Others, Like Us

With the vaccinations moving forward (based on area), and barring any surprises (something that has become standard for the last year or so–our streak is bound to change at some point), it appears that we are moving slowly towards a return to something like normal. We are beginning to interact with others a little more, attend church a little more, and have face-to-face conversations that don’t require a microphone and camera.

Unfortunately, tumultuous events have encouraged and caused us to be much more divided (are we also divisive?) than we were a year ago. Perhaps it is simply the fact that we haven’t spoken much face to face with each other. I’m hoping that as we move to more in-person sociality, we can move back towards civility and respect a little bit. A couple cautionary tales (from two classic movies, of course) come to mind.

Duck Soup

This Marx Brothers classic has Groucho playing Mr. Firefly, the leader of a country he has brought to the brink of war. He is persuaded to meet with the ambassador as a last-ditch effort at peace:

“I’d be only too happy to meet Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit in which it is offered.

“But suppose he doesn’t? A fine thing that’ll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept it. That’ll add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap out of me in front of all my people?

“Think of it – I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept it. Why, the cheap four flushing swine, he’ll never get away with it I tell you, he’ll never get away with it!”

(Ambassador Trentino enters. Mr. Firefly slaps him)

To be fair, in Duck Soup I think Mr. Firefly actually wants war and is just posturing (It’s been long enough since I’ve watched it through I don’t quite remember). However, here we have someone who has an opportunity to bring peace, but he doesn’t let go of the idea that the ambassador is simply a bad actor, and imagines four times in as many seconds not only a negative outcome, but the worst possible outcome. In doing so, he convinces himself that the supposed opportunity is a fraud and changes his own actions, slapping the ambassador instead of reaching out the hand of fellowship.

Meet the Robinsons

If you haven’t seen this, you need to. It is a tremendous tale of overcoming difficult circumstances, and the doubts and fears that can plague you in doing so. At one point we see a flashback of the villain’s childhood as he is telling his backstory:

Student 1: Hey, what’s up? Cool binder!
Student 2: Hey, want to come over to my house today?
Villain: They all hated me…

It’s a funny scene, but in a rather sad way. The villain, having spent most of his life in isolation, has convinced himself that everyone in the world was against him; although the more accurate depiction shows that to be completely false (Interestingly, one of the focuses of the movie is an invention called the “Memory Scanner”). Others were actually very kind and attempted to reach out to him; but, absorbed in his own misfortunes, he not only did not notice, he attributed malice towards those whose actual actions were precisely the opposite.

Make Room for Others

I have found myself at times falling victim to the same traps illustrated in those movie quotes. So sure of others harmful intent that I can not even hear what they have to say. So sure of a negative outcome that my own actions make that outcome more likely.

I took great comfort from hearing from our prophets and apostles in our recent General Conference. One talk I’d like to mention is Elder’s Gong’s excellent talk “Room in the Inn“. He discusses the parable of the Good Samaritan, and compares the inn where the victim was taken to the Church, a place where we can find healing and grace.

My plea is that as we are seeking our own healing, we can make a little extra room for others who, like us, are in need of their own healing.
Others who, like us, may be judging others a little unfairly.
Others who, like us, may be harboring some resentment or frustration.
Others who, like us, may struggle to reconnect.
Others who, like us, may be unaware of their own inadequacies.
Others who, like us, are hoping to find friendship and compassion in others.

In the nativity, Jesus ends up being born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. I hope that as we begin to return back to meeting and greeting and socializing with others that we can find a way to make room for others in our own homes and hearts. I hope that others will make room in their inns for me and that I can make room for them.

A Destroyed Nation

A few weeks ago I was reading in the Book of Mormon how the Nephite nation was destroyed. I had remembered that the Chief Judge (highest office in the nation) had been murdered, but here’s the thing–that had happened before and the nation hadn’t fallen apart because of it.

There are 3 accounts of a Chief Judge being murdered recorded in the Book of Mormon, and all of them are attributed to a “band of robbers” who become known as the Gadiantons. The first murder is the beginning of this group.

For about 50 years this band grows and becomes an increasing threat to the Nephites, both externally as a force that must be fought though force of arms, but also internally, as a network of people that infiltrate the government at all levels. Notably, in the second murder of the Chief Judge, both the murderer and the victim are identified as belonging to the Gadiantons.

