elder caleb greaves

Holding to the Iron Rod in Germany


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Medal 1 medal 3 Medal 2

Most of what I’m writing today is a spiritual thought, but real quick, the story of those medals. So there was a flea market here in Jena on Saturday. We decided to use a little bit of lunch time to look around for cool German stuff. Right towards the end, I noticed this black crosses that I thought were WW1 badges, but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, I asked how much one cost, and the man kinda looked at me for a few seconds, than told me to come to the other side of the table. He then pulled this cloth off of this box with a bunch of cool badges in it, all the same stuff, the black crosses from ww1 and the gold ones from ww2. Well, the gold ones had swords, so I was sold. He turned it over, and just to show me it wasn’t damaged, pulled off this little orange sticker to reveal a swastika. I thought “Oh, how sweet. They are so embarrassed about swastikas that they cover it up just so no one get’s offended.” So I was telling a member about it, and he was all sketched out, so I asked what was wrong. Turns out, it’s TOTALLY illegal to buy that sort of thing! Any Nazi paraphernalia is super against the law. I already knew you can’t have Mein Kampf or anything like that of course, but some cool war medals? Yeah, super illegal. The best way to describe their attitude towards Hitler is like Voldemort. They literally won’t even say his name. Once, Brd. S from Bernburg made the Hitler salute thing, and everyone gasped. He is actually pretty similar to Dumbledore in a lot of ways, but that definitely helped that symbolism. So yeah. No big deal.

So the spiritual thought:

An executive synopsis of this really long thought I had about agency:
* Agency is accountability
* We try to avoid pure decision making by allowing external sources to make the decisions for us
* That is exactly what we are doing when we seek for a sign
* We try to force God to force us to do it, rather than just deciding ourselves
* This way, we try to avoid accountability – we can then blame the sign or God for not sending us one
* We can face those baldfaced bold decisions proudly, refuse to let external circumstances control and do what we feel is right no matter the circumstances.
* Implications of leadership by example: we have to let others decide themselves.

The full version:

It was always astounding to me that anyone, anyone at all, could be so dumb as to want their Agency, their literal god-given right to decision making and accountability taken away, let alone 1/3 of all human Spirits in the Spirit world. I’ve never understood either, why it was that it was so important to God that we have it. As I started thinking and studying about this, I started getting partial answers here and there.
I learned:
– Agency is an eternal principle, which God could not ignore and remain God.
– Agency is not just the ability to make choices, but an accountability for the outcome, according to an article sent by my dad.
– Brd. S, Institute teacher, gave a wonderful extemporaneous lesson on faith vs. knowledge. He pointed out that although knowledge is something we all desire, a knowledge of the verity of the Gospel, for example, knowledge is not connected to movement. For example, most everyone has the knowledge that smoking, alcohol, and drugs are terrible for them, but that doesn’t stop very many from doing it. But the faith that there was land on the other side got Columbus to sail across the world.

But it wasn’t until I watched 2 investigators, both receiving new light and knowledge, both enjoying this experience, both start to ask God tentatively to let them know the truth – it wasn’t until I saw both of them blame outside circumstances for choosing to not follow this path, and then not until I discussed it with one of my best friends, a member from Frankfurt Oder, that I really understood the stark beauty of agency.

It occurred to me how often we actually do everything we can to destroy our own agency. This can be as innocent as a girl unendingly claiming she “doesn’t care” where you go for dinner on a date (p.s. That is super annoying. Please stop doing that) to someone succumbing to the allure of the comatose, blind, out of control numbness of drugs and alcohol, just to not have to think anymore about tomorrow.

When it comes to religion, we’ve heard over and over that the reason God doesn’t send us constant manifestations and visions and angels, is he doesn’t want to take away our agency. I’ve always thought “Hmm, well that’s sure nice of the Him, but now that I want it, now that I’ve followed the path, and have a testimony, what about just sending that angel now? That’d be great.”

Why is it that General Authorities consistently insist on the fact that inspiration from the Holy Ghost is even better than seeing things with our eyes? And why is it, then when they are done talking, I still want something like that to happen? This has always been a point of confusion for me, because I was looking at it from the wrong point of view. If God were to give us a sign, and then we weren’t ready to follow it, of course, we would be acting contrary to the knowledge that we have, and that would be pretty condemnable. That’s the reason I’ve heard most often, or at least how I’ve always understood it. But
that’s the very reason why I want a sign! It would be so much easier to do everything with faith if I were to see a vision or something! This seemed to me to be a contradiction. Why, if it wouldn’t help us, is there almost a universal desire for such a thing to happen?

