Friday, December 31, 2010

The Atonement and the Broken Cell Phone

There have been many, many metaphors put forward for the atonement.  To date, however, no one I know has ever suggested how the atonement can be like a broken cell phone.  I will explain.

I have a wonderful "caboose."  Merilee is the youngest living member of our clan.  I love her with all my heart.  There is little I would not do for her as her father.  I don't know how we knew, but when we named her as an infant it was the perfect moniker for her -- she makes everyone around her instantly "merrier" for having known her.  She rows along through life "merrily," leaving everyone in her wake better for the experience of having known her.

She has what can only be described -- her words -- as "bad cell phone luck."  I just plan on replacing at least two cell phones a year.  The chronicles of her adventures with her cell phones need not be enumerated here.  She would not be pleased if I did.

I will liken this last adventure with a broken cell phone to the atonement on this wise:

She had her last upgrade a year ago -- a veritable lifetime in cell phone years for her.  She was induced at an authorized independent retailer, ABC, located in the town where she attends college to purchase an insurance policy to cover her phone.  I was not with her at the time, I always decline insurance on her cell phones as well as extended warranties of any kind, just as a matter of principle.  However, they must have seen her coming, and she paid out of her own pocket a one time insurance premium for her phone.

The independent retailer, ABC, is authorized by XYZ Cell Phone Company (their name shall remain anonymous for the moment) to sell their own insurance policies.  XYZ, if you buy insurance from them, charges you on your phone bill one month at a time, then a deductible if you need to file a claim.  ABC, however, charges a one-time up front fee for insurance and a deductible when you file the claim.

Not knowing any of these details until last night, my sweet Merilee had a cell phone that didn't work.  KaPUT  went the phone -- it wouldn't charge.  You need to understand, we have a family plan with XYZ, five phones on the plan, and by far the heaviest user (not even close for second place) is my sweet Merilee.  When her cell phone is inoperable, life as she knows it ceases to exist.  The first month she had a cell phone as a high school student, she logged what I thought was a staggering number (1200) of text messages.  Then I learned last night 3200 is not considered excessive in some people's world.  I send maybe twelve, tops.

But I digress.  I had listened from afar for a week as a drama was unfolding in our household.  Merilee is staying with us during the holidays.  Only a few weeks ago before leaving to come home for the holidays, her phone had failed and she had received an insured replacement in the mail.  It was the replacement phone that had failed after a few short weeks of service.  She had dropped her insurance coverage on the replacement phone.  Now it was dead.  She took measures into her own hands, and went to an XYZ store, which really turned out to be only a DEF independent retailer of a different stripe from whom she had purchased the first insurance contract.  The employee with whom she spoke was either new or clueless, but he informed her she had no problem, it was covered under the warranty, and a new replacement was on its way in the mail.

She waited patiently over Christmas, but no phone showed up in the mail.  As her frustrations mounted, her countenance continued to fall.  No cell phone over the holidays was equated to no fun over the holidays.  When your only option for social interaction is Facebook, life can be glum indeed.  Finally, last night I did what every Dad would do.  I stepped in to "fix it."

I drove her and the broken cell phone to a real XYZ store, explained our dilemma, and was told, no problem, looks like it's still covered by insurance, here's the 800 number to call to get your replacement.  So I left the store, dialed the number on the way back home, only to be told that XYZ had no record of insurance on the phone, therefore, no coverage, therefore nothing we can do to help.

Back to the store.  Explained our dilemma once again to a different employee.  Piecing all the details together was not easy, but eventually another employee explained to us how ABC and DEF operate independently of XYZ, and there was nothing they could do to help us.  Finally, I suggested, "Here's the goal.  We want to leave here tonight with a phone that works, so please show us a replacement phone.  I'll be happy to buy it."  (After observing many enraged customers screaming at XYZ employees, it is my considered opinion that if you expect to have to pay more money and not to get anything for free, life will be more pleasant).

Merilee's blood was boiling.  I remained calm, rational, and filled with the expectation that nothing could possibly be done to overcome the details of our debacle.  Our sales agent introduced us to another agent, who once again heard our story as we were standing at the counter expecting to hand her a debit card to finalize the sale.

However, she did something very interesting.  She said, "Just a moment please."  She stepped away from the counter, was gone into the back room for five minutes, then emerged with this announcement:  "LG [the manufacturer] has agreed to cover the replacement cost in full for your new phone."

Let me add at this point that I have been a loyal customer of XYZ for something north of fifteen years.  You can do the math on your own for a family plan over that period of time -- it's a big number.  I don't for one minute believe the manufacturer agreed to do anything.  I think someone looked at the long history we have with XYZ and decided it was time to do something nice.  The reason I don't believe they covered the old phone is that when we returned home Merilee realized her photo memory card was still in the old phone back at the store, and it was now closed.

When she opened up the bag, however, there at the bottom was the old phone and the photo card.

As she examined the new phone and began to set it up with her preferences, her squeal of delight was, "This is an even better phone than the one I had."

* * *

So, tell us how this cell phone story is analogous to the atonement. . .

For many, many years I had "paid my dues" in obedience to the monthly ritual of payment in dollars in exchange for goods and services to XYZ.  I had done everything I knew how to do on my part.  There were months I was late on my payments, sometimes I forgot to pay my bill, and got whacked for a $15/phone reconnection fee on my next month's bill.  But I was faithful to the best of my ability.

All my life I've heard the analogies about our fallen condition and the atonement.  You know the ones I mean -- we're in a hole, we're in debt, we're cut off, we're lost, we're standing on the edge of a deep and wide chasm that cannot be bridged, and so on.  The Savior Himself introduced many of the parables with these images.

No analogy is perfect.  But there I stood last night with my little Merilee, anxious and willing to intercede on her behalf, even if it meant buying a new phone.  Then, completely unexpectedly and unearned on my part or hers, a fourth employee with the approval of her manager behind the scenes stepped forward with a gracious and random act of kindness and paid the price in full for a new phone.  It wasn't just a replacement for that which was broken, it was even better than what she had before.  She was taken to a higher state of cell phone existence, better than where she had been before.