Despite the fact that the second Chief Judge to be murdered is actually a member of this evil band of robbers and usurpers, this does not destroy the Nephite nation. To me that is pretty astounding, and a testament to the stability of their government.

3 Nephi 7:1-2 explains briefly how the nation was destroyed. The Chief Judge is murdered. But again, that has happened before and the nation was able to continue. What was different this time is found in the second verse:

“And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes”

3 Nephi 7:2 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/3-ne/7.2?lang=eng#2?lang=eng

We are approaching a contentious U.S. election, and both sides claim that the other won’t concede defeat. I find very little evidence of that, but I am concerned that over time we are continually getting to a point where each side truly believes that the other is evil–the “other side” is essentially this group of Gadiantons, seeking to destroy others for their own profit, and possibly for their own twisted pleasure in seeing others suffer.

The trouble is that there are good reasons why someone would choose to vote for Biden. There are also good reasons to vote for Trump. There are reasons to vote against both. I’m concerned that people are increasingly convinced that an entire half of the nation (of course it’s the “other” half) is a combination of exceptionally evil and exceptionally ignorant people.

The United States are very fortunate to have a surprisingly stable government. One that was designed with multiple layers of checks and balances such that an evil individual or even a group of individuals can only do so much (yes, that is being worn away, but it’s not nearly gone yet). However, when the people of our nation become so divided that everyone is convinced that the “other” is simply evil; that is when we are in danger of losing our nation.

Again, I don’t think we’re actually at that point yet. I am concerned that we are getting a little closer with each election. I myself and others take a little extra time to appreciate that everyone has different opinions, everyone has the right to express those opinions, and everyone gets to vote, and who they vote for does not make them an evil person.

Let’s be a little less “divided one against another”

General Conference Oct 2020

This weekend was General Conference. With all that was going on in the world/country right now I wanted to take a moment to jot down a few thoughts and highlights that jumped out at me:

  • Faithfulness is not foolishness or fanaticism
  • We often extoll but rarely emulate the Savior (are we too comfortable to pick up a heavy cross?)
  • You are good enough and loved, but not complete
  • We need to see each other deeply and be seen deeply
  • We can be a force to lift and bless the world
  • The US founding documents were inspired by God, even though written by imperfect men.
  • Excellent talk about temple recommends from Elder Rasband
  • We need to be more concerned about our duties than our rights
  • Amazing and balanced commentary on the current civil unrest by Elder Oaks. There are injustices that need to be resolved. Protesting is a good thing. Rioting is not.
  • Lots of talks discussed the evils of racism and prejudice
  • Lots of emphasis on preparation: spiritual, physical, emotional
  • We are all “us”, and we are all “them”
  • Our best days are ahead of us, not behind us
  • The US and other countries are at a critical crossroads; pray for your country and its leaders
  • Carest thou not that we perish? Jesus is in our boat
  • As we learn to control our thoughts, the power of the Spirit will be greater in our lives
  • Angels on this side of the veil–good hearted people who are willing to bless and help others (God is always looking for someone who is willing to help)
  • As faith in Jesus diminishes across the world, we need to be more willing to speak of Him.
  • Are we willing to let God prevail in our lives?
  • Search the scriptures and see what promises God has promised to Covenant Isreal
  • Bear your burdens with steady faith and help others to bear theirs
  • We can acknowledge afflictions yet still recognize that we have been highly favored of the Lord
  • Wake up and do something more than dream of your mansion above
  • You became a physician to heal people, not to judge them
  • As we repent and do justly, we come to love mercy
  • God expects us to address our public and personal issues. We must work and pray and wait–exercise diligence and patience
  • The Gospel is comforting; not comfortable
  • No spiritual blessing will be withheld from the righteous

Pure Duty

I remember as a young boy a particularly difficult morning getting ready for a regional conference (Multi-congregational gathering). We were late and frustration levels were high, but eventually we got on our way. In an effort to calm things down and get us in a better mindset for the meeting (for which we were already very late), my mother asked us, “OK, why are we going to this meeting?”

My dad tersely replied, “Pure duty and not another SHRED of reason!”

