Sunday, November 28, 2010

Four Suggestions on Conducting Sacrament Meeting

One day I will write the definitive book on things I wished I had known at a younger age so I wouldn't have had to make all the mistakes myself to learn what would be considered "best practices."  Conducting sacrament meeting is in that long list -- how to do it and how not to do it.  I wish as a younger priesthood leader and new member of a bishopric I had focused more on the Savior as the centerpiece of the meeting.  I am not in an official training position in the Church now to do anything about giving counsel to those who do conduct that meeting each week, but I can offer some suggestions gleaned through observation.

Elder Russell M. Nelson
If I were conducting sacrament meeting today, I think I'd do things better than when I was actually in bishoprics and doing it then.  Like all topics in the "unwritten order of things" in the Church, this one also has a definitive and declarative Apostolic witness to which we can point.  Elder Russell M. Nelson offers it in an address given at a worldwide leadership training meeting on 21 June 2003.  It was reprinted in the August 2004 Ensign, (24-28), as an article titled "Worshiping at Sacrament Meeting."

In part, Elder Nelson said, "Bishoprics and branch presidencies have responsibility not only to plan these meetings, but to conduct them. They should do so reverently. Some in the congregation are praying for delicate promptings and communication from heaven. Establishing a spirit of reverence will help them receive those promptings. Remember: reverence invites revelation.

"Those conducting the meeting begin by extending a cordial greeting. Detailed announcements are more appropriately handled some other time. Because we invite all to come unto Christ, friends and neighbors are always welcome but not expected to take the sacrament. However, it is not forbidden. They choose for themselves. We hope that newcomers among us will always be made to feel wanted and comfortable. Little children, as sinless beneficiaries of the Lord’s Atonement, may partake of the sacrament as they prepare for covenants that they will make later in life.

"Our meetings are always to be conducted as directed by the Spirit (see D&C 46:2). Occasionally something unexpected may arise that a presiding officer may wish to clarify or correct, as prompted by the Spirit. Otherwise, no additional commentary is given after the final speaker has spoken."

In the spirit of that general instruction, let me underscore four particular points gleaned through participation in thousands of sacrament meetings over the years in many different wards and settings:

1.  Be on time.

It's always a good idea if you're in the bishopric to be in your seat at least five minutes before the meeting starts.  That way you can greet guest speakers, visiting authorities, and have a chance to make last minute adjustments under control.  As you sit reverently and listen to the prelude music, others in the audience will quietly take their seats too.  If you're not there, there is no sense by the attendees that things are getting close to getting started, so they will continue to visit and mingle and wander around the chapel.  The meeting actually begins the minute you take your seat on the stand and look into the faces of the ward members.  I found revelation flowing freely about certain ward members.  It's the reason presiding officers with priesthood keys sit facing their flock.  It's hard to explain until you have experienced it, but it is real.  Then start the meeting at the appointed hour.  That gives you a chance to assess the size of the crowd and make adjustments to the number of sacrament trays and emblems in place.  Anticipate early what might go wrong.  Don't react if you can be pro-active.  Be settled early, never introduce the spirit of not knowing what's going to happen next.  Planning is enhanced by punctuality.

2.  Don't try to be funny.

As the conducting officer, sacrament meeting is not the place to introduce humor.  Save your quips and the latest joke you've heard.  Set a reverential tone by the things you say in welcoming people and how you say them.  Sincerity is much more appealing than humor or sarcasm.  The world is full of self-appointed clowns and entertainers -- some are actually well-paid.  Appropriate humor is one of the charming attributes of prophets -- President Hinckley and President Monson are classic examples.  Their humor is always appropriate, self-deprecating and in good taste.  Many conducting officers thinking to imitate lose a lot in translation.  It's generally best to let the speakers introduce some humor if they choose, but the conducting officer should maintain the idea of setting the tone and the spirit of the meeting.  Elder LeGrand Richards and Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone were masters of humor.  Don't be tempted.  I've seen things escalate out of control from some unwise attempts to start the meeting, and raucous laughter has too often ensued, killing the spirit and the intent of worship for all in attendance.

3.  Never give announcements over the pulpit.

It takes a little more disciplined foresight and training, but with practice it can be done.  A written program is the proper place for all announcements.  Remember, sacrament meeting is a worship service and the only place on earth (except for a few notable exceptions) where we participate in revealed prayers on the emblems of the Lord's atoning sacrifice.  The texture of the meeting should be pointed toward the sacrament and anything we can do to focus our attention on that is desirable.  Resist the temptation to have someone who's a stakeholder in the Pinewood Derby take a minute announce all the rules and the date of the competition.  There should be no exceptions to that rule in my opinion.  Sacrament meeting is not a business meeting.  While there are ward business items to be accommodated, such as sustainings and releases, everything else should find its way into the written outline of the day's program or not brought up at all.

4.  Announce the whole program after the sacrament.

There is nothing more distracting than a conducting officer who is up and down during a meeting like a Jack-in-the-box.  Before or after the sacrament (local leaders may direct their preference), announce the balance of the program, including the closing hymn and the benediction, then sit down.  Your role is finished.  Don't ever announce most of the program then say, "And we'll go to that point in the program."  You have never heard a General Authority conduct a meeting that way.  Don't ever get up again at the end of the meeting unless the building is on fire or you have heard some egregious doctrine being taught that needs to be corrected.  Of course, the person conducting the meeting is always subject to the direction of the presiding authority, and the one who is senior always takes precedence.  Your final commentary about who said what and how they said it is not necessary.  Let the meeting play out and allow the Spirit to add the commentary, not you.

Just remember, I'm not king of the world here.  Take guidance from your local leaders on the hows and wherefores of conducting sacrament meeting. 

But if I were king of the world. . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Five Ideas for Teachers

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no professional paid clergy.  Sermonizing and teaching one another is in the hands of rank amateurs.  It's one of the evidences the Church must be true. 

Elder Gene R. Cook
To aid us in our efforts, Elder Gene R. Cook offered a priceless resource years ago entitled Teaching by the Spirit.  It's a classic.

We send volunteers, nineteen-year-old missionaries, on missions they or their families pay for to the far flung countries of the world to teach and to testify of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these last days.  It has been that way from the beginning so the prophecy can be fulfilled:

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets —
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh —
But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.  (D&C 1:17-24).

I have no idea what the "pure Adamic language" must have been like.  Imagine a universal language everyone spoke without the need for translation.  Every nuanced word was intelligible and understandable to all.  As an amateur writer and teacher most of my life, I have loved and cherished the power of the written and spoken word.  I have sought to be clearly understood and to speak and write clearly, to pick words with meaning that cannot be misunderstood.  I have come to know it isn't about the need to teach to be understood, but to teach so that we cannot possibly be misunderstood.  I succeed some times better than others.  But because of the following verses of scripture, I am bound to seek the one pure language left on earth -- the "tongue of angels:"

Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.  (2 Nephi 32:2-5).

