Monday, April 9, 2018

The Caravan Moves On. . .

President Russell M. Nelson
I have been asked when I would post my comments about the historic events of last weekend, the 188th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Let me state up front that I have participated in many, many of these conferences over my lifetime of 70 years, but few stand out in memory as this one does now and will for years to come.

With a few days to ponder and attempt to absorb what just happened to us, one thought stands above all the rest - the ongoing development of Zion is in full flower.

Elders Soares and Gong
It was, of course, the first opportunity in a Solemn Assembly that members of the Church have had to sustain President Russell M. Nelson, his counselors and the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers and revelators. Two historic additions to the Quorum of the Twelve, one Chinese-American and one Latin-American, Elders Gerrit Gong and Ulisses Soares have put a stamp forever on the worldwide diversity of the Church population. It seemed that diversity was on full display this year, as reference was made to it throughout the weekend. The selection of speakers highlighted and underscored that reality.

I commented to our family during the break between sessions that it did not appear President Nelson would be a "caretaker" president. Little did I know he was just getting warmed up!

The whole weekend was carefully orchestrated to full effect. It seemed each time President Nelson was at the podium another blockbuster announcement was dropped. To say the effect of each announcement was jaw-dropping would be an understatement.

First, we learned about the new Apostles, then later the addition of seven new General Authority Seventies, many new Area Authority Seventies, and a new Young Women's General Presidency. Those announcements were followed that evening in General Priesthood Meeting with the announcement of "adjustments" in the way the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums within the stakes and the wards will operate in the future. Explanations were given by Apostles Rasband and Christofferson in that meeting, and the choreography to immediately disable the LDS Tools accounts of the presently-called leaders was stunning. That was followed by detailed instructions after the announcements that were distributed to everyone in the Church for whom the leadership of the Church had an e-mail account. I found the e-mail in my inbox immediately after the conclusion of the session.

More in line now with the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the high priest quorums in each stake will include only those high priests in the stake presidency, the high council, the bishoprics and the active patriarchs within each stake. All the rest of the high priests and elders in each ward will meet as one quorum called the elders quorum under the direction of a new elders quorum presidency.

I learned by first-hand experience how quickly these changes were being implemented, when I answered a call from the high counselor assigned to our ward, asking if he could come visit on Saturday morning. He informed me I was being called to be the second counselor in the new elders quorum presidency. The new elders quorum president would be Steve Edmunds (a high priest within five days of my age) and the first counselor would be Ryan Brown (the current elders quorum president). We were sustained and set apart for our new callings yesterday. We will sit down with our bishop on Wednesday night to receive his counsel on how best to proceed. Because Elder Rasband lives in our ward, the stake president told us they wanted to get Woodland taken care of first. So on the caravan rolls in our little Woodland Ward.

Yesterday, before the meeting as I thanked our high priest group leader for his service, his comment was classic. "I think it's the first time I have ever been released without a vote of thanks," he said with a smile. That happened during our quorum meeting.

And the adjustments in priesthood functionality didn't end it. On Sunday morning we learned that home teaching and visiting teaching would be "retired," to be replaced simply with "ministering." And somewhere in the spirit world President Thomas S. Monson is smiling. Again, detailed instructions followed from Church leaders in subsequent talks, illustrating simplicity and less reporting requirements. Those of us who live along the Wasatch Front (and Back) probably have little appreciation for the impact these adjustments will make in the worldwide applications for which they are no doubt designed. What a testament to the ongoing hastening of the the work. It seems that no matter how big the Church grows the flexibility and the nuances of organizational adaptation can be accommodated.

The final announcement came at the very end of the last session, when President Nelson announced the proposed construction of seven new temples around the world, including Russia and India. The audible response of approval from the audience within the Conference Center was elicited with the inclusion of Layton, Utah, and Richmond, Virginia.

To conclude, my mind went back yesterday to a letter from my father, presiding at the time in the California Arcadia Mission in 1978. He had attended the three-hour block of meetings in an East Los Angeles ward earlier that day, and included this comment in his letter: "I can't imagine that I was served the sacrament by a black deacon in a 9:00 a.m. sacrament meeting seated as I was in my two-piece garments. But it actually happened that way!!" He could have added with a new set of scriptures in his hands, but he never migrated to the new set.

A few years later, one of his former assistants, David W. Checketts, was serving as his home ward bishop, who recommended this seventy-something former mission president as the ward elders quorum president with the approval of the stake president. So, rest assured these are not such earth-shattering "adjustments" without precedent as one might suppose.

And we will see more of it as the work of establishing Zion accelerates. . .

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Descent into The Indecent

I was reminded again the other day that we have been on a slow and steady downward slope in our public discourse. I've lived 70 years now, and have some perspective, though I am certain others will have their own takes on what I intend to say today.