We’ve always enjoyed that story (well, everyone except my dad), and I’ve used it as an example a couple times to point out the importance of duty. In the LDS Church, we hope that our actions are always motivated by charity, the pure love of Christ. Unfortunately, it seems to me that sometimes we end up implying that doing something out of a sense of duty means that we are not being motivated by love. Duty becomes a second-class citizen this way. Perhaps if our motivation is only duty, then we are like the evil man who gave a gift unwillingly. According to the scriptures, a man who gives a gift unwillingly receives no blessing.

My assertion is that at the very least duty helps to fill the gap in our service to God and our fellow man. We should be motivated by love; and sometimes we are… and sometimes we are not. Usually it’s actually somewhere in between. We are disciples of Christ, trying to follow in His steps as best we can, but we are not perfect by any means (see Elder Holland’s excellent talk about eventual perfection). We love the Lord and we mostly love our fellow man, but it can be difficult to muster up the courage to try to become friends with someone we barely know; it can be hard to volunteer again for a requested service. While I often feel like I am that unwilling man, giving a gift because I am compelled, that compulsion comes from a sense of duty to a Savior I love and whose disciple I am.

This morning in our services the bishop noted how remarkable it was that the young men in the Aaronic Priesthood did their duty today collecting fast offerings (going around the neighborhood gathering donations to help the poor) despite the recent snow storm and cold weather. Those young men were not excited to be doing it, but they still did it. And it really is remarkable that they are learning to serve others and do difficult things even when they don’t want to. They are learning (as we should also learn) to look outside themselves and their own concerns and to work to help others. They are learning to work for the good of the group. They are learning to do their duty.

It is absolutely true that as Christians, our actions should be motivated by love. I hope that there will come a day when everything I do is a joyful service, and I feel a strong sense of fulfillment, joy and purpose as I complete each task of every day. But I’m not there yet. As it turns out, life is full of work. The dishes need to be done. The toddler wet the bed again. I finished my work day two steps back from where I began. I thought finances were looking OK, but then we got that bill that I had forgotten about. These are not fun things.

Strangely enough, sacrifice is hard. It’s difficult to go and visit my neighbor. It’s hard to shovel the widow’s walk as well as my own. It’s beyond frustrating to try and have scripture study time with the family when no one seems to be paying the slightest attention.

I probably should be singing through each moment of every day, but I don’t.

That’s not to say that life has no joy, and that we don’t have any fun. I have experienced profound joy and have had some incredibly fun times with friends and family. Those are wonderful things to look forward to and remember. But life is not (and is not meant to be) solely made up of such wonderful moments. And for me, it is often duty that helps me to continue through the day-to-day. I do these things because I know I’m supposed to. I have a responsibility to fulfill, and I will try to fill that responsibility, even if I’m not particularly filled with love at that particular moment.

What’s interesting to me is that as time goes on, I’m seeing that fulfilling my duty often leads to greater love, and greater enjoyment. Doing my duty helps me to reach those moments of life that are filled with joy and even with fun. If I were to neglect my duty or shirk my responsibility, then my ability to find meaning and fulfillment would be seriously hampered.

An example of this occurred to me recently: We try to do vacations, outings, and day trips with our kids periodically. Sometimes the initial idea and plans for these trips happen well in advance. We talk with the kids and we all get excited at the prospect of visiting this or doing that. But then as the time draws near there is a lot of work and preparation that has to be done. Life happens. Things pile up, Often there are scheduling conflicts requiring us to give something else up. On occasion I have been ready to give up and cancel our plans. The activity itself no longer even sounds fun anymore. If I do proceed, it is certainly out of a sense of “pure duty and not another shred of reason.” So far, I have yet to regret pushing through those difficulties. Every time we have proceeded, we have ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable time.

This is how I see duty. Duty gets us through the frequent hard (and/or boring) parts. Duty helps us keep focused on our larger goals and the bigger picture. Duty helps us to see beyond ourselves. We are moving more and more into a culture of constant entertainment and instant gratification, but where the effort is minimal, the reward is minimal. Duty helps us put in the work for much larger efforts where the rewards are much greater.

P.S. President Monson spoke a number of times on duty, here’s a great example: Willing and Worthy to Serve

A testimony is born

It started when my six-year-old’s friend got up and bore his testimony.

