A Voice From the Dust

Hello to anyone still lurking around this cobwebbed corner of the Internet. Three months since my last post! I often repeat the refrain, “Everyone makes time for the things that matter most.” So I will not make excuses, only say that for the past few months I have had more important things to do.

Yet a desire to write still surfaces regularly. Often, I put it off when I feel that I don’t have to time and energy to pound out something of any real depth or substance. I’m trying again to free myself from those shackles and relax my own expectations for what I write and post. With that in mind, I will get back in the saddle by sharing the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball. I’ve encountered it here and there over the years, and a recent review while studying Doctrine and Covenants 93 left me astounded by the power and prescience of his words. Some of it is downright fierce.

Enjoy:

“The earth is spherical. If all the four billion people in the world think it flat, they are in error. That is an absolute truth, and all the arguing in the world will not change it.

“We learn about these absolute truths by being taught by the Spirit. These truths are ‘independent’ in their spiritual sphere and are to be discovered spiritually, though they may be confirmed by experience and intellect. (See D&C 93:30.) The great prophet Jacob said that ‘the Spirit speaketh the truth. … Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.’ (Jacob 4:13.) We need to be taught in order to understand life and who we really are.

“The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute. It cannot be disproved. A million brilliant minds might conjecture otherwise, but it is still true. And having done all this for his Father’s children, the Christ mapped out a plan of life for man—a positive and absolute program whereby man might achieve, accomplish, and overcome and perfect himself. Again, these vital truths are not matters of opinion. If they were, then your opinion would be just as good as mine, or better. But I give you these things, not as my opinion—I give them to you as divine truths which are absolute.

“Some day you will see and feel and understand and perhaps even berate yourself for the long delay and waste of time. It is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when.

“Experience in one field does not automatically create expertise in another field. Expertise in religion comes from personal righteousness and from revelation. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith: ‘All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it.’ (D&C 93:30.) A geologist who has discovered truths about the structure of the earth may be oblivious to the truths God has given us about the eternal nature of the family.

“If I can only make clear this one thing, it will give us a basis on which to build. Man cannot discover God or his ways by mere mental processes. One must be governed by the laws which control the realm into which he is delving. To become a plumber, one must study the laws which govern plumbing. He must know stresses and strains, temperatures at which pipes will freeze, laws which govern steam, hot water, expansion, contraction, and so forth. One might know much about plumbing and be a complete failure in training children or getting along with men. One might be the best of bookkeepers and yet not know anything of electricity. One might know much about buying and selling groceries and be absolutely ignorant of bridge building.

“One might be a great authority on the hydrogen bomb and yet know nothing of banking. One might be a noted theologian and yet be wholly untrained in watchmaking. One might be the author of the law of relativity and yet know nothing of the Creator who originated every law. I repeat, these are not matters of opinion. They are absolute truths. These truths are available to every soul.

“Any intelligent man may learn what he wants to learn. He may acquire knowledge in any field, though it requires much thought and effort. It takes more than a decade to get a high school diploma; it takes an additional four years for most people to get a college degree; it takes nearly a quarter-century to become a great physician. Why, oh, why do people think they can fathom the most complex spiritual depths without the necessary experimental and laboratory work accompanied by compliance with the laws that govern it? Absurd it is, but you will frequently find popular personalities, who seem never to have lived a single law of God, discoursing in interviews on religion. How ridiculous for such persons to attempt to outline for the world a way of life!” (“Absolute Truth,” Ensign, Sept. 1978, pp. 3–5.)

On Doing Our Part: Lessons From a Six-Year-Old

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I was recently reading 1 Nephi 17 with my children. We were reading about all the things Nephi did in order to build the ship for him and his family to travel to the promised land (find ore, make bellows and fire, make tools, build the ship). My six year old son Jonah asked rationally, “Why didn’t God just build the ship and drop it down into the water?” Jonah acted the scene out with his hands; a tone of wonder in his voice and a grin on his face as he imagine the boat descending from heaven.

While it may seem naive in the context of Nephi and his boat, I thought his question was illustrative of how believers often think when faced with life challenges. Clearly Jonah understands God’s omnipotence. God could build a boat and drop it in the water, right? Yet Jonah doesn’t seem to understand finer details of God’s plan, namely that for our own growth and progression, God always asks us to do our part.

Nephi was a prime example of always doing his part. From obeying his Father’s revelation to retrieving the brass plates to building the ship, he was always anxious to do whatever he could, in faith that God would help him “accomplish the thing which he commanded him.”

This pattern is in line with the old adage to “Pray as though everything depended upon God. Work as though everything depended upon you.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used to reference what he called the “Economy of heaven.” It seems to me that in the economy of heaven, God is not prone to doing anything we can do for ourselves.

God’s unwillingness to instantly intervene on our behalf may be frustrating to some who are faced with “building ships,” whatever they may be, in their own lives. But we need look no further than raising children to see why our Heavenly Father typically meets us only at the limits of our own reach: What happens to a child who has everything given to them and everything done for them without any effort, work, or suffering on their part? While our deep love for a child may tempt us to hand them everything in life, true parental love demands that we help our children put forth effort to achieve or we may inadvertently ruin their lives.

It is the same with our Heavenly Father. After all, how else could we hope to become like him?

In October of 2018, Elder Dale G. Renlund taught, “Our Heavenly Father wants to help and bless us, but we do not always let Him. Sometimes, we even act as if we already know everything. And we too need to do “the next bit” on our own. That is why we came to earth from a premortal, heavenly home. Our “bit” involves making choices.

Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.

But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.”

