Category Archives: Culture

Falsehood in the Name of Faith

Blog_Falsehood        My wife found the small pamphlet at a rest area on Interstate 15 near Brigham City, Utah. A stack of the publications was left in a restroom for visitors to take. Its title was a distortion of beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The sentences following this distortion contain half-truths, other distortions and outright falsehoods.

I have often wondered how people who call themselves Christian justify lying and deception about other people’s beliefs. How is this serving the Lord Jesus Christ?

This particular tract was distributed by a small ministry organization in the Midwest. How it got to Utah I do not know. Perhaps whoever placed it took some satisfaction in striking a blow against “Mormonism” in the heart of “Mormon” country—the area where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints were driven by religious persecution in the 1840s.

It doesn’t bother me that people disagree with the teachings of my church. We have religious freedom in this country by virtue of the Constitution. More, we have God-given freedom to exercise our faith in Him—or not—as we desire. One of the first laws of heaven, I believe, is that in this mortal life we will have freedom to choose whether to obey Him or not. It is a principle so sacred in eternity that He will not violate it by forcing us to obedience. The only proviso is that we will accept the consequences of our own choices and actions.

This being true, why do so many people seem inclined to try to destroy other people’s faith? Why are they not more concerned with strengthening their own?

As a young missionary for my church decades ago, I bought a pamphlet about “Mormonism” from an evangelical bookstore in the small Guatemalan city where I lived. The author assured readers that he was thoroughly familiar with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—though he got the name of one of the Church’s books of scripture wrong. I chalked that error up to faulty translation. As I read the pamphlet, I began to wonder: Did the scripture books I treasured really say the things he claimed? I began to check his references. I quickly found that he was pulling sentences and phrases out of context, distorting them with his own, biased interpretation—and even making up some of them! No such scriptural passages existed. I would learn later that this pamphlet was a Spanish translation of a work written in the early 1900s, and long ago discredited for its inaccuracies.

Reasonable, good people can disagree on religious doctrines yet still be friends and work together. I treasure my relationships with some friends and family who do not share my beliefs. They are fine people and I love them. We simply understand that we each worship differently.

I have attended events sponsored by my church where protestors stand across the street or mingle with crowds on the street, trying to disrupt the event. They may call Church members insulting names, try to bait members into physical altercations, or shout that Mormons are all going to hell. Others stand nearby handing out false materials like the pamphlet my wife found. I wonder if those people go home at night and say in their prayers, “Lord, I served Thee today by shouting angry taunts at Mormons, arguing with them, calling their women vulgar names, and telling lies about their beliefs.”

They call this love? They delude themselves into believing they are “helping” their brothers and sisters?

I wonder how much good they might accomplish if they devoted the same time instead to serving the poor and needy in their communities. Wouldn’t it seem wiser to spend that time building up something you believe in rather than trying to tear down something you believe is bound to fall anyway?

These are times when Christianity itself is under attack, even by some who claim to be Christian but who jettison principles of faith when the world shakes its head in disapproval. Wouldn’t this be a good time for Christians to stand together in defense of our faith?

In the wider world today, belief in God is under attack, by those who want to ignore Him or blame Him for all the evils on this earth, rather than looking to the true source of evil. Wouldn’t this be a good time for all believers in a benevolent God to stand up in His defense, offering our witness of Him?

 

 

 

The Songs of Children

 

Do you remember what is was like to be in one of those Christmas concerts when you were in grade school? How you sang your heart out to please the teacher you liked? How good it felt to see Mom or Dad or both out there smiling because they were proud of you?

Do you remember what it was like to go to one of those concerts as a parent? How it was hard to get away in the middle of a work day, and you knew you’d have to make up the time? But you were so proud of your son or daughter?

Now, as a grandparent, I not only enjoy watching my grandchildren, but the other children as well. They are so earnest and eager to please. Some aren’t quite onto the songs yet, but they give their best.

