Today’s guest post is by Glenn.  Let’s agree right up front that figurative language is essential, OK?  We don’t always mean literally every word that we say.  And we don’t always clarify when we are being figurative and when we are being literal.  It is extremely aggravating, isn’t it?  The classic example is using a heart to represent and visualize concepts like love.  Valentines Day would be a pretty disgusting holiday (even more so) if we took that figurative image literally.  But since we grow up with it, we all just assume its figurative meaning, so no one ever feels the need to clarify it.  But bring in someone from another culture who doesn’t understand the underlying assumptions that the rest of us take for granted, and things get weird and confusing really fast.  That may (or may not) happen here as I talk about Make Believe –  some concepts that have become very familiar to me over the years may seem unclear of weird to some of you – but I’ll try to keep it plain and simple – ‘cuz that’s how Nephi would have liked it.

Travel with me, if you will, down the corridors of time, to a childhood moment in primary, or Sunday school, or Family Home Evening, or any other number of situations where you were instructed on the art of prayer.  Were you ever told to imagine Heavenly Father in your mind?  To picture His face?  To imagine what it would feel like if His eyes were looking at you as you knelt there before Him?  Were you ever encouraged in other situations to remove other peoples’ names from the scriptures and replace them with your own, and imagine that those scriptures had been written specifically for you?  Were you ever encouraged to imagine the Savior at any point in his mortal ministry – as an innocent new born babe in a manger – as a twelve-year-old boy in a temple – as a 30-year-old man being baptized in a river – as a beaten and bloodied man hanging on a cross?  Many times we are encouraged to use our imaginations to… well… to imagine the divine – to make real what is so far beyond the realm and scope of our human understanding.  It is how we make our beliefs tangible.  It is how we make belief.

Now in most contexts, “make believe” has a negative connotation and is associated with things that are otherwise not real – it doesn’t have to be this way, but that is its common usage – so if I assert that our faith and our testimonies are a product of traditional social constructions that function to create, validate, and continually justify our beliefs (which I most certainly believe), then some people here will most likely accuse me of spreading some kind of anti-gospel or of having no testimony, yada yada.  But what other options do we really have when it comes to visualizing and realizing God?  We sort of have to make our own belief, don’t we?  Isn’t that what those Primary Lessons are designed to teach us to do?  (ditto for all the correlated lesson manuals ad naseum)

I say this because this morning as I was exploring the perpetual pondering prayer in my heart (not a joke, I maintain a nearly running dialogue-thingy – almost exclusively one-way, as most pondering-prayer-type-thingys go), I was realizing that the Jesus I imagine may be a different Jesus than perhaps some of the rest of you imagine.  I was considering this idea of people who approach life fearful of missteps – people who worry about things like eternal peril, which seems a little odd to me as I understand the message of the atonement and the afterlife.  It seems odd to me that people fret so much – like we have too many Marthas.  My Jesus loves both Martha and Mary equally, although there is a gentle chiding of Martha, it is only because she asked for it with her, “Hey Jesus, tell my sister to stop being lazy and to help me clean up” nitpicking.  And Jesus’, “um, Mary is actually the one who gets it more than you do, Martha” response came not because Martha was fretting too much per se, but because she started pushing her agenda onto others who actually got it more than she did (perhaps some of you can see why I happen to gravitate towards this possibly biased interpretation). 

Now maybe this is just me, and maybe this is just a part of the way that I make my own belief to validate and justify my own way of being, etc etc – of course it is.  And along those same lines, maybe the way I make my belief is wrong.  But here’s the thing – my Jesus gives me room to be wrong.  And he does it with a smile, eagerly anticipating my next stab at things.  He’s a pretty cool Jesus.  Maybe not Fonzie cool, but he could do a lot more than just turn on a jukebox by hitting his fist against a wall or jumping over a shark on his waterskis, although he wouldn’t hold a candle to Fonzie’s dating life (that was Brigham’s Jesus).  Anyhooo…….

I can remember a time when I would have felt very threatened by someone asserting that my faith in God was akin to “make believe.”  But I embrace that now, and I don’t see a conflict with faith, because I still maintain a strong desire for things which are hoped for but not seen, and I share common values and a very Mormon-centric worldview, and I have felt the belief-validating feelings associated with the Holy Ghost.  I still feel them.  Even if those feelings are internally self-generated rather than externally bestowed (which I most usually believe, but don’t fully understand), those feelings are still real feelings — just as real for me as they are for my Muslim friends who feel them in their Zikrs, and my Evangelical friends who feel them in their worship, or my Atheist friends who feel them when experiencing a profound appreciation for nature, or the feelings I felt when I heard Paul McCartney come on stage and sing Hey Jude live in concert, and I joined in with thousands of people on the “na na na nanana na” chorus at the end, and the lights were flashing all around, and man that was AMAZING!!!  What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, and you know the thing I love the most about by new found make believe faith – and this is just the best:  Even if I am wrong – even if the strictest of the pharisitical McConkie Mormons are right (see D&C 76):

1. Been baptized, all the ordinances, doing all the important stuff, check check check

2. I’m not intentionally a liar, and when I am I don’t enjoy it (and when I do, I repent immediately)

3. I’m not planning on killing anyone, (I don’t even huunt)

4. I am rarely tempted by sorcery (although I may go see Harry Potter this weekend)

 So in that case, the Terrestrial Kingdom would have my name written all over it, and that isn’t anything to sneeze at.  In other words, I have been redeemed from the Outer Darkness of Hell, haven’t I?  Rejoice and Hallelujah if that’s my worst-case scenario! The shackles of fear have no hold me.  Isn’t that what faith in the atonement and the restored “good news” gospel of Christ is supposed to do? 

 So I can say to you in all honesty that there is a Jesus in my head with whom I maintain a regular one-way dialogue, and he plays a role in my life, and shapes and guides my thoughts and actions, and he is completely make-believe based on the Mormon make-believe belief-making machine, and some day I hope to meet the real guy if he is out there, and if so, I really hope he is as cool as I really hope he is, and I will take my make-believe, mamby-pamby, wishy-washy, metaphoric, liberal faith any day, thank you very much.  And to anyone else out there who feel similar, I would encourage the same. It’s the best we can do until the day we can actually see with our eyes and feel with our hands and know for certain (for real with every fiber of our being) – until then, we just have to close our eyes and imagine his face in our minds, and open up our senses and try to feel him in our hearts (figuratively speaking, of course).

 So what do you think?  Are you convinced?  Anyone as comfortable with the idea of “make believe” as I am?  There are so many other examples of it in our church experience. Anyone think that the Fonze is actually cooler?  Cuz you, my friend, would be totally totally wrong.