Another interesting case study on this subject would be Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel. Study “Saints Volume 1” and noticed how the Lord expected Joseph and the rest of the early Saints to extend to their very limits at which point he would step in and perform the miracles. The restoration was not a cheap experience; it demanded so much of those involved.

Likewise, the restoration was a messy process. Had God dropped a perfectly formed church from heaven, it would’ve been prettier. But he didn’t. He showed Joseph where to find ore, make bellows, make tools, and build the ship. Thus while a perfectly formed shipped dropping from heaven into the ocean might be a wonderful miracle, Nephi building a ship and Joseph Restoring the Church, by their faith, could actually be even more miraculous. And so will our victories be, if we have the faith like Nephi and Joseph, to give our best effort.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: On the Name of the Church

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President Nelson stirring things up again! I love it. But I realize not everyone enjoys change as much as I do. We talked about the announcement in my seminary classes and I was surprised by the amount of annoyance, skepticism, and denial demonstrated by some. One class started counting syllables, comparing how "hard" it was to use past titles versus the new recommendations. I had to smile. I found further skepticism among many blogs and articles online. (And to be fair, a lot of funny tweets. Fair play.) 

I’m not denying how impossible it seems to get the world to stop calling us Mormons, but I’m not sure that’s really the point. A few thoughts: 

The official statement is as “prophetic” sounding as anything I can remember a Church President saying in my lifetime. For those wondering where the revelations are from our so-called Prophets, President Nelson appears happy to oblige. Whether we accept them as such is another story, but President Nelson isn’t shying away from his role!

There is a lot of extrapolation going on in the wake of the announcement. Really, it’s quite vague. I was guilty early on of jumping to a bunch of conclusions, but as I’ve pondered, I’m not sure those are all valid. All the official statement really says is that the actual name of the Church is important, the Church isn’t fully in line with the will of God in regards to that name, and that in coming days the Church will take steps to get in line with the Lord’s will regarding that name. 

A bit more may be extracted from the updated style guide, but even then I would be careful. I don't have a perfect memory of the prior style guide, but as memory serves many of the items are not new. The Church has reaffirmed its actual name multiple times over the years (197919902011) and made various attempts to invite the media and the rest of the world to use that name. Despite the overwhelming odds that many outside the church won't care  (a quick survey of headlines on Friday showed that a good half of media outlets ironically ignored the Church’s request in the very headline announcing the request), I won’t fault Church leaders for reaffirming that the Church has a name and we would appreciate it if people used it. I mean, would we begrudge someone whose always being referred to by a nickname saying from time to time, “Hey, that’s not actually my name”?

The only really significant shift in this new style guide is the rejection of the abbreviation “LDS” for the Church or its members and the name “Mormon” for the members of the Church. With President Hinckley, the approach was to concede the title "Mormon" for Church members. (President Hinckley said in 1990: “I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons…We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster.”) If you can’t beat them, join them, hence the “Meet the Mormons” movie and the “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign (the value of which is not undone, by the way).

The other notable changes are some new authorized short names, “The Church,” “The Church of Jesus Christ,” and “The Restored Church of Jesus Christ.” I appreciate the moxie behind these names. I can imagine many rejecting them because they make implicit truth claims, but we’re not afraid of making truth claims are we? Some have balked at these alternatives as offensive or prideful. I think they could be if taken out of context. They are meant to be secondary references to the Church in media or scholarly works that have already referenced the full name of the Church. We’re not asking the world to start calling us “The Church.”

Many have assumed that this shift regarding the term “Mormon” means the Church will jettison all occurrences of the word; Mormon.org, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon Helping Hands, the list goes on and on and in many instances getting rid of "Mormon" presents some real challenges. Many have also assumed that we have been told not to use the term anymore ourselves. As one of my students jokingly said, "So now I'm sinning if I tell someone I'm a Mormon?" Of course not. I don't know if the style guide is specific to media outlets or also serves as a guide all Church members. Stepping back, unless I’m mistaken, the announcement and the style guide don’t actually make any specific demands of Church members. 

That said, it seems safe to assume that the Lord is inviting us take a little more care regarding what we call ourselves as members. Whatever others might call us, we can refer to ourselves and the Church properly.

Does it really matter? I think so, given all that is going on the in the world the Lord is speaking to the Prophet about the name of the Church. It would be easy to dismiss this as trivial, but I believe that is a mistake. When you look at all he nicknames for the Church, they all have one thing in common: they eliminate Jesus Christ from the name of the Church. Is that not significant? If Satan wanted to have a negative impact via the way the Church is referenced, would he take any other approach? Why wouldn’t we, as members, emphasize the Savior when we talk about the Church? As noted by President Nelson, the name of the Church was revealed by the Lord himself (see section 115 in the Doctrine and Covenants). In his visit to the Nephites recorded in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 27) the Savior emphasized the importance of the name of the Church. Verse 8 is especially applicable: 

5 Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;

6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.

7 Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.

8 And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.

This is no small adjustment, and will clearly take a concerted effort. It is no secret that the full name of the Church is a bit cumbersome. But honestly, of all the things the prophets have and will ask of us, how high does this rank on the difficulty scale? Can we support the Savior and his Prophet by sparing a few more syllables? I'm reminded of Naaman, the powerful but leprous Syrian commander who scoffed at the Prophet's invitation to be healed by bathing seven times in the Jordan. He almost forfeited the miracle, thinking the Prophet's approach and recommendation offensive and beneath him, until a faithful servant stepped in and asked, " if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?" Naaman reconsidered, washed, and was healed. (see 2 Kings 5)

I know from past experience that following the Prophet, no matter how trivial it may seem, yields blessings both personally and the Church as a whole. What blessings, even miracles, lay beyond this latest call to action? 

