Sunday, December 30, 2012

Moroni's Message to Non-Believers

"Step Into the Dark"
Interesting picture . . . I can't tell which direction he is walking.
I've recently been studying Moroni's teachings which are scattered through the last two chapters of Mormon and the Books of Ether and Moroni (chapters 1-7 & 10).  Moroni knew the effects of unbelief well, having described how it destroyed both the Jaredite and Nephite civilizations.  As the last Nephite, and having seen our day in a vision, Moroni's message was intended for us.  It is sobering to wonder how similar we are to the Jaredites and the Nephites of his day.

Much of Moroni’s perspective was colored by the reality that he was among a very small group of people that continued to believe in Christ.  The ever-shrinking minority of believers and the growing unbelief of everyone else brought about the destruction of his entire nation. Much of the 8th and 9th chapters of Mormon are dedicated to showing that God has not ceased to be God and that he continues to be a God of miracles.  Unfortunately, the ability to recognize God and his miracles first required people to set aside their unbelief.  Accordingly, the contrasting states of belief and unbelief are heavily themed throughout Moroni’s writings; Mormon 9 and Ether 4 in particular can be viewed as Moroni's message to non-believers.

In the eyes of most people in Moroni's day, God had ceased to do miracles. Moroni taught that this was because they "dwindle[d] in unbelief" (Mormon 9:20).  To dwindle is to diminish gradually in size, amount or strength. His usage implies that what was dwindling was really belief.  As belief degrades, the the path of least resistance leads to a state of disbelief where unbelievers are prone to place trust in things that have no ability to save. 

In contrast, those that simply believe, have the assurance that they will one day come to know great things (Ether 4:11; see also Mormon 9:21-27Ether 3:26) that are otherwise hidden by unbelief and the state of spiritual blindness that it causes (Ether 4:13-15). 

It seems that history doomed to repeat itself. Today we find ourselves living in a society that is reminiscent of Moroni's day. People are determined to deny the miracles of God and rationalize him out of existence. Believing without proof is now considered foolhardy.  Sadly for those unwilling to take the first step, signs only follow those that believe (Mormon 9:24; see also Ether 4:18D&C 63:9). 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


It's been a year since we visited Morocco over Christmas--certainly one of the most memorable Christmases ever.  If you want to get back to the roots of why we celebrate Christmas, I'd highly recommend spending it in a place that is 99% Muslim.  I saw exactly two Christmas trees (and one was made of blue and silver tinsel) and zero Christian churches in ten days.  There was absolutely no effort to commercialize, hype or trivialize the event. It felt like we were visiting a strange new place in February or March when there was nothing to commemorate.

In Morocco, Islam penetrates the fabric of life all the way down to individual fibers.  Seeing and experiencing it confronted me with the many paradoxes of that faith. At times I was inspired by the devout faith of the people; many times I was disappointed.  But on a daily basis, I was struck by a concept that regularly showed up in even the most ordinary conversations. It is summed up in a single word: inshallah . . .  إن شاء الله . . . "Allah willing" or "if Allah wills it". 

I have to be honest in admitting that in a lot of cases, the word is used as a kinder and gentler way of saying "no" in Arabic. When I was a kid, my mom used to say "we'll see" when we asked her for something like Chips Ahoy or Froot Loops at the supermarket. If she were Moroccan, she would have answered our pleadings with "inshallah". It's an open joke that when Moroccan answers your request for a favor with "inshallah", it really means "no". 

But inshallah is much more than an appeasing platitude or a handy mechanism for remaining non-committal. Inshallah seems to permeate everyday life in Morocco in a broader way.  Say "see you later" and the response is "inshallah". Ask a friend "Will you join us for lunch tomorrow?" and the response is invariably "inshallah." 

This may be astonishing, but inshallah demonstrates a readiness of Moroccans to acknowledge the hand of God in every day life to a greater degree than I see in Las Vegas. But
 if God notes a sparrow's fall (Matthew 10:29-31), then why not expect him to be aware of the little details of our lives? Inshallah also seems to demonstrate a certain fait accompli acceptance of God's will in the lives of these people that we could learn so much from. To imagine that our will could or should supplant his will is supremely arrogant, yet remarkably common.