I honestly don’t think the main reason that we have these types of manifestations more often is not because God doesn’t want us to fall away afterwards, but rather, we have to learn to make spiritual decisions based purely on what we and God want.

When we get to the point where there is nothing left to do but to decide, when we stand in a great flat expanse, with no hint of what any direction holds, and we just have to decide – those moments are agony. In books, when 2 doors are put before a hero, often he will throw some dice, or close his eyes and point, etc. The purely internal decision is something that man does his best to avoid. Of course, leaving decision up to chance doesn’t actually help in any way. You cannot be more likely wrong, than when we do that. We can’t have worse chances!

So why do we do it?

The weight of accountability for a decision, that’s why. We can’t stand that mountainous burden, that responsibility. So when there is nothing left but us, we’ll try to at least call in luck to blame a path wrongly taken on a coin flip or a lost rock paper scissors game.

That’s the longing for a sign. If we get a sign, we no longer have to choose and choose and choose, we can just follow. We and our conscience are no longer responsible for what we do – no more decisions, just blind action. What could actually be more humiliating? What could be more emasculating? What could rob us more of our godly, divine abilities to learn righteousness?

It appears that to God, doing the right is not even close to being as important as choosing the right.

Which brings us back to my investigators. How were they feeling? Both of them were positively suffering. They had gospel truths, but following them meant leaving the path they were on, the path they had traveled with everyone else they knew – for them, the path of least resistance. To join our church, you have to abandon culture, family, politics, hobbies, and essential opinions you’ve always thought were
“you”. We, as the missionaries, showed them the other path. Indecision gripped them. Anxiety about the future and problems with change loomed around them. One of them attempted to walk both paths, only to feel them pulling away, farther and farther apart from each other.

Dad can attest that one of the absolutes you can count on in waste water management is that water always follows the path of least resistance. Water will never ever under any circumstances just spontaneously start flowing uphill. This principle can be used to control water. The Romans were able to make aqueducts to transport this water. At it’s most rudimentary, water would flow downhill. When they wanted to take it left or right, they would throw up a wall or bank in front of the water. The obedient water wasn’t about to leap over the wall shouting viva la revolucion and do it’s own thing. It followed the bank and went in the direction it was supposed to.

Watered-down disciples wish God would throw up a bank so they could both follow God’s plan and follow the path of least resistance. A sign from heaven is exactly that. Of course, if we are already following God’s plan, we wouldn’t stop because we saw a sign. But we would stop choosing , and that defeats our purpose every bit as much.

I think this has interesting implications as well when it comes to leadership. Leading by example is one style, whereas the other style is telling. Telling does not necessarily imply hypocrisy. We can tell people to do things and still do them ourselves. But according to this idea of agency, and from God’s example, leading by example is not only effective, not only more effective, it is the only effective way to lead others to do what is right.

This truth is easily seen in missionary work. A leader can either tell missionaries to start doing things, stop doing things, etc. Or they can just start doing it. The problem with most missionaries is, they are pretty polite. If someone tells them to go to bed on time, they will do it, begrudgingly, but they’ll do it. If you just go to bed on time and they see that, you may be going to bed alone. But more often than not, missionaries will also go get ready for bed with you. What’s the difference? When we lead by example, we allow those who look up to us to actively choose what they do. Instead of unwillingly being forced to do what is right one time, they feel the power of choosing the right, and they more likely to do it again. If they don’t follow you, forcing them to do it wouldn’t help them in the future anyway. Instead, we are worsening the situation. Now, in order to do what is right in the future, they have to admit to themselves that they were wrong in the first place, and we, whom they inwardly grumbled at, were right. This takes humility on our part, because we get no recognition. We get no points. Sometimes, people won’t even know why they are doing what we are doing. But it’s the example. There’s real power in agency.

So when it comes to spiritual decision-making, I’m going to try in the future to remember one very important principle. External happenings, pressures, or opinions literally have no bearing whatsoever on what I do. It’s not a question of balancing pros and cons. There is no scale. We do what is right. Period. I don’t worry about outcomes of that, because I can’t choose them and I can’t choose differently. As for signs, I reserve the right to follow my conscience. I don’t want to be watered-down disciple, who wavereth like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and is tossed. I no longer desire the easy way out, and I don’t want the choice taken away from me. Not because I would do anything different, but because it’s an honor to pick which team I’m playing on, and to choose Christ.

Have a great week!

Elder Greaves

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