Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Something There is That Doesn't Love a Wall

Mending Wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 
The work of hunters is another thing: 
I have come after them and made repair 
Where they have left not one stone on stone, 
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, 
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, 
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 
But at spring mending-time we find them there. 
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; 
And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again. 
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 
We have to use a spell to make them balance: 
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!" 
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, 
One on a side. It comes to little more: 
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors." 
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder 
If I could put a notion in his head: 
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it 
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 
What I was walling in or walling out, 
And to whom I was like to give offence. 
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather 
He said it for himself. I see him there, 
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. 
He will not go behind his father's saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Beautiful Recollections from Plato's Phaedo

  • "Cebes added: Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul's immortality."
  • "Phaed. Often, Echecrates, as I have admired Socrates, I never admired him more than at that moment. [89a] That he should be able to answer was nothing, but what astonished me was, first, the gentle and pleasant and approving manner in which he regarded the words of the young men, and then his quick sense of the wound which had been inflicted by the argument, and his ready application of the healing art. He might be compared to a general rallying his defeated and broken army, urging them to follow him and return to the field of argument."
  • "Well, he said, then I should like to know whether you agree with me in the next step; for I cannot help thinking that if there be anything beautiful other than absolute beauty, that can only be beautiful in as far as it partakes of absolute beauty—and this I should say of everything. Do you agree in this notion of the cause?"
  • "But then, O my friends, he said, if the soul is really immortal, what care should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time which is called life, but of eternity! And the danger of neglecting her from this point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls. But now, as the soul plainly appears to be immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; which are indeed said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very beginning of its pilgrimage in the other world."
  • "Wherefore, Simmias, seeing all these things, what ought not we to do in order to obtain virtue and wisdom in this life? Fair is the prize, and the hope great."
  • "But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, he may venture to think not improperly or unworthily, that something of the kind is true. The venture is a glorious one, and he ought to comfort himself with words like these, which is the reason why I lengthen out the tale. Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who hast cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth—in these arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her time comes."
  • "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?"
- Plato, Phaedo

Monday, July 11, 2016

God only is Wise

"And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god." 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Little Learning

Alexander Pope

A Little Learning

A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts ;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise !
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky ;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last ;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way ;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hill peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise !

- Alexander Pope

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Interview with Steven Demetre Georgiou

Cat Stevens
This is a great interview with the great Steven Demetre Georgiou, also known as Cat Stevens, also known as Yusuf Islam.  Two near death experiences, a faith transition, and many years later, Cat Stevens is still making music.  For those with eyes to see, his fondness for the story of Joseph in the Qur'an makes sense, and his work to help refugee children is commendable.

Which is your favorite Cat Stevens song?  Here are a few of my favorites:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

George Washington on Religious Liberty

George Washington
"While all men within our territories are protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences; it is rationally to be expected from them in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sanctity of their professions by the innocence of their lives and the beneficence of their actions; for no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society.  I desire you to accept my acknowledgments for your laudable endeavors to render men sober, honest, and good Citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government."

- George Washington, To the General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, 1789

"For you, doubtless, remember that I have often expressed my sentiment, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Inner Ring

C.S. Lewis
  • "Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain." 
  • "To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of 'insides,' full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no 'inside' that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction."

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Flannery O'Connor
"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal."—Flannery O'Connor

One such story about the action of grace is "Revelation," in which the character Mrs. Turpin learns a valuable lesson about heaven.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Big Worm of Truth from the Ground of the Gospel

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. The talks for this week were given during the Saturday afternoon Session of the April 1972 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Enjoy.

The talks:

The future prophet Gordon B. Hinckley poses the question: "What will the Church do for you, a man?"  He responds with six specific things that the Church will do for a man:

"1. First, it will bring you into the greatest fraternity in the world.  
2. Second, active membership in the Church will motivate a man to clean up his life, if that is necessary.
3. Third, activity in the Church will afford you growth through responsibility.
4. Fourth, membership in the Church and active participation therein will give a new dimension to your life, a spiritual dimension that will become as a rock of faith, with an endowment of authority to speak in the name of God.
5. Fifth, it will assist you in the governance of your home.
6. Finally, the Church makes it possible for you, a man, to bind to you for eternity those you love most."

