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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.

Dawn in the Desert

cacticm51-23nv16_p1030216bWe’ve just spent a week in desert areas of southern Arizona, and it has helped me appreciate again the great variety and diversity of life on this planet, as well as the nature of our own growth.

When I was a boy, the Walt Disney company released a fascinating and beautiful film called The Living Desert. It taught a lot about the life we don’t see when we gaze out over a landscape filled with sagebrush and cactus—about the insects, reptiles, plants, birds, and other creatures that go about living in an interactive ecosystem.

By day, deserts look very bleak and forbidding. But dawn or sunset shows things in a different light.

 

There is struggle here for life,

challenge on every side,

and peril in the living things,

both plant and predator.

Thorns and spines protect

hardy plants and tenacious trees

sucking scarce moisture from the earth.

applesrx-23nv16_dsc00986bOnly on penalty of pain

can hungry desert dwellers

taste green succulence.

Venom, claws, and tearing teeth

are survival tools

for animals born and bred

in this environment.

There is no ease here

for any living thing.

 

So, too, for humans.

Some choose desert places

for their solitude,

or for opportunity

to do and be freely,

without dictate

of strict society.

Others choose luxuriant habitats

where thorns and spines,

venom and ripping claws

are seldom visible.

Rarely do we look, and understand,

that every environment,

whether place of choice

or of inevitable destiny,

has its frightening perils,

some obvious to the eye,

some disguised as pleasure.

 

A dawning in the desert

or the setting of the sun

put new and clear perspective

needlesrx-23nv16_dsc00989bon spikes and thorns and armor

and the life that these protect.

What endures here is hardy,

prepared for constant struggle,

magnificent in strength

and ability to thrive,

beautiful in resolve.

 

Blessed are the wise

who can see the beauty.

 

Good-bye to One of God’s Nobles

carl-funeralWe said good-bye to our friend Carl a couple of days ago. He passed away doing something he loved—looking for a little gold. Someone found him in one of the wild places of Idaho where he loved to go to pan for small flakes of the precious metal.

Carl would smile and say that he had gold fever. But he never cared about getting rich from the gold. He just loved being out in those beautiful, solitary places. It was always Carl and his beloved companion Buddy, the black and white spaniel, out there by one of those streams. Then a few months ago, sadly, Buddy had to be put down.

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Carl teaches a grandson about panning for gold.

Carl always gave away the gold he discovered. Many family members and friends have a memento of his search for gold—a necklace with a small blue stone and a flake of gold for the women, or a tie tack in the shape of a gold pan with a flake of gold in it for the men.

That was the way Carl lived—always giving. We saw him from time to time walking past our house to check on the blind widow who lived on the other side of us. We learned at the funeral that he wasn’t just checking in at her door. He would sit and read to her for her pleasure.

Carl was buried with military honors. He served in Vietnam almost 50 years ago. He was trained for combat, but his posting had him in support areas behind the lines. He could not stand the Army’s “hurry up and wait” between assignments, so he scrounged some materials and built a “hootch” for him and his tent mates to live in. It afforded more protection than their tent. When his superiors saw what he had done by himself, they pulled Carl off of some of his regular assignments, provided the needed materials, and had him build more hootches to house other soldiers.

He was always resourceful. Sometime after returning home, he was in a snowmobile accident that severely damaged nerves in his left arm. He could use his hand well enough, but he carried the arm in a homemade leather sling strap he had made. He became a handyman to people in the small pioneer farm town where he lived. He was skilled in carpentry, plumbing, and maintenance. From across the street, he watched over our house for us when we weren’t there.

One day Carl saw me out trying to cut some dead limbs off a tree. He strolled over to tell me I ought to let him do that. What he said next was horrifying: “You’re so much more valuable to the kingdom of God than I am, and you could get hurt up there working on that ladder.” I assured him firmly that if there were any question of ranking in heaven, I would certainly not rank above him. But there was no dissuading him from the chore. Standing on the ladder, he used his good arm to swing the chain saw up to rest the blade on a limb, then triggered the saw to cut through the dead wood, and when the limb fell, let the saw swing in an arc down past his leg. He did it again and again, until the dead limbs were gone.

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The gold never made him a rich man–but the searching did.

The funeral was well-attended. Everyone in town knew and trusted Carl. When Mrs. S. went across the street beforehand to see if she could retrieve our house keys, Carl’s daughter had to sort through many sets. It seems Carl had access to quite a number of the houses in town. We never knew when he had visited our house unless he told us; he always left everything in good order.

Carl was not perfect. None of us is. But he was vastly underrated by many people—including Carl. He was the kind of person the world desperately needs. His passing is a loss to us all.

With all he knew about everyone in town, I never heard him say a critical word about anyone. It just wasn’t in him. He could laugh about someone’s very human foibles—including his own—or allow as how he might have done things differently. But he wasn’t one to speak ill.

In his relationships with other people as in his hobby, Carl always looked for the gold.

 

What Does ‘Perfect’ Mean?

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Do we focus on the withered edges, or on the beauty at the heart?

“Be ye perfect,” the Savior said,

like our Father in heaven.

It seems too bold a thought, at first,

And then—impossible!

How shall we aspire to this,

we mortals marred by flaws,

full of fears and weakness,

incapable of good at times

because we lack the will,

or stamina of spirit.

We do not have it in us

to conquer every sin,

or even our own doubts.

It seems sacrilege, damning pride,

to think the very thought

that “perfect” is possible.

 

And yet—it was His command.

There was no qualifying word,

no “if,” or “almost,” but only: “Be ye.”

He would not have said it

if the goal were beyond all hope,

or the mere thought forbidden.

 

What, then, does “perfect” mean?

The best of humankind

Is like the flower of summer,

with striking beauty at first sight,

but flaws and withered spots

on closer, careful view.

We cannot feed from

common mortal soil

without developing

earth-borne impurity of sin,

nor bask in burning sun

without the sometime searing

of our tenderest parts.

These flaws and lasting damage

we alone cannot repair.

 

And yet—it was a firm command,

with no deadline,

preceded by directions

to prepare us for the task.

Be meek and humble.

Hunger and thirst after good.

Be merciful, seek peace,

“let your light so shine”

that it brings glory to our Father.

Let go of even precious things

when they become stumbling blocks.

Love your enemies—yes,

even that is required.

 

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When we admire finished beauty, do we recognize that we are still in the bud?

We are not as He.

How dare we even think it?

And yet—how could we tell Him no?

 

He bought us with a price.

He will mend the flaws,

forgive the glaring sin

if we but offer up

our stubborn, prideful will.

In everlasting patience

He lets us do the work

step by daily step.

But in His command

is the direction to begin.

 

This is not a project

to be finished in a day,

nor in the coming year.

It will be consuming labor

for all eternity.

 

But in this task for coming eons,

we shall begin today.