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Jeffery Holland: Lord I Believe

26 Jun

Remember- this is what I hear when I listen to conference.  It’s not roses and sunshine.  It’s not happy and uplifting.  It’s not at all what you were going for when you were “inspired” to send it to me.  If you want to know why I’m reviewing conference, or what conference is- go here.

Holland is a current crowd favorite.  His talk from this last conference, Lord I Believe, was posted and re-posted and praised over and over- when you count all the pins from Pinterest and status updates from Facebook I think it was the most popular talk from this conference.

(These excerpts from a BBC interview are my favorite Holland moments- they were not shown in conference though… yet.)

I think the reason why it was a crowd favorite is that Holland attempts to acknowledge that people are struggling to believe in the church.  Which is good.  People are losing faith- at an ever growing rate. Leaving in droves you might even say… or as Marlin Jensen said, “we are in a greater state of apostasy then since Kirtland.”

He said that in this recording about 29 minutes in.

But hearing their struggles acknowledged in General Conference was comforting to many- but unfortunately there was much being said that I believe was missed when you don’t think critically about what he’s saying because of his position in the church.

So Holland starts by telling the story of a man who comes to Jesus’ disciples to heal his son. They are unable to but Jesus approaches. The father asks Jesus for compassion and Jesus tells him if he only believes then anything is possible. The man then says that he believes… and asks for Jesus to help his unbelief.

This entire story seems manipulative on an emotional level to me. Seems like Jesus is making the father beg a bit doesn’t it?

Holland goes on to extrapolate on what he believes to be the situation- which isn’t really known, but could very well be true.  It’s certainly true of the burdens that some parents currently carry.  Children who are exhausting their entire family because of their mental, emotional or physical struggles.  Children who cause pain and struggle and heartache because they use every ounce of parenting energy their parents have.  Not that those parents would have it any other way- but when they have three or four other kids who aren’t getting what they need and their marriage or job or individual sanity is suffering… it seems that this story is painful to hear.

Painful?  Why?  Because Jesus (after confirming that there was indeed enough faith) heals the boy. He makes him whole.  So all you should need is faith.  Or enough of it right? So do current parents with difficult or ill children just not have enough faith? Have they not prayed hard enough? Have they not asked with enough faith?  Are there no longer miracles?

Cutting away from the story for a minute is this line:

“Straightway,” the scripture says—not slowly nor skeptically nor cynically but “straightway”—the father cries out in his unvarnished parental pain, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

Because if you take your time, or are skeptical or cynical then you are doing it wrong… or another way of looking at it- if you come to  a different conclusion than that “having faith” is the correct answer after examining your doubts then you must have looked too slowly, been to skeptical or too cynical. (These are things I’ve been told actually).  The problem is never the church- the problem is you and how you went about looking for answers.

Holland points out who he’s addressing-

 I wish to speak directly to the young people of the Church—young in years of age or young in years of membership or young in years of faith. One way or another, that should include just about all of us.

So anyone who has any doubt at all- this is for you.  Let’s face it- that’s pretty much everyone right now that has Googled anything about the church.

He has three things to discuss about faith and doubt.
First:  

So what does this mean?  He further clarifies: The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.

So I’m hearing this:  If you learn something about Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young, or the Book of Abraham that sounds… not like you’ve learned at church- that’s not important.  What is important is that you have been taught other things- so ignore your new knowledge and disregard any information that conflicts with what you’ve already been told.  Acquiring new information that conflicts with old information is bad.  It shows a lack of integrity.

For a (fictional) example…. When I was about seven or eight I KNEW Santa existed.  He lived at the North Pole, was married to Mrs. Claus, had a velvet red suit, drove a sled that flew with the help of magical flying reindeer and delivered presents to all the girls and boys in the world every Christmas Eve. He enjoyed cookies, could see me when I was sleeping and knew whether I was naughty or nice- and rewarded me when I was nice. My parents had told me this, my grandparents had told me this, I’d been read stories about this at school and home and had seen movies.  There were entire holidays surrounding this fact.  Yes FACT.  It was a fact.  I woke up every Christmas morning and there were presents under my tree from him weren’t there?  The cookies I’d left out for him were gone and the note I’d written for him had a ‘thank you!’ in fancy script written at the bottom.

Then there was that Christmas Eve I woke up to use the bathroom and saw my parent’s eating Santa’s cookies.  I quietly hid in the corner and watched as they took presents from their room and placed them under the tree.  Paying attention the next day I noticed for the first time ever that the “From Santa” presents and the “From Mom and Dad” presents had the same wrapping paper.  As I started to think about it I’d never really seen an elf, or flying reindeer- except on tv.  It seemed like even getting to all the kids in one city in one night would be really really hard- let alone the entire world.  I also didn’t seem to get every single present I asked for- and sometimes got things I hadn’t requested.

Should I hold fast to the “knowledge” that I already have? Or seek facts and answers and things that can be discovered?  Which shows more integrity?  The willingness to read about the history of Santa, his evolution from St. Nicolas and Kris Kringle to the modern day differences around the world… or clinging to my childish imagery of him into my adulthood?

So what was that last quote again?

The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”

Gaining more knowledge should never be discouraged.  Those that discourage you from seeking truth and knowledge ought not to be trusted.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation.
If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” – J. Reuben Clark

When you get new information you can change your views on things.  It’s what growth looks like.  At what point in your life do you decide you know all there is to know and will accept no new ideas that contradict with your currently held beliefs? When do you know that time has occurred?  When do you stop entertaining new ideas?  That makes no logical sense.