On Temple Worship

The Logan Temple. i sppent a lot of time here during college.

The Logan Temple. i sppent a lot of time here during college.

 

Following my mission, with all the decisions about education and career and family, I felt a consistent, deep need for heaven’s help. I turned to the temple often as a place of inspiration. At one point in my college career I lived just a couple blocks from the Logan temple. I could walk there in minutes and often did, even just to sit outside. The temple became a powerful source of strength. A relief. A refuge. A pavilion. 

Sometime after moving to Arizona my connection to the House of the Lord grew increasingly weak. The decline was honest enough; we lived 45 minutes away, and with the arrival of each child and increasingly demanding callings and work assignments, it became more and more challenging to take the time to attend the temple. 

For quite some time I felt comfortable that my approach to the temple was appropriate to my situation, but in recent months a nagging impression kept coming that the temple needed to regain priority in my life. At this point, any temple voyage had become a chore. Carving out the time, paying a babysitter or leaving my wife with four wild animals, and being so worn out when I finally got there that my body just wanted to sleep— the cost benefit ratio just didn’t seem to be in favor of the temple and hadn’t felt so for some time. I went periodically out of duty, but my attitude was not great and neither was my experience. 

Yet the feeling persisted, and eventually grew compelling enough that I made a personal commitment to choose a specific time on a regular interval to serve and worship in the temple. That was a few months ago, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve consistently met that commitment since! 

Here’s the exciting part. Once I made an active decision to set aside specific time for temple worship, once it became a priority again, the temple’s status as a place of inspiration and refuge instantly returned. I’m quite honestly amazed at how much I now anticipate attending the temple now. I love it. I savor a sacred time to feel peace, to calm my mind, to seek inspiration with all the stress and anxiety of daily life checked at the door. It has become an essential part of my life. 

The power of the temple hasn’t changed through all this, but I have. It still requires concerted effort to take that regular temple time. But once I gave it proper priority, all those negative emotions dissipated and all the promised blessings returned. I'm grateful the Spirit was willing to push on me until I responded. 

Of course the Prophets foretold my experience. Elder Richard G. Scott

Because I love you, I am going to speak to you heart to heart, without mincing words. I have seen that many times individuals have made great sacrifices to go to a distant temple. But when a temple is built close by, within a short time, many do not visit it regularly. I have a suggestion: When a temple is conveniently nearby, small things may interrupt your plans to go to the temple. Set specific goals, considering your circumstances, of when you can and will participate in temple ordinances. Then do not allow anything to interfere with that plan. This pattern will guarantee that those who live in the shadow of a temple will be as blessed as are those who plan far ahead and make a long trip to the temple.

In the same talk, Elder Scott gave a list of suggestions. #7 and #9 have been especially helpful for me. What about you?

  1. Understand the doctrine related to temple ordinances, especially the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
  2. While participating in temple ordinances, consider your relationship to Jesus Christ and His relationship to our Heavenly Father. This simple act will lead to greater understanding of the supernal nature of the temple ordinances.
  3. Always prayerfully express gratitude for the incomparable blessings that flow from temple ordinances. Live each day so as to give evidence to Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son of how very much those blessings mean to you.
  4. Schedule regular visits to the temple.
  5. Leave sufficient time to be unhurried within the temple walls.
  6. Rotate activities so that you can participate in all of the ordinances of the temple.
  7. Remove your watch when you enter a house of the Lord.
  8. Listen carefully to the presentation of each element of the ordinance with an open mind and heart.
  9. Be mindful of the individual for whom you are performing the vicarious ordinance. At times pray that he or she will recognize the vital importance of the ordinances and be worthy or prepare to be worthy to benefit from them.
  10. Recognize that much of the majesty of the sealing ordinance cannot be understood and remembered with one live experience. Substantial subsequent vicarious work permits one to understand much more of what is communicated in the live ordinances.
  11. Realize that a sealing ordinance is not enduring until after it is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Both individuals must be worthy and want the sealing to be eternal.

Prophetic Succession

With the passing of President Monson, I've been discussing with friends the ins and outs and pros and cons of prophetic succession in the Church. Specifically the fact that tradition says the senior apostle becomes the president of the Church, but that's not required by doctrine. Interesting stuff. I don't have a bunch I want to say about it here, but in my studies I ran into this BYU speech from Bruce R. McConkie that has some cool insight into the whole process. 

 

Baby Blessings

I get to bless my two month old son today. I consider blessing babies to be an incredible privilege and one of my favorite traditions in the Church. Christmas time, along with the upcoming blessing, had me thinking about the Savior’s birth. The nativity as told in Luke 2 and the story of the wise men in Matthew 2 get most of the attention this time of year, but Luke 2 also contains what might be seen as a sort of baby blessing for the baby Jesus. Luke 2:23-27 tells of Simeon, a “devout” man with the Holy Ghost upon him, had received personal revelation that he would live to see the Christ. He encounters Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at the temple and takes up the baby in his arms praying, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

It’s short, simple, and beautiful. Here is salvation. The light of the world, the Glory of Israel. Simeon blessed Christ to fulfill his foreordained role in Heavenly Father’s plan. I hope I can do the same for my son. As explained in the lds.org Gospel Topic entry for foreordination,

 “In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives... Jesus Christ was foreordained to carry out the Atonement, becoming “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” (Revelation 13:8; see also 1 Peter 1:19-21).