It was a transformation instantly from cell phone purgatory to cell phone celestial glory.  It was as surprising as Paul's vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and Alma the Younger's encounter on the road with an angelic messenger in answer to the prayers of his father.

That's what Jesus does for the repentant sinners.  When we do dumb things like buying an insurance policy we don't need from a third-party provider (no reflection on Merilee -- a lot of people do that), then letting it lapse, leaving us naked before the judgment bar of cell phone outer darkness, but having done the best we knew how to do, He steps forward, takes us gently by the hand and leads us to a higher place than we merited on our own.

We were not forced to come to earth and experience mortality and all its contradictions, ironies, cruel and unfair judgments, deprivations and losses.  Somehow, we believed in the idea that the atonement of Jesus Christ offered us something better if we came than if we did not.  "A third part" opted out.

He redeems us by lifting us higher, not just by lowering a ladder down into the hole.

He pays the debt plus interest and penalties in full, not just by cutting a deal for a discount with our debtors.

He gives us the power to become something so much better with His help than just rounding up the lost souls, loving the alienated and the outcasts, and bridging the chasms of doubt, fear and misunderstandings.

He infuses us with power to overcome and to become something better than we would be without Him.

Everything we become in the end is just better.

* * *

P.S.  The real name of XYZ starts with V and ends in ZION, oops, I meant IZON.  But ABC and DEF shall remain nameless.  Someday when we finally arrive at the gates of the city of ZION, my bet is a GPS chip in a cell phone won't be how we got there.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top Quote from 1974

Every year, Fred Shapiro puts out his "Top Ten Quotes of the Year."  This year, he created a new list, and gives his reason for his top pick:

Fred Shapiro, Yale University

"People resented the fact that [Hayward] was wanting to get back to his yacht races and other aspects of his normal life when those little problems were dwarfed by the magnitude of what people on the Gulf Coast were dealing with," Shapiro said.
Here's the whole top 10 list (courtesy of the AP):

1. (TIE) "I'm not a witch." Christine O'Donnell, television advertisement, Oct. 4.

1. (TIE) "I'd like my life back." Tony Hayward, comment to reporters, May 30.

3. "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested." airline passenger John Tyner, speaking to Transportation Security Administration worker at San Diego International Airport, Nov. 13.

4. "Don't retreat. Instead - reload!" Sarah Palin, Tweet, March 23.

5. "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los mineros de Chile!" Chant at Chilean mine rescue, Oct. 13.

6. "I hope that's not where we're going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies [it's about guns]. They're saying: My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?" Sharron Angle, radio interview in January.

7. "We have to pass the [health care] bill so you can find out what is in it." Nancy Pelosi, speech to National Association of Counties, March 9.  [Jimmy Carter must LOVE this woman!]

8. "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." LeBron James, television broadcast, July 8.

9. "You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?" Christine O'Donnell, Delaware senatorial debate, Oct. 19.  (The Associated Press reported the quote: "So you're telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase 'separation of church and state,' is in the First Amendment?")

10. "They should never have put me with that woman. ... She was just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour." Gordon Brown, commenting about a voter he met while campaigning during the British general election, April 28.

Piggybacking on Shapiro, local Deseret News columnist Lee Benson added his own list of Top Ten Quotes with a Utah flavor.

* * *

It seems the standards of public discourse have slipped substantially if all that is required to make Shapiro's Top Ten List of Quotes these days is to say something so totally dumb and stupid it makes people laugh out loud.  Case in point:  Tied at Number One, Christine O'Donnell said a lot of stupid things in her unsuccessful Senate bid this year, including "I'm not a witch," after admitting she had once "dabbled" in witchcraft earlier in her life.

LeBron James, pretending anyone out there really cared all that much, declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.  It has to be right up there on the top ten list of ego indulgence ever foisted on America.

It started me thinking, what's my favorite quote as I thought back on the 2010 topsy-turvy year in politics?  There are so many who have given up hope in politics and politicians in general.  The country is mired in debt that is escalating now at a quicker pace than revenue (taxes) coming into the Treasury.  It's a dismal time for some, reminiscent of the "malaise" Jimmy Carter once described in a pivotal speech that eventually toppled his miserable presidency. 

It now seems there are many who have been transported back to that time in their minds, if not their stated opinion, of where we are in America.

President Ronald Reagan

Then along came Ronald Reagan, who would have none of it.  At the end of 1974, then Governor Reagan of California gave one of his most famous speeches, known as his "City upon a Hill" speech.  Reagan, of course, went on to beat Carter in the 1980 presidential election and touched off a period of economic recovery, national optimism, and sustained prosperity.   I've already quoted Reagan when he gave his famous farewell address in which again he used the image of the "city on the hill."  So it appears Reagan had a "bookend vision" for America when he commenced his bid to be President as early as 1974, spanning the years he served as President until January, 1989. 

Strange, how Carter was advocating back then for a government-run health care solution, and Reagan was opposed.  "There you go again," he said as Carter rattled off his government program wish list.  It would take 30 years, but finally the "progressives" in government imposed their will on health care and now it is the law of the land at a time when America can least afford another trillion dollar entitlement program.

I make no pretensions about government being able to solve all our social problems, even as laudable and desirable as it may seem to provide health care for everyone.  In fact, I would assert with Ronald Reagan that a bloated government with a voracious appetite for tax dollars has become the problem, exactly as Reagan predicted it would.

So as we come mercifully to the end of the 111th Congress, the end of 2010, the year marking the re-awakening of the American citizenry now aroused over the tyrannical treatment it has been subjected to, it is well to hearken back to another time, another year, when the infusion of optimism was as needed then as it is today.

So my favorite quote of 2010 isn't from 2010 after all.  It comes from 1974, but it is worth repeating and setting the tone for the 112th Congress to be sworn in next week, and for all of us to reconsider as we embark on 2011.  Note unapologetic references to God in Reagan's speech, and compare and contrast with quotes from 2010 that were considered noteworthy, not a single reference to God among them:

You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.

