Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection

OK, the title is intentionally over-the-top alliteration, but it accurately reflects one of the biggest problems of the apostasy - and, I believe, one of the greatest obstacles in understanding the heart of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The great commandment "in the law" is, in summary, "Love God and everyone else." However, the great culmination of Christ's penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law - and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which art in Heaven is perfect."

Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic meaning ("never make a mistake/commit a sin") and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion - something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. ("Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn't really matter in the long run.") While this sounds fine - and even laudable - to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes "atonement" possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection.

The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction - one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word "perfect", defines it from the Greek thus: "complete, finished, fully developed." This means that the verse can be read as follows:

"Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which art in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed." What an amazing difference!

I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don't want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached - and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many - especially women - guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).

If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your "incomplete, unfinished, partially developed" state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise - saying it can be done - and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.

That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Christmas Wish

My highest wish for all of my kids (including those who were born outside our biological family) is that they remember who they are collectively and learn who they are individually - that they think for themselves - that they be happy with who they are but be willing to let go of who they don't want to be (even if they never accomplish that fully in this life) - that they come to know their Father and His Son - that they come to understand "the grace that so fully He proffers" them - that they see repentance not as a burden of guilt but rather as an exciting process of growth and completion and discovery - that they become truly peculiar treasures, together and alone - that they find that certain someone without whom they will never be perfect (complete and whole) - and that, with that certain someone, they carve out lives that will satisfy and challenge and reward and fulfill and complete.

My wish is that this madhouse we call Hotel DeGraw will be able to accommodate boarders eternally, even if in both the here and now and the hereafter that simply means a moment here and there as we watch our children establish homes (and perhaps hotels) of their own. If I see this wish fulfilled, I will live and die and live again happily - even if nothing else I desire comes to pass. If they can be as happy as I am, living as half of an eternal whole, I will praise God eternally for the love He has allowed me to experience and the joy He has given me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Remember" as a Missionary Principle

As I've said previously, my mind wanders to and fro trying to understand everything a little better as I go about my daily life. What grounds me, however, are my experiences - things that are so vivid and unexplainable that I simply can't let my mind move me away from them. When you have experienced the truly miraculous, everything else is secondary.

For example, I would assert that the core of this experiential conviction is summarized perfectly in the foundational missionary verse we too often overlook while quoting those that follow. We speak constantly of the "challenge" written in Moroni 10:4-5 (read here), but when I attended Seminary so long ago, the verses we memorized included Moroni 10:3 (read here). In that verse, we are told to "remember" *before* we ponder and pray. We aren't told to read, ponder and pray; we are told to read, *remember*, ponder and pray - and we are told explicitly to remember how merciful the Lord has been throughout history. In effect, we are told to "experience" vicariously His grace and mercy toward others - that He has spoken to people for thousands of years - and use their experiences to help us come to believe that we can have a similar experience. Their experiences serve as the foundation for our faith in the possibility of our own.

I think we do a terrible disservice to our religion and its missionary effort when we preach "read, ponder and pray" apart from our collective, experiential memory - when we make gaining a testimony an intellectual, or even strictly prayerful, process void of contemplation and reflection on previous experience (both our own and others'). So, the next time you are sharing a "missionary moment" with someone, please remember to help them "remember" by sharing how merciful the Lord has been to you and others before you ask them to read, ponder and pray - or even attend Church with you. Testify of His grace and mercy first; of the things that He has taught you second; of the fact that He can do the same for them last. Too often we short-circuit that process and deprive both ourselves and others of an amazing experience.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

The following are ALL the verses of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" - followed by the context of why they were written. I will never look at this song the same way again.


Christmas Bells, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”


Written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864: One year after his son was severely wounded in battle; three years after his wife burned to death in an accident.


This information was posted on Times & Seasons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I Can Trust My Feelings

*****WARNING: This is long.*****

I posted the following as three separate comments on a blog hosted by a member who was an evangelical, anti-Mormon prior to her conversion. One evangelical commenter had asked how we can trust our feelings (especially since he is convinced Mormons have been predestined for damnation).

Here are my responses:

How do you differentiate among emotions (that can be manipulated), spiritual experiences that are NOT from God and interaction with the Holy Ghost? That is one of the greatest dilemmas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and not understanding it has led to some truly abominable creeds. Adding to the difficulty is that the Bible clearly teaches that signs will follow those who believe (including miraculous manifestations), but it also teaches that not all signs and “miracles” come from God.

From everything I have been able to discover in scripture, and from what my heart tells me, there are a few ways I use to tell the difference.

1) Does it help someone else in a very direct, non-self-serving way, or it is essentially nothing more than “a sign” - an attempt to “prove” something?

2) Does it focus on a gift of the Spirit mentioned in scripture, or does it focus on “the spiritual” (palm reading, contacting the dead, communicating with spirits, etc.)?

3) Does it result sometimes in unwanted outcomes (”God’s will, even when it isn’t our will”), or does it always result in what is wanted?

4) Most importantly, does it prompt me to do good, or does it prompt me not to do good?

The problem is that there are exceptions recorded throughout scripture when the Lord has used spiritual experiences for different purposes. Generally, these exceptions have been for prophets in huge, vitally important communal crises (e.g., calling down fire from heaven), but there are enough instances where it becomes almost impossible to tell objectively based on some kind of predetermined matrix.

All I know in the end is that there are very real instances of being able to tap into a very real power, and all I can rely on is what I believe God has given me - a discerning heart.


The BIBLE gives the way to know the truth of all things - through the gift of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, the 3rd member of the Godhead, He who was given to us in the Savior’s absence to be our link to Him and His Father. He will reveal the truth of all things to us and give us comfort and peace in this life until we are able to return to the presence of the Lord, fall at His feet and praise Him for His tender mercy that allows us to come nigh unto the throne of God. I rely on Him as I read and ponder and pray, since that is what my Lord and Savior graciously commanded me to do.