In the Mormon faith, the first Sunday of each month is “Fast Sunday.” Those who are able to fast on that day (skipping breakfast and lunch). During our church services, there is a time when anyone can go up to the pulpit to “bear their testimony.” We call a testimony to be that knowledge about Jesus Christ and His Gospel and Church that has been gained through the witness of the Holy Spirit. Bearing a testimony during church services is generally a short statement of belief and/or understanding on one or more aspects of the Gospel.

After my son’s friend got down (followed by his sister and father), my son Sam turned to me,

“Dad, some day I want to get up and bear my testimony.”

Yes!! “Why not today?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

I hear ya there, kid… “A testimony is what you know. What the Spirit has told you in your heart is true about Jesus.”

Sam decided to do it. He and I went up to the stand to wait our turn. He asked me again what he should say, and I repeated what I said earlier. When it was his turn, he asked me to go up with him, but he bore a simple testimony on his own without prompting. He said that he knew the church was true, and that church can be fun and exciting. He also stated that he knew miracles do happen and can happen to anyone.

I also bore my testimony (interrupted by my youngest toddling up to me and then trying to get to the microphone), and we went back down to our seats.

This is one of those moments that a Mormon parent dreams of. The moment when we see our children begin to take those steps of faith that we ourselves have taken. Today, I saw the seed of testimony being planted.


Sabbath Observance and Family Councils

The LDS Church has put a big emphasis recently on keeping the Sabbath holy. Last week in our combined third-hour class, our bishopric shared many thoughts and counsel on the importance of the Sabbath, attending church, and in particular partaking of the sacrament. They finished the lesson by asking us to each choose one thing that we could do to make the Sabbath holy in our lives.

That evening my wife and I discussed it, and decided that we wanted to do something to help encourage reverence during Sacrament meeting (the first hour in LDS worship services). We decided to have our kids help us decide specifically what we could do, so that it would be a family decision (and would hopefully help our young kids be more inclined to follow along). so the next day we gathered the kids together and talked to them about what we could do to be more reverent at church.

while I had a number of ideas, it was actually our 8 year-old daughter who came up with the idea that we settled on. She suggested that we all take our journals and take notes during the sacrament meeting. And that seemed to me to be the right solution. So today I took the girls (Mom stayed home with the baby and a sick boy), and after the ordinance was over, I handed out their journals and got my own out.

For myself, I got a lot more out of sacrament than I usually do. Not just from what was said, but from thoughts and impressions that came to me during the talks. But what was really powerful to me was seeing my 8 year-old paying close attention to the speakers and writing out a couple pages of notes. Here is a sampling:

– God knows and cares
– God will help us
– God gave us apostles
– And the apostles are like spies

(That last one was referencing a comment about how the apostles can act similarly to an army’s spies, who watch the movements of the enemy and are able to advise the army on how to counter the enemy’s actions).

Now, I don’t know how well this is going to go once we have the baby back in the mix–we may have to make adjustments and/or try something else. However, I have been learning about the need to counsel together as a family, and I felt that here was one instance where we had done just that, and God blessed our efforts.

What Child Is This?

Listening to one of my favorite renditions of “What Child Is This?” got me thinking a little bit. I really like it because it is not a big grand massive thing. It’s small, quiet, peaceful, and personal; and the haunting melody gives it a wondrous quality. I realized that it shared those qualities with my favorite painting of the Nativity–the one done by Walter Rane. In it Mary and Jesus are lying in the hay, in shadow (very different from the traditional Nativity image). Mary looks exhausted but peaceful. To me it looks like we are intruding on a very private, very personal moment.

I realized that Walter Rane was actually depicting a very common scene–the birth of a child. He’s seen that look, as have many others, including myself. I have stared in wonder at the face of a child just born… my child. And then at my wife, who has suffered so much that this helpless, defenseless soul could live, breathe, experience joy and sorrow, learn and grow and walk, and laugh, and stub his toe, and taste pancakes, and push toys around, and then… to have his own family. To stare in wonder at his own wife and child.

I think this experience helps me to understand the incredible joy of that great day when the Messiah was born.

Our Savior was born to save us all, and he knows us and loves us just as much (more!) than that special love that we have for our own children. He suffered more than we can comprehend so that we could repent and return to our heavenly home. So we can live, and die, and then live again. So that though we may be separated for a season, joy cometh in the morning; for families can be sealed together for eternity.