If the gospel were designed in such a way that it could only be taught by the learned and the best-educated among us, then only PhDs would be invited to teach classes in the Church.  However, so the purity of the gospel message might be preserved in its simplicity, we are informed by our own faith that even the least saint may know and understand the doctrines of the restored gospel. 

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith said in 1839:  "God hath not revealed anything to Joseph [calling himself by name], but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them."  Even the least saint, I repeat.  The Prophet continued:  "For the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest." (TPJS, 149).  Note that "all shall know him" is different from everyone knowing about him.

Here are my five ideas for better teaching in the Church.  Remember, these ideas have merit only because I am a rank amateur and they are offered after many years of observation and participation in a volunteer Church:

1.  Never apologize when you begin.

Too many of us are intimidated by the calling to teach.  What we all fail to acknowledge is we are all inadequate in some way.  The Church is designed that way.  There is no need to apologize for your lack of gospel scholarship.  When someone in the class is obviously better equipped than you because they know the scriptures and have paid the price for their knowledge, don't apologize in advance.  As a young man, I once taught a class in a ward filled with men of vast experience and years of priesthood service.  I apologized that I didn't think there was anything I could teach them they didn't already know.  One of them, a General Authority at the time, approached me after my lesson and said, "David, don't ever apologize for what you don't know.  Instead, teach what you do know with power and conviction."  We can all learn from each other and be edified together that way.

2.  Teach from the scriptures.

This summer we were visiting in a ward and sat in on a Gospel Doctrine class.  The topic was some chapters in Isaiah.  Rather than apologize that she wasn't an Isaiah scholar, she began by stating we would be reading a number of scriptures from Isaiah, and she invoked the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to attend our reading so we could be taught what each needed to know in our individual lives.  She proceeded through the words of Isaiah, often pausing to allow comments and insights, shared testimonies and affirmations to underscore what we had read.  One son was seated next to me with his i-phone.  I noticed he was following along in the teacher's manual he had downloaded as a free application from the Church, and I observed the teacher did not deviate one iota from the order in which the scriptural passages were presented in the outline.  We were exceptionally well-taught that day because this inexperienced teacher who was not wise in men's wisdom about Isaiah was obviously acquainted with the Holy Ghost.  I heard soon afterward from another son about the same lesson, different city, in a university singles ward.  The teacher was a young woman, a freshman, who was teaching the Gospel Doctrine class.  He told me he was writing notes so fast about what the Spirit was teaching him from one verse that he was oblivious to her constant apologies for not knowing more.  In both cases, one an older woman with grandchildren, and the other a freshman college student, let the Holy Ghost do the teaching from the words of the scriptures.  They were inspired messengers, and may not have even been aware how profound and powerful the teaching was that day.
3.  Seek the Spirit.

Before you teach, once you have the material before you, pray over it.  Ask Heavenly Father to bless you with His Spirit to do two things -- so you may understand the underlying doctrine He would have you teach, and so your students will hear and understand what they are seeking.  Some people in the Church think dispensing the facts is teaching.  It is not.  Stories from the scriptures are wonderful as stories, but not all stories from the scriptures are "doctrinally drenched," as Elder Maxwell used to say.  Teach to make a spiritual connection with those being taught.  People come to Church looking for spiritual experiences.  Don't disappoint them by spilling leaked tears in a flood of nothing but emotion.  Do not mistake emotion for the Spirit.  Often the Spirit manifests itself through the emotions, but just because someone is emotional does not mean the Spirit of the Holy Ghost is affirming what they are teaching.  I've heard a lot of false doctrine taught over the years by emotional people without the accompanying witness of the Holy Ghost because what they were saying simply wasn't true.  The Spirit testifies of the truth.  Let him speak through you.  He will comfort, instruct, reprove, chasten and edify if you will let him.

4.  Don't ever say, "I think. . ."

Don't ever ask the question, "What do you think?" especially when you are teaching a group of high priests.  Better to ask, "Has anyone had an experience with this principle you would like to share?"  I wish I had a nickel for every time I've been in a lesson where the collective wisdom of the group takes over with individual statements prefaced with "I think."  The Spirit leaves.  The best answers to gospel doctrine questions always come from the scriptures – the four “standard works” – the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.  The next best source is from the writings and sermons of the Presidents of the Church.  I have always included Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith) as the "fifth standard work" in my arsenal of valid sources.  All other sources, while they might be enlightening and interesting, should only serve to confirm the answers you have obtained from these primary sources.  Brigham Young once taught, “Study the word of God, and preach it and not your opinions, for no man’s opinion is worth a straw.  Advance no principle but what you can prove, for one scriptural proof is worth ten thousand opinions.”  (History of the Church, vol. 3, 395-96).  The next time you are tempted to say, "I think. . ." in answer to some gospel question, stop and think twice about it.  If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say, "I don't know the answer to that question, and you can quote me on that."

5.  Testify.

President Ezra Taft Benson once gave a conference talk entitled, "I Testify."  I encourage you to read the things of which the Prophet testified.  I suggest you all know the very same things and can testify they are true.  Just because the Prophet of God uses the word "testify," it is not reserved to prophets alone.  When we know a truth, when the Spirit of the Holy Ghost has borne witness to us it is true, we may also say, "I testify."  Be aware of what you know to be true.  Programs, subject to change and constant revision, are not in the same category as doctrines with eternal implications.  The scouting program, or the Young Women's program, or the Young Men's Duty to God program never saved anyone.  Don't anchor your testimony in programs.  While nice, they are not as important as the saving doctrines of the kingdom.  By familiarizing ourselves with things that matter most, we will avoid dwelling on things mattering least.  Elder Marion D. Hanks used to say, "Don't get caught up in the thick of thin things."  Stephen R. Covey said, "The most important thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."  There is a marvelous passage of scripture affirming this principle: 

"And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it.  These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them; wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words."  (D&C 18:33-36).

If we were to do nothing but read the words of the scriptures to one another and bear witness of their truthfulness, the quality of teaching in the Church would improve dramatically.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eight Steps to Perfection

Sermon on the Mount

I've stood on the sloping hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee and imagined what it might have been like to be in that audience.  The Sermon on the Mount continues to be one of the most quoted pieces of scripture in the Christian tradition.  More than a theological essay on what constitutes "blessedness," the Savior offered an eight-step process leading to the fulfillment and universal happiness everyone seeks.  We call them the "The Beatitudes," but I have come to believe they are an outline for living designed to procure the perfect life. 

This topic of perfection is interesting.  Go back twenty or thirty years and you find Apostles preaching it is achievable, a goal to be sought, and a destination within our grasp if not in this life then the next.  More recently, scholars have suggested "perfection" isn't really that at all -- it's more a matter of being "complete," or "finished" in our faith in Christ's perfection.  I favor the latter interpretation, only because it seems to reflect more accurately on my belief in Christ as the Deliverer, the Savior and Redeemer.  (See Moroni 10:32-33).  I can "strive" for perfection in this life, perhaps one thing, one attribute, one principle and one commandment at a time, but in the end I must still rely totally and completely on the merits of Christ's perfection and perfect my faith in Him to be "finished" and "complete" in my faith.  Despite my best efforts at perfection without Jesus Christ, I remain a fallen mortal, weak and unfit for the Kingdom.