You ask, at least implicitly, Colin, why I believe what I believe. It is because I have studied just about every religious teaching available and what I have come to accept is what I believe the Holy Ghost has confirmed to my heart as the source of ultimate joy, peace, love and unity with my God, my Father, and His Son, Jesus, the Christ. It’s what I feel to the depths of my soul, and it has brought insight and understanding and assurance and miraculous inspiration that I cannot begin to describe adequately here. I literally have seen the physical elements abated; I have participated in healing the sick and binding up the broken heart; I have seen the wonderful fruit of sweet repentance; I have felt to sing the song of redeeming love; I have experienced a mighty change of heart and a desire to praise my God for His loving grace; I have seen lives change and souls shine forth out of previous darkness - all because of the atoning sacrifice of a God who condescended to give His life for those who accept Him.

These discussions are important to me, but it is FAR more important to me to continue the actual ministerial work that I do each day - strengthening the feeble knee and raising the failing spirit and visiting the sick and lonely and widowed in their affliction. I love God and try my hardest to love Him and my neighbor as He has asked me to do. My intellectual understanding of Him is important to me, but my spiritual relationship with Him is more important - and my faith has brought that relationship. What’s in my head can change as I strive to study and learn; what’s in my heart never will.


I had a bit of an epiphany tonight as I was in the middle of a normal, mundane activity - as often is the case. It hit me completely out of the blue - as often is the case. I’m not sure you will understand fully, but I share it in the hopes that it will explain a bit better why it is hard for me to describe how I am confident in my spiritual impressions.

A common phrase in Protestantism that is unfamiliar to most Mormons is “in-dwelling” - but the concept is central to our faith. Since we never use the phrase, it sounds odd or strange, but it really is an integral part of our doctrine and ordinances.

In Acts 8 there is an account of people who were baptized but had not received the Holy Ghost. Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem, and they gave these people the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying their hands on them. (vs. 16-17, particularly) Simon saw that the Holy Ghost was given through the laying on of hands and tried to buy that authority.

When hands are laid on our own heads after baptism, we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost” - that He may be with us always. My epiphany was that the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost that we experience after baptism is our symbolic version of the “in-dwelling” of which Washer speaks in his video. He speaks of letting God into my heart so that it may be regenerated; we speak of opening a broken heart to the gift of the Holy Ghost so that He may enter it and be our constant companion, making us a new creature in Christ. In this way, we may be born again of water *and* the Spirit.

You asked how I can recognize which of my feelings are of God and which are not. I gave a bit of an intellectual answer about my thoughts and impressions, but I failed to answer your actual question about my *feelings*. For that, I apologize.

I truly believe that I have the companionship of the Holy Ghost in my life. I believe it influences and alters the very way I think and feel. Over the years, since I received that companionship, I have come to recognize how I feel when I am being guided by His light. I feel differently than I do about other things. Some speak of a unique burning sensation (from the baptism of fire), but I rarely feel that burning. For me, occasionally I sense words, but usually there is a certain, unique quality of peace that floods my heart and quickens my mind. I can’t explain it very well, but I recognize it when I feel it. When I wander from the narrow path my ability to feel that type of feeling decreases - and it is just that withdrawal of the Spirit that usually prods me back to the path.

Finally, because I have received this gift, I try hard to follow any feeling or thought that crosses my mind or my heart - as long as it obviously is not a “natural (fallen) man” inclination. I have come to trust that the gift of the Holy Ghost acting within me can prompt me to know and say and do things that I wouldn’t be able to know and say and do otherwise - and that sometimes it would be easy to dismiss or ignore them - or to take credit for them as “good ideas”. I have learned by the working of the Spirit within me to give the glory and credit to God for even those things that appear on the surface to be my own.

In short, I trust my feelings because I truly believe that God has planted His Comforter in my heart - and that I can trust the fruits of that planting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

God Bless the Izas of This World

Sometimes you read something that makes you re-evaluate your assumptions about a particular scriptural account - that slaps you in the face and forces you to re-think the stereotypes you hold without thinking - that makes you LITERALLY cry and rejoice simultaneously. The following link did that for me tonight. Please read it - then tell everyone you know to read it.

We sit in relative comfort, and it is easy to forget or not even recognize the true power of the Gospel and Grace of God. I hope I NEVER forget this story and that, somehow, I can bless the lives of the Izas all around me - even if their individual trials are not the exact same.

Click on this link to read about Iza

Thursday, December 13, 2007

From the Mouths of Babes

I know a man who is a Bishop. The following is from him:

The most moving moment in a tithing settlement came last year when I asked the children in a family why the Lord asks us to pay tithing. Their response was typical - so that missionary work could be done, so chapels and temples could be built. I then asked, "Why doesn’t the Lord simply tell Pres. Hinckley where all the gold in the world is? Then we could use that to build the temples and do missionary work." One of the young men in the family, an eight-year old, put his hands on his hips, looked at me like "Bishop, you should know better," and said, "Bishop, the reason Heavenly Father asks us to pay tithing is that He is trying to turn us into gold."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Those of us whose mortal tears are slight"

Here is one more link - to an incredibly profound and searing post about the meaning of the birth of Jesus. If you read nothing else this holiday season, I hope you read this. (The title of this post is taken from comment #3 - as eloquent a comment as I have ever read about perspective, compassion, service and the underpinnings of truly a Christian view.)

Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus link

True Examples of Faith: Let Us Not Be Complacent

The following link is to a post by someone I admire greatly. I am less concerned with the final paragraph and the comments about it, as I am deeply touched and inspired by the examples described throughout the post. Sometimes, we take SO much for granted that it is easy to become complacent.

Watching Conference link

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Disclosure - Should I or Shouldn't I?

Sorry; nothing provocative here. Just a general observation about what we share and don't share with others.

