Sunday, August 9, 2009

Behold The Man

Warning: This is almost every single thought that I had today. Beware.

This weekend the church had a huge Young Single Adult (YSA) conference across the state of California. It was kind of neat to realize that across the state 10,000 YSAs had all gathered together to listen to messages on temple covenants, following the prophet, moral agency, and Jesus Christ. As I've been living at the Reid home with Annalee, who had a big hand in the organization and planning of this event locally, I got to witness firsthand just how many phone calls, emails, and meetings it requires to put together something of this magnitude. It's a lot, so my thanks to all those who helped out.

I heard a lot of different messages, but the ones that stuck out the most to me were the ones that came from the Priesthood meeting that we had this morning. There's a funny thing in the church, and it's always the case, that the tone of Priesthood (for the men) meetings are always the complete opposite of what the tone is in Relief Society (for the women) meetings. Priesthood meetings are always heavy-handed and very straightforward, while Relief Society meetings are always very positive and upbeat. You wanna know the funny thing? The guys wouldn't have it any other way.

Today while talking over lunch to several different guys, I asked them what their favorite message was from the Priesthood meeting and invariably the answer was the same - President Monson's from the Huntington Beach stake. It was my favorite as well. He spoke directly and unapologetically about the law of chastity and our treatment of women. The topics in the meeting ranged from provident living, to treatment of women, to pornography. These are messages that we brethren fail to be learning very well because it keeps getting harped on relentlessly.

It's one of the interesting gospel ironies that a man is someone who can bridle his passions, and refrain from indulging in the expression of his masculinity through his sexuality. I guess it's only ironic if you look at from a worldly perspective. All thoughts, appetites, and passions are to be kept within the bounds that the Lord has set. Knowing that our body is the temple of God and houses the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), it follows that only by respecting one another's bodies can we hope to keep our mortal tabernacle clean enough to invite his spirit to dwell within us. When the spirit is available to us, then we are able to enjoy its fruits which include love, joy, peace, and goodness (Gal 5:22). The distinct thought entered into my mind today and a few times this past week that the love that my future wife will have for me is directly related to my own righteousness. She will never love me more than when I can completely safeguard her virtue as well as my own.

There are laws irrevocably decreed in heaven, upon which all blessings are predicated (D&C 130:20-21). And I think that the blessing of real Christlike love between a man and a woman is the predicated blessing associated with the law of chastity (or at least one of the blessings). When we fail to observe this law in our dating and marital relationships, any feelings resembling love that we experience are counterfeit because we cannot experience real love absent the presence of the Holy Ghost, being that it is one of the fruits of the spirit. It may even be the preeminent fruit being that it is placed first in that list in Galatians.

Here is one possible explanation of counterfeit feelings formed from violation of the law of chastity from a psychological perspective:

Classical conditioning is also known as respondent or associative learning. The classic example of this is Pavlov's experiment with dogs. In empirical terms, a stimulus elicits a response. For Pavlov's dogs, food served as the stimulus, while the stimulus response is to salivate in the presence of the stimulus, food. Pavlov noticed that while experimenting with his dogs, that they would salivate not only at the sight and smell of the food, but the ringing of a bell that would signal mealtime. With the frequent pairing of the two stimuli (food and bell), the dogs learned to associate the two such that the bell not only signified food, it kind of became the food, if that makes sense.

As two people indulge in a sexual relationship, not living according to the law of chastity, they engage in a similar associative learning experience. The physical stimulation from arousing each other sexually evokes incredibly powerful chemical and physiological responses in each person. In a marriage relationship, this can actually strengthen a couple. However, outside of the Lord's bounds, it creates counterfeit feelings of love and damages the soul of each individual. As the two people continue this type of relationship, the feelings that should be assigned strictly to the physical experience become associated instead with the partner.