I've done perfect work with the Word of Wisdom, Sabbath day observance, with tithing, with Church attendance, with a host of other "achievables," but perfect in everything?  Uh, no, not even close.  But in my hope of Christ's perfect atonement for me, I have come close to perfection as I come to view myself as fallen and weak. 

I believe the Beatitudes offer a way of life worth pursuing.  Four of the eight have to do with our individual souls, the living and sanctifying of our personal lives.

1.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.

2.  Blessed are they that mourn.

3.  Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.

4.  Blessed are the pure in heart.

"To be poor in spirit"

Goates cousins

I see myself as spiritually needy.  I have been poor in spirit when I lack faith, and the older I grow the more aware I am of my dependency upon the Lord for everything -- breath, clothes, warmth, transportation, food, health and life.  When I witness the births of these little grandchildren I realize now more than I ever did as a young father how precious, how fragile, and what a miracle birth really is.  I now never let a day pass without acknowledging fervently my gratitude for guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.  When I have been poor in spirit and acknowledged it, I have been made rich almost in the moment I have asked for a greater endowment.  There have been times when I needed to be filled, to be rich in spirit -- times when I was a father and my best efforts fell short, times as a bishop when there were no easy answers to perplexing problems I had never considered until they were presented to me by struggling souls.  I had to be rich to fill those who were poor in spirit.  And now looking back, I realize I have been nothing more than a conduit for the Spirit.  Needing forgiveness myself, it has been easier to forgive, and realizing how patient God has been with me, it has been easier to value patience as a virtue in my interactions with others.  I hasten to add "easier," but still working at it.  Thus I have been made rich in spirit.  Each day presents a new day for expanding need to have more spirit within me.  Each day together and individually we plead for the guidance of the Spirit -- to be made rich in spirit.  All the wealth and learning or worldly position cannot displace the need for the Spirit in our lives.  To have the Spirit is the polar opposite of pride or self-conceit.  I have never known a person filled with pride who had the Spirit.  Job reminds us, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."  When we sense our need for the Spirit, we are ready for adoption into the "church of the Firstborn, and to become the elect of God."  (See D&C 76:50-70).

"To mourn"

I have routinely mourned as I have come to understand my feet are firmly planted in clay.  While I long to surmount and triumph over ALL my sins, I am routinely mourning continually over a few I keep repeating.  I know what it is to experience "godly sorrow that worketh repentance."  The magnitude of my sins may not be as noticeable as others', but the awareness of the incremental need to improve is escalating daily.  I don't let my mourning for my weakness consume me, however, because my faith in Christ accelerates through my new found awareness and hope displaces the sorrow for self.  My tendencies are slipping away.  Old age has something to do with it, I suppose, but choosing consciously to avoid sin wipes away the mourning.  Losing the desire to sin while younger is more imporant than losing the ability to sin when older.  I love the way the Apostle Paul said it, as he found "glory in tribulations knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope."  (Romans 5:3-4).  The formula is offered in the true definition of what membership in the Church involves:  You must be willing "to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light."  You must be willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  (Mosiah 18:8-9).  I never understood that passage until I was a bishop -- the mourning has more to do with the old man of sin dying than an actual funeral.  I had a perpetual stock of Kleenex on my bishop's desk.  Never before or since have I witnessed such sorrow.  In a word, we mourn first for our own sins until we develop faith in Christ, then we succor and comfort others in their mourning over theirs.  As we lift and bless others, all the boats in the harbor rise including our own.

"To hunger and thirst after righteousness"

I once heard someone explain fasting this way:  "To fast without a purpose is merely to starve."  Have you noticed how precious water is after twenty-four hours of abstinence?  Have you savored the taste of food when you have gone without for a day or so?  Was that hunger and thirst coupled with a spiritual purpose?  Has desiring a spiritual gift or seeking a worthwhile purpose enhanced your lack of temporal comfort for a period?  When we experience that hungering and thirsting, we begin to understand what the Savior must have had in mind when He said we must hunger and thirst after righteousness with as much fervor as quelling our physical hunger and thirst when it seems so urgent.  It's that hungering and thirsting that leads those who come camping in Woodland and other holiday weekends to come seeking fellowship with the saints in our three-hour block of meetings, even when the seating is hard to come by.  It's that hungering that drives us into the scriptures to feast at the doctrinal banquet table, and steers our course to temple altars where the water of eternal life is dispensed without restriction.  Those who keep the Sabbath day holy experience that hunger and thirst instead of snowmobiling, four-wheeling, hunting and boating on the Lord's day.  When our children were younger and we passed many of the them headed for the hills while we were headed to Church, I often remarked to lighten their mood, "They aren't really having fun.  We're going to have a lot more fun in three hours of meetings."  The most familiar motto of Mormonism may be this one:  If you ask with "a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest . . . truth . . . unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost," and by its power you "may know the truth of all things."  (Moroni 10:4-5).  When we seek to know the truth of all things, we are then seeking righteousness with all our hearts.  Then "your whole bodies shall be filled with light and there shall be no darkness in you."  (D&C 88:67).

"The pure in heart"

President Harold B. Lee
Only the pure see God.  Harold B. Lee used to tell the story from Jewish writings of a man who saw an object in the distance, an object he thought was a beast.  As it drew nearer he could perceive it was a man and as it came still closer he saw it was his friend.  You can see only that which you have eyes to see.  Think about what it must have been like to live in Galilee in the time of Jesus.  You may have known and recognized Jesus only as a son of Joseph the carpenter.  His critics called him a "winebibber" (drunkard) because his teachings were so counterculture to the corrupt Jewish Pharisees.  Others thought he was possessed of devils.  If you were there, how would you have seen Him?  Would you have known the Son of God when you met Him?  Even two of his disciples did not know him on the road to Emmaus until "their eyes were opened."  (Luke 24:13-27).  Only the righteous saw him as the Son of God.  Even now, only if you are pure in heart will you be able to "see God."  There are many among us today who cannot see God in His leaders, the living prophets He has sent to guide us.  Those who find fault speak from an impure heart.

Entrance into the Kingdom

It is not enough to "be good."  We must be "good for something" to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We must actually do something in our relationships with others to be acceptable candidates for membership.

