Monday, January 7, 2013

In Keeping an Empty Cup

So I've been in Roseville, California for the past week or so.  Several interesting things have managed to fill my mind since my arrival.

I met two people out here last week who I randomly started talking to about the gospel.  I don't believe it is any easier to talk about religion in California than it is in Utah, but rather I think I'm so dependent on the people around me now that I've become significantly more friendly.  Ironic it is how one's friendliness is indirectly proportional to the number of friends who surround him.  Perhaps that is why the Lord is constantly pulling us out of our comfort zones?

Without naming names, the first person I talked with about the gospel was a younger man who works for a nearby college.  He was helping his friend setup decorations for a wedding.  The wedding was held in a local stake center, and I showed up to help decorate (by method of receiving orders from women who actually knew how to decorate).  The wedding was to be held in a relief society room, and some of the standing decorations were used in the wedding.  One of which was The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

He was curious about the document and before sitting down to read it, asked me, "this isn't going to cast a spell on me if I read it, right?"  He's a funny guy.  I answered, "No.  But you'll feel that it's true."  So he read it.  Then he started asking more questions.  Coincidentally, he attends a church that uses the Greek word "agape" in it's name.  I happened to be familiar with the definition, and the edification sprung from that point of the conversation on.  We talked about the restoration, the priesthood, baptism, Christ and his Apostles, and of the people of the Book of Mormon.  I taught him of the testable nature of truth and how he can identify it just as he did by giving notice to his feelings as he read the proclamation.  I offered to bring him a copy of the Book of Mormon with some passages marked out, and he accepted.

The next day was the wedding day - which was the occasion for me to bring him a Book of Mormon.  It also happened to be the day I met the second person I spoke to about religion.

I was to meet a woman who currently works for a company I'm interested in.  My brother Adam has a client who somehow knows her, and that's how the networking chain began.  While it wasn't a formal interview for hiring purposes, she agreed to answer some questions I had about the company.  She contacted me last Saturday (two days ago), and said she was free to meet for a coffee or the like.  Declining the coffee, but happy to meet, we ended up meeting near the state capitol.  The plan was for me to park at her apartment and take advantage of the good weather by walking around the capitol as she answered my questions and told me about the company.  However, she invited me in and said that if I wanted to, she could pull out her laptop and show me what it is she did for work so I'd have a better idea of how it all works.  So we ended up meeting in her apartment rather than outside.

When she discovered I was graduating from a school in Utah, her next question was, "Are you a Morm-ie?? I love Mormies!  My boyfriend's a Mormie!  ...well, he was one."  So we ended up talking about the church after we discussed her place of work.  She is very logically minded, and though she called herself an atheist, she may well be considered a humanist - one who seeks to promote the "human condition" and further evolve using fundamental guidelines of happiness and mutual respect.  She was very interesting to talk with, as she's quite smart.  Her engineering background seemed to have taught her analytical skills that flowed into her philosophies on life.

Once she discovered that I wasn't to tolerate mockery, but rather state my own epistemology and how I've arrived at it, she became quite pleasant to talk with.  We talked for quite a while, and I arrived at the conclusion that she was not yet prepared to do anything more.  Her curiosity was just that, and though fascinated by the church, she wanted only to observe from outside.  It's all head with her, no heart.  And so she is stuck.  Her cup is filled with her own truths, evidenced by the filter she's received them through in her own experience.  Yet she was very kind, and seemed to be developing her character to a good place in spite of her thoughts on organized religion.  I told her she seemed to be getting great mileage out of atheism (or humanism), and that I was happy to have had the talk with her.  However, our talk ran late, and I was near missing the wedding.

So I left, but not before she packed me with an inventory of Oreos and drinks to be sure I wouldn't have to stop for food on the way to the wedding.  She really was a sweet girl, and she seems to have quite an intellect.

When I arrived at the wedding, my aforementioned friend asked about the Book of Mormon.  "Did you bring the book for me?" and when I handed it to him, "Now, you marked some parts in here, right?"  He was going to hold me to it.  His level of interest was not bound by preconceived notions.  While there was a foundation of his own established epistemology, he was genuinely excited to explore new ground.  Perhaps this came from the "agape" connection, which helped add to his knowledge transfer about the church.  However, I think he was simply prepared.  His cup was not full.  You could pour new thoughts into him, and he'd churn through them, ask another question, and soon you were pouring more.

