Sunday, June 3, 2012

Farewell Talk Transcript: Confusion and Reality

Today I was blessed and honored to give a farewell talk at my local chapel in the Dallas 1st Ward. Everybody there is incredible and have all been such an inspiration to me. I got the opportunity to thank the members of the ward for their service to me, as well as bear my testimony of my understanding and belief in the gospel of Christ.

I felt it might be helpful and a matter of good faith to post the rough transcript of my talk online here as it is, essentially, part of my missionary experience. I wrote the talk out fully to flesh out my ideas and then sort of stuck to this draft while speaking so this is as close as one can get to being there I guess:

Farewell Talk given 6/3/2012 at Dallas 1st Ward, Midway Chapel

I am honored and excited to be here today and extremely blessed and excited to announce that this will be my last Sunday in the ward. I'll be reporting to the mission field on June 18th and before then I'll be headed home to visit family in Kentucky. I've been called to serve for three months in the Dallas Mission here in Texas and, pending my ability to handle the rigors of the mission, I'll be sent out to another mission and the MTC shortly following my time here in Dallas. I'd like to clarify, for a moment, why I'll be serving in two missions. I've got some mental health issues I live with that have made getting this far in the missionary application process difficult. I live with CDO, which is OCD only in alphabetical order like it's supposed to be. I've also got severe, at times clinical, depression. Those things combined have made me feel as though I'd never get to serve. And the brethren in Salt Lake have decided that the easiest way to see if this work is right for me is to immerse me in it for three months. I'm so pleased to get this call and excited to move on to my other call following my time here. I'm comfortable sharing this with you all because I want it to be known that if you have any doubts whatsoever if the Lord will provide for you opportunities to live your life fully, complete with the opportunity and blessing to serve others, you need not worry. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep and He knows you, knows what you need, and never leaves you wanting.

Today I've centered my talk around two quotes. The first is from e.e. cummings and is something I wrote down a long time ago in preparation for my farewell talk. In fact, it was so long ago that I don't even remember why I wrote the particular quote down. I had a document on my computer titled "mission farewell" and when I realized that I actually had to concentrate on writing this last night, I excitedly thought to myself, "I must have done some work already. There's the file!" And when I opened it up, there was only one line of text and it was this quote, "the departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true".

Great. Talk written.

I don't know why I wrote that down when I did but it actually synced up perfectly with another quote which has stuck firmly in place ever since I read it during scripture study the other morning.

From D&C 63:24 - "And now, behold, this is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence."

These two quotes jive so well for me because, I think, they are both essential parts of the same process. For one, in order to even begin to be happy with ourselves and this life on earth, we must cede our firm grasp on what we understand to be "real". Classically, and not illogically, we understand what is 'real' to be that which we can touch, smell, taste, etc. Our empirical faculties define what the 'real' world is. In addition to that, we define things like society, cultural expectations, social norms and pressures - all very real things to be sure - by our experiences which are comprised of our empirical faculties. Basically, what we experience first-hand we understand to be real. That's the story of western philosophy. What's delightfully crazy is that at the end of experience and experienced 'real'ness is a gap, a broad open nothing wherein lies intangible truths. Like human consciousness. Like ethics and morals. Like miracles. Like perceived communication with a higher power. It's like staring wide-eyed into a pitch black room; our eyes begin to play tricks on us and we begin to see shapes and figures emerge from the gloom where we cannot even see the hand in front of our face.

How do we reconcile the limits of our human experiences with the constant reassurance that there is something beyond us? Again; we must cede our hold on what we understand to be 'real'. And after that? The departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true.

Things in this world are not as they should be! We are ill. We are sad. We hurt others. We hurt ourselves. We try hard and do not succeed. We try very little and do succeed. Innocent people die without an explanation world round. There's a wealth disparity that seemingly can't be solved without the breakdown of civil discourse or moral fiber. And the message that one hears over and over again to explain all of this is that this is simply how the world "is". That this is the real world. That this is the truth of the matter. How then to battle our disgust with this reality when we know that it doesn't ring true? We must release our grasp on it. Admit that it isn't true. That there is a better, more ecumenical and loving way that things are set up and ordered. The departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true.

The second quote comes into play here. If we are to give up everything real, as so many early Latter-day Saints did, and to welcome the arrival of the truth, then how do we combat "confusion, which bringeth pestilence"?

