Tolerating the Weeds

Not Free Willy

My wife and I watched Blackfish a few months ago. Going into it we knew it was about SeaWorld and orca whales and the issues that arise from their captivity, but we didn’t know much more than that. Thinking that our two year-old son might find it interesting to see killer whales, my wife invited him to join us.

“Hey, do you want to watch a show about whales?”

*turns on Blackfish*

(From the television) “…Um, we need someone to respond… the whale just ate one of the trainers…” *ominous music*

“Oh! …let’s watch a new show.”

“New show!”

Crisis averted.

That was a close one, though. In trying to accomplish something good – bonding with our boy over cool animals – we made what seemed like a good choice. Unfortunately, what we got was actually counter-productive (thankfully, we didn’t scar our child for life – with that incident, at least). Once we realized that, we backed right out.

Burning Weeds

In this month’s First Presidency Message, President Monson tells a story about a church operated poultry farm. He writes,

“In the vicinity where I once lived and served, the Church operated a poultry project, staffed primarily by volunteers from the local wards. Most of the time it was an efficiently operated project, supplying to the bishops’ storehouse thousands of fresh eggs and hundreds of pounds of dressed poultry….

“I shall ever remember the time we gathered the Aaronic Priesthood young men to give the project a spring-cleaning. Our enthusiastic and energetic throng assembled at the project and in a speedy fashion uprooted, gathered, and burned large quantities of weeds and debris. By the light of the glowing bonfires, we ate hot dogs and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

“However, there was just one disastrous problem. The noise and the fires so disturbed the fragile population of 5,000 laying hens that most of them went into a sudden molt and ceased laying.”

He concluded with what I think is a great “thus we see” observation:

“Thereafter we tolerated a few weeds so that we might produce more eggs.”

What was the lesson that President Monson learned from this experience? In trying to accomplish something good – clear the farm of troublesome weeds – he made what seemed like a good choice. Unfortunately, what he got was actually counter-productive – the ultimate purpose of the farm was to provide, and molting hens certainly wouldn’t. Once he realized that, he backed right out, tolerating the weeds.

Finding a Purpose

When I set out to write this blog, I tried to set a fairly focused framework around what I wanted to accomplish. I’m not an apologist, or a subject-matter expert in Church history or Egyptology or Middle Eastern studies or human behavior. I have less to contribute in those areas.

I do, though, have a growing testimony of the gospel, and a number of life experiences that have shaped my perspectives and contributed to my overall happiness. When it comes to this, perhaps I have something to contribute.

That doesn’t mean I’m not distracted or annoyed by the occasional goober. I’ve felt a pull from time to time to take certain criticisms head on. Those that have followed this blog might think that I’ve given in to that pull once or twice.

Perhaps they’re right, though I think you’ll find, more often than not, that even my posts which deal with critics are less about the issues themselves, and more about following the prophet. I could even start adding something like this to the bottom of most of my posts:

tl;dr – Follow the prophet. Therein lies happiness.

And I absolutely believe that! I can say “follow the prophet – therein lies happiness” because, in my experience, I’ve found that to be true. There is safety and happiness in following the prophet, even when it’s unpleasant.

That’s a message worth sharing, I think. That’s a drop worth adding to the growing flood of online conversations. If I were to miss sharing that message because I got distracted by a weed or two, that would be unfortunate.

Your Weeds

Remember, weeds are anything that keep us from our primary purpose. As Latter-day Saints, one of our goals should be to invite others to come unto Christ. Your weeds, your distractions, your challenges may be different than mine.

But the message of the Restoration, and the blessings that come from living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, are worth skipping weeds for.

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15 thoughts on “Tolerating the Weeds”

  1. Re: “Follow the prophet. Therein lies happiness.”

    Just a question about priorities: Do you see following the prophet as identical to following Christ or following the Spirit?

    In asking this I have in mind Elder Bednar’s statement that the Holy Ghost is “the only true teacher” and President Uchtdorf’s comment that church leaders sometimes err.

      1. The question is based on my belief that a disciple of Christ follows Christ and heeds the prophet. Heed does not mean follow or obey; it means to pay close attention to.

