man was not my husband and that in having sex with him, I would be sacrificing my soul and my character. In that strange moment on that yacht, it was like I was under some strange spell. He knew what to say to me and how to say it. I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t say anything. I was on the ocean. There was no one around. He was powerful and I was alone. The longer I was with him, the better it felt, the more I could rationalize the decision to go through with it. I could push the uncomfortable realities away and look at the flowers, the beautiful furnishings, and listen to the flattery. I told myself he was not so bad and that what I was going to do wasn’t so wrong.

In some ways I have seen this dream play out on the national stage as Trump has seduced the American electorate into giving him an increasing amount of influence. Powerful men and women have been overcome by the strange spell that he has cast over so many. Flattering words, vain promises, and compromised principles litter the stages of his rallies and speeches. And like in the dream, I am alone. I am powerless to stop it.

My dream self was silent, but my conscious self has spoken out in warning to everyone within the sound of my voice. This man is poison. He is dangerous. He can’t be trusted. He tells you what you want to hear, but he will destroy you if you don’t get away from him. Leave the yacht. Keep your principles. He will use you and destroy you just as I was used and destroyed in my dream.

As I have spoken out, many people have accused me of bad faith motives, hatred, or even mental instability. Still, I speak out. I search my soul and I see nothing but love and concern. God will judge me. My heart and hands are clean before him. I love my country. I love my friends and family. I see danger and I will raise the alarm until I can no longer speak.

Political opinions are cheap, and the talking points of the major political parties are easy to cut and paste and retweet and forward. People do it all the time. My posts are different. They come from my heart and my soul. Trump is not a politician or a President to me, he is a dangerous threat to my country. I feel I would be a traitor and a coward if I did not do everything I could to stop him.

The last couple of days, I have been criticized for judging Trump’s defenders. Some friends have been deeply hurt by things I have said questioning the basic character of people who choose to defend this man. Those criticisms have infuriated me. It was never my intent to hurt, to belittle, or to condemn Trump supporters, but at times they put me in nearly impossible positions because there is no self-reflection, no vulnerability, no willingness to engage with the root issues. At what point in the Trump seduction process are Trump supporters accountable for the damage he is doing to this country and the world? At what point do they have to stop turning their fury and anger on me, and start asking themselves the hard questions? At what point am I allowed to say, “You’ve been warned and now you can go to hell. I wash my hands.”

From the outside, it is easy to judge me. I should be long suffering forever. I should withhold judgement forever. Friends, I am not Jesus Christ. Honestly, I’m not omniscient. I love you, but I can’t understand the psychological need people have to defend Donald Trump. Sometimes I do think that people are just evil, racist, money worshiping, idiots for electing this man. I’m human, and that is honestly what it looks like from where I sit, and Trump supporters have done very little to persuade me otherwise. Every single person who supports and defends this President after everything he has said and done, is diminished in my eyes. Is that my fault? I don’t think so. Does that make me a judgmental jerk? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human, and folks, I’m sorry to break it to you; I’m human.

So last night at 2:30 in the morning, I couldn’t sleep. I was angry at how unfair the criticisms of me were, and then I was angry at myself because I let them upset me. Then I was angry at myself for being myself and speaking out and then being hurt and knowing that I would just do it again, because that is what I do. Then wanting to blow my head off so that I could stop the pain. Then I would erupt into a coughing fit and remember that I have kids to care for in a few short hours. Eventually, Ben came and sat next to me in the bathroom. He reminded me that sometimes we have to put people in the right circles. Some people don’t deserve to be in the intimate parts of your life. They don’t have any skin in the game. They don’t care that you are hurting and struggling to keep your head above the water. They just want to let off some steam and make themselves feel better. It’s not fair to let them do it at my expense.

The online world is hard with the circle thing. Some people are not safe to have in your inner circle, but you are friends with them on Facebook. So does that mean you can’t be vulnerable on Facebook? No. I do it all the time and I think it’s good and healthy. Vulnerability is courage and without it, real connections between people are impossible. There is always a risk.

Last session, my counselor and I talked about expecting opposition. My ideas are powerful. My words evoke emotion and thought. That is a gift, but also comes with opposition as people react to their thoughts and emotions my words revealed to them. Sometimes, especially online, things can get out of hand quickly. I invite everyone to come and read what I have to say, but this is my inner circle. You are here at my invitation, and if your words are calloused and unfeeling, lack vulnerable self-reflection, or show willful ignorance, that’s not okay with me. If my words evoke strong emotions in you, that’s okay. They are supposed to do that. I have told some of my friends not to read my blog because it upsets them so much. If you do want to continue reading, I encourage you to look deeply into yourself and try to understand the reasons for your feelings. Every person is infinitely valuable and has extremely complex reasons for the feelings they have. Feelings are always okay and sharing feelings is always welcome on my comment boards.

