Saturday, October 27, 2007

Learning from the Anti-Nephi-Lehis

I am struck by something about the Anti-Nephi-Lehis - something that usually gets overlooked as we focus on the "obvious" moral of the story - a secondary one, in my opinion.

All of us are familiar with the highlights of the story of these people and their sons - the Sons of Helaman - the 2000 Stripling Warriors. We know of how wicked they were, of how they buried their weapons of war, of how many of them were killed by their brethren, of how they vowed to kill no more, of how the Nephites sheltered them so they could keep that vow, of how their sons honored them by fighting for them, of how their sons' dedication and diligence preserved them in war as others died around them. What we rarely understand fully is *why* the original group (the parents of the Stripling Warriors) were so blessed.

We know they chose to die rather than to kill, but we often overlook the fact that it wasn't their pacifism toward their fellow man that saved them. That pacifism actually killed many of them - while their sons' lack of pacifism did not result in their deaths. The mortal results differed between the generations, but the spiritual result was the same.

Alma 23:7 says, "For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren."

I believe that the key to this story is not their eventual pacifism toward their fellow man, but rather their initial, fundamental pacifism toward God. In other words, they were blessed because they stopped fighting God - they laid down "the weapons of their rebellion" and were saved spiritually because of that submission, no matter their physical fate when they then laid down their weapons of war.

How often do we think of repentance as "laying down the weapons of our own rebellion"? How often do we think of the process of repentance as a substitution of those weapons we use to protect our own "natural (wo)man"? How often do we think of repentance as a proactive, positive process of progress and character acquisition, rather than a process centered on shame? How often do we see it as an opportunity to obtain a blessed state, rather than of being compelled to go through a refiner's fire?

I believe the glory of the Atonement is that Jesus, the Redeemer, has paid for our sins and transgressions and weaknesses and shortcomings already - He has bought us already - if we simply are willing to lay down the weapons of our own individual rebellions and join Him in His yoked journey. I believe He has "forgotten" the life we leave behind when we "lay down our lives for our friends" - and I believe it is only by forgetting about the natural tendency to focus on our own lives (and focusing instead on trying to grow and help improve others' lives) that we are able to bury and walk away from our former weapons of rebellion.

In summary, if you feel tired of fighting (yourself and others), stop. Just stop. Accept your weakness, even as you strive to improve and become strong; accept your inadequacy, even as you strive to become an instrument in His hands; accept that the Atonement has paid for you, even as you strive to show your appreciation for that purchase; accept the grace that so fully He offers you, even as you use that grace to be free to pursue becoming like He is; focus on growing and changing and serving others.

He fought your fundamental fight already, so quit fighting and simply endure to the end just like the Anti-Nephi-Lehis did - whether that end is pacifist or battle-tested or somewhere in between. Feel whatever you believe God wants YOU to do, then do it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This is the first thing I posted when I created this blog. Now that a few people actually are reading this blog, I decided to repost it for you.

This is as profound as anything I have ever read - anywhere. Thanks, Margaret, for giving me permission to use it here.

To the Pastor:

By: Margaret Young

You already know basic LDS doctrine - the idea of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And that PBS special gave you glimpses into our homes and our peculiarities, and introduced you to some of the controversies and oxymorons we live with. But I still want to answer your question, What does it mean to be LDS?

My instant answer is that the core of the LDS religion is an eternal view of everything - from before birth to long after death. It is a series of enlarging circles.

I write this from my woman's perspective, and in 2007. Some things may change over the next fifty years, but this is what I have seen and been in my nearly 52 years of life as a Mormon.

As an infant, my parents' firstborn, I was taken in my father's arms and given a name and a blessing. There, I was at the center of a priesthood circle. Other men (probably my uncles, though of course I don't remember), joined Dad as he blessed me. They each put one hand under my little body and one hand on the shoulder of the person standing next to them. They literally and symbolically supported me, and joined their faith with my dad's. This circle - a prayer circle, if you will - is a common one in our community.

Though Dad was in his early twenties when he gave me that first blessing, he had already served a three-year mission for the Church in Finland, during which he anointed the sick and gave other blessings by the laying on of hands and by virtue of the priesthood (usually referred to as the Melchizedek Priesthood, but actually called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God). Dad was never formally trained in this priesthood, but was ordained to various offices in it from the time he was twelve, learning "line upon line, precept upon precept."