        One problem with putting “follow the prophet” before “follow Christ” is that it allows a person to put his salvation in the hands of another mortal and allows him to escape from the duty of discovering what Christ’s will is for him. Christ says “come unto me.”

        I note, for example, that the Topical Guide has many entries under “Trust in God” and “Trust Not in the Arm of Flesh.” God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I believe the arm of flesh is everyone else, including popes, prophets, presidents, etc.

      2. Your first paragraph reminds me of a time I tracted into a Christian gentleman in Hawaii. We got on the topic of baptism, and the Savior’s words to Nicodemus. To counter a point we made, he offered that “baptism… well, it’s essential, you know, it’s just not necessary.”

        That’s about when I wrote him off.

        I think of that experience as I look up the definition of “heed” and find a list of synonyms that look like this:

        “pay attention to, take notice of, take note of, pay heed to, attend to, listen to; bear in mind, be mindful of, mind, mark, consider, take into account, follow, obey, adhere to, abide by, observe, take to heart, be alert to”

        🙂

        In seriousness, though, it sounds like you may be a Christian. If that’s the case, I think that your question/concern stems from cultural differences between mainstream Christians and Mormons. That makes it harder to avoid talking past each other.

        I think I see your point, though – I don’t think of myself, for example, as a disciple of Thomas S. Monson (the current president of the Church). I think of myself as a disciple of the Savior. My guess is that most Latter-day Saints are the same. And yet I don’t make a distinction between following Christ and following the prophet. To follow Christ, I need to follow the prophet, and in following His servants, I follow the Savior (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).

        Maybe I can use this as an illustration.

        Imagine that it’s AD 34. You’re living in Jerusalem, and it’s Acts chapter 2. You hear Peter preaching about Christ and Him crucified, and you feel the Holy Ghost tell you that what Peter is preaching is true.

        Can you reject Peter and follow Christ? Can you be a disciple of Christ without following Peter?

        (I don’t even mean that rhetorically. Really, what do you think?)

        In your other paragraphs, you bring up some good questions. A good place to catch up on the Mormon perspective would be the talk that Dallin H. Oaks gave in conference called “Two Lines of Communication.” Check that out, and see if it answers your question about people being imperfect and putting our trust in God, not man.

      3. Re: Can you reject Peter and follow Christ? Can you be a disciple of Christ without following Peter?

        (I don’t even mean that rhetorically. Really, what do you think?)

        Yes, an early saint could be a disciple of Christ without following Peter on specific issues. Similarly, a faithful LDS today can sustain leaders as the Lord’s authorized servants without believing everything they teach or following all their counsel. Again, I’ll remind you that presidents of the Church make mistakes, even in doctrinal matters. Sometimes, the mistakes are rather gross. The scriptures teach clearly that the wise exercise of agency is greater than obedience.

        Following the prophet is sometimes not the same as following Christ.

      4. “Yes, an early saint could be a disciple of Christ without following Peter on specific issues.”

        Okay, sure. That’s an interesting position. And, consequently, it’s fair to say that the same thing applies to Paul or James or any number of the early church leaders. Let me try and show you the issue I see pop up if we take that position:

        You later say, “The scriptures teach clearly that the wise exercise of agency is greater than obedience.”

        Maybe I counter, “Eh, I don’t agree with the author of that particular verse. I reject that the wise exercise of agency is greater than obedience.”

        If I say that, you can’t fault me. You just said that “an early saint could be a disciple of Christ without following [church leaders] on specific issues.” Well, I have decided not to follow them on that specific issue! You may decide that this particular issue is non-negotiable – but what gives anyone the right to decide what issues are non-negotiable and what issues aren’t? Who gets to tell me when the exercise of my agency is unwise, and therefore exempt from the “greater than obedience” clause?

        We just threw the Bible out of the window!

        (Yikes!)

        (As a side note, I’m not sure you can support, from scripture, the claim that the wise exercise of agency is greater than obedience. Do you have a reference? The reference that comes to my mind is 1 Samuel 15:22, when the prophet Samuel condemns disobedience that resulted from what someone considered the wise exercise of agency. Though that sort of proves the point I just made.)

