Sunday, August 30, 2009
Being a Branch President, I was invited along with other Priesthood Leaders to have an interview with the visiting Authorities from Salt Lake City. They interviewed 60 or 70 of us with the intent of finding who the Lord desires to be the two new Stake Presidents. Our lives and service were explored, but most important, we were each asked who we felt the Lord would have to lead us. The names we gave certainly had a bearing on the decision, but then these humble leaders took the matter to the Lord.
Having thus become a bit more familiar with the local leaders they had a bit more to place before the Lord as they sought His guidance. Long exposure to this method, affirms to me that we are truly led by inspiration. Never have I felt that the Stake President I then had was not the perfect person for the job. Not that any of them were or are perfect. They're not. But they were called by God to labor in his vineyard with talent and humility that made them wholly adequate to be instruments in His hands.
None of them desired the position. None campaigned or lobbied for the post. Neither were they coerced to accept such a burden of service and stewardship. All of them had burning testimonies of the truth. Each only desired to serve where the Lord needed them. None of them accepted without knowing of the sacrifice required to so serve and each of them accepted anyway.
One of the most beautiful things I've ever observed in this wonderful process was a Stake President, who upon his release from his highly visible, "important" calling of leadership, was called next to teach a class of rowdy boys in Primary. He served with just as much distinction, care and diligence in a tiny Primary class as he did leading an entire Stake of the Church. To him and the others. It never was about where you served but how. What a gift it is to be led by people such as that!
All that is required is to be willing to serve the Lord and let Him direct the affairs of the Ward or Stake. No special education, no remarkable gift for language, organization, or leadership, no amount of experience or dynamic of circumstance can substitute for the simple humility of letting God take charge of their lives and guide them in paths, He directs. Such are the men chosen today, whom I shall gladly follow.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Most of those years our circles have not overlapped and we've spent months without much contact. I've long prayed that God would allow our paths to merge more. And now here is the answer to that prayer and I have to decline. I'd explain it to you if I understood it myself.
I guess if you needed a short answer I'd have to reply with, "Stupor of thought." I've lived long enough to know I should go with my feelings and working with Randy, though appealing beyond description, doesn't feel right. Apparently, Heavenly Father has something else in mind for me.
Randy asked if another of my prospects had come through. That would have been nice. No, I have applications for employment out there, but have had no response from any of them. Of course that makes my decision to decline Randy's offer seem even more irresponsible and foolish. Still, I must go with my feelings. Interestingly, Randy seemed like my decision confirmed feelings of his own. Being Pals both of us would have loved working together, yet both of us sense that God has something else in mind for each of us. There is no point speculating why or what this should be. Perhaps, the answer will one day be revealed, maybe we'll never know.
And so, for now, I sail blindly into the darkness of my future, trusting God to be at the helm. While a flashlight would be nice, if God is my Captain I need not fear. I'm certain that out there, in the darkness, God has a blessing for me. I have no inkling how that blessing will present itself. It could be buried treasure on some island of comfort. It could be smooth sailing on a bright tranquil sea. I could be a disastrous wreck on the rocks of some unfamiliar shore. And it could be a heart wrenching storm of monstrous proportions. Whatever it is, it will be life. And life is what I signed up for.
I have only one hope and that is to tarry. I want to serve. I want to reflect the light of Christ into the life of someone in the darkness of despair. I want to love. I want to pour the love of Christ into the wounds of those I meet. I want to care. I want to show to those I encounter that they matter not only to me but to God. I want to teach. I want to share what I've been given all my days. I want to live!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I didn't know Wayne A. Jenkins. I knew his parents. I knew of their concern when he first got sick. I knew of the roller coaster ride of fear and elation, doubt and confidence, miracle and disappointment that thrilled and chilled their hearts for the past two years. I knew of their deep abiding faith and trust in God. It was all evident yesterday morning as I sat in their living room and grieved his passing with them.
Jim and Jackie told me of tender moments of faith and testimony during Wayne's ordeal. They told me of faithful friends, devoted siblings, earnest children, loving in-laws, a constantly devoted wife and a caring, loving and enduring, though dieing, father. They were touching stories of love, sorrow and faith. There was no panic in their voices, no anguish in their demeanor. Only, faith and love and loneliness. It will likely be a long time before they see Wayne again - long in the dog days of mortality. But in my two sweet friends glows an inner confidence that, distant or close, that day of joyful reunion will come and it will be accompanied by the majestic music of gratitude and love.
As is so often the case, I go to comfort and return comforted. What a blessing it is to know and be known by faithful, faith-filled Latter-day Saints. Like everyone else, they suffer tribulation in life. Like most they face it with resolute determination. Like some, they also face it with assurance, confidence, courage and above all perspective. What a gift it is to know and understand God's Plan of Happiness, Redemption, Salvation, The Great Plan of the Eternal God. A plan which He has revealed to us, so that we can see life in its entire beauty, majesty, and perfection. A gift we so gratefully appreciate because while embracing our sorrow, through the tears we can look over it's shoulder at the bright broad glory of eternity.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Note: My alter-ego A. Jenkins Parker has written a series of stories about a fictitious town in Utah called Himni. I'll be making it a regular Tuesday practice of sharing some of those stories with you. Jinx as he his known to his friends, doesn't approve of this, but what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Enjoy!
My How The Place Has Changed, by A. Jenkins Parker
I wasn’t born in Himni. It had plenty of history, by the time I got here. I’ve learned some of the past, but mostly, I’m just going to tell you about the stuff I’ve seen in this little town since my family arrived. Even so, you ought to know a little about Himni for reference purposes.
Situated in a lonely valley in Eastern Utah, Himni has always been a bit out of the way. When Brigham Young was sending folks into the far reaches of the Intermountain West, this must have been one of the last places he thought of. Himni was hard to reach, dry and pretty much inhospitable. We’ve always wondered if the first pioneers who came here weren’t chased rather than directed to come to such a place. The old folks somehow scratched out a living, but by the looks of things when I arrived, just barely. Then the gentiles started showing up. They were chasing minerals and oil and didn’t care much for cows and sheep. They prospered and the rest of the community began looking in their direction.
