We Seek After These Things

As I’ve mentioned on the blog, we just moved back to Minnesota after a five year stint in Utah (nutshell: we’re both from Utah, DH went to MN on his mission, came home and married me, we went back to MN in 98 for grad school and stayed for work, said work moved us to Utah in 05, same said work just moved us back to MN for who knows how long). One thing I loved about my first experience as a Minnesotan was the plethora of great religious preschools dotting the landscape. My three oldest kids all went to a wonderful Catholic preschool, St. Mary’s, where certain concepts I’d been teaching at home were reinforced: numbers and letters and how to hold a pencil, along with the idea that God created the world and that Jesus loves them.

Now that I’m back, those older three are in elementary, middle, and high school, but my youngest, Wyatt, is in his first year of preschool. We found a great little Lutheran school just a few minutes from our house, and Wyatt has eagerly strapped on his backpack and marched through its doors a grand total of three times now (success!). On the drive home from his second day of school, we had the following conversation (and my apologies to my Facebook friends who are already familiar with this exchange):

Me: What did you learn today?

Wyatt: There was this guy? And Jesus taked his rib?

Me (thinking): Adam?

Wyatt: Yes! And guess what Jesus did? He turned that rib into a woman named Steve!

Gotta love three year olds, yes? While I’m quite sure that my son’s preschool isn’t recasting the creation story for political purposes and used Eve’s proper Biblical name, I also found it interesting to contemplate the small differences in the creation story that my son will be hearing in a Protestant preschool as compared to what he’ll be taught in church on Sunday. At the end of the day, though, I think the slight doctrinal differences (especially as presented in a preschool) are outweighed by the daily reminders of God’s presence and Jesus’s love that he’s receiving.

As Mormons we believe in seeking after all that is virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy. There is so much of this goodness to be found in our interactions with those not of our faith. Consider this quote by Joseph Smith:

“The inquiry is frequently made of me, ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?’ In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, pg. 499)

Here’s another quote by an LDS prophet, this time as a statement issued in 1978 by the First Presidency–President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors President Marion G. Romney and President N. Eldon Tanner:

“The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe we have the fullness of the gospel, and that beginning with Joseph Smith and through continued prophetic revelation, many plain and precious truths as well as priesthood authority have been restored to the Earth. But this doesn’t mean its members can’t learn and grow—even be spiritually fed—by those outside our faith. I know I’ve learned much from my non-Mormon friends and neighbors. My spirit has recognized truth while reading books by New Age spiritualists or even while listening to pop music written by evangelical Christian rock bands. While I don’t agree with all the philosophies espoused by these different groups, of course, I’ve often found myself able to see a gospel principle in a whole new way by viewing it from a slightly different angle. For example, during a particularly difficult bout with anxiety about ten years ago, I gained a great deal of strength and power through reading the scriptures and prayer. But a non-Mormon friend also loaned me New Age spiritualist Gary Zukov’s book The Seat of the Soul, where I read this:

“Temptation is the gracious way of introducing each soul to his or her power. When you are seduced or threatened by external circumstances, you lose power. They gain power over you. With each choice that you make to align yourself with the energy of your soul, you empower yourself. This is how authentic power is acquired. It is built step by step, choice by choice. It cannot be mediated or prayed into being. It must be earned” (145).

My spirit immediately recognized this statement as truth, and suddenly it was clear to me that my own desire to indulge in my predilection for anxiety and fear was, in fact, a temptation that had been set before me, just as another individual might be tempted with feelings of lust or greed. I understood in a way I really hadn’t before that simply praying for my anxiety to go away wasn’t doing me any good; that I had to actively choose to resist the temptation to feed my own fear. So, although I didn’t agree with Zukov’s ideas about reincarnation or the higher consciousness of dolphins, I was extraordinarily blessed that day to find the peace and power I needed to find in his book.

There is so much truth out there to seek after. I love the invitation in Moroni 7 that teaches us how to seek after truth and light, but lately, I’ve been particularly mindful of the following scripture:

Moroni 7:4 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

It seems to me that we are reminded often of the first half of this injunction. But what of the second half? Do we Mormons sometimes close ourselves off to that which is good and of God simply because it doesn’t come in a recognizably LDS package? Do we take full advantage of the capacity to judge as it’s laid out in Moroni 7, and in so doing, increase our faith and knowledge? I’m sure many of you do, but I know I could do better.