The real trouble is that the experience of that kind of stimulation has a similar euphoric effect akin to those experienced when a person takes narcotics. Once those kinds of bonds are created between a couple, they are so hard to extinguish because the partner literally becomes a drug for the other. The physical and emotional arousal evoked by the relationship become associated with the person. Similar to how the bell becomes the food, the partner becomes the arousal that evokes those feelings of pleasure.

Chastity is the answer. It provides the avenue through which love can prevail in a relationship. And the love I refer to is the divine kind, not the temporal-worldly variety. It suffers long, is kind, envies not, is not puffed up, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7; Moroni 7:45). My favorite line from President Monson this morning was when he said, "by and through our relationships with His daughters can we become like our Heavenly Father."

At the same time, I don't think that we have to confuse chastity with being prudish. Sometimes in the church I think we have a tendency to overcorrect and become prudes at the expense of being real and honest about the reality that those impulses impose on us. The important thing is to be respectful and mindful of one another.

By no means have I come close to being perfectly chaste, but I know the doctrine and the potential blessings that are available, and I don't think there is anything in this world that would be more worthwhile than experiencing that kind of love.

This past week I realized that I need to reinstate a no rated-R movie policy in my own life. For several years I was really strict with that rule, but in the past year or two I let up. I don't think that every rated-R movie is inherently evil, and some are actually quite amazing and worth watching, but I am remembering once again that I am not strong enough to toe that line of being perfectly discriminating. Other people might be able to do that, but I cannot. I need to increase my sensitivity to the spirit because the benefits it provides are too valuable to risk losing.

Parley P. Pratt said,
The gift of the Holy Ghost... quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.
The emphasis in that last line is my own. I just love that part.

Today, while sitting in all of those meetings, I felt the strength of those words from Parley Pratt. Last week, as I took a friend's advice and began to overparticipate in all of my meetings, I realized what a difference the Holy Ghost can make in my affect and motivation. The price to pay to have it in my life is worth the cost of not indulging in stupid whims and appetites.

"Behold the man" is what Pilate utters as he turned over Christ to the Jews to be crucified, probably not realizing the depth of truth behind those words. Bishop Edgley gave a talk in priesthood meeting some years ago with that title on that subject. He says,
There is no manhood in being defeated by his principles...

You can describe a man in inches, pounds, complexion, or physique. But you measure a man by character, compassion, integrity, tenderness, and principle. Simply stated, the measures of a man are embedded in his heart and soul, not in his physical attributes (see 1 Sam. 16:7). But they can be viewed in conduct and demeanor. The qualities of manhood are so often evident in this thing we call countenance. When Alma queried, "Have ye received his image [meaning the Savior--the true man] in your countenances?" (Alma 5:14), he, my friend, was talking about the attributes of true manhood.

Yes, Satan has his man and God has His. Satan would present his characteristics as the true measurement of manhood and God's criteria as weak and wimpy. But one must understand that Satan's criteria will almost always be the easiest and the wimpiest. Satan's way takes no courage, no character, no personal strength, and it proves no manhood at all.

A true man does not need Satan to lead him down the easy path with his everlasting chains of destruction. A true man is strong enough to withstand the wiles of Satan and humble enough to submit himself to the redemptive powers of the Savior.

Moses, in a moment of both motivation and rebuke, charged the Israelites, "Who is on the Lord's side?" (Ex. 32:26). What he was really asking was, "Whose man are you, anyway?" Our Father in Heaven is called "Man of Holiness" (Moses 6:57; 7:35). That is a title we reserve with reverence for the Supreme Being. It is not a title we take upon ourselves. But every priesthood bearer should seek to be known simply as a man of God. That, my dear friend, is manhood.
I always laugh at how resolved I feel in the midst of these meetings and how quickly that fades once the excitement of the moment has passed. It's a trying process to always be steadfast and resolute, but it is the only pathway to becoming a man. It's the only way of life worth living. There are a lot of ways that I am not manly, but in this way - the one that matters most - I hope to earn that measure.

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