This line is so tiny in this gigantic chapter. In fact, this line is so tiny in the entirety of scripture. I don't think that this sentiment is shared anywhere else, although if I'm wrong please manifest with the right hand. Those who think that joke was lame, with the same sign. This is crucial to me though. This idea that confusion is pestilence. It's such a great insight. In our lives, we experience situations of woe or misery where we hold full or partial accountability for how things turned out. This is an unavoidable fact of agency. And in these situations, these mini-tragedies, we have a pain that runs two ways. There is the initial pain of the transgression, either one committed against us by another or against ourselves by ourselves, and then the pain of confusion. Confusion as to how to proceed, how to process the pain we're feeling, confusion as to how to reconcile this event with our normal lives. The list runs on and on and, in the end, confusion might end up eating us from the inside out. Pestilence is synonymous with the bubonic plague, an infection which causes necrosis of living tissue within your body. It is an illness which eats you from the inside out.

Confusion brings pestilence. Notably, the quote isn't "confusion IS pestilence". We have normal confusions as well. It is a part of being alive. However, as someone with an illness which thrives exuberantly on confusion, I can tell you that even sometimes seemingly small confusions can lead to full-blown crises.

How do we escape this confusion in the pursuit of the arrival of truth then? God has given us instruction in this very chapter!

1. Take your time with things. He orders the saints to assemble but NOT IN HASTE because haste in things brings confusion. Don't rush yourself. Do things correctly. Festina lente, as St. Augustine would say.

2. Be committed. Earlier in the chapter, He says that He will make the mysteries of His kingdom known to those who keep His commandments. The reasoning for this is because if He gave the mysteries of Heaven by commandment, they wouldn't be heeded. This means that we will be given, in return for following His wisdom, a piece of His wisdom. We won't know the full reasoning behind all that we do until we do it. In order to fully go along with this, one must be committed.

3. Seek after the truth. Our faith would mean nothing if it couldn't be tested. It's tested on our end by living life righteously. It's tested on God's end by the power of prayer and the Holy Ghost. If you wish to seek after the truth, turn to the source of all knowledge and truth: God. Ask in humility and out of real longing and you will have your heart and mind enlightened.

Do not act in haste. Be committed. Seek after the truth. These small things will help slow and the stultifying effects of confusion in your life.

As a final thought, I'd like to address something which often gets me in trouble. I like to think I've got an inquiring mind. As a result, I sometimes think, or used to think, that believing in something was the same as denying all other things. It's a weird sort of black and white thinking that I've had to break myself of over the past few years, but I know I'm not alone in making this assumption. A good friend of mine in high school was one of the first people who had really gotten me into the habit of discussing my faith openly. He was the one who encouraged me to find a church to go to and we'd often talk at length about the particulars of God and Christ in our lives. When I found the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began learning the gospel of Christ, I was so excited to share this knowledge with my friend. There were answers to questions we'd long been asking each other in vain. He politely turned away my excitement for him to check out the church though, and made it clear that to him, faith was founded in a nebulous cloud of uncertainty. It was foolish and vain in his eyes to assume that God had anything so tangible upon the earth as a central church. Over time, I saw this attitude transform our discussions of our faith. Whereas my friend used to speak excitedly of Christs' role in his life, I soon saw him talk about how distant and removed Christ was from him. It was like, in order to avoid defining a higher power too much, he had to turn his faith into a metaphor. The abstraction was too much, and the last time we talked my friend said he was taking a break from religion for awhile. Which isn't something to bemoan and rent our garments over. It's something, in fact, that I've said in the past. But it's the natural progression of a line of thinking that says, "If we forsake the real for the true, then we must retain our confusion because it must be in the confusion that the divine is held." That is, it's a belief that confusion is essential to spirituality. This is not true. God would never leave us to confusion. Confusion is not the same as open-mindedness or humility. It's not the same as admitting that there is more truth out there to be found. It is not the same as suspending disbelief. There is such a thing as not knowing the wholeness of the truth and still knowing the truth.

I would like to finish by bearing my testimony of this church and, more importantly, this gospel. The church leads us to an understanding of the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ leads us to an understanding of our true selves, in the eyes of a loving Heavenly Father. We are so blessed by our Heavenly Father. God loves us. Christ lives and is active in our lives today. I invite all of you up to bear your testimonies. Speaking truth feels good. Share that part of yourselves of which you're most proud; the part of yourselves that most fully shows what a divine and precious being you are in the eyes of God. Thank you so  much. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.