One of my grandsons, who has picked up enough of the recent news headlines to form the question, asked me, "Grandpa, what does 'groping' mean?"

In case you're living under a rock and haven't been bombarded by the news of the day, that word "groping" seems to emerge in every daily news broadcast. The word is associated with a growing list of celebrities and prominent men from many walks of life who have been accused of sexual deviance and misconduct in what has become an avalanche of disclosures with seemingly no end in sight. Once celebrated for their achievements, now we learn about the dark underbelly of their secret lives and double standards. It makes me so sad that we must explain to the young and innocent what is meant by these allegations.

Now the facts are coming to light, once hidden and seemingly buried, but widely heralded for all to hear and see in fulfillment of prophecy:

And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed. (D&C 1:3).

Back in the day when Bill Clinton was POTUS, the nightly news was filled with detailed explanations about his sexual encounters, all of which later proved to be true. His victims are still seeking some degree of justice, and yet surprisingly he seems to escape those judgments. But now we all know what really happened.

Questions from young children included seeking for clarification about what those stains on the blue dress were. Others wondered how a cigar could figure into sexual activity. Still others were educated far too early about oral sex. It reached the height of idiocy when "sexual relations" had to be defined and the parsing of meanings included, "It all depends on what your definition of the word 'is' is". At one point I concluded the nightly news was no longer suitable for my young children. Now the re-runs of those interviews with Clinton are being rebroadcast. Because of the emergence of the truth, to watch what a skilled liar he was back then is almost comical if it weren't so pathetic.

Now those young children with children of their own have concluded they cannot have television in their homes and have pulled the plug. Have you watched the content in commercials lately?

We have reaped the whirlwind of those earlier years. Today's bombshell included news about a Disney executive. There are no safe havens left, apparently. There is nowhere to run far enough away to avoid it. I tuned out politics in the last election cycle, and that is difficult, so pervasive has the coverage become. It seems politics rules our very existence, but I will tell you this - it doesn't have to.

Turn away from the sordid and the salacious. I was encouraged when I saw a number of women who had worked with Tom Hanks step forward to declare what a "nice" man he was in their interactions with him. This is the day that was once foretold in many places in the scriptures. Men are continuing to cover up their infidelity with lies, payoffs, "non-disclosure" agreements accompanied by cash settlements and cover-ups. Little is left to the imagination. Hollywood has always been a hotbed for scandal and corruption, and on the other coast Washington D.C. rivals it for headlines.

We cannot rely upon mortals for an example of goodness. Mere mortals are weak and subject to the wiles of the fleshy appetites. It will forever be the case.

In more recent years in the Church we have been hearing an increasing number of references to the atonement of Jesus Christ from our leaders. Interestingly, I have looked over the years for sermons delivered by Joseph Smith where he highlighted the subject of the atonement, and I haven't found any. It is my considered opinion that having failed to impress upon the saints the need for living the commandments, and witnessing so many public and embarrassing failures, our leaders are now pointing us to repentance and relying wholly upon the merits of Christ's perfection to save us. And that is how it must be.

There is a lot of speculation in Utah right now about what Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will decide to do. Will he conclude it is time to retire? He has said if someone like Mitt Romney were to decide to run for his seat that he would step aside. Now that Mitt is beginning to express interest in the idea, the Hatch camp has gone noticeably silent on the topic.

Regardless of how that turns out, my hunch is that even Mitt Romney would be powerless to stem that tide of ongoing corruption and deprivation.

In my reading of The Book of Mormon this morning, I saw these lines:

My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.
And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9:25-26).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"There. Is. No. Chaos"

Related image

That was the Twitter message yesterday from the Tweeter in Chief. I couldn't resist because it is simply so deliciously outrageous. I am convinced Trump's definition of terms resides somewhere in a parallel universe with which I am unfamiliar.

I am maintaining my stance about not wanting to dive too deeply into the chaos on the national political scene. It's so discouraging and so unfulfilling. But the list grows longer each day of chaotic gyrations emanating from the White House, the Congress and filtering down into virtually every municipality. The number of defections (some call them merely "adjustments") among senior staffers is growing. How many "fresh starts" and "new pages" does Trump get?

So now he brings in a four-star general in the form of James Kelly to steady the ship.

There is some good news. The stock markets are at all-time highs. Good news or impending peril? The Supreme Court is back to political balance and there is a full complement of nine justices. No chaos there at present.

The leaks of classified information are significant, however, and there are substantially more at this point in his administration than either of his two predecessors. George W. Bush had eight leaks, Barack Obama had nine. The Trump administration has logged 64 leaks of classified information to this point, and the numbers continue to escalate. Clearly, something is going on that is unprecedented. There seems to be a concerted effort to bring Trump down. Ironically, it was the discontent with career politicians in the first place that facilitated his election.

