Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Dream about Joseph Smith, Swedenborg, and Fallout 4

If you read the post on my dream about the Book of Mormon and a wedding from last September, you'll know that when I accidentally fall asleep on the couch in my family's living room, I'll often have very vivid dreams. So guess what? I fell asleep there again, and I had another vivid, enlightening dream, this time involving Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and the recently released video game Fallout 4.

It looks like these kinds of "dream posts" might become a regular feature on my blog. So let me clarify some things on how I'll go about them: first, don't expect any too intimate personal details about my life. If you can figure them out from the dream itself, good for you, but I won't put them into the interpretation. After all, James Hillman said that dreams are necessarily polyvalent or mean multiple things, so I'll only "extract" the parts having to do with the world at large. Second, know that I'm not really "interpreting" the dream, per se. It's more like I'm letting the dream interpret life, so that it teaches us what's important about life and lets us think of it in new ways. And finally, like the last post, I'll edit out the names of anyone you might know from real life whose image pops up in the dream. It might be embarrassing for them otherwise, after all.

So without further ado, here's the dream:
I'm in a dark, under-construction place like the theater when it was getting new seats. We're in groups of people putting on skits, each one supposed to demonstrate to the others what we've learned. Eventually it comes time for our group to perform next, but I realize that--even though we've made a vague outline--we're not ready. So we decide to go to Diamond City [the main settlement in Fallout 4], where we'll go on the radio station and broadcast our skit, which is now a song, to the whole Wasteland. When we get there, the host has already started playing our song, and he says that we're called "The Eagles," a name which he says is offensive, but he doesn't really care. But it's just dead air. When we get there, we tell him to stop so we can actually perform the song. He delays a bit, when I realize that the dead air was actually music to which we could improvise lyrics. So I pen them down quickly and tell everyone to harmonize with me. It works. Going away from the radio station and Diamond City, our group goes up a hill toward a mountain, hoping to go beyond the Wasteland entirely. But a woman stops us, saying that "you can't travel in time!" She lassoes the rest of the group, but I press onward nonetheless. She tries to catch up with me, but I startle her by observing that she's the late Billy Mays' daughter. She grudgingly follows me up the mountain, poking fun at the fact that I can't ascend as easily as I would like. But she lends her "Endurance" to me (another Fallout 4 reference), so that our scores combine together. Near the top, I almost can't make it and consider turning back. But then the woman tells me to take the Swedenborg book I'd been holding in my left hand and put it in my backpack, so I can use both hands for climbing. I do that, and before we know it, we're at the final stop before the last ascent. The place is green and nicely paved, with a clear blue sky very different fromt the Wasteland below. It's called "Swedenborg's Landing." There's a church on this landing which I go into, where I read a book on the altar which talks about a sculpture somewhere in Utah that depicts Joseph Smith reaching through a veil to Swedenborg. It says that Joseph Smith and Swedenborg were both efforts by the "heaven" side of the veil to reach the "femme fatale" that is the earth itself. The book also gives a map of North America about 10,000 years ago, when humans were just starting to flow in. There was a lot more water there, then, and I realize that those humans must have been Swedenborg's "Earliest Church."
This dream paints a picture of the human condition in the world: we are in the darkness of earthly matter, almost as if we were underground, away from the light of heaven. It's like the Wasteland of Fallout 4--the world has fallen away from what it once was, and all that's left is a dusty, dirty husk. We're all in a theater: a place where we as fallen beings try to re-enact higher principles that we learn here like actors. In that way we're enacting Swedenborg's "Doctrine of Correspondences:" since the universe is a "theater representative of the spiritual world," we need to act out the right roles. But we've messed up, missed the boat, squandered our time, as I think many of us have.This is sin: acting out the wrong roles or forgetting that this lower existence, this "wasteland" is a play at all, the definition of idolatry (not seeing the role in the actor but only seeing the actor).

The "Diamond City" we go to is what one Fallout 4 character calls "the great green jewel of the Commonwealth." It's a refuge of life and of growth in the middle of the earth's wasteland, vividly green despite the drab colors everywhere else, a lot like the enclaves of human love and spirit in a fallen world. And when we go to a radio station hoping that someone will hear our song, it's like prayer: going to a sacred place in my heart (green, according to the chakra color scheme, a color which some medieval thinkers associated with the Holy Spirit), where I can send a message directly above the commotion of this world to God. And while in that central, green broadcasting place, even though we don't know any songs, we astonishingly realize that we have music given to us already. This music is the subtle life behind everything (what some might call "energy" and is doctrinally "The Light of Christ"), and the improvised lyrics correspond to the way a person can adapt his or her actions, words, and thoughts to fit the spirit of the situation. Because this works well in the dream, maybe improvisation is the best way to follow the Spirit.

