Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rudyard Kipling's 'If' and the Beginnings of Mormonism

Rudyard Kipling  Joseph Smith, Jr. 
(1865-1936)       (1805-1844)
Rudyard Kipling is the youngest Nobel laureate for literature (1907). Though born to an aristocratic family in Bombay, he was exposed to hardship early. When he was only 5, he was sent to boarding school back in England. For six years his life was a combination of cruelty and neglect at the hands of people that should have nurtured and loved him.

Of this period in his life, he later said: "I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture." Yet in spite of adversity, his brilliance and fortitude held sway. His precociousness and skill as a writer caused his fame to spread with such rapidity as to recall shadows of the great English poet Lord Byron. It was Byron who quipped: "Adversity is the first path to truth". Surely these words were not lost to Rudyard when he composed If in 1895. It has been voted to be Britain's favorite poem and captures the spirit of Victorian stoicism and that "stiff upper lip" that the British are so renowned for.

Yet in Kipling's story, I am reminded of the youth of Joseph Smith, Jr. when he experienced adversity and persecution on a unprecedented scale. Himself extremely precocious, he also wrote about his persecutions: 

I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until the twenty-first of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision. During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three—having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me. (Joseph Smith History 1:27-28, emphasis mine)
Like Kipling, Joseph Smith was a boy when his persecutions began. Unlike Kipling, this persecution intensified with each passing year and ultimately cost him his life. Joseph Smith's life was one of continuous adversity as he progressed from an impoverished and ill-educated farm-boy to the great prophet of the Restoration.  It was later said of him: "he has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it . . . he lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people" (D&C 135:3). Truly Joseph's ability to rise above and subdue the adversity in his life is formulaic for the kind of valor, stoicism and character that are embodied in Rudyard Kipling's If.



If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Addiction: Alypius & The Gladiators (Part 2)

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, 1863
by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Walter Art Museum, Baltimore, MD
The story of Alypius' addiction to gladiatorial games in the waning years of the Roman Empire has me thinking about human susceptibility to addiction in general (here for part 1 of this story).

When I lived in Boston, I was the Home Teacher of a man that became addicted to crack cocaine.  Eddie was not the kind of guy you think of when you say 'crackhead'.  He was smart, sophisticated and wealthy. He lived in a luxury high-rise apartment downtown.  He had worked for years as an auditor for multinational accounting firm. When he found the church he was all in; he was totally passionate about the gospel. On one visit I could tell there had been a significant change in Eddie.  Over the next few months he opened up to me about his problems with drugs. He told me that he tried crack cocaine once, and knew immediately that he was hopelessly addicted (I remember feeling the same way the first time I caught a trout on a dry fly). His love for God and the gospel took a back seat. I watched on rather helplessly as he gradually withered. Though I tried to keep in touch after I moved to Nevada, he wasn't interested. Ultimately he died angry and bitter. 

You cannot become addicted to cocaine without trying it first; you can't become a slave of the Colosseum without going to watch the games. Alypius' problems didn't begin with a decision to go see Christians be covered in pitch, crucified and then set ablaze, or sewn into animal hides and left to be torn to pieces by starving lions. Eddie's fight to the death with cocaine began when he threw caution to the wind and allowed another addict to talk him into buying the drugs they could then share. What Eddie and Alypius had in common on day one of their individual battles with addiction was an arrogance that made them feel invulnerable to something they knew was wrong. 

Augustine said that Alipius' soul "was more audacious than truly valiant--also it was weaker because it presumed on its own strength when it ought to have depended on Thee." The line that separates being valiant from being audacious is sometimes pretty thin.  To be valiant is to show courage, determination and excellence.  Audaciousness is a willingness to take bold risks, usually while showing impudent lack of respect to custom or prevailing wisdom. Alypius confidently proclaimed: “Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them.”  But this valiant exterior was just the facade of an audacious young man that had too much confidence in himself, and too little respect for Satan.

