Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Devil's Advocate

I started to make a comment to Rich in the last post, and as usual it turned into another post, since the allocation of words for a comment was exceeded (a common failing of mine). Verbosity can be such a burden.

Your comment about the electronic versions of scriptures is worth expanding. I've settled on the convenience of taking my iPad when I don't have a teaching or speaking assignment. However, what I've observed in others attempting to use them from the pulpit while giving a talk, teaching a class, or giving a presentation in the stake center with the big screen is that there is invariably a technology hiccup of some kind. The downtime while we wait for the interruption to be corrected is always awkward and tends to drive the Spirit right out of the meeting. For that reason I always use my "low-tech" version of the scriptures when I talk or teach.

But even then it's important to be easily familiar with your tools as you transition from scripture to scripture when you are being guided by the Spirit in what you say in your teaching. We've all witnessed speakers fumbling with notes or losing their place when reading their talks word for word, and that too can be distracting. "Read yourself full, think yourself empty, speak yourself clear," is still good advice in preparation for a speaking, teaching or presenting assignment.

Since we're all amateurs in the Church where there is no paid clergy, as I see it the only answer is to become familiar with the tools we use, whatever our personal preference may be, in fact, so familiar that for all of us we can aspire to the day when we're all finishing each others' sentences because we all know what we know from the same sources. That blessed day will come when we all have come to know Him.

Joseph Smith
"This principle" — that of having one's calling and election made sure and of being sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise — "ought (in its proper place) to be taught," the Prophet Joseph said, "for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, 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, 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. How is this to be done? It is to be done by this sealing power, and the other Comforter spoken of, which will be manifest by revelation." (TPJS, 149).

The scriptural passage alluded to by the Prophet in this statement is from Jeremiah, who stated: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When that day finally arrives, we will have ceased doing home teaching and visiting teaching ;-)

We live in a time when it seems the membership of the Church is being sifted and separated and families are divided in the debate. In case you're living under a rock and unaware, the critics are among you in your own congregations everywhere and even among your aunts, uncles and cousins in your families. There have always been critics of the leaders of the Church - ALWAYS! The great divide that is setting up over LGBT issues and women and the priesthood, while often interesting to observe and debate among ourselves, is really nothing new at all. "Equal rights" is such an appealing notion, isn't it? And because I doubt there's a family left on earth that hasn't identified at least one family member with same-gender attraction tendencies, we're all enlisted in this latest skirmish. The topics may change, new advocates may arise, but the critics never seem to subside. However, I'm going to stand with Joseph Smith and his successors.

The Brethren are not on trial here. God our Eternal Father is not on trial, nor is our Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was already dispatched to a cruel Roman cross and those who opposed Him thought that would be the end of it. But He arose from the dead. He restored His gospel in these last days. He continues to feel after us and invite us to come unto Him through obedience to His laws, His gospel and His humble servants.

It is we as members who are on trial. It is so much easier to be a critic than a contributor when it comes to building faith among ourselves in the Church. When we take the role of the "Devil's Advocate" to spice the debate and do others a service by "testing their faith," we sometimes fail to recognize the Devil already has millions of willing minions who followed him in the pre-existence and they continue to afflict and torment us here in mortality. The earliest reference I've been able to find for the term "Devil's Advocate" is a canon lawyer in the Roman Catholic Church appointed to argue against the canonization or beatification of a person. Then as now, the reasoning seems to go, let's doubt the motives and goodness of a person first, question everything they represent and let's stand against goodness as the loyal opposition to everything that suggests righteousness. That is so progressive, so smart, so forward-thinking, or so they say! Those who are already doing that as unembodied spirits easily outnumber those of us here on earth in physical bodies today. Why would we ever volunteer to do their work for them?

Satan and his followers are always willing to welcome new Advocates within their ranks. Hey, if you've got a body, you're going to offer them much more than they have. Those who defect here in the second estate and fail to remain valiant in their testimonies of Jesus, and especially when they're offering commentary about their long-standing tendency as individuals to question everything first are valuable assets to Satan's cause! They are easy targets for deception. (See D&C 76:75, 79). Let us not be blinded by "craftiness".

In the sanctuary of our dedicated chapels and classrooms, may I suggest that we seek higher ground and stand with the living oracles first? We all have doubts, but let's doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith, as President Uchtdorf suggested recently:

"To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
"Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
"Some might ask, 'But what about my doubts?'
"It’s natural to have questions — the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith — even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. (See Hebrews 11:1; Alma 32:21).
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters — my dear friends — please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. (See F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer [1924], 23). We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine).

