"Knowledge does not equal understanding. Truth is truth no matter what I think about it. So be very careful how you interpret things, because you are looking at the world with a bias, whether you think you are or not."
- Destin - Backwards Brain Bicycle VIDEO
An introspective invitation to consider another perspective of Lehi's Vision, written for the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (formerly known as Mormons).
Disagree? Have another perspective I missed? Reply with your take on the same in the comments below.
Growing up LDS, I had many interesting visuals painted into my mind either by teachers and their then biases on what they thought scriptures meant, or visual media from the church or members of the church on all sorts of stories, scriptures, and topics. In particular, I have vivid memories and visuals from watching the Living Scriptures version of Lehi's dream, which I will discuss in depth below.
I grew up simply accepting what I was taught should be the interpretation of certain scripture stories. These were mostly interpretations from general authorities, scholars, mentors, and parents. More often than not, many of the accepted meanings didn't quite settle for me. I couldn't really put my thumb on it then, I simply was just to simple minded, naive, and fearful. But as I sat in class after class, Sunday school after Sunday school, talk after talk, my heart would not settle with many of the shared meanings of stories and scriptures. It was like it was all packaged into a perfect little box of understanding we all were given and supposed to follow and not question.
Lehi's vision is one of those ahah stories, which after I allowed myself the sacred space to discover God on my own, outside the control of religion - I went back, and maybe like a child going back to read a book from their childhood, read it again, and understood it in a way that nobody every taught me, shared, considered, or maybe even dared to believe.
I share this with invitation to my fellow LDS to open their hearts and minds and consider where they, like me, fit into what I believe is one real purpose of this particular scriptural account in the Book of Mormon.
LEHI's VISION - AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE OF TRUTH
As Lehi describes his dream to his sons, the first person he encounters is a "man, and he was dressed in a white robe". Most members I talk to believe that person is either an angel or Jesus himself teaching him a lesson. The footnotes even suggests this is Jehovah, or Jesus. Whether or not that is where you stand, I'm going to take the scriptures at their words, and simply suggest Lehi runs into a man dressed in a white robe.
What does the man ask of Lehi?
The man in a white robe then spoke to and bade (invited) Lehi to follow him, which Lehi did. You can begin to draw your own analogies about any of this, like trusting in the arm of flesh Christ speaks against so much throughout scripture, but I'm going to simply continue to the major shift in perspective I believe this scripture is trying to tell the very members of the church it was written for, which I, myself, am also included.
Upon following the man, where does Lehi end up?
Verse 7 tells us that as Lehi followed him, and upon doing so, he ended up in a "dark and dreary waste". Interesting if nothing else. Please continue, as it gets more clear as we read on.
In verse 8, we read how, after following this man in a white robe, Lehi had travelled for many hours in darkness, upon which he then decides to pray to the Lord for mercy. An interesting almost paralleled plea we read in Psalm 51, where repentance seeking is the key to both prayers by both prophets of God. Could Lehi and David be asking for forgiveness of erring in fearing men more than God? Food for thought.
After praying for mercy, Lehi then finds himself in a large and spacious field, where he sees the tree whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
We read about the sweetness of the fruit, Lehi's desire that others come and partake of the same fruit - and then we get to the perspective shift I believe members of the church might consider more deeply.
Great and Spacious Building
As Lehi continues on in his dream, he gets to the part where he beholds a great and spacious building which stood as if it was in the air, high above the earth. We won't dive into much here other than the invite to consider that this building was basically exalting itself into the heavens, or high above the earth. That could be symbolic, but let's continue.
Lehi sees that this great and spacious building, high above the earth, was filled with people. Which kind of people? Young and old, male and female. Simple as that. It had grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, kids, and babies.
Growing up LDS, the scene of this great and spacious building was ingrained in my mind as both the "other" churches, mainly catholic, and the worldy sinful people. The visual I had since I was young, was that of a building filled with people drinking beer, doing drugs, living lasciviously, and all were wearing scantily clad dresses, silks, expensive clothings, maybe some revealing attire, and they were lustful, boastful and partying with Laman and Lemuel hot on the trail to join them (watch video for yourself, VIDEO 1, VIDEO 2 - warning, you'll never unsee this).
Discussing this vision with my LDS neighbor, who happens to be of Latin descent, he laughed as he said he thought all the people in the great and spacious building were latins, doing bad things. We both laughed and realized how crazy different our ideas were on the same Lehi dream.
Whatever our visual has been on this dream, if we look at the words of Lehi and take them at face value, the people in this great and spacious building were simply male and female, the young and the old, all wearing something in common - which Lehi describes as, "exceedingly fine dress".