Second.

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.”  That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith.It is not!


That’s basically three different things that he’s saying:
1. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.”

If you have a question- why would you start with the “answer”?  This is what he is asking you to do.  ”I’ve already told you the answer to your questions about the church, the answer is ‘have faith.’  Go from there.”  When problems come and questions arise you are on a quest for answers- faith is no longer good enough.  Especially when the answers from the ‘source’ conflict.

2. I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.

-But isn’t this the problem?  Your faith is shaken- the rug has been ripped out under you.What does it mean to “be true” to your faith?  To not question? To not examine? To not think about things? If your faith is strong and solid shouldn’t it stand up to questions?

3. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith.It is not!

I’m going to respectfully disagree here. Pretend it’s Testimony meeting. A person stands at the pulpit and says, “I don’t know if the church is true.  I don’t have a testimony. I only come because my wife makes me.  But I’m here.  I don’t pay tithing because I don’t have faith that the Lord will make that 90% stretch how it needs.” Yeah.  How much courage would that take?  Why don’t you try it next week.

Maybe I need to post about how quickly you get rumors spread and people ignoring you when you are no longer a believer in Utah… but he’s right- talking about your belief is harder for certain.

So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

Excuse me?  What miracle is that?  Is he referring to the story at the beginning?  Is it a threat that if you have doubts or questions that your children won’t be healed? That a person with questions won’t have good things happen in their life?

He continues saying that because of the “greatness of the evidences” and “knowing them by their fruits” and that because of the “blessings abounding in every direction” a “notable miracle hat been done” in the lives of the members of the church.

I think he’s implying that the church does good and no bad.

I beg to differ.  But it all depends on your perspective I guess.

Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.

The first thing is a little condescending don’t you think?  Issues arise.  If you examine them and resolve them by leaving the church (because your resolution was- Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet) then you “hyperventilated and didn’t understand” right?  This is what it seems he is implying.  There is one right answer- The Church is TRUE.  If you don’t get that answer go back and try again.  There is no other answer.  If you get another answer you have a problem.

Now- everyone walks by faith in this world according to Holland… this must include him right?  He follows that statement with this one:

So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all.10 Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.

So if Holland is also walking by faith (ie: doesn’t have a perfect knowledge/hasn’t seen Jesus), and is mortal, and is imperfect- why should we take his word over anyone else’s? Why does his experience trump yours? Or mine?  Or the 99.95% of the people on the planet who aren’t Mormon?

Last observation: When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we want it as humbly and honestly as this father did, we can get it. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of “real intent,” pursued “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God.”11 I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.

There is the catch.  Once again this is how it sounds- “if you didn’t get the ‘right answer’ (the LDS church is true) then you didn’t ask:

a. humbly
b. honestly
c. with real intent
d. with full purpose of heart
e. with no hypocrisy
f. with no deception

So you are clearly the problem.  If you find out about Joseph Smith’s wives/philandering, schemes, differing versions of the first vision etc… then you need to “just focus on the current church and not on the past- besides, we don’t know what ‘really’ happened.”  But if you look at the current church and realize that the message seems to be more about judging lengths of sleeves, building huge ornate buildings, backtracking what is said with how the media responds than with treating people kindly and helping the poor.. that you need to “realize that the church is perfect but the people aren’t.”

You are the problem.  Period.

I have a song about this.

He concludes with the story of a young teenager who seeks to believe, and then bares testimony of his own knowledge and the knowledge of his fellow apostles.  He makes this statement, “belief is always the first step to conviction” which contradicts his statement at the beginning of his talk.  ”I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have.”  

He’s saying that if you believe something long enough then you’ll eventually be convicted of it- regardless of the truthfulness of it. Right? There must be some truth to that statement- people believe all sorts of weird things.  They believe in UFO’s, Aliens, Bigfoot, Scientology, other religions….  of course believing something or being convicted of something based on a good feeling- or someone telling you that you should isn’t very good critical thinking skills.

If I gave birth to a child and told this child her entire life that 2+2=6 and made sure than whenever she heard otherwise I corrected her, she’d believe it. I’d make sure that no one else except other people who taught that 2+2=6 taught her ever and that we tried to surround ourselves with like minded people.  She’d be convicted of the “fact” that 2+2=6 regardless of the evidence right?  But that doesn’t make it a fact.

Holland continues with this:

What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine.

Basically- I know, so you don’t need to. 2+2=6 Don’t listen to anyone that tells you otherwise.

Except that it’s not just the ‘weak’ whose ‘faith is being tested’ that are leaving the church. I would contend that it is the strong who are leaving.  Examining your beliefs doesn’t make you weak.  If you are strong enough to look around, examine your beliefs and the possibility of losing everything and everyone dear to you for rejecting them- and still do- you are pretty damn strong.

So what is my advice for those that are struggling with the church?  Whose faith is wavering?  Take a deep breath.  Get as much information from as many sources as you can.  Decide for yourself based on the evidence available what you think the most probable story is from the historical accounts we have.  Read, read, read.  Listen to podcasts.  Talk to your spouse.  Talk to friends. Most of all- that person in your ward that is the “crazy inactive family” that everyone is afraid of?  Go knock on their door and ask why they really don’t go to church.  Then listen.  (Or just call me. ;) )

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