My New Year’s Resolution this year is taken from I Corinthians 13:4-7. In a nutshell, it is to become a little more charitable this year. I am studying and trying to practice one of the manifestations of charity listed in Paul’s passage each month. This month, the focus is on charity “vaunting not itself” and not being “puffed up”. I write each Saturday about this resolution on my personal blog, and I want to share something with all of you that hit me as I was preparing to write my post for last Saturday.
From my post two weeks ago about the attitude behind vaunting and being puffed up:
If someone lacks charity, it’s not necessarily that he believes “they are worse than I am” – but rather that he believes “I am better than they are”. That is an important distinction, subtle though it be.
It is critical – absolutely important – to understand how the statment that “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” applies within one’s own self in order to become more charitable in this regard. This is not easy, and it is not natural. This is true of almost everyone, but it is most difficult for those who are convinced of their own, personal faith perspective – both those who struggle with their faith community and those who are solidly established within it.
BOTH of these groups of people are characterized generally by a feeling of superiority when it comes to their understanding of Truth – and spirituality – and sociality – and leadership – and all other things religious (including Mormon). In practical terms, when we view ourselves as understanding the Gospel better than “those other members” AND think that they all would be better off if they simply were as enlightened as we are – at that moment we are being “puffed up” – and, in public groups (online or at church), that often leads to “vaunting itself” above others.
Bragging and boasting don’t have to be blatant and obvious. They can be subtle and encrypted – and I see it naturally both in those who are in the throes of bitterness and those in the entrenchment of an accepted mainstream.
If anyone wants an eye-opening experience, think about this distinction and definition as you go back and re-read your own comments here and in any online discussion groups where you have participated and/or continue to participate. (Also, think seriously about how you contribute to group discussions of other kinds – in any setting, but espeically at church.) See how many of your comments have either a subtle or obvious element of “vauntiness” or “puffiness”. Most of us have a long way to go in that regard, and it’s hard to see how far unless you are looking consciously for it. It also is hard to eradicate unless you are working consciously to do so.
Great post. I think we all cling to our world-views and view everyone else somewhat askance. My viewpoint has expanded a tremendous amount in the past few years, from personal experiences to books I’ve read to interactions here. I am much more willing to accept other things. In a way, I am much LESS accepting of overly dogmatic people – but perhaps in doing so I am at fault and am becoming “dogmatic” against “dogma”. It certainly causes me to question myself, which is the point of any truly good post. So thank you.
One point that I do have a question that is unresolved has to do with your comment: “I am better than they are”. How does one resolve this within the “one true Church” doctrine that is the basis of our Church, from the First Vision on. It echoes down through modern prophets – “Bring what you have and we’ll add to it” – with the implicit thought that “we are better than they are”. This may be couched in language such as “we have the fullness” or something else, but it is the same attitude. The thought “we are better than they are” is essentially the foundation of the entire missionary program, as if it wasn’t true, why would we even have a missionary program.
Mike S said: The thought “we are better than they are” is essentially the foundation of the entire missionary program, as if it wasn’t true, why would we even have a missionary program.
Interesting thought. Why have a missionary program?
I would say it different. Because we have been given more by the Lord, it is essential to get the word out. The missionary program is the vehicle. I don’t think it has anything to do with “better”.
Ray said: “I am studying and trying to practice one of the manifestations of charity listed in Paul’s passage each month.”
There is nothing wrong with self improvement. Many people use this approach and have made better lives for themselves and those they love. Go into any book store and in the self help section there are many useful books to facilitate the goal of self improvement (reformation).
Ray said “In practical terms, when we view ourselves as understanding the Gospel better than “those other members” AND think that they all would be better off if they simply were as enlightened as we are – at that moment we are being “puffed up” – and, in public groups (online or at church), that often leads to “vaunting itself” above others.”
Note: I made several comments with the idea of making it easier to follow.
I agree with your thought to a point. Certainly, pride is in opposition to charity. However, would you say that Nephi was being puffed up as he stood his ground with his older brothers?