        Prophets make mistakes. I get that. But we don’t set prophets up as exemplars. We see them up as teachers, called by God, to tell us what He would tell us were He here with with. We also recognize that God qualifies whom He calls, and that when prophets act in the stewardship of their office they’ll teach us things that we’re better off following. President Uchtdorf’s admission that Church leader’s aren’t perfect wasn’t an invitation to enumerate all of their mistakes and use them to justify our “uncorrelated” choices as much as it was a plea not to lose hold of the rod (1 Nephi 8) because of those mistakes.

        If I could un-Straw-Man your last sentence a little and sum up my points above – sure, we don’t follow Christ by endorsing every single action the person called as prophet has ever made, but that’s not what we’re asked to do, is it? That’s not what following them means.

        If you want, you can mention some of their gross errors and we can examine those as case studies. I’d be interested in hearing what you consider severe, and how much license you think it gives us as Christian disciples to stray from what they teach.

        I also talk about the whole who-gets-to-decide-what’s-wise issue here. You might find that post interesting.

      5. You seem to be straying quite a way from your original post in which you four times say “follow the prophet” but never say follow Christ or follow the Spirit. Nothing you’ve said has in the slightest diminished my assertion that we must always follow Christ first and foremost and follow the prophet when he is correct. (The fact that he may nearly always be correct is beside the point.)

        When you ask who gets to decide what’s wise, the answer is you do. As an adult, you are responsible for your life, I’m responsible for mine and it’s not good enough to simply say “follow the prophet” without adding a caveat about whether he, a mortal, is right or wrong. We are not children. (I Cor. 13:11)

        As far as the wise exercise of agency being better than obedience, that concept was established once and for all when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. God forced them to choose which commandment to disobey.

        I could give you a long list of gross errors, but here are three: 1. Brigham Young said God revealed to him the Adam-God doctrine. 2. The First Presidency stated that blacks should not receive the priesthood during mortality. 3. Several presidents of the Church taught that it’s better for a female to die than to lose her virtue. (Thankfully, Elizabeth Smart either was not aware of this counsel or chose to ignore it.)

      6. Sorry it’s taken me a little while to approve and respond. I’m sure you’re familiar with the adage about writing a short letter – your comment about getting off track made me want to follow my original post and each of our comments, and it’s taken me a little while to make sure I’ve caught the gist of it all.

        And as far as straying goes, in my defense, this comment thread is totally off topic. 🙂 It has pretty much nothing to do with the original post. I’m fine to have gone there with you – like I say, I’m happy to have discussions about different objections – but you’re the one with questions (good questions, by the way).

        What was the point of my original post? Let’s take a look.

        Tolerating the Weeds Outline

        Sometimes the decisions we make, even though we may start out with good intentions, end up costing us more than we gain.
        Ex: Watching “Blackfish” with a two year-old to see killer whales
        Ex: Burning cleared weeds on a poultry farm to tidy things up

        We probably shouldn’t do that, make bad decisions with good intentions.

        I worry that sometimes I make similar choices – perhaps well intentioned, but ultimately fruitless.
        Ex: Using my blogging platform to rail against critics rather than bearing testimony of the gospel

        Maybe my purpose, in mirroring the purpose of the Church, should be to invite others to come unto Christ. That invitation is intimately connected to the restoration of the gospel, and the admonition to follow the prophet.

        Sharing a testimony of those things is, in the words of the parable, worth tolerating the weeds.

        Comments

        Steve: Christ admonished us to “come unto me.” Trusting another person – regardless of their ecclesiastical position or prestige – interferes with that admonition. People are imperfect, which is why we trust in God instead of abdicating the responsibility to discover Christ’s will for us and trusting instead in the “arm of flesh.”

        Me: Coming unto Christ, for me (and perhaps most Latter-day Saints), isn’t that separable from following the prophet. Much like ancient Christians received the word of God through His authorized servants, we can receive God’s word (including a correct interpretation of past words in the scriptures) today through prophets. We can’t reject their words and still accept Christ, though certainly we still have a responsibility to find God, as Elder Oaks discusses in his conference talk.