For some Moroccans, I suppose inshallah is simply a figure of speech. But hearing this phrase used so frequently was an poignant reminder for me to take note of the many evidences of God's involvement in the mundane details of my life.  It also inspired me to realize on a personal level the fervent prayer of Joseph Smith when he dedicated the Kirtland Temple:
Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours.       D&C 109:44

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Religious But Not Spiritual

My favorite photo from Thailand: a RBNS macaque in Lop Buri. 
If spiritual but not religious (SBNR) is the movement that lulls the secular masses into a false sense of spiritual security, then religious but not spiritual (RBNS) is the equivalent amongst regular church goers. Whether it is the temple-going-returned-missionary whose apostasy you never saw coming, or your Christian friend whose lifestyle betrays no evidence of their born-again-and-go-to-church-every-Sunday faith, it is far too common for comfort. These are ever-present reminders that outward religiosity does not equate to actual spirituality.

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom spoke to the risking trend of RBNS in the church in the April 2012 General Conference: 

Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. 

In Mormon circles, there is a great tendency to equate regular church attendance with having it all together spiritually. Most of us are guilty of going to lengths to cover our blemishes prior to showing up at sacrament meeting. Like a good actor, we’re ‘in character’ for at least three hours every Sunday. Often, we become so good at it that our audience starts to believe it.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We need as much practice as possible in being the person we would really like to be. But there is a fine line between putting on our Sunday best (literally and figuratively) and trying to appear to be someone we’re not. 

I love the assessment of Fr. James Martin who speaks out against the perils of both RBNS and SBNR:
Religion without spirituality becomes a dry list of dogmatic statements divorced from the life of the spirit. This is what Jesus warned against. Spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community.
RBNS is every bit as unproductive for the pious as SBNR is for the secular. In truth, outward religious behavior that is not mirrored by internal spirituality is an "abomination" in God’s eyes. The Lord said “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Joseph Smith History 1:19).”  For the purposes of this post, the Good News Translation of Isaiah 29:13 is very instructive (here for KJV):

The Lord said, “These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized. (GNT Isaiah 29:13)

The Lord is not interested in lip service, but "requireth the heart and a willing mind" (D&C 64:34). It is far easier to memorize the rules and customs of a religious tradition and intermittently perform it's associated rites than it is to actually be spiritual—at least as defined by God (Romans 8:5-8). To do so is the essence of being RBNS.  The RBNS have "a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof" and spend their efforts "ever learning [but] never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:5, 7). In some cases it is a deliberate attempt to appear to be something we are not. In most cases, it is unintentional. Either way, it amounts to Christianity-Lite. Though it may taste great, it is less definitely less filling. 

Elder Hallstrom went on to say: "we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel." You can't have one with out the other.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spiritual But Not Religious

Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit that takes issue with SBNR at Busted Halo 

I’ve never met Reverend Lillian Daniel, but hearing her call out the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) crowd on this podcast made me an instant fan (listen to her 3 minute audio clip here, transcript here). 

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself. 

I particularly enjoyed her jab about sunsets and beaches.  So true!
Fortunately, Reverend Daniel is not the only one that is standing up to the SBNR. Alan Miller sums things up nicely as well:

. . . the spiritual but not religious reflect the "me" generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.

OUCH! It turns out that SBNRism is pretty prevalent. A 1999 Gallup poll on American religious life found that 38% of respondents identified themselves as SBNR. A USA Today poll in 2010 found that 72% Millenials describe themselves using terms like SBNR. Furthermore, two thirds of the respondents that identified themselves as “Christian” did not pray, read the Bible, and rarely or never attend worship services. Not good.

SBNRism is a very convenient philosophy for those trying to find the perfect Laodicean temperature on the ‘commitment to God’ scale (i.e. – lukewarm; see Revelation 3:14-16). It enables the adherent to rationalize the dissonance between the moral absolutes that have been the hallmark of organized religion for 6000 years, and the desire to live without boundaries. The formula is fairly simple: reject organized religion and embrace a spirituality that is so abstract that it can’t be judged by anyone but yourself. In one fell swoop you are free of all the structure, demands and effort of religious devotion, while still proclaiming that you are every bit as spiritual as devoted churchgoers.