There never has been much of a quarrel between the Mormons and the gentiles out here, but the mixture has been interesting to see. That’s about all you need to know.
I arrived in 1962 and entered the seventh grade at Omner Valley Jr. High. That was about the time of Himni’s transition and I thought I might like to share some of those days with you. It was a different time. One today’s youngsters may even find hard to believe. I had just turned 12 and was pretty confused about life and living. I had lived in Salt Lake and Provo during my formative years. Not exactly big cities, but really something compared to Duchesne where I’d spent the past two. Now we had uprooted once again and moved to Himni, at least four times the size of Duchesne. The streets were paved. The library didn’t have wheels. They had a swimming pool.
Once when my kids were little they wondered how come I knew so much about the 50’s when I would have been too small to remember much. It was simple. The 50’s didn’t get to Himni ’til the 60’s. In many ways, thank goodness, the 60’s never did get here. There was that couple of weeks the Hippies were passing through town…which makes a great jumping off spot for a first story.
Of Hippies, Produce and Making a Living, by A. Jenkins Parker
One summer in the mid-sixties the Hippies had a rendezvous in Boulder, Colorado. Most of them hitchhiked through Himni on their way from California. There wasn’t a male in town who had hair over his ears so to us they were quite a sight. Most folks just gawked, a few mothers kept their kids indoors, but life didn’t change all that much.
Butch Farley and his buddies rolled a few of them, or so we heard. They claimed to have even taken a load of Hippies into the back of Butch’s pickup truck ostensibly to convey them on towards Colorado. Instead they took them up on Pine Top and impolitely dropped them off in the middle of nowhere. Butch loved the reputation, but I don’t really know if he ever did half the stuff his minions bragged about. I was working at the local IGA that summer. My first town job. We had the usual crew; a few sweet old ladies in the bakery, a trio of young mothers running the check stands, a bunch of high school kids bagging groceries and stocking shelves. We had an ambitious out-of-towner for a manager who’s name was Lester Moore. A smooth ladies man in the meat department called Tuff. And we had a scrawney little manager wannabe running the produce department. His name was Mark Wilson. Mark was also from out of town.
Mark was always having problems. I think his ambition far outstripped his brains, but he was a nice kid and we all liked him. One day, for example, we called him to the front to help check groceries. He never came. We called again with the same results. When the rush was over; Les sent me over to the Pine Top Cafe’ to see if he was sitting in the coffee shop. Nope. We made a cursory search of the store with no results. We even called his house to see if he’d gone home for some reason. No luck, but his wife Leslie, hurried down to help with the search. They’d been married just a few months. Leslie was gorgeous and I had a secret crush on her.
I personally had checked the produce cooler a couple of times. The light switch was on the outside of the door. Both times the light was off. On my third trip around I looked in the cooler again, nothing. Just as the door was closing, though, I heard something and opened the door and turned on the light. A wall of lettuce boxes had collapsed and fallen on top of poor Mark. He’d been there under the pile in that cooler for over three hours. He was shivering uncontrollably and Leslie took him home for the rest of the day.
Another time we had a late night stocking project. Us kids went home at midnight and Les and Mark stayed behind. When we got to the store in the morning it was locked up. We rattled the door and Nellie from the bakery, who had been inside for hours making bread and doughnuts and stuff, let us in. It was dark up in the office so Sue Connor, the head checker made me go up with her. There we found Les and Mark passed out after polishing off a bottle of Jack Daniels. As in the rest of Utah, a bottle Jack Daniels isn’t available in a grocery store and I had never even seen one. Mark had fallen asleep with his neck propped between two coke bottles in a 24 bottle crate. We let them sleep. When they finally came down about eleven, Mark couldn’t hold his head up and he stayed that way for about a week. One Friday morning we got this huge shipment of cantaloupes. Les was livid. We’d never sell that many in a million years. Desperate to prove him wrong before the cants spoiled, Mark put on his thinking cap. Where he got his stroke of genius we’ll never know.
Rarely, had the hippies actually stopped in the store, but on this particular day they were swarming the place. Oh, they bought the usual stuff and tried to look casual but it soon became apparent that it was cantaloupes they were after. Every sale included several! By Saturday night they were almost gone! We had nearly sold the entire stock in two days!
Now, in those days the most common advertising method in the grocery business was the painted sign. Poster paint on butcher paper was the medium. These were usually stapled on a wooden “A” frame out on the sidewalk for the passing traffic to see. For a couple of days none of us employees had noticed what Mark had done. There on an ordinary “A” frame was this message. “NOTICE – IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DRYING THE RINDS OF OUR CANTALOUPES AND SMOKING THEM – WE ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO SELL OUR MELONS FOR ANY OTHER THAN THEIR INTENDED PURPOSE!”
Sometimes we get so desperate to find happiness, we’ll try anything.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Let me give you a few examples of how we hedge our spiritual bets. When I was serving a mission in the Philippines we were instructed to live on $100.00 a month. Our parents were told the same. Before I arrived, missionaries had discovered that if we cashed our checks on the Black Market we could get 600 pesos for $100.00 as opposed to 350 pesos if we exchanged our dollars at the bank. We used the Black Market. For a while we went each month to see the China Man in Quiapo in his dark hole in a shady part of town. It seemed so adventuresome to sneak through the dark alleys and up secret stairs to conduct our clandestine errands. Later, for our safety, the China Man began coming to the Mission Home on P-Day. He was doing so when Elder Ezra Taft Benson came for a visit. Clearly, that gentle Apostle was not pleased.
Elder Benson admonished us to have faith. He counseled us to refrain from this illegal activity and promised that if we went to the bank and trusted in God we would manage just fine. We did so. In other words, we quit hedging our bets. The next month the Philippines floated their peso on the international money market and thereafter, and for the remainder of my mission, the bank yielded 650 or so pesos in exchange for $100.00!