I want people to get their first impressions of me based on what I say and do - not what they assume about me because of my religious or educational bio. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “No way! You can’t be ______________ ." (Mormon, a Harvard grad, a salesman, a socially liberal Republican, the father of six, etc.) If these specific people had known that particular thing about me, they would have jumped to conclusions that would have changed the way they interpreted what I was saying.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel compelled to do some “calling dropping” when I am about to explain a doctrinal or social perspective to a politically conservative member or Church audience - for the exact same reason. For example, I don’t want to be dismissed out of hand as “faithless” just because I don’t believe the Priesthood ban was God’s will. In that case, unfortunately, disclosing my current calling or some of my past callings helps the hearer grant me a degree of legitimacy that they might not grant otherwise. It’s sad, and I wish it weren't so, but it’s real.

In each case, ironically, I am using my own assumptions in order to attempt to avoid confusion or incorrect assumption by someone else.

As a young man, I heard and internalized the statement, “It is more important to not be misunderstood by anyone than it is to be understood by everyone,” and I disclose or don’t disclose based primarily on that standard. That's also why I tend to be overly long-winded - which, again ironically, often ends up causing me to write complex, multi-faceted sentences that make it more difficult for readers to remember the point I was making at the beginning of the sentence - or the post.

See? :-)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lessons of the Spirit

There was a lady in Sapporo (Japan) who had been meeting with the missionaries for almost two years, while simultaneously attending another church and listening to their lessons. By the time my companion and I started teaching her, just about everyone thought it was hopeless. We would teach her something; she would attend the other church and meet with the other missionaries; we would meet again and do nothing the first hour but go through the scriptures answering the questions they had given her, then have a few minutes left to teach the Gospel; the cycle would repeat over and over again. Each time, we asked her to pray about it, but they kept telling her she couldn’t trust what she might feel - that she could trust only what her mind would tell her, while they kept her mind confused and in turmoil. It was frustrating to see how miserable they made her, and we often wondered if we should move on to someone else - but each time we prayed about it we felt good about continuing to teach her.

My companion had been out only a month, and his Japanese was . . . really, really bad - to be charitable. One day, as we rode our bikes to her apartment, he asked if we just could read from the scriptures with her - not answer any questions or teach anything new, but just read. He said he had felt impressed to do so, and it felt good, so I agreed.

We started in the Bible and ended up in the Book of Mormon reading 2 Nephi 31. After we had alternated verses with her throughout that chapter, she asked us to stop while she read it again (the entire chapter) silently to herself. When she finished, my companion asked me to translate for him as he simply said, “Sister S, would you like to be baptized?” As soon as I had finished translating for him, she burst into tears - and the Spirit was as tangible as I have ever felt in my life. (Given some of the miraculous things I have witnessed, that is saying something.) When she was able to speak, she said something like, “Now I know what the love of God feels like.”

She was a sweet, honest woman, so she told the other church members of her decision. They immediately sent eight members over to her house, forced their way through her door and spent eight hours belittling us and the Church and her witness - refusing to leave as she begged them to stop. When they finally left, she booked a flight to Tokyo for the next morning in order to escape what she knew was coming the next day. She returned two weeks later with the following story:

She had called her aunt and uncle, who were like second parents to her - and whose judgment she respected more than anyone else she knew. She didn’t know how to break the news of her testimony to such devout Buddhists, so she didn’t say anything - until they cautiously told her Sunday morning that they were going to church later that day at the Mormon Church where they had been baptized two months previously - and that she didn’t have to go with them since they didn’t think she would understand their decision. When she told them of her experience, they burst into tears - amazed at what had happened.

Obviously, as soon as she returned to Hokkaido, she was baptized.

That experience taught me so forcefully that it isn’t the missionaries who convert. Of course, we need to know the Gospel as well as we can, but Sister S wasn’t converted because we had been able to answer her questions and “convince” her we were right. We HAD been able to answer her questions through the scriptures, but it hadn’t converted her. That came through a simple meeting where we read scriptures with her, something touched her heart, and a humble, sincere missionary who couldn’t teach the Gospel in Japanese well enough to convince a three-year-old asked her if she wanted to be baptized. He didn’t “challenge” her; he simply asked if that is what she wanted. It literally changed my perspective of missionary work - ironically, by humbling me to be able to accept what my parents and leaders had told me all my life.

I am SO grateful that I was called to serve in a foreign speaking mission, because I’m not sure I could have learned that life-altering lesson teaching in a language where I would have been tempted to impress investigators with my vocabulary and what I thought at the time was a solid understanding of the Gospel. If that had been my only memorable experience during my entire mission, it would have been worth it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Power of the Church

It is one thing to discuss the power of the Gospel - to analyze JSH 1:19 (which I will do here eventually) and dissect what it means to "deny the power (of godliness)." It is quite another to discuss the power of the Church.

Last week, our ward saw some major organizational changes. The Primary Presidency and the Relief Society Presidency were changed - with two new presidents who felt overwhelmed and
inadequate, I'm sure. They received no detailed training, except for what they had observed in previous callings. They were given the keys that pertained to their callings (the ones that unlock physical doors) and some printed materials to read, told to talk with the persons they were replacing and thrown into the deep end of the pool - with a command to swim. They weren't given the option to sink; they simply were promised the ability to swim - even if they had never been taught to swim.

The power of the Church does not reside in its prophets and apostles - although they are necessary to distill the authority under which the real power operates. The power of the Church does not lie in its Presiding Bishopric, its Quorums of the Seventy, its Stake Presidents or its Bishops and Branch Presidents - although the latter men directly oversee and facilitate the exercise of that power. It is found in the hearts and spirits of all of the average, normal, unexceptional men and women who willingly shoulder burdens and responsibilities they can't carry - and carry them anyway. It is found in the growth experienced by Carrie and Leslie - the same growth that Patty and Shayleen will recognize whenever they hand over their keys and handbooks to their replacements and pick up whatever burden the Lord has in store for them at that time. Church Headquarters provides vision and unanimity and direction for the body of Christ, but the members of each ward and branch do the leg work that builds the muscles that drive the engine that powers the Church - and in that lies the glory and power of God.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

There's Always Room for Thanks

Today could have been a real stinker. Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday - particularly for those like me who like to eat way too much in the company of friends. When you are stuck at home, fighting illness and pain, on a day when you should be kicking back and enjoying the company, it's not quite the same.

