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“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.

 

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.

  Thank the Lord for Small Blessings

The steering of the car began to feel a bit mushy, and I noticed that the low tire pressure indicator was lit up on the dashboard. Then a woman driving past us on the freeway mouthed, “You have a flat tire.”I pulled off on the shoulder and set the brake. As I got out to check the tires, a strange thing happened. The thought crossed my mind clearly: “There will be hidden blessings in this.”

The right rear tire was down, and had been chewed up a bit by the rim before I was able to stop. How could there be a blessing in that?

It was the first time I had needed to change a tire on our minivan. My wife dug out the owner’s manual and I verified that I would indeed have to move the part of the load that was in the center of the vehicle, pull up the carpet, and remove the wooden covering over the spare tire well in order to dig out the jack and runty looking donut tire.

After wading through a muddy ditch to find a big rock to wedge under the front tire, I went to work. I had been at it for about 15 minutes when a car stopped behind us on the shoulder and a young man got out. He asked if he could help. Now, I learned to change flat tires probably before his parents were born. I had already done the muscle-straining labor of removing the lug nuts and was in the process of jacking up the car. I told him I could handle it just fine. But he had me when he smiled and said his mother had taught him always to help where he could, and he wouldn’t want to disappoint her. So I let him go to it. Maybe the Lord had told him he needed to serve someone that day, I thought

The tires were nearly new—less than 2,000 miles on them–and they came with a warranty from a national chain. While we were working on the tire, my wife used her phone to look up the nearest store for that tire company. It was less than a mile away, down at the end of the freeway off-ramp just ahead of us.

When he finished with the tire, the young man followed us down to the tire store to be sure we got there safely. We thanked the Lord for him in our hearts as he drove away. About an hour later, after eating our sack lunch in the waiting area, we were on our way with a new tire.

A skeptic might say, “Where was the blessing? You lost a tire and faced some danger and inconvenience on the side of the road. And that tire could have failed anywhere.”

Exactly. If it was going to fail, that could have happened on Interstate 80 in the barren middle of Wyoming during the cross-country trip we have to make next week. But it didn’t.

You can believe what you want to believe, but I’ll believe what the Lord told me by the voice of His Spirit when I got out of the car: there were hidden blessings in the experience.

And I wonder how many times, when things happen that seem discouraging or troublesome, do I fail to see that the Lord has provided blessings in disguise?

“Save the government”

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When our third- and fourth-grade grandchildren come over to visit, they like to play in the unfinished room in our basement. Sometimes they set up the card tables and chairs to play “school,” or “store,” or “city government.” I was a bit shocked and saddened a couple of days ago to find two signs they had posted on the wall: “Save the government,” and “Make it so terror does not become the government.”

I wondered: Are we adults responsible for this? Have we somehow instilled in them such anxiety about what is going on in the world that they fear for their freedom? Is this the legacy national leaders are leaving to children—doubt and fear?

Children should not have to worry that their way of life—freedom as they know it—is going to disappear.

They hear, and they know. Times have been tumultuous recently, especially in the political arena. Our resolve and our commitment to a democratic republic have been tested, and the tests are ongoing.

Integrity seemed to be an early casualty in the 2016 election campaign. Honesty and civility suffered severe setbacks. Freedom of speech and thought are under ongoing attack.

But I still have confidence in the right to think and speak what we believe to be right. I have hope that in the end this freedom will prevail.

Now, I am a natural-born pessimist. I tend to believe Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I live prepared for people to disappoint me, seeking their own welfare first and foremost, ignoring the common good. (And how often, I have to ask, am I guilty of this?)

Fortunately, my wife–ever the optimist in our home–balances me out.

But as I have gotten older, I have become more optimistic. I have come to realize more and more that living in expectation of trouble is no way to build a worthwhile life. If you want happiness, look for it, seek it out, and if necessary, make it yourself. If you don’t want to be weighed down by gloom at the end of the day, look for happiness and joy along the way. They are there when you pay attention. Did you find them in the slant of early light through the trees this morning? In the mother at the store with a young child, or children, curiously and delightedly getting to know the world around them? In a quiet opportunity to read and ponder great ideas?

More and more I have tried to implement in my life the counsel of a man I accepted and honored as a prophet of God. Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “There is a terrible epidemic of pessimism in the land. . . . I come . . . with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.” He shared this counsel from his wise father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”

We can all learn from our mistakes, of course, and we all have need to repent of our sins and errors. But when we look at those mistakes, do we also consider the good that may have come from our more selfless actions?

Struggle in this life begins when we are very young, and it will continue as long as we live on earth. After more than 70 years of facing it, the only useful approach I see to dealing with this struggle is simply to keep going on. Move forward. When you keep moving forward, you eventually reach your goals.

Again, I have come to rely on the counsel of Gordon B. Hinckley: “Keep trying. . . . Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.”

That is a lesson I hope to help my grandchildren learn.

 

 

The Rose Parade and Repentance

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This wasn’t what people came to see—a man with a banner and a bullhorn calling on them to repent or face the wrath of God.

They came to see the annual Rose Parade, an event whose organizers like to call it rose-prd-2ja17_dsc00293America’s New Year celebration. They came to see pageantry and pomp and beauty. What they saw instead, before the parade, was people telling them they are wicked and sinful and they’re on their way to being damned.

Spectators along our part of the parade route didn’t take this news well. The people with the banners and bullhorns were booed, there were snickers and jibes about their message, and there were cheers and clapping when the police motorcycle squad came along to clear them off the parade route.

It was hardly news that many of us are sinners—or at least it wasn’t to me. I know that I often do things Jesus Christ would not have approved. I am a man full of mortal weakness, and I certainly have need to repent. But most of us don’t enjoy being called out publicly for our hypocrisy or vanity or weakness.

I know that Jesus Christ will come again to the earth and we will all be responsible for the way we have lived our lives here. But the preaching we heard on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena that day didn’t seem like the best way to spread the good news of His gospel. There was a lot about wrath and very little about the hope He extends to us if we repent. I believe hope is more effective in changing lives than chastisement. We all know our own sins. What we need to understand is how things can change for us when we give them up.

Still, I have to admire the courage of the people who were out there preaching. They must have known they would be received with ridicule and antagonism. It was the same reception given to prophets in Old Testament times, in Christ’s day, in Book of Mormon societies, and even in the present day. Those street preachers in Pasadena knew that what they did before the Rose Parade would be uncomfortable, unwelcome to many, possibly even hazardous. It took faith and deep commitment to their beliefs.

Something tells me that all of us who believe are going to need this kind of courage and commitment in coming days. Many of believe that a child knowingly invited by two people to grow in the womb has a right to experience life on this earth. Many of us believe that our gender is an assignment given before we came to earth and that rejecting it is rejecting a path God wants us to follow. Many of us believe that marriage was instituted by God to create a partnership in which one of His daughters and one of His sons grow together through mortal life, and beyond. We who believe these things are accused of ignorance, of bigotry, of narrow-mindedness by those who wish to force us to accept their way of thinking.

It is as though we were heretically teaching that the earth is round, when everyone agrees it must be flat, or that the emperor, naked as the day he was born, is wearing a beautiful new suit of clothes. Our very right to believe anything other than the groupthink favored by the most vocal and strident among us is being challenged. There are indications that anyone in our society who cannot accept a new “reality” that ignores moral anchors can expect to be punished. We may be shunned or charged, illogically, with hate and prejudice. There will be no escaping the intellectual tyranny.

If we insist on maintaining our right to believe according to our faith, and not according to the dictates of an unmoored society, we may need the depth of commitment of those street preachers at the Rose Parade.