SBNRism is really just another incarnation of the self-indulgent spirituality of the Zoramites (see a related post here; see also Alma 31). An even better comparison is  the belief system of King Lamoni:

Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right . . . (Alma 18:5). 

I must admit there is a certain appeal from the notion that you can do no wrong. But as comfy as things feel for those that consider themselves SBNR, there remains a big problem: there are moral absolutes and man cannot save himself from sin when he violates these absolutes. I stand with the SBNR on the awesomeness of sunsets. But let's face itthey can't save you.

The decline of religiosity and increasing secularism of our society represents a greater threat to our peace and prosperity than the economy, the national debt, poverty or any other problem I can think of. I find it curious that the response of church leadership today in reaching out to those that think of themselves as SBNR is similar to the approach Alma used for reclaiming the Zoramites.

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma though it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

As a result of the lowered age requirements for missionary service, the world—and North America in particular—will see LDS missionaries in unprecedented numbers teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike SBNRism, it does have the ability to save. As the perils of moral relativism and secularism surge, it makes great sense that the church ‘try the virtue of the word of God.’ 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Machiavelli & Moroni: Happy in Hell?

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Niccolò Machiavelli (1489-1527) was an influential politician and writer from Florence at the peak of the Italian Renaissance.  His work The Prince is so notoriously self-serving and unscrupulous, that it spawned the whole concept of Machiavellian ethics. Not surprisingly, he didn't exactly have the reputation of a pious saint. 

I recently read an account of "Machiavelli's dream" which reminded me of a similar passage written by Moroni.  Failing in health,  Niccolò's doctors could do nothing more for him and encouraged him to make peace with God. Shortly before his death, while surrounded by his friends, he recounted the details of a dream he had.  Maurizio Virol's biography of Machiavelli (Niccolò's Smile) describes his dream thus:

In his dream, he had seen a band of poorly dressed men, ragged and miserable in appearance. He asked them who they were. They replied, "We are the saintly and the blessed; we are on our way to Heaven." Then he saw a crowd of solemnly attired men, noble and grave in appearance, speaking seriously of important political matters. In their midst he recognized the great philosophers and historians of antiquity who had written fundamental works on politics and the state, such as Plato, Plutarch, and Tacitus. Again, he asked them who they were and where they were going. "We are the damned of Hell" was their answer. After telling his friends of his dream, Machiavelli remarked that he would be far happier in Hell, where he could discuss politics with the great men of the ancient world, than in Heaven, where he would languish in boredom among the blessed and the saintly. 

Machiavelli was also credited with this brutally honest admission:

I desire to go to Hell, not to Heaven. In Hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings and princes, but in Heaven are only beggars, monks, hermits and apostles. 

It would seem that Moroni foretold such sentiments 1100 years earlier. And, like Niccolò, was brutally honest about it:

Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell. (Mormon 9:4)

Intuitively, one thinks they would obviously be happy in heaven and miserable in hell. Were we asked to let our wishes be known, everyone but the most Machiavellian among us would desire heaven.  Yet, sometimes people's actions speak louder than their wishful thinking. It's somewhat sobering to ask yourself where you'd be happier. If you were the fly on your life's wall . . . what would the evidence say?

I think that on judgment day there will be no surprises. We'll pretty much judge ourselves. Either we'll be thrilled to be in the presence of the Lord (D&C 121:45), or we’ll be dying to get to hell.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Law of the Harvest

nurturing the seeds we planted

Thanksgiving is a time of harvest and thankfulness. It's definitely my favorite holiday. I've been thinking about the harvest Paul's use of the the harvest as a teaching moment. In summarizing the Law of the Harvest, Paul said:
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7

a canola field
You reap what you sow. This is not rocket science. You cannot plant peas in the spring and expect to harvest carrots in the fall.  Planting peas always yields a crop of peas.  Yet, this seems so difficult for us to understand. How often do we plant the seeds of anger and are surprised when we don’t harvest happiness? Why do we sow seeds of laziness and go out to reap a harvest of hard work? Why plant seeds of fear and feel puzzled when when look in vain for the fruits of faith?  So often we want our relationships to be loving and trustworthy, yet have never planted anything but the seeds of selfishness.