This was true of those who pioneered the great wilderness in the beginning of this country, as it is also true of those later immigrants who were willing to leave the land of their birth and come to a land where even the language was unknown to them. Call it chauvinistic, but our heritage does not set us apart. Some years ago a writer, who happened to be an avid student of history, told me a story about that day in the little hall in Philadelphia where honorable men, hard-pressed by a King who was flouting the very law they were willing to obey, debated whether they should take the fateful step of declaring their independence from that king. I was told by this man that the story could be found in the writings of Jefferson. I confess, I never researched or made an effort to verify it. Perhaps it is only legend. But story, or legend, he described the atmosphere, the strain, the debate, and that as men for the first time faced the consequences of such an irretrievable act, the walls resounded with the dread word of treason and its price — the gallows and the headman’s axe. As the day wore on the issue hung in the balance, and then, according to the story, a man rose in the small gallery. He was not a young man and was obviously calling on all the energy he could muster. Citing the grievances that had brought them to this moment he said, "Sign that parchment. They may turn every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave and yet the words of that parchment can never die. For the mechanic in his workshop, they will be words of hope, to the slave in the mines — freedom." And he added, "If my hands were freezing in death, I would sign that parchment with my last ounce of strength. Sign, sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, sign even if the hall is ringing with the sound of headman’s axe, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever." And then it is said he fell back exhausted. But 56 delegates, swept by his eloquence, signed the Declaration of Independence, a document destined to be as immortal as any work of man can be. And according to the story, when they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he could not be found nor were there any who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.

Well, as I say, whether story or legend, the signing of the document that day in Independence Hall was miracle enough. Fifty-six men, a little band so unique — we have never seen their like since — pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Sixteen gave their lives, most gave their fortunes and all of them preserved their sacred honor. What manner of men were they? Certainly they were not an unwashed, revolutionary rebel, nor were then adventurers in a heroic mood. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants and tradesmen, nine were farmers. They were men who would achieve security but valued freedom more.

And what price did they pay? John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. After more than a year of living almost as an animal in the forest and in caves, he returned to find his wife had died and his children had vanished. He never saw them again, his property was destroyed and he died of a broken heart — but with no regret, only pride in the part he had played that day in Independence Hall. Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships — they were sold to pay his debts. He died in rags. So it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston, and Middleton. Nelson, learning that Cornwallis was using his home for a headquarters, personally begged Washington to fire on him and destroy his home — he died bankrupt. It has never been reported that any of these men ever expressed bitterness or renounced their action as not worth the price. Fifty-six rank-and-file, ordinary citizens had founded a nation that grew from sea to shining sea, five million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep — all done without an area re-development plan, urban renewal or a rural legal assistance program. . .

Standing on the tiny deck of the
Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, "We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world." Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom. . .

We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return to the dark ages, Pope Pius XII said, "The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind."

We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Peace on Earth

I heard an earnest and sincere appeal in a sacrament meeting invocation for "peace on earth" yesterday.  This time of year we hear it more often than any other because we are reminded of "glad tidings of great joy" and "peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Joseph Smith
It seems I can never pass a Christmas Day, however, without being reminded and thinking deeply on the content of what I call "The Christmas Day Revelation" of December 25, 1832.  (See Section 87, The Doctrine and Covenants).  Ironically, on the day we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace (even though it was really April 6th), it is designated as a "revelation and prophecy on war," given through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

It is only eight short verses, but they are packed with implications stretching down through the hallways of time since that day into our lives today.

Benjamin Franklin
The establishment of a federal government in the United States of America intentionally bypassed the question of slavery.  Many, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were seeking abolition of slavery when they met with others to write the Constitution.  Of the four, Franklin was the most adamant about it.  (It's well known that Washington and Jefferson as "Southerners" were slave owners, but neither liked or advocated the practice).  Franklin and the others later relented "in order to form a more perfect union."  To get agreement on "most" provisions they set aside the slavery question for a later day.  They knew they had to get agreement, and soon, to a basic framework that would work to replace the wholly inadequate "Articles of Confederation."  Washington fretted about it from the moment the Revolutionary War ended.  So the abolition of slavery, the major sticking point, was delayed and deferred.

By the fall and winter of 1832, political discourse in the United States was dominated by something known as the "Nullification Crisis."  There remained tensions among the various states who had framed the Constitution.  The Southern tier of states felt threatened by the North.  The locus of the controversy was South Carolina.  There was a protective tariff enacted by Congress in 1828, known angrily in the South as the "Tariff of Abominations."  Like their former masters in England had done, this tariff with enough votes in the Northern states to pass it, imposed heavy duties on foreign manufactured goods coming into America.  That obviously favored and protected the economy of the industrial North, but it worked against the agrarian South and its slave economy. 

In addition to the economic problems, the South was becoming increasingly aware of a growing antislavery movement in the North.  In order to protect itself from these threats, South Carolina passed something called an "Ordinance of Nullification."

Recently in Virginia, using many of the logical arguments involving the misinterpretation of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, a federal judge declared the "individual mandate" embedded in the health care legislation that passed last year to be unconstitutional.  Similar arguments are being made today in Arizona and Texas about border control.  Not unlike the current debate and the court actions aimed at blunting the Obamacare legislation today, this 1832 ordinance was based on states rights philosophy which claimed the following:
  • Sovereignty resided in the states.
  • The states had created the federal government.
  • The states could decide if a law was constitutional.
  • If it was not, the federal law could be declared null and void in that state.

So, on November 24, 1832, a special convention in South Carolina declared the Tariff of 1828 null and void. This explosive situation nearly caused a war in 1832. (You can read about it here: William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836 [New York: Harper and Row, 1966]).