Now I want to hear from you. What truths have you found in your interactions with those of other faiths? If you are a convert, what traditions or ideas from your former faith do you hold dear? If you’re not a Mormon, what do you love about your own tradition? (I would ask that we please keep this discussion friendly and positive, focusing on the common good in all religions!)

About Angela

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

25 thoughts on “We Seek After These Things

  1. Um, hey, I just barely moved from Minnesota to Utah, and what you’re describing here was one of the hardest things to let go. I loved the constant reminder that there are wonderful people of all faiths. This summer, my kids did vacation Bible school in Minnesota and loved it, and we still sing the songs about “God’s word will amaze you. Read it now and your life will change.” :)

  2. Sorry to barge in to this forum for the more gentle persuasion, but I just wanted to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the mention of Christian rock bands. As much as I love music from Julie De Azevedo, Kenneth Cope, or Michael McLean, I’ve found more connection and depth through non-mormon groups. Steven Curtis Chapman and Jars of Clay are my favorites, and definitely worth checking out.

  3. What a great post! It is wonderful to seek outside of specific LDS influences for good.

    Recently I’ve heard many quotes from Mother Teresa that I find good in. Here’s one:

    “A man felt the call of God on his life, he was sure that God had something huge planned for him. The only problem was that he wasn’t sure what it was that he was supposed to do. So he figured he needed prayer. Upon meeting Mother Teresa, he asks her, “Mother Teresa, will you pray for me?” She says, “Sure, what would you like me to pray for you about?” He states, “Clarity. I want to know in no uncertain terms what God wants me to do with my life.” She looks back at him and says, “No, I won’t pray for you for that.” Very confused and embarrassed, the man spurts out, “Well why not? I only want for my life what you have had so clearly in yours. You seem to always know exactly what God’s calling you to do.”
    Mother Teresa looks back at him and said, “I sir, have never had clarity. What I have had is trust. So I’ll pray that you learn to trust.”

    While I will continue to pray for clarity, I’ll also think about trust when I pray for clarity because of this quote.

    Another source for good that I’ve enjoyed recently is Women Who Run With the Wolves. While there are things in this book that aren’t consistent with my beliefs, it is wonderful to find nuggets of inspiration and truth there. “To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship.”— Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    BTW – I think the article of faith you reference is the youth theme for next year!

  4. i loved this! i’m a convert from catholicism of 13 years, now. i consider myself a “cultural catholic.” there isn’t anything i hold on to doctrinally, but i love the traditions of easter and christmas and am envious of the rhythm of the liturgical calendar. take it back… birth control is a big issue for me because of my upbringing… but my catholic-ness ends there.

    our kids go to a catholic elementary school. most lds we’ve talked to about it are horrified, but we love it. it’s a small school with a phenomenal staff and it’s been a wholly positive experience. if we were inactive or not members of any faith, i can see how it could confuse a child. as it is, it’s opened the door to lots of theological discussion at home and it reinforces the basics of what we’re trying to teach at home. we tell our kids that it will also help make them more well-rounded and understanding of others.

    my second grader won a prize in class the other day because she was the only kid in her class who knew the name of the current pope. she thought it was so bizarre that she was the one who knew it, but was proud of being a good listener and remembering who the school prays for at weekly mass.

  5. I’ve learned a lot about prayer from some Catholic friends. They have a prayer board in their home, and when anyone needs help or needs a boost (upcoming test, illness, etc.) they put it on the prayer board and everyone in the family prays for that. They also pray spontaneously–when they come across a traffic accident, for example.

    We have yet to incorporate that level of devotion in our own family, but I’m inspired by it.

    One of the things I wish we had in our (Utah) neighborhood is a greater mix of faiths. When there is more diversity, it helps me learn more about my own faith and also helps me see people as individuals who are not solely categorized by their religious label.

    Great post!

  6. Steph, we traded! And thanks for the great input so far, everybody. Love the quotes and ideas. Melissa, that prayer board is a great idea. Oh, and Nate, you’re not barging at all. We like men over here. We embrace diversity and all that. :-)

  7. My husband and I trot out the First Presidency quote on Muhammad all the time, when Mormons wonder why we like to spend so much time in Muslim countries. There’s so much we’ve learned while living and traveling in the Middle East and Central Asia, and from Muslim friends in the US.

