Remembering Allison

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With the strike of an automobile, one year ago today tragedy struck our family. My niece was riding her bicycle with her father and her sister when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. A young man’s failure to brake resulted in a broken body and many broken hearts. It has been a tough year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As I wrote in a past post: “The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.” Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow and suffering and pain. His bruised and broken body can help us overcome the pains in our lives. The sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in this life. We can even find joy amidst the hardship. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

I urge you to read what I wrote last year in response to Allison’s death. During that time our family was surrounded by so much love. The love removed some of the hurt. I also have a series of posts on lessons I have learned from death. These posts were written in 2009, before Allison’s death.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7
  8. Part 8
  9. Part 9
  10. Part 10
We still sorrow for Allison; the separation still hurts. We miss her but we know that she is surrounded by family and peace. We know that through the sealing power of the Priesthood of God she is part of my sister’s family forever. Allison is not forever lost, we will see her again in a glorious and joyful reunion.

Remembering 9/11

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Ten years ago on a bright Utah morning, the weather was cooling down as Fall approached. I woke up early to get ready for a class. It was my first semester back at Brigham Young University after my mission. I had spent the summer working and enjoying time with friends. It was a busy summer; many recently returned missionaries find that they feel like they have to be constantly doing something. This stems from the 60-80 hour work weeks most missionaries have. All this work, 6+ days a week, then we come home and have so little to do, comparatively. In this mindset I had a busy summer and was excited to be back in school in order to continue my education and figure out what I wanted to do in life.

I had two classes on Tuesdays – Introduction to Psychology and History of Civilization. My first class was at 8 AM so I was up early, getting ready for the day. I turned on the television to watch the morning news while I finished preparing for school. CNN had some shocking news. Something – a plane or a missile (reports were unclear at that time) – had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The smoke pouring from the building was shocking. Everyone was in shock. Then, as I was watching, a plane hit the second tower. Shortly later, the towers collapsed. We know the rest of the story.

I attended both of my classes that day. I think one of my classes was cancelled after we got there but I have notes from my psychology class. I watched the news coverage. Everyone was in shock. I read news stories online and saw additional photos and videos of the events of that tragic day. But I do not have a lot of specific memories other than that. I had never been to New York City. I did not know anyone from New York or who had a personal connection with someone who lost a life in the attacks. I was only weeks into a new semester after a two year break from school. I was living in a new place with new roommates. There was so much going on that I do not remember a lot from that time. I say this not as an excuse or to lessen the events of the day; I say this because there are so many more people who were affected much more than I was. My country had been attacked; my fellow Americans had been attacked but many people lost loved ones in the attacks. Many people were there to see the devastation in person. The effects on me were circumstantial but still vivid. It’s difficult to imagine what it would have been like – and what it still is like – for those directly affected by the attacks.

What I do remember is how our nation – the United States of America – came together; we united as people, we united as states, we united as a nation under the banner of stripes and stars and under to banner of freedom. We united across faiths and ethnicities. We united as one. This has been the foundation of our nation for many years – e pluribus unum – out of many, one. We stand united, we fall divided. Unity is something desired by the followers of God. Jesus prayed in His great intercessory prayer (see John 17) that He and we might be one with His Father.

It was as a united people that we banded together in prayer and service. Many people answered that horrific act of hate and violence at the hands of wicked men with acts of love and compassion. There were firm responses – tyranny does not understand love and does not respond to charity. But as a nation, our love for one another burned brighter and with more clarity in the days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Our hearts turned to family and friends. Our hearts turned to strangers. Good Samaritans shared of their oil of life, their means, and of their love with those in need.

Shortly after the events of 9/11, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley talked at General Conference. I’ll quote from his address.

“You are acutely aware of the events of September 11, less than a month ago. Out of that vicious and ugly attack we are plunged into a state of war. It is the first war of the 21st century. The last century has been described as the most war-torn in human history. Now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know. For the first time since we became a nation, the United States has been seriously attacked on its mainland soil. But this was not an attack on the United States alone. It was an attack on men and nations of goodwill everywhere. It was well planned, boldly executed, and the results were disastrous. It is estimated that more than 5,000 innocent people died. Among these were many from other nations. It was cruel and cunning, an act of consummate evil.

Recently, in company with a few national religious leaders, I was invited to the White House to meet with the president. In talking to us he was frank and straightforward.

That same evening he spoke to the Congress and the nation in unmistakable language concerning the resolve of America and its friends to hunt down the terrorists who were responsible for the planning of this terrible thing and any who harbored such.

Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation. The terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions. This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim. I am pleased that food is being dropped to the hungry people of a targeted nation. We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer. I ask particularly that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent. Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.

We of this Church know something of such groups. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Gadianton robbers, a vicious, oath-bound, and secret organization bent on evil and destruction. In their day they did all in their power, by whatever means available, to bring down the Church, to woo the people with sophistry, and to take control of the society. We see the same thing in the present situation.

We are people of peace. We are followers of the Christ who was and is the Prince of Peace. But there are times when we must stand up for right and decency, for freedom and civilization, just as Moroni rallied his people in his day to the defense of their wives, their children, and the cause of liberty (see Alma 48:10).

Great are the promises concerning this land of America. We are told unequivocally that it “is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). This is the crux of the entire matter—obedience to the commandments of God.

The Constitution under which we live, and which has not only blessed us but has become a model for other constitutions, is our God-inspired national safeguard ensuring freedom and liberty, justice and equality before the law.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets which we have had constantly before us.

From the day of Cain to the present, the adversary has been the great mastermind of the terrible conflicts that have brought so much suffering.

Treachery and terrorism began with him. And they will continue until the Son of God returns to rule and reign with peace and righteousness among the sons and daughters of God.

Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.

May the God of heaven, the Almighty, bless us, help us, as we walk our various ways in the uncertain days that lie ahead. May we look to Him with unfailing faith. May we worthily place our reliance on His Beloved Son who is our great Redeemer, whether it be in life or in death, is my prayer in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Ten years have passed since that fateful day. Some people have turned to God. Others have cursed God and turned away from Him. The unity and love was short-lived. We are once again a nation that is divided. Lasting love and peace will not be obtained separately from God. He is the source of goodness and love. He is our solace and our song in the fearful night. May we as a nation and a world turn towards God. We must build our foundations upon Him and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ:

“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12).

We live in a tumultuous time. As we turn toward God and Christ, we will find peace amidst the storms of life. That is one of the great miracles in life – that we can find solace when our world is crashing down around us. Christ’s Atonement does not prevent the hurt or heartache but it does provide the help and healing. The Atonement of Christ is where we as a nation and a world will find peace over the events of that tragic day ten years ago.

The Path To Christ

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The apostle Peter provided a blueprint of a holy house, a house wherein those who dwell become more like Christ.

“And beside this [giving up our sinful ways], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

First, we need to act with diligence. We need to cease our sinning and follow the teachings and commandments of Christ. This takes tenacity and perseverance. As we start to follow the teachings of Christ and His prophets, we are blessed with faith.

Faith is just a start though. We need to add virtue to our faith. Virtue is goodness, it is chastity. It is being morally clean, in all the meanings of the word moral. Once we are filled with virtue we can gain knowledge (virtue could also be understood as priesthood power but that is not true to the underlying Greek {virtue in this verse is from the Greek areth meaning valor}; see Luke 8:46 {virtue in this verse comes from the Greek dunamin meaning power}).

So first faith, then virtue, then knowledge. Why is this order important? Nephi provides an answer: “O that cunning plan of the evil one [notice that Satan has a plan just as Father has one]! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28). Without a foundation of faith and virtue (i.e., goodness, or even valor in living Truth), knowledge has a way of fostering pride; then knowledge profits nothing.

Diligence –> Faith –> Virtue –> Knowledge –> Temperance. Temperance is control, it is restraint. It is power over our appetites, passions, and desires. I think this is a natural progression from knowledge, even if it is not practiced as much as it should be practiced. We learn and grow and learn the value of moderation. Temperance is also important with knowledge because knowledge is power and without a virtuous foundation and without temperance, it can be easy to abuse knowledge. Part of learning temperance is learning self-restraint. Within the LDS Church we have Fast Sundays where part of our practice is to gain control over our appetites. We also are taught and given other reminders to be temperate in our physical appetites and passions.

To temperance we add patience. We can be patient in the midst of afflictions; we can be patient towards others; we can be patient in living our lives in the hope of Christ’s promised blessings. I’ve found that life flows more smoothly with patience.

Next, we add to patience, godliness. Godliness means having the characteristics and qualities of God, particularly, holiness. Holiness means that we consecrate all we have to God and to His work. It means that we rise above the sins of the world living sanctified lives. It means, for Latter-day Saints, attending the temple and remaining true to the covenants we make there.