So it was out of this background of events from which sprang Joseph Smith's Prophecy on War.  It's a fair question how much Joseph Smith really knew about the details of the political controversy.  On the day the revelation was given (again, it was Christmas Day, 1832), we get this glimpse from the History of the Church:
"Appearances of troubles among the nations became more visible this season than they had previously been since the Church began her journey out of the wilderness. The ravages of the cholera were frightful in almost all the large cities on the globe. The plague broke out in India, while the United States, amid all her pomp and greatness, was threatened with immediate dissolution. The people of South Carolina, in convention assembled (in November), passed ordinances, declaring their state a free and independent nation; and appointed Thursday, the 31st day of January, 1833, as a day of humiliation and prayer, to implore almighty God to vouchsafe His blessings, and restore liberty and happiness within their borders. President Jackson issued his proclamation against this rebellion, called out a force sufficient to quell it, and implored the blessings of God to assist the nation to extricate itself from the horrors of the approaching and solemn crisis."  (HC 1:301).

Eleven years later, Joseph Smith was still interested in this subject. In Section 130 of The Doctrine and Covenants he wrote:  "I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will begin in South Carolina. It will probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832."  (D&C 130:12-13).
It's obvious the Prophet was aware of political events, and he knew slavery was emerging as an outgrowth of the nullification issue over the tariff.  So he did what he always did -- he studied it out in his own mind and "prayed earnestly" about it. 

There is a definition of "prophet" in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defining a prophet as, (a) a person who speaks by divine inspiration, and (b) a predictor.  Joseph Smith is cited as the example with this prophecy.

So here's what happened:  He made this prophecy 28 years, 3 months and 17 days before the event happened.

His first prediction was that war would occur between the states. Of course, this war did take place and is called The Civil War.  Between 1861 and 1865 a bitter war raged in the United States. It remains the bloodiest and most costly war in terms of lives in our American history.  (The best single-volume source is perhaps J. G. Randall and David Herbert Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction [Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Health and Company, 1969]).

Joseph Smith prophesied that South Carolina would take the initiative. On April 12, 1861, the Confederate forces laid siege to Fort Sumter.  This fort, filled with garrisoned United States troops, was located in the harbor off Charleston, South Carolina.  South Carolina definitely forced the issue.

He further prophesied this war would bring death to many (click the link above).  The Prophet foretold and accurately described the nature of the antagonists in this conflict. He specifically stated the North would fight the South.  This part of the prophecy is especially interesting because West also opposed East in the 1830s.  It could have gone another way, but Joseph Smith declared it would be a war of North against South.

The precision is interesting because Joseph Smith said the Southern states would call upon Great Britain and other nations for aid.  Once war broke out the South did send commissioners to various European nations to seek diplomatic recognition and military aid.  The South sent representatives to Great Britain, France, Holland and Belgium. The 1832 prophecy of Joseph Smith was fulfilled precisely.

Mohandas Gandhi

Nelson Mandela
Joseph Smith's prophecy on war was not limited to the American Civil War. It also included wars in other nations. In fact, the prophecy declared that "war will be poured out upon all nations." Subsequent events have proven he was accurate.  The distinctive reference to "slaves shall rise up against their masters" has been fulfilled again and again since then, the overthrow of dictators ever since being in the first rank of those prophecies.  Mohandas Gandhi in his struggle through civil disobedience for independence in India, or the Nelson Mandela saga in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa immediately come to mind as two examples.  Liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein is another more recent example (with a big assist from America, of course).

Orson Pratt
Leaders of the Church were fully aware of Joseph Smith's prophecy concerning the Civil War as early as the 1830s. Orson Pratt recalled:  "When I was a boy, I traveled extensively in the United States and the Canadas, preaching this restored gospel.  I had a manuscript copy of the Revelation [on war], which I carried in my pocket, and I was in the habit of reading it to the people among whom I traveled and preached."  (JD, 18:224).

Section 87 also provides other doctrinal insights.  It discusses the Lamanites, or the American Indians. These people are referred to in this revelation as "the remnants."  The revelation tells us that the Indians would become angry and "vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation" (v. 5).  (See Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4:334-35; and The Millennial Messiah, 242, 248).

* * *

Revelation and prophecy on war, given through Joseph Smith, December 25, 1832. History of the Church 1:301-2.

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.

* * *

The concluding verse is perhaps our key to understanding.  While we yearn for peace on earth, there will be no peace until He comes again.  The Middle East combatants will not suddenly sit down one day soon and devise a "two-state" solution for the border conflicts extant in Israel.  Afghanistan and Iran will not one day suddenly devise a truce with terrorist factions determined to overthrow freedom in every country on earth.  Tin pot dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro will not suddenly reverse course, in fact they are showing renewed signs of strengthening their grip on their respective countries.  The former Soviet Union today shows greater belligerence than ever before with little sign of continuing its once-defined course toward greater individual freedom.  China, while peaceful today, has an unruly step-child in North Korea.  Wars and their persistent rumors will continue.  Threats mounted by "progressives" from within America's borders to eliminate Constitutionally-defined freedoms continue to foment.

The antidote in the revelation for all of this is "stand in holy places and be not moved."  Holy places can be defined in many ways:  the stakes of Zion, dedicated buildings like chapels, temples, etc., homes, and wherever a "holy person" resides.  There may be no peace on earth in 2010, but there can be peace in our hearts, knowing we are true to the covenants we have made, true to the God of heaven, and true to His leaders whom He has sent among us.

As a bishop, I once heard a young man declare to me in defiance, "No one has the right to judge my heart, and especially NOT YOU!!"  Many who are not at peace in their hearts find it difficult to submit to constituted priesthood leaders and to accept them as the Lord's servants.  They believe they know better than the humble "sent servants" God has put in the judgment seats in modern Israel.  To submit to their inspired callings is to find the peace we seek because it aligns with His mind and will.  Increasingly, we will only find the peace in this world we seek when we put ourselves in alignment with His servants.  I have written extensively about this in the past. 

We have been promised peace, not world peace, but only on this wise, as found in John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth,
give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas: What Do You Remember?

Once again, someone sent me a marvelous post for Christmas.  I've protected the identities here for obvious reasons, but the message is more important than the identities:

Isaiah 9:6:   “For unto a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Take a journey with me for a moment.  