5.  Blessed are the meek.

6.  Blessed are the merciful.

7.  Blessed are the peacemakers.

8.  Blessed are they which are persecuted.

"The meek"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote the book on meek.  Said he:  "Meekness ranks so low on the mortal scale of things, yet so high on God's: 'For none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart' (Moroni 7:44).  The rigorous requirements of Christian discipleship cannot be met without the tutoring facilitated by meekness:  'Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly' (Matthew 11:29).  Jesus, the carpenter, 'undoubtedly had experience making yokes' with Joseph (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4 [New York: Abingdon Press, 1962], 925), and thus the Savior gave us that marvelous metaphor (see Matthew 11:20).  Unlike servitude to sin, by wearing his yoke we truly learn of the Yoke Master in what is an education for eternity as well as for mortality.  Meekness is needed, therefore, in order for us to be spiritually successful -- whether in matters of the intellect, in the management of power, in the dissolution of personal pride, or in coping with the challenges and routine of life.  With meekness, living in 'thanksgiving daily' is actually possible even in life's stern seasons (Alma 34:38)."  ("Meek and Lowly," BYU Devotional, October 21, 1986).  "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty." (Proverbs 16:32).  One who is meek is teachable and a natural leader, though often overlooked.  Though he may be trampled on earth during mortality, he is the "salt" of the earth and will one day inherit it.

"To be merciful"

President Gordon B. Hinckley
To receive the mercy we for which we hope and desperately need from our Savior, we must extend it to others first.  In the laboratory of family life we often exchange unkind and cruel words, we render harsh judgments, and we criticize unfairly.  Those whom we are closest to often receive the worst of us.  Years go by without the needed salve of forgiveness.  Regardless of the details (even if we are justified in our anger toward the acts of others or their misjudgment of us) we are nevertheless required to forgive ALL men.  (D&C 64:8-11).  President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote a definitive article on this topic in one of his First Presidency Messages.  It's one thing to say we love each other, then quite another to take their names in our lips and openly criticize, judge, or reject them for whatever wrong they have perpetrated against us.  Who are we to complain about being misjudged or treated unfairly by our fellowmen, when our complaint is directed toward the Savior?  Did He descend below it all or not?  Can we teach Him anything about irony or being unjustly persecuted?  Our willing suffering is often a needed witness against greed, evil and despotism.

"Peacemakers, the children of God"

These are rare human beings in my experience.  Peacemakers shall one day be called the children of God. Trouble-makers in our modern world, however, are easy to discern.  They are everywhere.  "World peace," that long-sought goal, can only be accomplished one heart at a time.  James Ferrell offered a blockbuster book a few years ago, The Peacegiver: How Christ Offers to Heal Hearts and Homes.  If we could all learn to put away all the metaphorical swords we use against family, neighbors, work associates, political opponents, obnoxious drivers, lousy customer service personnel, etc. (it's a long list, isn't it?) we would live in a more peaceful world.  And the world of peace can begin only in our hearts.  Perhaps this is the ultimate answer to world peace.  Could it be that simple?  How ironic the heralded hymn at His birth was "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."  Since that day, however, the world has known little of peace.  Someone did a study about war since the Restoration in 1830, and discovered the world has not had a day of peace since.  That's an irony that will one day be overturned.  One day the Prince of Peace will finally introduce peace to this world, but only after we have filled up the dregs of war to overlowing and exhausted ourselves.  To be a peacegiver and a peacemaker in the midst of darkness is as "otherworldly" as one could be.

"The persecuted"

"Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet the scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own."

There is a price to be paid for discipleship.  None will pay the uttermost farthing for Christ without suffering persecution for the truth's sake.  The history of the world is replete with stories of the martyrs in the cause.  Tyndale and other great reformers, pilgrims, prophets, pioneers and prophets have been sacrificed and slain in the fray.  While the persecution may be more subtle in these last days, the minions of the abyss are raging against the light as never before.  Darkness is everywhere, but so is the warmth of the light from the "Son."  Those who do not "see" God nor His servants may temporarily deter others in their quest for truth, but someday those forces will be overcome and the Messiah will come.  Those who have been persecuted will be recompensed for their losses.  The scales will tilt again to adjust for those who seek God's righteousness.  As long as this earth stands there will be evil, those who love and make a lie, in opposition to an almost universal quest for that which is right.  Whether we find it in direct opposition to the Church or in our political discourse, most oppose that which they do not comprehend.  Like the World War II bomber pilots, always remember if you aren't drawing some flak from below you probably aren't over your target.  The Savior taught, "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets."  (Luke 6:26).

Some would call the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes "simplistic" today.  However, as it was timely counsel then, it remains timeless instruction leading toward perfection and exaltation today.

If we would truly be "blessed," here are the eight steps toward realizing "blessedness" and perfection.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Free to Choose Eternal Life

Last week we were in the Salt Lake Temple for a stake temple day.  We have many ordinance workers from our stake who volunteer their time, most of whom are elderly and not in the best of health.  They arise early in the morning, even the middle of the night for most of them, to perform that sacred service for the patrons who come to do the work of saving souls.
In all of this they are agents on an errand from the Lord.  No one compels anyone to do anything in this Church.  We are free to choose.  There is no way God at this late stage in the earth's temporal existence, having put in place the plan of life to include the gift of agency, can reverse course and do it some other way.   
Lehi said it well:  "Men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Nephi 2:27).
The plan ensures even God must bow before the immutable effects of agency, but we also have the assurance that despite the rigors and demands of the law there will be mercy as well.  It was President J. Reuben Clark Jr. who reminded us:
"I believe that in his justice and mercy [God] will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose" (Conference Report, October 1953, 84).
In our stake temple day session I was taught a profound truth about the Father.  
We read the verse about how Lucifer does not understand "the mind of God."  (Moses 4:6).  Because it is true, there was no way Lucifer could comprehend or accept the way agency and joy would someday intertwine in the hearts and minds of the believers who would embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer.
There is no such thing as "avoiding" agency.  Even choosing no decision is a decision. Delay is a delusion. Procrastination is joy deferred, but it is still a decision.
Conversely, actively choosing to be obedient is a choice.  Obedient Jesus, for example, chose to let His will be "swallowed up in the will of the Father."  (Mosiah 15:7).  It was His deliberate choice — a choice on this Thanksgiving Day for which we all became immensely blessed everlastingly and eternally.  Our gratitude extends beyond this life into the eternities up ahead because of His choice.  
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once wrote:  "Being obedient is a way of life, but it is also the way to eternal life."  (Moving in His Majesty and Power, "Free to Choose").
Without being able to choose among many alternatives, wouldn't "life" really be no life at all?  We are told things would "remain as dead," having "neither sense nor insensibility."  (2 Nephi 2:11).  Only agency and the freedom to choose activates life before, here and hereafter.
We are informed further by Father Lehi that God's creation would have been wasted and would have served "no purpose," but for the freedom to choose.  (2 Nephi 2:12).  What if?  What if there were no agency?  I wonder if we know what might have been in the absence of agency.
The lesson from Lehi continues:  God wants us to have joy, which is the purpose of His creation (see 2 Nephi 2:25).  We cannot do that if we "remain as dead."  (2 Nephi 2:11).   We must be free to choose to become like Him.
Now for the temple lesson the other night.  I was reminded in the endowment drama of just how hard the lessons of the Gods must be.  There is such a profound profusion of doctrine associated with what it means to be the parent of a rebellious son who abuses his agency.  In two verses we learn so much:  "And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil -- for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; and they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels."  (D&C 29:36-37).  
Note the word rebelled.  Lucifer "rebelled against me" (Moses 4:3; italics mine).  Maybe it was just a foretaste of that which was to come on this earth -- all the unresolved father-and-son differences and angst.  One-third of Heavenly Father's children were turned away from Him!  Parents often lament the rebellious children who reject their teachings.  But all must do as the Father did to become as He is.  We must embrace agency in spite of the pain and anguish it often evokes.  There is a common misperception among us that there were two plans presented in what gave rise ultimately to the "war in heaven."  However, Lucifer wasn't putting forth a plan.  Instead he was rejecting and rebelling against the established plan of the Gods, the very same plan under which our God achieved his godhood.  
The other night I was reminded again this was an agonizing personal loss to the Father.  The "heavens wept over" Lucifer, His "son of the morning" (D&C 76:26), who rejected the Father and turned away from Him a third of His children "because of their agency."  I caught a brief glimpse of the agony in one word:  "Depart!"  (D&C 29:36).
It's the irony that is so inescapable.  Lucifer used the very agency he was given (see Moses 4:3).  The bitter pill is part and parcel of parenting, then, now and forever.  It is godlike in every dimension.  Were it possible, Lucifer really would have destroyed our agency as part of achieving his ascendancy, all the while using the agency God had given him.
I saw the agony even for a brief instant the other night.  Imagine the personal rejection the Father must have known in that moment when the plan was rejected!  What did the Father experience that is so crucial to our individual growth into godhood?  Wouldn't most of us shrink in the fellowship of that suffering?  Becoming like God is so euphemistic it is almost axiomatic.  But did we really comprehend the suffering to get there?  And later would come the ultimate parenting agony of standing aside when His Firstborn Son suffered for all in Gethsemane and at Golgotha.
Much later in the recorded scriptural record, we are reminded that Enoch saw the God of heaven weep.  Why all the tears?  Because of human suffering resulting from man's failure to keep His commandments to love Him and one another (see Moses 7:24, 28).  When Enoch saw the heavens weep, they reflected the same agony of the Father (see Moses 7:29, 33).
Still, even in the agony of such ultimate rejection, we see "God moving in his majesty and power."  (D&C 88:47).
He is still moving in that direction for all of us today.  For that we may be truly grateful on this day of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Helen Lee Goates: A Retrospective at 85