The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. As people prove themselves worthy, they will be given opportunities to fulfill the assignments they then received."

Doctrine and Covenants 20:70 explains, "Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”

As I see it, the baby blessing echoes the blessing (I’d like to think) given by God before coming to earth, and serves as a foreshadowing of the Patriarchal blessing. In that light, a father’s opportunity to speak for the Lord on behalf of their child must be one of if not the most profound specific acts of priesthood duty in their child’s life, next to the confirmation after baptism, priesthood ordinations, and other father’s blessings. I love it. I’m grateful and humbled to do it. I hope I am worthy to speak on behalf of the Lord for the blessing of my son.

As oft as my people repent...

It’s 2:30 a.m. and I’m wide awake. It’s not even our newborn baby’s fault. Must be time to write. I met my new favorite verse this week. Before I tell you about it, let me give two pieces of unsolicited advice:

1. If you’ve never read Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis, drop everything and read it. I’ve been reading it again for the first time in a decade or so. The book is just dripping with insight. Although sometimes doctrinally askew, Lewis’s grasp of and ability to articulate the human condition is just uncanny. There is a reason he gets quoted constantly. I don’t know when he had time to think all these things through or how he became so intelligent, but I would feel triumphant if I had one insight as profound as any of the gems that appear on every page of Mere Christianity. I know I’m gushing. But the man, without the restored gospel, seems to have grasped the jist of the plan of salvation through sheer study and force of will. He just gets it. 

2. If you’ve never referred to the references at the end of general conference talks, you should. (They’re found at the end of talks in the conference edition of the Ensign and on LDS.org. In the Gospel Library app, just tap when you run into a superscript number while reading a talk.) These notes are not always just acknowledgments or sources. Many speakers will elaborate on statements within the talk, giving additional insight they may have included had they had the time. I haven’t made a comprehensive study of who and when, But Elders Christofferson, Cook, Renlund, and Andersen each frequently use the references section to give added insight. It’s good stuff. 

Now, on to my new favorite scripture. Mosiah 26:30. As is typical, the concept is far from new, rather there was relevance; something new in me that made the sentiment matter more right now. Alma, after believing Abinadi and repenting of his misdeeds while working under King Noah, finds himself the reluctant priesthood leader over the Church in Zarahemla. When a portion of the “rising generation” leave the faith and start to lead church members into serious sin, he feels compelled to take action. After an unsuccessful bid to pass the responsibly on to King Mosiah, Alma prays with all his heart for help. He’s afraid of doing the wrong thing. Mosiah 26:30 is part of the Lord’s response. 

"Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me."

I really appreciate being reminded that Christ isn’t expecting perfection, but he is expecting me to try again every time I fail. Trying again is hard, but I can do it. No one below this standard. Not that the prophets haven’t been trying to teach me this for years, or that I didn’t have an intellectual understanding that perfection isn’t mandatory. I’ve always believed in God’s mercy for everyone else. But I’ve long struggled to believe it myself. Its coming along.

Funny how and when certain principles manage to pierce the heart. It seems like happenstance but I think there’s more to it than that! Maybe I’ve just been trying long enough to finally realize that it’s just too dang hard to demand the impossible? 

The results of this deeper understanding manifest in ways that may appear mundane but that actually have a huge impact. Small things, like saying, “Oh well,” and moving on after a poor lesson in seminary rather than letting it eat at me all afternoon and evening. Or letting a ward member own their own decisions instead of holding myself responsible for any bad choices someone might make. Or saying “Sorry, I’ll try to be better next time,” when I fail to measure up as a husband and father instead of barating myself over and over for “sucking at this.” 

As far as I can tell, happiness ultimate depends not on how good we become, but how good we become at repent. Since we fall short perfection, we can’t find happiness down that road. Expecting to find happiness through perfection leads to disappointment.  On the other hand, as we accept imperfection and the need for consistent repentance, we can obtain peace and happiness not because we never did anything wrong, but because we learned from our mistakes, fix what we can, and tried to do better next time. 

Alma taught that there will be two potential experiences when we meet the Savior at judgment. It’s important to note that both groups are made up of sinners. It’s not the perfect versus imperfect, it’s the repentant vs. the unrepentant. The Atonement of Christ allows us to learn and grow by making decisions, some of them wrong, in an environment free from the immediate eternal consequences of those mistakes. I love it!

Dig deeper:

Perfection pending
Latter-Day Saints Keep on Trying
Be ye Therefore Perfect, Eventually

The Rights of Mercy

Moroni 7:27. Moroni is asking a rhetorical question about whether miracles have ceased since Christ isn’t on earth anymore. But instead of just saying, “Have miracles ceased Because Christ hath ascended into heaven,” He adds this interesting statement: “And hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?”

“His rights of mercy.” That’s a unique phrase; not found anywhere else. Questions:

  • What are the rights of Mercy?
  • Why are the rights of mercy important?
  • How did Christ otain those rights?
  • How were they the Fathers to give?
  • How is this “right” different from rights discussed so often in our society today?

Insight followed as I pondered those questions. I am a sinner, but Christ can show me mercy. He earned the right to show me mercy because he atoned for my sins. While human rights are considered “inalienable” (Which I am not denying, but the way. I believe there are certain rights everyone deserves). But while much time and effort is spent demanding those inalienable rights, I was impressed that we have a Christ who, if you study his life, never really claimed any of the rights that should’ve been automatic, and paid the ultimate price for the rights that he does claim. 