Afterwards, when we try to go up toward the highest place in the area, we're hoping that we can commune with what lies there: God, heaven, the light, or perhaps even that music. But there is a woman there who tries to stop us, who tells us that we'd be breaking the laws of time by going up there. She is a personification of the rigidity of earth-life itself--the earth as a woman (as the earth is often seen), but a strict, embittered one. When she lassoes us old-west style, she's acting out the archetypal "Devouring Mother," the variety of the mother/earth principle that wants to absorb all development back into herself. But, of course, I escape her snare. I tell her that she's Billy Mays' daughter, meaning that she's very practical, efficient, and cheap, like his products (that is, not concerned with higher things). She--as the earth--is now exclusively focused on solutions and efficiency: time, in other words. She resents timelessness, and she wants to stop all of us from getting to the timeless.

This isn't how she naturally is, though. She's fallen: she's the daughter of Zion, but she hasn't yet arisen from the dust (the dust of the Wasteland). She's still stuck in literalism, bound by "the collective gaze of our idolatry." So I lead her out, despite her resentment. She follows me up the mountain, both of us coming closer and closer to God. She can do the ascent if she wanted to; she's capable enough, but she just doesn't want to go there. In other words, the earth can ascend to its purified state, but it's stuck in its ways; we have to help lead her out. She goes with me because she wants to capture me, but she becomes fonder of me as we go. When she lends me some of her "endurance," the earth is giving me some of her "soul" and lets both of us ascend as one, each bringing the other up to God. And eventually (symbolized by putting the book in my backpack) we have to give up pursuing knowledge and instead bear that knowledge, using our hands to climb instead of researching how to climb.

Swedenborg's Landing" is the place where Swedenborg "landed," where he met with heaven, where heaven met with him, and where he meets anyone who wants to follow his visionary example. The statue I read about there depicts Joseph Smith reaching through the veil to Swedenborg, almost as if he wanted to bring the two sides of the veil together. Swedenborg was excellent at "seeing through" the spiritual world: he taught about the hidden meaning of the Bible, what was beyond its veil. But this isn't very practical, and the incredibly small numbers of Swedenborg's modern followers testify to Swedenborg's lack of practical appeal. When Joseph Smith said, in real life, that "Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished," it strikes me as possible that he was talking about dense and esoteric Swedenborg is. So in this dream, Joseph is reaching to that hidden meaning across the veil while standing firmly in this world, bringing the hidden meaning down and incarnating it in terms that everyday people can understand. He's doing what Swedenborg could not do: reconciling the actual, concrete earth to the hidden meanings of things beyond the veil, as if through synthesis (like when I shared my "endurance" with the earth-woman). This manifests in the way he didn't distinguish between the symbolic (heavenly) and the literal (earthly), but treated the literal as symbolic and vice versa, infusing each with the other's value.

The bit about the earth being a "femme fatale" is a particularly clever move by the dream. It's talking about the woman whom I brought up and who brought me up, the feminine being who's focused on fatality and fatalism: the limits of time, space, and causation. I bring her out of that, and in that way I re-enact Swedenborg and Joseph Smith's purpose according to the dream. They're supposed to bring the earth out from hiding in its fatalistic imprisonment to the freedom of high places. This would redeem the Wasteland: it would renew the earth and bring the physical up to meet the spiritual.

The last bit of the dream talks about something else in that book: North America as it was first populated. This implicitly references the Book of Mormon, and I knew at the time that it was also talking about Swedenborg's "Earliest Church," whom he says are the paradisiacal first state of humans in history, whom I identify with pre-historic hunter-gatherers (like those who crossed the Bering Strait into North America). So what I gather from this dream is that, like Joseph Smith's synthesis, it brings together the symbolic meaning of the "Lehites" (Nephites and Lamanites) in the Book of Mormon with that of the Earliest Church: they are both what "comes out" from God, what descends from what would later be called Swedenborg's Landing to the promised land, which would become a Wasteland.

In sum, it's our job to redeem that Wasteland, to help the woman personifying it rise up toward God, to "arise from the dust" and meet her husband at Swedenborg's landing, where heaven meets earth and they become one. And this is already underway, if my dream means anything.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Testimony in Light of the Church's Policy Change

Yesterday, the news came that--according to new Church policy--children of those in a same-sex relationship will no longer be considered eligible for a name and a blessing or to be baptized. Many are incensed. Still more are deeply saddened. I have seen people on social media and in my own family begin to question things they had always held to be true. It's devastating to me, personally: not because I'm losing my testimony but because I'm seeing so many people I know and love begin to lose theirs. So I feel like it's my duty to give my perspective if only to strengthen those trees of faith breaking under the stress of doubt's wind.