I suspect my father was tearful at the miracle of my tiny body, and at the responsibility I introduced. He was a student, pursuing an advanced degree, and Mom was a recent college graduate. Though poor and struggling under the rigors of academia, it was nothing new for Dad to claim priesthood authority as he blessed me, and, knowing Dad, he did this with great faith. I'm sure he blessed Mom before her hard labor began (I have watched him bless her several times before childbirth), and he would continue giving priesthood blessings to me and to my siblings throughout our lives - the most difficult one being at my brother's hospital bedside after we were told he would not survive the injuries he had sustained in an accident. That brother, Dad's namesake (Bobby), lifted his arms as high as he could when Dad walked into the ER room. Bobby was threaded and tubed to monitors and IVs, and being transfused. He said one word: "Hug." And that's it - that's the picture. Dad is maneuvering around the ganglia of wires and tubes to embrace his son, and then to bless him. It's a godly scene. It expresses the image I have of God - a corporeal being who can reach around our mortal mischief and earthbound wiring to embrace us in the fullness of His glory, no matter how damaged we are.

Later, when Dad's pancreas failed, it was Bobby who blessed him. That's the Mormon circle.

Often, at the beginning of a school year or at moments of crisis, a Mormon father will place his hands on the head of his child or of his wife and say the words, "In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, I bless you." He will try to open his soul to whatever words God would have him say. His faith that God can reveal things to him magnifies his sense of a divine and loving Father in Heaven, and also magnifies his love for the one he is blessing. That principle - that everyone can receive revelation, and that everyone can be a priest (and yes, a priestess) - is core to Mormonism.

By the time I was five, I learned the words to the most frequently sung Primary song: "I am a Child of God/ And He has sent me here/ Has given me an earthly home/with parents kind and dear." I grew up understanding before I understood anything else that God was the father of my spirit, and knew who I was, that he knew me by name.

At age eight, I was baptized, and again surrounded by a circle of men and blessed by my father. This time, I was confirmed a member of the Church and instructed to "receive the Holy Ghost."

At age twelve, I began what we now call Young Women's. It has changed somewhat since I entered the program, and I like the changes. Each YW class starts this way: One of the girls stands and asks, "Who will stand for truth and righteousness?" The others then rise and answer, "I will stand for truth and righteousness." Together, they recite, "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places.

Again, that communal circle of commitment, and the individual reiteration of a real and loving God embrace a Mormon's world.

I was still twelve when I got my Patriarchal Blessing, given (as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob blessed their sons) in the spirit of revelation. My grandfather was an ordained Patriarch, so my blessing begins, "Dear grand-daughter, Margaret Jean Blair." Almost all Patriarchal blessings contain yet another message of God's love. Among many other things, my blessing says that because I am the firstborn in my family, I am to "be a guide and to set an example for [my] younger brothers and sisters, even as a star sets the course for the mariner." It also says something which became deeply important during my teenage years: "Know that your parents love you."

When I went to the temple at age twenty-four, I was introduced to other circles and embraces. I began wearing "garments,"– underclothes which remind me daily of the promises I have made to God. I live in a world of symbols and metaphors. I wear them, and I love them. If I could, I would dance the temple rituals with uplifted arms and jubilant music. I would bless and receive blessings; I would praise and thank God with every part of my body.

I became a writer, a historian, a sometimes scholar, and a teacher. But I always understood that my most important roles would be as my husband's wife and my children's mother - just as Bruce's most important roles would be as my husband and as their father.

One of the most beautiful days of my life was when Bruce and I went to the temple with our oldest daughter and watched her marry a good man. Mormon weddings don't have long aisles and cathedral-filling organ chords. In fact, there's no music at all, and we can't see much of the bridal gown, because it is covered by temple robes. In a small room, furnished with a cloth-covered altar and fifty chairs or so, the temple sealer (in this case, my uncle - though it's not usually a family member) gives counsel to the couple, and then instructs the groom to lead his bride to the altar. There, they kneel facing each other, and a sealer binds them together for "time and eternity." It is a holy and quiet ceremony. The coordinated bridesmaid dresses and perfect cake wait until the reception.

After I die, I will be dressed in my temple robes for burial. My daughters will cover my face with my temple veil before the casket is closed. One of my sons will likely dedicate my grave - again in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood. This time, my body will be supported by pall bearers, probably my sons and grandsons. I hope many of my posterity will have served missions by then, and that my sons will have blessed their own babies. I hope I will see it all. I hope I will enjoy one living circle before I am enclosed in the earth: the circle where my husband and I hold a great-grandbaby right before she is given a name and a blessing.

So the core of my Mormon life, Pastor, is Jesus Christ. My life began by being consecrated to Him in the center of that priesthood circle, and it will end with someone dedicating my grave in His name. I hope that His name will also be engraved in the marrow of my bones and in the eternal cells of my immortal soul. I fully believe that He knows me by name, and that my name - with yours and everyone else's - is already engraved in his hands and in his heart.