Now, all the Christian characteristics so far have largely been focused on the self. That’s not what the gospel is about though; that’s not what being a disciple of Christ means. To truly be like Christ, we have to serve others. In order to serve others as Christ did, we need to develop brotherly kindness. We have to recognize that each individual is a child of God. That’s not just a nice phrase of hyperbole, it’s a phrase of literal truth. We are all children of God and should treat one another as such. If we are godly, we can develop a true brotherly kindness and strive to do good to all others, even those who do evil to us.

Lastly: Diligence –> Faith –> Virtue –> Knowledge –> Temperance –> Patience –> Godliness –> Brotherly Kindness –> Charity. The chief virtue is charity. This is the pure love of Christ: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47). Charity is without end, it will endure forever. Charity is much more than helping others, it is more than treating others well, it is a pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God.

Peter lays out a clear path to Christ. The foundation is built on keeping His commandments and receiving His ordinances. As we are diligent in following the Savior, we can become more like Him, even becoming filled with charity. We will be able to bless the lives of those around us and have a desire to bless the whole world.

Keeping Our Brothers

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John Greenwood was a fifer in the Continental Army who was called to carry a musket during the assault on Trenton, NJ. On Christmas night the American army crossed over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment during the Revolutionary War and American history. Crossing over the Delaware was an all-night matter. It was an adversity of great proportions. There was severe winter weather that night and into the morning. It made the crossing more treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. After the troops made it across, it was so cold that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death during a break. John Greenwood, during one such break wanted to just go to sleep. The numbing cold whispered to all to rest and succumb to its frozen embrace. To John, the seductive voice of the cold was enticing. He was resting and wanted nothing more than to sleep; he did not even care if it was an eternal sleep. John was saved only when a sergeant roused him and got him going. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after the lost sheep, John’s life would most likely have been lost.

This story exemplifies the stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. In other ways all have stewardship over others. Cain asked a simple question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was not honest nor was it out of concern for his brother, who he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask in honesty. Are we our brothers’ keepers? The Savior answered a similar question with a parable. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus said:

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.

How we treat others is important. The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he didn’t. He took care of him who was injured and saved his life, just as that sergeant had done for John Greenwood in Washington’s army. We need to love others and watch over our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. We might just save their lives, physically or spiritually.

Human Anguish and Divine Love

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Truman Madsen gave a talk entitled Human Anguish and Divine Love as part of his Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights lecture series. In this talk he covered the age-old question of “Why do we suffer?” What follows is a partial transcript of his talk.

“[The book of Job] speaks of a man who had not been unrighteous in any way and yet loses everything; his flocks and herds, his family, and finally his health – and is covered with boils. His comforters come, with the presupposition that there is no other explanation [for suffering] except sin, and ask him, ‘Alright Job. Be honest. Out with it! What have you done wrong?’ And Job replied, “I haven’t done wrong and yet I suffer.” And that’s the dilemma we still face. What about innocent suffering?

“So we go down to the other side of the triangle and ask ‘Well what can we say about the power of God?’ Do we – must we – acknowledge that God does not have all power? And therefore, that some evils are irremediable? Now I enter at least hip deep into deep water, which is in some ways unique to us [Latter-day Saints], to our tradition. See, it isn’t sufficient to ask, ‘Could God have prevented the blindness that afflicts that newborn child?’ ‘Could God have healed such and such a person who was born without a spine?’ ‘Could God reverse the ravages of disease in those who are suffering from all these forms of terminal cancer?’ Of course He has the power to do those things! Then, why doesn’t He? Ah, because we don’t ask the right question, which is, ‘Can He do compossible things? Can He achieve the purposes of mortality in our lives and at the same time eradicate all suffering and evil?’ And the answer is, ‘No, He cannot.’ When the famous dam broke up north in Idaho. An earthen dam first cracked and then broke. Then a huge wave of swirling water swept down and in that incredible turmoil destroyed houses, barns, drowned cattle and some human beings. When it’s all over and people go back and find just a chimney left or a frame, they sit down and ask the hardest question, and it’s not academic, ‘Why us? Why did this happen to us?’

“Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Boyd K. Packer went up and held a meeting with these people who literally had been wiped out. Brother Packer’s reported to have said something like this, ‘You have been asking the question, ‘Why us?’ Well I’ve come to tell you.’ By the way they [those affected] had said the things most of us would have said, ‘Well, I’ve tried to live a good life, I certainly have faith in the purposes of the Lord, and etcetera.’ ‘I’ve come to tell you the answer,’ said Brother Packer, ‘It happened to you because the dam broke.’ Now you may consider that a fairly superficial answer but he was saying something really quite profound. We elected – you and I, and that’s a unique view [to Mormons] – we elected, prepared for, even were trained for the experiences of mortality. And we knew very well as best we could as mere spectators – and now we are participants – we knew very well it would involve the kinds of things we face every day including sacrifice, suffering, service.