So what's the point of this whole comparison?  Why bother typing up a post about it (especially when I should be hunting for more jobs or wrapping up some edits on my thesis)?  Well, I feel like each of us has a problem with expectation.  We like to feel that we're capable of understanding the world around us, or even the local cosmos.  However, when we do this, we put bounds on what is possible.  We bind truth to only what we can understand - implicitly maintaining that if we can't understand it, it can't be correct.  We lose the ability to be taught, thinking that we know enough already.  In essence, our cups are too full.

President Eyring says the following in this month's First Presidency Message (remember, in Gospel Doctrine for 2013, we're now studying the Doctrine and Covenants):

In our prayers we seek to know what God would have us do, what we should do to find peace and happiness in this life and the next, and what lies ahead of us.  The Doctrine and Covenants is filled with answers to such questions asked by ordinary people and by prophets in humble prayer.  It can be a precious guide to teach us how to receive answers to questions about our temporal well-being and eternal salvation.  Humility and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are key.
So here I am, not exactly sure why I'm in Roseville, not exactly sure where I'm going to work, or what it is I'm really after.  But I know in moving out here, I've become more apt to listen to what the Lord wants me to hear - who He wants me to meet, where He wants me to go.  I have to listen, because I'm in unfamiliar territory.  In coming out here, I've made room in my cup.

I was once taught that life is a series of turning Lone and Dreary Worlds into Gardens of Eden.  That as soon as one becomes comfortable, the Lord requires him to move.  For example: just as you're enjoying high school, you graduate; just as you feel like you're living within your sphere as a missionary, you're sent home; so on until retirement, grand-parenthood, and death.  We constantly are urged by the Spirit to continue to move from our comfort zones so we stay teachable.  But what the teacher didn't explain to me is in turning Lone and Dreary Worlds into Gardens of Eden, we become who we are.  It's not that the Lord wants better real estate.  He wants us to know how to till the land.

I've been approaching this thought from a different angle over the past few months.  Before the current world feels like a Garden of Eden, the occupant often feels discouraged or that he has failed.  However, this failure frees him by giving him a distinct feeling of where he stands and what he could make of his environment.  He can receive hope from an honest evaluation.

This approach first came to me when I watched a commencement speech given by Conan O'Brien to Dartmouth's graduating class of 2011.  Though most of it is the typical comic jargon, Conan did offer some profound wisdom:
It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.  It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention. 
I would amend this quote with a principle:  the reason why our failures define us is because they determine where we stand with the Lord.  If our perceived ideal is to become Christlike, then our failures measure how much further we have to go.  However, this notion of measurement has a subtle qualifier - honesty.  In YSA wards, people are always trying to impress.  They always want to look good in front of their peers.  So they tend to put on shows.  They tend to live not as who they are, but they pretend to be someone they think others will like more.  It's a sad commonality.  I've lived that way for years.

However, when we acknowledge our failures or our weaknesses, we are then made teachable.  We then know that there is more to learn.  And if we understand the Christ, we know more of which direction to employ improvement efforts.  This process was outlined by Moroni in Ether 12.  If we come unto the Lord, He will show us our weakness - then we're teachable.  Then we can live by the grace of Christ.  We can begin to improve and continue to develop our character.

Hugh B. Brown once illustrated the process between honest evaluation and its humbling effect:
Every man is a diary in which he writes one story while intending to write another.  His humblest moment is when he compares the two. 
Humility is prerequisite to faith (Moroni 7:43), and faith is the power that improves character.  When we have faith in Christ, we are aimed at optimum improvement - we're taking the steepest climb, getting the most gain out of every step we take.  If we're aimed elsewhere, the best we can reach is the sloping ridge of the mountain, never the peak.

So the conclusion of the matter is to measure your own level of comfort and your own teachability.  It is a fool who becomes to comfortable, believe he knows all he needs, that he has reached every status within his sphere.  He denies his own divinity, and ignores the principle of eternal progression.

Keep the cup empty, or progress is stopped.


Melissa K. said...

This was good.

Mary said...

I thought you were going to lecture me on half-full or -empty cups, but this was way better. Glad you're so teachable, Eli. And thanks for sharing your insight with us. I'm sure you're going to have a great experience here...I just hope it involves some of my furniture.

mammasweet said...

Eli, how sweet! I'm reading Elder Bednar's new book "Act in Doctrine" all about patterns for forgetting self and becoming more like Jesus. It's good to be back in the nursey:-)

kate said...

This was an amazing read. Thanks for writing. :)