Friday, October 19, 2007


The post linked below is amazing, especially given how concise it is.

Click here; you will be moved deeply.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Amazing Conversion Stories

I know and respect the people who wrote these stories. Please go to the links below and read them, as well as the comments on them.

Click this link

Now click this one

Now this one

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Feasting with Family

From a friend: "On holidays we make tremendous efforts to return to our parents’ home and join them and the rest of our family in feasting. These are among the most joyous times of our lives. We do the same thing every Sunday, by coming to our Father and partaking of a sacramental meal with Him and those that we love."

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Favorite Quote

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Hugh B. Brown, when he spoke at BYU in 1958. The speech is entitled "The Questing Spirit", and an excerpt is linked with the title. My favorite part of the speech is:

“I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent—if you are informed.

…Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that … in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth—O God of truth deliver us’.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Niece Died This Morning

She was 12 years old, and her death was totally unexpected.

My father called this morning to tell me and my wife that my niece had just died. My sister had taken in three cats very recently, and my niece - a physically healthy young woman - had a severe allergic reaction while playing with them. She passed away before the doctors at the hospital could restart her breathing. (Apparently, I have a nephew and a brother - two different families, as well as one of my own sons - who have had allergic reactions to cats, but they weren’t serious enough to raise concerns among the family.)

My father’s words to us were concise. He is not given to emotional displays, and his natural stoicism was evident in his call. He said two things: “Treasure your children every day of your lives,” and “Keep animals out of your house.” I was struck by how this conversation with my father encapsulated him so perfectly. To understand this, you need to know my father.

My mom has a rare form of schizophrenia. My father was unaware of this, as was everyone else (including my mother), when they got married. He found out after the birth of my sisters (twins), when she was overwhelmed and her mind wouldn’t shut down and allow her to sleep. She had what was termed a nervous breakdown, which led to her clinical diagnosis.

From that moment forward, my dad shielded my mom from every care of the world so her condition would stay in remission, if you will. By all practical measures, he became my father and my mother. My mom wanted more children, so he agreed - knowing that meant his responsibilities would increase accordingly. He shouldered all of the financial, household, emotional, physical, disciplinary, organizational, educational, etc. responsibilities for his family and allowed his wife to be seen by the community as the incredibly spiritual woman we knew as our mother - a modern Mormon saint. People in town admired his work ethic, but they never realized what he was doing behind our doors - because he never once mentioned it in any way to anyone. He didn’t want others to view his wife as anyone other than the sweet angel he had married - to do anything that would lessen her in others’ eyes in a time when mental illness was not understood.

Until her first breakdown, my father served in various leadership positions in the Church. After that, he waited nearly 30 years to serve in another position that required he spend significant time away from home - until his children were gone and my mom could function without the stress associated with raising them. He left an extremely well paying job with incredible advancement opportunities to go back to the small town where my mom was raised, simply to ease her stress and allow her to function normally. He became an elementary school janitor, took a 50% pay cut and focused on loving and serving his kids - both at home and at his school.

Not holding a high profile church position, he came to be known in town as a salt-of-the-earth farm boy - a good man, but certainly not a leader. I bought into that perception until my mother’s second breakdown a few years ago, when her “sleeping pills” stopped working and her whole personality changed. It was only after this experience that I finally saw my father for what he is - as close an example of the Savior’s single-minded dedication to service and family as anyone I have ever known.

Why do I share all of this when it is my niece’s death that rocked our family’s world this morning? It is because my father was able to sum up the situation for his family in such a beautifully concise way. He has a rock-solid testimony of the Plan of Salvation - that he and my sister will see their (grand)daughter again. It is such a given for him that he never even thought to mention it. He knew it; he knew we knew it; it never crossed his mind to address it. Instead, just as he always has, he saw the big picture and acted as both mother and father to his family - giving us two beautifully balanced bits of wisdom - one spiritual that applies to all and one practical that applies directly to his own children. Therefore, I pass them on to you - knowing the second one will have to be adapted to whatever dangers threaten your own children’s well-being - physically or spiritually.

“Treasure your children every day of your life,” and “Keep (serious dangers to your children) out of your house.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Journeying in Joy

One of the reasons I loved my mission so much was that both of my Mission Presidents emphasized what I already believed about the purpose of a mission – both what it means to be a missionary and how that should direct missionary effort.

The foundation: I have believed a basic concept for as long as I can remember thinking about it. I have believed it from a very early age – even before I remember hearing anyone else articulate it. I finally found the perfect, concise expression of it in the following expression: "People do not believe what they see; they see what they believe." (At least, that is how I remember it.)