A friend once told me that she would pray each morning for the strength to quit smoking and then (just in case God was too busy) she would slap a nicotine patch on her shoulder. She was hedging her bet. When she realized what she was doing, she repented, put her trust in God, quit hedging and, exercising her faith, quit smoking too!
I am aware that Brigham Young admonished us to pray as if everything depended on God and then to work as if everything depended on us. There is merit and blessing in this counsel. But too often we use such counsel as an excuse for our own lack of faith. Exercising faith in God is not the same as gambling. Laboring in the vineyard is not the same as hedging.
If we are short on funds enough to pay the bills, keeping back our tithing is hedging, even if we promise to make it up next month.
If we truly accept Joseph Smith's declaration that, "I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves," we won't teach correct principles to our children and then hedge by controlling their lives. Joseph wasn't a control freak and neither is God.
Today, I have been offered a job, that, in my heart, I know I should not accept. Still, I am tempted to accept the offer because I have no other present prospects. In other words, I am tempted to hedge my bet. The thing is, it is not a bet. I know what God expects of me and I must trust that He has something else in mind for me. While I am not privileged to know what lies in the future, I am clearly assured that this job is not for me. I am grateful for what knowledge God has granted me and that must be good enough. If it is not, what does it say of my faith and trust in God. If not, it says I don't truly trust Him and that I feel I must rely on the arm of the flesh to ensure my survival.
Trusting in the arm of the flesh is always a case of hedging our bets. It means that we have yet to come to trust God sufficiently that we are confident that he is true and faithful. It means that we feel we must have contingency plans in place in the event that God doesn't come through for us. Trusting in the arm of the flesh does not mean we should not prepare. It is an expression of our faith in Him when we follow the Prophet and store a year's supply of food, for example.
When the saints were leaving Nauvoo, Brigham Young gave very explicit instructions as to what each family should prepare and take with them. Many were unwilling or unable to fully adhere to those instructions. Brother George A. Smith was one who followed Brother Brigham's instructions to the letter. Weeks later President Young encountered Brother Smith while crossing Iowa. George A.'s wagon was bogged down in mud up to its axles. He anxiously asked Brother Brigham what should be done, whereupon the prophet told him his load was too heavy and that he ought to lighten it by giving much of his supply to the poor. George A. Smith, didn't flinch, didn't hedge his bet, he simply, humbly, trustingly complied.
Today, I want to be like George A. Smith.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
This great little Disney movie has an outstanding message. When an adult Russ Duritz discovers an eight year old version of himself standing on his front porch, he doesn't recognize his boyhood personage. He has grown to become a markedly successful loser, a markedly successful liar.
He and his younger self embark on a journey of discovery in which Russ digs out unpleasant memories from his past, examines them from an adult perspective and files them away understood and resolved.
It is a painful, humorous, emancipating process told with a delight and whimsy that is sure to make the movie a classic. When I first watched it, I found it enjoyable, heart warming. As I've watched and imagined it since, it has become cathartic and catalyzing. I too, have baggage I've carried from childhood that I've not examined from a more mature perspective. I too, have given up on core dreams and values that might have fulfilled me and brought me joy. I too, have struggled with relationships that have been harmed by lack of perspective and unfair judgments. I too, have fears and prejudices that keep me from taking the plunge into full and purposeful living.
My childhood dreams were not the same as Russ Duritz's but they were just as real and just as vital to my present happiness as his were to him. There is great comfort in the message of The Kid; which is that it is never too late to reconnect with those dreams. In a very poignant way, I think this is part of what Jesus meant when He admonished us to "become as a little child."
Watch this movie, if you already have, watch it again. See if it doesn't stimulate a heart deep longing for what you always knew really matters.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I could hardly get into that shed and the pile had essentially rendered the shed useless, not to mention it's contents.
Now, after a thorough cleansing, the shed is able to serve me. I have easy access to all of it's contents. It's contents are only those things I need. The trash, overburden, worthless and rotten is all gone, buried in a growing mountain of stuff others have similarly discarded. In fact a scraper, loader/compacter and bulldozer are kept busy full time just managing that mountain of once priceless rubbish.
I guess at one time, I must have thought that trailer load of stuff was worth keeping. What has changed? Perhaps the realization that if I hadn't used it again in 20 odd years, what makes me think if might in the next 20. Perhaps I kept it because having exchanged it for money, which represented hours of labor, I somehow needed to justify it's expense in the first place. As the money was no longer hoarded in the Bank, I needed to hoard it's results somewhere else.
All I really know today, is that it was liberating to toss it all and be done with it. It was a burden I took on long ago. One I took on so gradually that I didn't notice the weight of it until it had practically buried me. It was so liberating in fact, that I'm looking elsewhere for more baggage to unload. I love the dump for it's open maw, so willing to receive my burdens allowing me to leave so empty and light, happy to return to tidy, useful, swept out sheds.
I was tempted to call this a metaphor for life, living, repentance, redemption, healing, salvation, all provided by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is not so much a metaphor as a real manifestation of life. For Atonement is both spiritual and temporal. Mortality is both spiritual and temporal. Eternity is both spiritual and temporal. Cleansing the sheds of valueless garbage is no different than cleansing our souls of the same. Both foul our lives. Cleansing is cleansing.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I would call this the definitive work refuting the claim the Mormons are not Christians. He has carefully, masterfully, examined the history, method and means by which orthodox Christianity became heir to corrupted notions about the nature of both God and man and about the nature of their relationship.
No thinking scholar could deny Hopkins' thesis; not in the face of the evidence he has here examined. That said, I suspect that his work will largely go unnoticed by those thus corrupted. It is a nice, affirming read for those of us who already understand and accept the Latter-day Saint view of God. If there are honest seekers among those whose belief in God has been influenced by Orthodox Christian views, they will find this book helpful and gratifying, but we all know that a man convinced against his will, will remain of the same opinion still.