Having said that, there are some things for which I am thankful about the day:

1) Being able to spend it with my wife and family, even in sickness and pain. I wouldn't trade that company for any other;
2) Having Brett come over tonight for some "real" Thanksgiving dinner - after being subjected to a "healthy" dinner;
3) Having "Walshie" come over with a pie and spend a few hours being adored by my girls;
4) The power of the Priesthood, through which my pain was decreased almost immediately;
5) Good friends who brought us the leftovers and allowed our children to have a real Thanksgiving dinner;
6) Dave and Corbin, for exercising their Priesthood in our home;
7) The Gospel that provides the foundation for recognizing the blessings of this day.

There is more, but this is enough to make the point. Even though the day was far less than perfect, it still was a day of thanks.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Temple - and So Much More

There are multiple lessons embedded in this story - so many that I won't try to articulate them here. As soon as I read it, I changed the focus of my talks tomorrow (yeah, I will be speaking in two wards tomorrow) and felt impressed to link it here. Please visit the linked site and read it, then return to comment here.

Wedding Story

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Carrying His Load

I had an interesting insight during a prayer this morning in one of the meetings I attend as a High Councilor. In all my years as a member of the Church - in all the countless meetings I have attended and all the countless times I have read the scriptures - in all my pondering over the years, I have not had the same thought in quite the same way. I'm sure it's not earth shatteringly profound, but it was powerful and thought-provoking for me. I also am sure it is a direct result of the contemplation I have been doing concerning the Lord's yoke, His grace and our gratitude for His matchless mercy.

What struck me is that all of us, when we become members of the Church, covenant to take certain responsibilities. We promise to comfort those who stand in need of comfort and mourn with those that mourn. We agree to the sacramental covenants, then Priesthood or YW's covenants, then temple covenants - as well as various callings within the Church's organizational structure. Although these things are meant to bring us growth and understanding and joy, in a very real sense they are "burdens" we agree to carry.

Psalms 55:22 says, in part:

"Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee."

Ether 12:27 says:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Matthew 11:28-30 says, in part:

"Take my yoke upon you."

Here is what I learned today: The concepts in these three verses constitute a complete solution; without the first and second, the third is impossible.

In simple terms, the Lord wants us to cast our own burdens at His feet and pick up those that He knows will give us strength and bring eternal life. Please take a moment to create that mental picture. Envision yourself removing a pack from your back or shoulders, setting it aside, then picking up a new pack to carry instead. If we fail to leave our own natural burdens with Him, then all we do when we assume the responsibilities of membership in His kingdom is to pick up a second pack and increase a load we already are unable to bear alone.

Each of us needs to figure out what this means in our own lives, with our own personalities and struggles, but, at a minimum, we need to accept His atoning grace and quit beating ourselves up over our natural weaknesses and tendencies - those things for which He has paid the price already. We need to recognize and accept the forgiveness He has offered already. We need to believe Him and what He has promised us.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by guilt or inadequacy or the burdens of your life, may I suggest a simple solution - not an easy one and not one that always will happen completely and all at once, but the only one of which I know that truly will work. Find a quiet place, where you can kneel totally alone and unable to hear anything else, and pour out your soul to your Heavenly Father - able to approach Him directly because of the grace of His Son. Tell Him of your anxieties, your fears, your weakness, your pain - then ask Him to take the burden from you and help you walk away from it. Repeat that request (something like, "I gave it to you; please help me leave it at your feet.") whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed - even if it means you have to do so sometimes in the middle of the confusion and chaos of your daily life. Take a deep breath, close your eyes if you can, and ask Him to intercede once more and keep you from picking up your natural load.

I have a deep and abiding testimony that if you cast your burdens upon the Lord, He truly will sustain you as you shoulder His yoke and begin to carry the burden He has chosen to make your weakness become strength.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Embracing Grace

"I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me - confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me."

I have been struck recently by how little we discuss grace. We talk about the Atonement and faith and hope and works and love and forgiveness and so many other things, but we rarely talk about grace. I understand why, but it disturbs me, nonetheless.

Our understanding of "grace" is found in the Bible Dictionary - linked here. It is obvious from this definition that grace is the heart of the Gospel - that it is the "Good News" that encompasses Jesus' love for us and is the ultimate gift He gives us. It is, in reality, another term for the Atonement, which is why we don't use it much. (We use "atonement" instead.) We believe in grace fully and deeply, but we tend to break it into more easily discussed sub-sections - like those listed in the last paragraph. Again, I understand why we do this, but when we fail to connect the pieces back into the original, complete framework, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of pieces and lose sight of the fact that they really comprise only one full concept - the grace that underlies the Atonement of Jesus.

So, why do we do this?

This will be a simplification, but at the time of the Restoration, the dominant doctrinal argument was over faith vs. works. One camp defined faith by saying, "Confess His name and be saved; works are just what He does through you after that confession," or the other, more extreme denial of works, "God has chosen the saved (applied His grace) and the damned (denied His grace) prior to their birth, and nothing can be done to affect that outcome." The other side hearkened back to the Law of Moses and said, "Grace is a gift that is given to all who earn it."

Since both of these definitions of grace represent the extremes, and since each of them depends on a classic Heaven/Hell split, the Restored Gospel rejected each. In reality, however, the repudiation of works was stronger in Christianity of that day, so the focus within the Church naturally tended to emphasize what was missing "the most" - the need for obedience to commandments, often translated as works. In restoring the concept of multiple, differentiated glories, Joseph Smith correctly focused on those things that are required of God's children in order to reach the highest level of glory- again, often translated as our works. In practical terms, however, this effectively eliminated grace from our active vocabulary. This left us floundering for an answer to the age-old Christian question, "Have you been / When were you saved?"

My answer: We have been saved by the grace of God. That salvation started when Jesus voluntarily offered Himself as our Savior prior to the creation of the world, continued when He was born of Mary, deepened in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgatha when He hung on the cross, declared "It is finished," and "gave up the ghost" - and culminated on that Sunday morning when He rose from the tomb, appeared to Mary, ascended to His Father, and became the first fruits of the resurrection. The implications of that grace are enormous and too often misunderstood.

