Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Three Simple Questions

I think there are three deceptively simply questions in life:

  1. Who am I?
  2. How do I know?
  3. What am I supposed to do about it?

I think Mormonism has a unique take on the answers to these questions. My believing self answers these questions like this:

  1. Who am I?  I am a child of God.
  2. How do I know?  Because the key of knowledge has been restored through prophets who cannot lead us astray.
  3. What am I supposed to do about it?  Follow the prophet.  see (2).

Yet these three questions are much larger in scope than the simple LDS reflexive answers can provide.  As our faith matures, we realize the need for greater clarity:

1. Who am I?

By itself, our simplified Mormon identity as Children of God gives us no sense of unique identity --
all humans on this earth are equally children of God.  So what does it really mean? What is the nature of being co-eternal with god as his spirit-intelligence children?  What is the nature of God's being, if he was once like us and we are to become like him?  Where is Heavenly Mother in all this?  Is gender and our family identity persistent in both directions?

The Who am I question points us to a "First Principle" in both the metaphysical discipline of philosophy as well as religion:
Ontology: What is the nature of being?  
Mormonism does offer a unique ontology, although poorly explained in the correlated materials.  This ontology is best expressed in Lorenzo Snow's couplet, "As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become".  We are divine beings on a divine journey.  Although Joseph and Brigham speculated on what this means - and often created confusion as a result -- we have a divine nature, origin, and destiny.

This fundamentally must change how we view others.  "God" is not some being beyond being, but rather, "God" is exalted humanity.  We ought to really explore how that affects our daily walk.  When we embrace who Jesus Christ truly is -- as both god and man, and yet, one of us and our Friend, then we must embrace that Jesus, the I AM, is the key to life itself.

Once we realize the Christ, this concept of being is not just about who am I, but also, who are you, who is Christ, and how do we connect to each other in love.  Life is about this connection.  Christ's first, second, greatest, last, and new commandment was to love one another as he loves us. This is what it means to have life in abundance.

2. How do I know?

When we look in detail at prophetic answers, not only is there insufficient knowledge within the words of the prophets, but we observe how inconsistent they are from the beginning. Prophets today are not prophetic, but rather, in the position of authority -- the only ones authorized to pronounce doctrine, yet they are neither scholars, scientists, nor particularly imbued with prophetic visions.  Thus, our reliance on their words as trumping science and independent investigation seems antithetical toward truth-seeking.

The "How do I know" question points us to another "First Principle" in both metaphysics as well as the gospel:
Epistemology: What is the nature of knowledge?
Mormonism offers five important epistemological concepts:

  1. Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. 
  2. All truth is circumscribed into one great whole.  That is to say that science as knowledge of the material/physical world, and religion as a kind of faith knowledge need not be opposed, but in fact, should harmonize -- not by relegating science to a second seat, but rather, by using the right tools for the right purpose.
  3. While eternal truth may be unchanging and without question, mankind's understanding of such truths is limited to our ability to understand.  We receive revelation through our minds and hearts in the language of our understanding.  
  4. We learn truth line upon line, precept upon precept, thus our understanding of truths must be both progressive and evolutionary.
  5. We learn through our own experience and not by dogma and creed.  Alma 32 teaches an epistemic approach that allows us to work in faith to gain knowledge by experimentation.  

In our faith, we ought never to be afraid of the truth, nor in any way cover up inconvenient facts of our past and doctrine because they are not "faith promoting".  According to Alma, faith is not knowledge, but rather, hope in something that is true -- or at least "not false".  To believe something that is false in not faith, but rather deception, and ultimately will cause faith crisis.  As disciples of a God of Truth, we must be rigorously honest in our approach to learning truth.

3. What am I to do?

Mormon authority requires absolute, unquestioning obedience and uncompromising loyalty to the brethren and church in all things.  (see GBH: "Loyalty" 2003).  The basic principle is (1) the Love of God is the first and greatest commandment, (2) If we love god we keep his commandments, and (3) his commandments are expressed through the voice of his anointed servants -- the prophets, seers, and revelators.  All of Mormonism, today, can be reduced this simple principle: you love god by obeying the brethren with exactness.

Yet this kind of obedience does not save us, does not develop us, but rather destroys us by virtue of making us vulnerable to despotism and demagoguery.  This is not the Plan of God, but rather, the one who required absolute obedience. We really need a much better way to sort out what we are to do.