I thank my father in Heaven for His miraculous plan. For giving us His child so that I can repent and learn to live gospel so that I can find peace in this life. And for giving me my own family, so that I can have joy and happiness in this life and the next.

Shoulder Your Pack, and Pick Up the Pace

There is a lot of hatred and evil in this world. I’ve been feeling weighed down lately with some of the news, and I do very poorly when I try to express it. How to best express thoughts, feelings, and emotions into words? What words describe the shock and horror of seeing a picture of the drowned Syrian Toddler, Aylan Kurdi? How can I frame a paragraph to convey what I feel about our own Holocaust-like abortions? What words will repel those seeking to limit and diminish our rights to live and express our religion, a right that the nation was founded on? What can I say that adequately expresses the dangers of pornography, and shows the link between it and sex-trafficking?

So. much. evil.

Just plain evil.

And on top of that, there is confusion, mis-direction, false accusation, exaggeration, useless rhetoric, and lots and lots and lots and lots of people shouting at and demonizing others. It really doesn’t help, particularly in a time where so many people need help. They need real help.

I want to help. I want to do something. To make a difference, even if it’s only a small one. I was touched by one mother’s small action to help against abortion. Something like that. And I want to encourage others to do the same.

The trouble is that it is something on top of all the regular stuff that I (and everyone else) absolutely have to get done: job, family, scripture study, family home evening, church duties, scout duties, family history, diapers, bottles, homework, reading, disciplining, cleaning, teaching, and so many other things that I’m forgetting. By the time I have a spare minute to think of what to do, I am worn out, and ready to just watch some mindless show with my wife and go to bed.

But there are those who don’t have a bed. Those who will never even feel a bed. They still need our help.

“Could ye not watch with me one hour?”

I am resolving to do a little more. To be a little more active. To think of things I can do besides “liking” and “sharing”.

There are so many good causes out there. There are people who are actively fighting these evils. We can and should help them and work together. Find some cause that speaks to you and lend them some of your effort, as small as it may be. Lift where you stand.

Our burdens may already be heavy, but I think the time has come to shoulder our packs and to pick up the pace. Certainly it is not expedient to run faster than you have strength, but we do still need to be diligent. Pray and see what your Father in Heaven would have you do. Understand that serving others will put into perspective and diminish your own burdens.

God is hastening His work, what am I going to do to keep up? Will I be able to forget myself and go to work?

There are chances for work all around just  now
Opportunities right in our way
Do not let them pass by
Saying sometime I’ll try
But go and do something today

Then wake up and do something more
than dream of your mansion above

There Is No End

The hymn “If You Could Hie To Kolob” is famous for having a great tune, lyrics that can confuse those visiting us on Sundays, and lots and lots and lots of lines that begin with “There is no end to …” (fill in the blank).

I’ve always really enjoyed this hymn a lot, but as a youth I thought those “no end to” lines were kind of… un-inspired, like the author just got bored of writing the poem, but still had to come up with two and a half more verses. I mean seriously, the fifth verse not only consists of “no end to” lines, but it repeats the same four lines twice!

Then a friend of mine died, and we sang this hymn at his funeral. As we sang those two and a half verses, I received a powerful witness of the reality of those lines. While we live in mortality right now, our spirits are eternal and continue past the grave. And because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are all partakers in the resurrection–we will all live again. We will see each other and be with them again. Families can be reunited. Covenants can bind us together for eternity.

There is no end.

Our love and friendships will continue. Our faith will continue. Our covenants with God will continue. Our families will continue. As important as it is, this mortal life that we now live is a tiny step in our eternal progression.

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

What is your focus?

We recently went to the Payson Temple open house. It was stunningly beautiful. In the last 20 years or so, the Church has had a lot of experience building these, and they are getting really good. There was a special spirit present, and for the most part the whole family had a wonderful experience…

The other part consisted of my son, who had a difficult time dealing with the plastic footsies that they slip on over your shoes. They are awkward, they make a funny sound, and they cover up your cool star wars shoes. Eventually he got over it and enjoyed the rest of the open house (mostly).

I feel like there’s some gospel application in there somewhere…