And that is the key to enjoying these concerts. The children’s performances are a gift, and gifts are to be appreciated and enjoyed.

So here’s one of those small gifts to enjoy.

“Criticism is easy; achievement is difficult.”

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There is a fine museum honoring British statesman Winston Churchill in a place that most Americans would not expect—in heartland America, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. This is the place where Churchill, invited to America by President Harry Truman, gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.

The speech may have seemed controversial at the time, but Churchill’s views turned out to be prescient. World developments he envisioned came true.

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The museum includes a gallery of sculptures of the world leader and accomplished artist.

What interested me most at the museum, however, was the material attesting to the character of the man. Admittedly, I am an admirer. I believe Winston Churchill was one of those historical figures raised up by God to shape his times. But I think anyone would have to acknowledge that Churchill was a man who achieved, and inspired, great things.

In one of the galleries of the museum there stands a photograph of Churchill, the prime minister, with this quotation above it: “Criticism is easy. Achievement is difficult.”

This is the kind of statement that almost demands self-examination by the reader. When I see a problem, do I simply criticize? Or do I try to suggest and support a solution?

Experience has taught me this truth: When you know there is a problem, it does little good simply to comment on it or to criticize someone or something that might be at fault. One who points out a problem ought to feel an obligation to help solve it. Those who look for solutions, as Churchill undoubtedly knew, are those who achieve.

Those who do not look for solutions are often part of the problem.

Long ago I heard these words from a man I regard as a prophet of God, Gordon B. Hinckley: “Cynics do not contribute. Skeptics do not create. Doubters do not achieve” (“Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” Oct. 29, 1974, in BYU Speeches at BYU.edu.) Elder Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was quoting a lesson from his father. Whether you believe in prophets or not, it is hard to ignore the wisdom and truth of that comment.

As a politician and an experienced leader, Churchill knew a thing or two about being criticized. But he was not deterred from moving forward and achieving things he envisioned. The lesson from leaders like Churchill, and Gordon B. Hinckley, is not to let critics discourage us when we are working toward a worthy, righteous goal.

Another lesson is not to be a critic. Often, criticism is a form or bullying. It does little to shape other people’s lives for good. (And why should any of us feel we have the right or duty to shape someone else’s life the way we think it should be? Most of us have trouble enough managing our own lives properly.) Ultimately, criticism damages humanity as a whole. It would be far better and more useful to spend our time building others up.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them at night over the troubled Sea of Galilee, Peter called out, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” The Lord answered simply, “Come.” And Peter became only the second person known to have walked on water.

Only doubt was able to stop him. (See Matthew 14:26-31).

Let us never be the wind of doubt for anyone.

Let us be the ones to invite others to go forward. Of course, we do not have the divine stature of Jesus, and others are unlikely to walk on water. But with our help and encouragement, they may walk where they never had believed they could go.

 

“Holiness to the Lord–Our Preservation”

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Jonathan Browning was a gunsmith, a careful craftsman known for inventing the repeating rifle and for the quality of his work.

Browning was also a man of belief who wanted to bear witness of his faith in God through his works.

We know from his life story that in the late 1830s in Quincy, Illinois, Browning, the well-known gunsmith, was looking for religious truth. He found it among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were fleeing persecution. They had been driven out of Missouri in the middle of the winter of 1838-39 by mobs emboldened by the support of a governor who ignored their rights. At the small historical museum in Quincy today, you will read that Browning was one of those who assisted the suffering members of The Church of Jesus Christ when they fled into Illinois.

Jonathan and Elizabeth Browning investigated the Church carefully and found the religious truth they had been seeking. They were baptized and soon moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, the city being built by members of their church on the Mississippi River. Eventually they would follow the Mormon Trail west to settle in Utah.

At some point, Browning developed a desire to express his faith through the works he crafted so carefully. But how could a gunsmith do that?

