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The Cure for Bigotry

Bigotry, unchecked, leads ultimately to atrocities like Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp.

Growing up in the South, I was introduced to bigotry early. I heard what we now politely call “the N word” frequently. In South Texas, I often heard the word Mexican used not as a description of someone’s heritage, but as an epithet. When I was a little boy, World War II was less than 10 years in the past, and I rarely heard Japanese people referred to as anything but “Japs,” particularly by those who had fought them in the Pacific.

I don’t believe bigotry is born into little children. It was not so for me. I cannot remember shrinking from playing with another child whose skin was darker than mine. When I was learning to read, my mother would sit me on her lap and help me with the words. One of my favorite children’s books had been given to her when she was learning to read—probably around 1928. It was about little black children, and it would no doubt be considered highly offensive today. But the lesson I took from the book was not that those children were lesser people because their skin was darker, but that they were little children like me—enjoying the same things, getting in trouble for the same things, growing in the same ways, loved by parents and grandparents the same way mine loved me.

There’s a song in an old movie musical, South Pacific, that holds an important lesson: “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” We are taught bigotry and prejudice, beginning very young, by the attitudes of those around us. As I grew older, I learned that some families didn’t live in our part of town because there were people who didn’t want to live by them. I learned that some people assigned negative characteristics to everyone of a particular ethnic heritage—whether they knew any individuals from that group or not.

The Texas border town where I lived during my high school years was divided by the railroad tracks next to U.S. Highway 83. Generally, neighborhoods south of the tracks were full of white Anglo-Saxons and neighborhoods north of the tracks were occupied by Mexican-American families. Some of my Anglo classmates seemed to feel they were more deserving of respect or deference because of their family’s ethnic background, position in the community, or prosperity. Some of those Anglos looked suspiciously at me because I enjoyed friendships with Latino classmates. Sixty years on, ethnic background, prosperity, and social status do not seem to have made much difference in the achievements of my classmates. Many, both Latino and Anglo, became great contributors in their communities, noted for their service, but it was not the ethnic or social backgrounds they came from that dictated whether they were successful. Individual effort and commitment seem to have been more influential. What they became was not determined by what someone called them or thought of them when they were younger.

I have lived long enough to learn that bigotry and prejudice are universal; they are present in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I have heard African-Americans use the N word against other African-Americans just as viciously as any white person.  I have heard plenty of bigotry toward other races or ethnic groups from my white Anglo-Saxon peers. But I have also heard bigotry toward Latinos and Asians from African-Americans, bigotry toward blacks or Latinos from Asians, bigotry toward Native Americans from those of European ancestry, bigotry against Jews from people of almost all races. 

I have toured Auschwitz-Birkenau, walked through an old slave exporting castle on the coast in Ghana, followed the outlines of a now carefully erased World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert. I know where unchecked bigotry based on race or ethnicity can lead.

Site of the World War II Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert.

There is no excuse or justification for prejudicial practices toward others. From small, daily microaggressions to large-scale genocide, actions of prejudice are usually committed by people who don’t understand the relationship of their fellow men and women to God, or even their own relationship to God. Every great religious faith that I know, in its original, pure form, teaches that we are all children of a loving God. For example, Malachi 2:10: “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (See also Ephesians 4:6.) Anyone who persecutes another person is turning against family.

The Old Testament teaches that He is “the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament teaches that “God is no respecter of persons:

God loves each of us, His children, no matter the color of our skin or where on earth we are planted.

“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).

The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, reaffirms those Biblical teachings: “[H]e manifesteth himself unto all those that believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders among the children of men according to their faith. 

“. . . and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:13, 33).

When we speak with disdain, with prejudice, with hatred toward other people on this earth, we are speaking against people God loved so much that He allowed His only Begotten Son to sacrifice His life in order to redeem them—to redeem you, and me. (See John 3:16.)

The cure for bigotry is for us to treat each other like the children of God that we are. We must learn to live by the Golden Rule taught by Jesus Christ: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). This teaching is found in some form in every major religion and has been taught throughout human history by inspired teachers God sent to bless His children. This cure is simple, yet profound. We stumble over it not because it is hard to do but because we are hard of heart.