How about Alma the younger, and the four sons of Mosiah. Were they puffed up and vaunting themselves above the Lamanites when they desired to go among them as missionaries?
Ray, how do you feel about the following statement made by Brigham Young:
It yields solid satisfaction to hear men testify of the truth of the Gospel. It is always peculiarly interesting to me to hear the Saints tell their experience. It is to me one of the best of sermons to hear men and women relate to each other how the Lord has wrought upon their understanding, and brought them into the path of truth, life, and salvation. I would rather hear men tell their own experience, and testify that Joseph was a Prophet of the Lord, and that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and other revelations of God, are true; that they know it by the gift and power of God; that they have conversed with angels, have had the power of the Holy Ghost upon them giving them visions and revelations, than hear any other kind of preaching that ever saluted my ears. JD 1:90-91
For those among us who have had these kinds of experiences, should they be silent for fear they are being puffed up?
As one who has had these kinds of experiences, I’ll answer. I would be condemned at the day of judgment if I didn’t testify of these things.
There is a difference between holding up one’s own light, as compared to holding up the gospel of Jesus Christ as His disciple–being a witness to the truthfulness of the claims of the doctrine of Christ–by experience.
Mike, I think the difference is in the attitude someone holds toward others. If believing that “the Church is true” leads to snobbery and a lifting of one’s self above others (which is the root meaning of “to vaunt”), then that obvious is not being charitable. If, however, believing that “the Church is true” does not lead one to snobbery and condescension, then one can be charitable in this way (not vaunting of one’s self and not puffed up). I know MANY members who believe “the Church is true” – and even that the LDS Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth with which I the Lord am well-pleased” who still don’t vaunt themselves and are not puffed up.
I do think, however, that it’s easy to vaunt one’s self and be puffed up with such a belief. You certainly are correct in that caution.
Jared, I really don’t understand your point in #4. It’s probably just the assumed tone in most usages of “there is nothing wrong with . . .” – which implies “but . . .”
I’m not sure if you are saying that my focusing on developing charity is nothing more than regular old run-of-the-milll self-improvement and that there is a better or best thing I could be doing. If so, my only response would be that I am focused on being more like the Savior – and I have chosen to do so for two years by focusing on the Sermon on the Mount and this year by focusing on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It’s what I have felt prompted to do, and it has been a wonderful experience for me – to focus my self-improvement efforts on becoming more like the Lord. I have had some amazing experiences in that process, and I am a better person (and husband and father and friend) because of it.
#5 – Nothing in my post addresses sharing one’s experiences with others. It addresses only the attitude behind sharing them.
Generically, I would say that the only way such sharing would constitute vaunting one’s self and/or being puffed up is if the sharing (or internal attitude) of the sharer is one of condescension or pride. (“I’ve had these experiences because I am better than those who have not had them” – “I am more faithful than those who have not had my experiences” – “God obviously loves me more than that person who has not communed with God as I have” – etc.) In that case, sharing such experiences really does constitute vaunting one’s self and being puffed up; if the experiences simply are being shared to share meaningful experiences and bolster another’s faith, that MIGHT be inappropriate or appropriate – prompted or mis-guided – helpful or hurtful, but it wouldn’t be uncharitable with respect to this post no matter how it was taken by others. (It might not be a manifestation of kind long-suffering in some cases, but it wouldn’t be vaunting or puffed up.)
I had a link in my last comment. It looks like it got caught up in the spam protection.
Great post! I always love the thought provoking, introspective points that help me become a better person. Great job.
I believe one of the only ways to gain true charity is to experience affliction and suffering. As we do this, we gain perspective that we didn’t have before and it allows us to see people differently and to love them more fully. I think we are naturally “puffed up” and the only way to be deflated and to really see with different eyes and feel with a different heart is to experience challenges that force us to need and want other people. Otherwise, we believe we don’t really need anyone and we believe we are who we are because of our own personal greatness. Charity is something that I think is important to pray for, but nothing can bring it to our hearts more fully than to be in a place you never imagined you would be, for example experiencing a divorce after having a temple marriage, losing a child after doing everything you could to take care of that child, etc. etc. For me, it is experiencing the losses in life that seem impossible to ever have made up that have really brought charity to my heart. I love others more now and judge them much less than I ever have before just from experiencing life. I know that if we truly want to have charity in our hearts we WILL gain it and it will be everlasting. It is a very worthy goal Ray.