Let me say it again, more plainly. **We have been saved by the grace of God.** It has happened already, completely independent of what we do - except in the case of Sons of Perdition. For all of the rest of us, we have, through His grace, been freed from the bonds of physical and spiritual death and inherited a degree of glory in the presence of God. Even those who inherit the Telestial Kingdom have "inherited" a kingdom of glory and can enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost - a member of the Godhead. Even they will be resurrected and have been saved from endless torment in the presence of Lucifer. That gift, promised to all but a few who accepted The Father's Plan of Salvation and Jesus as their Savior in the pre-existence, has been purchased already - and all of them have, in a very real sense, "confessed His name and been saved by His grace" prior to being born.

So why do we not discuss this? I believe it is because all the other Christian religions of the day already taught a limited version of this, and the Restoration was about adding more to what they taught - restoring a knowledge of the potential that had been lost. It was all about going beyond the Telestial Kingdom (with the Holy Ghost) and the Terrestrial Kingdom (with Jesus, the Christ) and working toward the Celestial Kingdom (with God, the Father). We stopped talking about grace simply because of how that term was misunderstood by the rest of Christianity - as a way to focus on the ultimate purpose of the gift of grace (becoming like The Father) rather than the prevailing interpretation (praising The Son). [It's like reading the New Testament without any understanding of temples. Temple theology is obvious throughout (e.g., 1 Corin. 15:29 - baptism for the dead), but it is not mentioned explicitly due both to its sacred nature and because those to whom the epistles were addressed understood it without it having to be explicit. It simply was assumed and, therefore, lost when the foundation understanding was lost.]

Why is this important to us - and why did it take me so long to get here?

2 Nephi 25:23 is the most quoted verse about grace in Mormondom. It says, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Many people believe that this means we are only saved if we do all that we can do - if we obey every commandment to the best of our ability. That simply isn't in line with the rest of our scriptures and, more importantly, it leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety about whether or not "I am doing enough." I see this all the time in my discussions with Mama and as I listen to and read the blogs of many women, especially. Rather than seeing the grace of God as a freeing, enabling gift that already has been given, they often internalize it as a reward dangling enticingly in front of them, ready to be withdrawn if they screw up too badly and fail to repent immediately. That leads to guilt and pain and lack of self-confidence, instead of the rest that is promised so beautifully in Matthew 11:28-30.

When I read 2 Nephi 25:23, I explain it by employing a common linguistic technique - switching the phrases to reflect the proper emphasis. In this case, the sentence becomes, "(Even) after all we can do, it is (still) by grace that we are saved." Of course, we are to try to do all that we can do, but exactly what we can do pales in comparison to what He has done - saved us by His grace regardless of what we can do. It takes the pressure off of us and puts the focus where it should be - on His incomprehensible grace that so fully he proffers us.

A very insightful friend recently described the process of "taking my yoke upon you" as feeling the purity and power of His sinlessness. I love that construct, but I would add the following: Understanding and truly accepting God's grace occurs when you realize that all of your inherited weaknesses (your temper, your judgmental nature, your fatigue, your lack of self-worth, your never-ending battles with whatever drives you crazy) - everything that keeps you from becoming who you desperately want to become - has been bought and paid for already. He fought that fight for you, and He won. Yes, you were born with things that keep you from being perfect, but He paid for those things - meaning that you truly can take His yoke upon you and walk confidently at His side as a brother or sister with the same eternal potential. It occurs when you realize that, because of the grace that so fully He proffers you, you aren't required to pay for those things; rather, you are freed to pursue those qualities and characteristics you want to acquire to become perfect (whole and complete) - regardless of the tangible outcome of that effort. Repentance becomes an exciting, forward looking progression toward wholeness, rather than a depressing, backward-looking, guilt-inducing attempt to beat the bad out of you and never again make any mistakes. Bad habits and painful characteristics will disappear as they are replaced by good ones, not as they are "subdued and repressed by sheer force of will."

I believe an understanding of grace is fully realized when one stops fighting God's grace - when he realizes that all God wants is his willing mind and heart - when he quits worrying about his individual worthiness and starts focusing on his contribution to communal unity - when he simply lays it all at His feet and says, in essence, "I know you understand my weakness; I know you know my struggles and pains; I know you know how I feel about myself; I know you love me and have bought me, anyway. From now on, I will trust your promise and, despite my continuing frustration and my continuing weakness and my continuing failures, I will bounce back each time and continue to grow. I will not despair; I will accept my weakness and imperfection and failure, knowing you don't care, because you love me, anyway. I will get back up each time I am knocked down and continue to walk toward you, until you embrace me and say, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant' - knowing I don't deserve it and being eternally grateful for the grace that so fully you proffered me."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Jessica's Blog

Check it out

I would like to blame her silliness on her mother, but all of you know Mama and me too well to believe that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Personal Request

Please check out the picture on the following site and tell me what your reactions are to the picture that is there. (NOT the ones at the top right of the blog, but the triple picture combo that is the subject of the post entitled "Daaaa-deeeee!") It is of my niece, taken by my brother-in-law. I know this is a bit of a strange request, but please indulge me by checking it out and coming back here to tell me what you thought when you saw it.

Here is the link: Kate running toward her Daddy

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Plea for Proper Projects

My oldest daughter explained yesterday why she hasn't posted on her new blog recently. ( As a former school teacher, I understood the reasoning behind the project, but as a parent and discerning oxygen consumer, I was annoyed.

In English, they are studying the transcendentalists and romanticists - those who longed for a simpler time, before the roiling rush of modern civilization ruined the pristine paradise of nature. In order to understand this ideology, the teacher assigned a project wherein the students would experience life without some of the modern technologies that intrude on a "natural" existence.