The missionary application: I approached my mission as an attempt to find people who would accept our version of the Gospel when they heard it (who could catch a glimpse of the vision when it was presented to them) – or, I should say, who would not reject it when they began to hear it and refuse the chance to begin to see it. It wasn't my job to try to convince them intellectually, but rather to touch them spiritually. Some people I met said, upon hearing various things we believe, "That's crazy. You're nuts. Mormonism really is a cult if you can believe that stuff." Some said, "Say what? Whatever. I just don't get it." Others said, "I don't get it, but I’d like to hear more." Finally, a few said, "That's exactly what I've always thought/felt!" Given what little time I had, my job wasn't to convince the first two groups, but rather to find and encourage the latter two groups – to help them feel the motivating influence of the Holy Ghost.

That perspective led me to say, in essence, to everyone, "Follow what you feel – not what you think about it at first. Try it; you'll like it." If someone responded with strong negativity, my response basically was, "OK. I'll find someone else." They almost always spent more time and energy trying to convince me that I was wrong than I did trying to "convert" them. I was looking for a particular type of person - someone who was looking, first and foremost, for joy – either joy they lacked or more joy than they felt at the time. As I had experienced myself, once they found a core Gospel perspective that produced the joy they were seeking, they were able to wrap their minds around the theological and doctrinal details – the other “intellectual” stuff.

The choice: I believe you can tell more about people (both inside and outside the Church) by how they deal with the joy others find outside their own organization (or with differing perspectives that bring joy inside their own organization) than perhaps by any other criterion. One type of person lacks internal joy, constantly finds fault with the joy of others and actively seeks to undercut that joy; another type is secure in his joy and not interested in the differing joy of others; the final type accepts and embraces the idea that others have their own degree of joy - and tries to add to it (and, through it, add to their own joy) whenever possible. I don’t want to argue with the healthy and happy; I want to learn from them. I want to spend just as much of my time administering joy to the sick and searching.

The blogging observation: When I entered the world of blogging, I was struck immediately by two competing forms of discussion: the vast majority of those who participate in the blogs I frequent are sincerely searching for greater understanding and increased joy. Some of them, however, seem to be stuck in a cycle of trying to understand something intellectually before they can accept it spiritually. They seem to be saying, "I will accept this once I can understand it," rather than, "This brings me joy, so I will accept it and do my best to understand it - even if that means my understanding changes periodically, or regularly, or constantly over a long period of time." They say, "My heart wants to accept this, but my mind keeps me from accepting it," rather than, "My heart accepts this, so I will exercise my mind diligently to try to understand what I have accepted - knowing that that process might not end completely in this life, but I will continue to accept it regardless, because it brings me joy."

The personal observation: I am joyful because I have chosen an outlook that brings me joy; I am at peace because I made the conscious choice from among many options. This peace and joy are not primarily intellectual. I still must exercise my mind constantly in order to understand and reconcile the issues with which I am faced daily, and I love to read the nuanced, intelligent and insightful perspectives of others, but I do so from the foundation of belief. I hear someone (anyone - inside or outside the Church) say something, and my first thought is not, “I don’t get it; it must be wrong,” but rather “How can I understand this in a way that is consistent with my understanding of the Gospel – in a way that will add to my joy?” In all seriousness, that approach has not let me down yet - particularly since I am willing to suspend disbelief when I'm not getting anywhere and revisit the issue when my mind has had time to rest and recuperate. Sometimes, what I consider to be a "full" understanding (meaning as close as I believe I will ever get to knowing fully) has taken years to achieve, and there are some questions that still sit on a shelf untouched for a time while I refine my understanding of others. I'm fine with that.

The question: Why is this?

The answer: I know I am able to construct just about any intellectual justification I desire that will warrant just about any theological / philosophical / doctrinal construct I choose to accept. Given my ability to adapt a solid intellectual argument for whatever I desire to believe, I exercise my agency by focusing on what I desire to believe – what my heart and soul tells me it wants to believe - what brings me joy. I consider the options and make my choice. Again, since my brain is capable of justifying whatever choice I make, I pick my course (what kind of life I want to live), then I construct / adopt / assimilate the perspective that I feel will lead best to the end of that course.