Think back to a childhood Christmas…what do you remember?   Where was your focus?   What did your testimony of the Savior consist of?   Did you know what that meant, for Jesus Christ to be your personal Savior?  

As a child, Christmas was a magical time in our home.   My mom would knock herself out to provide a perfect celebration.   We made caramels and toffee, decorated gingerbread houses, picked a different Christmas pillowcase each week of December, she made Christmas pj’s which we opened Christmas Eve, and every night we would gather together as a family and burn our advent candle and read a scripture story about Jesus and his character so we could come to know him better and understand who He is and what He has done for us.

Now move on to your teenage years…what were your Christmases like then?   How did your testimony of the Savior deepen?   What was your foundation - rock or sand?   What trials were you experiencing?   Did that build your faith or tear it down?

As my family continued to grow each year –  I marveled at how my parents continued to uphold the righteous traditions we had started so many years before.   As a child we had a few Santa decorations which we would haul out every year, but as we got older, my parents’ focus shifted more and more to the Savior.   My mom started collecting and putting nativity scenes all over the house, everyone noticed and as all collections –  it grew exponentially.   She now probably has more than 100 nativities ranging from one you can cup in your palm to baby doll size and very diverse from many different countries.  

Our Christmas Eves were amazing experiences as well.   My parents knew that due to the excitement of so many children opening presents on Christmas morning, the true meaning of Christmas might be glossed over or lost completely.   So from a very young age, on Christmas Eve, after a fancy delicious meal, we would act out the nativity.   We always had plenty of people to play the parts and my mom would always find costumes that we could wear to make it seem more real.   I especially remember the years that I played the part of Mary and the angel coming to the shepherds to proclaim “glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.   For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!”  

As a teenager I had read The Book of Mormon and my testimony was being strengthened as I participated in Seminary and Young Women.   I was realizing that it was all real, the Savior had died for me.   That gave me the faith to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.”  

When my youngest sister died a couple of weeks before Christmas, our testimonies were tried and miracles happened and peace came to support and sustain us.   Through that experience, we learned for ourselves that Families are Forever.   It was no longer just a song we sang, or a good idea, it was real.   We understood what Alma meant when he said “whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”

Now think about Christmas in your early 20s.   Maybe you were on a mission, in college, or a newlywed.   How did your testimony of the Savior grow as you started having children and became more selfless and aware of the needs of others?   How did your perspective change as you were heavy with child or had a new baby during the holiday season?   Did you relate to Mary and Joseph in a new and completely different way?

I remember reading my scriptures diligently, not wanting my missionary friends to come home so ahead of me.   I remember praying for guidance and confirmation to know if this boy I was dating was the “right one.”   And the answer was “YES!”

What a blessing in our lives to be able to receive revelation from our Heavenly Father.   Mary received revelation when the angel Gabriel appeared and said, “Blessed art thou among women, thou hast found favour with God and behold, thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.   He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.”   Joseph received revelation when an angel appeared in a dream and told him “fear not to take unto thee Mary to wife: she shall bring forth a son and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

Jennie was born January 11, 2000.   So during December 1999, I was great with child and very uncomfortable.   On Christmas Eve, we drove to my parents an hour away and up a 2 ½ mile ice-rutted dirt road and the last thing I could imagine that night was riding on a donkey for days on end from Galilee to Bethlehem!   As we hold our little ones in our arms and are amazed with each new thing they learn and concept they grasp and master, we get a sense of their potential and realize what it must of meant when it says in Luke that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”   What an incredible experience it is to watch as our children “grow and wax strong in the spirit, increase in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” as Mary and Joseph observed in Jesus.

Now think about your life this past year 2010.   What was your Christmas like last year?   What was the best thing you did?   What memories do you have?   What have you learned this year about your Savior?   How has your testimony been strengthened through the experiences you’ve had?   What knowledge have you gained as you study the scriptures, and ponder, and pray?

I have been given a great blessing in my life this past year to teach Gospel Principles in Relief Society.   I have taught lessons on Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Atonement, the Sacrament, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost among others.   It has truly blessed my life as I have studied the scriptures and words of the prophets in preparation for these lessons.   My testimony of simple truths has been strengthened.   My habits in scripture study have been more consistent.   I have received answers to prayers.   I have felt the promptings of the Spirit and been able to act on those more readily.   I have made progress on shortcomings that I have as I strive to make “weak things become strong.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I hope that as my little family celebrates Christmas each year the true meaning of Christmas will ring true for each one of them.   President Uchtdorf at the 1st Presidency Christmas Devotional two weeks ago said the Christmas “season ought to be a time of reflection on the birth of the Savior and his generosity.   If we look for the good this time of year, our hearts will change and open up to the miracle of the season.”

One of the best things about life, is if we don’t like how something is going in our lives, we can change it!   If our Christmas season isn’t feeling the way we want it to, change it, do something different.   We can make it more meaningful, more full of the Spirit of Christ.

I want to close with my testimony of my Savior, Jesus Christ.   I know he was chosen and we sustained him as our Savior before the foundation of the Earth.   I know Jesus Christ was born King of kings to Mary in a humble stable.   I know he was perfect and set the example for us to look to and follow.   I know he suffered both physically and spiritually in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary for me and for you.   I know he arose on the third day as a perfected, glorified, and resurrected being having won the victory over death, both physical and spiritual.   I know that Jesus Christ came, “not to destroy, but to fulfill all righteousness.”   He did everything He promised us He would do.   I know as we apply the Atonement to our lives every day through repentance and diligence and as we worthily partake of the sacrament weekly we will be cleansed and strengthened to be able to fulfill our missions as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

MoTab Christmas Concert with David Archuleta

We were lucky enough to win again (thanks to Mel, Kris and Mer) in this year's annual version of the Mormon lottery -- tickets to the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.  This year's featured guests were David Archuleta and Michael York.

The tickets are given away by the Church in a lottery to registered applicants, then (particularly this year) some were resold for ridiculous prices on E-bay.  Having a big family with lots of applicants scattered all over the country is all you really need to win, we've discovered.

