Mormon Thought

Monday, July 18, 2016

True, Hard Fact: Repentance Requires Revision and Editing

Recently I’ve become acutely aware of what it means to be “born again.”  It’s not the free-ticket to redemption one might suppose.  We are promised by our Heavenly Father that if we repent, He will "remember [our] sins no more" (D & C 58:42).  I have no doubt that is true, for I have felt the joy that results from becoming worthy.  I have had the spirit testify that I have been forgiven, and I don’t carry around the baggage of my past decisions.  If my Heavenly Father has forgiven me, there is no reason why I shouldn’t forgive myself.  The redemption of Christ is about moving forward and not backwards.  He tells the woman caught in adultery that she is forgiven and “to go and sin no more”  (John 8:11).  

At first this sounds great, which it is--oh so much better than actually having to atone for ones actions alone without Christ to take on most of that burden.  Yet, truly being “born again” is not as easy as it sounds.  It requires extreme sacrifice.  It requires going through a veil, of giving up the old self, and allowing faith to create something new.   After all, if my Heavenly Father is to remember my sins no more, I must do the same.  That is hard stuff because that is my life wrapped up with my sins.   No matter how much pain and sorrow my old life brought me, no matter how heavy the void that hung around my neck, it was still mylife, and there were good times mixed in with the misery.

I teach English at a residential treatment center for boys, and I saw one of my students struggle with this.  In his former life he was a street graffiti artist and small time dope dealer.  While at our school, he converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and had slowly rebuilt his life based on gospel principles.  He was at a relatively safe place when he wrote a descriptive essay for me about his former life as a graffiti artist.  It was an amazing piece, describing the city in the early dawn and the peace and solitude he felt tagging right before the city awakened.  As writing, it was good stuff.  Had he been a shop owner washing down the sidewalk before opening shop it would simply be a pleasant memory.  But this moment of connection for him, because the life choices he had made, was attached instead to an illegal act and a former lifestyle that brought more pain than peace. Yet, as the memory was pleasant, I could see it pulling him back to a life he needed to let go.

When he turned in the essay, I had two thoughts: 1) this is solid writing and 2) if I don’t help him, this boy is in danger of returning to a life of misery.  Because of my past, I knew I had to be honest.  Warnings about “Don’t go there” would only make him resentful. After all, it was his life, not mine. What right did I have to tell him that the peace he felt that day was a lie?  I didn’t have that right at all.  And I knew that peace myself.  For me, it was city lights reflected at the bottom of the concrete channel of the Rio Grande from the Santa Fe Bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas after a heavy night of drinking.  My life was miserable because of my choices but that stopping point on a bridge between two countries was none-the-less moving.  I still see that glassy, slightly rippled water, hard and slick as wet obsidian through the diagonal grid of the chain-link fence.

So, instead of lecturing him, I talked about giving up good things for better things. He had lots of support from staff and has since married in the temple.  He chose to move forward not backwards.  But, I know that choice wasn’t easy. 

Here is the warning I give my children and future grandchildren:  Live your life so that you never have to “go and sin no more.”  Christ does provide us with fresh starts, but every time we have to be “born again” to move forward in happiness, we have to leave part of us behind.  Life is messy and good times get mixed in with our poor choices.  To truly start over, we have to leave the past behind.   In leaving the past behind, we leave a chunk of ourselves with it.

Live so that all your greatest memories can apply to the life you want to end with. How grand it must be to be eighty years old, look back at your life and remember that your first night of intimacy was with your wife who is pushing your wheel chair when you are eighty.  Does that mean you can’t have a meaningful marriage if you had premarital sex with another woman or went through a divorce?  Of course not, a loving Heavenly Father does allow us to start over.  But not even the grace of God can unify a narrative that happened chaotically, without a plan.

True, one learns from mistakes.  One learns wisdom and empathy.  But learning is part of life.  You’ll gain wisdom regardless of your path.  Yet only one path leads to a life where all memories can remain in the narrative that ends with a resolution of joy not disjointed by sin.  It’s good to be able to say, “I was lost, now I’m found”; it is profound to be able to look back on your life and not need to edit anything out to move forward.