This is to me an example of what Elder Neal A. Maxwell meant when he talked about the irony that Christ endured:

Dramatic irony assuaged Jesus’ divinity almost constantly. For Jesus, in fact, irony began at His birth. Truly, He suffered the will of the Father “in all things from the beginning.” This whole earth became Jesus’ footstool, but at Bethlehem there was “no room … in the inn” and “no crib for his bed.” At the end, meek and lowly Jesus partook of the most bitter cup without becoming the least bitter. The Most Innocent suffered the most. Yet the King of Kings did not break, even when some of His subjects did unto Him “as they listed.” Christ’s capacity to endure such irony was truly remarkable.
— Elder Neal A. Maxwell

(See this talk for a long list of impressively endured ironies in the life of the Savior.)

I’m struck that while I’m so often thinking about getting what I deserve, Christ never took any rights without paying a terrible price, and when he does claim his rights, it’s only to bless us. As far as I can tell, there is only one other instance in the scriptures about Christ claiming a right: "Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign, and subdues all enemies under his feet.” (D&C 58:22. See also Ezekiel 21:27). Again, this is a right fully earned, never demanded. 

My thoughts naturally turned to the spiritual rights we may claim. Like Christ, are there spiritual rights within our reach? “Rights” in this sense, as a noun, appears rarely in the scriptures until you reach the Doctrine and Covenants, where it appears multiple times. In almost all cases, its used in relation to priesthood authority. (See “Right” in the topical guide). 

For example, see D&C 121:36-37, part of what David O. McKay called “the greatest revelation ever given on the priesthood.” 

36 The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. 

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. 

In other words, priesthood power to serve and bless others is earned through righteous action, and is given by our Heavenly Father, just like Christ earned the right to show mercy. I’m going to strive to be more worthy of the things that I may tend to see as my right. Maybe the most powerful of rights are earned, not inalienable. 

New Missionary Interview Questions

1. I'm excited about the new missionary interview questions. A lot of people have asked me if I have them; they're available to the public here. The standards for service haven't changed, but the new questions clarify what it means to be worthy and also provide opportunity to discuss mental, emotional, and physical fitness for the rigors of missionary work. These issues have always been important factors in potential missionary service but not always formally addressed. Should lead to more successful missionaries!

2. Elder Oaks and Elder Ballard are doing a Face to Face Q&A for young adults in November. I followed the link to this page where young people can submit their own questions. There are some great, sobering, questions here. I'm humbled by the myriad challenges people cope with and the courage, vulnerability, and faith these young people demonstrate. Can you imagine being one of the Apostles and trying to decide which of these questions to address?!

Verse vs. Verse

When I started this blog, I set out to share insights from my scripture study. Before long I was quickly sucked into attempting to provide perfectly polished gospel essays on profound topics that would be sure to change everything for the reader. I still like trying to dream up and write said essays. But turns out trying to write two or three, or even one a month turned the blog into a burden. Like too many on the inter-webs, I was like the Greeks of old “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” (Acts 17:21). 

That’s a tiring game to play. So against my inclination, I’m going to try again to loosen up. To let it be just a bit more raw and real. Let’s start some poetry. 

I started writing poems when I fell in love with rock music in junior high. I fancied myself a member of a band with two other friends before any of us even played an instrument. (Hey, it worked for the Wyld Stallyons, right?) My notebooks were full of earnest (and brutally juvenile) verses. Of course I would’ve never called them poems. They were lyrics. Poems were not cool. Years later, after playing in bands and writing actual lyrics, I accepted the fact that lyrics without music are poetry, and that’s okay. Poetry for me has become an important means of meditation, expression, and decompression. I believe poetry is a powerful if somewhat forgotten art form especially in the realm of religion.  Mine tend to be short, under-revised, peppered with religious references, and overly cynical. Aside from those long forgotten songs back in college and the odd Mother’s Day card, none of my poems have seen the light of day. Until now, I guess. Here are two from the archives going head to head. I don’t want to say to much, but both of these were born of scripture study, one about books and the other about shoes. Which do you prefer? 

Reading Isaiah
Well read?
Like a steak cooked too long for fear,
if it’s not brown inside you’re going to die. 

Well, jealous. 
Let’s be honest. 
I sit and read all those bits in italics and it’s true,
I don’t have a clue.
yet, we are well read!

I read. 
Nay, I feast!

There’s nothing wrong about reading
the right books; no matter how heavy.


First Feet
Treads are read, like words, from the bottom of a shoe. 
Like lines in the dust that prove we went to the moon. 
If I took a branch and brushed it behind us,
if I really messed the dust and let it settle,

Might it settle as a man?

For unto dust I am.
My bare feet still leave impressions in the sand.
 
Do you think Adam and Eve ran? 
Did God cobble shoes and coats of skins,
for their bare feat, set to tread
where moths corrupt and thieves break in?

On Summertime and Book of Mormon Study

So it turns out I haven't written in forever! I'll blame it on a combination of summer insanity and writer's block. We had a great summer. Between Young Men and Girl's camp I climbed the highest peak and the tiniest cave in Arizona, hung from a trapeze, earned massive blisters on my big toes, got completely covered in shaving cream, and of course made an awkward appearance in a skit. I sat with the youth around campfires, asking and answering questions, hearing and sharing testimony, discussing the gospel. It was awesome. 

Between youth camps I played all over Utah with my family and spent a long weekend in Portland with my wife. Mountains, cabins, jet skis, mountain biking, fishing... fully spoiled. Utah definitely still has a piece of my heart. And Portland with my wife? Bliss. Eccentric neighborhoods, gourmet donuts, trees, waterfalls, the ocean, Astoria, Tillamook, fireworks on the river, and did I mention sans kids? 