It was a delicious treat for the eyes, ears and soul.  It's hard to put into words what you feel when you settle into your seat on a cold winter's night with 21,000 of your closest friends to feast on the Christmas spirit with the MoTab.  The orchestra and choir is sufficient, but throw in David Archuleta and Michael York for good measure and it's hard to compare!

The music is heavenly, the stage was a brilliant splash of a Christmas fantasy land (I especially loved the houses that looked like gingerbread houses, one of our favorite holiday traditions at our house), and Michael York's narration of the story about the early beginnings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was moving and emotional.  John Parry is not a name I had ever associated with the choir, and that's why it was so inspiring.

Here's the story in the Deseret News this morning about the concert.

David Archuleta
Of course, the featured artist was Utah's own David Archuleta.  Wow, what a voice!  It's about as pure as it gets.  I loved his rendition of the not-too-familiar carol, the "Cat and the Mouse."  It was a magical evening filled with song, dance, narration, orchestration, lighting, stage decorations and uplifting and inspiring music.  Mack Wilberg's peerless arrangements (seven on this year's program) continue to impress and delight.

Richard Elliott on the organ when he cranks it up with both feet and both hands flying over the keyboards of the organ is something to behold!  He's a true virtuoso.  He did a variation of "Deck the Halls" you have never heard anywhere else.    He continued to play as we exited the building after the concert's conclusion.

So be prepared to enjoy another Christmas treat next year when it's released to the public and PBS television.  This year's offering on CD and DVD was last year's concert with Natalie Cole and David McCullough.

The MoTab has entered another realm of musical excellence.

What's Up with Earmarks?

'Tis the season to be focusing on giving.  However, we must differentiate the Congress's tendency to give what it does not have from the gift exchanges associated with the Christmas season.

I got a private e-mail from someone who had read my blog yesterday, asking this question? "So what's the big deal with earmarks, Dave? Isn't that just the way states get their funding?"

The question itself demands an explanation and indicates how far down the slippery slope we have slid. When business as usual in Washington D.C. is business with no Constitutional oversight or even a nod of acknowledgement that there IS a Constitution by which we are governed that separates the defined powers of government carefully by design, you may know we have strayed far from the path the Founders laid out for us as a nation.

An "earmark" in a piece of legislation is a provision in a spending bill that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects, or that directs specific exemptions from taxes or mandated fees.

They have taken on a personality all their own in recent years, some being designated as "hard earmarks" embedded in the text of Congressional committee reports which have the effect of law, and "soft earmarks" that don't have the effect of law but are acted upon as if they were binding.

Bob Bennett (R-UT) has "distinguished" himself (I use quotes intentionally) as a senator who knew how to "bring home the bacon" (hence the phrase "pork barrel spending") because of his position as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He consistently defended the practice of earmarks, and as we saw yesterday in his advocacy of the omnibus bill remains unrepentant and defiant in defense of the practice.

Senator-elect Mike Lee (R-UT)
Back on March 17, 2010, then-Senate candidate Mike Lee (now Senator-elect) dared to raise an important question that went unanswered at the time: "Senator Bennett, why didn't you vote to support legislation banning earmarks for 2010 and 2011?" The Senate voted on the measure (Senator DeMint's Amendment 3454 to H.R. 1586), and Bennett was one of just a handful of Senators to abstain from voting. Lee said at the time, "Earmarks direct taxpayer dollars to specific recipients without review or public hearing. They are often wasteful pet projects and a reckless mismanagement of public funds for programs and projects not authorized by the U.S. Constitution. Though small in sum when compared to the total federal budget, they are an easy way to determine whether a Senator will adhere to the restraints found in the Constitution."

Noting Bennett's glaring absence for the vote, Lee said:

"Earmarks are an unfortunate footprint from where the Republican Party took the wrong path. True small-government conservatives, and even some conscientious Democrats, supported this measure to put a hold on a system that lends itself to abuse. We need an open, honest debate about earmarks, and missing a vote on something that critical is inexcusable. I think it's important for Utah, with its great national reputation for conservatism and thrift, to have representatives who will work to rein in this kind of system, rather than just look the other way."

The fiscally sound amendment had bipartisan support, and Utah's other Senator, Orrin Hatch, voted for it. Deficit spending facilitates the continuing growth of the federal government. Lee continued:

"It is far too tempting to shift the cost of today’s federal expansion to future generations. Until we require Congress to operate under a balanced budget, that expansion will continue. A balanced budget amendment is essential to restoring the original, proper role of the federal government."

Lee's critics continue to brand him as a wild-eyed conservative radical ideologue.  Well, if these are the statements of a radical, I say it's time to bring on the radicals!

The senators and congressmen who routinely insert these earmarks into legislation over which they directly preside as the bill wends its way through committee votes (assuming they observe the constitutionally-mandated practice of all spending bills originating first in the House through committee hearings before being sent to the Senate) often specify amounts of money designated for a favored organization or project in his/her home state or district.

The federal Office of Management and Budget defines earmarks as funds provided by Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process. This usurpation of the defined privileges of the Executive Branch by the Legislative Branch has led to the routine of massive overspending, soaring national debt and the out-of-control federal deficit. The checks and balances designed into the Constitution have been badly abused.

There have been attempts in recent years to define earmarks in ethics and budget reform legislation, but because the earmarking practice is controversial and the effect would be to curb Congressional power, little has happened to stop the practice.

Congress is required by the limits specified under Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution to pass legislation directing all appropriations of money drawn from the U.S. Treasury. This provides Congress with the power to earmark funds it appropriates to be spent on specific named projects. The earmarking process has become a regular part of the process of allocating funds within the Federal government.

However, earmarking differs from the broader appropriations process in which Congress grants a yearly lump sum of money to a Federal agency. These monies are allocated by the agency according to its legal authority and internal budgeting process. With an earmark, Congress directs a specified amount of money from an agency's budget to be spent on a particular project.  That practice must stop to begin restoring budgetary and fiscal sanity.

In the past, members of Congress did not have to identify themselves or the project. If there is any good news here, in more recent years earmarks are at least now associated and can be identified with requesting members in conference reports and members must certify that they and their immediate families have no direct financial interest in the earmark.

Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT)
In March, 2010, the House Appropriations Committee implemented rules to ban earmarks to "for-profit" corporations. According to the The New York Times, approximately 1,000 such earmarks were authorized in the previous year, worth $1.7 billion. (Eric Lichtblau, "New Earmark Rules Have Lobbyists Scrambling", The New York Times, March 11, 2010).

That said, here's my problem with earmarks, and it became a defining issue for me in my support for Mike Lee as he opposed Senator Bennett. The issue is one of accountability -- there is none. The process is not transparent at all, except to look up the name of the member of Congress who is requesting the spending in his home state. Under the present practice, Congressional members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for a project without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public. Because earmarks are hard to identify, some members are tempted to use them to secretly award their biggest campaign contributors or exchange them for bribes. I make no direct allegations here, just sayin'. . . it could happen.

The secrecy of the earmarking process invites unethical and corrupt behavior, where lobbyists and contractors and well-connected individuals give campaign contributions to legislators in return for federal funding. The abuses could be legion (we'll never know the full extent), but rarely do they rise to the open sunlight of scrutiny in the public arena because the practice is secretive by design.

Generally, the more powerful members of the U.S. Congress get more earmarks. The good-old-boy seniority system is corrupt on its face and must be dismantled to gut this practice of earmarking once and for all. It's a false premise to run on a record of bringing home the bacon, using U.S. taxpayer money to fund state projects.

Members of the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate (read Bob Bennett) are in the best position to secure earmarks. This was cited throughout the campaign as the reason to vote for Bennett in Utah. They can insert them into spending bills during closed committee meetings, with no public scrutiny. Earmarks are also offered to members to entice them to vote for a bill they otherwise might not vote for. Ask yourself, was earmarking used to round up enough votes for Obamacare a year ago? If you answered, "NO," you are excused.

Advocates who defend this practice like Senator Bennett argue that directing money to particular purposes is a core Constitutional function of Congress. If Congress does not make a specific allocation, the task falls to the Executive Branch. In their minds, there is no guarantee that the allocation made by executive agencies will be superior to Congress's, especially when the opposing party is in power. Presidents and executive officials have historically used the allocation of spending to reward friends and punish enemies.

The process of earmarking has been substantially reformed since the beginning of the 110th Congress. That's the good news -- the trend is positive -- but there is still a long way to go to clean up the practice.

The self-imposed limitation is that member-directed projects cannot exceed 2 percent of the federal budget. That's how you get to 6,631 earmarks totaling $8 Billion in this last omnibus spending bill monstrosity and justify it with a straight face.

Senator Bennett was fond of saying, "You just don't know how things work in Washington, D.C." To which the voters in Utah responded, "Yes, Senator, actually we DO know how things work, and we're seeking to change things."  Out with the old and in with the new.

For me, Mike Lee will be a refreshing and invigorating agent of change.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bob Bennett: Consistent and Tone Deaf

Boston Harbor, 1773
Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago last night (can it really be just a "coincidence?"), a group of colonists disguised as Indians boarded British merchant ships and dumped an estimated £10,000 worth of tea into Boston Harbor.

John Adams described that moment in our history as the “grandest event which has ever yet happened since the controversy with Britain opened.”  The struggle for independence from Britain would drag on for eight long and frustrating years before the American dream of freedom became reality as the British redcoats succumbed to the ragtag band of patriots and the Revolutionary War finally ended. 

Many people believe the Boston Tea Party was just a protest about an unfair tax.  But it was infinitely more than that.  The 1773 Tea Party was a manifestation of the colonists' protest against the process by which the British government taxed them.  It was the methods the British throne was using to govern them that aroused them to action.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
Last night, our forefathers would have been proud.  Another major victory against what can only be described as a tyrannical process was won when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) was forced to drop his $1.27 trillion, 1,924-page omnibus spending bill.  Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called this bill "dreadful" and opposed it vociferously.  He's gone to school on Bennett's demise, and is already running hard in his all out social media blitz to bid for re-election in 2012.

The problem with Reid’s omnibus spending bill was not just its size, but the process by which it was drafted and forced on the American people.  There was no committee review.  No one was given the chance to read the bill before it came up for a vote.  It was being crammed down at the last minute again. 

The utter collapse of this "dreadful" bill was a complete rejection of that way of doing business in Washington.  It's historic in its implications because it came at the end of the 111th Congress, the lowest rated Congress since Gallup has recorded public opinion. 

Senator John McCain (R–AZ) told National Review:  “I know this is a seminal moment, because for the first time since I’ve been here, we stood up and said ‘enough.’”  Classic quote!!

Lame Duck Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT)
Last night’s victory could not have happened without the modern reincarnation of the Tea Party.  Here's the saddest part of the story for me personally.  Once again, lame duck Senator Bob Bennett (R–UT), who was resoundingly rejected at the nominating convention, lined up on the wrong side of history on his way out the door after eighteen years.  He was working “actively to round up as many as nine potential Republican votes” for the omnibus bill.  He never heard the electorate, and continues to turn a deaf ear right to the bitter end.  "That's my intention," Bennett told The Hill when asked if he would support the package.  Bennett said earmarks in the bill might give some of his GOP colleagues reason to hesitate but wouldn't affect his vote. "It will be tough for some, but not for me," he said.  During his re-election bid he not only refused to oppose the earmark practice, he defended it.  And we all know how that ended at the convention.

The bill was tinselled with over 6,000 earmarks worth $8 billion, a "mere fraction" of the total size of the bill, but come on, they're trying to pull this crap within a month and a half of a stunning repudiation of the "business as usual" way of doing things in Washington D.C.?  Even President Obama described it as a "shellacking."  It appears, the will of the American people will not be denied, even in this lame duck Congress.

To counter Bennett's actions among his Republican colleagues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) worked in direct opposition to Bennett with those nine Republicans.  Many of them are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  McConnell asked them to drop their support for the bill. 