The "What am I to do" question leads us to a third "First Principle" in both metaphysics as well as the gospel:
Ethics: How are we to act?
Our religion has many ethical and moral standards, yet they are most often focused on separating our behavior from others in the world.  We do not have a strong, simple moral ethic that guides our living, other than "obedience" to the dictates of our Church leaders. We have created a kind of Mosaic/Rabbinical/Talmudic law unto ourselves.

Yet Christ had a much simpler concept: to love one another as he loves us.  And how does he love us?
 he forgives, he is our friend, he is unconditional in his love.  Others have said as much: Confucius, Hillel, and almost every ethical system in the world: "That which we find hateful when done to us, we should not do to others."  Or positively said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Jesus, and Hillel, correctly claimed that this simple principle is the basis of all the law and the prophets. It ought to be the basis of how we act, and how we thoughtfully hearken to those who sit in Moses' prophetic seat.

Our Mormon ethic clarifies this kind of love in a way we ought to take very seriously: We are to lift one another's burdens, that they may be light, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  We witness in Mormonism of a godly love when we serve without reservation our communities.  I have seen this miracle of Mormon service -- we can make a difference by being Mormon in the Way Alma taught at the Waters of Mormon.


Who am I?
How do I know?
What am I to do about it?

Jesus answers our questions by saying, "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life".

Who am I?  I AM, and in being One with Christ, I have Life in abundance.

How do I know?  Because I am here to learn through my own experience -- I will make mistakes, but as I test, doubt, and discover, the truth will become clear to our minds through objective, empirical experiments, and to our hearts, through our hope, faith, and love.

What am I to do about it?  As the first disciples called themselves "Followers of the Way", we follow not men and their opinions, but rather, Christ in his words -- the basis of all ethical systems: to love one another as he loves us.

How Man Creates God in his Own Image

"In the beginning, man created god in his own image, in the image of man, created he him.  Father and Son, created he them."
(Genesis 1:27, "translated" by my seer stone).

If I were to quote this in a church meeting, or with any Christian, Muslim, or Jew, I might as well be (seer) stoned indeed, either literally, figuratively, or otherwise.

Such blasphemy. Or is it?

Does the idea really seem strange that mankind created a definition of god that looks suspiciously like what mankind thinks is a powerful being?  Mankind deferred to kings and despots, so the old testament definition of god is despotic.  Mankind saw that kings and despots conduct genocide, so their god condoned genocide, slavery, polygamy, and all sorts of pretty awful things.

Observe, for a moment, how in the LDS Church, we have a real person, Joseph Smith, who did a number of things, both good and bad.  Yet, when Mormons sing, "Praise to the Man", we have an image of Joseph Smith that hardly corresponds to the reality of the man.  He has become mythologized, to something beyond anything he actually was.  "Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it."

Our LDS family and friends revere Thomas S. Monson as the Prophet, Seer and Revelator, and in recent weeks, the announcement that he is no longer actively involved in church leadership has been met with sadness for how much we will miss his leadership.  I'm sorry, but I don't see it: within months of him taking charge of the Church, he triggered the Proposition 8 campaign, and since then, has done nothing but pursue one ill-conceived political escapade against marriage equality after another.

Yet my point isn't to criticize either Joseph Smith or Thomas S. Monson.  The reality is that they are human, no more and no less, yet in our culture, we make them more than they really are.

Is it so surprising, then, that we would create god in our own image?

Let's suggest a hypothesis: there is a god.  How would we know this?  How could we be sure that whatever we think is god, who revealed himself to ancient prophets who then attempted to kill their son, or conduct genocide, or who called for the sun to stop moving around the earth so that the israelites could slaughter their enemies -- all that -- how would we know that this "god" is the real "god" and not some demiurge -- a subordinate god who has taken over the earth?  How would we know what God's actual attributes are?  That this same demiurge told us so?

You see the problem here.  Human nature creates explanations to fill in the gaps of understanding. We mythologize historical figures to make them heros -- more than they really were.  We create an image of god in the place of what was a real person, perhaps.

Take Jesus Christ.  Another hypothesis: he was a real person who may have taught that he was the Son of God.  Again, not something I can ever prove -- but I think it's a good working hypothesis.