People concerned about the effects of bigotry and prejudice in our society have often sought to end it through new laws, amendments, decrees, or government programs. Those may help to some limited extent. But bigotry and prejudice will not end in human societies until we learn to appreciate others as brothers and sisters, as members of our family whose hopes and dreams and eternal development are just as important as our own.

The road to this blessed state of human relationships starts in just one heart at a time—yours, and mine.

The High Road to Zion

Sheep grazing in a pasture in Herefordshire.

We were at the end of a fast-paced, exciting trip through six countries of Northern Europe, feeling something of a let-down because it was over. We were going home—but all the processes in the airport seemed to be working against us. I am not what most people would call a world traveler, but over the years, I have passed through major airports on six different continents, and I felt justified in calling the security clearance process at this airport the most inefficient, and the airport and airline employees the most indifferent, I had ever seen. The flight left an hour late, and it seemed likely we might miss our connecting flight when we arrived in the United States. I let my irritation be known.

It was about 35,000 feet above the Atlantic, watching movies and eating snacks in our padded seats, when I remembered my ancestors who made this trip some 180 years ago. I was immediately ashamed of my petty impatience.

Those pioneer ancestors left the beautiful, green country of England, went down to the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and joined other converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a sailing ship bound for America. Some knew they might never again embrace the families they left behind, never again see the beauty of their English countryside. In faith, they were going across an ocean to the place where they hoped to build their Zion, a city of peace and harmony and love.

Their ocean crossing would take at least six weeks, often in cramped and unpleasant conditions and with frightening storms at sea. Some would arrive on the East Coast and travel overland while others would arrive in New Orleans and take a steamer up the Mississippi to what was then their Church’s headquarters, a city called Nauvoo, Illinois. In the mid-1840s, after mobs drove these “Mormons” out of the thriving city they had built, they would face a slow, exhausting trek by ox-drawn wagons across the middle of North America to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. A few years later, in the 1850s, some converts from Europe would gather in Iowa City, Iowa, at the end of the railroad, to assemble handcarts in which they pulled a meager food supply and a handful of personal belongings across the plains, step by painful step, to Salt Lake City. The physical challenges they faced are unimaginable, but some who survived them would later testify that received divine help and came to know God “in our extremities.”

Wherever the immigrants came from, they hoped to be part of building Zion, a place of peace, love, and security for which they longed.

Arriving in Utah, they would learn that their city of peace and love was a work in progress—that the “Saints” among whom they lived were like those New Testament “saints” often chastised and exhorted by the Apostle Paul—imperfect mortals struggling to live by the faith they had pledged to follow. 

Today, we can easily cross an ocean and two-thirds of a continent in less than 24 hours. We will never know the challenges that some of those pioneers faced. Their physical struggles and suffering along the trail westward have become legendary. Many who didn’t make it were buried on the plains. When they saw the semi-arid Great Basin that would be their new home, they must have longed for those green hills of England. (Drive a few miles beyond Salt Lake City today into Utah’s West Desert and you can still see the uninviting sagebrush-and-cedar landscape that awaited them.)

U.S. Highway6-50, sometimes called the loneliest road in America, cuts through Utah’s West Desert.

The Great Basin may not have been the kind of place where they expected to find Zion, but with faith, irrigation, and hard labor they made it work anyway. They took root and grew.

Objectively, we have to say they never faced some of the challenges we face today. They never faced a world in which basic moral values were largely questioned or ignored, a world in which faith in God is constantly challenged or ridiculed, a world in which self-serving, dictatorial leaders have in their hands the power to destroy humanity, a world in which weapons meant for war are used by unstable people full of hate to mercilessly slaughter children in school.

Searching for Zion today, where would we look?

The holy scriptures prophesy that in a future day, Zion will be established among people obedient to the Lord, and that the Redeemer will rule in Zion, where He will gather His people and they will find refuge (see Isaiah 14:32, Romans 11:26, and 3 Nephi 21:1 in the Book of Mormon, for example). But until that day comes, we must look to Zion not as a destination or place where we can finally arrive, but as a spiritual state which is developed within us. Like those pioneer ancestors I remembered, we follow the road to Zion through the choices we make each day. Zion is not so much a place as it is something that exists in our hearts—something we become.

There is no high road to Zion, except the road of faith and service to our Heavenly Father and His other children.