Jonathan Browning crafted a small, engraved plate to be mounted on the stock of a rifle. On it were these words: “Holiness to the Lord—Our Preservation.”Browning P1000868 Blog

The first four words in this inscription come from Exodus 28:36 in the Old Testament. “Holiness to the Lord” was to be engraved on a small plate of pure gold affixed to the mitre that Aaron or his sons wore when officiating as high priests before God. Today those same four words are found on the front of every temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world, in the native language of the country. The words indicate that everything done in those temples is to be undertaken in holiness and dedicated to the glory of the Lord.

The other two words inscribed on Jonathan Browning’s small engraved plate are mentioned in Psalms 145:20, where it says, “The Lord preserveth all them that love him.” This message is extended and emphasized more forcefully in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which affirms: “. . . he will preserve the righteous by his power . . . . Wherefore the righteous need not fear” (1 Nephi 22:17).

It seems ironic that the inventor of the repeating rifle chose to testify that our preservation is in our faith in God, not in our weapons. This does not mean that we will not suffer mortal death—we all surely will—but that we will be preserved in God’s eternal kingdom. As we read the writings of King David in Psalms and the record of the prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon, they seem to be speaking in eternal terms. David says, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations” (Psalms 145:13). Nephi writes: “. . . the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory.

“And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture” (1 Nephi 22:24-25).

Today, it seems, too many of us may be relying on our weapons for preservation. They might be concealed weapons we carry. The might be called fitness routines, or special diets, or financial programs. They are all intended to protect us against things that can happen in this life.

But perhaps we should all be more concerned about the really long-term future. Perhaps we might want to spend more time learning to recognize the voice of the Shepherd so that we can be preserved in His eternal fold.

 

 

The Gadianton Robbers Are Alive and Well

Who are the Gadianton Robbers?

Some of you who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might tune out when I say the robbers’ story is told in the Book of Mormon. But wait—don’t go yet. The story holds a lot of important lessons for our time and our society.

The Gadianton Robbers were bands of criminals who lived among some of the civilizations of ancient America. The robbers sometimes hid in plain sight among the people and covered the crimes they committed with the help of other members of their band. Sometimes the robbers grew strong enough to control their own territories—defying the government, so strong that the army could not go in and defeat them. Sometimes they grew powerful because they infested the government, turning a blind eye to crime and allowing the wealthy to buy justice while the poor suffered injustice at their hands.

The robbers grew powerful with the help of ordinary people who joined in or supported criminal activity because they too could profit from it. Sometimes the criminals fed the desires of those people for wealth and power, or fed their addictions. The robbers decimated societies, bringing down governments. Once they issued an edict to the people of their time: Join us and take part in our activities, and we will support you in them—or defy us and die.

Does any of this sound familiar?

In Mexico and Central America, drug gangs and cartels are so powerful that they are a fact of life for many people. Governments turn something of a blind eye to them because

Street in a poor barrio in Central America.

Violence born in poor barrios of Latin America can easily enter affluent communities in other areas by invitation–when people in those areas buy into the drugs gangs sell, or into their other activities that promise big profits.

defying them can mean death. While my wife and I were living in Central America a few years ago, a well-known judge who opposed gang power was assassinated one evening on her way home from work; a motorcycle pulled up next to her car at a stoplight and she was shot several times. In Guatemala, a young teen we knew spent months recuperating from gunshot wounds he received while shielding a little girl from a drive-by shooting; gang members shot up a neighborhood store, apparently because the owner was not cooperating. Criminals were rarely caught, and if they were known, rarely prosecuted.

One young friend of ours told us that he and his wife were desperately trying to find a private school where they could enroll their three-year-old twin daughters a few years down the road. It would be punishingly expensive. But in the public schools, he said, gangs started recruiting children as early as the second or third grade. Children who refused to join could be beaten or killed, or their families might be targeted.