At first blush, this might sound reasonable - or even like a very good, well-conceived idea, but I personally think it is a waste of time and, actually, misguided. At the most basic level, I think most forms of transcendentalism / romanticism are warped constructs of paradise created by those wealthy enough to sit around doing nothing but spend precious time concocting elaborate justifications for their laziness. At a deeper level, however, I am troubled by two things: first, the inherent pessimism of an outlook that says, "My life would be better if only it were different," and second, the idea that there is something intrinsically bad about any technology that moves us away from our "natural state" - that turns us into something other than the "noble savage" of Burroughs and Cooper and other writers.

To be blunt, noble savagery is crap. People in those situations died early of things that hardly bother us now. Their lives usually were filled from sunrise to sunset with tasks designed simply to keep them alive. They often had little or no leisure time, so they never had time to think and ponder on the things of their soul - and, I contend, the ability to ponder spiritual things is the foundation of the ability to recognize and deepen spirituality. The vast majority of them never dreamed of spending time perusing blogs written by friends and family - keeping in touch with each other across unfathomable distances. Anyone who romanticizes a technology-free life has never lived such a life - or, conversely, has never known anything different. Nobody with half a brain would choose to go through surgery with a doctor who used a steak knife and a hammer (although those who would might end up with half a brain); there is a reason some new technologies are used while others die an ignominious death. Some make our lives more productive and provide joy; others don't.

Which brings me to my original rant. My daughter was asked to live for one week without using a cell phone or a computer (except for homework, which is the most ironic disclaimer I think I've heard in my entire life), watching TV, listening to the radio or an ipod, playing video games, using a microwave - in all, ten prohibitions in the project. In the end, I am left to say, "So what? What's the point?" They will not have gained an ounce of appreciation for life without such technologies; in fact, they will complete this project thinking even more adamantly that those they are studying were stupid and foolish. They are surrounded by thousands of people who are not bound by these restrictions, so they will not come close to experiencing what those they are studying extolled. Finally, they will have not gained any insight into the core principle being espoused - namely, that simplification can bring a peace that frenetic activity cannot. Technology is not the villain; a disconnect from nature is - and there is a HUGE difference between those two.

Ironically, it often is technology that provides the opportunity to simplify, reduce stress and enable increased peace. Some people decry the use of technology in schools without realizing that books and pencils and erasers and chalkboards all are technology that make learning easier and less restricted to the upper socio-economic classes. They decry the fracturing of family and the collapse of communication without recognizing that those who communicate the most broadly and the most often with the most people do so through the use of telephones (in all their varieties), e-mail, instant messaging, blackberries, etc. - all of which are nothing more than modern versions of the ancient couriers and written communication like mail. They decry the use of microwaves and instant foods without understanding that such inventions allow the elderly and more feeble to care for themselves in ways that were impossible just a few generations ago.

As with most things, I am left to decry those who advocate any extreme. I want my daughter to learn how to USE technology properly - how to integrate it into her life without letting it take control of her life - how to exploit its potential for good while avoiding its influence for evil. I want her to learn to strive for balance and moderation in all things, not to consider all things only in their extreme iterations. I want her to appreciate the wonder of nature, but I also want her to grow beyond her natural self. Most of all, as a teacher and educator at heart, I don't want her to waste precious time doing things that will not help her understand and achieve this balance and moderation - that rather, will drive her away from the lessons attainable in a more carefully and thoughtfully constructed experiment. I want it done correctly or not at all. In cases like this, partial exposure is worse than no exposure - and there is a lesson in there somewhere for any other area of our lives.

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."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reflections from a Mixed-Race Family

Looking at us now, it is impossible on most days to see that we are, in a very real sense, a mixed-race family. After all, my wife and I and all six of our biological children are not only Caucasian but light skinned Caucasian. We have a hard time tanning; my wife was a red-head as a child; one of our sons still is a carrot top. We are the Wonder Bread in the bakery section of life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Eternal Smile

I served briefly with a native Japanese missionary - 26 years old and always (I mean always) smiling. He woke up smiling; he walked and rode his bike with vigor, full speed and smiling; he smiled while he ate; he feel asleep with a smile etched on his face. You've heard of "The Never Ending Story"? His was the never-ending smile. When I first heard his story, I couldn't understand why.

He was the 14th or 16th generation (I forget) oldest son of the local Buddhist priestly line - his father’s only son - the only heir to a long heritage. After he met the missionaries, gained a testimony, then joined the Church, his father ceremonially acknowledged his dishonorable death, he was expelled from school and fired from his job, and he had to reconstruct an entirely new life from scratch. He worked and saved for years in order to pay for his own mission, then lived on 2/3 of the recommended minimum cost - because that's all he had been able to save.

I heard someone ask him, given what had happened to him, how he could be so happy all of the time. His response: “I have found the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How could I not be happy?” He said he wanted to be for someone else what those missionaries had been for him.

My mission ended in October, so I gave him my winter coat and boots (he had no boots of his own on the island of Hokkaido) a couple of months before I left. I found out a few days before I left that he had given the coat and boots to an investigator who “needed them more”. That was over 20 years ago, but I will never forget him - never.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sleep is Over-Rated

All my life, I have been taught the importance of family. I was raised in an active, loving, Mormon family in rural Utah – where the sky is blue, the grass is green only when irrigated constantly (and, often, not even then), the water runs through the tap cold, fishing and hunting are an hour’s walk from home – and all else is right in the world. I took domestic peace and marital joy for granted growing up, and my early married life did nothing to disabuse me of my adolescent assumptions. After all, I married the only girl I have ever loved – the girl who, at the ripe old age of 15 stole my heart and completed my soul. Once she turned 16, she was the only girl I dated – and we were married less than two months after I returned from my mission. I valued marriage, and I loved my wife – and I slept well each night.

I attended college as a visible anomaly – a 22-year-old, married freshman – the first married freshman in institutional memory, according to the Freshman Dean’s Office. By the time I graduated (six years later, but that’s a story for another time), we had our first three children – again, the first such situation in institutional memory. I didn’t sleep much during those six years, since working full-time, attending college full-time, serving in the Church in various callings, loving a wonderful woman and helping raise small children didn’t leave much time for trivial things like sleep. (If I tried to live that schedule now, it would kill me.)