Lee Family (l to r) Fern, Helen, Maurine, Harold
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It's also the anniversary of my mother's 85th birthday.  She passed away in April, 2000.  She was 74 years old, and we celebrated a Thanksgiving Day birthday at her home in 1999, where she was surrounded by family.  We held her funeral the day before Easter, 2000.  Flowers were blooming, spring was in the air, and the promise of life's renewal was everywhere present. 

Since then, I've been gently cajoled several times to write something in tribute to her life.  I've deferred far too long.  Today seems like a good time to tickle the keyboard of my laptop and reminisce a bit.  Bear with me, please.

Mom was the second daughter of Harold B. Lee and Fern Lucinda Tanner Lee.  She was born on November 25, 1925.  They had two daughters and Auntie Mar was the elder of the two.  As a result they were a close family.  Mom and Auntie Mar learned how to play the violin and piano respectively, and during the years they grew up were constantly sharing their talents with others.  They played together in every single Mormon chapel in Salt Lake City in those years.

My memories of my childhood begin and end with our shared times with the Wilkins cousins.  It seems every holiday was spent with them.  Those two sisters were inseparable and so were we as their children.  They lived in Provo, we lived in Salt Lake.  The BYUtah rivalry was played out in backyards and driveways with hoops in both cities in every sport as we grew up.  It was mostly innocent fun, not nearly as "life and death" as it seems to be nowadays.  The saddest time of all was the parting -- we begged for "trading cousins" every time.

My mother was an exceptional homemaker.  I'm not certain how the divine plan worked the way it did.  These two exceptional mothers, daughters of a prophet, were saddled with eight boys among them and only two daughters -- one for each.  That they patiently bore our schemes and antics as boys is remarkable, since neither had much experience with boys until we came along.  Jane and Martsy, however, became the embodiment of their respective mothers.  They were the leaven in the lumps of clay -- the older and younger brothers who tormented them.  We might justly take at least some credit for the way they both turned out.  They are angels, polished and burnished in the rough and tumble of obnoxious brothers, no doubt.

Mom was resigned at some point, I suppose, to the need for help around the house.  As her oldest son, I was shown the finer points of homemaking.  That included washing windows, scrubbing floors, cleaning toilet bowls, sinks, bathtubs and showers, vacuuming and even ironing sheets!  Her philosphy, instilled within me at an early age was to always leave things better than I found them.  That carried over into my work in my career and the Church, and even when I was in airplane restrooms.  I always heard that little voice, "Leave it better than you found it," which included cleaning the basin and the small counter so it would be better for the next person.  Back in the day before "permapress" was invented she had a roller iron contraption and taught me how to iron the bedsheets by feeding them into the jaws of the hot iron pressed against the roller, controlled by foot pedals and hand controls.  It was an interesting invention to have to master, but we boys did it in turn.  Taking the wrinkles out with that flat iron gave one the sense of accomplishment and measurable improvement.  It was a lifelong lesson in satisfaction for having done something to improve the way I found it.

We had a "Behavior Record" that was posted on a prominent cupboard in the kitchen for all to see.  "Good marks" were scored at the top of the list, moving down -- 1 through 10 -- each week.  A brief description was written by Mom.  "Bad marks" were scored from the bottom up, blacking out the numbers and subtracting a penny for each "bad mark" registered.  That's how the allowances were paid, and of course, because Mom was the sole adjudicator of what was right and wrong in our home during the day, Dad was able to ascertain by a quick glance at the "scorecard" how well his sons were treating their mother and their siblings.  It wasn't always a pretty picture.

At home night on Monday evening the pennies were counted out.  For extra good behavior noted during the week a subjective star was awarded beside the measured good work, and sometimes for extra, extra good behavior two stars were awarded.  In the early stages the stars were worth nickels.  It was good to be good in our house!  As inflation ravaged the assumptions through the years, the stakes increased from pennies to nickels to dimes and quarters.  Remember, a Three Musketeers candy bar was only 5 cents!  I remember some adults talking about the end of the world when the price of candy bars got bumped to 10 cents!  Tithing lessons were taught early and often, and only the brightest, shiniest pennies were fit for tithing.

I loved reading with Mom at night.  We had a tradition called "Night up with Mother."  That meant in rotation one child got to stay up later than the other siblings and read with Mom.  She was a reading advocate when reading just wasn't that cool and there weren't any contests at school.  We read the classics.  She had a collection of books from which we read, including the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer (among others) that remain among my treasured memories with her.  Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, J. M. Barrie, Robert Frost, even Mary Mapes and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) made the "play list."  The theater of the mind, as a result, is still more visual and valid to me than the movie or television screen, even though I was a child of the sixties raised on TV.