Since that invitation from President Uchtdorf, some are now positing with the most recent federal court judge in Utah striking down Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution that the judge has somehow nullified the living prophets among us. "If the prophets were truly inspired," the latest reasoning goes, "why didn't they know the Amendment they advocated would be declared unconstitutional?" Similar arguments were made when Proposition 8 and DOMA were also overturned, but with an important distinction. California's governor made the decision not to challenge the rulings there, but in Utah the Attorney General under the direction of Governor Herbert will make a vigorous defense of Amendment 3, since 2/3 of Utahns voted in favor of Amendment 3 and the will of the electorate in defining marriage cannot be so easily ignored. I know good members of the Church who are now taking public stands on their social media platforms in exultation over the courts' rebukes of the Church. Really? Why?

When one makes a moral argument, as the Church did over gay marriage rights, we must be cautious to make the leap that the legal authority may have the last word. Remember, there is a higher unseen tribunal. It is as though some in the Church never seem to have been introduced to the LAWGIVER, you know, the One the Founders accepted in the founding documents for America who has given us our rights as free men and women.

The Devil's Advocates today would like you to believe they have made a clear and logical argument, except what is NOT clear at this writing is how the appellate courts will decide. Will they uphold the first federal judge's ruling or set it aside? The Tenth Circuit Court and eventually the SCOTUS will ultimately adjudicate the law of the land, but the law of the Lord is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. THAT law is eternal, unchangeable, unamendable and immutable.

Upon THAT law of holy matrimony - that marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman - rests the eternal plan of salvation. Does one presume to assert eternal law can somehow be altered by popular opinion or a court decision? There is no earthly tribunal in America, even the SCOTUS, that can compel the churches to solemnize a wedding ritual in violation of its religious beliefs under Constitutional safeguards. And certainly, the highest courts in the land will never be able to rule effectively in matters of conscience and righteousness. That's why the Founders were so explicit that America could never be governed except if the people remained righteous. But Satan will not rest. Since the Garden, he has sought to separate the man from the woman, and he has sworn in his wrath he will never retreat.

We are admonished to gather together in our meetings "to AGREE upon my word." (D&C 41:2). When our high priest groups descend into nothing more than a debating society where we mingle the philosophies of men with scripture, and never once during a lesson cite a single sentence from the prophets' teachings that are laid before us, we are opening ourselves up to being deceived. I suspect this is all in fulfillment of sorting out the wise virgins from among the foolish ones. (See Matthew 25). They were all good girls - virgins! - waiting for the Bridegroom. As members the Church in the last days, we are good girls too for the most part. But about half of us tend to be wise, and about half tend toward foolishness.

President Thomas S. Monson
The demarcation line will likely be those who have embraced the word, honored and defended the humble prophets God has raised up from among our congregations to lead us in the latter-days, and who put their covenants ahead of all other considerations. Whenever I am asked who I think the greatest prophet in this dispensation is, most are surprised when my knee-jerk reaction isn't "Joseph Smith," or "Harold B. Lee." They are both dead prophets, and great as they were, the greatest prophet for me will always be the one who is living on the earth and leading the Church TODAY, Thomas S. Monson. And when he is gone, it will be his successor. I find obedience to the covenants we have made with God leaves me no other option in answering that question.

Those who will yet lose their way in the mists of darkness will be those who treat casually the glorious gifts we have received in the Restoration. It's a marvelous flood of light for those who choose to live in the light.

So no matter which version of scripture you favor, electronic or paper, feast upon the word, familiarize yourselves with their contents, and avoid the winds of deception that are blowing at gale force all around you. In this course there is safety, light and LIFE.

Remember - eternal life comes only from the Lawgiver, and it is given on His terms.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Become a Gospel Scholar

President Harold B. Lee
To answer that question, which has been posed to me on numerous occasions, I turn once again to President Harold B. Lee for guidance. He was often asked how he studied the gospel and the scriptures, and I frequently heard him answer this way: "There is no royal road to learning." That answer never fully satisfied anyone, I am sure, because it never directly addressed his method for studying the gospel. It only implied it wasn't easy.

During this Christmas season I got a deeper insight into the "how" part of his answer. My father is now in his 92nd year, and still lives in the home Harold B. Lee purchased from James Moyle (Henry D.'s brother) many years ago located at 1437 Penrose Drive in Salt Lake City. I affectionately refer to Dad sometimes as "the curator of the Harold B. Lee museum." Little has changed in that home since Harold B. Lee's occupancy. Only Dad knows how many Harold B. Lee artifacts he still controls, since as his children we never have seen it all and get rare glimpses when he allows.