There is a persistent rumor that Vice-President Pence is mounting support from donors and preparing for his own inauguration. That relies on some wished-for scenario that would include a Trump impeachment for removal from office. There are even folks out there who speak openly of assassinating Trump to hasten the day for his removal from office by violent means. What seems far-fetched today could materialize someday. Can anyone predict that one? I can't.

The rumors run rampant every day, fueled by the cable news networks. Fox News is nothing more than state-run television in my estimation. The opposition cable news channels are no better.

Congress is in complete disarray over getting its agenda together on repealing and replacing Obamacare. After running on that agenda for nine years and with a majority in both Houses, we have seen nothing productive getting done to correct the system. Legislation is stalled on an entitlement program that will bankrupt America if left unchecked.

Either that, or two other options suggest themselves: One, Obamacare will collapse if left untended, and/or two, Obamacare will be rescued by yet another taxpayer bailout for the insurance companies and Obamacare will be transformed into a single payer system, which was the original goal when it started. It still translates into bankruptcy. Just how long can we go on borrowing our way into the future with no consequences?

Socialized medicine is the only obvious outcome. My guess is that for all the rhetoric coming from Republicans about freedom of choice, they aren't much different than Democrats. Overcoming the status quo is proving more difficult than originally envisioned by the voters. The pledge to "drain the swamp" now seems a distant echo from the campaign trail. Good sound bite, but little more.

Looking around the world we see Russia trying to reassert its will globally through Vladimir Putin. He will stop at nothing to covertly insert himself into the political calculus and disrupt our democracy in any way he can. Who knows what Robert Mueller will come up with? Did Trump collude with the Russians to defeat Hillary? The idea is laughable. Were they willing to meet to gather dirt on Hillary? Absolutely. Does that rise to "collusion"? Stay tuned on that one.

Let's not leave out North Korea, boldly brandishing the threat to annihilate any large city in the United States their noble dictator may randomly select. At his cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump merely asserted, "We'll handle it."

Now there is news about another special prosecutor being appointed to investigate all the Democrats, including HIllary, Lynch, Comey, the DNC, and that list grows. Our government, our political institutions, our staid and true principles of the Republic are rapidly being redefined. Confusion and distrust reign unchallenged, it seems.

I secretly cheered for Barack Obama, and hoped he would succeed when he was POTUS. I have the same aspirations for Trump. I am hoping there is a way forward that can be identified, clearly communicated, and that statesmen on the political front might yet emerge. But for now:


Friday, March 31, 2017

Seventeen Inches

Once again, I cite a story that was sent to me by Jim Ritchie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did at the start of the 2017 Major League Baseball Season:

In  Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA's convention.

 While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.”  Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter; I was just happy to be there.

 In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948.  He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate. Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

 After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage. Then, finally …“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.  “I may be old, but I’m not crazy.  The reason I stand before you today  is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.” Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the  room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”

 After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a  question than answer.  “That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”Another long pause. “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

 “That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?” “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.  “You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison. “Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”............“Seventeen inches!”

 “RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major  Leagues? “Seventeen inches!”  “SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause....“They send him to  Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this:  they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches.  We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'” Pause... “Coaches…” pause, "… what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today.  With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards.  We widen the plate!”

 Pause...Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today.  The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people.

 We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”  Silence....He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves!  And we allow it.”

 “And the same is true with our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer  serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate and we see our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch.”

 I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

 “If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today.  It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “… dark days ahead.”

 Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach. His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your  players — no matter how good they are — your own children, your churches,  your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."

And this my friends is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and how to fix it.

"Don't widen the plate."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beware the Warning Signs

Several months ago I was giving one of our daughters a ride to Salt Lake. She commented that my car seemed "noisy" and wondered if I thought so. I dismissed her comment because she isn't often in town and I was giving her a ride to the airport. I thought she didn't know much about cars and probably wasn't in a position to make that judgment.

Then another daughter a few weeks later drove it home from Salt Lake when she was with Patsy, and the next time I saw her she made the same comment. "You know, Dad," she wisely counseled, "if you just let it go with a car things only get worse in time." "Women," I thought to myself, and once again I dismissed the warning.

Over the holidays we swapped cars with a son and his wife who live over in Heber City. When he returned it to me he wondered aloud, "Why is your car noisier than I remember it? Isn't a Prius supposed to be quieter?" Well, he didn't drive it as much as I did and I chalked up an explanation in my mind that it was probably a little noisier with snow tires on it during the winter months.