I'm not going to give a clever way that the Church leaders are right in all of this, despite everything that appears contrary to that. It might be the case that this is a huge misunderstanding and that, somehow, we've all gotten scared of nothing. But I personally doubt that will happen in any big way. No, in this post I'm acknowledging that, yes, the Church has done something morally wrong in the objective sense of the phrase. It's a tragedy that will alienate members from their families and tear families apart. But of course, this wouldn't be the first time that the leaders of the Church have done something immoral. Didn't Joseph Smith have many secret wives, with some of whom we now definitively know he had actual intercourse? Didn't the Church declare as doctrine for over a hundred years that black people were ineligible for the priesthood? And it wasn't just "culture" or "cultural practices"--it was doctrine in the same way that most teachings today are doctrine.

Church leaders and prophets are imperfect. This is an increasingly common refrain among members trying to reconcile their image of prophets with stark realities. But have you ever considered that a prophet or prophets could do something blatantly, morally wrong? This happens, as much as we don't like to think about it. But this doesn't mean that they're not inspired, and it doesn't mean that God isn't using them for His own purposes. Adam S. Miller eloquently says on this point that:
“While it is scary to think that God works through weak, partial, and limited mortals like us, the only thing scarier would be thinking that he doesn’t.”
God works with sinners--who else does he have? Murderers like Moses, persecutors of the church like Paul and Alma the Younger, thieves, and prostitutes are all tools in God's hands. The Church may be on the wrong moral foot here (and again, I may be proven wrong), but God knows this and is working more largely and deeply than we can see at the moment.

For God and His work isn't the Church. As far as I can tell (and drawing on thinkers like Terryl and Fiona Givens), He has delegated the leaders of the Church authority to do and teach what they think is best at the moment. This doesn't mean that Thomas S. Monson has a white phone in his office where Christ can ring him up and tell him this and that to teach. Instead, the leaders do what they think is best through the medium of their own limitations. And mistakes will be made in this process--as they have again and again in the past. Does this mean that God isn't at the head of His church, that God's and His servant's voice isn't one and the same? Not quite. Like a parent letting his child fall over as that child is learning to ride a bike, God effectively says: "whatever you decide, I'll honor." It isn't that God changes His mind--we do, and God goes with it based on His trust in the leaders of the Church.

And God has his eye on the far future here. I'm confident that--somehow--God will take this stumble and transmute it into goodness and love like He always does. An intuition I have is that it will purify the faith of those who really desire to have faith, getting them to the point where they no longer idolatrously worship leaders and instead worship God for God's sake. Or perhaps not, but I have hope (in the scriptural sense) that everything will work out toward the end of the gathering of Israel and the coming of Christ to the earth.

But the questions on many of your minds might be: "since the church's policies don't make sense, why should I desire to have a testimony and believe in its teachings? What's so special about the Church in the first place?" Let me tell you. In the Church, I have seen miracles. The trials of faith I've gone through--in which the Church's policies gave me repeated self-hatred and remorse--have been transmuted to my good; I wouldn't be the same person I am today without them, and without them I most likely wouldn't be nearly as happy as I am today. In taking the sacrament, I've experienced peace and comfort to transcend everything I felt during the week. I've experienced both myself and others suddenly start speaking things in church which they didn't plan or even think about beforehand, but which left everyone there full of the Spirit's fire. And in the temple, I have openly and profusely wept when getting confirmed for one of my ancestors, a feeling I didn't anticipate and which doesn't make sense from a secular perspective. Even now I feel tears coming to my eyes as I remember the goodness and love I've felt in the Church.

I bear you my solemn testimony that the Church is true--this doesn't mean that the leaders are perfect or that everything that comes out of their mouths is objectively right. Instead, it means that God is here with us, that his sacred fire and his life circulate through and between us like blood, that we are all connected together through an atonement and a gathering that are making themselves known now more than ever. It means that despite whatever disappointments and setbacks we experience in the Church, faith, hope, and love will always prevail and have the last word. And it means that even now, through the tears and the sorrows we're feeling, God is coming ever closer to the world and the gathering is getting that much closer to its realization.

I bear you my testimony that God lives and that He is here in the Church. I have felt Him again and again, and--though I'm not sure why--I know that these setbacks will only bring Him closer to the world. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.