  8. Love this post and the quote you pulled from the new age book.
    I just attended a Coptic (egyptian orthodox) wedding last month and was blown away. I love the symbolism in the ceremony and how the groom and bride were given crowns as they were entering God’s kingdom as a new married couple. They were also given the priest’s own robes to wear in the ceremony to mark that they were now to be the spiritual leaders in their own home.

  9. Just the other day I was talking to one of my friends at the gym about some personal struggles I was having — just a bad day coupled with jet lag. Her husband happens to be a Lutheran minister. After sympathizing with my problems for a moment, she said, “Can I pray with you?” and took my hand right there in the parking lot at the YMCA and prayed for me. It was one of the sweetest experiences of my life.

    Before every race, my triathlon team stands in a circle holding hands and our coach prays over us. We are of many faiths — Baptist, Catholic, LDS, Evangelical, etc. and the feeling of peace and security I feel after those prayers is palpable. I have been lifted up MANY times by the prayers of my friends who may not necessarily be of my faith. It’s a beautiful example to me.

  10. I have so much respect for believers of all faiths. My evangelical friends have taught me to be more open in my prayers and public expression of my faith. My Unitarian friends have taught me to look at the world through a different lens, one with an open heart to beliefs of all kinds. My Muslim friends have shown me great love through daily acts of service and have been amazing examples of building strong families and devotion to God in inward and outward ways. In my personal study, I have been uplifted by other Christian writers and musicians, by Jewish philosophy, and by many Eastern religions, especially Taoism. I’m grateful that our faith teaches us to be respectful of other faiths, and that the founders of other religions were inspired by God.

    My feeling is that the spirit of Christ teaches us to find commonalities with those around us, to see them as brothers and sisters. When I feel estranged from those around me (politically or spiritually or in some other way,) the fault is always with my hard heart.

  11. I understood in a way I really hadn’t before that simply praying for my anxiety to go away wasn’t doing me any good; that I had to actively choose to resist the temptation to feed my own fear.

    So well said. I’m coming to believe that a huge part of tapping into the Lord’s healing power and answered prayers involve, at least in part, our own agency just as you have captured here. Overcoming anxiety has been a huge focus of mine, too, so this resonated with me, but the whole post was great.

  12. I gained my testimony of Jesus Christ during a Baptist tent revival… literally in a tent, in the mountains. I still try to get a regular dose of Jesus-focused religion from Bible-based Christian music and tangle.com

    Also, I appreciate the devotion, attention to obedience, tradition, intellectual rigor, and reverence that I’ve read about in Chaim Potok’s books about Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

  13. My children all attended a Church of England primary school in our village. There is a choice of 2 primary schools, but we choose the religious one because it reinforced things we did at home. Lunch is blessed, prayers are said in class at the end of day, and the whole school attends church together once a week. We have many friends who would not dream of sending their children to a church school, but it worked for us.

    As a convert from the Church of England there are some things I miss. I love the tradition of giving children Godparents when they are born. I wish I had done that anyway, although I know my husband would not have agreed. I think it is lovely to know that there are special adults there for you, that have been chosen to look after you and watch you grow up. I also wish our churches had bells to ring at weddings. In England we have to get married in church first before the temple. At a Church of England wedding you can hear the bells ringing out over a wide area pronouncing the marriage. It is such a joyous thing.

  14. Wonderful post. I’m a new convert (former Catholic) and really love the church. That said, I cringe whenever I hear members bearing their testimonies that this is the only true church. Thanks for the reminder that all members don’t feel this way, nor do our leaders expect us to. There is truth all around us. I really like this from Elder McConkie: Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men — Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now; the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity.”

  15. Living out of Utah opened my eyes to the goodness in others not of my faith. Some Christian music out there is just beautiful.

    I think Nauvoo had a bell for services. That would be awesome to bring back for weddings, but if you think about how many sealings go on at the temple each weekend – some temples would be ringing bells all day long :)!