Gadianton robbers have no particular ethnic or national background. They might be Russian, Asian, or white supremacists. This kind of evil is found in some degree in most countries of the world. It seems to be growing in strength, but particularly in the United States. Is there a solution?

In that Book of Mormon story about the Gadianton Robbers, the people who supported justice and goodness eliminated the robbers among them at one point by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to them—and converting all of them! People who had never known a better way readily accepted gospel truths when they were taught, and became contributing, productive members of society. Gospel teachings about love and doing good to others turned out to be the most potent weapon the people had against the evil in their society. Generously, this group of early American Christians always welcomed enemies who wanted to change their lives and live the gospel.

Later, faced with that join-or-die ultimatum from robbers hardened in evil, the people refused. Instead, they banded together in one place, pooled their supplies, and waited the robbers out. When the robbers could no longer live by plundering and could not afford to settle in and plant crops for food, they eventually became weak and desperate and the people were able to wipe them out in battle.

So how does the story of the robbers apply to us today?

The way to fight gangs and drug cartels is for all those ordinary people who are supporting them indirectly to stop. Stop buying their drugs. Stop buying their services. Stop profiting from their activities. Deprive them of the money that gives them power. Refuse to take part.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Hard? Undoubtedly.

Once gangs have their tentacles wrapped around someone, they fight against letting go. They have a habit of punishing people who want to walk away from their lifestyle. The criminals will fight back—unless they are deprived of their support and become too weak to resist. They are so entrenched in modern society that it will be hard to freeze them out.

But has anything else worked?

It seems we have two choices. Preferably, we can reach out to those involved in gang activities and try to help them change into people dedicated to building up rather than destroying our society—change into the people our Heavenly Father has given them the opportunity to become.

If that does not work, then those who are not ensnared in the gangs can say a firm “No” to the drugs and money and corruption they offer—avoid being part of the problem—and wait while the gangs wither away for lack of support.

This approach will surely work—if there are enough people left in our society who are not caught up in the corruption one way or another.

 

 

Saving One Worm

Yesterday I saved the life of a worm.

I don’t know why I did it, or whether the act had any meaning. I just followed an impulse.

The worm was writhing on the sidewalk halfway between the grass on one side and on the other. I stepped over it, noting the nearby carcasses of other dead worms that had not made it across the concrete.

Too bad, I thought, this one will die just like the others—but that’s the way life goes for worms. (Why does a worm cross the sidewalk? To get to the other side?)

I felt some guilt about the worm struggling on the hot sidewalk. Why? It was just a worm.

But something said strongly, “Go back,” and so I did. I picked the creature up and flung it into the grass.

Did the worm appreciate my help? I don’t think so. It fought me when I picked it up.

Did it actually survive? Or was it too far gone after its struggle? Was it already near the end of its life anyway? Did it become food for some sharp-eyed bird 30 seconds later? I’ll never know.

So why bother?

I couldn’t explain it to myself. Crawling creatures don’t usually concern me much. Spiders and insects are OK if they stay outside, but they aren’t allowed to live in our house. Death to mosquitoes, and to flies that buzz in my face and insist on examining my food up close.

So why worry about one worm?

Maybe it was seeing life struggling to survive, and knowing that this time at least there was something I could do to help.

(Parenthetically, I penned these thoughts earlier on a pad of paper while I had no access to my computer. Only just now, as I type them into my laptop, does this thought occur to me: there may be people all around me who are struggling with the heat and pain of trials, who could use a little help just to make it through life one more day.)

May I always give in to that impulse to support life.

 

Now That’s a Love Scene!

When people write or talk about movies these days, they often mention “love scenes.” What they usually mean by that in our day is sex scenes. But those two are not the same thing.

Call 2 BWWhen I think of great love scenes in the movies, I think of the homecoming scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, when Frederic March’s character returns from war and his wife working in the kitchen, Myrna Loy, realizes who is at the door. The power of their facial expressions as they see each other, and their actions, portray love about as well as in any scene on film. Check the movie out; it’s a great one.