The result: The only intellectual restriction I place on my mind is that whatever I devise must be consistent with the over-arching and under-pinning principles I hold central to my understanding of joy - in my terminology, the core principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand them. I have been accused of engaging in mental gymnastics, but I believe life is, in very real and powerful ways, an obstacle course. I believe everyone plays within their own gymnasium or on their own steeple chase course (jumps through their own intellectual hurdles - or stops and refuses to surmount them) in ways that look odd to others whose conclusions are different. I understand completely the concerns others express, but the joy I feel now is my own soul's condition – what my heart/spirit has directed my mind/body to accept. I no longer feel joy; I have it - and it has me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Wonder of Warts

It is a basic medical truism that you cannot be cured of an illness unless you go to a doctor – or someone else who can heal you. In order to be healed, you need to expose the problem that is troubling you to someone who can recognize it and offer assistance that will alleviate your suffering and cure the issue. As my father used to say, “Warts won’t go away unless they are treated.”

In spiritual terms, we accept Jesus as the ultimate healer, but I have come to believe that relatively few members understand fully the promises we make when we agree to take His name upon us. We often translate this as “being Christians,” but “Christ” was only one of his titles - only one of the names by which He is known. It is a title, not necessarily a communicable name. There is not room here to discuss the full implications of this promise, but there is one name that we can assume - no matter our circumstances or limitations. It is Healer.

We promise to assume his role of Healer specifically when we promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Just like any doctor, however, we simply cannot do this unless we are “open” to the sick and afflicted (either to their visits or through our own house calls) - unless we are aware of someone else’s pain and suffering – unless we know why they mourn and what comfort they need - unless we are able to see their warts. We might “fellowship” with each other on Sunday, but if we only see each other at our Sunday best - warts carefully hidden beneath white shirts and ties and well-placed mascara - we completely miss the opportunity for the depth of full fellowship that allows us to act in the place of Jesus and serve in His stead.

I am struck by how Jesus healed. He didn’t say, “Lock yourselves in your rooms and ask to be healed.” Rather, He said, “Come unto me.” Healing was not an impersonal event; it was full of touching and blessing and communicating and real physicality.

Think about it: To whom do you feel closest in your ward or branch? Is it because you know their joys and their pain - and they know yours? Is it because you have seen their warts, and they have seen yours? Perhaps, is it because you share a common type of wart - because you have shed a tear together or held each other as their life seemed to shake around them? Is it because you have held their hand, embraced them and touched their lives in real and practical and powerful ways?

Now, think of someone to whom you don’t feel close. How much do you really know about them – of their joys and pains and sorrows and stress - their warts? Have your lives played out on parallel tracks - ever in proximity but never in true contact? Finally, has there been a time when you felt completely alone? Was it because there was no one close by with whom you could talk – no one who could share your struggles and your pain - no one who could see your warts and accept you anyway?

We can be blessed greatly as we endure to the end – but I believe we can be blessed the most and truly endure well if, and only if, we endure together. We sing, "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrows that the eye can't see." I wonder how many people need help as they struggle to endure, see us each week in our Sunday best, and feel even more inadequate and unable to endure. I wonder how many people struggle to pray daily as an individual and feel debilitating guilt because they are “failures” in this important thing – without realizing just how many other members, even some in leadership positions, share that particular struggle. I wonder how many women feel overwhelming stress and guilt as they exhaust themselves in the unselfish effort to raise righteous children – without realizing that many of the women they admire and put on a pedestal share that exact same stress and guilt. I wonder how many people think their own warts are unique and repulsive, without any recognition that the people all around them in the pews have warts that appear just as hideous as their own.

The most terrible, agonizing moment in the life of the Savior appears to have been when He was on the cross - when His Father withdrew His Spirit and Jesus was left alone to exclaim, “My God. My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” He had no warts, but he felt isolated and alone and abandoned and, perhaps, unloved and unaccepted. If that can happen to someone without warts, is it any wonder that it happens to us?

Few of us struggle so openly and publicly. Our own fears and pains are not so obvious; often they are carefully hidden behind a smile and a cheerful greeting - or a forbidding intellectuality - or even by a false front of service. Unless we open up and share in each other’s lives and risk exposing our warts to those around us, we will never know their loneliness and pain - and they will never know ours. We may continue to live comfortable lives, but I believe those lives will not be comforting.

Thank God for warts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Tribute to a Good Samaritan

Please go to Times & Seasons and read my re-post of something our son, Brett, posted on his blog yesterday. It is entitled "Today, I Lost My Faith in Humanity." (I cleaned up the language a bit for those who don't want the full linguistic brunt of his ire on his own blog. *grin*)

The Good Samaritan applies not only to the half-dead. I'm sure God cried for the man in the story, but I am just as sure that His heart swelled with love and fatherly pride for Brett. I have never been prouder of one of my children than I am at this moment with him.

Click on the link below:

"Today, I Lost My Faith in Humanity."