Familycentric: Essay #2

Editor’s Note:  We are pleased to present this once-a-week, all-summer-long series of articles from Richard Eyre.  As most Meridian readers know, the Eyres, for five decades, have focused their professional lives on strengthening families.  This focus has ranged from writing New York Times #1 bestselling books to speaking to parents in more than 60 countries around the globe.  But their true passion is for an Inclusive, Eternal Family Paradigm that can’t be fully shared or grasped without the insights of the Restored Gospel. And they feel that the reverse of that is also true:  The Restored Gospel can’t be fully grasped or shared until it is seen through an Inclusive, Eternal Family Lens.  The goal of this series of essays is to better understand and have more realistic expectations of both Church and Family. And “family” is broadly defined so that each article speaks to us all, whether we are single or married, parents or siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents. To read last week’s introductory column, please click here.  

Author’s Note: In the introductory column of this series, the distinction was made between a sovereign and a parental God and it was pointed out that it is the family that is eternal, not the Church.  This second article will take those thoughts further and try to portray the love and power of these paradigm shifts—God as parental, Church as means, Exaltation as end. Parts of this article have been published previously in Meridian, but are condensed and clarified here as an essential and explanatory part of this series. Please share your feedback and inputs privately with me at my pseudonym email Dr*******@gm***.com. Oh, and BTW, since it is summer, and since stories seem so suited for summer, I will try to start each weekend’s article with a story or two that I hope are entertaining as well as relevant.

Opening Story

The captain of a large ship, one dark stormy night, saw on his radar another vessel directly in his path.  He radioed “Change course, or we are going to collide.” The reply came back: “You change your course.” Angered, the captain answered “I am a mega-tanker heading straight for you, MOVE.”

The reply changed everything: “I am the lighthouse, you move.”

When a paradigm completely shifts, it can change not only our perception of the drama but of everything within the drama.  The whole story changed: The mega tanker suddenly became relatively small and transitory and maneuverable—the minor player in the drama; the “other vessel” became ultimately fixed and important—the north star controlling all else. The captain went instantly from one giving directions to one taking them; the situation shifted from one of irritation and inconvenience to one of saving self and ship.  The “seeing” of reality changed everything. His paradigm shifted from the power-struggle of doing and winning to the saving of life and ship, to being and staying alive.

My Personal Paradigm Shift

I grew up thinking that families were part of the Church.

The Church was the biggest, the most important, and the most eternal thing; and was the core and the reason of and for all other worthwhile things that existed. It held all truth and no error, and from its Salt Lake center it would roll forth out of the mountains and dominate the whole earth.

The Family fit nicely into that paradigm.  Family was the thing that got us here to earth and that got us to Church.  It supported the Church, and was the raw material for wards and the source from which the Church could draw its Bishops and Relief Societies and Deacons quorums.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had it backwards.

The Family is what is eternal—our families as part of God’s family—and will make up the Kingdom of Heaven long after the Church and this mortal earth has passed away. The temporary Church is, in President Lee’s words, “the scaffolding with which we build eternal families.”  The proper order of things is, in President Nelson’s words “Family centered, Church supported.”

Or, said another way, and paraphrasing what Christ said about the Sabbath, The Church was made for Families, and not Families for the Church.

Why does this matter? Because when we get it wrong, with the Church as the center and the family as the scaffolding, we live in a false paradigm that causes us to misunderstand what the Church is and what it can do for us, and to fail to grasp what the Family is and what it can become.  In this false paradigm, faith-crisis flourishes, with the Church judging us and us judging the Church; and there is one ideal kind of Church-supporting family that none of us really have.

This is not a small thought, and not a minor misperception.  It can wreak havoc from the micro to the macro—causing everything from sagging testimonies and undermined family relationships to the apparent emergence of a Church that manages rather than ministers.

Means and Ends (another quick story) 

My 10-year-old granddaughter was practicing the piano when I stopped by for a visit.  I listened for a minute and said “you are getting good!”  I listened for another minute and then asked “What is your goal?”

Proudly, she said “To practice for an hour every day.”