“If the question then is raised, ‘God, why did You get me into this?’ The Mormon answer is, ‘Why did you get you into this?’ You elected and we are told we shouted for joy at the prospect. Imagine that! Shouting for joy! But couldn’t God being all powerful have arranged a plan of redemption that would enable us to become what we really have it in us to become without going through such a struggle? And the Mormon answer to that is, ‘No, He couldn’t!’ To achieve the growth and the overcoming that are essential to a condition like unto His, we have to submit to the operation. I repeat, our understanding is: God Himself is powerless to get us to total fulfillment except through the operation we call mortality. And that involves freedom, and much of the evil of the world derives from freedom, but not all of it. And furthermore, apparently in the spiritual world, we faced the same realities we do in the physical; namely, suppose you want muscle. You want to develop strength. You’re too young to have known the ads that used to appear, not just in the sports and athletic magazines but in others. Uh, it was always a picture of Charles Atlas. Charles Atlas, uh, with his barrel chest, flexing the biceps. And underneath it said, ‘I was – stress was – a 98 pound weakling.’ Well, that got your attention if you were like myself, a 45 pound weakling. And you see his fine physique. And so he had a course called Dynamic Tension. Well, imagine writing to Charles Atlas and saying, ‘Send me the equipment.’ And then 6 months later writing, ‘Dear Charles, I am returning your equipment and there has been no change but please send muscles.’ Can you put muscles in boxes?

“The U.S. Army tried during the period of the Second World War to find a way of quickly enhancing muscle and strength without exercise. Maybe we can do it with pills. Maybe we can do it with nutrition. Maybe we can do it with sun lamps, but somehow we’ve got to build an army and we haven’t got time to go through all these logistics of exercise. Well, they failed. The only way you can develop muscle is stress. And apparently, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain. No woman has ever given birth to a child, I submit, without some pain. We call them labor pains. My suspicion is that all the books on painless childbirth have indeed been written by men. Jesus takes that exact simile and says, ‘When a woman is taken in labor and travail, she hath sorrow because her hour is come.’ He said again and again in His life, ‘Mine hour has not yet come’ but then it did come.

“The sequel to the verse is, ‘But when she is delivered of a child she hath great joy because a son is born into the world.’ Strange thing to call up a woman who is 8 months pregnant as I did once and said, ‘Uh, any labor pains yet?’ She said, ‘No, darn it!’ Here’s a woman who wants to have the pains. Why? Because beyond them is deliverance and not only that – new life! That’s exactly the analogy of the purposes of mortality and Jesus talks about our being reborn. Who paid the price and went through the labor pains so we could be reborn? He did!

“I turn to a related point that I suppose no one else in the philosophical and religious world would affirm. You remember the story of the three Nephites who, having known great frustration and failure earlier in their attempts to bring others to meaningful lives, now yearn to stay, to endure further and longer in the world in order to help. There’s something like that, by the way, in the Buddhistic notion of the bodhisattva, the fully enlightened one, who has now the right and the power, if you will, to enter into the condition of Nirvana but deliberately chooses to stay behind and help others, thus to postpone his own fulfillment. That is a Christian motif. Three Nephites ask and receive. The key line in our context is, we are told that they will be spared – by some sort of transformation – any more of the pains of mortality with one exception: they would still have sorrow for the sins of the world. And we read later, so they did.

“Well, you can take another approach. You can argue – some have – that the whole point of life is to become indifferent to the condition of others. Don’t get involved. Do not think about, do not witness. Build as it were a moat around yourself and care only for your own ataraxia, which means a kind of calm resignation. That’s avoidance! And you can make a life. But what happens, really in the end? Well, I’m suggesting to you to consider that perhaps contrary to the standard view, which is when Jesus said on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ And that meant that forever His suffering was over; contrary to that notion the pronoun ‘it’ referred to His submission to death and the end of His mortal sojourn but even as a resurrected and glorified Being in the image of His Father, He is still super-sensitive to the sins of this world! And is still sorrowed and is still capable, as is the Father, of weeping when His children deliberately, sometimes ignorantly, but always tragically run away from Him instead of toward Him. Even now His sorrow is in some respects greater, precisely because He paid the infinite price to enable us to avoid needless suffering. There is needless suffering as well as suffering. That is a solemn thought and yet there is such a thing as pure joy even in the midst of affliction. And that leads me to my last two points.