Elder Hinckley relates a few stories to illustrate his points, including a story about a man and his wife who, with the help of the Church, overcome marriage conflict resulting from financial troubles, and a story about a drunk Japanese man who changed his life through his conversion to Christ.  I couldn't help thinking of what the Gospel could do for Mr. Miyagi and Danielson:

Elder Hinckley teaches of the growth that comes through stretching service:

"Robert Browning said, 'A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.' Growth comes as we constantly seek to achieve that which is just beyond our immediate capacity. One of the noteworthy aspects of the Church program is that it constantly motivates men to stretch themselves, to reach a little higher."

The following remark is also worth pondering:

"I should like to suggest that every man who holds and magnifies the priesthood may have within him 'light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods.'"

Elder Henry D. Taylor uses Cain's question "Am I my brother's keeper?" to teach a lesson.  The short answer to this question is, of course, "yes."  Those who are their brothers' keepers include welfare project laborers, home teachers and visiting teachers, temple workers, missionaries, foster families, and the good Samaritan.  A particularly good example of a man who was his brother's keeper was Willard Richards.  Elder Taylor recounts the moving story:

"One of the most beautiful and tender accounts of brotherly love, concern, and devotion took place in Carthage Jail on the afternoon of the martyrdom. 'The afternoon was sultry and hot. The four brethren [Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards] sat listlessly about the room with their coats off; and the windows of the prison were open to receive such air as might be stirring. Late in the afternoon Mr. Stigall, the jailor, came in and suggested that [in view of threats made by the radical and bloodthirsty mob] they would be safer in the cells. Joseph told him that they would go in after supper. Turning to Elder Richards the Prophet said: 'If we go into the cell will you go with us?'

Elder Richards answered, 'Brother Joseph, you did not ask me to cross the river with you [referring to the time when they crossed the Mississippi, en route for the Rocky Mountains]—you did not ask me to come to Carthage—you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for ’treason,’ I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.'

With considerable emotion and feeling Joseph replied, 'But you cannot,' to which Brother Richards firmly replied, 'I will.'" (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 283.)

I love this story.  It brings to mind the words of one of the Prophet Joseph Smith's favorite hymns, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief":

"In pris'n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor's doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him 'mid shame and scorn.
My friendship's utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, 'I will!'"

Elder S. Dilworth Young teaches why missionary training begins early, drawing upon the example of 
Russell Nelson Jr. and his father.  Incidentally, my own father was just about to embark on his full-time mission to Paris, France, and the following counsel concerning mission preparation would apply to both of us: "He will play basketball to develop wind and limb to serve the Lord."

Like my dad, I received a lot of basketball training before my mission, and a lot of reading traing as well, although I was unfamiliar with one of the books that Elder Young recommends: The Trail of the Sand Hill Stag.  Thankfully, I have experienced the joy that comes from missionary work:

"The Lord has said that to bring one soul to him brings joy and that to bring many souls gives proportionately greater joy. The prepared youth will find that joy on his mission. It will sustain him through his life."

Salvation and ExaltationTheodore M. Burton

To declare that one has been saved, Elder Burton teaches, is to teach only an insidious partial truth.  There is a conditional salvation that depends upon grace as well as obedience.  Elder Burton fondly recalls the question that his cousin once asked him:

"If you had your heart’s desire and could take it with you out of this world, what would you take?"

Elder Burton's reply was obvious to him: "'My family and loved ones!' I can take them with me through obedience to God’s laws. Only through obedience to gospel law is that higher degree of salvation possible which will include both me and my family."

