Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Mormon Word We Don't Use Enough

Words are cool.  Also, being a Mormon is cool.  Therefore, Mormon words are also cool.  And by Mormon words, I think you know what I mean.  Part of being a peculiar people is using peculiar language, and I'm not just talking about the specific vocabulary of gospel or church-related ideas like RM or Zarahemla.  I'm talking about when there's an extra roll of toilet paper under the sink hidden behind some Clorox and you say to yourself, "Tender mercy."  Other examples include the word "contention," the phrase "ox in the mire," or when I used the phrase "peculiar people" a few sentences ago.  Recently I saw a Utah-made sci fi film in which a futuristic alien said, "Will you not put down your weapons of war?" which is a hebrewism found in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon not unlike "river of water" or "flame of fire."  My point is, just as English speakers unconsciously borrow a good deal of their speech from Shakespeare, Mormon vocabulary is full of scriptural and cultural words that are peculiar to us.

I'd like to discuss one of my favorite scriptural words, one that I think doesn't get used nearly enough, and suggest that we all use it more.  Here it is:

To instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; uplift.
Origin: 1300–50; Middle English edifien  < Anglo-French, Old French edifier  < Latin aedificāre  to build, as in a house or temple (

The word "edify" enters our religious lexicon in the New Testament, first in Acts 9:31:  "Then had the churches rest...and were edified."

The word appears to have the same function as the word "confirm," as used in multiple New Testament passages that describe Peter or Paul confirming the church.  In other words, to edify or confirm an individual or group is to build them up, to strengthen them, to leave them uplifted.  To edify is to build the kingdom.

The kingdom in New Testament times sure needed edifying.  As Paul would sail from Mediterranean Islands to European shores, he would enter a congregation of saints and find them in turmoil.  In his absence, a blog post about modesty would have circulated that called into question church authorities' views on the matter, followed by a rebuttal from Jessica Rey fans, and a mass sharing of a Matt Walsh piece.  A few weeks later, it would be women and the priesthood, or the legalization of same-sex marriage, or the authenticity of the Book of Abraham and the Corinthian Facebook feeds would all be ablaze in contention.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly like that.  But I think it is important to remember in our day of polarizing issues that a very large portion of the New Testament was written by apostles in response to disputes among church members.  As I read the writings of Paul, I get the image of a frustrated man who wishes the house would just stay clean for two seconds and not unravel into apostasy every time he turned his back.  Whether it was church members clinging to the law of Moses, fighting over whether to continue circumcision, confusion over the purpose and correct use of the gift of tongues, or faction-forming within the Church, Paul's constant song was edification and unity.  (See also 1 Cor 14:3 and 1 Tim 1:4). 

Consider his thoughts on the purpose of a priesthood organization in the Church:  

"And he (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:11-14)

The Lord deploys his spokesmen for the purpose of edification and unity.  In other words, The Lord would have us be one.  "If ye are not one, ye are not mine." (D&C 38:27). 

I've been noticing a trend among some friends whose thoughts populate my social media feeds.  There are those who like to stir the pot sometimes, to play devil's advocate, to criticize church policy, or to bring up historical or doctrinal inconsistencies or difficulties with the declared intention of inspiring deeper thought, more informed conviction, and a more open discussion about the skeletons in our collective religious closet.  I would caution us all to be wary of such waters.

I am all for a greater understanding of church history and doctrine and I fully support a more open dialogue.  In my experience, however, what is often done in the name of reevaluation of thought and opening dialogue may sometimes be motivated more by personal gratification -- the need to feel smarter, more enlightened than the rest, or possibly the need to justify one's unorthodox behavior.  I say this because I've felt this motivation within myself when I've caught myself preaching the gospel of Mike and it has disguised itself thus.  I believe we should treat this motive cautiously.  As Paul says once again, "Let all things be done unto edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:26)

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was like a Nephi to me.  We'll call him Ryan.  He was a man large in stature (see what I did there?), popular yet humble, and an impeachable example of a young Latter-day Saint.  Among my group of friends, we would half-jokingly refer to him as our moral compass, which would frustrate him, but he was a good sport about it.

One day, between classes, Ryan and I were walking with a non-member friend who we'll call Chad who was trying to needle Ryan about his conservative values.  Chad justified his teasing with words to effect of, "I'm just trying to get people to think, you know?  That's how people figure out what they really believe."

Ryan would not be fooled.  "No, Chad, that's how you ruin people's lives."

That response may strike you as dramatic.  It was.  It stuck with me for years and years and kept me from straying into some controversial ground before I was ready for it.  Once again, don't misunderstand me.  Knowledge is power and I am all for people learning everything they can.  I just believe knowledge is meant for strengthening people, not weakening them.  I'm full of Paul quotes today.  Here's another one:  "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way...  If thy brother be grieved with thy meat...destroy not him with thy meat."  (Romans 14:13,15)

So how important is this whole edify thing?  There's no real harm in being a little iconoclastic, right?  I can think of no response more direct than this:

"That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness." (D&C 50:23)

I am sure we would all rather not deal in darkness.

Let me suggest 3 filters we all use on ourselves as these polarizing issues come up to help us edify one another.  When interacting with others online or in person, ask yourself:

1) Does what I am saying uplift or put down those with whom I am communicating?

2) Does what I am saying make me feel superior to others, or equal with them?

3) Are we all happier/better for having had this discussion?

If we truly wish to move forward, to inspire a more open dialogue, to better inform our beliefs and testimony, to eliminate damaging stigmas, to erase stereotypes, and above all to live more fully the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to follow Paul's counsel.  "Let all things be done unto edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:26). If we can do that, we may find our way more quickly to the happy medium of polarizing issues.  We will find ourselves radiating a more Christian sense of compassion and joy.  We can pull some pockets of darkness in the world into a brighter light.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post, I love it. Everyone deserves a friend like Ryan.
    Having done more blogging lately, this gives me a good opportunity to think about my motivations when writing, as I suffer from the all-too-human desire to mix in a little of "Oh I'm smart" with the "things I wanted to mention." The good-heartedness of your post highlight its extreme value.
    That being said, I myself am not sure I agre with filter #3 -- I have no interest in making people unhappy, and certainly never worse, but even Christ preached clearly that the things he had to say would make a limited number of people happy, and quite a few of them unhappy. It's hard to stick to the straight truth and not ruffle some feathers.