Senator Thad Cochran (R–MS), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, had 281 earmarks worth $561 million in the bill.  McConnell himself had 48 earmarks worth $113 million.  It's shameful, but this time they got it right at long last when the chips were down.  I'm encouraged, and I'm the forever optimist.

But the daylight has finally dawned, it appears.  McConnell told National Review afterward: “We decided that we’re not going to pass a 2,000-page bill that nobody has seen since yesterday. That’s not the way to operate and that’s not the message from the November elections.”  May history be made!!

This is fabulous news, America!  It can only be considered a victory!  Not every member of the unpopular 111th Congress has gotten the message of the November elections.  By the time the next election cycle rolls around, watch for the remaining clingers on to the Obama agenda to be gone altogether if this emerging 112th Congress sticks to its knitting and continues to listen to their constituents.

According to Gallup, the American people dislike this 111th Congress more than any other Congress in the history of public opinion data gathering.  Eighty-three percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, while only 13 percent approve.  It was the faith of Thomas Jefferson that the majority of informed Americans would almost invariably eventually get it right.  That's why he never hesitated to put so much power into the hands of the citizens, and eschewed big government.  He spread power around intentionally for these very reasons, and once again the Founders are exonerated.

That is the worst approval rating in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. 

Last night Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D–CA) House also voted to prevent a massive tax hike on the American people.  It now looks like Congress will pass a simple bill that freezes spending through February of next year.

Mercifully, the 111th Congress is toothless at last.  And Senator Bob Bennett, the first harbinger of the electorate's wrath against incumbents in 2010, finally goes with it.

To the bitter end, Senator Bennett remained consistent and tone deaf.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Can You Imagine?

This time of year is a good time for love and marriage.  Pasty and I were married in December.

The Goates Kids
Back in the day, we imagined having a family.  She always said she wanted a large family.  Her wishes came true.  Having a large family, however, takes a lot more living than merely wishing it into existence.

We were remembering this week, having both recently suffered a mild 24-hour variety of the annual flu bug, that it was a long time ago when either of us suffered that fleeting but uncomfortable malady.  In fact, it was a memorable evening when the flu bug visited our humble abode by striking down one child at a time.  I was the only one who escaped that night, but paid the price a few days later.  Every hour on the hour that night I was up with each in turn, cleaning up the remains, washing sheets, changing beds, mopping bathroom floors and toilets.  It's funny now, looking back all these years, not as funny that night.

We were all together at Thanksgiving, well most of us anyway.  We counted 47 for dinner.  The accompanying picture is the grandchildren who came (some of them).  We were missing three families that day, but saw one family the next day.  Only two families remained at home, one in Montana, the other Chicago.  That condition is soon to be partly remedied, as the Goates family currently living in Chicago is coming home the end of January to live once again among us.  Yippee!

The future is bright.  As I look upon these little grandchildren (we are tending one today), I am always keenly aware of their purity and innocence.  I cannot imagine a man so heinous that he would intentionally harm or injure one of these little daughters of God.  In the expectation, joy and promise in their eyes, we can see the future.  In their countenances we look upon the face of God.

Carl Sandburg once famously observed, "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on."

I was amused at a comment Bill Cosby made years ago, when he said, "
Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit."

Ten fingers, Ten toes
She's laughter and teardrops
So small and brand new
And amazingly angelic
She's sent to bless you
She's one special Baby
The best of life's treasure
And will grant and bless you
Many hours of great pleasure.
Author Unknown

Like most of our local community in and around Salt Lake City, we have observed Elizabeth Smart's silent ordeal unfold in a very public and intrusive way since she was first abducted eight years ago in 2002.  Can you imagine that she survived alive after nine months of unimaginable daily abuse, terror and rapacious behavior at the hands of her captor?  This is miracle enough.  That she matured gracefully, surmounted her teenage years and decided to serve as a missionary is unbelievable.

Elizabeth Smart
Brian Mitchell
The contrast between her and her perpetrator is stark!  They shared each other's lives for nine torturous months -- one forcing his will, the other surrendering hers to survive day to day.  Her direct testimony against him is credited with the eventual jury verdict of Mitchell's guilt.
The details need not be repeated here. They can be found everywhere:  Here's the story of the trial's conclusion.  Here's the story of the jurors' news conference.

It's a human interest story that every parent of every little girl hopes will never be repeated.  The world in which we live is filled with terror, evil of every kind and doom and gloom on every newscast.  It's the stuff of which the nightly news is made.  As long as the evil and the horror is news, we can be assured there is still goodness with which it can be contrasted, and that is a good thing.  When we are no longer abhorred and repulsed by it we are past feeling.  That is a frightening prospect.  News, by definition, should be extraordinary -- out of the ordinary.  The mundacity of life is a sign normalcy is still achievable, even in the midst of unspeakable evil.

Can you imagine an outcome that despite all the adversity and hardship, all the improbable possibilities, all the naysayers and all the prophets of doom and gloom notwithstanding, could be fabulous and achievable anyway?

Can you imagine that overcoming whatever evil (no matter what its label) has grabbed you by the tail and is shaking you about like a rag doll, can be eventually overthrown and that you can one day be victorious?

Can you imagine that no matter how abusive or angry or indifferent or unloving your parents may have been to you that you can chart a completely different course in your life and no longer be held captive by the past through love and forgiveness unfeigned?

Can you imagine the worst thing on earth happening to one of your pure and innocent little girls and still being able to find love and forgiveness for the perpetrator even before the slow demands of justice are fully satisfied?

Can you imagine as a victim of horrific crime modeling your responses and taking strength from the example of one like Elizabeth Smart, confronting her abuser face to face, standing up for the truth, recounting all that was taken from you, and rising above it all to serve others selflessly despite all the damage inflicted?

Can you imagine that no matter how negative the news may be today a brighter tomorrow looms up ahead just over the next horizon, no further away than the next sunrise?

Can you imagine seeing the fulfillment of all your sacrifice and service in the faces of your little grandchildren someday?

Can you imagine?

Then someday, like Elizabeth Smart, you may receive His image in your countenance.  (Alma 5:19).