Perhaps my favorite part of the hot summer days was "Quiet Time," another Helen Lee Goates tradition.  She passed it off as a necessity to somehow stop the spread of polio.  I've never seen any authentication for that imperative medical prophylactic, but somehow she sold it to us as valid.  At any rate, we were called home in the heat of the day to pick up a book of our choosing and spend an hour in the shade reading.  I loved it.  I learned to love reading because of my Mother's invitations.

Mom was the perfect "ying" to Dad's "yang."  They complemented each other well.  Dad was the consummate hospital administrator and Church leader, gone from home a lot during those years, while Mom was the vigilant stay-at-home Mom -- always on scene and ever-present in our lives.  I became, she told me later, her confidant when Dad wasn't there to discuss whatever was troubling her that day.  It may be the origins of cooking up sibling strategies to keep two younger brothers in line, as she enlisted my support for her mothering.  I hope by now they've both forgiven my zeal for that assignment.  Before automatic dishwashers were in vogue, we would often do the dishes together -- she washed and I dried and we talked.  I'm not certain I had much wisdom to impart, but she told me years later what a good listener I had become.  If it's true, I learned it from Mom.  Once the remodeling of the kitchen was accomplished, the dishwasher replaced me and the long talks over dishes ended.

I remember lessons at the ironing board.  We ironed our own shirts and Levis -- yeah, you heard me -- Levis!  We used to put them on "pant stretchers" after washing them, then ironed out the wrinkles and put a crease in them.  Are you kidding me?  I swear it's all true!  She stayed up with me teaching me how to darn socks before I left for England on my mission, certainly a lost art today.  When I got to the mission field I was well-trained in all the necessary survival skills.  Everything she taught me was put to use.  Laundry was always a big item at our house, and learning how to do it was a necessity.  Folding clothes and putting them away were also part of the weekly rituals.  Looking back now, I realize I was raised as the daughter she never had to begin her mothering years.

President Boyd K. Packer
 No account of my relationship with my Mother would be complete without recalling the "apricot story."  I even got in on all the fruit bottling my Mother did in the fall.  President Packer in Teach Ye Diligently reminded us of how memorable the lesson was as a result of the story President Lee told about one of his daughters (Helen) and one of her sons (yours truly).  He described the power of the story this way:

For example, take the expression "everyone loves a story," and you may see what I mean. If you have a point to put across and can illustrate it with a story, all can be taught. If you tell it in simple terms, a youngster can understand it; at the same time the oldest person may draw a great lesson from it. That is one of the reasons the Lord taught in parables. By so doing, He was teaching everybody at once, but not all of them the same lesson.

Some time ago in a meeting the Brethren were discussing motion pictures, specifically those that would strengthen the family. Someone mentioned one featuring President Harold B. Lee. "Which one?" someone asked. "There were many produced in which he appeared." One of the Brethren identified it simply by saying, "You know, the one about apricots."

Everyone nodded. That identified the film from all of the others. Why? Because in it President Lee had told an incident about his daughter canning apricots. Not wanting to be interrupted, she had almost put off her little boys who wanted help with their prayers. "But, Mommy, what is more important," one of them had asked, "prayers or apricots?"

In that film President Lee had lectured forcefully on strengthening the home, but the film is remembered as the "apricot" film. We may have missed other things, but we all got that message. Each of us was alike in remembering that.  (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 124-25).

Thankfully, the more feminine part of my nature was supplanted with the blessed arrival of a cherished daughter!  All that "girlie stuff" programming gradually gave way once Jane finally arrived.  "Elizabeth Jane," she named her -- after Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.  It was during the 50s, and the royal family was greatly admired and held up as role models in America.  I was routinely reminded of my mother's affinity for the Queen and Prince Charles, since they had been pregnant with each of us at the same time.  My mother was heartbroken when news of his antics spread a few years ago.  She anguished for the Queen.  But the monarchy survived apparently, as new hope arises in the announcement of Prince William's engagement and his logical succession to the throne someday when Queen Elizabeth passes.  That has to tell you something about how long the Queen has been on the throne of England!

Mom was a role model among women.  They loved her for her example of righteous and concecrated motherhood and womanhood.  She was a leader among her peers, serving as the Relief Society president twice in the Federal Heights Ward, then on the General Board (twice) later in life.  After that assignment concluded she was surprised by a call to serve late in life as the stake Young Women's President.  When the call came to her, she asked, "Don't you mean Relief Society?" because that was all she had ever known.  She was assured they hadn't made a mistake and she served for three years, seeking to "spiritualize" the young women in her stake.

When she contracted ovarian cancer, she quickly arranged a dinner for her children and their companions at her home.  The diagnosis hadn't been announced, but she had a premonition something wasn't quite right.  When the diagnosis was confirmed, she was trying to pull her family back together again.  We had a three-and-one-half year protracted farewell with her.  Major surgeries and chemotherapy extended her life.  She did all she could to heal the inevitable rifts among us.  We learned to love and forgive one another because of her example.  One by one on her death bed we spent time as she quietly gave her final counsel to each.

I love my Mother.  I continue to feel her influence.  She had a way with me, and she took full advantage.  Whenever I was tempted to lie to her, she would take my face in her gentle hands and say firmly but gently, "Now David, look me in the eyes and tell me the truth."  She was the perfect combination of velvet and steel.  I couldn't ever get away with anything, it seemed.  She could pierce through my eyes into my very soul.  Nothing escaped her.  I realize now it was the power of a righteous life that aided her.  Discernment came easily to her.  She was on familiar terms with her Father in Heaven.  Her testimony of her Savior was unwavering.  Her influence, her words, her gentle touch and her inspiration continue to affect me.  I am confident there is nothing in my life of which she is unaware.  She continues to minister among us.

President Thomas S. Monson
So on the eve of this next Thanksgiving Day, falling as it does on her birthday once again, I pause to give thanks for my beloved Mother, Helen Lee Goates.  On the back of her funeral program we reprinted a letter she had written for the time capsule that was sealed in 1980.  President Thomas S. Monson quoted from that letter in a talk titled, "If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear," when he beautifully described her passing at a General Relief Society meeting in 2004, in these words:

As I conclude my remarks, may I share with you an experience of several years ago which depicted the strength of you dear sisters in Relief Society.

During 1980, the sesquicentennial year of the organization of the Church, each member of the Relief Society general board was asked to write a personal letter to the sisters of the Church in the year 2030 — 50 years hence. The following is an excerpt from the letter written by Sister Helen Lee Goates:

“Our world of 1980 is filled with uncertainty, but I am determined to live each day with faith and not fear, to trust the Lord and to follow the counsel of our prophet today. I know that God lives, and I love Him with all my soul. I am so grateful that the gospel was restored to the earth 150 years ago and that I can enjoy the blessings of membership in this great Church. I am grateful for the priesthood of God, having felt its power throughout my life.

“I am at peace in my world and pray that you may be sustained in yours by firm testimonies and unwavering convictions of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Helen Lee Goates passed away in April of the year 2000. Shortly before her impending death from cancer, Sister Monson and I visited with her and her husband and family. She appeared calm and at peace. She told us she was prepared to go and looked forward to seeing once again her parents and other loved ones who had preceded her. In her life Sister Goates exemplified the nobility of Latter-day Saint women. In her passing she personified your theme: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”

She was well prepared for her death when she quietly slipped away.  I pray it might be said of me and all of us.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Parrot

John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary.

Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious, and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music, and anything else he could think of to clean up the bird’s language.

Nothing seemed to work. One day, he was so fed up that he yelled at the bird. The parrot yelled back. John shook the fowl but the bird got even more rude and angry. In desperation, John grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes, the parrot squawked and screamed. Suddenly, it was totally quiet—not a peep for over a minute.

Fearing he’d caused harm to the bird, John opened the freezer door to see what had happened. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s hand and said, “I believe I may have offended you. I’m sorry for my rude language and actions. I intend to do everything I can to correct my nasty attitude.”

John was surprised at the quick change in the bird’s demeanor.

As he was about to ask the parrot about this sudden change in behavior, the bird politely inquired, “May I ask what the turkey did?”

--unknown source, circulating on the Internet


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Separatists, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means today to be considered a "Separatist" or a "revolutionary." Who are the revolutionaries today?  Who are those who seek freedom and are willing to die for it?  Who will live their religion at all costs, counting all things but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of the Lord?  I'm wondering if America in its latest attempt to redefine itself in this bi-annual renewal of national elections granted to us by our founders isn't just a way of hearkening back to our origins a little bit. If the pushback we've been observing in the recent election results is any indication, maybe it's a sign we're reaching back to our roots for a bit of the revolutionary spirit left within us.

In America we apply the term "Pilgrim" to those who first settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the 9th day of November 1620.  The Pilgrims who landed on that bleak New England shore at Cape Cod were "Separatists."  They were not the Puritans — they settled in Massachusetts.  But the Separatists settled at Plymouth.

Governor William Bradford
Thanksgiving Day originated one year later in 1621.  Imagine landing on these shores as religious people with little more than the clothes on your back and having to eke out an existence from nothing but abundant but untamed natural resources all around as winter is fast approaching.  It's a stunning tale of survival in hostile surroundings.  Governor William Bradford appointed the day for public praise and prayer after the first harvest.  This is what one account gives of that first thanksgiving:

"In the fall of 1621 the first harvest of the colonists was gathered. The `corn' yielded well, and the `barley' was `indifferently good,' but the peas were a failure, owing to drought and late spring. Encouraged with the harvest of their fruits, but needing more eatables for feasting, the leaders sent four huntsmen for food of the forest, and at their return, `after a special manner,' the Pilgrims rejoiced together, feasting King Massasoit and ninety men for three days, and partaking of venison, wild turkeys, water fowl, and other delicacies for which New England was then famous."

The first Thanksgiving was but a formal manifestation of the spirit of praise and thanksgiving that actuated the hearts of the pilgrims during that first terrible winter in the new country.  One wonders if the infamous "nor'easter" storms were discovered and named during that first winter. 

We are informed by historical accounts that of 102 immigrants who landed on the bleak rocky coast of Cape Cod in the winter of 1620, nearly half died before the following winter had begun.  In December six died; January, eight; February, seventeen; March, thirteen — a total of 44 in four months!  Even despite the ravages many are suffering in the wake of this protracted recession recovery, we are by contrast in our comfortable homes surrounded with peace and plenty.  Awakening this morning to a 20 degree temperature in Pine Valley reminds me it is well for us to pause and try to imagine the suffering of the survivors mid-winter, both from their destitution and inclement weather. 

These earliest American refugees were not all of hearty stock.  Among them were delicately nurtured and refined men and women.  They hastily laid out two rows of huts for nineteen families in that first colony to protect themselves from the ravages of the oncoming winter.  In the first year they had to make seven times more graves for the dead than houses for the living.  Despite their grieving for the loss of their dead relatives, these survivors were to become the progenitors of a great and glorious nation.  They still felt inclined to be thankful for all their blessings and appointed "an especial day on which to give special thanks for all their mercies."

It is instructive for us during this Thanksgiving season to recall it was the Indians who kept the Pilgrims from starving that first winter.  The Pilgrims had insufficient food.  They saw some mounds into which they dug and found corn, and they appropriated it to their own use.  They reported it, however, to King Massasoit, and told him that as soon as they learned to whom the corn belonged, they would recompense them for it.

I have always retained a deep sense of gratitude for the integrity, fortitude, and faith of the Pilgrims.

I am grateful for their strength of character and for the attributes of true greatness which they exemplified. They chose the right with invincible resolution.  They resisted the sorest temptations from within and from without.  They bore the heaviest of burdens cheerfully.  They were most fearless under threat of constant menace and frowns, and their reliance upon God and truth was most unfailing.  In this day when so many are willing and eager to rewrite our history or to ignore it, consulting the original documents will yield the truth of our origins anchored in Divine Providence and the deep faith of our forefathers upon this continent.

Governor Bradford, on the day after they landed, gave an address to that little company aboard the Mayflower.  It is useful to observe they drew up a plan for their fledgling government and set forth their principles for government.  Here's the final paragraph:

"May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say, Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversities."

Their faith in God was real to them.  You can rewrite history if you choose, but we are informed by their accounts that their foundation was pure and holy to these refugees.

Fast forward to President George Washington, "the father of our country," when he signed the official proclamation of a Thanksgiving Day in America.  Note, here again, how the element of divine faith is underscored:

Whereas, it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his Will, to be grateful for his Benefits, and humbly to implore his Protection and Favour; and whereas both houses of Congress have by their joint Committee, requested me "To recommend to the People of the United States, a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful Hearts the many Signal Favours of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Form of Government for their safety and Happiness."

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday and the twenty-sixth Day of November, next, to be devoted by the People of these States, to the Service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficient Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be: That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind Care and Protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation; — for the signal and manifold Mercies and the favourable Interpositions of his Providence in the Course and Conclusion of the late War; — for the great Degree of Tranquility, Union, and Plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational Manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of Government for our Safety and Happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; — for the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; — and in general, for all the great and various Favours which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And Also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our Prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our National and other Transgressions; — to enable us all whether in public or private Stations, to perform our several and relative Duties properly and punctually; — to render our national Government a Blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and Constitutional Laws, directly and faithfully obeyed; — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us) and to bless them with good Government, Peace, and concord; — to promote the Knowledge and practice of true Religion, and Virtue, and the increase of Science among them and us; — and generally to grant unto all mankind such a Degree of temporal Prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York, the third Day of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty nine.

Flashback to Father Lehi:  "Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring.  And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.  Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.  And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever." 

With such a promise, however, also comes the attendant warning:

"But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord — having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise — behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them." (2 Nephi 1:7-10).

The very foundations and the ongoing perpetuity of this nation depend upon faith.  I raise my voice on this page to make the obvious assertion:  There is an influence undermining the very basic structure of this great nation.