I recommend the book highly for it's clear examination of truth and is unflinching indictment of error. I especially loved Hopkins' treatment of the subjects of time, eternity and infinity. Those were the most concise and enlightening chapters on the subject I've ever encountered.
From the book: "Mormon theology provides a coherent concept of God, while that of classical theism is demonstrably incoherent." You might think demonstrably to be a pretty strong word in such a declaration, but Hopkins' book fully demonstrates the incoherence of which he speaks.
John 17:3 "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." I am thankful beyond measure for the revealed correction we enjoy to the world's corrupted understanding of God.
I wish Richard R. Hopkins, would follow this book with one devoted to How Greek Philosophy Has Corrupted Western Thought. I am convinced that we in the West have adopted patterns of thinking that make understanding God and even our own religion more difficult. We struggle to understand many important concepts because we've been culturally trained to think according to Greek ideology. We are trying to understand what is essentially an Eastern Religion, with Western minds. I believe that without the Greek influence in our thinking we'd more easily understand and accept such concepts as losing our lives to gain them, submitting our will to God's, becoming "perfect" and so on. One of the reasons the Pharisee's struggled with Jesus' teachings was that they had already been heavily influenced by Greek philosophy.
How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God is an academic read, but flows easily and is not over the lay person's head. I recommend it highly!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The hutch, which you may have already observed, had taken on a life of it's own. One consequence being that it was way too heavy for John and I to move by ourselves. I have always had too much of an independent streak to be comfortable asking others for help getting me out of fixes I managed perfectly fine to get myself into on my own. Still, there was nothing for it so I called around asking for volunteers.
Of course friends from all around readily volunteered. Dan and Wayne and Paul and John rallied and had the thing moved, easily, and in short order. Plenty of joking, back slapping, cajoling and fun accompanied the, far too short, time we spent together on the project.
I've thought of that experience several times in the few days since. I need more of that. More of the brotherhood of my brethren. I have fond memories of my youth being spent, picking cherries on the Welfare Farm in Provo, bucking bales or irrigating on the Welfare Farm here in Vernal, building the Ashley Stake Center, going with the quorum to cut wood for the widows in our Ward. Working shoulder to shoulder adds a dimension to Priesthood brotherhood that you just can't get in a meeting.
I'll will always cherish the day I spent with Tom Howells removing concrete forms beneath the furnace room in the Ashley Stake Center. Tom and I remained close friends for the rest of our lives. Despite the wide difference in our ages, the brotherhood we felt that day, became a bond of trust and admiration, never to be broken.
Around here, the Welfare Farm, is a thing of the past and, too often, so is meaningful service performed with gloves and overalls. I've resolved to need my neighbors more and I hope to encourage them to need me. Many hands makes light work, but better than that, is the bond of friendship, brotherhood and strength that inevitably grows from it.
I heard there's a work project scheduled at the Heber Girl's Camp in September. I think I'll go.
Monday, August 17, 2009
As for the guys, well, Steve brought another of his creations to share and Kirk and I had a good time learning about flutes. I have quite a collection of flutes; Native American, South American, Irish etc. Steve makes his own. He started into this flute fetish before I did and has purchased a few, but the vast majority of them he has built himself.
This evening he brought one over that is large and experimental. It has no finger holes but he can play it in five octaves. It is what you'd call a drone. As luck would have it, this drone is tuned precisely to harmonize with one of my favorite Native flutes. I was playing mine when he piped in with his drone and the effect was enchanting. We improvised a couple of songs together with magical effect.
I marvel at Steve's enormous curiosity and his confidence in tackling the project of making not only one, but several wonderful instruments. He keeps copious notes. Researches and experiments constantly and each new creation seems an amazing improvement over the last. He's becoming a self taught master craftsman.
So, not only does he enjoy making music, he is expanding his mind, developing his gifts, manifesting his practicality and sharing his talents. I would love to make so much of life and living. Thank you Steve, for not only sharing your great music, but also the inquisitive, creative, adventuresome song of your kind heart.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
We were watching an episode of Bramwell on TV when, during a dieing scene the soon-to-be deceased reached out to his friend and pleaded, "Sorry Charlie!" And, of course, I burst out laughing.
For those who aren't as old as I, there used to be a tuna fish commercial in which a fish named Charlie kept trying to get caught by StarKist. His attempts were always spurned with a pronounced, "Sorry, Charlie." Indicating he just wasnt' good enough to meet StarKist's "lofty" standards.
It's startling how our culture influences how we think. So much so that in a death scene of a serious drama, an unintentional punch line changed everything for me.
None of our lives go unifluenced by the experiences we've had. My friend Curg told me today of an experience he had in California last week. He dreads California. So many indifferent, self absorbed people all smashed into one large self-gratifying society. He has family there, so he endures it two or three times a year. On this trip, he wanted to take a friend to LA's China Town, but got lost. Driving around, hoping to reorient himself, he was pulled over by one of Los Angeles' finest. Oh, boy, another example of why, we hate LA.
The LAPD officer approached his window and asked, "Are you lost?"
"Why yes, how could you tell?"
"Utah plates and slow uncertain driving."
"Where did you wish to go?"
"Just follow me, I'll show you."
Instant paradigm shift. Curg remained in Southern California for another week, during which his attitude was bright and positive and shocking to his wife. When she asked what was going on, he could only say that one solitary nice person had changed his whole view of the place!
If, "by small means the lord can bring about great things" (1 Nephi 16:29), perhaps so can we.
I once had an experience with a church hymn, that made it difficult to avoid laughing hysterically whenever it was sung. It is a wonderful hymn, full of meaning and inspiration. I hated that my experience had spoiled it for me. I've shared the experience a few times only to spoil the hymn for others as well. As time has passed, I've made an effort to disassociate the experience and the hymn. I've been pretty successful, but it has taken a lot of time and effort. Like my experience with Charlie the Tuna, it is difficult not to be effected by it, even long after the exposure.