Full salvation means exaltation and eternal life:

"Thus, full salvation in its true and full meaning is synonymous with exaltation and eternal life. This inheritance within the actual family of God the Eternal Father, through Jesus Christ, is the burden of the scriptures and should be the goal of every man, woman, and child born upon this earth. This full salvation is obtained only in and through the family unit preserved throughout eternity."

Man’s Eternal HorizonJoseph Anderson

"Our philosophy of life contemplates an eternity of life—life without beginning before we came here, life without end hereafter. Our happiness here and hereafter depends upon our actions here. We should therefore seek the finer things of life. The road leading to eternal life must be paved with obedience to the commandments of the Lord."

Take the long view.  Try the experiment of faith.

"It is reported that on one occasion when Sir Isaac Newton was thinking seriously concerning the nature of light, he cut a hole in a window blind and a ray of light entered his room. He held a triangular piece of glass in the range of the light, and there were reflected in great beauty all the colors of the rainbow. And for the first time man learned that all of the glorious colors of the universe are locked up in a ray of white light."

Voilà a couple of highlights from Elder Bennet's talk: 
  • "The words of President David O. McKay came to mind: 'The purpose of the gospel is to make bad men good and good men better—to change men’s lives.'"
  • "First, members of the Church everywhere should remind themselves that the gospel is to be preached and taught by example and not just by word of mouth. The lives of all Church members should be shining examples of the gospel of Jesus Christ in action."
  • "Second, as members of the Church, it is our responsibility to assist the missionaries in finding investigators to whom the message of the gospel can be taught. The missionary program needs the help of all of us—young and old—and it needs our help now."
Elder Bennett also recounts some of his great missionary experiences, in battle, on a plane, etc.

This was my favorite talk.  The future prophet Howard W. Hunter recounts the following simple story:

"Observing the clock, I fold the notes that I have prepared and place them in my inside pocket. But let me take just a moment to mention a little incident that made an impression upon me when I was a boy. This came to my mind when it was mentioned that there are with us this afternoon a large group of dedicated people who teach our youth.

It was on a summer day early in the morning. I was standing near the window. The curtains obstructed me from two little creatures out on the lawn. One was a large bird and the other a little bird, obviously just out of the nest. I saw the larger bird hop out on the lawn, then thump his feet and cock his head. He drew a big fat worm out of the lawn and came hopping back. The little bird opened its bill wide, but the big bird swallowed the worm.

Then I saw the big bird fly up into a tree. He pecked at the bark for a little while and came back with a big bug in his mouth. The little bird opened his beak wide, but the big bird swallowed the bug. There was squawking in protest.

The big bird flew away, and I didn’t see it again, but I watched the little bird. After a while, the little bird hopped out on the lawn, thumped its feet, cocked its head, and pulled a big worm out of the lawn.

God bless the good people who teach our children and our youth, I humbly pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen."

It is a simple story, but I felt as though Elder Hunter, like a large prophetic bird, drew a big worm of truth from the ground of the Gospel to show to me.  Metaphorically speaking, he flew up into the tree of life and brought back a big bug of beauty to show me.  God bless him for that.
A Missionary and His MessageHugh B. Brown

Missionary work, Elder Brown declares, is the first love of his life.  It is mine as well.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Skip My Commentary and Read President Benson's Talk

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.  The talks for this week were given during the Thursday Afternoon Session of the April 1972 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Enjoy.

The talks:
"As we listened to the prophet this morning and as we listened to the other brethren who have responded, I was also struck by the great scripture that we hear so often: 'What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; … whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.' (D&C 1:38.) Indeed, it is the same, and as a prophet of God talks to us, we are hearing the will of the Lord without question."