Atheism, the very well-spring of the spirit of the anti-Christ, has spread its tentacles throughout America.  You can label any way you wish -- "secular humanism" is but one manifestation.  These proponents are seeking to eradicate from their minds at the earliest ages of our children the naturally occurring and deeply religious inclinations we share from our common heritage, as illustrated in our most formative written expressions as a foundering nation.  These enemies would destroy if they could all belief in God, all interest in Church or its activities, all hope, aspiration, and faith outside the political doctrine of a few who have seized the national power.

With the dominant trait of our pilgrim fathers, faith in God, however, we can correctly govern ourselves.  We must continue to love the stars and stripes, and accept, defend and promote the Constitution of these United States as divine.  We must never hesitate to choose the right path, as our Pilgrim forefathers did.  It is fashionable to disavow those divine inspirations, but the founders attributed their success to the Divine.

Love of freedom is deeply innate within each of us.  It comes to us as a pre-existent condition we valued and championed before we ever came to live upon this earth.  When we see these traits exhibited in the earliest documents of our tradition, it is easy to understand how they came to their conclusions so readily.

In 1604-5-6, Shakespeare was writing his plays. Four "classes" or "parties" in England dominated the scene.  The Catholics remained true to Rome; members of the English Church (later they formed The Church of England) had drawn away from the Catholics; the Puritans would become the founders of the Massachusetts Colony; and the Separatists later became the founders of the Plymouth Colonies. 

The Puritans and Separatists withdrew from the English Church, because they thought the English Church had not separated themselves far enough from the Catholic Church.  The persecution of these sects or groups was very intense, particularly under James the First who is described as "the greatest pedant that ever sat upon the English throne."  He was "arbitrary, capricious, tyrannical, and unprincipled, he trampled upon the most solemn oaths, and seemed never better pleased than when torturing or anathematizing the victims of his vengeance.  Hence at Hampton Court Conference, at the close of the second day, speaking of the Puritans, he said: `I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.'"

That statement alone would qualify for the founders' collective statements about "tyranny" they would one day write into the Declaration of Independence describing King George III!

Finally he issued a proclamation, July 16, 1604, ordering the Puritan Clergy to conform before the last of November, or to dispose of themselves and families in some other way, as "unfit for their obstinacy and contempt to occupy places."

The Separatists waited awhile, and finally one group under a man by the name of Robinson took a boat to Holland where they might worship free of this autocracy.  Those who remained in England received the promised treatment from the clergy -- they were "harried," persecuted, imprisoned and driven out for their religious beliefs.

Once they determined to leave England, the King said they couldn't leave.  "It is conformity we demand."  It got worse.  After extensive preparations to leave England in the middle of the night one night bound for the Netherlands, they were finally taken on board in the darkness only to learn they had been betrayed.  Governor Bradford in his account says:  "But when he had them and their goods aboard, he betrayed them, having beforehand plotted with the searchers and other officers so to do who took them, and put them into open boats, and there rifled and ransacked them, searching them to their shirts for money, yea even the women further than became modesty; and then carried them back into the town and made them a spectacle and wonder to the multitude, which came flocking on all sides to behold them."

Their plight of three hundred years ago remains a cautionary tale for all who love freedom.

Finally, Governor Bradford is able to report:  "The Dutchman seeing this, swore his country's oath, `sacramente,' and having the wind fair," sailed away with the husbands aboard, and the women and children left stranded.  Imagine their extremity.  They had nothing with them but the shirts on their backs, their wives and children left helpless.  They should have made the trip in seven days, but they were out fourteen days because of a terrible storm which threatened to engulf them.  Governor Bradford then reports:  "But when man's hope and help wholly failed, the Lord's power and mercy appeared in their recovery; for the ship rose again, and gave the mariners courage again to manage her.  And if modesty would suffer me, I might declare with what fervent prayers they cried unto the Lord in this great distress, (especially some of them), even without any great distraction, when the water ran in their mouths and ears; and the mariners cried out We sinke, we sinke; they cried (if not with miraculous, yet with a great height or degree of divine faith), Yet Lord thou canst save, yet Lord thou canst save; with such other expressions as I will forbear. Upon which the ship did not only recover, but shortly after the violence of the storm began to abate, and the Lord filled their afflicted minds with such comforts as every one cannot understand, and in the end brought them to their desired Haven, where the people came flocking admiring their deliverance, the storm having been so long and sore, in which much hurt had been done, as yet masters friends related unto him in their congratulations."

Remember, these are religious people fleeing persecution.  It was not unlike a voyage undertaken by the Apostle Paul on his way to Rome.

What I've outlined here is only a brief summary of what our Pilgrim forefathers suffered and endured for the love of freedom.  Their heroism in defense of freedom is well-documented, and ironically lays the predicate for what came later in their intolerance of the Indians who occupied the New World.  But none of it alters their persuasions and inclinations toward God's will for them.

So tell me, fair citizens of America in 2010, is there an enemy today in our country that threatens our freedom?  There are those who cry out, "Rescue the Constitution from what?"  I am persuaded the leaders of our country do not want more war with any more foreign enemies than those with whom we currently contend.  No, our most determined enemies lie within America's borders, not those we seem so inept at keeping out.

There is a desperate debate and a growing conflict between freedom and government-mandated entitlement programs that would rob us of our freedoms in the name of "spreading the wealth around."  There is a growing and swelling tide of the attitude, "Do as little as you can and get as much as you can."  And that is wrong.

In my view the antidote to recapturing the spirit of freedom and independence exhibited by our Pilgrim ancestors is faith — faith in God our Heavenly Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A love of freedom embodies the innate desire to worship, to work, to think and to live.  To feel a sense of earning what we receive, free from an invasive autocracy or government that will dictate what we pay to them and what we will buy from them as the purveyors and masters of all the elements of production.

In spite of it all, I remain thankful.  I'm thankful for our country, for those who live under its heavenly banner of freedom.  I am even grateful for the federal government and its leaders for whom I pray constantly, while wishing it were smaller and they were less intrusive.  I am grateful for the Church, thankful for living prophets who live among us to guide us, comfort us and give us hope for a future when Zion will be established and Babylon will be thrown down.  That day cannot be far distant at the speed we are travelling.  I am grateful for family, for children and grandchildren, for true friends to love (who love me), and for trustworthy men and women whom we can trust this Thanksgiving Day.  Among those who are not trustworthy and for whom I am not grateful this year are certain employees of the Bank of America.  But I digress.

We thank Thee, O Father, for all that is bright —
The gleam of the day and the stars of the night,
The flowers of our youth and the fruits of our prime,
And the blessings that march down the pathway of time.

We thank Thee, O Father, for all that is drear —
The sob of the tempest, the flow of the tear;
For never in blindness, and never in vain,
Thy mercy permitted a sorrow or pain.

We thank Thee, O Father of all, for the power
Of aiding each other in life's darkest hour;
The generous heart and the bountiful hand
And all the soul-help that sad souls understand.

We thank thee, O Father, for days yet to be;
For hopes that our future will call us to Thee.
Let all our eternity form, through Thy love
A heart of Thanksgiving in the mansions above.

-- Will Carleton