If audaciousness and excessive self-confidence sets the stage for our addictions, then it is supplemented by forgetting the we aren't supposed to face these challenges alone:
[The Lord] knows the mistakes we can so easily make: to underestimate the forces working for us and to rely too much on our human powers. And so He offers us the covenant to "always remember Him" and the warning to "pray always" so that we will place our reliance on Him, our only safety. Elder Henry B. Eyring, Always, CES Fireside (Oct Ensign 1999)
In Augstine's account of the addiction of Alypius, he also highlighted the way of out the nightmare in which Alypius was trapped. It seems that Augustine scooped every 12-step program ever published by pointing out that the Lord rescued Alypius and taught him "not to rest his confidence in himself but in thee". As he did so, Alypius walked away from one master into the arms of Another.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Addiction: Alypius & The Gladiators

Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down), 1872  
by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Phoenix Art Museum)
Alypius* was a life-long friend of Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. Both were born in the 4th century in Numidia (current Algeria) which was part of Roman North Africa.  They were converted to Christianity together while studying in Milan. Though revered as a Saint of the Catholic Church, there was a time in his life when Alypius seemed hopelessly enslaved to an addiction of the most unlikely sort.  Augustine describes the plight of his friend better than I could ever hope to.
 "He had gone on to Rome before me to study law . . . and there he was carried away again with an incredible passion for the gladiatorial shows. For, although he had been utterly opposed to such spectacles and detested them, one day he met by chance a company of his acquaintances and fellow students returning from dinner; and, with a friendly violence, they drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater, on a day of those cruel and murderous shows. He protested to them: “Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them.” When they heard this, they dragged him on in, probably interested to see whether he could do as he said. When they got to the arena, and had taken what seats they could get, the whole place became a tumult of inhuman frenzy. But Alypius kept his eyes closed and forbade his mind to roam abroad after such wickedness. Would that he had shut his ears also! For when one of the combatants fell in the fight, a mighty cry from the whole audience stirred him so strongly that, overcome by curiosity and still prepared (as he thought) to despise and rise superior to it no matter what it was, he opened his eyes and was struck with a deeper wound in his soul than the victim whom he desired to see had been in his body. Thus he fell more miserably than the one whose fall had raised that mighty clamor which had entered through his ears and unlocked his eyes to make way for the wounding and beating down of his soul, which was more audacious than truly valiant--also it was weaker because it presumed on its own strength when it ought to have depended on Thee. For, as soon as he saw the blood, he drank in with it a savage temper, and he did not turn away, but fixed his eyes on the bloody pastime, unwittingly drinking in the madness--delighted with the wicked contest and drunk with blood lust. He was now no longer the same man who came in, but was one of the mob he came into, a true companion of those who had brought him thither. Why need I say more? He looked, he shouted, he was excited, and he took away with him the madness that would stimulate him to come again: not only with those who first enticed him, but even without them; indeed, dragging in others besides. And yet from all this, with a most powerful and most merciful hand, thou didst pluck him and taught him not to rest his confidence in himself but in thee--but not till long after."  Augustine - Confessions VI;8:13
Addiction is "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that cessation causes severe trauma". Though the allure of watching slaves and criminals battle to the death is hardly on our top ten list of addictions to watch out for, the story of Alypius illustrates how susceptible the human brain is to addiction. A review of the diagnostic criteria for addiction (here) makes it pretty clear that its not just nicotine, alcohol or drugs that have addictive potential (here for a look at modern addictions). Most of us wouldn't think of work, shopping, Facebook, texting, or video games as being much more of an addictive threat than gladiatorial games. But this lack of respect is disarming and very dangerous. In reality, addiction is so multifaceted that it holds the potential to threaten most of us. Addiction is a lot like eBay--there's something for everyone. 

Parallels between the story of Alypius and the modern plague of pornography should be obvious  (GBH's watershed talk here; Dallin H. Oaks here). One look was all it took for Alypius to be drawn in. Spurred on with curiosity "he opened his eyes and was struck with a [deep] wound in his soul" that took him years to recover from. The exact words could be used to describe those ensnared by pornography.

In his Conference talk on addiction a few years ago, M. Russel Ballard described addiction as surrender. He said "any kind of addiction is to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent". Surrender to anything other than God is tantamount to idolatry. It is a moment Satan instantly recognizes; he will immediately move in to seize control. Elder Ballard went on to teach that the cause of the disease and its remedy are different faces of the same coin: 
"Ask him for the strength to overcome the addiction you are experiencing. Set aside all pride and turn your life and heart to Him." 
As we surrender to our addiction we are enslaved by it. On the other hand, as we surrender to God we are liberated by Him.  