I do not think that Zion will be an exclusive club only for those who practiced Christianity during their lifetime on Earth. Many good people never had the opportunity to know of Jesus Christ during their mortal lives. But throughout the history of the world, a loving Heavenly Father has sent His children inspired teachers to help them live according to true and righteous principles so they could prepare for greater blessings He has in store after this life. (Parenthetically, throughout history there have been those who co-opt and corrupt religious beliefs—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and others—to justify their evil acts of slaughter and depredation. But so far as I know, every system of belief that promises happiness calls for peace and love toward our fellow beings.) 

It is a tenet of my faith that all Heavenly Father’s children will have the opportunity, either in this mortal life or the life that comes after, to choose to follow the principles of charity and service taught by Jesus Christ during His mortal ministry. All will have the the opportunity to become more like Him. We prepare for Zion by what we become.

It is also a tenet of my faith that, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (Doctrine and Covenants [a book of modern revelation] 130:20-21). Surely all who obey those heavenly laws will receive the decreed blessings, no matter what religion that person professes. The name of the Church we attended in mortality will not in itself save us or condemn us. It is what we practice that will make the difference. 

The Church of Jesus Christ, the one He founded during His mortal ministry, has been established again on the earth to administer certain blessings that lead to eternal progress after this life. This Church provides a way for anyone who lived on earth without knowing Jesus Christ to have the opportunity to choose those blessings. And according to those laws decreed in heaven, people who lived on this earth will be rewarded by a loving Father for everything they did in mortality to become more like their Redeemer.

After we returned home from Europe, I went again to look at a a historical marker on U.S. Highway 89 a few miles from where I live. The marker tells of British settlers, some of those pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who made this area productive and green like their beloved England. One of them was Ann Elizabeth Walmsley Palmer, described as the first woman from Europe baptized into the Church. She was carried into the waters of baptism as an invalid but walked out of the river on her own. Emigrating to America in 1842, she would drive an ox team across the plains to Utah in 1849 and in 1863 moved to southeastern Idaho with pioneers called to establish a new settlement. She died in 1890 after a life of faith and service.

If we are looking for the route to Zion, we can start by following the path those pioneers took, the path that leads us to become something more.

Why Look for Blemishes?

On an impulse, I bought a rose for my wife from one of those supermarket displays because I thought the most beautiful woman I know ought to have a rose that day.

But after she put it in a vase at home, I looked closely and found it was not perfect. It irked me that the rose had blemishes. I looked closer. Yes, there was one there, and there, and there. For a moment I regretted buying it.

But the truth was that from a normal viewing distance, those blemishes were hard to see, and the rose brought some brightness and warmth to our kitchen table on a day when the temperature outside was well below freezing and the snow on the ground said spring is still a good way off.

Why do we focus so much on imperfections and overlook the whole picture? There are plenty of imperfections in our lives and in the people around us. If we look for imperfections, we will surely find them.

There is much talk today about “microaggressions.” This seemingly refers to things that people say or do, intentionally or unintentionally, that we could potentially see as slights or insults. If we look for those, we will certainly find them. 

But why spend our time looking for those? 

If we make a habit of looking for and cataloging every small thing that might be categorized as aggression—especially the ones when people say hurtful things unknowingly—we may damage or lose valuable relationships. And we may satisfy the cravings for power in the people who deliberately try to hurt us. I know this from experience. 

My hands are not like yours. I have a very visible birth defect that draws attention. Children stare and may say things like, “Your hands are weird!” Adults glance at my hands when they think I won’t notice. Some talk to me slowly and carefully as though I might also be mentally deficient. If I were to let those things bother me, I would be constantly upset. I simply have to deal with the fact I am not like what others consider “normal.” (Few realize that this is normal to me.)

In grade school and junior high, I was bullied by people who called me names or made hurtful comments about me because I was different. I was jumped more than once by boys my age who took turns punching me, trying to make me fight back when they knew I couldn’t make a fist. I was always the last one chosen for any sports team in P.E. class because the other boys believed I wouldn’t be able to handle the game. But I was raised by a wise widowed mother who knew what I would face in life and taught me early on to deal with my challenges. I found that I could learn to do anything others can do.