I realized that she, like so many of us, was not clear on the difference between a goal and a plan—that she, like so many of us, confuses the means with the end.  When her hour ended, we talked a little about it, and I tried to explain that a goal was a destination—something you want to get to, or complete, or become; and that a plan was what you do and how you get there. With that simple explanation, she decided that her goal was to finish piano book 6 and be able to play all three pieces in it without a mistake by the end of the month.  And her plan was to practice for an hour every day.

Again, same question, why does it matter?  Because if the plan is thought of as the goal, we can become mechanical—just going through the motions, doing our duty, putting in our time, being “active.”

Piano paradigms are one thing, but when we apply the same questions, the same separation of ends and means—of goals and plans, on the big, eternal plane, we begin to see a new ultimate paradigm.  The why questions become cosmic, yet in the light of the Restoration, they are surprisingly simple, and they unfold like the endless series of “why” and “how” that children sometimes loop into:

Why are we here?  To exercise agency and become more like God—more like our Heavenly Parents

Why? Because they want us to have what they have

How? By having all the options and choosing and experiencing and developing the joy and power.

Why? Because they love us

Why?  Because we are literally their spiritually-begotten children and they want us to grow enough to return to Them and be more like Them

How? Through Christ’s Atonement

Consider two opposing paradigms

Paradigm One: Our “only true church” sets us apart from everyone else, and expects perfection from us just as we expect perfection from it.

Paradigm Two: Our Heavenly Parent’s goal for all of Their children is to learn and return more like Them than when we left—made possible by Christ’s atonement and aided by His church. 

In paradigm one, earth is a courtroom, while in paradigm two, it is a classroom.

In paradigm one, we compare our truth with others’ error, while in paradigm two we combine our truth with others’ truth, overwhelmingly grateful for the answers of the Restoration but seeking and honoring truth wherever it is found.

In paradigm one, family may seem unreachable or burdensome, while in paradigm two family is the earthly embryo of what we want to be for eternity.

In paradigm one, the Gospel is transactional, while in paradigm two it is transformational.

Within the freshness of paradigm Two, the Church is the wonderful and revealing community, the support and means, the scaffolding—imperfect in its human-administration but sweepingly spectacular in its revelation—a helper, a facilitator, a means that helps us to do what is required in order to become who we should be and to reach the end that God wants for us and that Christ has made possible.

There is eternal truth to be found throughout the world, and certainly throughout the world’s religions and faith traditions.  God and the Holy Spirit have a hand in all truth, and the Light of Christ—parts of which many call conscience, or inspiration, or epiphanies or deja vu—runs through and enlightens all men and women; and according to their desires and requests manifests truth wherever it is found. But to say that we respect all truth is not the same as saying “there are many roads to heaven.”  There is one covenant path.

Thankfully there is time and place and opportunity for all who wish to find it. But we, as members of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ must be inordinately and profoundly grateful for the fact that we have found it, that it has been given to us, and we should voice abundant thanks for the additional truth that comes through the Restoration. But please let our happiness and joy in that truth always take the form of gratitude and humility that lies in Paradigm Two, never the form of pride or superiority that can spring from Paradigm One.

The Church in Paradigm One:

  • We judge it and are judged by it
  • It is our measurement and our identity
  • It is something monolithic—that we have to know is true in all its parts and in which doubts are weaknesses.
  • A test from a sovereign God
  • The only Church with truth
  • An opponent or competitor to false, abominable creeds

The Church in Paradigm Two:

  • Something to enlighten, motivate and steer us toward God and God’s goals
  • A support and guide for our families
  • A culture to supersede the down-dragging cultures of the world.
  • A series of revealed, restored insights and truths which come to us through imperfect but striving and inspired leaders
  • A path of powerful covenants that help us to make good choices and remember who we really are
  • A gift from a loving Father (and Mother)
  • A catalyst and combiner of all truth everywhere.

This expanded, eternal Paradigm Two does not, in any way, lessen the Church or diminish its importance or that of its chosen leaders.  Let’s be clear: The Church is the Kingdom of God on Earth, and it is led by Prophets. And it is, indeed, as scripture testifies “the only true and living Church.”  This is a powerful truth that should never be interpreted as discounting other truth. May we simply be grateful that we are blessed through the Restoration with living Priesthood power and the recovered truths of the Restoration.  Such gratitude brings the humility of Paradigm Two and not the pride of Paradigm One.