As soon as I read this part of Elder Simpson's talk, I could imagine the sound of proof-text, prophetic infallibility police whistles blowing.  But it also reminded me of another verse in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." (D&C 68:4)

When Joseph Smith was called to be a seer, translator, prophet, apostle and elder, the Lord gave the following commandment:

"Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith." (D&C 21:4-5)

There are some clever folks who seem to think that verses like these, when taken out of context, create false expectations of prophetic inerrancy, and that greater emphasis ought to be given to the foibles, imperfections, errors, mistakes, inadequacies, weaknesses and sins of the Lord's anointed.  But the red herring of prophetic infallibility, like the red herring of hero worship, distracts from the purpose for which these revelations were given.  (For a more in depth exploration of the red herring of prophetic infallibility, see here, and here)

Thus there appear to be two opposite extremes in matters of prophecy.  On one extreme there is the attempt to sniff out nonexistent prophetic infallibility doctrines in every corner of the church, and to magnify the imperfections of church leaders by emphasizing prophetic fallibility.  On the opposite extreme there is complacent acquiescence to the teachings of living prophets without the proper asking, seeking, and knocking that precedes personal revelation.  In order to inoculate members against this latter vice, President Benson cites Brigham Young at this end of this same session of general conference:

"Said Brigham Young: 'I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. … Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.'" (JD, vol. 9, p. 150.)

I was also struck by the contrast between the merciful proceedings of church disciplinary action that Elder Simpson describes, which are the rule rather than the exception, and certain contemporary attitudes toward excommunication.  "Priesthood courts of the Church," Elder Simpson declares, "are not courts of retribution. They are courts of love. Oh, that members of the Church could understand this fact."

In Elder Simpson's account, a church court inspires a young man to develop the courage necessary for repentance: 

"After several minutes, a weary face looked up, and the young man’s voice broke the silence as he said, 'I have just lost the most precious thing in my life, and nothing will stand in my way until I have regained it.'"
Elder Simpson reminds us that there are no shortcuts on the path of discipleship, and that there is no better, or easier, time to repent than now:

"Be not disillusioned by doctrine of the adversary that there will likely be a magic point in eternity when all of a sudden selfish and improper actions are automatically eliminated from our being. Holy writ has confirmed time and time again that such is not the case, and prophets through the ages have assured us that now is the time to repent, right here in this mortal sphere. It will never be easier than now; and returning to Brother Talmage’s thought, he who procrastinates the day or hopes for an alternate method that might require less courage waits in vain, and in the meantime, the possibilities grow dimmer. He is playing the game as Satan would have him play it, and exaltation in the presence of God grows more remote with each passing day."

Elder Simpson also emphasizes the importance of compassion in church discipline, which reminded me of the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith on charity: 
  • "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind" (History of the Church, 5:23–24).
  • "The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs... if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another." - (HC 5:24)
  • "Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last." 
Elder Simpson concludes his talk by encouraging members to sustain bishops and other leaders, to accept and live by eternal law upon which all blessings are predicated.

"In my opinion," Elder Hunter declares, "one of the great miracles in our generation is the miracle of missionary work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

At this time there were 98 missions and 15,400 missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among which numbers would soon be my father, who was called to serve in the France, Paris mission just prior to this conference.  The most recent statistical report of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lists 406 missions and 85,147 missionaries, and the next report will be given in the upcoming April 2016 General Conference.

Elder Hunter recounts several miracles that occurred in the lives of missionaries, investigators, and families as a result of missionary work.  One young man even sacrificed an opportunity to play professional baseball for what was then considered to be the high salary of $30,000 in order to serve a mission.  

"The plan for a useful and successful life is contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ, given to us by the Redeemer of mankind, whose atoning sacrifice augments the plan and makes it possible for us to return to the presence of God our Heavenly Father."

Elder Dyer describes the cycles of history that have brought oscillating periods of darkness and light, apostasy and enlightenment.  "These periods of enlightenment," Elder Dyer explains, "are known as dispensations of the gospel of Jesus Christ, times when God dispenses the wisdom of the eternities unto mankind for their benefit and blessing."

How does God bring about these dispensations?  Elder Dyer continues:

"Pure knowledge, meaning revelation from God, is greater than the limited reasoning of men. The method that God has chosen to convey this knowledge unto mankind is through his chosen prophets, unto whom he sends his messengers with divine instructions and upon occasion by the majesty of his own appearance."

The gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed from the beginning, and in different dispensations, such as that of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ in the meridian of time.  But isn't there something different about the dispensation in which we now live?

"The characteristics of this dispensation, as compared with other dispensations, are unique in that it is the last of all dispensations, concerning which the Prophet Joseph Smith received this divine information as contained in a revelation:

'That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.' (Eph. 1:10.)"

And what does this last dispensation anticipate?

"A dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is now established with prophets, seers, and revelators. The church and kingdom of God has been established, and the inhabitants of the earth 'may receive it, and be prepared for the days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth.' (D&C 65:5.)"

As Elder Dyer demonstrates, liberty was a necessary precondition to the growth of the gospel in the last dispensation:

"The question might well be asked, Why does freedom need to be restored as a forerunner to a new dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? The answer is a simple one, for well the Lord knows that without the spirit of freedom in the souls of men, there could be no willing response to the gospel plan. For it is in the culture of freedom and the use of agency in that freedom that men come to know the difference between good and evil. This progress leads to yearnings in the hearts of good men, and eventually to gospel dispensations. This is the pattern to be noted down through the era of the historical writings."

Elder Dyer traces the history of freedom from the Renaissance and the Reformation to the founding of America and the framing of the Constitution, concerning which the Lord has said:

“According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.” (D&C 101:77.)"

And what is the significant feature that inaugurated this last dispensation?

"The significant feature of the present dispensation was the inauguration of the same by the personal visitation of God the Father and his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, referred to in the sacred historical writings of this church as the Sacred Grove appearance, which occurred in the spring of 1820 near Palmyra, New York, 152 years ago."

Elder Holland's 1976 talk A Promised Land elaborates on a similar theme.

"Now, this is a world in difficulty and trouble, but we shouldn’t merely bemoan the fact. We should, as far as our powers can help us, be anxiously engaged in rectifying it. Just before we sang, I wrote this down: If you and I are to help restore this sick world to its spiritual health, we must begin at the proper place—that is, with ourselves and with our families. This we can do!"

Elder Christiansen focuses on the home and on the family.  "One of the most rewarding of all human undertakings," he declares, "is that of making a success of marriage and of rearing children in a manner acceptable to the Lord. It calls for the best in all of us."

Elder Christiansen reproves negligent parents for attempting to delegate the responsibility to love and care for their children.  Secondary institutions may be helpful, he declares, but the home itself is the best institution for improving the home.  He urges parents to teach their children "through their example the attributes of character that lead them unhesitatingly to appreciate and accept the good, the decent, the beautiful," and "to help them to develop the desire and the courage to turn from that which is coarse or crude or wrong."

Elder Christiansen also speaks in praise of the family home evening program, and he counsels parents to avoid disputations. In many ways, his talk foreshadows The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and he punctuates his prose with poetry:

"The sermon for a teenage child
That proves to be most ample
Is still the one that parents teach
By setting an example." —Hal Chadwick

Elder Christiansen then makes the following crucial point:

"It is important also to keep the avenues of communication open. It is wonderful when a father or a mother will sit down with a son or a daughter and discuss a personal problem (and they have their problems, which, if we are wise, we will not minimize). There are pressures, and enticements, and even unjust accusations against which our sons and daughters need to be fortified. It is even more wonderful when, because of the love and closeness that exists, children feel no hesitancy in taking their problems to their parents."  

Why shouldn't parents minimize the problems of their children?  This is a rhetorical question, the answer to which ought to be obvious.  In case it is not, I recently came across an interesting statement that has been circulating on social media that might provide some food for thought:

Elder Christiansen shows that there is no greater security than that of a Christ-centered home.  As the family proclamation would later reveal, the disintegration of the family has drastic consequences on individuals, communities and nations.  This is a fact that was recognized even in academic settings:

"Historians almost without exception point out that one of the greatest contributing factors in the downfall of nations is the disintegration of the home and family life."

