Author Archives: Don L. Searle

About Don L. Searle

Retired magazine writer and editor; novelist; photographer; married to my college sweetheart for more than 50 years; father of five; grandfather of 18.

For Times of Crisis: A Silo Full of Faith

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The silo John and Ruth left full of wheat.

The silo holds almost four tons of wheat. The grain was put there more than 30 years ago by two loving people who hoped to provide food for their children’s families in case they Granary Paris 2019Oc DSC01556might face scarcity or famine someday.

Now, the wheat is probably not usable for food anymore—but what those two people left behind may be much more valuable than food.

John and Ruth were farm people. They knew years when the crops didn’t grow well or didn’t sell for enough money. They had lived through the Depression of the 1930s. They never spent money they did not have or wasted anything that might be put to good use sometime. Up in the old barn there are buckets of rusty nails and bolts that John meant to straighten out, clean up, and reuse one day.

John and Ruth were my in-laws. I learned to admire them for what they had become in life and what they were willing to sacrifice to assure a decent life for others—especially their children. Inside that silo full of grain, taped to the inner door, they left a note Granary note 2019Oc DSC01547 Sspecifying what they wanted done with the wheat. “It is here to be preserved for a time of need,” John wrote. “We do not expect to live to see the day when all of this will be used for human food, but say to our family you may take from it as needed for your use. . . . We want you to respect our wish that none of it is to be sold for monetary gain but may be traded for other food items if needed. We are dedicating this wheat to help sustain the lives of those who may need it . . . .”

The grain was accumulated from their crops over 10 years, the last bags being added in 1987. The company that bagged the wheat told them it would last “for a lifetime.”

Maybe no one anticipated that the galvanized steel granary could begin to rust out near the bottom. Rodents and deer, getting at a few of the bags through small holes at the base of the silo, have nibbled at the wheat. A nutritional expert tells us the grain is probably not good for human food anymore but might be used to feed animals.

John and Ruth had faith that they were helping provide for their descendants in the way a loving Father in Heaven wanted them to do. They wrote of scriptural and prophetic counsel to store food for a future time of need. But perhaps they did not realize what kind of food they were really leaving behind: nourishment for the spirit, in a store of faith that is strongly felt in their note. It’s impossible to read their words without being deeply moved, and without asking ourselves what we might be leaving behind for our own descendants.

Ruth was an example of service to others in their small farming community.

John became one of my models of integrity in life, since I had grown up without a father.

The two of them may not have left their family worldly wealth, but I believe no parents could have done more for their children in those circumstances. Their examples have helped mold the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Now we are living in times of crisis when there is an urgent, pressing need for faith. I have to ask myself: Have I given my children and their children an example of faith that will help to carry them through perilous times to come? Surely those times are coming. How can I help them to store up the faith they will yet need?

If I could choose one thing to leave them, it would be faith to rely on prophets and the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures and revelations given for our day.

[NOTE: The name of this blog has been changed from Searlebration. The blog began as a way of reaching our extended family, but it has grown beyond that, and the new name better reflects the subject matter. ]

 

How Mad Are You–‘Hell Fire’ Mad?

 

Protesters 3Ag17_01717BRecently, I had a call from someone I love and respect, someone I have not talked to in two or three years. I wondered if we would be able to talk congenially. I have recently responded to some of that person’s strongly worded posts on social media with an opposing political viewpoint.

But we had a fine conversation, expressed our love for each other, and said we really should do this more often. I was grateful it went that way.

These are times of tension, turmoil, and heated commentary about what is happening in our nation’s government and what elected leaders are doing. I have my own strong feelings about developments in Washington that could do long-term damage to the United States.

But there is another national problem that concerns me even more, and so I am doing something I have tried to avoid in this blog. I am repeating a theme I touched on a short time ago: the corrosive nature of hate and anger.

Some who are heavily committed to supporting one party or another seem unable to treat people who disagree with them as human beings—as other children of God. They dehumanize people they see as opponents, and this makes it easy to hate.

Most often this dehumanization begins with labeling: “fuzzy minded liberal,” “hide-bound conservative,” “left-wing do-gooder” “right-wing bigot,” “pious hypocrite,” or “[insert religious affiliation] terrorist.” That individual who disagrees with us may be a loving parent, may do a lot of good in the community, may be a very incisive thinker. But if we give them a pejorative label, it’s easier to tell ourselves they deserve some cruel fate—public humiliation, tragedy, or even death.

These days, it might be good for many of us to review “The War prayer,” in which Mark Twain reminds Christians that wishing evil on our enemies is not a Christlike attitude.