As summer has settled down, there's been a swelling of attention towards the Book of Mormon in my life. First, we just started studying the book in a new year of seminary. Second, one our advisors kicked off a priest quorum challenge to read it by the end of the year. Then our relief society started their own challenge to read it in 90 days. All together I'm studying in one part for seminary, another with the priests, and another with my kids each night. 

The increased time in the Book of Mormon has me thinking  of President Spencer W. Kimball's observation about scripture study: 

"I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns."

What can I say but that this is true? It's comforting to know that even the Lord's prophet undulates in his "relationships with divinity". It's interesting; I feel strongly that I should study it everyday, but I don't always feel like studying everyday, if you get what I mean. Sometimes I just have to be disciplined. But I'll tell you this. Never, not once, have I finished studying and thought, "Wow. That was a waste of time. I wish I wouldn't have done that." It's like taking a shower. Sometimes you crave it, other times it's a chore. But you know that things get bad if you don't do it every day! 

There's something especially profound about the Book of Mormon. When I'm reading it, I simply can't shake the feeling that it is true. I can't answer all the questions or resolve all the concerns people have, and I know that my evidence wouldn't hold up in the lab or in court. But I simply can't shake it. It just feels right and true. (I don't get worked up over physical evidence for or against the Book of Mormon. Maybe one of these days I'll explain why.) 

I have a sneaky suspicion that a testimony of the Book of Mormon will become ever more important as we near the conclusion of God's work in the mortal sphere. I'm not sure any Latter-Day Saint can survive the Latter-Day turmoil without consistently studying the Book of Mormon. Why? Because it generates faith in Christ. With faith in Christ, you can conquer anything. 

Doughy and the Latin Kings

chicago.jpg

How one of the biggest and oldest street gangs in the country helped me retrieve my stolen bike while I was a missionary on the Westside of Chicago. 

"Never leave your bike unlocked.”

I knew this was the rule in the city. The other missionaries made it clear the day I was transferred from the suburbs to Garfield Park, one of a handful of missionary areas on the Westside of Chicago. I was dutiful for a few weeks, but as is human I eventually became complacent. One day we ran home for lunch. We left our bikes leaning against our building, which had a sidewalk running between it and the neighboring building with gate on the front side and a gate on the back side leading into the alley-way. We ate PBJs on the back porch. it was a beautiful spring day. We were wrapping up lunch when a tall, skinny hispanic man started talking to us from over the fence in the alleyway. (We lived in the corner of the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Chicago. It was generally consider safer than the other south side of Grand Avenue where we did most of our work.) He said his name was Hector. He had a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his forearm. He talked and acted a little crazy, but so did many others in the city and he seemed interested, so we chatted a while and took down his contact info. We said our goodbyes, went inside to call our next appointment and when we came out to leave, the gate was open and my bike (including my helmet which was hanging on my handlebar) was gone. Crap. 

We had no option but to go to work on foot. As we walked south from our apartment, we passed Miguel. Miguel was a drug dealer that spent most days on the corner of our block selling drugs. We said hello everyday and had often stopped to talk. My companion suggested we let him know that my bike was stolen. When we told him what happened and that I thought it might have been this Hector guy with the Virgin Mary tattoo, he said, “Doughy? That’s Doughy. Doughy knows the rules! He’s gonna get a beatdown! Come with me.”

“I don’t want anyone to get a beatdown, I just want my bike back,” I said. 
"Doughy knows the rules. He’s going to get a beatdown!” Miguel said again.
He gestured to a lowriding Cadillac with oversized rims parked on the curb. “Get in. Let’s go spread the word and get your bike."

I’ll note here that there is no specific rule in the missionary handbook that says “Don’t be an idiot.” there really shouldn’t have to be, right? Everything in me was screaming “Don’t get in his car!” But I did anyway. I don’t have a good reason why. As soon as we pulled away from the curb, i was filled with dread. I was sure we were going to get knocked off and rolled up in a roll of carpet and tossed in a dumpster. Instead, Miguel slowly drove up and down the streets of our neighborhood. Every man we drove past from the ages of maybe 15-45 came running over when Miguel pulled up and flashed gang sign at them. Every car we passed pulled over at his signal. He spoke in Spanish, but as far as I could tell he was telling every one of these guys, “They took his bike, go find it.” he kept telling us they would take care of us, we didn’t need to get the police involved, and that “They were going to get a beatdown."

After a half hour of driving around the neighborhood and spreading the word, he dropped us off at our apartment and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get your bike.” We stood on the sidewalk laughing at how crazy it would be if they really got my bike, more than  a little freaked out by the glimpse we had just seen into the workings of what I assumed was the Latin Kings, a gang all the missionaries had heard of but really only knew by the five-pointed crown that was spray painted all over the neighborhood. Whatever was going on, Miguel seemed to have a lot of pull. 

A week went by and unfortunately no news. I began to think that the miracle of the gang getting my bike back was a fantasy when one day while getting our mail from the front of the building, who should come riding by but Hector (or Doughy) on a bike. It wasn’t my bike, but he was wearing my helmet. I hollered. “Hey, where’s my bike!” He waved and rode off in the opposite direction. We sprinted after him as he took off down the road. He easily outran us on the bike, disappearing around the block. We were walking back home laughing at how silly  he was to come around wearing my helmet (no one but missionaries wore helmets) when he came riding around the opposite corner, no helmet anymore, coming straight for us. 