I love my life, sin and all, and if I had to do it all over again, without any changes, I’d be fine with that because I know I’d end up here, at a place of faith and the resulting joy that comes from being worthy of receiving the Holy Ghost.  Yet, I have to live with the knowledge that I could have lived another narrative, one where I never stopped speaking to my Heavenly Father.  No matter what I accomplish in this life, no matter how much joy I feel, no matter how close I draw to my Heavenly Father, I know that other narrative is better.  It is a fact I have to live with.  If I could teach my children the ultimate lesson, it would be this:

Live the life God intends for you NOW so that you never have to edit out chunks of living to move forward.  Every hard, right decision becomes a permanent detail to move the narrative forward.  Every wavering is an error that will eventually have to be erased through the revision and editing process of the atonement before the narrative is right.  Those scraps, those dribbles of less-than-perfect text, at some point must be set aside to move forward. Imagine what it must be like to be Christ—for every word, every deed to be worthy of including in your life story.  You can’t accomplish that, but get as close as you can, and you will be happy for the majority of the narrative, even in moments of sorrow and pain because the Holy Ghost provides a joy deeper, better rooted, and stronger than circumstance.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Gratitude: Contentment in the Midst of Conflict (Alma 34: 38, The Book of Mormon; John 8: 3-12, Holy Bible)

Tomorrow I will be speaking during the church service at the county jail, which I'm very excited about.  The topic is gratitude.  Here is the talk I wrote out in preparation, which I do so that I have done my part.  It is not the talk I will be giving.  I don't use notes.  When speaking in church, I think it's important to leave space for the spirit to speak to those that need it most (usually myself.)  An overly planned talk can get in the way of that.  But I record it here for my children and grandchildren.  Enjoy.

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. 
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” 

This is the second talk I've been asked to give on gratitude, and I'm not asked to speak often, so, clearly there is something I am to learn here that I'm not getting.   Consistency, would be my guess.  I am plenty grateful when everything is going my way, but tend to, like so many, throw tantrums (sometimes internally, sometimes externally), when an obstacle is tossed in the way. True gratitude is not based on circumstance.  It is a reverence for the entire experience of being, trials and all.

We all have obstacles.  God gave us life as an obstacle course.  Or maybe he just gave us life, and we perceive it as an obstacle course.   Either way, everyone in this life is on a separate journey.  Other than the love of God, nothing is equal.  Some are born into wealth; some are born into poverty. Some are born to good families; some are victims of abuse.  Some have good health; others live life in pain.  Some are born into democracies; others live under political oppression.  Some have good fortune; others endure one tragedy after another. Sometimes pain comes as a natural consequence; other times not.

So, who am I to speak on gratitude?  Who is anyone?  It's easy to preach an open heart when life is blossoming before you; it's not so easy listen when being devoured by strife.

However, it seems to me that gratitude that will not endure conflict is not gratitude at all.  It's simply the ego enjoying momentary false evidence that the ground beneath us is stable.  True happiness then cannot be built on circumstance.  Its foundation must sink into bedrock more substantial than the material world, which is always in flux.

But how do we find gratitude in the midst of pain or despair?  I've dealt with a lot of physical pain over the past year, and I'd be lying, if I said I was always grateful.  So, this is something I'm working on.  But, I've found a scripture that I think, if we follow it, will drive the pilings down into the bedrock and anchor us to something that isn't temporary.

That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you (Alma 34: 38,The Book of Mormon).

When two of my boys were to be baptized, I was asked to say either the opening or closing prayer at the meeting (I don't remember which), but I didn't feel worthy, so I prayed about it before hand.  I received what to me felt like a clear answer, not so much a voice, but a thought planted in my head that was not my own.  In my mind, I heard these actual words:  "You are not worthy, but say the prayer anyway."

