Monday, February 11, 2013

The poisonous culture and the spiritual drought


Here’s a quote from Elder Cook's talk "Can Ye Feel So Now?" that I’ve found very powerful from Oct 2012 conference:

Today moral deterioration has escalated. One prominent writer recently said, “Everyone knows the culture is poisonous, and nobody expects that to change.”5 The constant portrayal of violence and immorality in music, entertainment, art, and other media in our day-to-day culture is unprecedented. This was dramatically described by a highly respected Baptist theologian when he stated, “The spiritual immune system of an entire civilization has been wounded.”6  It is not surprising that some in the Church believe they can’t answer Alma’s question with a resounding yes. They do not “feel so now.” They feel they are in a spiritual drought. Others are angry, hurt, or disillusioned. If these descriptions apply to you,7 it is important to evaluate why you cannot “feel so now.” Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed. Immersion in the scriptures is essential for spiritual nourishment.8 The word of God inspires commitment and acts as a healing balm for hurt feelings, anger, or disillusionment.


I want to share a few thoughts I’ve had about these words.

I appreciated how he highlighted that our culture is poisonous and no one expects that to change.  I personally think that there are degrees of poison in our culture and like the Lamanite general in the Book of Mormon who was the object of Amalickiah’s envy, we can find ourselves poisoned by degrees.   The problem is that too few of us recognize the individual elements that make up our culture’s poisonous atmosphere and say, “There’s nothing wrong with that” or “It’s no big deal” or “It doesn’t affect me” if our choices of movies, music, TV, video games, or other entertainment are questioned.   It is that kind of response that indicates our spiritual immune system has been wounded!

“It is not surprising that some in the Church believe they can’t answer Alma’s question with a resounding yes. They do not “feel so now.” They feel they are in a spiritual drought.”

Our spirits require nourishment every day.  Eternal truth is the only thing that can do that for us.  If our media choices are poisonous or even just void of spiritual nourishment, then it is a natural consequence for us to feel we are in a spiritual drought.  Spiritual droughts weaken commitment and enthusiasm for the gospel. 

How do you get out of culture-induced spiritual drought?  You have to realize that no media choice you make is without significance.  Every point at which you engage with culture is important and ultimately has an effect on you—internet, TV, books, magazines, games, phone, etc.  

At every point, you have to start asking yourself whether what is being portrayed is consistent with the commandments of God.  You have to ask yourself whether you are being spiritual edified.  And if you answer honestly that you are not being edified and nourished and encouraged to do the right thing, you have be willing to STOP and move on to something more nourishing, something that can help you “feel so now” that you have a change of heart and can sing the song of redeeming love.  You also have to go to sources where you know you will be nourished spiritually—church, scriptures, the temple, conference reports, etc.

Media is not the only problem, though.

“Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”

Elder Cook lists four additional choices we make that have the effect of decreasing our commitment and increasing spiritual drought in our lives.  I think it is important to understand each of them and what can be done about them.

“Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants.”   Being casual means to act without sufficient care or thoroughness.  I find that when I am casual about keeping my covenants, it usually arose out of reluctance to do the work required to be complete and exact.  And eventually I realize my spiritual blessings are reduced in proportion to how much my effort is reduced.  Repenting of this requires that I commit to doing my best, to face my challenges head-on, to refrain from murmuring at what is required, and to seek the Lord’s help in everything for which I feel inadequate.

“Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes.”  Remember Elder Oaks’s talk about good, better, and best?  When we give our best energy to the good instead of the best causes, we miss out on the nourishing blessings and satisfaction we would otherwise gain.  With so much that we can choose, if we do the good before we get to the best, we often won’t have any time left for the best.  This is all about getting our priorities straight.  Repenting requires that we put the Lord and eternal priorities first in our lives. 

“Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Total immersion in a particular view causes us to have difficulty accepting opposing balancing principles.  The church tends to moderate opposing principles, seeking balance between them.  When our own views on a subject seem more intense than those expressed by others in the church, we may find that we resent the church, thinking it does not go far enough in the direction we want.  It is hard to be loyal to a church when it does not seem loyal enough to us and what we hold dear.  However, the church is not the gospel.  The gospel is the perfect plan and the church is not perfect yet, nor yet are we.  Our obsession with a cause masks our imbalance and our other imperfections from our sight.  This can lead to a crisis in which we become offended and have to make a difficult choice between taking ourselves out of the church and moderating our views.  Repenting requires great humility and meekness, becoming willing to learn and practice balancing principles.

“Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony.”  When we honestly need help refuting these kinds of criticisms, we can get help from websites like FAIR (www.fairlds.org).  However, deliberately immersing oneself in critical material is not the way to build faith.  It is a tempting thing to do; the rationale is usually, “I have to know everything the critics might say so that I can know how I might be attacked by others.”  The problem is, immersion is study, and study creates an inner climate of whatever that material is, and studying criticism creates a personal inner climate of criticism and affects how you see the world.  Repenting and being renewed after this kind of spiritual drought can be a very long process, but it is possible.  It requires avoiding critical material and instead studying edifying and faith-promoting material.  Critical material leaves a poison of skepticism* in the mind long afterward, so we will need careful, continuous mental effort to confront skeptical thoughts and make conscious choices to believe and act with faith.

When I review my own life, I see two consistent causes of lack of commitment in my own life (although I have experienced other causes as well).  Either I get weary of working so hard to do good, or I get distracted by something else.  I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who helps me discern when I am not committed enough and who provides me with frequent chances to recommit by taking the sacrament and frequent reminders to refocus me.

What causes you to become less committed?  How do you stay on track or get back on track? 

2 comments:

Reid Litchfield said...

great thoughts. thanks

Ramona Gordy said...

"What causes you to become less committed? How do you stay on track or get back on track?"

Michaela
I think my answer would be "Me". My husband brought it to my attention concerning the ebbs and flows of our committment, not only to the gospel but because of it, our committment to our lives in general.
He pointed out that even though we may read our scriptures and lessons and conference reports; we may seek to magnify our callings,etc, but what happens to our personal lives? Can we bring together the discipline of our spiritual life into our temporal life? If we are "organized" in our spiritual life, then the fruit must be that our temporal life runs on the same track.
There is a past Ensign article, that concerns 2 boys contemplating jumping off a hill into a body of water. It must be scary, because one boy starts to walk away, but the other one jumps in and he says "Brother I am committed". I realize that is the answer, we must be "all in" like a high stakes poker game.

I am glad my husband brought this to my attention, even though I had an "attitude" while he was speaking with me, but in hindsight, I know that his words were motivated by love and his prayers for us. So my motivation is that I love the "spiritual" aspect of my life, but in order to be more constant, and productive, I will do my best to align my temporal life too. What is sealed on earth is sealed in heaven.