Let's pause and consider Lehi's bias in this statement of "exceeding fine dress". Reading Lehi's history in the Book of Mormon we can see he was most likely wealthy - as the well-to-do Laban lusted after their great possessions when Lehi's sons attempted to trade the same for the plates of brass, not to mention how hard it was for his sons to leave such a life they had.
So we have Lehi, most likely a wealthy metallurgist, who, upon looking at these young and old, male and females in this great and spacious building, saw what they were wearing, and described the same clothing as "exceedingly fine dress". We could read that to mean Lehi saw finely spun threads (exceedingly fine compared to the fine spun clothing of his day) or we could also assume he meant expensive or richly dressed - again thinking of his perspective from a wealthy standpoint, but either works for our analogy.
So, just to introduce the alternative perspective, let's re-evaluate Lehi's statements and apply them to modern day LDS, or to ourselves.
I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld a great and spacious building / church / conference center, and it stood, as it were high above the earth, exalting itself maybe even to the heavens, and it was filled with people, young and old, male and female, all wearing their exceedingly fine Sunday best.
Now, before you are tempted to react or be triggered, I invite you to challenge yourself here, as I did and have, and point to yourself in this perspective. Those people, in the building, are us religious people, in our exceeding fine spun Sunday best dress.
What are these people, in their Sunday best, in the conference centers, or religious buildings around the world doing?
Lehi specifically states, these people were doing one thing, in that they were "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who were simply partaking of God's love (the fruit)."
To be fair, many LDS are great people, I myself considered myself the same, a loving kind person. I would never outright point my finger at someone and mock them. But it doesn't say that in this account. Lehi specifically sees these people, in their exceedingly fine spun Sunday best, exalted high above the earth, in the "attitude" of mocking those partaking of the fruit (love of God).
Fascinating. We don't have to outright be mocking people, pointing our fingers of maybe judgement, pride, or scorn at others, but simply, we can be in the attitude of mocking others, is expressly how Lehi put it in this scriptural account.
What could that mean? To be in the attitude of mocking others?
For me, I for sure was naively in the "attitude" of mocking others and didn't even realize it, as I supposedly had the truth, the only truth and my attitude towards those who didn't have what I had, was not outright mockery, but for sure an attitude of my being in a greater place than they were, as they supposedly sought the fruit of the tree outside the only true religion on earth. All was well in my Zion, I was safe, yet was I in that exalted building, high above the earth in the attitude of mocking others holding fast to Christ (the Iron Rod) to reach, not some building or religions, but simply, the Love of God?
Now we could go into Nephi's version of his father's dream, later in Chapter 11 and read how it says the Great and Spacious Building represents the Pride of the world, but that, for me, only strengthens the symbology that whether it represents the conference center, the temples, the chapel down the road of the LDS or any religion at that, it for sure says it was high above the earth (the heavens) in the attitude of mocking those simply seeking the Love of God.
Bias is bias. I have just shared another bias, or shadow of truth about a story in the Book of Mormon. This bias however, for me makes so much more sense, and does so much more for the individual's humility, which the scriptures are constantly inviting us to strip ourselves of our opposing pride, than does believing that the great and spacious building is some other church or the wicked of the world.
The man in the white robe is plainly stated as a man, in a white robe, which if we follow, like Lehi, we could end up in dark places - rather, Lehi was delivered by praying directly to the Lord, and the man in the white robe then becomes super insignificant and forgotten. There is a lesson in that little run-in, a lesson repeated throughout scripture about trusting in the arm of flesh over God.
The great and spacious building, the pride of the world as Nephi put it later in chapter 11, has no foundation, yet is very strongly symbolic of religions or churches, in that it specifically stands high above the earth, almost exalting itself to the Heavens.
I am willing to look at myself as one of those in that building, in my exceedingly fine spun Sunday best or even normal fine spun threaded clothing, and be sure that I check myself, to see if my biases are causing me to judge others who are not dressed as I am, know what I think I know, or attending the "true church" with me, as after all, the "last judgement" we tend to project onto God is maybe not what we have been taught or think it is, in that the last judgement for each of us will be the last time we judge ourselves and others, the last judgement of ourselves and others - which upon achieving such level of charity and love, we then step into the kingdom of God which is within each of us.
God's love is not exclusive. The tree of Life is for all. Hopefully we can look at these stories a little different and find that when we think for ourselves, setting aside fear (the opposite of faith), rather than maybe follow those men in white robes, we will discover how most scripture points directly to one thing, our uncovering of our own ego-minds, pride, and judgement of others and ourselves.