Elder Christiansen calls for the complete rebirth of homes, assuring us that there is always hope:

"So long as there are homes to which men turn at close of day;
So long as there are homes where children are, where women stay—
If love and loyalty and faith be found across those sills—
A stricken nation can recover from its gravest ills.
"So long as there are homes where fires burn and there is bread [I think that means homemade bread];
So long as there are homes where lamps are lit and prayers are said;
Although a people falter through the dark—and nations grope,
With God Himself back of these little homes, we have sure hope." (The Scouter’s Minute [YMMIA, 1969])
"A testimony of the gospel is one of the most valued possessions of a member of the Church. The strength and unity of the Church depend upon each member so living that he comes to know for himself that the gospel is true."

Is there a secret to the growth and stability of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

President McKay answered this question: "The secret lies in the testimony, possessed by each individual who is faithful in the Church, that the Gospel consists of correct principles. …

"This testimony has been revealed to every sincere man and woman who has conformed to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who has obeyed the ordinances, and has become entitled to and has received the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, to guide him.” (Pathways to Happiness [Bookcraft, 1957], pp. 314–15.)"

How does this testimony come?

"In the words of Brigham Young, 'the eloquence of angels never can convince any person that God lives, and makes truth the habitation of his throne, independent of that eloquence being clothed with the power of the Holy Ghost; in the absence of this, it would be a combination of useless sounds. What is it that convinces man? It is the influence of the Almighty, enlightening his mind, giving instruction to the understanding.'" (Impact, Spring 1970, p. 2.)

The testimony of the Holy Ghost, as Elder Cullimore teaches, leaves an indelible impression on the soul - imprints that are more lasting and powerful than that which we experience with our senses:

"President Harold B. Lee said to a group of young people, 'Not many have seen the Savior face to face here in mortality, but there is no one of you who has been blessed to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism but that may have a perfect assurance of his existence as though you had seen.'" (Youth and the Church [Deseret Book, 1970], p. 51.)

What must we do to obtain such a testimony of the Savior and His gospel?  We must do all we can.
This talk is phenomenal, and there is no way to do it justice in a blog post.  It is so good, in fact, that rather than comment on it, I'm going to read it again.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Intolerable Compliment

  • "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation." - C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
  • "If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense." - C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
  • "When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell. Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  • "The Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it... Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice; transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety." - C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
(A selection of passages from "C.S. Lewis: Insights on Discipleship," by Neal A Maxwell)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Grand Slam

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.  The talks this week are from the last session, the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1971 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There are some heavy hitters in this session, and I highly recommend a perusal of the talks, or at least a glance at some of the highlights:

  • President Hinckley's missionary experience at the office of a London newspaper publisher.
The Living Christ Joseph Anderson

  • "Our late president, President David O. McKay, in an interview with a leading journalist sometime ago, was asked: “If you had the power to grant unto America one great wish, what would it be?” His answer was: “I would wish that America had a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and would obey his principles; that would bring peace on earth. I believe that is the greatest blessing that can be given.”
  • Do we need Jesus today? Do we need his teachings? If we are to survive, if our civilization is to persist, we must accept him and his inspiration and guidance. Someone has said that “the world needs a bath in Christ’s pure religion. Only a dedication to Christ can wash the dirt out of our society.”"
How to Worship Bruce R. McConkie

  • "God grant that we may write in our souls with a pen of fire the command of the Lord Jesus: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8); and may we in fact and with living reality worship the Father in spirit and in truth, thereby gaining peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come."
  • Wow.  Read this talk.
With Hand and Heart Thomas S. Monson
  • Highlights: "Often we live side by side but do not communicate heart to heart. There are those within the sphere of our own influence who, with outstretched hands, cry out: “Is there no balm in Gilead … ?” (Jer. 8:22.) Each of us must answer."
  • "Some point the accusing finger at the sinner or the unfortunate and in derision say, “He has brought his condition upon himself.” Others exclaim, “Oh, he will never change. He has always been a bad one.” A few see beyond the outward appearance and recognize the true worth of a human soul. When they do, miracles occur. The downtrodden, the discouraged, the helpless become “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.) True love can alter human lives and change human nature."
  • A quotation from a scene in My Fair Lady, a passage from Goethe, and the story of the white ribbons.
This Same Jesus Hugh B. Brown