And when I think of great movie love scenes, I may think about young Carl and Ellie, in the Disney Pixar movie Up, falling in love, getting married, and setting out on the adventure of life together. That’s love.

Two naked people writhing in bed? No, that’s just lust, and it may have little or nothing to do with love. But it sells movie tickets.

This fact probably helps explain corrupt movie executives who feel they have a right to molest or abuse actresses and actors with whom they associate. Apparently, they feel some entitlement, telling themselves that, after all, they help make these people famous.

The current #Metoo movement in our society, exposing the evil treatment that many women receive in the workplace and elsewhere, may accomplish a lot of good. We can hope it will disabuse many men of the notion that because they are masculine, they are entitled to treat women as objects to provide them pleasure. Certainly men who are guilty of this kind of harassment deserve whatever social or professional ruin comes to them when they are exposed. Many of them belong in prison.

The current movement is a reminder that many of us who are male need to learn better attitudes and greater respect for women, even if we feel we are not guilty of any crime.

Women often say there is never any excuse for harassment of sexual abuse, no matter how they may choose to dress. In this they are correct; they ought always to be safe from the hands, and even the lustful thoughts, of men, no matter the situation, no matter what they may wear—or not wear.

But a girl or woman does not have to live very long in this world to learn that what ought to be is often not the way things are. Many men, motivated by their own weakness and aberrant sexual feelings, convince themselves that the ways in which women dress offer them permission or an invitation. For self-protection, women may need to recognize that there are such men, and to weigh some choices carefully.

Is this fair? No, of course not. But I would still want my wife or my daughter to take care to protect herself from predators in any situation—including those who wear fine suits and spend their days in corporate or government offices.

Now, this is where it becomes tricky for a man to write on this subject. Some will say: “victim-blaming.” No, I think not. Two of my own daughters experienced some harassment in the workplace. My mother, a widowed working woman, experienced discrimination based on her sex. Neither my mother nor my daughters did anything to deserve the treatment they received. Even though no prosecutable offenses were committed against them, those men who did not treat them with respect should have been punished or corrected.

Nevertheless, some women seem to ignore reality in justifying their own behavior.

How else to explain the anger and hurt from celebrity women when their nude photos, either taken surreptitiously or stolen, are widely shared, but who call it “empowerment” when they choose to display their bodies to the public?

However incautious it might have been to allow nude photos to be taken, people have every right to be angry when those photos are publicly displayed without their permission. But when some willingly pose for magazine layouts or other photo shoots that will bring them desired publicity, they say the nudity is OK in this situation because it is their choice. The difference seems to be in who is getting a benefit from their nudity. If they are the ones getting some kind of compensation—emotional, or financial, or both—in exchange for going nude, then the nudity is acceptable. Could someone please explain to me how this is not hypocrisy? They become enablers of the lust that fuels behavior they say that they hate.

If some unknown young actress takes off her clothes, performs explicit sex acts in front of a camera, and gets paid a few bucks, we call it porn and sleaze. If some well-known actress takes off her clothes, simulates sex acts in front of a camera, and makes big bucks, the film may become a blockbuster, and some call it art. But in comparing the two situations, it’s hard to see any difference in the type of activity; the difference is only in the degree of involvement.

It is true that the physical bodies we have are beautiful, amazing creations. They are also gifts from God that are sacred to every individual. They are meant to be shared only in a mutually loving relationship with the person of the opposite sex to whom we have made the public commitment of marriage, intending to spend a lifetime growing together. Sharing the body in any other way or any other context is dishonoring a sacred gift.

Couples who make and keep the covenant of marriage can share a full range of joy together, including physical intimacy. They share all these joys through young love, through the years when children may come and grow up, and through the aging years when the couple may have to lean on each other just to make it through a day.

Marriages like that are where real love scenes happen.