What on earth did Jesus mean?  What if Jesus, being somehow taught by "wise men from the east", came to a realization that God was not a being "out there", but as many Zoroastrians, Taoists, and Hindus believe, is a real presence within us all?  Jesus did live, after all, in a town that likely was a way station along the Silk Road of his time, where such travelers would have been common.

What if the real teaching Jesus taught was that (1) God is far more real and present than our idolatrous image of god in scripture can ever be, and (2) that mankind indeed shares a common heritage with god?

What if the real teaching from Joseph Smith is (1) God of the creeds -- that of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent being -- is a logical impossibility and an abomination, and those who profess such nonsense are indeed corrupted by a false idea of god, and (2) Mankind indeed shares a common heritage with god?

I note that Jesus condemned Pharisees in the way they had created in the Law something that wasn't there -- the rabbinical/Talmudic interpretation of the Torah was so expanded, distorted, and changed from the original message of godly love that it became an idol to worship.  The rabbis had created a law -- and a god -- in their own idolatrous image.

I note how Mormon culture, cultivated by our idolatrous worship of leaders, has created a culture of obedience to every word uttered by the anointed general authorities.  We worship an idol -- and call that idol Christ.

This leads me to realize, that not only "in the beginning" did man create god, but even today, we continue to create god in our own hateful, despotic image.

Yet in spite of this, I see hope.  Deeply spiritual hope.  Woven in our scriptures and narrative are principles that can transform our dialog and remove the sin of idolatry from us.

  • We can anchor to the singular idea that our spiritual intelligence is co-eternal with god
  • We can realize that god is not "out there" as a distinct kind of being, but rather, that God is exalted humanity.
  • We can embrace that eternal life is not some future state, but rather, as Dieter Uchtdorf has taught, we are in the glorious middle of our eternal lives -- eternity is always found in the Middle.
  • We can realize that our faith is made real by practicing love -- unconditional, abiding, perfect love, one for another.

While I no longer believe in the God of creedal Christianity, that of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being who exists outside of being -- to me it this being is a logical impossibility and a monster in the presence of random evil.  I have come to know, personally, a god within me, who weeps with me, and listens to me as I struggle through this existence.  And I have seen how this same presence is expressed when we are exalted humans -- able to love and serve one another here, now, in this life, in love.

And when I embrace this god, i start to realize that my image transforms, god creates me in his or her own image, and as i peer into the eyes and soul of my brothers and sisters, i see the very image -- the face -- of god.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On The Priesthood as a Male Dominance Hierarchy

I am coming to the conclusion that the foremost paradigm and purpose of the LDS Church is to establish an authoritarian male dominance hierarchy, and to require members' absolute obedience to this authority.  I believe we need to set aside such authoritarian hierarchy if we are to truly love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Can we practice unconditional, egalitarian Love a Church that seems to thrive on authoritarian control over our lives?  Yes, I believe we can. But we need to explore what "The Priesthood" is and how it affects what we do in our culture.

In the natural world, a "dominance hierarchy" is social order among some kinds of animals, where the group is ordered hierarchically under a single, primary leader or set of leaders. Some animal groups have an "alpha male" leader, to whom all other males defer, and who controls the reproductive rights of the group. While some of these orders are focused on only one alpha, in more complex hierarchies, there is a kind of linear hierarchy, where each individual in the pack is either dominant or submissive to another individual in the group.  There are no true 'equals'.

In the "male dominance hierarchy", the males adopt the right of dominion, and females are subordinate to males.  Most natural male dominance hierarchies are polygynous in nature -- the higher up the male is in the hierarchy, the more females he possesses for breeding purposes.

Consider the following material from Abraham chapter 3:
"If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; ... Now, if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it; Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.
"And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all."
(Abraham 3:16-19)
These words perfectly describe a dominance hierarchy in the form of a *linear ranking system*, where each spirit -- that is each of us -- is recognized as either dominant or submissive relative to every other member, creating a linear distribution of rank. Whenever two of us are together, one is dominant, one is subordinate in terms of "intelligence".  And in this case, the use of the term "intelligence" refers to the eternal value and worth/worthiness of the individual.

You may well say, at this point, that such distinction is not part of the gospel, for in Section 78, Joseph Smith, introducing the concepts of the United Order and consecration, describes the goal of being equal in both earthly and heavenly things.

Yes, we can say that all Mormons are equal.  It's just that some are more equal than others; and in fact, hierarchy pervades everything we do and are in the Church, and our one purpose is to support the hierarchy through our absolute obedience.