Just before my senior year, I realized once again that I wanted to be a school teacher. I had spent six years dreaming of academic and social glory (international diplomacy was my intended occupation), but, fortunately, the strong impressions of my adolescence came back to me and put my future back into focus. I won’t take everyone through the journey that took me from the classroom in Alabama to where I am now in Ohio; suffice it to say that through both sweet peace and intense employment difficulty my family grew to include six beautiful children, various non-paying boarders at the house that is known among our children’s friends simply as “Hotel DeGraw” and, at its foundation, the girl who continued to amaze me through it all. I loved her more each year, particularly as I watched how deeply she cared about being a good person and helping others no matter the pain it caused her. For all those years, I ended each night at her side – talking about the day, our kids, our cares, our joys and our sorrows until we fell asleep arm-in-arm – sleeping as happily and contented as it is possible to be.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: When we first moved to Ohio, we did so for a job that required I travel. Eventually, I worked into a position where I was traveling extensively. I like to travel. Driving, flying, seeing new cities, staying in hotels, just about everything associated with travel I enjoy - except for those multiple thousand mile drives with multiple tired children in multiple foul moods after multiple days on the road. Otherwise, I like the open road and sky.

On the other hand, I quickly found that I have a hard time sleeping alone when I travel. You see, pretty much since our oldest son scared us out of our wits by getting out of his crib and going down the hardwood stairs all alone (at about 13 months old), we have had an open bedroom door policy in our house. This means that for the past 18 years I have spent most of my nights either crammed up next to my wife or crowded to the edge of our bed, hoping a strong wind (or a random push or kick) didn't send me tumbling to the floor – crammed or crowded by as many as 7 other bodies sprawled any which way but orderly and consuming every available square inch of the bed.

I remember so vividly, years ago, when I first started traveling overnight, how much I looked forward with anticipation to that first night away - my chance to sprawl in imitation of my children - to sleep diagonally if I so desired - to use the blanket and sheet however I pleased - to sleep the deep sleep of the quiet and undisturbed – to wake up refreshed from a deep sleep for the first time in many years. That simply wasn't my experience.

I lay there, eyes closed but unable to sleep, and I couldn't understand why. There were no bodies crowding me to the edge - no kicks to my unprotected kidneys or eyes - no incessant snoring or muttering or additional body heat in the summer. It was peaceful - and I couldn't sleep - at least not until about 4AM, and then for only two hours until the alarm shattered the shallow, fitful sleep I had not enjoyed. This lasted each time I traveled for about a month; then one night I discovered the solution: PILLOWS!

One night, in the middle of my sleep-deprived state, I had an epiphany - truly, I believe, inspiration from someone who took pity on my plight. I missed my ridiculously cluttered and cramped nights. I missed those toes in my nose - those knees in my back - the hair in my eyes whenever they opened. Most of all, I missed the sense of peace and contentment that came amid my chosen chaos. Quietude and solitude, I discovered, are not all they’re cracked up to be - at least not when fulfillment has been defined and wrapped up in noise and family for years. So, I asked for seven extra pillows, packed them around me on the bed (cramming myself into a small space within their embrace) and slept like a baby - at least like a baby whom others apparently have who sleeps through the night without a sound.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: The past few weeks, my wife has returned to work - since our youngest child started school this fall. She (my wife) has been working overnight a couple of nights each week, taking care of the elderly - and spending those nights away from me. It has not been easy, and I have found myself up late, falling asleep on the couch - even as our three youngest children lie sleeping in our bed upstairs.

I learned years ago that I like to have my children around me - even as I sleep. I learned this last couple of weeks that such a situation is not enough - that to be wholly happy and completely content my wife needs to be there, as well. I can sleep soundly with her by my side, with or without the children around us; I cannot sleep soundly without her there, even when they are crowded around me. I love my children with all my heart, but they are no substitute for my soul-mate - my split-apart - my chosen companion - my best friend in all the universe - the other half of the whole I hope to be throughout eternity.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: I truly am blessed, and I recognize now – a little more than ever before – just how grateful I am and should be. I know many people who are not blessed in this way – who never marry, who are divorced or widowed or abused – who sleep alone for many unplanned years – who want to live the standards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but must renounce inclinations that would bring companionship in this life in order to do so. After feeling a small portion of what they live with day in and day out, I am much less inclined to judge them for the choices they make – and much more in awe of those who remain faithful to the difficult ideal required for temple attendance.

Eternal marriage and family mean just a little more to me at this moment, since I have caught a tiny glimpse of isolated immortality, living as half the whole she and I are meant to be. If I can’t handle each night we are apart, I can’t fathom living endlessly without her – feeling alone in a vast cosmos – sleeping in a great and spacious hotel – forever, fitfully alone. I want to live on with my arm around her – in a universe surrounded by our children – even if that means I only get a little edge of it as my own and never get enough sleep.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Introducing Me

I am posting this one last of the four I moved over from my previous blog, so that it will show up at the top and be the first one to which any readers are exposed. Welcome to my life and mind.

Unlike my wife, I lean more toward the "record the things of my spirit" motivation for blogging. I blog primarily to record how I view life, in order to preserve for my posterity my perspective on eternity and the mortal issues that, IMO, influence eternity. Generally, I am not as verbose as my wife - which really says something about her prodigious compilations. Concise, I am not. Furthermore, I have been told my common sentence composition puts Dickens and Hugo to shame - linguistic slackers that they are - not in quality of their vocabulary, but rather in the simplicity of their sentence structure. My mind meanders from point of interest to point of interest, and it takes more exertion than I often am willing to offer to restrict the journey to a straight and narrow path.

Having said that, I am an unrepentant parser. I try to be very clear about what I say, which is one reason I have a hard time writing simple, non-complex sentences - as my tendency to try to avoid confusion and misunderstanding often leads to a type of verbosity that requires slow and careful reading and, by extension, sometimes causes confusion. Such is life. I insist on addressing what others say, not what the reader assumes or thinks they must mean behind the words, since that is a courtesy I request from others.