I learned that you give bullies and toxic people a victory when you respond to their taunts. I like the old saying that the best revenge is living well. If you show them that their deliberate nastiness cannot control your behavior, they lose their power over you.

If someone has said something unintentionally that you find hurtful or demeaning, you may be able to educate them—to help them see why those words hurt. But I can almost guarantee that if you respond in anger, you will not feel better, and anger, even justifiable, rarely improves our ability to build healthy relationships.

When I was a senior in high school, I turned my back on one of my best friends because he told me that something I did was hypocritical. It took me years to realize a that first, he was right about me, though I didn’t want to see it, and second, both my life and his were less rich because I threw away a friendship.

I am an imperfect, flawed person. I have spent a lifetime struggling with some personal weaknesses that I hate. But I manage to do some good things too. As a person of faith, I have learned I do better at repentance and spiritual growth when I: (1) try to focus on doing more of the good things; (2) ask forgiveness from God and the people I may have wronged; and (3), don’t spend a lot of time replaying in my mind all the wrong and tawdry things I do. My life goes better when I concentrate instead on replacing those ugly things with more of the good.

I’m also happier when I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the things others may have done that I didn’t like. I don’t always have to pay attention to people who are deliberately trying to be toxic—those angry or damaged individuals who so desperately want to see my response.

I’m trying to get better at seeing the good in other people before I simply discard them. I’m trying to look at each individual as another child of God who is of great worth to Him even though that person might do things I wish they wouldn’t.

That rose I gave to my wife was not perfect. But as I sit here looking at it across the table, it looks pretty good from this distance. It is a work of heavenly design, a gift of beauty from our Heavenly Father to His children in a world that is not perfect. 

Why should I focus on the flower’s flaws when I can enjoy the 90 percent that is perfect?

I

“My Kind of People”

This expression of gratitude for blessings of freedom–no matter how flawed and in need of change our country may be–is impressive.

If you want to know what it’s like to feel conspicuous, try being the only white person in a small room in an old slave prison in Ghana watching a movie about the history and evils of slavery. When the movie ended and the lights came up, I could feel eyes staring at me, wondering what I was doing there.

I wanted to say out loud, “It was ugly, it was evil, it should never have happened.” It was horrifying and saddening to see in that place what people were willing to do to other human beings. Even some Africans had contributed to the slave trade, helping trap and transport people of other tribes.

My visit in Ghana, more than a quarter of a century ago now, was delightful, really. I was visiting among people who shared my faith, people who hoped and dreamed of the same kind of peace and unity among men and women on this earth that I hope for. I truly forgot there was any difference between us until I reached out to shake someone’s hand and noticed the contrast in our skin tones. I believe there was no such contrast in our hearts.

A large part of the discord in our society today seems to come because we have forgotten how to deal with people as they are in their hearts. We insist on categorizing everyone, usually based on some particular interest or ethnic group: Mexican American, African-American, Asian-American, and other hyphenates; liberal or conservative; LGBTQ or straight (as though everyone who is not LGBTQ can be classified in just one category); young or senior citizen; “able” or “differently abled.” In some people’s minds, my very obvious birth defect would put me in that last category.

I hate being categorized.

I was born different in body, but I am not “handicapped” and I do not have a disability. I am religiously and socially conservative, but I can gladly work with and respect people whose experiences and background have led them to see social problems differently. I am not LGBTQ, but I do not hate or fear those who are, as the pejorative, convenient labels homophobic and transphobic suggest. I wish LBGTQ people peace, happiness, and all the achievement they seek in this life. I am not their enemy.

And this suggests the damage that categorizing people according to groups does in our society; it casts people who are not part of our own category as opponents, or enemies.

Site of the Topaz camp.

On a road trip a few years ago, my wife and I visited the site of the World War II Topaz internment camp for Japanese Americans, in the desert of Utah. Almost all traces of the old camp have been removed, but it is still a shameful blot on the history of this country. Japanese Americans were herded into camps because they looked different; German Americans and Italian-Americans were not bothered. Call it racism, call it hysteria, call it what you will, but at base it was a bigoted failure to see or consider what others are in their hearts. Loyal Americans were harmed by people who could not see beyond categories.