“There is a movement in our time, I’ve referred to it twice before, known as Existentialism. The term is hard to pronounce. But what is held by all of them together is a negative assessment of life to the point of maintaining that it is finally absurd. So you have the phrase of Sartre: life is a useless passion. You have the expression of Camus who reviews all of the ills of life and then concludes, there is only one problem: suicide. You have the view expressed by Heidegger, whatever we then do in our life, in his view, is authentic, otherwise merely superficial, temporary, and fleeting. As Søren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher and theologian was for most of his life unhappy, as he made clear in his writings. But ended by saying that all this is necessary; somehow, he wants to hold onto something of the Christian message. It’s as if you become most free, and for him, redeemed only when you acknowledge that there is nothing! That everything is absurd and then somehow you accept Christ. Well I submit that in some ways that’s exactly upside down. It is only, ultimately through Christ that we find and hold on to meaning. Not only in life but in death.

“To dwell on, to exaggerate suffering to the point of holding that life is meaningless – you see if it is, if it is totally absurd, I just point out in passing, if it is totally absurd then it cannot be meaningful to say so. And by the way, existentialists usually look pretty happy when they get literary prizes. Celebrating despair becomes heroism – passes for, at last, complete honesty and I suggest to you, on the contrary, it is the most sophisticated form of cowardice. That it is the hallucination of sick minds, and therefore Freud and Marx both had it exactly backwards. The healthy-minded sees for health what the sick cannot see at all. And the sick are incapable at this point of seeing meaning.

“Excuse me but there’s another phrase from Herman Wouk that haunts me. He observes that, ‘Many say that life is not worth living and many say that they would much rather die than be crippled or have a long stay in the hospital’ but Wouk’s point is that we notice that most of them still hold on after they’ve said that; not all, but most. In a wheelchair a dear friend of mine is coming down the hall of the hospital, troubled that she’s had to spend a week in the hospital. And then she, uh, out of the corner of her eye sees a women in bed; her hands are not exactly folded because she has crippling arthritis. She stops, rolls in, notices something about the woman’s face – serenity, calmness, even beauty. ‘How long,’ she asks, ‘have you had crippling arthritis?’ ’25 years.’ ‘How long have you been in this condition, in the hospital?’ ’12 years.’ ‘How can you stand it?’ She had faith and she had found meaning.

“I have here the handwritten note of one of the finest philosophers of our time, Prof. John Cobb, Jr. I have a P.S. to a letter after he and I together wrote an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I say to him, ‘Is not the Atonement of Jesus Christ the most acute and sensitive problem of theodicy? Here, meaning in Christ’s life, innocence is subjected to incomparable suffering. In your own heart-thinking, how is this reconciled with a God who, if He has all power could surely have coped in another way, sparing His Son and/or Himself?’ And in his own pen he writes, ‘My heart-think is, that God does not have all power. John.’ That’s also the Mormon view. He has all the power it’s possible to have in a universe that self-exists and amidst intelligences that are free. The minute you acknowledge that Man is free, you have to say that evil is possible. And the minute you observe around you the use of freedom, you have to say, it is actual. But now to Brother Brigham.

“This is the year we have talked a great deal about the plains. Here are two glimpses that have not only impressed me but shaken me, deeply. Brigham said, he’s looking back, this is 1860, so not yet 2 decades being in the valley. Said, ‘The sufferings of the wicked in crossing the plains have been far more severe than what had been endured of the Saints of the Most High. And when we talk of the difference in regard to the pangs of death, there is no comparison.’ Stegner observes, in comparing the Mormons who faced ever West, who sometimes had their hands frozen to the crossbar of the handcarts, who some of them died in each other’s arms, were not the same as the Donner party, who facing mountains of snow at Donner Pass finally lapsed into cannibalism. The sufferings of the wicked, he [Bro. Brigham] says, were much greater than the sufferings of the Saints. Why? Well, he then says, ‘In speaking of the paths of the righteous and the wicked, in the right hand there is joy, peace, comfort, light, and life while in the left hand there is nothing but darkness, misery, sorrow, and death. And while it is joy and peace to be a servant of God, it is sorrow and affliction to be wicked.’