  • "I thought as I stood there and remembered those words, how wonderful it would be for all of us if we had the courage and the insight and the fortitude, whatever might happen to us, to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” That attitude makes any burden lighter. It makes any task less difficult."
  • Elder Brown, in the company his doctor and Truman G. Madsen, studies the life of Christ by way of a tour of the Holy Land.  
Let the Spirit of Oneness Prevail Joseph Fielding Smith

  • A simple testimony of Christ, of unity, and of the prophet Joseph Smith.
  • "I have sought all my days to keep the commandments and do those things which will please the Lord, and I desire to bear testimony of his goodness to me and likewise his goodness to all his children who have made covenant to keep his commandments."
Hinckley, Anderson, McConkie, Monson, Brown, Smith... What a great way to conclude this general conference.  Grand slam.

Here are the links to more Odyssey blogs:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hand Over Your Whole Self

C.S. Lewis
"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves,' to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good.'"

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Far Too Easily Pleased

C.S. Lewis
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

Don't Do Acid

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey series.  Click here for more information.

The following talks were given during the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

    Priesthood Session

    Blessings of the PriesthoodJoseph Fielding Smithwatchlistenprint
    You Can Get There From HereMarvin J. Ashtonwatchlistenprint
    “Strengthen Thy Brethren”Robert L. Simpsonwatchlistenprint
    Love UnconditionalMarion D. Hankswatchlistenprint
    A New Health Missionary ProgramJames O. Masonwatchlistenprint
    Strive for ExcellenceDallin H. Oakswatchlistenprint
    Continuity of ServiceN. Eldon Tannerwatchlistenprint
    Responsibilities of the PriesthoodHarold B. Leewatchlistenprint
    I read these talks.  The testimonies, doctrines and principles taught in them are still true today.  All of the talks were uplifting, edifying, inspiring, and worth reading.  Nevertheless, there are a few highlights in particular that I would like to briefly mention.

    Elder Marion D. Hanks had his audience rolling with laughter before he took on a more serious tone.  In his talk, Love Unconditional, he made this simple, but profound statement:

    "We cannot, my dear brethren, condition our love by a beard or beads or habits or strange viewpoints. There have to be standards and they must be enforced, but our love must be unconditional."

    Why is unconditional love so important?  Elder Hanks shared the following tragic note from a boy who had decided to end his own life:

    "I have no hope, only dreams that have died. I was never able to obtain satisfactory interpersonal relationships. I feared the future and a lot of other things. I felt inferior. I have almost no will to achieve, perseverance, or sense of worth, so goodbye. I should have listened to you but I didn’t. I started using acid last summer. It’s purgatory."

    Several of the talks in this session mentioned the importance of helping people to know that they are loved, and that their lives matter.  Whoever you are, God loves you.  He knows you.  He has confidence in you and a plan for your joy and success in this life and eternal life hereafter.  Show unconditional love.  Don't do acid.

    It was interesting to read about the new health missionary program.  Although it is true that the advancements of modern medicine have done much to relieve suffering in the United States and in third world countries, now it often appears as though we might need missionaries from third world countries to come to the United States to teach people how live healthy, drug-free lives. 

    One of my favorite talks, or one that most resonated with me, was Elder Oaks' talk Strive for Excellence.  It is further proof, both spiritual and intellectual, that Elder Oaks has long been a true prophet, seer and revelator.  Elder Oaks begins his talking by citing, of all people, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.  Since I am currently reading Hobbes' Leviathan, Elder Oaks' message stood out to me, and his testimony sunk deep into my heart:

    "In describing the nature of man, Hobbes wrote that “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This is a classic example of the philosophies of man. I am grateful that my education exposed me to that thought and others like it, because my familiarity with these thoughts has helped me to understand the world and its peoples and its problems.