The Master Himself warned us against contention in which we seek to condemn those who disagree with us: “. . . I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: . . . but whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Are you in danger of hell fire?

Here are some questions that might help each of us determine whether our political thoughts could be putting us in moral danger. (And I write this knowing that I need to face need these as much as anyone else.)

Do you find yourself wishing that certain politicians of the opposing party could be publicly humiliated, punished, or socially annihilated?

Of course, you would never do anything to them, but would you be secretly pleased if something happened to shut them up?

Do you find opportunities to post cutting or critical things about others on social media? If you actually met them in person—if you sat down across a table from them to share bread—would you say those same things to that person’s face?

The man with the megaphone pictured here was a protester who showed up regularly at a large Church-sponsored religious pageant to protest. We called him “the Screamer.” He stood across the street and screamed vile and vulgar insults at church members attending the event. Much of what he said was lies, all of it intended to provoke contention. He wanted nothing more than to have someone confront or perhaps attack him, because then he could claim to be the wounded party. “See? See what they’re doing?”

In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?

It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I don’t really hate them. I just hate the things they do and say.” If that’s true, then how would you explain those feelings of hoping something bad might happen to keep them quiet?

Would Jesus Christ, or the great law-giver Moses, or Mohammed—or whoever you respect as your ruling moral authority—speak of people in the same way you think of them?

I believe that modern science bears out the danger of carrying around feelings of anger and contention inside us all the time. Maybe that is one reason Jesus Christ warned us about being angry at our fellow beings. If we spend too much of our lives being angry, we will create a little bit of hell for ourselves here on earth, and we will waste time we could have used to prepare for heaven.

 

It’s Not Just Cloth. It’s an Ideal.

Topaz20190920_0026The flag pictured here flies over the site of Topaz, the detention camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II for no reason except their ethnicity. The fact that this camp existed is a reminder that our republic is not perfect. Topaz is one of the shameful mistakes in United States history.

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Artistry in rusty barbed wire gives a name to the barren site behind the fence.

And yet it is also a reminder that we can and should strive to do better. We cannot erase mistakes, even though we might try. After the war, almost everything was removed at this site except concrete foundations—and yet it is still here, in the memories and in the lives of families who were affected. We can never fully repay victims of injustices in our history for all that they suffered. We must resolve with them that this kind of suffering will not happen again.

Our national experiment in self-government is still young. It was not founded on rule by a familial dynasty, or some oligarchy. It was founded on rule by us—“We, the people”—and so it can still grow as we do. We need to see our country not as a nation that is mature, settled, or fading, but as a country that is still young and vital. We will still have vigorous, sometimes heated, debates about which way to go. In these debates, we must look for the light instead of heat. We are more likely to find that light in the middle of the spectrum rather than in passion or coldness at the extremes.

We need to remember that no single political party holds the key to all wisdom, and that Americans who disagree with us are not the enemy. Our enemies are those who want the American experiment to fail, who tell us we have no right to exist, who try to undermine our freedoms because freedom is a threat to their domination of people in their own countries.

Some years ago, I was strolling up a street in Rome when I saw my flag—the Stars and Stripes—rising above the trees. After a couple of weeks out of the country, I was thrilled to see it. I raised my camera and took a picture. Within seconds, an Italian policeman was at my side asking why I was taking pictures. I explained as best I could. Then, as he let me move on, I saw that the flag was flying over the U. S. embassy. In front of the building, more armed police officers were stationed behind a sandbag barrier, prepared to respond in case of attack. And I remembered that throughout the world, there are people who want to attack what our flag stands for.

It seems commonplace these days to protest injustice in our country by dishonoring its flag. But the flag still represents an ideal for me, one I learned to accept as a child: “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible.” I have watched the changes in world affairs for three-quarters of a century now. I have lived in other countries and had the privilege of traveling on six continents. And still it seems to me that the country represented by that red, white, and blue flag offers the world’s best hope for equality and justice. It’s not perfect. It may never be perfect. But it holds hope for moving in that direction.

So instead of taking a knee, how about extending a hand? I’ll give you mine. Maybe we can work together to solve some of the problems you see. Our work might be hard. We might have to learn a lot more about each other. We each might have to accept that some of our own views need to be altered.

27 Plaza4 25Au06But I’m not giving up on that “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” If we truly commit to being one nation and try to treat each other as a Heavenly Father would want His children to treat each other, we can do it.

Not seeing that ideal yet? Hang in there. Our experiment is still young.

 

 

Do You Feel Qualified to Cast a Stone?

