Monday, June 30, 2014

Are We Worthy Enough?

There is a short answer to this question, and it is "Yes."

The long answer deserves a little more explanation.

Let us suppose three cases, all true stories and the details of which I am personally acquainted:

1) A man marries in the temple, he holds several significant callings throughout his life, including bishop, stake president and stake patriarch. At his funeral, some of the grandchildren begin sharing their experiences with each other they had with their grandfather. They discover that several of the grandchildren were sexually abused by this seemingly faithful man. At the time of his death he was serving as the stake patriarch, routinely giving inspired blessings to the young members of his stake, many of whom were the same ages of his grandchildren when he was secretly abusing them. The secrets of this family went undetected and undiscussed for almost two generations. From all appearances this family was a "model" LDS family to all who knew them.

2) A Relief Society President came to confess a secret sin to her bishop. She had become infatuated with a co-worker. They traded e-mails, innocent enough to begin with, but soon the innocent exchanges turned into increasingly explicit love poetry. Soon they were meeting for movie outings during the day. Then lunch followed the movies, then the movies became more and more explicit. Their love for each other blossomed. She was getting attention from this new suitor she was unable to find at home with her husband. A disciplinary council was convened on her behalf. She wanted to remain with her family and her husband. She was disfellowshipped, but a year later was reinstated.

3) A revered Church leader who had served as a bishop, a stake president, then later as a mission president confessed many years into adulthood he had been romantically involved with his administrative assistant for years. He was excommunicated. His missionaries were devastated, the members of his former stake were disillusioned, and many questioned the inspiration involved with the leaders who had called him to all these positions. In time he wrote a book about his life. His repentance was deep and real and painful. But still others questioned his judgment in profiting from his sins of the past. The secrets he harbored about his behavior, notwithstanding, his wife and family rallied around him and he was later re-baptized and all his priesthood blessings were restored in time.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is one of merciful deliverance from evil for those who abandon their sins and come unto Christ. Whether in this life or the next, the conditions for forgiveness are the same. The ordinances performed by the two priesthood brethren cited are recognized and ratified in heaven, even though the participants were "unworthy" to perform them. Since none is completely "worthy" in every way, the instruments will always be flawed in some particular, and should not foster doubt in the efficacy of the work of salvation. Legion are the examples of young men who administer the emblems of the sacrament to their fellow ward members on Sunday, and yet their behavior on Saturday night was anything but indicative of "worthiness" to perform those sacred ordinances. Hypocrisy is almost a given isn't it?

Worthiness, then, becomes a matter of degrees. We get on a path at baptism leading toward exaltation and eternal life. Our path twists and turns through mortality. Few walk a "straight and narrow" path flawlessly. I know of none who has or ever will. When secret sins are harbored and remain hidden sometimes for years, and yet men continue in their priesthood duties undeterred through many temple recommend interviews, lying and covering up their past sins without remorse until they are "caught," of course there are logical questions of worthiness that arise.

There is a corollary here too: Parenting. Sometimes children get the vibe from their parents who are driven by the need to have perfectly behaved children that they never will be "good enough" to measure up to their parents' lofty expectations. They become discouraged and give up. The quest for perfection is simply too much for them to continue. I labeled this "The Impossible Gospel" many years ago. Some sons think they can never be "worthy enough" in their fathers' eyes, and some daughters think they will never be "competent enough" in their mothers' eyes.

Of course, these thoughts are silly and should not stand in our way to accomplishing what we know we must as we mature and separate out from our parents' watchful care taking of us. The transition from being parented to becoming the parent is often traumatizing to some because of these perilous and false thoughts and expectations. I hope no one gets trapped in this stage of natural and normal progress in mortality.

Here's the reality of parenting - no matter how "great" our parents were, we are all scarred by what parents do or don't do to us and for us. Be kind with each other. Forgive generously. Move on gracefully without harboring the painful memories and replaying them again and again. Don't get stuck in misery.

Patience with each other is required. Harsh judgment for those who falter is not the same treatment we would choose for ourselves. And so we must become as patient as Heavenly Father must be with us. We learn by doing.

Have you ever had the experience of hearing about someone who was called to a responsible position in the Church, and yet based upon your own personal interactions with that person in their past life you know them to be "less than" worthy enough to perform in the office to which they are called? Do you wonder if they might also be having feelings of being "less than" they wish they were? Do you believe these are almost universal feelings others may have? Do you assume they never accessed the benefits of Christ's atonement in their life the way you have have in yours? Are you willing to condemn them for past sins you KNOW about, and yet exonerate yourself for your own hidden sins? Do you take comfort in the public display of another's weakness and remain smug that your secret sins go undetected?

We are all sinners. We all come short of the mark when it comes to the lofty ideals of the gospel compared to our actual performance in mortality. Remember, this is all a test, and most are struggling just like you when you flounder with the details. When long-cherished sins are finally exposed to the bright sunlight of truth, we are grieved, and those who are closest to us are likewise affected and grieved. Yet none of this invalidates what a fallen, imperfect person has accomplished for good during their lives. While we must develop understanding and empathy for one another, it may be just as important for us to give ourselves some of the same too.