I think I'm going to be more careful about the things I say and do, that might taint others' mortal experience for bad. I think I'm going to be more thoughtful about being more curteous and helpful, like that LA Cop.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
One year I went to visit his folks at their cabin in Wyoming. Steve was adding a large family room to the cabin. I was amazed at the orderliness of the project. There seemed to be no extra stuff, just what he needed and no more. Everything was immaculate. The sawdust and scraps were constantly cleaned up. It was surreal to be in such an organized, tidy construction zone.
I on the other hand am much the opposite. I recently completed a project which I had to build out of doors. The construction site was chaos! Scraps here, tools everywhere, sawdust on everything. I'm certain it took me longer to build a rabbit hutch than it took Steve to add a large room to a house! What I've described represents Steve in every aspect of his life. What I've described represents me in every aspect of my life. Everything Steve does is orderly, tidy, well planned and masterfully done. By comparison, my life is shoddy, sloppy, and flown by the seat of my pants. Steve gets things done. I'm never finished with anything.
We were both trained to be as we are. We both have a nature to be as we are. I spent most of the day yesterday, cleaning up after my project. Whenever, I do something like this, I always admiringly think of Steve. I like myself well enough, but I'd sure like to be more like Steve.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Lehi's Dream I can buy. His dream came as a revelation with much meaning and significance. Mine? Not so much. Now, some might say that I am much like Laman and Lemuel in that I haven't inquired of the Lord as to the meaning of my dreams. This is also true. Since I don't place much stock in my dreams, I spend little if any time trying to make sense of them.
I had a dream last night though, that has made me think a bit. Actually, it wasn't so much the dream as the circumstance that followed it.
I dreamt that I was sitting in a church meeting. I was near where the Deacons ordinarily sit when they are waiting to pass the Sacrament. The stand had it's usual railing wall along the front. Someone was speaking, but I didn't note who, or what was being said. Near where the chorister in our ward ordinarily stands to conduct the music, I saw Josh, my recently deceased friend, sitting at a small table and taking notes in a book. Occasionally, he looked around the audience. At some point he observed me looking at him. Surprised, he gave me a questioning expression to see if I responded. I did respond with an expression that let him know that, "Yes, indeed, I can see you!"
Acknowledging my response he promptly faded from my view at which point I awoke with a start. I no sooner had awakened, somewhat amused, than I was overcome with a heavy, crushing cloak of darkness, not unlike what Joseph Smith described in connection with the First Vision. It was smothering, opressively heavy, consuming darkness. I'd had a similar encounter with darkness while on my mission. Recalling the previous experience, I was not alarmed but rather turned to God in prayer and was released within a few moments.
I lay in bed pondering this circumstance for quite some time. If you've ever had a good foot rub, you may have had the experience of a lingering sensation in your feet that lasts long after the rub is over. I had a similar, lingering memory of this encounter with darkness that seemed to be recalled at the cellular level of my body. It was no longer oppressive or suffocating, but the residual memory or shock of it seemed tangible for quite some time.
I haven't concluded much from this experience. It seems to be a lesson in the enormous contrast between joy and misery, light and darkness. It is easy to dismiss the dream as a representation of the lonely longing I have to see Josh again. My heart and mind are still trying to process the loss. When I awoke, I was happy for the memory of the dream. I was pleased by the earnest, dutiful, but content look I saw on Josh's face and amused by the look of "yikes" on his face when he discovered himself exposed through the veil. There was nothing in the experience that seems even remotely connected with evil and yet darkness quickly came to counter my fun.
I know Josh's spirit remains in tact, that he's happily engaged in meaningful work and that I need not worry about him or the possibility of seeing him again one day. I knew that before this dream, no less than I know it now. Satan's intrusion hasn't affected that conviction in any way, so I really remain scratching my head about the whole thing.
If you, good reader, have any insights, I'd love to hear them.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Yesterday, as I was eating breakfast Megan, who is five, ran over to see if I was ready to start work on the rabbit hutch. Since I was eating, she busied herself putting away items from last night's games we played with the family. When I finished eating, she cleared my dish from the table, while I played Farkel on line. Outside, she kept me supplied with screws, whenever I needed them. All of this was done, without me asking. She loves to help. I've asked teenagers to hold a flashlight for me, only to find it shining where they wanted to look instead of at the task at hand. Not so with Megan. She is a most remarkable child in that regard. She has a keen sense of what needs to be done and a vast store of personal initiative. It boggles my mind that a five year old is capable of anticipating, let alone meeting others' needs to such a refined degree.
Meanwhile, Jeff who is seven, is chatting with me on line and reminding me that he trounced me at Farkel last week. The idea that a seven year old's mind can be strategic enough to roll 11,800 points in Farkel seems absurd to me, but he did it! It takes wisdom and maturity to determine when to take risks and when to stop. Plus there are many combinations of die that are valuable, but difficult to notice, requiring a fairly high degree of sophistication. Much of the day, Jeff spent building his own projects as we worked. He figures things out, like how to reverse a power screw driver. He uses his imagination and creates the neatest aircraft and other gear. He loves to anticipate what my next move on the construction project will be and is often correct.
Mine are remarkable grandchildren. They are not the only ones. Truly Heavenly Father has saved the best for last and I eagerly look forward to seeing what this bright new generation will do for us.
The kids at the Detention Center were once like this. I can see it in them. What have we done to tarnish their beauty, dampen their enthusiasm, quell their imaginations and clutter their lives.
Megan and Jeff will face difficulty too, no doubt. I hope we can help them face it with their talents, sweetness, initiative, imaginations, intellect, innosence and enthusiasm in tact.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Stefan Merrill Block has written a masterpiece! Given the fact that this is his is first novel, coupled with his youth (he's 27), I am astounded at the maturity and quality of his work.
The Story of Forgetting is a story of Alzheimer's disease told from two different places by two very different characters. One, an old worn out humpbacked bachelor, the other a teenaged nerd. Both deal with loved ones with Alzheimer's. Both deal with loneliness. Both deal with obsession.
