Tag Archives: faith

Faith to Conquer the Unknown

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

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

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

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

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Marchers make their way down Parley Street to the river.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Clever the Corn: Belief and Rationality

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Corn in July, before it grew “as high as an elephant’s eye.”

Here in western Illinois, the corn seemed to zoom skyward early in the summer. I thought we could almost measure the growth by the hour. Then the growth of the stalks slowed down and ears began to develop. And now we are enjoying this year’s delicious corn on the cob.

How clever the corn is in this established pattern of growth! After its spurt of growth, the Corn ear Jul17_01641Bwhole purpose of the plant seems to change as it develops ears for harvesting. It is as though some Great Horticulturist had made the plants to function this way.

And yet some people will insist this could not be so. They may insist that evolution is the only possible explanation.

Somehow that seems superstitious and ignorant. What is rational or intelligent or “scientific” about ruling out God as one of the possible explanations for creation? Is it because some people cannot see evidence that matches their limited mortal understanding? Absence of evidence is still proof of nothing. Where is any reliable, measurable, quantifiable evidence proving that God could not have been involved?

Attempts to explain creation without God seem superstitious in that they rely on some unknown chance or force that somehow accidentally created life. Really? Some mysterious, unexplainable inner drive is an acceptable possibility, but God is not?

Some might ask if I believe in “intelligent design.” I couldn’t answer because I do not know what the term implies in the mind of those who ask the question.

But I believe that this earth and its environment were created by God over six time periods according to an organized plan. I do not know what techniques He used or how long each time period was. I do not believe that they were six 24-hour “days” as we measure by our clocks, but six “days” as we speak of “our day” or “ancient days”—extended, indefinite time periods.

I believe He followed patterns that His greater intelligence told Him would work. Perhaps he used similar techniques or systems in moving from creation to creation, from organism to organism. Perhaps if a muscular or cellular system or organ worked in one animal or plant, He would employ that system again in another one. What rational being would not do this?

The knowledge I lack on the topic of creation is vast. What concerns me about some of the people who develop alternative explanations for creation is that they seem unwilling to acknowledge their own intellectual limits. They may have many years of education and experience in particular scientific fields, and yet their knowledge is minuscule compared to what they do not know. Some are nevertheless willing to speculate, so long as the discussion does not acknowledge that God could be the answer.

I believe in a God who wants us to learn all we can about this mortal life and our existence on this planet, a God who delights in helping us. If He were to reveal to us all the details of how He created everything, we could not possibly comprehend His works. But I believe He is pleased when we seek knowledge and that He will help us learn more. (After all, His Son taught, “Seek, and ye shall find.”)

God is under no obligation, however, to prove anything to us on our terms. If we want to know more, we need to seek on His terms, and this involves faith.

Who would begin a scientific experiment without some degree of faith that there will be answers—that time and experience will reward us with knowledge? But a true scientist has the wisdom to recognize that the answer may not be the one we want or expect. The hypothesis we began with may be wrong, and the answer may be something we did not believe in the beginning. A true scientist studies natural phenomena or performs an experiment seeking the truth, not seeking a way to make carefully selected facts support a prior conclusion.

This life is for schooling. We are sent here to learn, and to grow through our experiences. We are here to prepare for even greater learning hereafter.

In some future “day,” I hope to enroll in Celestial Biology or Celestial Geology 101 and learn how it was all done. But for the time being, I’m trying to master the lessons in human relationships that my Creator would have me learn here.

 

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.

 

 

 

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.

Tolerating Faith: Lessons from Nauvoo

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Sunset across the Mississippi, seen from Nauvoo

Nauvoo, Illinois, is a small place on an out-of-the-way bend in the Mississippi River. It rates a footnote in American history because for about four years in the mid-1800s it seemed a safe haven for persecuted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Mormons.

But suddenly Nauvoo is relevant again because we in America still have not learned lessons that should have been learned there in the 1840s.

Mormons had been driven from Missouri under threat of extermination, in the dead of the winter of 1838-39 with only the clothes on their backs. The mob war against them had been tacitly approved in an extermination order issued by the state’s governor. There had been murders, robberies, rapes, and beatings, including the massacre at Haun’s Mill. No one was spared—not even children. Their leader had been imprisoned on trumped-up charges for which there was no evidence.

Fleeing eastward, they found haven, and sympathetic helpers, in Illinois. They built up the new city of Nauvoo, and members began to gather there. But by 1844 their relationship with neighbors had gone sour again. The reasons were social and political as well as religious. Politicians began to fear the power of Mormons voting as a bloc. Their Christian religious beliefs were unorthodox. Among other things, some of them practiced polygamy, believing they were following a command of God given through a prophet. Much of the information that was circulated about them was false—lies concocted by people who were

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A memorial to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, martyrs for their faith, in front of the Nauvoo LDS Temple.

ignorant of their doctrine but wanted to turn public opinion against them. Their leader, Joseph Smith, was assassinated by a mob.

I have been reading a lot about Nauvoo lately because my wife and I will be spending some time there as missionaries. In a country that proclaims religious freedom, there is plenty of room for differing views on doctrine. Many Christians find reason not to accept LDS doctrine, and I would defend their right to do so. But facts from history leave little room to doubt that what happened to the Mormons of Nauvoo was unjust and criminal.