        Steve: Again, people (including LDS prophets) are imperfect. We don’t need to align with prophets on everything (hence my distinction between following/discipleship and heeding). Wisely exercising our personal agency is more important than obedience. I can still follow Christ even while picking and choosing (wisely) how to act in my personal discipleship.

        Me: If anyone can pick and choose how to follow prophets and apostles, then you can reasonably disregard scripture (as you could reasonably disregard any part of it you find disagreeable). Additionally, I find the claim about the wise use of agency dubious, and conflicting with the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 15. I freely admit that modern prophets are flawed – as have been all prophets – but this imperfection does not diminish their callings any more than it did the callings of ancient prophets.

        That took us to your last comment. I still feel like we’re talking past each other, and I don’t feel like you’ve engaged with my objections to your views. Additionally, your list of “gross errors” has been treated by numerous others, and if I were to answer them I would really just be paraphrasing those others. Perhaps you can “put away childish things” and go Google the LDS responses that have been out there for years (I imagine if you’re versed on Mormonism enough to be familiar with those objections, you’re more than able to effectively research it on your own).

        I feel like your primary concern goes something like this: “You put an inappropriate emphasis on trusting in prophets, given their mortality and imperfection (and track record), instead of admonishing others to follow the Savior.”

        To that, perhaps an excerpt from this page will be beneficial to those that read through our exchange:

        “A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.

        “The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Ether 12:6).”

      7. You wrote: “I don’t feel like you’ve engaged with my objections to your views.” In that case, I’ll engage four comments from yesterday’s post and a fifth from a previous post.

        First, you say, “We can’t reject their [prophets’] words and still accept Christ.” You don’t believe that and neither do I. In 2014, we reject many teachings and practices from both this dispensation and from biblical times. Also, to make such a claim is to say the vast majority of the Christian world does not accept Christ.

        Second, you say, “If anyone can pick and choose how to follow prophets and apostles, then you can reasonably disregard scripture.” In fact, we all pick and choose how to follow. You used the pejorative “pick and choose,” but I prefer “choose ye this day.” And the choice we make should be to always follow Christ and usually, but not always, to follow his prophets. Besides, today’s LDS Church disregards many scriptures.

        Third, you say, “your list of ‘gross errors’ has been treated by numerous others.” I am familiar with mainstream LDS responses and find none of them compelling. If, for example, someone doubts Brigham Young’s views about God and Adam, they haven’t read the June 18, 1873, Deseret News, which provides a verbatim account of his long address in the Assembly Hall.

        Fourth, you say, “There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.” This appears to say that we can disregard much, perhaps most, of what the prophet says.

        Fifth, you previously offered a definition of heed that lists follow and obey as synonyms. In my dictionary, follow and obey don’t turn up at all under heed. Even in your list, follow and obey are only the 13th and 14th definitions cited. Pretty obscure, wouldn’t you say? It you look at the Topical Guide, there are 19 listings for heed, and in every case “pay close attention to” is a better fit than either follow or obey. The use of heed as equivalent to follow or obey may qualify as an example of wresting the scriptures.

        Words matter. I do not object to teaching children to follow the prophet in a way that is similar to how they are taught to obey and follow their parents. And I support counsel that encourages LDS adults to listen closely to the teachings of apostles and prophets and to heed their counsel (understanding that heed means “pay close attention to”). But let’s reserve the word “follow” to following Christ. He is our head. We are his followers. It is his Church. He is the only source of eternal life. (Listen to the prophet. Stay close to the Church. Follow Christ.)

        It’s good that we can have this discussion. Frankly, if the United States had chosen to follow the isolationist counsel of the prophet and First Presidency before World War II, we might well be under Nazi rule and wouldn’t even belong to a church.

      8. I’ve thought about whether or not to continue this thread. It’s not that I feel it’s belligerent (I don’t). Rather, my hesitation is twofold.