The story is interwoven with a metaphorical third element about the mythical land of Isidora. We hear from Seth. We hear from Abel. We learn of Isidora. And in the end they three, merge into a magnificent view of tragedy, triumph, meaning and understanding.
While a bit crude in a few places, this story is wonderful. Wonderful in it's ordinary, so-much-like-me characters. Wonderful in it's so-much-like-mine experience. It could be me. It may yet. It is that real, that poignant.
Alzheimer's is a terrible disease which takes a awful toll on victims and families alike. This is clearly portrayed. Yet I'd be loathe to characterize Block's work as either dreary or dreadful. It is thoughtful, hopeful and most magnificent! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
I had a neighbor with Alzheimer's. Shortly after my retirement, I was blessed with the opportunity to assist his dear wife with his care, on many occasions. I wish I had read this book before I had that experience because Block has given a quality of transcendence to what appeared, from the outside to be a long, numbing ordeal. His wife clearly didn't see it that way, which inspired me. But then, see, I was merely inspired by her and her courageous fight. The Story of Forgetting, would have showed me how to see majesty in the meaning of their relationship. It would have shown me the clarity of contrast and the preciousness of memory. Had I read it back then, I might have understood why I saw triumph where I expected to have seen despair.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
When we read about these "hoodlums" in the paper, we automatically think the worst. Consequently, I try to avoid reading about them in the paper. At the Center, I just see kids, good kids. I rarely have a clue what they've done. Going by the severity of their punishments, I'm not blind to the fact that they've committed, some of them, horrendous crimes. I would just rather deal with them without tainting my view with details.
My calling is to love them not to change them. I am not able to change them and would be foolish to try. This is a new experience for most of them though. Most of them have lived their entire lives with someone on their case; someone trying to change them; someone disapprovingly yelling at them. I get to love them just the way they are and I tell them so. The irony is, they change. Why is this? It's simple. When someone tries to change them they resist. They rebel. From there they decline into despair, bitterness, feelings of unworthiness. In contrast, when someone loves and accepts them just as they are, warts and all, they thrive. They feel hope and begin to see possibilities, opportunities and they change. They change themselves.
Who among us needs to be told what we're doing wrong? Don't we already know? Who among us wouldn't rather do better? Wouldn't we rather be helped to do better than punished for not?
So look at Bobby and Don and Chase. Kids in prison for serious crimes for which they are suffering the consequences - appropriately. Look at them again. Kids who delight in teaching the gospel and lifting the lives and hearts of their fellow men and women. What precipitated their bad behavior? What stimulated the good?
The Nephites often dwindled in unbelief. When I think of dwindle I think of a campfire at the end of the evening. Once roaring, hot, bright and delightful, it dwindles to nothing and we fade away to sleep in our bags. In the morning, a few sparks remain, a little tinder is added, fuel supplied, a few puffs and walla! Fire again blazes to our warmth and delight. People dwindle like fires. Deprived of fuel like love, inspiration and possibilities they dwindle and die. Instead of throwing the cold water of chastisement on such dwindling souls, why don't we kindle them back to life with the breath of love, the tinder of kindness and the fuel of opportunity and encouragement.
We, in our effort to help are often too quick to chastise the wayward. Recently, I attended the Baptist Church of my good friend Pastor Jim. In his sermon he taught a wonderful lesson that I shall always be grateful for. He was discoursing on Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25. He said that one of the values of meeting together was the need for good old fashioned exhortation. Now, before we go on, all my life I equated the term exhortation with chastisement. Chastise means to censure severely or castigate. Now, listen to what Pastor Jim taught. From the Greek, exhort, in this context, means to call near, or call alongside. In other words it means, "Come, join me, walk with me, feel of my love, put your arm around me and let me put mine around you. Let's do this together." Will we throw the cold water of chastisement or will we breathe the warm breath of exhortation.
The fire is in them, every one. Be they prisoners, or students, or neighbor kids or our own sons and daughters, they will dwindle if we don't kindle.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Yesterday a cherished friend stopped by. My friend is a man of great faith. But....he's been Hannitized, and so every time I see him, he is griping about the state of things in America. The result is constant, unproductive complaining, fault finding and criticism. My friend has become a pessimist.
I've spent some time since that meeting contemplating how to encourage my poor pessimistic friend. As I pondered a strong impression set my mind on an interesting course. Babylon is falling!
Babylon is falling. Do we want to prevent that? The "great and spacious building" is teetering. Are we trying to prop it up? Is our anxiousness, about the state of things, a corollary to our connection to Babylon? When it falls, which it surely will, will that hurt us? What is Babylon? Is the United States Babylon? Is not the US and her constitution worth saving? Worth fighting for? Is Wall Street Babylon? Is China? Hamas? Israel?
My morning walk was filled with such questions.
I think I have a few answers. First, Babylon is not a place. Babylon is a state of mind. A quality of character. Babylon is composed of her citizens and the way in which those citizens see the world. Babylon is not confined to America, Wall Street, China, Baghdad or any place else. Babylon is those who subscribe to her values. I recently reviewed a book on this blog called The Three Deceivers, by Richard Eyre. I think he hit the nail right on the head - Babylon is a paradigm of Control, Ownership and Independence. Those who subscribe to and put their trust in that paradigm are Babylon. Don't forget Babylon is falling.
Second, Babylon, as a paradigm, is not worth saving. Babylon cannot be saved. It is on a collision course with destiny and it will fall. The only course of action for her citizens is to cancel their subscription and flee to Zion. Remember, we are not speaking of a geographical place here. Fleeing to Zion can be done without taking a physical step. Fleeing to Zion can and should be done right where we are.
Third, there is no point in trying to destroy Babylon. It will destroy itself. The "large and spacious" building is condemned, abandon it. It will collapse of it's own accord.
Fourth, any pain we feel as a result of the fall of Babylon will be because of some grasp we still hold on the place (paradigm.) That and mourning for the souls who remain trapped in the rubble.