    But most of all, I am grateful that my educational program was such that at the time I was exposed to this view of man, I was also being taught these lines:

    “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)

    “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10.)

    The worlds were created by the Only Begotten of the Father, “and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:24.)

    “For a wise and glorious purpose thou hast placed me here on earth. …” (“O My Father,” Hymns, No. 138.)

    “… they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abr. 3:26.)

    “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—Wherefore, all things are theirs. …” (D&C 76:58–59.)

    My personal experience converts me to the wisdom of the educational philosophy that joins spiritual with secular instruction. At Brigham Young University and in the other institutions of the Church Educational System, we are concerned with teaching the fundaments of spiritual and secular knowledge and with bringing those teachings into harmony in the lives of men and women in order to prepare them for a balanced and full life of service to God and fellowman."

    It is helpful to discern the contrast between these two views of man and of human nature: Thomas Hobbes vs. Elder Oaks; the philosophies of men vs. the wisdom of God; error vs. truth; despair vs. hope.  Elder Oaks also distills four thoughts, or principles, from his spiritual education that are well worth applying to our own lives.

    Furthermore, if ever one is tempted to become complacent in the service of the Lord, Elder N. Eldon Tanner offers an antidote:

    "Thank the Lord for the privilege you have had of testing in your lives and improving your testimony. Never feel that you have finished or completed your tour of duty in church service. You have only prepared yourself to be of further service in the work of the Lord."

    Finally, President Harold B. Lee's talk, Responsibilities of the Priesthood, is powerful and memorable.  He relates the following story:

    "One of the mission presidents, with a group of his missionaries back in the Eastern States some years ago, was meeting in a hall with pillars that ran down the center of the hall, and he said to one of the missionaries, “Get up and push that pillar over.”

    “Well,” said the missionary, “I can’t.”


    “Because the weight of that ceiling is all on top of the pillar.”

    Then the president asked, “Suppose that weight were lifted off. Could you push the pillar over then?”

    The missionary replied, “Why, sure, I think I could.”

    Then the president said, “Now, brethren, you and I are just like one of those pillars. As long as we have a weight of responsibility in this church, all hell can’t push us over; but as soon as that weight is lifted off, most of us are easy marks by the powers that drag us down.”

    Now we want to put a weight of responsibility on every holder of the priesthood and on every father in every home.

    The parallel to Elder Bednar's recent talk, Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease, is uncanny: 

    "I pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I emphasize vital lessons that can be learned from this story about my friend, the truck, and the wood. It was the load. It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward. It was the load that enabled him to return to his family and his home.
    Each of us also carries a load. Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints. Two guiding questions can be helpful as we periodically and prayerfully assess our load: “Is the load I am carrying producing the spiritual traction that will enable me to press forward with faith in Christ on the strait and narrow path and avoid getting stuck? Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?”

    Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness. Because our individual load needs to generate spiritual traction, we should be careful to not haul around in our lives so many nice but unnecessary things that we are distracted and diverted from the things that truly matter most."

    The connection between President Lee's talk and that of Elder Bednar, lo, these many years later, reminds me of the principle of repetition that I emphasized in my first blog post for the General Conference Odyssey

    "I have always been impressed by how seamlessly the voice of living prophets confirms the truths that were taught by ancient prophets. This seamlessness is also discernible in the living prophets' witness in relation to their more immediate predecessors. In other words, the voice of the living prophets takes precedence over any previous prophets, but there is a seamlessness to the message that they proclaim, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Jesus Christ is the head of the Church."

    Thus we see, in conclusion, that we ought to love unconditionally, to strive for excellence, and to come unto Christ, that our burdens may be made light.