It is time to wake up. We need to decide now what we want to harvest next fall and sow our seeds accordingly.  Fortunately, there is still some time until spring planting begins. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Solzhenitsyn & Mormon: Parallel Perspectives

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)
Taken while a prisoner in a Kazakhstan Gulag

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago).   A former Red Army captain, he was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp in 1945 for making derogatory comments about Joseph Stalin in a private letter to a friend. After being interrogated and tortured at Lubyanka prison in Moscow, he was sent to a Gulag in Kazakhstan to work and suffer. 

After the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev assumed power. He ordered the release and exoneration of Solzhenitsyn in 1953, whereupon Solzhenitsyn secretly began documenting the horrors of the Stalinist regime and Gulag system. After the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962, Khrushchev used this popular book to exploit public sympathy in his attempts to purge the stains of Stalinism from the USSR.

Solzhenitsyn became instantly famous. His ordeals had taken him through a broad spectrum of the stations of life: impoverished peasant, university student, Red Army captain, political prisoner, secretive dissident and national celebrity.  Though he lived life both as victimizer and as victim, in the end, he found himself embracing the principles of liberty and Christianity.  It is another great story affirming the ability of men to rise above the wreckage by finding peace through Christ.

In reading Solzhenitsyn's story, I found a fascinating quote that harmonized with my current reading in the Book of Mormon:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." *

Examples of people forgetting God and suffering the consequences of godlessness and unrestrained evil are so numerous that you can’t begin to list them all. But Solzhenitsyn's comment reminds me of Mormon’s powerful eye-witness account of a great people that met a similar fate.

And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried:  O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss. (Mormon 6:16-18)

Mormon's account of the final struggles and destruction of the Nephite people is almost overpowering in its sadness (see Mormon 2:11-15).  In some ways it surpassed the suffering seen in Solzhenitsyn's day, since it resulted in the disappearance of the Nephite civilization. In both cases, what makes the stories so sad is that the destruction was so needless. To turn from God is to trust in men; left to their own devices, men can do great evil.

In an ironic footnote, the need for men to root out their inner evil was emphasized by an unlikely messenger that played a pivotal role in Solzhenitsyn's life: Nikita Khrushchev. In a speech defending One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to the Politburo, Khrushchev (of all people) warned of the potential we all have to harbor great evil within us:

"There's a Stalinist in each of you; there's even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil." **

Unlike Solzhenitsyn,*** Khrushchev never came to know that it is impossible to fully root out our inner evil without the atonement of Jesus Christ. Today it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself as men rush to forget God. As they turn away from the light of his gospel, they turn to darkness. Unfortunately, this darkness is the perfect environment for the Stalinist within us to awaken and flourish.

* Edward E. Ericson, Jr., "Solzhenitsyn – Voice from the Gulag," Eternity, October 1985, pp. 23–4
** Peter Benno, "The Political Aspect", in Max Hayward and Edward L. Crowley, eds., Soviet Literature in the 1960s (London, 1965), p. 191
*** When asked if Russia had simply replaced the evils of socialism with the evils of capitalism, Solzhenitsyn said: "In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion. Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as "we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology". The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion. This is one point. Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive." (Joseph Pearce. "An Interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn." St. Austin Review 2 no. 2 [February, 2003])

Friday, November 16, 2012

William Blake On Grudges

A Poison Tree
by Merm-ish

A Poison Tree
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree. 
William Blake, 1794

I came across this poem and couldn't help but feel it should mandatory reading for anyone working at the House, Senate or White House. I find it ironic that the members of the Senate refer their political foes as 'my friend' while speaking on the Senate floor.  The rancor of the last few years has those words falling to the floor with a deafening clatter. They are not kidding anyone.