  16. When I was in Egypt this year with my husband, we sat on the floor of the most beautiful mosque in Cairo and our LDS educator, Michael Wilcox, gave us a couple of his rules for studying other religions. My favorite rule was something like, “Leave room in your heart for holy envy” One example he gave was that we talk about controlling our thoughts, but the Buddhists are actually better at teaching you how to control your thoughts. I could relate to that because I’ve loved reading books on positive energy and positive thinking patterns that were based on Eastern philosophies. I’ve also been in cathedrals in Poland where the reverence was enviable. I love seeking for truth and wisdom all over the world…

  17. Me, too, everyone. Love seeking truth wherever it is found. I find much wholeness in practicing yoga, for example. To me, a good practice in the early morning hours is akin to prayer. I, too, am a Chiam Potok fan. I, too, cringe at the wording: “This is the one true church.” Huh? I grew up in the LDS church and this statement never felt quite right to me. Light and knowledge is to be found in other faiths and that notion of one true church doesn’t sit right with me. I find I have much to learn from people who practice other religions. Love the idea of holy envy. I feel like that when I talk with my devout Catholic friend who prays as if God is sitting next to her and whose home feels like sacred ground.

  18. My son has attended a catholic school for the last 2 years and it has been a cherished experience. He has religion classes several times a week and he goes to Mass every Friday with his class. Like you said, it has prompted some interesting discussions about doctrine. We are all learning about Catholicism together. He really likes the tradition of Lent and chose to give up computer games before Holy Week this last year. It was hard for him and I was impressed by his diligence. Seriously – what a good lesson in self control for a 2nd grader! His classmates also took First Communion around the time he was baptized and it was sweet to see the support his friends offered him during his big step in his church. So yes, there is so much good for us to share with people of other faiths.

    Most of our Mormon friends try to hide their discomfort with our decision. I find it strange that we expect investigators or our friends to readily accept invitations to come to church with us, but we are unwilling to do the same. I guess I feel that if I expect people to know and understand Mormonism by getting their information directly from the source, I should also do the same.

  19. I think that the testimonies are supposed to say that this is the only “true and LIVING church”. In other words, because of the prophets, the priesthood, and the revelation that our church has and depends on, we have more truth than other religions, which depend on scriptures and the wisdom of men alone. I also am uncomfortable with the profession that we are the only True church. That being said, I have learned much from those of other faiths. Some of the best Christians I have know have not been members of our faith, or even of a Christian faith.

  20. I was introduced to the concept of Holy Envy in my teens, and it’s been a wonderful thing to me. Whenever I’ve gotten a chance to teach on similar subjects in church, I weave it in somehow, I think! Look at the Jewish devotion to the Sabbath, and their preparations to make it holy; the dedication of nuns and monks; the joy that others take in their truth–we can have that, too, if we’re humble enough to learn truth from every source. Humility is a hard thing to learn.

  21. Liz, I love the idea of being humble enough to learn truth from every source. That can truly be difficult to do. I also understand how the phrase “the only true church” can be problematic. The addition of “and living” definitely helps, but even then it’s a phrase that’s common in our culture but that has connotations that are understandably problematic for some. I wonder if non-English-speaking Mormons use a common phrase, or if it’s more a phrase that’s been used for decades in Utah and surrounding areas? I agree with the intentions behind saying it (that we believe our church has the fullness of the gospel), but have always been uncomfortable with the connotation that we’re the only church with ANY truth, which of course we don’t believe.

  22. The thing about our Evangelical preschool that cracks me up are the kooky prayers my kids learn to say. My son came home last week and said, “mom, today we got to snap out a prayer!” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds pretty groovy. Way groovier than primary! It’s funny how he knows what kind of prayers are appropriate and where. He never tries to snap a prayer at home.

  23. It was this teaching in Mormon theology that helped me to embrace the gospel and join the church. I came from the Unitarian Universalists who I felt taught me growing up to find, embrace and accept truth or a good explanation wherever it could be find. We studied world religions often. I was so happy that I felt like I found a Christian church where I could believe in Christ and still study and seek for truth from other religions. I try to blog about what I find. Lately, I’ve been studying the Baha’i and I want to learn more about Islam and to read the Apocrypha. I really enjoyed (and did blog about) reading the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. There’s a whole lot out there and some good Mormon resources as well from Sunstone and Dialogue. I was really excited when I found those. I would like to see more of this belief incorporated into church meetings and appreciate the efforts I see by church leaders during General Conference, though they generally limit themselves to literature. I miss the sermons of my UU days because I found them to have richer and more varied content, though lacking in gospel truth. It’d be lovely to hear and/or prepare the type of talks that I found so exciting for their breadth of content and have it be combined with Mormon theology.

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