Then, after digging it out repeatedly in January and finally being able to drive it once more on a regular basis in February and March, I had to admit to myself - this car really DID sound noisier than I remembered it being. There was a distinct humming vibration in the steering at freeway speed that could easily be discerned in the steering wheel when I turned slightly left or right.

Then I took a group of colleagues (men and women) out to lunch last week. All commented on how noisy it sounded. Our collective wisdom led us to suspect a faulty wheel bearing assembly. One said, "In my professional opinion (he is not a mechanic) this needs to get into the dealership for an inspection."

I heeded the warning signs finally, and took it in for an evaluation. Sure enough, the right front passenger side wheel bearing assembly was badly compromised, and the mechanic told me I would have been a dead man at freeway speed had it failed en route. He thought it might have happened as early as the next two or three trips I took it on.

My purpose in telling this story is to remind us all that warning signs constantly seem to pop up in our lives on a frequent basis. Some we heed, others we dismiss. Some amount to nothing, but others may have life or death consequences if left unattended.

Recently, I have been made aware of some who are leaving the Church. There seem to be a variety of reasons, but each story suggests there are warning signs that left unattended can be catastrophic in time.

In one case, after a lifetime of service to the Church and a pension plan from "the Lord's university" in his hip pocket, it was reported a man and his family had exited the Church. He had been making increasingly bombastic statements about the humble servants the Lord has put in place. "Joseph Smith was the only true prophet," he maintained, "and all the others are just false prophets who have been leading the Church astray ever since." He asserts it is our Mother in Heaven who will judge us, regardless of what the scriptures have revealed. He is now helping Denver Snuffer raise money to distribute a new and improved version of the scriptures and build an "undefiled" new temple.

Another boldly declared, "The Church is talking out of both sides of its mouth on gays and lesbians. They are all our brothers and sisters, but same sex attraction support groups are nothing more than lip service. The leaders of the Church tell us to love them as our brothers and sisters, but they are not allowed to have full participation in the blessings."

Still another railed against the Church's policy to not permit minority-aged children of openly rebellious same sex couples from having the blessings of baptism and priesthood ordinations. They have been deeply offended and have asked that their names be removed from the membership rolls of the Church. "I cannot pay tithing to a Church that discriminates," he told me defiantly.

Most recently, I heard about a group who plan to protest next week's Conference proceedings because of a decades-old grievance about a Scout leader who was abusing Scout-aged boys and the activity had gone unreported for years until now when the boys had finally come forward. They have filed suit against the Church and are seeking judgment to avenge the loss of the innocence of those boys.

Still others, I have been told, plan to protest at the Conference for women to have priesthood ordinations, and others who would advocate for the leaders of the Church to overthrow President Monson because he is now senile. Stop me if you're old enough to remember that one before. News flash - the President of the Church is almost always an old man subject to the infirmities of the flesh.

These warning signs among us are real, and those who hold these often political and highly charged philosophical positions are certainly entitled to express their opinions. I believe most are sincere in their passionate assertions that they are right.

These conditions, it seems, are persistent now, but these conditions have always been with us. The Lord's servants have never had an easy path in this dispensation or in any other. The blood of the martyrs attests to their diligence and faithfulness in the face of all the opposition. In their lives we see a pattern worth emulating, I believe. We will be beset and besieged on all sides in the days and years ahead. The path will not be easier. The "noise" will become deafening until we must give heed and take action or risk death spiritually and even temporally.

I suggest that we chart a course and make up our minds early to heed the warning signs and take steps to repair those conditions that threaten our safety and our peace. The solutions will not come through political means. The Republicans and the Democrats are dead to me. The solutions to our frustrations may not always come to us through the leaders of the Church either. In our impatience with them we may be left to look within. What is the path we will take?

I ignored the warning signs of a bad wheel bearing assembly that persisted for months before I took action, seemingly just in time to save myself and my family from some dire consequences. But in acting to correct a simple malfunctioning part on a car I was spared. How like that simple story are our lives?

What warning signs are you detecting in your lives? Is it something you see? Perhaps something you can hear? Or is it more subtle? Is it something you feel that isn't right in your life? What do you need to do?

Maybe it's time to take it to the Dealer for repairs. You don't have to wait as long as I did to find relief.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Observed Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

"What a precious gift is divine love! Filled with that love, Jesus asks, 'Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?' Tenderly He reassures, 'Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come. . . will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.'" ("Abide in My Love," Ensign, November 2016).

He concludes: "Will you not love Him who first loved you? Then keep His commandments. Will you not be a friend to Him who laid down His life for His friends? Then keep His commandments. Will you not abide in His love and receive all that He graciously offers you? Then keep His commandments. I pray that we will feel and fully abide in His love. . ."