So, what is to be done? Flee to Zion! Abandon Babylon completely, if you are not there, it's fall will not hurt you. How is this done? Adopt a new paradigm. Hopefully, you'll soon read Eyre's book. I'll be spilling the beans a bit here. Give up the notions represented by Control, Ownership and Independence and choose to see the world through the lens of Serendipity, Stewardship and Synergicity. (You'll have to read the book to fully understand what that means.) For now, suffice it to say that this Zion paradigm is one in which God is in charge, possessions are gifts, and people are vital partners and fellow travelers in the journey of life. Zion is the pure in heart. Zion is full of faith. Zion doesn't cling to the material things of this world. Zion trusts in God rather than the arm of the flesh. Zion is redeemed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
If you find yourself fearing or even mourning the demise of Babylon, it is because to some degree you are still there. Babylon is falling, let her go. Come to Zion and rejoice in Babylon's prophesied destruction. Does this mean the end of the United States? Heavens no. Does this mean we quit standing up for correct principles and the Constitution, absolutely not. We don't have to be wreckers though, let's be builders. As we build Zion, we build, defend and protect all that is good around us. Every person who has adopted the Zion paradigm is one less person of the Babylon mind set. People are crossing the border all the time. Sadly, many, even in the church, remain in Babylon. You can hear the terror in their voices. Zion is not the church. Zion is the pure in heart. Come to Zion.
Sean Hannity is a nice man. I think much of what he is about is good. I often hear him say, "Let not your heart be troubled." He probably means it, but every one I talk to, who listens to his programs, seems to have a troubled heart, to be pessimistic. I think that's because they've got the wrong paradigm. They're trying to save Babylon and they're barking up the wrong tree. There is only one way to keep Christ's commandment to "let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" and that's to come to Zion. Which is to be in the world but not of it; to stop clinging to what we think we deserve and start viewing life as a gift and a stewardship; to stop condemning those still in Babylon, but rather, inviting them to Zion, rejoicing. Babylon is about fear, fear of loss. Zion is about love and abundance.
Babylon is falling, let her go.
Friday, August 7, 2009
I have been cross threaded with sports for most of my life. As a young man all we did at Mutual was play basketball and I sat the bench, even in practice. I was slight, uncoordinated, and just didn't get sports. I couldn't throw a baseball. I was afraid to catch one. The concept of risking and experiencing pain for the fun of sport was totally mystifying to me. The humiliation of my inevitably poor performance was as repulsive to me as crying in public might have been to my father, but he was totally blind to it.
I couldn't even stand to be a fan of sports. It boggled my mind that we who couldn't make the team were expected to show up and worship and encourage those who did. To me it was just "piddly, inconsequential goings on." I remember reminding a friend who was grieving a big BYU loss that, "a billion Chinese don't even care." And neither did I. It was absolutely no consolation to him.
My friend Bobby mellowed my disdain for sports a good deal. He called me one day and invited me to come watch his kids play ball at the Fort Duchesne gym. I took Aly with me and we drove over to spend a Saturday morning. I felt like Adrian Monk at a 49er's game. A fish flopping on the bank. I found Bobby and a seat right behind him. He shook my hand and I asked him who we were cheering for. He looked at me with the most puzzled look and answered, "Why, everyone, of course."
I have never enjoyed such basketball! Those Native American kids were having a blast! Their skills, enthusiasm, comaraderie, were awesome. I'd watched the occasional Jazz game. Those pro players looked jaded, even bored. Rarely, did they play with what I'd call joy and vivacity. They played more like machines. Their play seemed more like work. They played like they were chasing carrots.
Not so in Fort Duchesne. These kids played for the love of playing. Fouls were practically none existent. Deliberate fouls were unthinkable. It had nothing to do with winning or losing. Everything to do with having a good time. I still can't quite put my finger on the way they competed without being competetive.
I play volleyball most Wednesday nights with the next generation of those kids. It is still the same way. There is even room and fun for an old klutz like me. Perhaps it is a cultural thing with the indigenous Americans, who seem to intrinsically get that it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Perhaps it is for this reason we seldom see their talent on High School or College courts where it is no longer play and no longer a game. Perhaps it is for this reason that the best basketball I've ever watched is still I big secret kept tucked away in a little reservation town.
Another paradigm shift came when I became associated with Curg. Curg played strong safety for BYU and the Washington Redskins. I have no idea what a strong safety is. He remains a loyal BYU fan. Yet somehow, he is different. At first I thought it came of the confidence that having been an All American and a Pro afforded; he has nothing to prove. But I later could see that for Curg, sports was not the end all, be all of his life. He is humbly grateful for the experience. He sees sports as an opportunity, not a pedestal. He is not the rabid fan who cajoles and insults those who wear red. Nor is he that fan who rails against a player who stumbles on the field. His disappointments sigh over players who stumble in life.
For Bobby and Curg sports are hardly piddly or inconsequential; though they might be if they were only about superiority and final scores and money and arrogance and pride. It turns out that they are not merely about those things but can also be about fellowship and brotherhood and courage and commitment and development and motivation and opportunity and joy.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I am currently unemployed; have been for over a month. The RV Dealership I had been working for went out of business; a casualty of these tough economic times. This morning my optimistic view of things was faltering a bit. I went back and dug up a post I wrote in an abandoned blog. It strengthened and reinforced me. I thought I'd include it here as it was written a little over a year ago:
Recently I began a new career. I often, in this new setting, feel like a fish out of water. Because of the nature of this new occupation, I'm not guaranteed a steady income. It has been an enormous learning experience to encounter life with such uncertain parameters.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself down to the final day of a pay period. Only one day to make enough money to make ends meet. I woke up early, worrying about it. I was concerned that I'd made a mistake in choosing this occupation. I worried that in order to succeed at a livable wage, I might have to compromise my principles. I feared that I just wasn't cut out to succeed at such work.
I concluded that for the immediate future, I had no recourse but to carry on - at least until I found another job. The pressing need was to close a deal in the next twelve hours. I decided to fast and pray to that end.