While we visited with him recently before Christmas, he surprised me yet again by handing me a black well-worn leather-bound notebook. The book itself is 5.5" wide and 7.75" tall, the pages being 4.25" x 7.25". It's curled down on the edges and has three rings inside, holding 167 pages with writing on both sides of most pages. The handwritten outlines of many speeches Harold B. Lee had given during the years of 1927 to 1940, mostly to wards in the Pioneer Stake it seems, are as timely perhaps today as they were then. He was called to the high council in 1927, and spoke monthly in the various wards of the stake as assigned. In 1930, three years later at age 31, he was called as the stake president in Pioneer Stake. These early outlines supply the evidence of his post-mission attempts to organize his thinking around gospel topics.

As my father handed the notebook to me he said he would "loan" it to me. He said there are two more like it covering Harold B. Lee's subsequent Apostolic periods of time, and he is "loaning" one each to my two brothers Jon and Tim. He requested that each of us pick one of our favorite talks, then come prepared to teach him at a family home evening he wants to hold on his upcoming 92nd birthday on a Sunday night. After that night we will "exchange" the notebooks with each other and do it again and again. It gives me so much joy to turn those pages and see his handwriting. Each time I study his outlines I have felt as though I am having a "visit" with him. It gives me a glimpse of his mind and I found several "echoes" of his later speeches as an Apostle in these original notes.

Harold B. Lee laid out his first notebook in 24 topical headings, with tabs separating each topic. The first page under each tab lists as many scriptural references as he could find, interestingly, taken only from the Doctrine and Covenants. He typed the scriptural references on an old typewriter, as shown at the right. One might find his topical headings interesting. I've presented them here as they appear in order in the notebook:

Book of Mormon
Divinity of Latter-day Work
Apostacy [sic]
Organization of Church
Law of Consecration
Signs of Times
Gathering of Israel
Good Counsel
Sabbath Day
Baptism for the Dead
Outlines for Talks

As I have reviewed the contents over the past few days and shared it with many of our family, I have come to several conclusions I think are worth sharing.

1. There is no "one right way" to study the gospel. The Holy Ghost bears witness to each of us of gospel truth. Books, study courses and many BYU symposia over the years have suggested "how" to go about studying the scriptures. None of them, perhaps, is the one and only way you should do it. Listen to the Spirit. Unwittingly, I started with studying the scriptures topically as the topics came up in classes. I would exhaust one topic to my heart's content, then move on to the next and the next and the next. The gospel is truly inexhaustible.

2. The key to learning gospel topics is consistency and constancy. If anyone were to pick up my copies of the scriptures, they would find a disorganized mess, a colorful array of multi-colored inks, underlinings, circles, arrows, scripture chains, cross references and notes scribbled all over the pages. But each mark suggests a moment in time when the Holy Ghost helped me to make a discovery for myself. Since my mission days I have always preferred the large pulpit-sized editions because it gave me more room for margin notes.

3. I've always done what Grandfather did with his scriptures - inserting quotes from prophets that illuminate and interpret certain passages. You can do it by putting a line of Elmer's glue on a blank sheet of paper and gently touching the edge of your insert onto the line of glue and then inserting it where you want it within the scriptures. It will permanently be part of your scriptures thereafter, and you will find that the bindings bulge and sometimes can't contain the inserts if you have as many as me. But you'll have a way to speak from them spontaneously thereafter at a moment's notice.

4. However you choose to organize your thinking around gospel topics, the key takeaway is this - you gain knowledge on your own terms, at your own speed, and in your own time. This is what it means to have the Holy Ghost with you as a constant companion. You invite His guidance when you open the word routinely. You can't learn it from Harold B. Lee or anyone else. As you teach the principles of the gospel to others, you "own" those principles for yourself. It is the way, the only way, we will come to a "unity of the faith," as spoken of by the prophets. We must anchor our teachings in the scriptures.

Harold B. Lee was my role model in gospel scholarship and teaching. He had a personal standard he used. If he couldn't answer a gospel question from the scriptures, he would often say, "I don't know, and you can quote me on that." He would only cite quotes from presidents of the Church during the time they were serving as president. I wasn't sure until this week "how" he studied the scriptures, I only knew he had paid a deeply personal price for what he knew. I came to realize I could do the same for myself without having to follow precisely in his footsteps. It didn't matter that I have the precise inserts he used in his scriptures. That way I owned my own testimony and could be independent from his testimony. That was important to me. I never wanted to be his lap dog just because he was my grandfather.

It would perhaps be audacious for me to claim I knew as much as Harold B. Lee. But it is not arrogant to assert my gospel knowledge is the same as his because today I am intimately familiar with all the references he has cited under his topic headings starting back in 1927. I can say that at least Harold B. Lee and I have come to a unity of the faith in the same conclusions, but our paths might not have been identical.