I will show you an example of a comment that I would love to see either on Facebook or below from one of my friends who is a Trump supporter.

“I used to hate Trump. I thought he would loose to Hillary Clinton and I didn’t like how rude he was. After he got the nomination, I knew that it was either him or Hillary Clinton. I’ve been waiting for eight long years to have a Republican in office. President Obama seemed so popular with the media. They loved him and nobody seemed to care that while he was President, I felt like I wasn’t heard. I watched Planned Parenthood videos of people cutting up little babies and selling them, and then the journalists who broke the story were put in jail. I saw Christian bakers whose business was destroyed because they wouldn’t make a cake for a gay wedding. That could have been me and my wife. I saw Ferguson, Missouri burn because of racial unrest, and the President and his administration seemed to side with the rioters and blame the police. I see religious freedom and freedom of speech under attack as I am told I can’t say or do certain things that I feel are okay, or at least they were ten years ago. I decided to vote for him, and I’m happy with a lot of the things he has done. I’m glad Hillary Clinton is not President. On the other hand, I wish he wasn’t so mean. I wish he would spend more time and effort trying to understand other people and cooperate with them instead of lashing out at everybody on Twitter. Sometimes its so confusing because no one agrees about what is happening with the Russia thing. I hope the Mueller investigation wraps up soon. If he did conspire with Russia during the election, that was wrong and he should go. In the end, sometimes I wish I hadn’t voted for Trump, but I just didn’t feel there were any better options.”

Or a comment like this:

“I knew as soon as the primaries started that Trump was my kind of candidate. He reminds me so much of my Uncle that died of cancer ten years ago. He had such a way of just speaking his mind and doing what he thought was right. Sometimes he was a little crazy, but he meant what he said and he had the guts to follow through with it. I thought we needed people like that leading America. Our country is so bogged down with large bureaucratic systems that no one is leading and actually making the tough unpopular decisions. I love my country, and I love all the citizens in it, right, left, and center. Looking at all the hatred and division going on right now, makes me frustrated and upset. Trump has said some awful things, and I can see why people are upset. I noticed that with my uncle, you either loved him or you hated him. I guess that makes sense that people are that way about Trump. Still, I wish I didn’t feel like everybody thinks they know everything about me when they hear I voted for him. Like I’m stupid. It makes me feel like defending my decision even more.”

Those two comments are completely fabricated. The reason I like them is because they show honest, vulnerable insight into the reasons they support or supported Trump. The second comment shows the emotional projection of her uncle onto the person Donald Trump. That tells me that attacks on Donald Trump might feel personal to her because she associates him with her Uncle. That’s good to know. I can empathize with the feeling of a large and impersonal government being distasteful to her, and the thought of a person like her uncle in charge would be appealing. She doesn’t like the hatred and animosity in the country right now. She acknowledges that Trump’s behavior is responsible for much of that. The last few sentences are key to understanding this person. She wants respect, but she feels marginalized and judged for supporting Trump. There is a lot of common ground to build on from this comment. I can see her humanity and respect her vulnerability.

In the first comment, there isn’t a personal connection with Trump, it is a transactional relationship that he feels ambivalent about. He feels like he was trapped on the yacht and didn’t have any good options. He needs to know that people understand him and the difficult position he is in. He wants a way to save face while not being shamed. His willingness to admit to his own lack of certainty about Trump is honest and vulnerable. He shows that his motivation for supporting Trump is mostly out of fear that another eight years of progressive/liberal presidential leadership would further alienate him from his country and erode his liberties. He felt he did the right thing, but is not entirely pleased with the results.

Both of those comments show some willingness to engage with the obvious realities of the Trump Presidency like the Russia probe and his bullying behavior. They accept their decision to vote for Trump and the difficulties that decision has created for them and the country without deflecting to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, the media, or the FBI. In short, they accept their fair share of responsibility for the mess we are in because of the candidate they voted for. Owning up and taking responsibility is not too much to ask. Unfortunately, I have yet to see such an honest and vulnerable expression from a Trump supporter in three years. Instead they like to blame and shame the messenger which causes all kinds of havoc for my mental health.

To sum up, if you read my blog, I do post some political stuff. Some of the stuff I write might make you angry, especially if you are a Trump supporter. Do some self-reflection, share your feelings with me with at least the amount of vulnerability I have shown, and hopefully we can learn from one another. You don’t get to throw the hammer down on me when you aren’t willing to get a little vulnerable too. I am drawing a circle of protection for myself and my family. Be worthy of the privilege of being there.