I knelt in prayer, initiated a sincere heartfelt fast and plead earnestly with the Lord to bring me success in my efforts. What happened next surprised me. It shouldn't have, but it did. I heard the Spirit whisper, "Would you manipulate God?" I was bewildered! Am I manipulating God? How? Then, in my heart I heard, "I thought fasting was an act of surrender, an expression of humility, a manifestation of your willingness to submit your will to that of your Heavenly Father. You seem to be using it, instead, to twist His arm into granting and sustaining your will."
A kind and loving Father had gently chastened me. He had kindly taught me a most wonderful principle. He had reminded me that, "His hand is stretched out" to me, would I take it and twist? Do I want things my way so badly, that I would attempt to manipulate God into granting my desires, even if they are contrary to His will?
I mentioned before that I should have known this, should have been sensitive to this manipulative tendency that I have. Years ago while reading Gandhi an autobiography, I encountered his description of an occasion that also involved fasting. Chapter 36 is called Fasting and Penance. Here Gandhi discovers that a couple of students in his Ashram have fallen into sin. He feels responsible to an, apparently large, degree. Gandhi decides to embark upon a lengthy fast, as penance for his failure. He says, "My penance pained everybody, but it cleared the atmosphere. Everyone came to realize what a terrible thing it was to be sinful, and the bond that bound me to the boys and girls became stronger and truer."
I do not doubt Gandhi's sincerity here. I am quite sure he did feel somehow responsible for the fall of the sinful ones. My concern is that his method, whether sincere or not, must surely have had the result of putting the students on a serious guilt trip. Had his penance been done in secret, God, "who seeth in secret," would indeed have rewarded him openly.
Putting folks on guilt trips is clearly manipulative and because of it's nature falls outside God's plan of agency. Manipulation is controlling and primarily done to the advantage of the manipulator. "I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it: wherefore give me thine honor." Sound familiar?
I returned to my fast, with new intentions. "I will cheerfully submit to Thy will oh, Father." Then I proceeded into my day with no agenda other than to do His will and keep His commandments.
Friends, God is entirely predisposed in our favor. His doings are always with the intent to assist us in our journey home. If that calls for failure in my current venture, so be it. All I need to do is my best and He will gladly bring me home. It doesn't matter to me what course he leads me on, to that Heavenly end. In fact it is quite an adventure.
So, I quit twisting His arm, and just took his hand.... and.... everything worked out just fine.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I have never liked Richard Eyre all that much. He's married to a cousin of mine. At the one family reunion we both attended I thought him to be over the top. His were the only kids with talent and he and Linda were the only parents worth their salt or so they presented themselves. They were so self promoting.
It seemed like Richard was pretty sure that he was the center of the universe. Some of that personality appeared in this book. The book is written in two parts: First, The Three Deceivers, Control, Ownership and Independence and Second, The Three Alternatives. All through the first part Eyre invites us to guess what the Three Alternatives are. His use of the word "guess" is typical of Richard's personality. It implies that he is wise and all knowing and we, mere mortals are not able to figure it out; we're consigned to mere guessing. To top it off, he made it impossible to guess because he invented the word for one of the alternatives leaving no way to guess the correct answer, at least to Richard's satisfaction. Anyway you get my drift.
Now, before you give up and go home, I've got to add that the ideas in this book are some of the most brilliant, forward looking, visionary notions I've ever seen! This book is not only good, it is great! That is a pretty big helping of humble pie for me to eat, but it is entirely true.
I have to admit that I've wasted a lot of time over the course of my life delving into self-help books in an effort to gain more control, ownership and independence. The methods were, perhaps, sound but the objectives were flawed. No wonder there was never any satisfaction, joy or sense of enough, in those pursuits. Abandoning the pursuit of Control, Ownership and Independence for the the Three Alternatives has been and continues to be the most emancipating activity of my life! Like anything worth doing, this paradigm shift is a process and not an event. Nevertheless, Richard Eyre has made the effort clear and concise enough to make the rewards immediate if not yet entire.
Life is abundant and comes from an infinite source. This fine book has more fully helped me realize this than any other. It has also helped me realize that much of my disdain for it's author has come of jealousy. He had pieces of the pie I wanted and with my scarcity mentality, there simply wasn't enough to go around. Richard has taught me an entirely different way to look at it and through that lens, I find him a lot more likable. I find it so interesting that by simply reading this book I not only feel better about Richard, I feel better about myself. Obviously, the passing of judgment has a lot to do with the Three Deceivers; judgment of both ourselves and others.
The principles in this book are not new. It is, in fact, startling, how old, tried, true, visionary and scriptural they are. Even more startling is how entirely they are rejected in our culture, even our religious culture. I suggest you put The Three Deceivers - The Three Alternatives at the top of your reading list. Your view of everything else, will be forever changed by it!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Holy Cow! What fun! After what seemed an interminable wait, I finally got to read the third in Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series.
Koontz wrote the first two with co-authors. His fingerprints were still all over them and I loved them both. Number three brings the climax of a most compelling and imaginative story. He wrote the third volume of the trilogy alone. You know I love reading Koontz's work and Frankenstein was no exception. Don't let the fact that this series was never published in hardbound throw you. This is classic Koontz and well worth the read.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein is still alive in the 21st Century! So is his monster. Consistent with Shelley's characters but set in today's New Orleans, the story reaches into our lives and times in an frighteningly poignant way.
This is a extraordinarily superior story. Even more I loved the examination of what it means to be human. While we are weak, vulnerable and full of flaws, Koontz helped me appreciate how priceless our sorrows, joys, triumphs, failures, strengths and weaknesses are.
"Sometimes Jocko thought about big issues....Big issues like why some things were ugly, some weren't. Maybe if everything was beautiful, nothing would be." I always love Dean Koontz's examination of opposites and the precarious balance between real good and real evil in the world. While his stories are not real, his examination of life is.
Enjoy the whole series!