That discovery gives me the assurance that someday we may all begin speaking the same scriptural language in the Church.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Political Quote of the Day on the Death of Common Sense

I am always interested in a good piece of satirical writing, and I'm always anxious to give the correct attribution where possible. Several "versions" of this exist on the Internet, many of which have been attributed incorrectly to George Carlin, or "anonymous." Today, I am happy to reproduce this in its original essay:

The Death of Common Sense
Lori Borgman | Sunday, March 15, 1998

Three yards of black fabric enshroud my computer terminal. I am mourning the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense. His obituary reads as follows:

CommonSense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape. 

Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering.

Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S. A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet.

C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men's movement, body piercing, whole language and new math. C.S.'s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus.

In the following decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf.

His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of Scope mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

Services will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought. Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The White Wedding Dress

This past week our granddaughter wore her grandmother's wedding dress. Ashley Bayles was a beautiful bride, as she and Tyler Johns solemnized their wedding vows in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. I hadn't seen that dress in forty-four years, and the mere sight of it brought with it an unexpected rush of emotions and memories.

Ashley Johns, Dianne Bayles, Patsy Goates, Peggy Weight
Patsy and her mother picked the dress in an exclusive shop in Melbourne, Australia, where she was living with her parents while her father was serving as a mission president. They brought the dress home and we were sealed on a warm sunny day, December 19th, 1969. And now here we were together with our granddaughter and her husband on December 21st, 2013! Time had collapsed around us. Four generations of faithful women stood together shoulder to shoulder.

The dress had been carefully tucked away for many years but was in need of cleaning. A careful and thorough dry-cleaning and a few nips and tucks here and there restored it to its once former radiant glory. On a dreary cold and snowy Saturday December day it was luminous and dazzlingly white. As she and Tyler exited the temple to greet friends and family waiting on the grounds outside for pictures, there was a catch in my throat and tears began to flow. Could it be possible that my bride had worn this same dress forty-four years ago?

Ashley and Tyler Johns
As we walked around to the front of the temple I was bombarded with memories of that day and all the days that followed. I reflected on how much I loved the woman who had worn it first so long ago. I remembered and relived the emotions of our wedding day. We had embarked on our eternal marriage journey full of hope in an uncertain future that awaited us, like all newlyweds. What would the future hold? Were we prepared for what life would bring us?

And now instead of looking forward with all those uncertain feelings, I found myself looking back over the path we had walked together with a sense of gratitude, calm and sweet serenity. I found I had forgotten everything that seemed fearful, uncertain or foreboding. In its place my memories were sweet and fulfilling, the culmination of forty-four years together with the same bride I cherished then. The love I felt then which seemed so all-consuming was merely a foretaste of the love I now feel. Patsy's white hair had replaced the white dress, an enduring testament to her constant purity and goodness. Her life had become the embodiment of what her white wedding dress had only symbolized so many years ago. The promise of what it once suggested had been delivered.

I wish I had words to express to young people what it means to live a life of virtue and selfless service. To know Patsy is to understand it without words. Ashley has expressed it beautifully in her tribute to her Grandma Patsy in this blog post of her own.
Ashley Johns and Grandma Patsy

I find there is only one way to communicate what it means to embrace the covenant relationship with God. It is to obey, sacrifice, walk the daily gospel path, remain chaste and to consecrate one's self to the task of building up the kingdom of God on the earth. It is to cleave to one another and to none others, and it is to cleave unto God and no other gods. It is to walk on a straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life in a very far distant day. It is to believe and to trust God. It is to embrace God's ways, His attributes and His Son. It is to come to know Them through all the twists and turns of mortality. It is to lean into the fierce winds and the howling voices of opposition that assail us in an increasingly hostile world and to remain true and faithful through it all.

Together Patsy and I have come down that path of mortality a very great distance. We now have more to look back upon than to look forward to. We have sown our seeds in fertile gospel soil, we have nurtured the seedlings, and we are now harvesting the mature crop. It is a rich harvest as we survey our vast fields. As we harvest the good memories, we also see before us many little blades of new green shoots popping up, assuring us the future will continue to produce nothing but good fruit.

When we stand in a mirrored chamber within sacred precincts, we now find ourselves in the unique position of understanding even better today than we did forty-four years ago what it is to see into eternity in both directions. In so many ways the symbols of the temple have found fulfillment in our lives. We know what it is to accept the torch of faithfulness from our ancestors, carry that torch for two or three generations, then pass it along for future generations.

As we witnessed Ashley and Tyler's sealing ceremony, I came closer to understanding what my Grandfather must have experienced that day, emotions spilling over as he uttered the words, "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." In that room on Saturday sat the fulfillment of what had once only been the hope that posterity would eventually come to us. We had lived long enough to be surrounded by the embodiment of goodness and purity and joy. There is nothing to compare with the peace and serenity of a righteous posterity. Nothing. No other compensation can suffice.

The temple symbol of a white dress had become a reality in the lives of our children and grandchildren.