“Hey,” I yelled. “Where’s my bike?”
He played dumb and tried to talk Church with us. “What are you talking about? Are you going come study teach me about the Bible?”
“Don’t play stupid, you were just wearing my helmet and now you're not. I know you took it. I want it back.”
“I didn’t take your bike. I was just borrowing it from a kid down there,” He gestured down the road.
“I know you took my bike. You were just wearing my helmet.”

Then he leaned in close and began to whisper with a shaky stutter:
“Why you telling the Kings I took your bike? I can’t tell you where it is right now or the Kings will kill me! They’ll beat me down! Don’t tell anyone. I swear I’ll go get it and bring it to your porch in ten minutes! They’re going to mess me up! I’ll get your bike back but quit talking to the Kings!” 

He was terrified. Apparently he’d heard that word was out about my bike. I was getting a scared myself, at the thought of someone being hurt or even killed because of our naive request. I didn’t trust him but had no option but to let him go on the promise he would get my bike. He left. 

Twenty minutes later we stood on our front porch; Doughy was AWOL. Then we happened to see Prince round the corner. We had never talked to Prince, but we knew his name because everyone knew his name. One look at Prince and you could tell he owned the neighborhood. He was a big, broad, middle aged Puerto Rican who always wore basketball jerseys, gold rings and necklaces, and a grimace that said “Don’t talk to me. No, don’t even look at me.” Once again, my companion with the bright idea: “Let’s tell Prince about your bike!” I protested but it was too late. “Hey Prince!” We told him our story. 

“Doughy? Doughy knows the rules! He’s going to get a beatdown! Meet me in front of your place in a half hour.” 

A half hour later we were standing in front of our apartment with Prince and Miguel, I was simultaneously terrified and elated at the thought that these guys might actually track down Doughy and get my bike back. It was only a couple minutes when Doughy came riding down the street toward us. What happened next is hard to explain. When Doughy got to us, i swear they materialized out of thin air, but seven or eight guys appeared and encircled all of us. They were all pounding their fists and popping their knuckles. They were yelling at Doughy. Doughy was having a panic attack. 

“I borrowed the helmet from Chico,” Doughly pled. 

“Chico says he got it from you!” they shot back. “You know the rules!” They were yelling in his face. 
"That’s a stolen bike, that’s his bike, you give it to him now!” 

I was convinced we were about to watch a man get beat to death right before my eyes. Doughy just kept stuttering; he couldn’t even form a complete sentence. I was getting scared. I tried to calm the crowd and talk reason. 

“That’s not my bike! I don’t want it.” 
“It is now,” Prince said. “take it.” 
“No,” I plead. "I don’t want to be the guy that has someone else's stolen bike, I’ll end up like Doughy!"
“okay,” Prince said to Doughy, “you’ve got five minutes.” 

Doughy, still stuttering uncontrollably, left. The pack of thugs vanished. It was just us and Miguel. A few moments after Doughy turned the corner out of sight, a teenage boy came back around the same corner, riding a bike toward us. When he got near I saw that it was my bike and I told Miguel. 

“Hey, where you’d get that bike?” Miguel stopped him. He said his friend bought if from someone. 

“Go tell your friend ‘too bad,’ they stole it from the Church people on Potomac."

The teenage boy quickly complied, saying simply “It’s cool,” only stalling a moment to peel a small bag of weed from the underside of the seat.  Perhaps the ten or twelve thugs popping their knuckles in a circle around us helped motivate him. I honestly don’t know where they came from, but they were back, surrounding us, pounding their fists.

As soon as I got the bike and the boy left, the circle vanished and we were left standing there with Miguel. 

I was stunned, adrenaline still dissipating.

“See, we can take care of everything without getting the police involved,” he said casually. 

We just stood there on the sidewalk for awhile, wondering what we had just seen. 

...

Epilogue:

This story has been a favorite of my seminary students for the past decade and I thought it was a time to put it in writing. I never saw doughy again. A month later, Miguel was run over and killed by his friend trying to escape a drive by shooting with the rival black gang the Gangsta Disciples. You can look up the Latin Kings on Wikipedia. They’re one of the oldest and biggest street gang in America. Gangs are not just a few punk kids causing trouble in a neighborhood! They helped us not because they are good, but because they are the only ones allowed to commit crimes (selling drugs) in the neighborhood.  If you think deeply about the circumstances that exist behind the details, it actually paints a pretty sad picture. But let’s just let it be a fun, crazy story for now.

Musings: Leadership = Listening

I try to get some sort of exercise six days a week. Usually running, mountain biking, or weights. Aside from the physical benefits, I've found this part of my day to be even more important emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I listen to a lot of podcasts and books to get my mind going and then I just kind of let it wander from there. Of all the thoughts and impressions that come, a few stick with me. I’m going to start sharing some of those here.

I've never felt like a great listener. As a closet introvert I battle a tendency to think about myself when someone else is talking. (What will I say next? How am I being perceived?) Other times I’m just plain aloof or distracted. But I know this much: Leadership = listening. Questions, concerns, ideas… You can’t lead if you’re not listening. Think of our Heavenly Father. We tacitly believe that he hears (with precision!) the prayers of all his children. Can you imagine how mundane or vain or pathetic so many of those prayers are?! (I’m just imagining what it would be like to have to listen to my prayers; the “check-box” robot prayers, the times I pray for something even though I know full well the answer already… how tedious it must be!) But he listens. I've come a long way but I still want to be a much better listener. Any advice? Share in the comments!

Did You Catch That?

Key statements from general conference that we wouldn't want to miss.