I certainly wouldn't hurt for the rest of us to take this advice to heart as well. This kind of poison is pretty indiscriminate and ends up hurting everyone. Interesting how a late 18th century poem is so relevant today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Perspective On Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

The Deuteronomy Scroll
A copy of the Ten Commandments as recorded in Deuteronomy 5
The Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit - Philadelphia, PA - 2012

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority
When I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Philadelphia I was very moved by the display of The Deuteronomy Scroll, which recites the Ten Commandments.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold guiltless the one who takes his name in vain. The Deuteronomy Scroll*
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. KJV Deuteronomy 5:12
Recently I was using email to coordinate care of a mutual a patient with a Jewish friend and colleague.  After I had recommended some laboratory testing and treatments, he got back to me as follows:
"Copy and G-d bless!"
I was amazed. These days respect for the name of God has all but disappeared in the working language of many people--even the most religious. Devout Jews, have always excelled in showing God not only respect, but also reverence. I was so refreshed to see reverence for God in an ordinary email. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we also take the directive in the 3rd commandment very seriously. I know this reflects well on us, just like it reflects well on our Jewish friends. 

Up until recently, I've viewed the 3rd commandment from the narrow perspective of the profane use of the name of deity.  This all changed for me while I was studying the process of taking on the name of Christ. I searched the scriptures using two search words: "take" and "name". At first blush, the results seemed to be contaminated with references to taking the name of the Lord in vain.  I passed over the contaminated search results and focused on on the subject at hand: taking on the name of Christ
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day. 3 Nephi 27:6 (emphasis mine)
There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. Mosiah 5:8 (emphasis mine)

The more passages I reviewed, the more impressed I was was how frequently scriptures that tell us to take on the name of Christ also emphasize the need to endure to the end (see also 2 Nephi 31:13-15; Moroni 6:3; D&C 18:21-24; D&C 20:37). It then occurred to me that my search may not have been 'contaminated' at all. 

To take on the name of Christ, yet fail to endure to the end, is to take the Lord's name in vain. Such a person supplants Christ's name with another name. And, no matter what that name may be, it will not save them. It is the vainest of hopes to somehow believe it will. In fact, it may represent the most egregious example of taking the name of the Lord in vain

Taking the name of Christ is the most important thing we ever do as a believer since it is the first step in accessing the atonement (Acts 4:10-12; Galatians 3:27; Mosiah 5:10). It becomes the charge of all those blessed with a witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the restoration of his Church to not only take his name, but to identify with his name, and then reverence it through the lives we live--to the end. 

* Abegg, Flint & Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (1999, Harper: San Francisco), page 154.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


George W. Bush at a 2005 Press Conference

UNWEARYINGNESS: I came upon this word while reading the Book of Mormon recently and it kind of jumped out at me. The word could arguably be considered a heavenly equivalent of a BushismHowever, one has to be a little careful in being too critical of God's linguistic style. Actually, I looked it up and it is a legitimate word.  But it's certainly not one you encounter in the scriptures every day.

In God's estimation, it must have been the first thing that came to mind in describing Nephi, the son of Helaman. I'm doubtful he just blurted it out, but it made it into the scriptures twice.  Since the Lord is known for meaning what he says, that's enough for me. Here's the quote: 

Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou has done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.  Helaman 10:4-5
Nephi and Lehi Encircled by a Pillar of Fire
Ronald K. Crosby
In the October 2012 General Conference, Elder David Bednar described unwearied diligence as one of the attributes of one that had been converted.
. . . the key characteristics associated with conversion are experiencing a mighty change in our hearts, having a disposition to do good continually, going forward in the path of duty, walking circumspectly before God, keeping the commandments, and serving with unwearied diligence.
I was astounded to find these truths also echoed in the words of President George W. Bush. With a little "analyzation", we can all agree that Nephi's unwearyingness in doing God's work is an attribute that we could all use to "embetter" ourselves and our children. After all, "families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream." Think about it for a minute. Nephi's devotion was so great that he was granted whatever he asked, because God knew he would never abuse the privilege.  That is some deep trust! 