The group of people shown in the above photo, taken at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington a few years ago, are my kind of people. I have never seen them before, I don’t know who they are or where they live, but it seems we have this much in common: we love our country and the freedom it affords. People who are grateful for the freedom we enjoy are my kind of people.

Maintaining our freedom, however, will require us to be more concerned about the welfare of others than about whether those people are in our category. Any other attitude breeds divisiveness. We must aspire to be as our Savior, and other inspired teachers sent by God through the centuries, have taught: “. . . be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:2-3).

We will not have peace in our society until we are able to broaden our definition of “my kind of people.” We will not end contention over social and political issues until we recognize that we all fit into the same overarching category: children of God.

Can You Hear the Voice of God?

Mathew 7:7-8

Have you ever wished that God would speak to you and give you answers for the challenges in your life? Have you wondered why He doesn’t talk to you?

You can hear His voice in your own life. Chances are that He has talked to you many times, but you may not have been listening for the right things. You have to be prepared to listen and accept His will, and to receive His answers in the way He chooses to give them.

I have asked for answers from the Lord on problems ranging from a challenge to my faith or a serious physical threat to something so mundane as a plumbing problem when no help was available. I have never seen an angel in answer, or heard the voice of God speaking to me audibly. Answers have come sometimes as words in my mind, sometimes as new ideas on how to approach the problem, and sometimes from someone with greater experience who just happens to drop by in the moment of need.

I do not say this to boast. I am ashamed that I do not receive answers more often, because of my lack of faith. Sometimes I want to cry out, with the man whose son was healed by Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; see verses 17-29.)

A loving Father in Heaven respects the autonomy, or agency, He has given us so much that He will not violate it. He never forces us to do His will. When he intervened in the life of Saul on the road to Damascus, He simply asked a question: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Saul received direction only after, chastened and humbled, he asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (See Acts 1-7.) As Saul followed the direction he received, the Lord turned him into a great prophet and teacher.

In ancient America, a young man named Alma spent his time trying to destroy Christ’s church organized among his people. As he was going about this work, an angel appeared to him to ask, “Why persecutest thou the church of God?” Alma was admonished to remember the Lord’s power to save those who have faith in Him. Then the angel commanded him: “Seek to destroy the church no more, . . . even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.” (Mosiah 27:16, Book of Mormon. See Mosiah 27:10-16.) Like Paul, Alma repented and turned to faith, and the Lord made of him a great prophet and teacher.

Both Paul and Alma chose faith. If we choose faith, we can get answers, but we have to get them the way Jesus taught. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7; emphasis mine.) We have to ask and seek His help—He will never force it on us—but when He gives it, His help will often be more generous and abundant than we could ever have imagined. It may lead to a much more healing or strengthening solution than we could ever have expected. The new ideas that come to our minds may lead to lasting changes that alter our behavior and our lives. When the Lord sends someone else to help us, both of us are strengthened.

James1:5-6

Sometimes, when answers don’t seem to come, we may need to realize, like Paul and Alma, that we are the problem. We may need to soften our hearts to accept His counsel. When we do that, He always rewards us with the same mercy and love Jesus showed to every sinner He healed.

Sometimes when answers don’t come in the way or the timeframe we want, we may need to understand that patience is required while the Lord teaches and strengthens us. I can look back over decades and see that I am more spiritually capable now of acting on His counsel than I was when, as a younger man, I wanted those answers right now. Back then, I never concerned myself much about long life, believing that the Lord’s timetable was out of my control. But in recent years, I have sometimes asked for more time to learn mortal lessons before I pass on to the next life. I need all the spiritual development I can get before earthly opportunities are past.

God, our Heavenly Father, wants to give you the answers you seek, but only rarely has He spoken to men and women on earth in person. For His mortal children in general, He gives answers through the teachings of Jesus Christ and through prophets on the earth in our day. But to us as individuals, He is glad to give answers for our own lives. We only have to ask with humility in our hearts, willing to obey His counsel, and learn how to listen in our hearts, where He speaks Spirit to spirit.

,

Life on the Moon

In South Central Idaho, there is a landscape that seems so out of this world it is called Craters of the Moon.

It is marked by broken and jagged beds of lava mixed with volcanic cinder cones and rock formations jutting up eerily from the lava plain. The rough and cratered surface of this place was used by some U.S. astronauts to train before their moon landings.