The requirement is repentance, NOT perfection or the expectation of it any time soon.

Some wives punish their husbands brutally for their mistakes, and some find it difficult to excuse even when sincere repentance is in evidence. A breach of trust is difficult to repair. That's when Satan is at his most powerful in our lives. He thrives on harsh judgments. He is a master at hardening hearts. "I trusted you then," one would say, "and you betrayed me. How can I ever believe anything you ever say again?" When she begins to examine her own life, however, she finds she has withheld as much, then she is fearful she will be treated with the same judgment from her husband she has imposed upon him. And Satan drives those wedges of doubt and fear deeper until the marriage splits. He loves the conflict, the drama and the anguish growing out of the sins he promises will have no consequences. His greatest lie is the one about "victimless sins." Believe me, there is no such thing. Actions bring consequences. When we pick up a stick, we pick up both ends.

What is needed in all these cases is a broad brush of forgiveness. I've learned this is very hard work. When one of the combatants steps away from the conflict, there is no longer a war. When I have been discouraged with relationships, especially family relationships, I have heard a gentle whispered encouragement from my Mother, who died fourteen years ago, "Try one more time, David." It is an unmistakable voice of patience and love.

Of course, there are many situations where forgiveness and repentance just aren't enough, but those situations often suffer from a lack of willingness to extend the balm of Gilead to each rather than a lack of power to heal from the Savior. His love is perfection.

I counseled a couple for many months who found it difficult to remember why they had gotten married in the first place. I granted a temple recommend to the husband with reservations that I knew he was "not worthy" to go, but hoping to rekindle his love for his wife. I instructed my stake president about the course I was recommending to them and asked him to sign this brother's recommend despite my misgivings. I was acting on a prompting that suggested if they could go through an endowment session together, then spend an hour sitting side by side holding hands in the Celestial Room, then going on a sealing session together, there might be a chance to rekindle their marriage covenant. The last time I checked (and this was many years ago) they had six children.

I suggest we trust God. All our husbands and wives are His children first. He knows them better than we do. He also understands the fallen condition we face in mortality. If He had to rely upon conferring priesthood responsibilities only on "worthy" people, He might have easily decided to give the priesthood to women. That way He might be better assured of all the ordinances being performed in perfection.

However, mortality is what it is. We are sent here on a mission to purify ourselves through the blood of Christ. We are also told there is no other way, and no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved from sin and death and made pure. We are told we must never play in the gutter and avoid soiling our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. But in mortality we routinely find ourselves in the gutter. . .

And it's hard to avoid getting dirty.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Goates Notes Five Years Later

Recently, Kurt Francom of reached out requesting an interview for his site. I wasn't certain about it, and it took a few hits and misses for us to finally connect, but when we finally did he produced a podcast highlighting the origins of The Goates Notes and other topics of interest to him.

As I told Kurt during our interview, The Goates Notes had a rather naive birth in 2009, almost five years ago. When the thought of producing a blog was first suggested by daughter Melanie, I had to ask, "What is a blog?"

Now five years on and counting I believe I am beginning to understand.

I've had the joyful experience of a lifetime coming up with the content over those five years. In the early stages the ideas came easily, when I would find myself awakening to a new day with a mind bristling with possibilities for topics. Admittedly, I've slowed down the production line in recent months because other priorities have taken precedence. That said, I hope the content taken as a whole is representative of my thoughts, my deeply-held beliefs and my political philosophy that aligns with all of the above.

I want to thank those who have come to The Goates Notes over those past five years for content. The "odometer" on the number of visitors clicked over 200,000 last week, and each week an average of 1,000 visitors discovers content here through Google searches. I'm not exactly setting the blogger universe on fire, based upon those metrics, but I've been content with organic growth exceeding my wildest expectations when I embarked on this journey five years ago.

What I have done, I have done without apology and in the hope others may benefit from lessons learned. Everything here is original content and I answer to no one but myself and God. I'm not trying to win anyone over to my positions on anything. I simply want to be a voice for truth in the wilderness and a beacon for those who are seeking a higher path. In the process, I hope I don't embarrass my children and grandchildren too much.

Grandfather Lee often quoted someone who posed a provocative question: "Will we become the grandfathers of great men, or forever remain their grandsons?" The duty of each generation is to advance the species, I believe, and I am confident our children are raising that generation of great men my Grandfather Lee alluded to. To be their grandfather is incredibly satisfying and fulfilling at this stage of life.

One of our sons, Rich, was kind enough to comment on the interview, and reminded me of the many years Patsy tolerated the late night sessions with the scriptures and the typewriter (long before the computer) while I tried to make myself a useful instrument by attempting to understand the doctrine of Christ with all its gleaming facets. She truly has been a remarkable and patient partner in my pursuits.