“Another quote, ‘The faith I have embraced has given me light for darkness, ease for pain.’ He doesn’t say total removal. ‘Joy and gladness, for sorrow and mourning. Certainty for uncertainty, hope for despair. We talk about having grace to endure and we pray, ‘Oh, Lord. Give me grace to endure the pains I receive in this thorny path.” William Clayton’s phrase, remember? ‘Grace shall be as your day.’ Enough, each day! ‘This thorny path, which leads to heaven. Help me endure the scoffs and snares of the unfriendly world that I may bear the name of Jesus honorably while I live. It is right to pray for grace. But let me shape this prayer a little differently and ask God, my Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ to open the eyes of my understanding and teach me the truth as it is. Then I shall see that I am walking in the light and not in the darkness.’ Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, ‘I am the Light of the World. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ The true people of God are far removed from that pain, which the sinner and ungodly constantly endure.’

“There was a moment when the 3rd company west, in 1847, led by Jedediah M. Grant, had first lost nearly 30 of their horses and cattle to an Indian raid and then comes the returning company of Brigham Young from the valley going back to Winter Quarters. And they learn from first-hand witnesses that there is a valley, and you’re getting close, and we’ve started to build our city, and it’s beautiful, and they rejoice! In their very rejoicing they let down their guard and Indians raid and 40 more of their horses and teams are driven off. They spend a day and travel 30 miles to try to recover them. They fail. And then it’s very clear to Brigham, that the only way Jedediah’s company is going to reach the valley is if they, every one of his party, surrender their animals. And so he stands up on a wagon and in his own account says, ‘I didn’t look at their faces. I said, ‘Brethren, give all of your horses to Jedediah Grant’s company.” And I remind you that we are only about 900 miles at that point from Winter Quarters, while shows he also a sense of humor, he says, ‘At 9 o’clock, we saw Jedediah’s hundred’ – and it wasn’t just a hundred bodies, it was a hundred, including families – ‘we saw them heading for the valley. And then I invited my brethren to take a walk with me to Winter Quarters.’ This is the same man that Elder Neal Maxwell’s quoted to whit, ‘I say God is the author of life and of all joy and comfort. He is the author of all intelligence and of all good to us. Then become satisfied to obey Him. Seek to get more and more of His nature and learn more of Him. This will give us greater sensibility and we shall know how to enjoy and how to endure. I say, if you want to enjoy exquisitely, become a Latter-day Saint! And then live the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The man or woman who will do this will enjoy and endure most. And if they will be humble and faithful, they will enjoy the glory and the excellency of the power of God and be prepared to live with gods and with angels.’

I bear my witness that evil is real. I bear my witness that God is good. I bear my witness that He does all within His power to enable us to avoid needless suffering. And finally, I bear my witness that He will be with us as our companion in the suffering of which, in the fulfillment of our missions, is unavoidable.”

I transcribed this portion of Truman Madsen’s talk – it’s only about half of it – because he said much about why God allows us to suffer. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do people die prematurely? Why is there so much suffering? It’s because there is freedom. I should also add that perhaps, we are not as good as we might think we are. Is there really any good but God? [Yes, but we are not good apart from God]. We have agency, we can do what we want to do. God allows it because He has to. There is no other way for us to grow and progress in order to become more like Him. I’ll repeat the key line: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain.” That doesn’t mean we should seek out distress and pain, it just means that we should persevere through the pain and distress, knowing that God is good, knowing that some day, like a mother in labor, we will be delivered and experience a rebirth into a glorious world of light and peace. Peace amid suffering comes from faith in God and in His purposes. Strength of character comes from resisting the distress and pain – not necessarily fighting it but in not letting it take over our lives. Just like lifting weights. The strength comes from the resistance, not from giving in.

Suffering is very real but we need not despair. We can have faith and hope in Christ. That – He – is our salvation! He is what gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. That is what the Existentialists have correct – life would be meaningless without, and this is key, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But Christ did atone for our sins and sorrows and sicknesses. We all will overcome death and can overcome Hell. Thus, life is not meaningless. All suffering can have purpose and meaning. If we can find the meaning in suffering, then it has a purpose. If we do not find meaning in our suffering, but instead let it overwhelm us and cause us to despair, then it is needless suffering. Suffering caused by sin is also needless but it happens. It is up to us to try to make the best situation we can wherever we are. That’s not easy but prayer, righteousness, and faith in Jesus Christ will give us the strength we need to overcome all trials and sorrows. The light will come; it always comes to those with faith and with endurance.

Investing in the Church

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Why do some within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not become fully invested in the Church? I believe it’s for the same reason some who are not members of the Church do not give the Church an honest look.