Climbing a cinder cone.

It is just one of the many outcroppings of volcanic activity on the Snake River plain in Idaho.

This might seem to be an inhospitable place for growing things because of the desert surroundings, the cold climate. Yet life thrives here. The life impulse is so strong in some of the livings things that it cannot be denied by solid rock.

The lichens that help break down the rocks, along with sagebrush, pine trees and other plant life dot the landscape, even growing out of the lava plain. Animal life is abundant. Take a hike on one of this national monument’s trails and you might find yourself following deer tracks.

The life-fostering processes at work here will seem familiar to scientists. But there might well be disagreement among observers over just how these processes were initiated and governed. For me, this place is another witness of God at work. I see the great Creator’s hand in the order and organization of an environment such as this.

There is, of course, no point in starting an argument over how Craters of the Moon came to be.

But I would invite you to consider the origins of this place, or one like it, for yourself. The United States has many areas like this where the natural world goes about its business with comparatively little interference from humans. You can find them in other countries as well.

Look at places like these and then ask yourself: On what evidence or basis can God be ruled out as the Creator? When people insist that the earth is strictly a product of some great cosmic accident, I often wonder what evidence they have that makes them say God was not involved.

I don’t have to see His own hands to see His hand at work here. In this place, it seems self-evident.

(See the video, “Life on the Moon,” on YouTube at https://youtu.be/2UqFCSK_IMA)

Last of the Summer Days

Among the sweetest and most poignant of childhood memories are those end-of-summer days, just before the time when we had to go back to school.

The loss seems almost tangible as one more golden day slips away. Those milestones mean fall is coming—the season when things die as a prelude to winter.

That may sound gloomy, but how you feel about summer slipping into fall, then slipping into winter is probably influenced by your outlook on life. I learned as a child that winter has an important purpose and is a blessing in its own way.

Yet I fight this idea in my heart even as some people revel in winter’s opportunities for outdoor recreation. I grew up largely on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the climate is much the same as in the prime vacation areas of Florida. I never really experienced winter until I was nine years old—the year my widowed mother enrolled at a university in the Mountain West, where her studies would change her life. The experience of living among the mountains changed my life.

The first harbinger of change came one afternoon in October as I walked home from school. Snowflakes fell from the sky, and I had worn only a shirt. I couldn’t wait to get in out of the cold.

I quickly learned that there could be fun in the snow, and I learned to deal with winter conditions. But secretly a part of me always longed for the warmth and sunlight of summer.

In a way our lives are like that. We can waste a lot of time longing for the return of the warmth—for the restoration of conditions we liked better.

But the cycles of the seasons are a fact of life, and it is also a fact that simply living on this earth sometimes brings conditions we would prefer not to face.

One of those is aging. As our summer passes, we slip into fall and our bodies start to grow old. Maybe we can’t hear and enjoy music the way we used to. Maybe we can’t see to sew or carve or draw or build as we used to. Maybe getting down on our knees is a decision to be considered carefully because we won’t be able to get up again without something to hold onto.

Eventually winter comes, and for many living things, life is over.

But one thing I learned about winter back when I was a boy is that the winter part of the seasonal cycle carries with it the promise of spring to follow. In the never-ending climate cycle on earth, new life will come.

Our hope for new life after death is not in some seasonal cycle, but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In coming forth from the tomb, after being crucified, He gained the power also to bring all of humanity forth from the grave. We will live again. (See John 5:28-29, 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-22; Revelation 20:6; 1 Peter 1:3.)

An ancient American prophet named Mormon wrote that those who will accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ in their behalf can have hope “to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” (Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:41). Everyone who has ever lived on this earth, no matter when or where, will be given the opportunity by God the Father to accept salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, as the last days of summer slip by and I feel fall coming on, I remember that lesson I learned long ago. Winter will inevitably come, but the promise of new life is eternal.

(Please see video, “Last of the Summer Days,” at https://youtu.be/0DDp_ld0nLE)

Light and Shadow and Truth

When I was in my twenties, I was a lot more sure of many things than I am now, decades later. I still believe in the same spiritual guideposts—God, the importance of faith to achieve true success in this life, the need to love in order to grow spiritually and intellectually. But I don’t think I understood back then all the ways that faith and love can be applied to meet the challenges of life. I’ve still got a lot to learn about that.