We believe that one of the responsibilities of the Prophets is to declare doctrine. This belief seems to be more theoretical than practical for some members today, at least compared to the early days of the Church when paradigm-shifting truths were being revealed in quick succession. While it’s true that such profound fundamentals are not still coming forth regularly, if we pay attention we will notice that the prophets continue to refine, clarify, and indeed declare doctrine just as we believe they will. (I would note that this shift from foundational doctrine to refined doctrine makes logical sense and isn't a concern for me.) 

I’ve noticed in the last few general conferences that while most of what we are taught is not “new,’ if I listen closely I'll find that there are at least a few statements of doctrine that have never been said before. They’re hard to catch because really you'd have to check them against everything that’s been said by all other prophets to see if it really is new. I don’t always go through this exercise, but since I get to spend so much time reviewing the teachings of prophets I have a decent idea when something hasn’t been taught before. (Not that “newness” really matters. Doctrine, being eternal, is never “new” but it can be new to us.) 

 Elder Russell M. Nelson caught my attention as he taught about the Atonement of Jesus Christ during this past April conference. His underlying message about the Atonement was not new, but he did make one point that was new to me: 

"As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants. 

It is doctrinally incomplete to speak the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement: or “applying the Atonement" or "being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and HIs Son, Jesus Christ.”

There are two noteworthy elements here: First is the mistaken way we refer to the Atonement independent of Jesus Christ. (Add this to a long list of prophetic warnings about doctrinal “slippage” in typical Mormonspeak. Maybe I'll try to compile that list sometime!) Second, clarifying that the series of events we call “the Atonement” has no power independent of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. This insight has tremendous power to draw us closer to the Savior, understanding that there is no healing, strength, or forgiveness because of the Atonement but in and through Jesus Christ. I’m struck by how easily statements like these seem to slip past the general population of the Church. No, this clarification wasn’t necessary for Joseph Smith to lay the foundations of the Church, but it’s still essential and fundamental. 

The prophets are twisting the dials all the time, fine tuning our doctrinal understanding and bringing us closer and closer to a crystal clear picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if we pay attention. I love it. 

On My Daughter's Baptism

 

About two months ago I took a hiatus from writing to lay 1200 square feet of tile in our house.Turns out laying that much tile (about 6000 pounds worth) is a lot of work! The tile isn’t quite done yet, but ready or not, I’m back writing. If you’re still here here, thanks. A lot has happened recently. For the first time in eight years, we stayed in Arizona for Christmas. Also for the first time in eight years, Barrack Obama is not the President. Lastly, another eight-year milestone, I had the incredible privilege of baptizing and confirming my daughter a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Staying in Arizona to lay tile over Christmas break meant no snowboarding, so I don’t even want to talk about that. As tempting as it is to write about how much President Trump is freaking me out, I don’t think that’ll do anyone much good, so I think I’ll stick with something positive: my daughter’s baptism. 

I’ve encouraged, taught, or interviewed a lot of people before baptism over the years. But the pressure I felt to help my daughter prepare was something else. I wanted very much for this to be more than a cultural right of passage. I wanted her to understand as well as possible the meaning and purpose of the ordinance. We spent a lot of FHEs on the topic, and on the morning of the baptism I gave one last impassioned reminder as I was driving down the road with her and her five-year-old brother. It went something like this:

“Gracie. I want you to remember, when you get baptized, the most important part is what happens in your heart. We get baptized to show God that we will always follow Christ, that we will remember him and keep his commandments, so that he can always be with us and help us.”

To my surprise, Jonah, the five-year-old, was the first to speak up.

“So it’s like Jesus is your Dad?”

I was stunned! Not because my son understood the doctrine of spiritual rebirth, but because he had seen in my simple explanation the way the baptismal covenant puts us in a relationship with Christ that is similar to a Father-Child relationship. Although this isn’t widely understood or emphasized by members of the Church, the scriptures repeatedly reference conversion as being a “rebirth" and Christ being the Father of that rebirth. Many are confused by scriptural instances referring to Christ as Father. There are three reasons Christ is sometimes referred to as the Father (you can read about all three here) but one of them is in the sense that Christ is the Father in our spiritual rebirth. Our conversion.

 It’s really beautiful symbolism: Our Heavenly Father helped us progress to physical birth, where we gained another father and went through a change (birth) to become mortal. Then we progress to another father, through whom we go through further change (or rebirths) to go from mortality to eternity. 

Want to dig in? Here’s a good start:

Moses 6:59
Mosiah 5:7
Mosiah 15:1-12
Ether 3:14
D&C 11:30 (and D&C 25:1 ;  D&C 35:2 ;  D&C 39:4 ;  D&C 45:8 ;  D&C 50:43 . )
John 3:3-5
2 Corinthians 6:17-18
Ephesians 1:3-6
1 John 2:29
1 Peter 1:3

And from general conference: 
Ye Must Be Born Again - David A. Bednar
Born Again - Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Born Again - James E. Faust
“Except a Man Be Born Again” - Marion G. Romney
Born of God - Ezra Taft Benson

And while we’re here, can I just testify of the awesomeness of baptism and confirmation? I suppose God could’ve had us do any number of things as a symbol of our commitment to Christ. Run the mile. Draw a picture. Eat some snow from a mountain top. Whatever. But I love the simplicity and symbolism of baptism. And confirming my daughter was one of the greatest privileges of my life.  I love my daughter, I love the Lord, and I love participating in his ordinances. I believe that when we engage these sacred outward acts with true internal purpose, they have the power to help lift us far beyond our mere mortal selves. I hope above all that beginning with her baptism and continuing at the sacrament table each week, Gracie embraces the opportunity to live a life intent on love, service, forgiveness and improvement for herself and all of God’s children everywhere.