In the early days after the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church members passed through a lot of adversity and persecution. I’ve watched the Church’s film Joseph Smith The Prophet of the Restoration, which is included on the new Doctrine and Covenants Visual Resource DVDs (as an aside: these are a fabulous resource, especially for only $4.50 US. Disc 3 includes 5 movies: the Joseph Smith one and others, including Treasure in Heaven, which is about my 4th great grandfather). Anyway, in watching this film now a few times, it’s remarkable how much the early church members passed through. There’s always something about seeing events dramatized that lends extra power to them. All of the events in the film should be reasonably familiar to church members who have at least a passing exposure to early church history but again, their dramatization helps make the experiences more real. In the film you see an endless stream of adversity that Joseph Smith had to swim through. At one point he comments to his wife Emma that maybe he was just made for adversity and that it is better to swim in deep waters than in shallow waters. For the faithful (and there have been few as faithful as Joseph Smith), adversity is a refiner’s fire that leads to purity.

In another of the films included on that DVD set, John R. Moyle suffers what most would consider severe adversity but is faithful unto the Lord. His story has been told in General Conference a number of times. One of my favorite tellings was by Elder Holland during the April 2000 General Conference. His talk was called As Doves to our Windows. I’ll quote his story directly:

“John R. Moyle lived in Alpine, Utah, about 22 miles as the crow flies to the Salt Lake Temple, where he was the chief superintendent of masonry during its construction. To make certain he was always at work by 8 o’clock, Brother Moyle would start walking about 2 A.M. on Monday mornings. He would finish his work week at 5 P.M. on Friday and then start the walk home, arriving there shortly before midnight. Each week he would repeat that schedule for the entire time he served on the construction of the temple.

“Once when he was home on the weekend, one of his cows bolted during milking and kicked Brother Moyle in the leg, shattering the bone just below the knee. With no better medical help than they had in such rural circumstances, his family and friends took a door off the hinges and strapped him onto that makeshift operating table. They then took the bucksaw they had been using to cut branches from a nearby tree and amputated his leg just a few inches below the knee. When against all medical likelihood the leg finally started to heal, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved an artificial leg. First he walked in the house. Then he walked around the yard. Finally he ventured out about his property. When he felt he could stand the pain, he strapped on his leg, walked the 22 miles to the Salt Lake Temple, climbed the scaffolding, and with a chisel in his hand hammered out the declaration ‘Holiness to the Lord.'”

In the film version of John R. Moyle’s story, John tells his wife when she balks at him going to work on the temple after his accident saying in effect, “You’re only a stonecutter, surely there are other people who can do the work.” He replied (again, I’m paraphrasing), “We knew that this would require sacrifice; I don’t recall ever being released from my calling to go work on the temple.” What great faith! John R. Moyle understood the commitment the work of the Lord requires.

So now to answer my question about why some people do not become fully invested in the Church (or do not honestly investigate it). It’s because of fear; fear of what the work entails; fear of what conversion means. Yes, church members do attend a lot of church. That is precisely what some people are not willing to commit to. That is their fear – that they will have to give up so much time or give up so many “freedoms” to be church members. It’s as if living the gospel is so inconvenient that it takes away all of the “me time” of church members. Yes, there are some callings that require a lot of extra effort but we are so involved because we have faith in Jesus Christ and in His restored Church. We love God and others and want to serve them. People fear responsibility and being asked to do things that they are not comfortable doing. Most of all I think some people are just afraid of the Truth. Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church, being a member of it requires commitment and consecration. It does mean giving up some things but with the promise of greater things in return. When we invest in the Lord’s church we have eternal returns.

Elder Holland’s General Conference Address

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I have a confession to make. I missed almost all of General Conference because I was at a research conference on Saturday and on my way to another research conference on Sunday. So, last week was a conference weekend for me, it just wasn’t Conference weekend. What I am grateful for is the opportunity I have to listen, read, or watch all the talks from General Conference online or on my iPod. I can (and do) listen to Conference talks while walking from my car to my lab. I can use that time to soak in the words of prophets and apostles, thanks to terrific technologies.

In this strain of gratitude, I would like to post the video of Elder Holland’s talk, as well as a few quotations from his talk. Here is the video:

To those in the church who might feel as if their contributions have been small or insignificant, Elder Holland offers these words with all the sincerity of his heart: “And to the near-perfect elderly sister who almost apologetically whispered recently, ‘I have never been a leader of anything in the Church. I guess I’ve only been a helper,’ I say, ‘Dear sister, God bless you and all the ‘helpers’ in the kingdom.’ Some of us who are leaders hope someday to have the standing before God that you have already attained.” (Source).