Consider a bit more of what is said in Abraham 3:
"Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
"And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;  And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;"
(Abraham 3:22-25)
I don't think it is at all a stretch to observe that the LDS church, with respect to its priesthood, is strictly hierarchical.  Indeed, our English word "hierarchy" derives from the Greek term for "high priest"/"Hierarch", so priesthood is by very nature a hierarchy.

But there are three troubling elements here:

  1. There is a strict elitism in these verses in Abraham.  Those who lead were designated to do so from before this world -- there is nothing you or I can do about this.  This elitism has justified the ban on giving the priesthood to blacks, as well as fostering a kind of familial patronage/nepotism among LDS leadership.  Most LDS leaders are part of an elite group of Mormons who share common ancestry.  The rest of us are subordinate.
  2. Our purpose in life, exclusively, is to OBEY -- to prove that we will do what we are commanded. According to Abraham 3:25, life is not about learning or development, but rather, is the final test to see if we will obey.  Full stop.
  3. When we combine this strict hierarchy with D&C sections 131 and 132, observing the practice by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith as demonstrated in the case of Zina Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, we see that the pattern of male dominance hierarchy was an inherent part of the Priesthood.

One of the most important things Lindsay Hansen Park has demonstrated in her "Year of Polygamy" podcasts is that the term "Priesthood" has significant meaning to fundamentalist Mormonism.  "The Priesthood" is the code-word for male dominance hierarchy, obedience, and subjugation of women through polygamy. Obedient females are rewarded with exaltation as wives of progressively more important priesthood leaders, and lesser males are ultimately pushed out of the society as "unworthy".

We may think that this use of "The Priesthood" no longer carries the same baggage in our modern, mainstream church, but I don't think we can avoid it. The reality is that the term, today, continues to adhere to its original meaning of male dominance hierarchy, but we simply omit living polygamy.

Every aspect of our church is informed by this paradigm.  What we think, feel, and do as Mormons is conditioned to be framed by obedience to the male leaders of the Church.  We revere our Prophets, Seers, and Revelators as being special witness of the Name of Jesus Christ.  Lest we miss this point, Dallin Oaks has made it clear that this "Name" is the "Authority" of Jesus Christ.  The Order of the Church is hierarchical obedience to this authority, "whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same."

When we view core teachings of the Church today, through the temple and Family Proclamation, this paradigm becomes very clear.  The roles of men and women are distinct, and the role of the man is to lead.  In the temple, we covenant that women are to hearken to the counsel of their husbands, as their husbands hearken to the counsel of the Lord.  This is the very definition of a hierarchical relationship between men and women.  And the male dominance hierarchy is clearly demonstrated in how God commands action through the hierarchy of men, and men "return and report" back through the hierarchy to god.

When Eugene England was teaching at BYU, having a question about the nature of god, he received a strong letter of reprimand by Bruce R. McConkie explaining how this hierarchy applied within the Church today.  He wrote:

"It is not in your province to set in order the Church or to determine what is doctrines shall be. It is axiomatic among us to know that God has given apostles and prophets “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and that their ministry is to see that “we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:11-16.) This means, among other things, that it is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent. You do not have a divine commission to correct me or any of the Brethren. The Lord does not operate that way. If I lead the Church astray, that is my responsibility, but the fact still remains that I am the one appointed with all the rest involved so to do. The appointment is not given to the faculty at Brigham Young University or to any of the members of the Church. The Lord’s house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to proclaim the doctrines."
(Bruce R. McConkie letter to Eugene England, 2/1/81)

Although the middle part of this message, stating "it is my province to teach the Church what the doctrine is, it is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent", is often used to demonstrate how dictatorial Bruce R McConkie was, we need to understand the full context of the quote.  In context, Bruce R McConkie's full statement above is entirely consistent with the mindset of Church leaders today respecting the discipline they expect from their hierarchical priesthood authorities at all levels in the Church.