It’s interesting how the way we see things changes as we get more experience.

When we’re less experienced, we often see things in black and white. The black and white view can leave us with very strong impressions, but too often it misses nuance or details that give us a more complete picture.

The best of the cinematographers back in the 1930s and 1940s knew this. Watch one of the black and white classics—Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane—to see how filmmakers used light and shadow, the contrast of light and dark, to create or enhance a dramatic mood.

What do you feel when you look at the photograph above, with its contrasts deliberately enhanced?

But looking at only the black and white tones can leave out a lot.

Now look at the color version of the photograph. What do you see that you couldn’t see before? The beautiful flower that was hidden in shadow? The way that varied, multi-colored stones all contribute their distinctive strengths to the whole structure?

A lot of our attitudes are like that. Many of mine were sharply black and white when I was younger. But when we look at things only in black and white, we miss much of the nuance or detail that can help us fully understand the problem or challenge we face and its possible solutions. We don’t see the rose or the different strengths of the multi-colored stones.

Too often we can be blinded by our own biases. Sometimes they are so firmly entrenched that we can’t root them out.

Single-minded activists are especially at risk of this weakness, whether their cause is environmental, social, political, racial, or religious. Seeing only black and white, they may demand that everyone else pay as much attention to the highlighted areas as they do. They may miss details in the shadows that can lead to workable, practical solutions.

But, oh, it is so hard to give up some of our biases! I know it is for me. We are emotionally tied to them. There’s risk in letting go, for if our biases are false, then what can we safely hold onto? It requires humility and faith to accept that what we have believed is wrong, and that what we did not want to accept, or what we may never have considered before, is true.

Not long ago, my wife and I lay outdoors under the stars at night to watch a meteor shower. Our backyard was a world of black shadows, dark and darker. When you see those old color movie scenes of people outdoors in the moonlight (Maybe the cowboy and his sweetheart down by the river?), you know they’re false. We don’t see color by moonlight alone. Those scenes were shot through a dark filter in daylight or artificial light.

We need to remove the dark filters in front of our mind’s eye if we want to see the truth. We need to ask: Am I looking at this situation only in black and white?

When we look at people in these stark contrasts, comparing their actions with our own more righteous or intelligent choices, or with what we think they ought to be doing, we have a hard time seeing the full picture. Being able to see the full picture of people’s lives was what made Jesus Christ able to love the sinner while admonishing them to “sin no more.” (See John 8:3-11.)

When we’re serious about wanting to follow Jesus, we will make the effort to overcome the harsh black-or-white perspective that renders judgment based only on our own experience. We will learn to view other people and their lives through the richly hued filters of faith and love.

 It’s an effort that can take a lifetime. I know.

Why Are You So Mad?

We see the heart-breaking, smiling image of a little child who has been shot and killed in a road-rage incident.

We see airline passengers or store customers restrained or arrested because they could not discipline themselves.

We see wrathful, partisan politicians wanting to discredit or destroy someone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

We see people belittled, ridiculed, and taunted on social media when their ideas do not agree with mainstream thinking.

If you read the news each day, you quickly learn that there is a lot of anger out there. People get mad about one thing or another, and many people are mad about several things all at once.

When their anger boils over, it can lead to tragedy, injury, or loss. 

People get mad for reasons ranging from true injustice to trivial annoyances. Maybe they were beaten or robbed, they were treated unfairly because they are members of some minority group, they were cheated by somebody they trusted. Or maybe they’re just mad because their morning latte wasn’t prepared the way they like it.

Uncontrolled anger that brings tragedy and spreads venom doesn’t solve any problem. It is the rational, measured response that gets results.

Most of us will acknowledge that uncontrolled anger is not a good thing. But many people will say, “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.”

This is an excuse. You can help it. You can change. It may not be easy. Most of us, including me, face one kind of challenge or another that we need to acknowledge and deal with. This takes work. But the alternative is to live a diminished life because we won’t make the effort necessary to change.

None of us, including me, likes to acknowledge this truth. But the longer we go on avoiding it, the more we cheat our best selves.

Anger is damaging in human relationships and cultures not only for what it causes but also for what it prevents. It keeps us from making a better world.