I am personally conservative in my own lifestyle and, I have been told, quite perplexing in the balance I strive to achieve in my political views. I believe in teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves - again as a product of believing the Golden Rule. I will request a conversation cease if people are talking past each other, not listening to understand and merely trying to shoutdown the other party; however, I never will request such a cessation simply because of fundamental disagreement - regardless of the intensity of the discussion.

I am a teacher by inclination and initial training, a salesman by trade, a preacher at heart (if not a Mormon, I would live at a pulpit), a musical performer and public speaker by nature and, most importantly, a husband of 20 years and father of 6 kids by choice and grace.

Welcome to my mind and my heart (and my sense of humor that both makes my wife laugh and embarrasses her on a regular basis). I hope you welcome me to yours.

Breaking My Heart

This is the second post published by someone else that I vowed to post on my own blog. It is copyrighted, so I am providing a link to see it in its original form.

Little Street Vendor - Wilfried Decoo
I do not mean to call the teacher a Pharisee. I am much (and I can’t emphasize just how much) less bothered by the “buying something on Sunday” aspect as I was by this thought:

“We shouldn’t chase that vendor away, but if you don’t buy from her, SHE WON’T COME BACK.”

Those last four words are what broke my heart. Not buying from her is one thing; not putting our arms around her and not talking with her and not thinking that perhaps God inspired a choice daughter to take up a post at our church and not inviting her into our fellowship but, instead, truly chasing her away - that breaks my heart. I want her there - where she is relatively safe, where she at least can hear that she is a child of God, where she can rest with faith that families with children of their own (relatively well-dressed, clean, happy children) will understand her plight and have pity on her, etc. Taking that away from her - that breaks my heart. She’s not an object lesson for Sabbath Day observance; she’s a daughter of God and my spiritual sister - and using her as the first instead of treating her as the second broke my heart.

I understand the overwhelming nature of poverty in Africa and the hesitancy to do anything that might encourage hundreds of poor vendors to flock to the Church, but I have a feeling that the astute businesswoman in her would have recognized the benefit of keeping her spot hidden from competition. I wonder if anyone sat down with her and just talked with her about her life, about the Gospel, about the Restoration, about her divine nature as a daughter of God. Whether or not anyone gave her money or bought something from her, did anyone take the time just to love her and listen to her and find something to give her that she could read? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these . . .” couldn’t find a more perfect application than this little street vendor.

Understanding Scriptural Stories

I was trying to explain to someone recently how I go about trying to understand the scriptures - especially the stories in them - as opposed to the explicit teachings and sermons. I had explained that I don't think the mothers of the Sons of Helaman (the Stripling Warriors) necessarily meant that none of their sons would die in war when they taught them that God would deliver them if they would perform every command of God with exactness; rather, I think that they probably taught them that God would deliver them from evil - from the power of the adversary - from spiritual death, if you will - and give them an eternal reward.

My friend didn't understand how I could believe that, since "the text doesn't support that interpretation." The following was my response:
I always stress parsing what actually is said in written text or by someone we hear to understand what we can assert as definitive and then considering the entire context to see if there are possible implications from whatever simply is a given - what is indisputable. In Alma 56:47-48, all we are told is that the mothers “taught” their sons that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” From what, we are not told. We only assume it was from physical death in war because of the situation (war and their preservation in it) that caused them to relate it to Helaman. Given that, it is legitimate to look at the rest of the context and realize that there might be other (or a more comprehensive), legitimate meanings for “God would deliver them.”

They had been “taught” - which might be a one time occurrence as they were leaving home. However, it seems like these young men had been “taught” dedication and obedience and exactness all their lives. Individuals might change in an instant, but it is unlikely that 2,000 young men would suddenly become super-righteous overnight. It is much more likely that they had been “taught” that God would deliver them from anything that might threaten their spiritual, eternal well-being than that their mothers simply pulled them aside on the way out the door and promised them they wouldn’t be killed in the war.

Remember, those mothers had seen many of their friends (and perhaps some fathers and sons and husbands) slaughtered by other Lamanites - killed in the act of calling upon God even though they did not “doubt God”. They knew full well that God didn’t always deliver His people from physical death, but they were convinced that He could deliver them from their natural, fallen, sinful and lost state - from spiritual death. (Alma 24:27 - “thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.”)

Alma 53: 20-21 makes it obvious that these young men had been taught all their lives the reward for perfect faithfulness, obedience and dedication - the same reward their own “pioneers” had received, even those who had been killed for their faith, dedication and lack of doubt. I think it’s fairly safe to guess, as a parent myself, that their mothers reiterated what they had been taught all their lives as they were heading off to war - that if they did not doubt and obeyed every command with exactness that God would deliver them, no matter the physical outcome.

Remember, this was Helaman who was reporting about these young men. He was as close to them as any Nephite - ever. Yet, apparently, he did not know the specifics about what their mothers had taught them until they told him about it. He had been there when the parents had decided to fight; he was the one who had talked them out of it by invoking their sacred promise; he had been chosen as their sons’ military leader because they trusted him as a religious leader. He was intimately involved in the decision of their sons to fight in place of their parents.

Perhaps “taught” simply can mean “told” - but I tend to believe that Helaman would have been there for the great send off when all the mothers collectively told all the sons that they would not die in battle - that he would have known about it and not have to be told after the fact.

Having said all that, I do not discount the idea that the Lord promised the parents that He would preserve their sons in battle like He had preserved the sons of Mosiah on their missions - that is was couched in terms of “You’ve sacrificed enough lives to follow me. I won’t require that you sacrifice your children.” Even if that really is all it was, that’s enough for me, since it makes it an incredibly powerful story of the rewards of deep and difficult sacrifice and dedication.

Am I saying that this is the correct view of this statement? No. It might simply have been, “Stay valiant and none of you will be killed.” All I’m saying is that when you parse the text, there is more than one possible meaning for that phrase (”God would deliver them.”) - just as there is more than one possible meaning for “all the earth” in the Old Testament flood narrative.