Great post, great topic.
I agree with what you’re saying, but practically speaking, if nobody “vaunted” herself or got puffed up, would there be any progress? Great leaders always think they’re better than the next person — that’s why they’re the leader. Great ideas get promulgated by those who are convinced they know better than everybody else. Both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young “vaunted” themselves quite a bit in their speeches in order to be effective leaders, and neither had much trouble condemning enemies. You could argue that they might have been better men had they been more charitable, and I couldn’t really disagree, but I can’t help think they’d be less effective leaders. And that would imply “charity faileth”, which is not only unsatisfying personally, but doctrinally unacceptable.
I have to plead guilty of declaring someone else not worthy to loose the latchet of my intellectual shoe, but in fairness, he had just declared himself far more rational and clear-thinking than me.
Does self-defense count as a plea in mitigation of puffupmanship?
I do think that JS and BY fit your thesis. While they were good people, there are many bombastic quotes attributed to JS and BY. There was a certain amount of pageantry and politics mixed in with their religious teachings. They certainly thought their way was better.
At the same I disagree that a religious leader necessarily has to be “vaunted” up to cause progress. Mother Theresa was extremely humble. She discounted her role in everything she did. She felt like she wasn’t doing enough for God for decades. Similarly, Gandhi was also a very humble person. And I would argue that they did more for humanity than either JS or BY.
Losing faith puts a person at risk for puffing oneself up. You see something that you can’t reconcile and then start seeing the believers as somehow beneath you in intellectual depth or whatever. The difficulty comes in seeing people that are clearly more intelligent than you that you respect and admire. Have they somehow missed something that you and only you have perceived or are you not as smart as you thought? It can all be very confusing and since you don’t believe in prayer anymore it’s pretty tough to rely on the Spirit. Trying to find a peaceful place to sort it all out is very difficult puffing yourself up makes it all the harder.
Sorry, everyone for being out of touch for a while. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
Jared, I will try to check the spam filter.
Jen, I agree about pain and suffering. I think it’s instructive that “suffereth long (and is kind)” comes before “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up”. If you are interested in my writing about that aspect, check out my personal blog (linked through my name) and search the Saturdays this year.
Martin, you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head as far as great leaders are concerned. I agree that there is an inherent tension between achieving great things and remaining humble in this way.
Mike S, Mother Teresa amazes me – since she was immersed in abject poverty. The fact that she chose that life while not reviling those who didn’t says a lot about her charity. She led a movement and was world famous, but she lived her own life in squalor. Joseph, for all his bombastic statements, also was quick to forgive – and quick to admit fault. I see him more as in a constant struggle with this aspect of charity – while Brigham seems to me to have been much less inclined to be charitable in this manner. However, I also think Brigham might have been the only person available who could have kept the Church from dying in those hellish days, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack in this discussion.
Thomas, self-defense as a defense? Not sure, but I like the question – and the word “puffupmanship”. I really like that word. 🙂
GB, I feel for what you describe – and you’ve described an aspect of Thomas’ reflective/self-defensive puffupmanship that I tried to address in the post. It really is hard to reject something and not vaunt yourself above those who do not reject it. It’s a noble goal, but it’s not easy or natural.
Great post! I struggle with this notion much too often. If I believe Christ atoned for my sins and that He provided the Atonement for me to return to Father if I do my part to honor my covenant, then why do I bristle so when others preach from the pulpit that we have need to “perfect ourselves” and must take “steps on a ladder” up to exaltation without mention of Jesus Christ? I instantly push them into the “other side” of the membership cateogry. I instantly create a division and in this division is my “puffedupness” and, I guess, sin. How is one to reconcile this?
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