The federal government failed to protect them and their rights. State governments failed to protect them. They were driven out of the then-United States to the Great Salt Lake Valley. When that territory was annexed by the United States a short time later, the persecution over their beliefs continued until—again by the command of a prophet who received a revelation from God—they abandoned the practice of polygamy. Before that happened, enemies tried to destroy the Church with laws targeting their beliefs (beliefs that seem relatively tame now, in an era when courts are dealing with issues of same-sex marriage and gender by choice).

But all that persecution is past now, right?

Or does some of this sound familiar in light of current events?

Today, we still have religious minorities under attack because their beliefs are different. Demagoguery and unsubstantiated, bigoted rhetoric has given the hate-mongers in our society license to go after people they fear or dislike.

Christians, including Mormons, who hold to the belief that marriage is a sacred relationship between a man and a woman are under attack by those who see themselves as more enlightened and more sensitive to acceptable social norms. Many people cite religious freedom as they reject traditional beliefs about morality, yet they are willing to violate the freedom of others by trying to force them to accept ideas repugnant to their consciences.

People who hate don’t seem to need a reason to attack Judaism, and haters attack Muslims based on half-truths or falsehoods. What little I know of Islam suggests it is a religion of peace whose name has been hijacked by remorseless and sadistic criminals. In any case, barring or booting people from the United States based on the fact that they come from a predominantly Muslim country does not live up to the ideal of religious freedom we hold up for the world. Never mind that Christians are not given tolerant treatment or religious freedom in Muslim countries; this country espouses a higher standard. Let’s live up to it.

An attack on the religious freedom of any minority is an attack on the religious freedom of all of us. We do not have to agree on doctrine to agree that we each deserve the right to worship according to our own faith. Whether we call him God or Heavenly Father, Yahweh or Allah, our obligation of faith and obedience is to Him, and no one should interfere with that so long as our worship does not hurt anyone else.

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The inscription below the tower on the Nauvoo Temple proclaims “Holiness to the Lord.”

One basic Mormon tenet is this: “We claim the privilege of worshipping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith). No one need be a Mormon to accept that this is a fair expectation of religious freedom. I can easily live and work alongside those who believe and worship differently than I. We will no doubt find that we have much more in common than we knew.

So, back to the lessons of Nauvoo. Mormons were victimized, persecuted, and driven out in Missouri, then Illinois ostensibly over religious differences. Has that kind of persecution stopped in this country? No, not for religious minorities whose views are seen as incorrect by self-appointed arbiters of social norms, and not for those who are the targets of hate.

Neither those who hate nor those who impose politically correct theology actually believe in religious freedom. Their view is that it should apply to those who see things their way, or those who share their ethnic heritage or skin color. The haters and the politically correct are often in the same camp. In the name of orthodoxy or racial and ethnic purity, they are willing to forego tolerance. They let themselves believe that people who do not share their philosophy or their heritage don’t deserve or can’t be trusted to handle freedom of choice.

It’s time for those who truly cherish religious freedom to say, “Enough.”

It is long past time for those who say—with fingers crossed—that America stands for religious freedom to act like they really mean it.

It is time for religious freedom without qualifications—without this mental reservation: “if they believe and worship as I do.”

 

 

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.

Charity: An Opportunity Missed

20-billMy wife and I were out for our morning walk on a cold December morning. We were busy talking about our plans for family holiday activities when we met part of a small family coming toward us—a woman and two children.

The woman was African—or at least the bright dress she wore, with no coat, seemed African. The children, a girl of about nine and a boy of about six or seven, wore thin jackets. The girl had outsize shoes that looked like they could have been her mother’s, or perhaps something from a thrift store rack. My mind registered the mother and children as perhaps recently arrived refugees. I hoped they had a secure place to settle in.

We were several seconds past them when a voice whispered in my mind, “She could have used that $20 bill you’re carrying in your pocket. You were looking for a way to donate to charity.”

I looked over my shoulder but could not see them. Which way had they gone? Around the corner to the store we just came from? Down a side street? Into one of the houses along here? No, probably not that.

Why am I so slow to see opportunity right in front of me?

What would she have said if I had offered her the money?

Most of us probably walk around every day overlooking opportunities to give and to serve. Often we’re too wrapped up in our own concerns; that is not only usual, but normal for mortals. We have to look outward to discern how others may be in need. The tip-off might not be a frayed old coat. It might be a frayed life, or a threadbare, gloomy outlook. It might be thin, struggling faith.

Maybe it’s too awkward to think of helping; we don’t know how to begin. Maybe “You have a problem and I want to help” could be phrased a bit more diplomatically. “Is there a way I could help you? May I?”

Maybe there’s a risk that helping could get out of control. “If I offer to help, they may take me up on it, and I have so much giong on right now. . . .” If we’re going to say “May I help?” we’d better mean it.

Offering to help might lead to more of a commitment than I expect. “What if $20 isn’t enough? That’s all I have to give right now.” Not so. We can give time, we can share faith in the heavenly proclamation of peace to mankind, and we can share resources. If we don’t have more money to give, perhaps we know someone who does. Or perhaps the time we give could help someone in need find spiritual or temporal aid to take away hopelessness or pain.

A little thought can open our minds to a lot of possibilities.

And what would that woman have said if I had stopped to offer her the $20?

I don’t know. But next time I’m going to find out.