* He is also referred to as Saint Alypius of Thasgate

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stealing Thunder

The other day, Tate was looking at treasures in my den and came upon this rare find. The beautiful patina indicates it comes from a bygone era; it's safe to say there are only a handful in existence. Recognizing a genuine antiquity when he saw it, he immediately asked the golden question: "Can I have this when you die?" 

Now that kind of question could easily precipitate a full-blown panic attack in any other middle-aged Mormon male.  The quiet little voice inside your head suddenly starts shouting: My kids are already jockeying for position for when they read my will! Do I really look that out of shape? But not so for me. Tate has been asking the golden question for years. (We chalk it up to a racer's instinct for the advantage of the inside line . . . plus it never hurts to ask). 

My 'Major Award'
That's right folks, it was evident from a very early age that something special was going on here. It was so apparent that someone had my name engraved on a trophy! I even remember the Bishop shaking my hand and recognizing me in front of the whole congregation at church on Sunday.  The covetous look in my son's eyes as he held my 'major award' brought these memories rushing back to me in an instant. I took the trophy and was about to launch into an extended monologue of self-adoration when I noticed the dates on the plaque: 1967-68.

My gloating quickly ended. I turned 4 in 1968, which means I was a SUNBEAM. It is quite probable that I couldn't even tie my own shoes, let alone do anything to ensure that I had perfect Primary attendance. What first appeared a recognition of my precociousness was in reality a monument to my mother. Though she's been gone for many years, I feel like she's still cheering me on. What a mother I have. Were the truth fully known, we could probably erase our names from the 'major awards' in our lives and instead inscribe 'presented to Reid Litchfield on behalf of his mother'.*  Thanks mom. Sorry I almost stole your thunder.

* I think after 25-30 years we could arguably substitute 'wife' for 'mother' on the trophy.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Searching For Peace

Denisovich - by Leanne Rutter
I've been reading The Second World War (Antony Beaver) and been astounded at the magnitude of the suffering and hardship of the people that were caught up the the conflict. I had never known how unspeakably evil the likes of Hitler, Stalin and the leaders of the Imperial Army of Japan were until reading the details of their atrocities. It kind of shakes my faith in human decency to realize that these evil few were able to perpetrate the murder of millions with good propaganda and artful manipulation of people that all knew better. It's not exactly light reading, so I took a break by reading an inspiring work by a man that lived through these horrors and came through with his faith intact.

Fifty years ago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and let the light of day shine on the injustices of the Soviet GULAG (here for a related post). This book was almost impossible for me to put down and it still has me thinking. In the final minutes of his day, Ivan Denisovich chats with his bunkmate, Alyosha the Baptist. In a world of injustice and suffering, Alyosha was the one man in the camp that was at peace; his faith in Christ gave him hope for the world to come. Even though Alyosha's faith, hope and love were evident, his life remained hard--Ivan Denisovich thought it even harder than the other 'zeks'. Yet Ivan Denisovich concluded: "His voice and his eyes left no doubt that he was happy in prison." He may have been the only one.

It is sobering to realize that though we view Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace, he warned his disciples that they would have tribulation in this life. 
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
 Yet Christ's message promised peace because he had overcome the world and his followers had hope to enter into his rest in eternity.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33)
Moroni referred to men like Alyosha as "peaceable followers of Christ" (Moroni 7:3). Though his world gave him more than his share of the tribulation that Christ promised, he was still at peace within.  Alyosha's faith, hope and charity allowed him to overcome the trials and disappointments of his world (Moroni 10:20-23).

One of my favorite hymns is Where Can I Turn For Peace (Hymns, 129; lyrics by Emma Lou Thayne; music by Joleen G. Meredith; here and here to hear it). 

Where can I turn for peace,
Where is my solace ,
When other sources cease to make me whole.
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart, 
Searching my soul
Where, when my aching grows,
Where when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand
He, only One.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching,
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind
Love without end

Though peace often seems elusive, we are so blessed to know that through Christ it remains within our grasp. We need not look far to see those that have found it.