Male dominance hierarchy infects every aspect of our Church.  We teach children to follow the prophet, he knows the way, and if I obey, I'll be happy all day.  We teach teenagers that they are unworthy if they deviate in any way from the teachings of the leaders of the Church, and if they entertain any aspects of their emerging sexual identity, they are "unworthy".  Teenagers regularly submit to Priesthood interviews, where the power dynamic of male dominance is strongly reinforced.  The temple endowment and sealing/marriage create covenants to formally lock members into the the male dominance hierarchy, promising that the only real power in the world is the Priesthood.  (And when the temple endowment was created, this had the specific meaning of "Polygamy").  As men progress in their adult lives, the elected ones are given progressive leadership responsibilities commensurate to their obedience to authority, while women are in supportive roles and lesser males are cast aside.

And the worst sin is to embrace any kind of gender identity that doesn't conform to the male dominance hierarchy and subordinate model for women!  Such individuals must be cast out of our presence!  To the male dominance hierarchy, LGBTQ people are an existential threat.

Even many who leave the church are still adversely affected by the male dominance hierarchy.  Feminists justifiably object to it, yet to presume that the answer is to "ordain women", while an important step in the right direction, ordination does not address the elephant in the room: that dominance hierarchy -- the literal meaning of "priesthood" -- is inherently unequal.  A far better thought would be to consider a more egalitarian model and abandon "priesthood" altogether.

The tension around male dominance hierarchy creates a tension in response within the disaffected or unorthodox Mormon communities -- something we are witnessing today.  If a male rises to a position of influence, then any behaviors reflecting the indoctrinated tendencies toward male dominance become troubling.  On one hand, the male in a position of influence needs to be aware and sensitive to his putative privilege, avoiding triggering actions and statements.  On the other hand, subordinated men and women will tend to interpret actions of the influential male in the light of privilege and male dominance.  It can be a no-win situation.

So what do we do about it?

1.  I think we first need to realize that male dominance hierarchy is not part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a natural tendency of some animals including humans, but this is one of those tendencies that we can put into the category, "The natural man is an enemy to god".  

Jesus, noting that his disciples tended to jockey and fight together to see who was higher in the linear hierarchy, demonstrated that humility -- lowering oneself to serve the very least of these -- is the most exalted position.

Scripture tells us that in Christ, the formal "hierarchy" of the priesthood was done away.  The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of how in Old Testament times, there were priests after the order of Melchizedek.  From this, I believe Joseph Smith felt the need to "restore" such priesthood) -- except that the author of the Hebrews point in discussing this was to demonstrate that in Christ, such hierarchy (literally, "high priesthood") was done away among mankind, and that Jesus, alone, was our High Priest.

2.  The primary commandment, that is, the first, second, greatest, last, and new commandment is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  This love is perfect, unconditional, complete, and *equal*.

And as we interpret the word "love", we cannot do so within the current Mormon understanding of the word.  To Mormons, love means this:

  • The "dominant" person demonstrates love by correcting the subordinate.
  • The "subordinate" person demonstrates love by obeying the dominant.
Love among equals doesn't work this way.  Sure, there are times when we correct each other in love, and certainly we want to do things that the other person would like us to do -- correcting and obedience are part of healthy, equal relationships.  But there cannot be hierarchy in these loving relationships -- to be One, we must embrace and accept each other in differences, without placing a precedence on one over the other.

I suggest an interesting test.  if I can both give and receive correction without resentment or retaliation, I'm probably in an equal relationship. If I and my partner have a mutual tendency to serve one another with delight, then we are approaching godly love.

Let's just be friends, then.

When Jesus finished his mortal ministry, he changed the relationship between his disciples and him, to one of being "friends".

A friend is a unique relationship -- it's to be equal to each other.  If, according to our doctrine, Jesus Christ is the creator and god over our world, then the idea that he refers to himself as our friend should mean a very great deal to us.  It means that we must set aside any kind of hierarchy, any kind of evaluation as to who is "dominant" versus "subordinate", and start working together in love.  "Priesthood" is an obsolete construct, born of a time when kings and priests controlled people's lives.

Jesus gave us, again and anew, a last commandment: That we love one another as he has loved us.  And as Jesus is our friend in love and equality, then let us do the same.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On loving relationships

Have you ever had a friend or lover who simply understands and accepts you for who you are, and you understand and accept them for who they are?  No judgment, not trying to please one another, no expectations whatsoever, just simply the ability to relate and find peace one with another.

From my personal experience, this is rare, and somewhat momentary.  Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I see how most relationships have a sense of conditionality to them: expectations of behavior of the other, a sense of one-sidedness, a sense of who is "superior" versus "inferior", and of course judgment.  Most relationships seem to be evaluative -- constantly conditional on measuring up.