A devil would want us to be angry all the time so that we don’t make the effort to fix what is wrong, whether it is in us or in our circumstances. A loving Father would want us to spend time instead making needed changes so He can bind up our wounds. The doctrine of Christianity is: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). Other faith traditions also teach in their doctrines that controlling and eliminating our own anger gives us greater spiritual and intellectual power.

There is a lesson in modern, revealed scripture that illustrates this. In the Book of Mormon story, a family is warned by God to leave Jerusalem before the Babylonian conquest. As they wander in the wilderness, led by a prophet named Lehi, they must hunt food to survive. When the prophet’s son Nephi—evidently a principal hunter for the group—breaks his fine bow, their situation looks bleak. His brothers become angry at him, angry at their father for leading them into the wilderness, angry at God for their situation. Even Lehi, the leader, becomes discouraged and complains about their circumstances. This changes nothing.

But Nephi’s response is different. He finds some good wood, makes a new bow and arrow, then asks his father to ask God where he should go to hunt for food. God answers. (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17:18-32.) 

Nephi showed faith and willingness to act, and God responded to his need.

God knows there will setbacks in life. They are part of our mortal journey. He wants us to overcome them. But there is little He can do to help us when we’re mad and taking our anger out on the rest of the world. In that emotional state, we aren’t able to hear what He would whisper to us through His Holy Spirit.

After decades of experience in mortality, I am still learning that if I will repent of my anger and humbly ask for His help, He will speak to me in the way best suited to my needs. It may be through someone else, but He will hear and help me.

What about you? What are you so mad about? Would you like help with your problem, or do you just want to go on pouting about it? Are you willing to change?

Which Flower Is the Most Beautiful?

My wife loves flowers. It’s a struggle to maintain a garden in the area where we live, with its short growing season, the hardy, fast-growing weeds, along with deer and other critters who like to dine on plants at her expense. But outside our door every morning, her flowers offer a day-starting burst of beauty.

It’s hard to decide which are more beautiful: Lilies? Irises? Columbine? It’s impossible to judge between them. I joke that I have a nodding acquaintance with flowers; I can’t tell you all about them, their names, their characteristics, but I can appreciate the beauty of every one of them.

My appreciation for flowers started early because both of my grandmothers loved flowers. Like others of their generation, they grew things they could eat, but they had to have flowers as well—definitely roses, but also irises, daisies, hollyhocks, and others.

Living in semitropical areas of the world introduced me to a whole different range of flowering plants. It convinced me that there is far more beauty in this world than I will ever have the opportunity to experience personally.

Some hardy flowers can be found almost everywhere. Sunflowers, growing in the harshest of environments, constantly turn their faces to the sun anyway.

Some flowers are unwelcome, and I don’t always understand why. Who was it that declared dandelions are weeds and must be eradicated? I understand that they’re pushy and want to take over too much space. That can’t be allowed. But have you ever studied the beautiful, divinely designed structure of their yellow faces?

Jesus used flowers to make a point about how much Heavenly Father cares for all His children, in one of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 6:28-33. “. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; . . . Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“. . . If God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you, o ye of little faith? . . .

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

The magnificence of His flowers shows the love and care He put into their creation, but He cares even more diligently and tenderly for us, His children.

Do we appreciate His other children as much as we do His flowers?

There are powerful forces in the world today that work to divide us. Most of us see ourselves first as members of ethnic, gender, social, political or economic groups, before we think of ourselves as children of God.

That is the devil’s work. Jesus did not think of people in terms of divisions that separated them. In fact, He often condemned those who sought to put people in different classes. When we ask that the needs of our class or group be served first, we may be asking that something be taken away from the rest of humanity.

In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: . . . the meek: . . . they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: . . . the merciful: . . . the pure in heart: . . . the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:3-9). He made no distinction as to class, color, wealth, or popularity. He pronounced blessings on those who sought the things they saw in His divine example.

Modern revealed scripture offers this insight on our Redeemer’s loving generosity toward mortals on this earth: “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

The world would be better if we all stopped looking at people as members of ethnic, gender, social, or political groups and began looking at them as children of God with equal opportunity to come unto Him.

In the eyes of the world, every flower is not clothed the same. But in His eyes, there is beauty and value in every one.