They came at Jesus, that devious group of scribes and Pharisees, with a challenge: Moses taught that we should stone this woman for adultery. What do you say? (John 8:3-11.)

Jealous of his influence among the people, and fearing the loss of their power to govern, they tried to use the law of Moses in their scriptures to entrap Him. They hoped Jesus would say something that would let them accuse Him of sin against their law.

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Are we constantly carrying stones with us, ready to attack those who do not think as we do?

But they reckoned without His wisdom and inspiration. Instead of giving them a “yea” or “nay” decision, Jesus offered them a challenge: Were they completely free of sin? He forced them to examine themselves. “He that is without sin . . . let him first cast a stone.”

There is real spiritual and ethical danger in mixing scripture with politics. Holy scripture is a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways. Those who use it to try to condemn their political opponents usually end up wounding themselves.

Are you as weary and dismayed as I am at the mixing of scripture and theology into our current political contention?

How do people who claim to believe in principles of righteousness justify citing the holy scriptures to condemn opponents to hell?

Lately I have seen the scriptures used liberally to condemn those who oppose President Trump. I have seen people who claim to be religious post vulgar and obscene things about his opponents. Some of them attacked Nancy Pelosi for mentioning her faith and prayers for the president, calling it hypocrisy.

Didn’t the Master warn us about judging? (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:35-37.) He cautioned us about the hypocrisy in judging the faults of others when we are ignoring our own. (Matthew 7:5.) Didn’t the God of the Old Testament teach us that only He is capable of judging by looking on the heart of people? (1 Samuel 16:7.) How dare anyone else judge the sincerity of Mrs. Pelosi’s prayers?

I have prayed for every president in my lifetime, but I have prayed for this one more because we live in ever more perilous times, and God is the only One I trust to warn us unerringly about what is ahead. Moreover, some of the president’s public behaviors which everyone acknowledges—his divisiveness, his nasty and very personal attacks on people he sees as foes—make it harder for him to govern and unite the country. I have prayed that he will try to find ways to unite us instead of playing to the voters who are his power base and pitting them against other Americans.

I am not suggesting that there is flawed judgment only on one side. Surveys and studies I have seen suggest that those who are politically liberal are less likely to identify themselves with a particular religious organization. (Note carefully that this does not say they are less moral or less charitable than other people.) It is my observation that when people who are politically liberal judge others, it is most often justified in terms of social order or obligation. Thus some of them may conclude that people of faith are simply uneducated or backward, and we must give up our faith-based beliefs on issues of abortion or marriage or gender. If we insist that we are trying to live by the word of God as we understand it, we are just being intransigent, and they will gladly use the courts and law to impose their will on us.

There is error on both sides here. People at both ends or the political spectrum seem unwilling to let others exercise freedom of thought if this leads to decisions that do not agree with theirs. Some seem to walk daily with stones in hand ready to attack those who dare to act in ways they do not approve. This seems to depend more on the individual’s personality than on choice of religious allegiance. We see this anger and divisiveness in politicians of every faith, and in their most rabid followers.

As I write this, it is Christmas Eve. I cannot reconcile in my mind sending out cards that say “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 3:14), and afterward using the words of the Son of God as moral and intellectual cudgels to beat His children who do not think and behave as we wish.

My prayer is for people who are healers, who will put down their stones and find ways to work with others even when we do not accept all their beliefs.

 

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.

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I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.

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We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.

To Our First Great-grandchild

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We met our first great-grandchild a couple of weeks ago. She is, of course, the most beautiful great-grandbaby ever born, although I am sure many other people may have felt this way about their first great-grandchild. They simply have not seen ours yet.

I am always fascinated and amazed as I watch little babies, newcomers to this world, grow and realize their potential to act with the bodies they are in, and then to deal with the world around them. When you think about this, it is awe-inspiring what little ones are capable of doing after only a short time here.

We all went through this, of course, but we don’t remember it, probably because our growing brains get filled with so many complex things as we grow that those first, rudimentary steps are quickly forgotten.

My first memories go back to when I was about three years old—just flashes of early experiences. But I can still remember some of the joys in the perpetual motion of childhood—running against the wind, climbing trees or the backyard swing set, jumping off of walls or other high perches, hopping, skipping. Have you ever noticed that little children almost never just walk somewhere? After they learn to walk, they run or skip or hop everywhere.

It seems as though the spirit child of God living inside that young body just can’t get enough of learning how to use it.

Blessed are those little ones whose loving parents teach them the right things to do with their bodies.