When I think of my relationship with the Christian God, it's more of the ultimately superior (god) - inferior (me) relationship, very one-sided, something in which I simply do not measure up.

I remember distinctly years ago, actually two times in the past, when I was "up" for leadership callings in my church, and I failed some major test I was under.  In like manner, in the work environment, whenever I've been at point of promotion or whatever, I simply rebel whenever I come to the point of evaluation.  Maybe there is something wrong with me -- I was so conflicted inside: wanting to be in some big position to confirm that I was OK with god, but knowing I wasn't "worthy", a part of me would veto getting put into the limelight.

The bottom line is when I am in an evaluative relationship, I develop a sense of unworthiness and self-loathing that torpedoes the relationship.

Am I alone in this?   I honestly don't know.  It seems so, because I see so many others in the journey of life are able to act without this sense of self-doubt that plagues me.

Yet something changed recently.  Over the past few years, my wife has been in the midst of some very deep health issues.  About two months ago, however, her doctors had a breakthrough, and things have steadily improved to the point that she really has found new peace and energy.  Over the weekend, she purchased my ticket to the annual Sunstone Symposium in Utah -- something in the past she disliked me doing, and yet this year, she is encouraging me to spend an entire week doing what I enjoy.

This is really significant. She is very "true believing" and struggles with my faith journey, yet in this simple gesture, she demonstrated that she no longer judges me inferior in faith because of my journey.  We have rekindled mutual respect and love -- something that was missing when our relationship had become very unequal during her extended illness.

And as this new reality sets in, I begin to realize that inequality in relationships does not ultimately feed the soul, but that only the equal, unconditionally loving relationships is true love.

And I realize, that every human being not only yearns for this kind of relationship, but indeed, it is essential for life.  I was listening to a Krista Tippett's podcast recently where it was mentioned that baby elephants require interaction and connection in order to live.  Are we so different?

So I think about it a bit.

If our relationship with god is conditional, then can we really love god, and does god really love us?

If the only form of intimacy allowed is between man and woman in marriage -- what about those who cannot be fulfilled in that kind of relationship?  Is it loving to demand that those who are only attracted to the same sex be alone for all their lives?  Is this really loving?

If we work together and serve one another in our communities and church settings, are we motivated by reward and eventual judgment, or do we serve because we love?

Does asking for help require us to submit to rules and be subordinated in order to be helped?  Is this loving?

If someone asks us for help, is it loving to expect something in return?

I don't know.  It seems like we have zero training on how to unconditionally love in our religions. Every model we get is hierarchical and patriarchal.  Even some of our leaders speak about how god's love is conditional -- so is it any surprise that we cultivate evaluative, unequal relationships and call them loving?

In order for love to be real, in my impression, it needs to be unconditional and equal.  Not every relationship will fit this criteria, but that doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to be loving. If I have any expectation of reward or behavior on the part of the person I love, then my love is not unconditional and equal.  I am basing my love on their behavior, and on my ability to transform their behavior in to what I want them to be.

Certainly this doesn't mean that I am willing to allow them to abuse and exploit me, nor should I be happy with their own self-destructive behaviors. There are boundaries to love.  But these boundaries are distinct from conditions.

I realize, in exploring "how" to love, that I have no easy answers, no deep insight into what makes a truly loving relationship.  I only know this, that I seem to do best when I am loved without judgment and conditions, and I find that others respond in kind, when I accept them for who they are, without judgment or conditions.

When I was at the depths of my crisis nearly thirty years ago, I reached out to the god who I thought was to be my judge, who inspired the teachings of my church and required my exact obedience, for no unclean thing could enter His presence.

I reached out when I was as "unclean" and "unworthy" as I could possibly imagine, driven by guilt and shame into an ever-deepening cycle of addiction and self-destruction. I loathed myself.

And yet, instead of judgment or conditions, when I reached out I felt this sense of love wash over me, a Presence that told me that I was fully accepted by god, and that god loved me without any conditions.  This Presence has let me know that to me, this is what it means to see the face of God, to know that God is, and that this Presence is real.

And I return to this Presence when I contemplate his words:
Jesus said, "Love one another, as I have loved you."

And I realize, in these moments, that the gift of God's love becomes real, when I learn to love others without judgment or conditions.