Lest we forget, "this is still a dangerous world. It's a world of madmen and uncertainty, and potential mental losses." If ever there was "a pit bull on the pantleg of opportunity" it was Nephi. If we all had a little of Nephi's brand of unwearied devotion to God, how much easier would it be to "put food on your family", to truly "knock down the tollbooth".  This kind of unwearyingness would quite literally "vulcanize society" and "make the pie higher". That is "Major League."

Although we generally look to the scriptures and words of the prophets for direction, once in a while a secular leader has sage counsel for us as well. Indeed, the 43rd President of the United States left us words to live by:
"Let us never misunderestimate the importance of unwearyingness in God's work."*

* Actually George W. Bush never said this but is credited for coining 'misunderestimate' along with the other words and phrases above. But, since he's known to be a God-fearing man, and has the ability to laugh at himself, I'm confident he would heartily endorse the statement. 

Malapropisms and spoonerisms notwithstanding, I've never missed W more (for real). 

Richard Thompson's Richard's Poor Almanac: "Make the Pie Higher" (January 2001).
A compilation of quotes of George W. Bush rearranged as prose by a fellow with a great sense of humor.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Getting Chosen

Scene from the 1993 classic: The Sandlot
Anyone from my era has recollections of the anxiety provoked by the Physical Education teacher telling us to "line up and pick teams".  I'm not sure if they still do this given how traumatic it can be for the kid picked last. I vividly recall the anticipated horror of being unchosen, and forced upon the team with the last pick. Kids generally were not that nice about those kinds of things. It was a cold reminder of social stature on the playground and left the unchosen one feeling unwanted, rejected and less valuable than everyone else (see a related diatribe here). Thankfully, if it happened to me, I've managed to repress the memory.  Still, there was always one unfortunate kid at every game. For those unchosen, it was a big deal--not always something you could just walk off. In contrast, the prospects of always being chosen and highly valued didn't just impact playground hierarchy, it also influenced one's self-esteem.  

These playground memories came back to me as I was reading about what it means to be chosen from the perspective of scripture.  In the scriptures, the theme of being chosen first by God is remarkably pervasive.  It is beautifully summarized in Deuteronomy:  
For thou are an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6 (see also Deuteronomy 14:2)
The scriptures have some pretty high-profile passages that refer to the elite status of the chosen: "many are called but few are chosen" (D&C 121:34, 40; see also Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14; Abraham 3:23) is often our mantra in the church. We are also promised that, because of this chosen status, we will be highly favored, blessed and sanctified by God (D&C 19:9; D&C 95:8; D&C 105:35-36). If being chosen first on the playground boosts our sense of worth and confidence, then being chosen first by God should be of enormous advantage in life. 

Yet, like the children of Israel, we are extremely vulnerable to a certain elitism that comes from being one of the chosen.  We must ever remember that the line between self-worth and pride is razor thin. To cross it is to lose any advantage we had from being picked first. As I think about the "many are called but few are chosen" mantra, I realize that things could just as easily have been stated thus: 
Though many are called, most remain unchosen.*
It should be enough to bring back the awful sense of foreboding you felt as a kid in PE. "What if I don't get picked!" 

The unchosen in PE would have done almost anything to be chosen. Yet there was only so much a kid could do: it all boiled down to a complex mix of popularity and athletic ability. But the same is not true of those that would be picked first by the Lord.  In fact, it has nothing to do with popularity, ability or lineage.  Rather, it is all about believing in Christ:
Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world3 Nephi 19:20 (emphasis mine; see also 3 Nephi 19:28)
It remains within our own control whether we are chosen or unchosen.  Independent of our assets or popularity, we can be on the team. And, once there, it is within our ability perform at a level that vastly exceeds our talents.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. 1 Corinthians 1:27

* But behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen. They were are not chosen have sinned a very grievous isn, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day. D&C 95:5-6.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Is The Election In The Bag?

A huge chunk of America is on pins and needles as we approach the biggest election of our lives. I've been afraid to get too optimistic--I've been disappointed too many times before.  I've therefore been a bit of a doubting Thomas, but am feeling good enough about it now to get this out BEFORE the election results are in. 