I wish I had enjoyed watching my own children grow up as much as I have enjoyed watching my grandchildren. I was too self-focused, too concerned about how my children’s behavior might reflect on me as a parent. On the other hand, I have truly enjoyed watching my grandchildren develop their intellectual and physical capacities. They amaze me with some of their accomplishments and talents. (And yes, I realize that your grandchildren are equally as talented and beautiful as mine.)

I want to say to our new great-granddaughter, “Welcome to this world, little one. It can be a very happy, very joyful place. In time, you will find there can also be sorrow and pain. But those can wait. For now, enjoy all the learning and growth that lie ahead of you. There are so many people around you, starting with your parents, who want to help you learn how to experience all the joy that can be found in this life.”

As great-grandparents, we’re deeply grateful that your parents are determined to help you learn how to walk by faith in this life. That way, even when the body you’re living in is no longer new to you, the spirit inside can always continue growing. It is made to go on learning through eternity.

 

Blessed by Listening to His Promptings

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Sevier Dry Lake, Great Basin desert

We were not planning to make those two stops on our trip. But we are deeply grateful for the blessings that came when we did.

I continue to be amazed not only at how generously God blesses His children, but also at how frequently blessings come when we are paying attention to the whisperings we may feel from His Holy Spirit.

Our trip was to be a quick overnighter, out and back, the kind of experience we give ourselves to celebrate special occasions like birthdays. We were going to learn more about an area in our region we had seldom visited.

On our way out, we turned off the road in one place that looked interesting and hiked through sagebrush, rocks, and ant hills out to a dry lake bed. It is the kind of scene we have passed by many times in our travels. This time we turned around and went back. We enjoyed the stark beauty of the desert on a clear, sunny fall day, and I got some beautiful photographs that will fit well in a project I’m working on.

That was only the beginning of our rewards.

On our return trip next day, we stopped at two small museums in a rural farm town. In one we delighted at seeing items we remembered from our childhood in small-town America. The other told the story of a shameful episode in our country’s past, the detainment of loyal Japanese-Americans in a desert camp during World War II.

As a result of pondering what we saw in these two places, I received an answer to prayers I had offered earlier for direction. As so often happens, the direction did not come in words of a command: “Do this, then this.” Instead, I received ideas on how to solve a dilemma that I have long had. This particular problem has very little to do with the exhibits in those museums, and yet, because of what I saw, ideas came to mind that help resolve the dilemma. I saw a practical way forward, and I received an assurance that this was my answer.

That was not the end.

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Cabin of colorful western character Porter Rockwell, Eureka, Utah

We made one more unplanned stop on our way home, in a small, historic mining town. As a lark referring to my advancing age, we were taking pictures of “things older than Don.”  My wife wanted a picture of me in front of an old pioneer cabin. A man at the service station next door hurried over to ask if we would like to go inside it. Then he invited us to tour some of the old mine sites in town with him. It turned out that he was the mayor, and he shared with us his dream of how to preserve some of the town’s history.

What he shared brought a fresh flow of ideas for me—thoughts that built on and dovetailed with the inspiration I had received at the museum two hours earlier. It became plain that these experiences were not coincidence.  Our stops were perfectly timed; five minutes one way or the other, and we would have missed this opportunity.

My wife benefitted too. One of the mayor’s comments suggested a way forward with a project she has long wanted to develop. Moreover, as we finished our drive home, I received ideas on how I might be able to contribute to that mayor’s civic project, something it would be a privilege to do.

I know we were guided on that trip to receive answers we had asked for in prayer.

Some might scoff and say, “That was just coincidence, and your imagination.”

Some might say I’m boasting.

Scoffers deny themselves the opportunity to be taught by God, through whisperings of His Holy Spirit. Those whisperings are soft and subtle, but obedience brings rewards. Our Eternal Father is ever ready and willing to give us knowledge if we are willing to accept it. He will build on knowledge we have already gained, helping us learn lessons for eternity.

The answers that came to me were for questions I had not voiced to anyone but God. I have learned to recognize the sweet feeling of peace and assurance that comes with some of those answers. No, they are not my imagination.

As for boasting—what hypocrisy it would be! I am still a child in learning to walk by faith. Throughout much of my life, I have been a weak, headstrong person who did not listen to my Heavenly Father nearly as frequently as I should have. Perhaps I could have accomplished more—so much more—for my family and for others if I had listened better. I am ashamed that I have not been a better servant.

But I pray that for whatever life is left to me, I can continue learning to listen better. And if what I share now can help someone younger learn to listen sooner in life, then I am grateful I can help.

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Barbed wire art work on a fence at the barren site of the abandoned Topaz internment camp.