And let us be grateful that the second paradigm is not only more true, but more beautiful. Consider what it can change:

–In this second paradigm, finding fault-lines in our history, or imperfections in our ward and stake leaders is not particularly upsetting or faith-challenging, it is just the reality that comes with the human-ness of a people-administered lay church.

–In this second paradigm, we are not so much trying to conform to the Church but to have the Church’s help in finding our own unique foreordinations and destinies.

–In this second paradigm, we are vastly more grateful for and forgiving of those who try to serve or lead or help us along the same covenant path they are trying to follow.

–In this second paradigm, we don’t compare our faith or doctrine with those of other denominations or philosophies to see who wins, we combine and synergize and serve together while learning from each other.

–In this second paradigm, instead of judging ourselves or others—or feeling judged by others on how “active” we are in attending every meeting and keeping every commandment, we pay attention to how active our minds are in questioning, in thinking, in listening, in learning and in growing; and how active and engaged our hearts are in seeking, and in serving, and in understanding.

–In this second paradigm we share the restored Gospel not as the only truth which replaces, but as the newly restored truth which adds to and combines and completes the beliefs and faith and truth that others have, learning from them as we teach, and receiving from them as we give.

–In this second paradigm we feel less stressed about how we compare with other Church members and how quickly we can conform to the standard sequence of the covenant path (including mission and marriage by a certain age).  Instead, we feel more joy in making our own individual way, in the sequence that our life circumstances allow, toward all the covenants in our common ultimate end—an end that we have an eternity (which includes a millennium and a spirit world before our judgment) to reach.

–In this second paradigm the Church is not the Rameumptom tower we climb to get to heaven but the temporary “scaffolding with which we build eternal families.”

–In this second paradigm we are, truly, “family centered and Church supported” and we love rather than resist the scaffolding and support which helps us in mortality to build a family that lasts into eternity. (And we understand President Nelson’s couplet “Salvation is an individual matter; Exaltation is a Family Matter.”)

–In this second paradigm, the concept of Heavenly Parents is not a distraction from Church doctrines that we should not think or talk about, it is the representation of the ultimate goal and the true and eternal model of the end we seek; and that the Church tells us how to think about (praying to our Father but knowing of Their Oneness). Our end is to be like They are, and our means is to do what they have done, including, at some point in our eternity, parenting.

–In this second paradigm, we see a Restoration that is ongoing, and that is more about Exaltation than Salvation (the New Testament may be adequate on the latter, and it is the former that was lost during the Great Apostacy.)

–In this second paradigm, problems and challenges and even the terrors of this life can begin to feel like benevolent parts of a plan so encompassing that we can’t grasp it all, but so personal that we can feel its love and truth.  We begin to understand that if things are fine, perfect, no problems, no worries—we are getting short-changed in this place, unprepared for eternity.  But if we face the problems now—neglect, abuse, separation, death—we learn to deal with them in this physical world so we will know how in the eternal world. Those without significant trials and problems here may be underprepared for what is to come there.

–Finally, in this second paradigm, we can have questions and doubts, but to walk away, or to discard all that the Church is and all it has given us is like throwing away a car because it has one tire with a slow leak, or deciding to swim rather than staying on a boat that is painted a color we don’t like or has an engine that coughs or sputters occasionally.

But, some ask, aren’t there other cars, other boats?  Yes, but try to find another Church, another Means, another Boat, that will teach and expand you toward and through doctrines like:

Our Heavenly Parents—our Parental God

The Premortal life and the agency that comes with mortality

Christ’s all-encompassing roles of Creator, Jehovah, Savior, and Judge

Restoration of Priesthood and Ordinances

Eternal marriage and families

Living Prophets

Holy Temples and covenants for us and our ancestors

An equalizing Spirit World and an eternal-progression Heaven

Three additional books of Holy Scripture

The clarified goals of Joy, Exaltation and Eternal Lives 

That is a lot to leave.

And none of it can be found elsewhere.

That is a Means that is hard (in fact impossible) to replace.

And failing to appreciate the Church because we had a Bishop who was too conservative or because we felt that a statement on children of gay parents was unfeeling or ill-conceived—is a bit like (excuse the cliches, but I am a both cowboy and a parent) looking a gift horse in the mouth or throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Join me here next weekend for a deeper look at our life-before-life, where family began for us all.