Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Mad Are You–‘Hell Fire’ Mad?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in danger of hell fire?

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

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

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

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

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

In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?

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

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

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

 

It’s Not Just Cloth. It’s an Ideal.

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

Topaz name on fence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

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

Sunflower Sep19 DSC01503
I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

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

Salt Flats A7R 20190413_0313 P

We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.

“Criticism is easy; achievement is difficult.”

Churchill P1000910

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.

Churchill P1000911

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Let Me Sing of Beauty

Nvoo SGK home20170513_009Sometimes I just have to give praise to God for the glories of this earth He created.

We have been very busy for the past several weeks in our service assignment for our church, but we have still had time to enjoy the beautiful things and creatures on Heavenly Father’s good, green earth.

The woods north and south of the place we live “are lovely, dark and deep.” (Homage to Robert Frost here.) We have seen deer watch us curiously as we are out walking, and Squirrel Nvoo 9My17_00438other creatures—including lots of lively squirrels—scampering nearby. The neighbor’s bird feeder draws cardinals, blue jays, redheaded woodpeckers, and other beautiful birds we can see from our kitchen window.

To the east, toward sunrise, there are houses with beautiful expanses of green lawn and fields with healthy crops coming up. One mile to the west, our street ends at the Mississippi River. Before the river, there are the restored homes and sites of historic Nauvoo, surrounded by bright flowers (including some that we helped plant last week).  More often than not, the evening brings a spectacular sunset across the Mississippi.

The works of man here are interesting, but the works of God are glorious. They bring these thoughts.

O let me sing of beauty

In creation’s wide expanse,

For thou art surely master

Of more than form and function,

Adding artistry in the shaping

Of the countless living things

That fill our ordered sphere.

How shall we see a leaf

And fail to recognize

Thy careful hand as artist

In its green pulse of growth?

Cardinal Nvoo My17_DSC00470How shall we see a cardinal

And not ask if brilliant red

Was somehow essential

To its graceful flight?

How can we see the river’s

Wide and surging power

And not see in its flow

The surging fount of life?

We live midst ordered systems,

Each driven by its laws,

Yet something more than order

Dresses and shapes creation,

Something more than function

Adds hue and pleasing form.

The delights of earth around us

Are products of Thy hand.

O let me sing of beauty

That is a gift from Thee.