Category Archives: Faith

“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.

 

Faith to Conquer the Unknown

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Visitors test the ice at the edge of the Mississippi River as they commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, in February of 1846.

The weather app on my iPhone says the temperature outside this morning is around freezing, but with the chill factor from the wind off the Mississippi River, it will feel more like 20 degrees.

Better dress warmly. I’ll wear two of everything—extra thermal underwear, two fleece-lined jackets, winter hat with ear flaps under my hood—and my lined winter boots. Under my regular gloves, I wear a pair of fingerless gloves because it’s impossible to operate my digital camera or change the battery without exposing my fingers part of the time. The fingers will be numb before I’m through today. Better stick the hand warmer packets into my jacket pocket.

Today we are commemorating the exodus of Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois, in the brutal cold of early February in 1846. This morning we will walk about a mile in frigid conditions similar to those faced by the Pioneers. Our short trek will take us down

March photo

Marchers make their way down Parley Street to the river.

to the landing where they crossed the river into Iowa. But first we warm up, with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, inside a heated building where we hear inspiring words about the faith of the Pioneers and their endurance in the face of trials.

These are the inspiring words and thoughts. I have heard and absorbed them all of my life. I understand that the Pioneers’ situation was enormously difficult, their resolve was exemplary, and their achievements can offer strength and inspiration as we face the daunting struggles of our own lives.

But today I stand on the banks of the Mississippi facing the reality of a raw February wind across the river, and I wonder: How did they do that? How could anyone do that?

At this point they looked across at Iowa, as I do now, with no idea where they might find a place for the next meal, or shelter from the humid, all-pervading cold. I’ve driven through Iowa, I’ve studied the maps, I know what’s over there. But they had none of my certainty. Most of what I have seen of civilization on the other side of this river did not exist in the 1840s.

To point out that there were no highways or motels or fast-food restaurants out there is to trivialize their situation. There was almost nothing certain out there beyond this river. To find shelter, they would have to build it. To eat, they would often be forced to hunt food and cook it over open fires. To travel more than a thousand miles to an unknown, uninhabited place where they hoped to find safety and peace, they would have to make their own roads. The overland trek itself would take more than three months. For some, completing the journey would take years.

I knew all of this before I came to Nauvoo as a missionary. I knew their history. But here I have learned a lot that I didn’t know about the stalwart people they were.

As I stand on the bank of the river this morning, I realize how much I do not know of their resolve and their strength.

A few people in our group of marchers venture out onto the ice at the edge of the Mississippi for a photo. We will soon turn our backs to this cutting wind and trek back up the street to the shelter of that building where we gathered, or to our cars, grateful that we have warm homes and clothing and food waiting to be eaten. In the tenderest parts of our hearts, though, we feel this truth, newly understood: the Pioneers could look forward to none of those things, and yet they went, trusting.

Behind them, if they shrank back from this crossing, were mobs to rob and burn and destroy. But ahead of them, what? Starvation? Death from the cold or disease? They had no way of knowing.

So as I stand here on the bank of the river shrinking from the wind, gazing across and wondering what Iowa territory was like back then, I think once more: How did they do that?

Only the depth of their faith in God could have made it possible.

 

How Are You Doing with Those Resolutions?

So, here we are one week into the new year. How are you doing with those new year resolutions?

Yeah—me too.

But I’ll keep trying.

I gave up making long lists years ago. All of my resolutions could be summarized, really, in a few words often sung by Latter-day Saint children: “I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His ways . . .” All of the other ideas for resolutions come down to this, one way or another. I know I am imperfect, but I am trying to become more like the One who never fell into imperfection.

It is embarrassing to tell you this. Anyone who knows me knows how far from perfect I am.

It is painful for me to think about the audacity of this idea—humiliating, really. It makes me cringe to think how ashamed I would be of so many things if I were in the presence of Jesus Christ. And yet I am joyful when I understand that He wants to forgive me.

He said, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). He said, “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I don’t think He was kidding about either of those things. When I think of how far I have to go, the thought is terrifying in one way, and exhausting.

Maybe you feel the same way about His commandment. Anyone might be tempted to think, “How could I ever do this?” But I don’t think He meant we have to do it by tomorrow, or even by the end of this year.

If I get to the end of this year and feel like I’m better than at the beginning, then I can hope. If I keep getting a little better day by day, then I can hope for salvation through His grace. There is no other way.

I have found that I have to reduce this following Him, this striving for perfection, to one day at a time. At the beginning of the day, I pray for help to handle the things that I know may be spiritual challenges for me, along with stumbling blocks that I cannot foresee. That is the only way I know to approach this challenge. Maybe a stronger person could improve by leaps and bounds. But for me, it requires baby steps, one day at a time.

How am I doing so far today? Well, so far I’ve already felt pride and anger and impatience.

But I tried to help the person who made me feel those things, and now I feel better about him.

Maybe that’s progress.