Call me crazy, but methought I saw a sign during General Conference this fall.  Take a look at this screen shot taken during Dallin H. Oaks talk (Protect the Children) at the Saturday morning session.  The pattern in the green leaves behind and left of Elder Oaks looks like a face staring back at the camera. At first I thought it looked a bit like Abraham Lincoln.*  On closer inspection . . . it's not Abe.  It looks like my old Stake President: Mitt Romney!  And that has to be good news for this election.

Go ahead and call the authorities . . . they also called Lehi a 'visionary man' (1 Nephi 5:2-4, 1 Nephi 2:11). I'd love to right on this. But if nothing else, at least this post will give you a chance to watch Elder Oaks throw it down while you're waiting for election returns to roll in. 

* I texted the picture to the family so see what they thought. It confirmed for Ty and Robyn that their father had finally lost it completely. Tate thought he saw the the face of the Holy Virgin . . . probably because he went to Costa Rica on his mission. Tiff just smiled and nodded.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Limits To The Power of the Lord

'Head of Christ'
oil on oak, circa 1648-1650

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

There's nothing like an election year to bring out the worst in people. As the rhetoric heats up, it's no longer just the candidates that are vilified, but their supporters as well. Republicans are painted as heartless capitalists and religious fanatics that are all racist to the core. Democrats are portrayed as godless sluggards in perpetual search for government handouts--able but unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. Truth falls victim to 'the greater good' as it is conceived by special interest groups that fund the parties. 

These days my political passions run strong because I believe the future of this country is on the line. There have been many days when I've wondered if one person/one vote makes any sense. After all, about half of the people are going to get it wrong on election day. It's easy to feel frustrated and powerless, especially when the choice before us seems so obvious. 

As I work through my temptation to 'destroy the agency of man' this election year, I've spent some time thinking about the seriousness with with God views agency and free will. We're accustomed to thinking of the limitless power of God and take great courage in being aligned with him. Yet how often do the scriptures describe him lamenting because what he could not do? "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Luke 13:34; see also  Chiasmus in 3 Nephi 10).

The Savior undoubtedly experienced great frustration during his earthly ministry (here for a take on Rembrandt's portrayal of the face of Jesus). Though all powerful, he was rendered powerless by the agency of others. 
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon?  and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.  But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kind, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. An he went round about the villages, teaching. Mark 6:3-6 (emphasis mine)
Amulek taught that Christ cannot save us in our sins.  Imagine a Savior that cannot save!
And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins. Alma 11:37 (emphasis mine; see also verses 40-41)
'Head of Christ'
oil on oak, circa 1648-1656

Philadelphia Museum of Art
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Though Satan still attempts to frustrate the works of God, it is the god-given agency that Satan tried to destroy that limits God's power. Ironic!  It was determined faithlessness--enabled by agency--that allowed the miracles of the Savior to fall ineffectually to the soil in Nazareth.  It is the desperate clinging to sin--enabled by agency--that allows men to stand before a Savior that cannot save them.

It would seem that even God sees limits to his power, through his own promise to respect the agency of men. No doubt he feels frustration on a level that we can't dream of--even in an election year. Perhaps we should take time to reverence the principle of agency, whether is that of a political rival, or someone that chooses to live and believe in something different than we do.

Had he wanted, the Lord could have forced the miracle in Nazareth or saved the sinner by compelling them to repent.  He chose not to, out of reverence for the agency of man. I guess I would be wise to do the same, and carry on (the Savior didn't quit after the whole Nazareth debacle). Some things are not ours to control.
'Head of Christ'
oil on oak, circa 1648-1654
Detroit Institue of Art
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

During these times of distress and frustration, we must not forget that, though respectful of our agency, the Lord remains all-knowing, and all powerful. He has answers to all our problems and promises peace to those that seek him. 
Cry unto him for mercy, for he is mighty to save.  (Alma 34:18; see also 2 Nephi 31:39 and D&C 133:47).
Sometimes, in the press right before an election (or the powerlessness of everyday life), that is all we can do.