In addition, reference to my dear friend Scott Strong came up more than once during our interview. Without Scott's deep and abiding friendship in our mutual love of the scriptures, perhaps neither of us would have gone as "deep" and as "far" as we did in those earlier formative years. So, for his lifelong friendship, example and love, I remain forever grateful and humbled. As I said in the interview, at one point along the way Scott and I commented we must be really "special" sons of God because He was revealing so much to us. Then, in more mature moments we began to realize He was revealing so much because we asked so much and He was merely keeping His promise that to everyone who asked there would be answers.

So, Happy Fifth Birthday to The Goates Notes. I will continue to scribble the notes if you'll continue to read them.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

War Weary America, "Not Again!"

News is coming in this week from Iraq about ISIS, the al Qaeda inspired jihadists who are overrunning the country en route to Baghdad. When one calculates the blood and treasure America has left behind there, it is sad to contemplate how futile our efforts have been in helping to put Iraq back on its feet since the regime of Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Incredibly, today President Barack Obama made a stunning statement. "The world," he asserted, "has never been less violent than it is today." I guess any logical person would have to say that to be true one would have to look at where one was living. As throngs flee the violence and the Iraq army lays down its arms and runs to avoid the confrontation with evil, how could one assert in their situation that the world is less violent?

War will always be with us. I am grieved routinely when I think about the costs in lives it will mean. Yet another round of violence and lawlessness appears ready to explode across the Middle East. All of our interventions of the past to alleviate the suffering have proven futile and ineffective. Freedom, it seems, is never permanent as long as tyrants exert their unchecked influence.

I am reminded that in 2009, the Obama Administration officially declared the end of the use of the term "War on Terrorism". With sober, but flawed, feigned sagacity, the Pentagon declared these "incidents" would be referred to as "Overseas Contingency Operations".

The political fall out since then in foreign policy is nearly incalculable. Consistently looking the other way and ignoring the onward march of evil allows the resulting vacuum to be filled with unsavory characters who are emboldened by America's lack of attention.

I do not advocate, as the hawks in Washington, for "drastic measures". I've seen enough of that, and so have most of us.

One could call it naive, but I think most Americans are past that. As we think about all the work done there to give Iraqis their freedom, and now to see it all being swept away in yet another flood of aggression, who among us would vote for going back to Iraq and giving it another try? I suspect very few.

We are weary of wars and rumors of wars. I always reflect in these sobering moments on the remarkable prophecy on war by Joseph Smith in 1832:

SECTION 87 of The Doctrine and Covenants

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

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

* * *

The concluding verse is perhaps our key to understanding. While we yearn for peace on earth, there will be no peace until He comes again. The Middle East combatants will not suddenly sit down one day soon and devise a "two-state" solution for the border conflicts extant in Israel. Afghanistan and Iran will not one day suddenly devise a truce with terrorist factions determined to overthrow freedom in every country on earth.

Mark Twain
What we can do, we must to promote peace everywhere we have the chance. I have thought so many times how simple the whole plan of salvation might have been absent that pesky principle of agency. Much as we would like to sometimes, we cannot force our will upon others, only through patience, long-suffering and love unfeigned.

Choices, agency and consequences make up the fabric of our lives. Sometimes the poor choices of others affect us dramatically, particularly when those choices lead to war in all its hues and shapes. It all begins with one individual deciding to make a beginning toward a better tomorrow.

I have no illusions about world peace, but I do know that I can be at peace with myself. Mark Twain once sagely observed, "Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."

May everyone have an abundance of all three!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Remembering God in a Secular Pluralistic Society

This past week marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe by the Allied forces, commencing America's entrance into the events of World War II. On that one day, 2,499 American soldiers lost their lives. To put it in perspective, in 13 years of war in Afghanistan, 2,324 soldiers have lost their lives in Operating Enduring Freedom.

President Roosevelt
The 32nd American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the next day took to the air waves in a radio address, and offered this historic prayer on behalf of all Americans, many of whom would ultimately lay their lives down in defense of freedom.

Imagine that! 70 years ago as a nation he led us in a prayer when we called upon God in the fight against wickedness, and our President called them "unholy forces of our enemy."

In today's politically correct world, it is hard to imagine a POTUS calling evil evil and invoking the name of God in a prayer for deliverance from that evil. Ironically, and by contrast, our present-day POTUS just negotiated the exchange of one very controversial American life for five known Taliban leaders and effectively returned sworn enemies to the battlefield to continue their jihad against America. Bergdahl's return by the Taliban who held him captive is controversial because this one American is known to have abandoned his post and issued anti-American sentiments prior to his defection five years ago. To say our attitudes and perspectives have changed in our national leadership since 1944 would be an understatement.

I pray we may never forget God in our public discourse, but there are voices in Washington D.C. today who oppose memorializing this prayer.

* * * 

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.