        First, once we start to pick up so many topics, it gets difficult to follow and ultimately becomes unproductive. Responding is easy enough in written form, and you can see how each of our successive replies has, of necessity, started to balloon. You outline at least five points in your comment above, and each could handle a dedicated back and forth that would spur even more sub-points. In some ways, this medium is tough because we don’t get that instant feedback. There’s no, “Is this what you meant? Oh, okay, great.” Slight corrections and tangents take paragraphs to resolve when they might have been corrected in seconds in person (we see that with us already).

        Second, after a while we start to reach the point where we agree to disagree – certain things that are acceptable to me are unacceptable to you, and vice-versa, and that’s okay.

        For example, you call out the way I connected “heed” to “follow” and “obey,” saying (ironically – but we’ll get to that) “In my dictionary, follow and obey don’t turn up at all under heed. Even in your list, follow and obey are only the 13th and 14th definitions cited. Pretty obscure, wouldn’t you say? It you look at the Topical Guide, there are 19 listings for heed, and in every case “pay close attention to” is a better fit than either follow or obey. The use of heed as equivalent to follow or obey may qualify as an example of wresting the scriptures” (emphasis added).

        You make value judgments around fit and relative obscurity. You’re welcome to, certainly, but how did I get that definition? Like perhaps many of my generation, I opened up a web browser and typed “heed definition” into Google. Expand the list of synonyms, and BAM, it’s right there.

        Click on Merriam-Webster, and “follow” is the first synonym listed.

        Click instead on The Free Dictionary entry, and “follow” is the fourth synonym (and “obey” is twelfth).

        Obscure? Eh, see, I would say that, no, it’s completely reasonable to link those words together as having a similar, if not shared-for-all-intents-and-purposes, meaning. In fact, I would say that it is completely unreasonable (as I inferred earlier with my tracting story) to split those hairs.

        Yes, words do matter, but now we’re taking samplings of different dictionaries to see the placement of certain words in a list of synonyms.

        I’m not interested in that. That’s nuts.

        And if we argue about things as simple as synonyms, how on earth can we expect to have a reasonable dialogue about the kinds of complicated subjects that we’re trying to tackle?

        The answer is we can’t. If we try, we’ll end up in a big mess. We’ll call a short list of Googled synonyms “obscure” out of one side of our mouth, while at the same time using a single, 150 year old reference to define the theology of a man who gave countless sermons preaching the contrary (see, I told you I’d come back to the irony).

        I can’t do that. Nobody wins with that.

        So I’m probably gonna be lame and pull my admin card, because, yes, I do believe “we can’t reject [prophets’] words and still accept Christ,” but I can’t stand to start a discussion on the word “rejection” after this “heed” debacle, let alone a discussion about the nature of prophets.

        I’m probably gonna be lame and pull my admin card, because “picking and choosing” what daily actions we consider legitimate to follow Christ is vastly different from “choosing this day” to serve the Lord, and if we’ve not gotten there yet then we’re not going to get there.

        I’m probably gonna be lame and pull my admin card, because if you think it’s acceptable to base your primary gross error – the one you lead with – on an obscure, questionably-transcribed verbal sermon from when the United States was still going through reconstruction, then that’s fine, but our conversation needs to be over before it starts.

        I’m probably gonna be lame and pull my admin card, because you equate prophets with parents, which means that we’re nowhere near the same page, and we won’t be getting on the same page on this thread.

        I’m probably gonna be lame and pull my admin card, because why on earth in this big old mess are we going to start talking about the validity of the First Presidency’s position on World War II?

        Other than that, it’s been a pleasure, and I am grateful you engaged.

      9. You’re right. Our comments have begun to “balloon,” so let’s end it, which means I must deep-six the urge to rebut several items in your last post. By the way, in previous posts, we wrote 3,516 words—1,043 by me and 2,473 by you.

        May we follow Christ and give heed to prophets.

  2. Once again, thank you very much for another thought-provoking post. You are doing a great service to the Lord and to your fellowmen.

  3. I think the story was deliberately telling us that many are preparing by doing the wrong things (buying bunkers, gold, silver, etc) and pulling weeds.

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