We are all important members of God’s family and are loved by Him and by so many others. Elder Holland said, “In whatever country you live, however young or inadequate you feel, or however aged or limited you see yourself as being, I testify you are individually loved of God, you are central to the meaning of His work, and you are cherished and prayed for by the presiding officers of His Church. The personal value, the sacred splendor of every one of you, is the very reason there is a plan for salvation and exaltation.”

I hope that we might all read, watch, listen to, re-read, re-watch, or listen again to Elder Holland’s message. His message was more than a jaunty pep-talk or a bit of positive psychological prose, Elder Holland spoke of and exhibited the pure love Christ. God loves each of us, in spite of our many imperfections. This does not mean that we are free to sin without consequence but God does love each of us.

Forgiveness – What It’s All About

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The LDS Church recently released a video that perfectly summarizes what the Church is all about:

That is what it means to be a Mormon – that is what it means to be Christian.

Another video that explains what “Mormonism” is all about is this one on the new Mormon.org website: http://mormon.org/me/1MQC-eng

That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can learn and spout of theology and scriptures all day but without repentance and forgiveness – without the Atonement, the grace, of Jesus Christ – our religion and our lives would mean very little. Those two videos demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ working in people’s lives.

Oh Be Joyful!

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I spoke on the phone the other day with one of my best friends. Ben and I have known each other for almost 20 years now. We went to Jr. High and High school together. We were roommates at BYU our freshman year. We were in the MTC (Missionary Training Center) together and returned home from our missions at almost the same time. Ben and I think much alike. We’ve always just clicked with one another. Even though our paths wind through separate valleys I feel that our friendship enjoys a quality that neither time nor distance can dim. Ours is a friendship that I believe started in the premortal realms and will continue throughout eternity.

Ben entered the MTC before I did but not by too much time. I remember seeing him for the first time in the MTC. I felt so joyous that I felt nearly faint. The emotion was partially our friendship and partially the spirit and atmosphere of the MTC. Those who lived there know what I mean. I had just spent the previous school year living with him and had seen him not too long previously but the atmosphere and spirit of the MTC, for me, made our reunion very sweet. That experience always reminds me of a similar one we read in the Book of Mormon.

“And it came to pass that as Ammon was going forth into the land, that he and his brethren met Alma, over in the place of which has been spoken; and behold, this was a joyful meeting. Now the joy of Ammon was so great even that he was full; yea, he was swallowed up in the joy of his God, even to the exhausting of his strength; and he fell again to the earth. Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness. Now the joy of Alma in meeting his brethren was truly great, and also the joy of Aaron, of Omner, and Himni; but behold their joy was not that to exceed their strength.” (Alma 27:16-19).

The brothers four, sons of King Mosiah, returned home from 14 year missions only to run into their good friend Alma. Ammon was so overjoyed that he fainted. Maybe he just fainted easily but Ammon was very happy to see his friend Alma. He was full of the joy that only the “truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness” enjoys. This is not a momentary happiness, a spark of pleasure, it is an eternal joy that can only fill the humble followers of Christ. I like the particular phrase used in the scriptures – the “humble seeker of happiness.” This is the happiness of which the wicked know nothing. It is a joy that I think few of use experience very often in mortal life. Temple marriage, births of children, service, and reunions with loved ones can elicit such joy but that joy is relatively rare.

I look forward to the eternal day when such bliss and joy will ever surround us. I am grateful that we are allowed to taste such felicity in this life even if it is brief. I pray that we might be filled with the radiant joy Ammon felt as a missionary and in his reunion with his dear friend. Ammon was one filled with joy. At one point his brother expressed some concern over Ammon’s expressions of joy: “His brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting. But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God…. Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” (Alma 26:10-11,16).

It is in and through Christ that we can be filled with such sparkling joy.

“O Be Joyful In The Lord All Ye Lands
Serve the Lord with Gladness
And come before His presence with a song
Be Ye sure that the Lord He is God
It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves
We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture
O go your way into His gates with Thanksgiving
And into his courts with praise!
Be thankful unto Him
And speak good of His name
For the Lord is gracious
His mercy is everlasting
And His truth endureth
From generation to generation…
O be joyful in the Lord all Ye lands
Glory be to the Father
Glory be to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World Without End!” (Text based in part on Psalm 100; text from here).

I am grateful for good friends, like Ben, who help bring joy into my life. I am grateful for a wonderful family who are for me pure happiness. I am mostly grateful to my God and to my Savior Jesus Christ for the Heavenly joy they provide in this life and who promise us a fullness of joy in the next life.