The impression was strong enough that I felt comfortable saying the prayer.  During that prayer, I had a feeling come back to me that I had long forgotten, a feeling that had slipped away so slowly that I hadn't even noticed it was gone.  I'd simply learned to accept a numb feeling, a void, a constant unhappiness even at what should be the most joyful moments in my life.  I'd completely forgotten that as a child I was generally happy.  It rushed in with great force, and I just had this inner awareness--I am happy.  It was so strong, I was on cloud nine for a couple of weeks until I became use to it.  It felt like when you first fall in love without all the worries of "Does she really like me?"  I knew my Heavenly Father loved me profoundly.  With the return of the Holy Ghost, there was no question about that.

Over the years, I had contended against the Holy Ghost by not following the commandants and over time had lost my connection to the joy the Holy Ghost brings.  For me, it is pretty hard to have gratitude on a daily basis without the assistance of the Holy Ghost.  If I'm not living my religion to the best of my ability, small troubles become big issues in a hurry.  I'm irritable, critical and cynical.  Whereas, when I am living right, troubles seem like inconveniences, and I'm usually able to maintain inner peace even if I don't like what I have to deal with.

The next part of the scripture says, "that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatever place ye may be in."  That could refer to physical location, but I think it means more.  It means, as long as we are humble enough to let Christ enter our hearts, and worship God, he accepts us "in whatever place" we are in, spiritually speaking.  Humility, rather than a sin-free life, is the phone connection with God.  Once we know God's love, we must forsake our sins or we no longer have the humility to listen to Him. But Christ does not mandate a level of worthiness to enter the road to happiness.  We may enter the strait and narrow path to eternal salvation at any point we become sick of the darkness of sin.

 My personal experience is that He will listen to us and provide us help even if we are throwing a temper tantrum, so long as we are at that place where we are willing to let in His light.  There was one night in the mid-nineties when I staggered down Mesa Street in El Paso cursing God and screaming, "I want to die" at passing cars. I was serious.  The dull void in my life had grown so big, I saw no reason to live.  I would have ended my life that night if I hadn't been scared. The next morning, I just felt a calm presence say, "Go home, start over."  There was no judgement, just love and empathy.  "Go home, start over."  

I testify to you that there is nothing you could have ever done in your past that would make you unworthy of God's love now.  That is the power of Christ, of grace, of the atonement.  His love is immediate:

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest,even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
 12 ¶Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8: 3-12)
The world might require restitution; the world might require justice; the world might require punishment.  For some sins, even the church requires penance, not as punishment, but as a means of assistance, of healing, of restoration of the spirit, but Christ requires nothing more than a commitment to get up, dust yourself off, walk out of the darkness, and enter the light. Grace is not earned; it is given; and therefore it is immediate.  That doesn't mean one doesn't have to right wrongs before being fully worthy of the gospel again, but it does mean one has the right to receive the help of the Holy Ghost as soon as one's heart is open for assistance.
The next part of the scripture states, "that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you."  In order to remain teachable, we must honestly evaluate where we are, and as we all fall very short of perfection, we must know that we truly are saved by the mercy of Christ, that we are blessed by the atonement, and that everything we have is a result of His love.  When we are in that place of true gratitude, consistently walking the strait and narrow path takes care of itself.  It is only when our ego creeps in, when we denounce our short comings, when we complain about our lot, that we are in danger again of wandering off into the darkness.
I pray that we may always listen to the Holy Ghost; that we take the name of Christ upon us; that we humble ourselves and worship Him to the best of our ability; and that we show Him gratitude daily.  For this is the foundation of true happiness and everlasting joy.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Why? Why I?—Night Thoughts, Part I: Intellectually We Are Free to Believe (Science, Philosophy, Theism, Mormonism)

It’s 5:30 in the morning; I’ve been awake since 3:00.  It’s not often when my restless mind wakes me up in the middle of the night, but it’s useless to try to go back to sleep.  Night thoughts are too vivid, too alive, for me to sleep. 

In the past, when I haven’t listened well to who I am at the core, I have awoken at night from a terrifying dream to remind me of who I am.  Once, many years ago, I argued with God in my sleep for three nights in a row about creation.  I was sure we got here by chance; he was sure we didn’t.  I asked him big questions—ones I knew would stump him, for they surely stumped me.  For instance, how can evolution and a personal god—the only type of God I’ve ever been interested in (one of love, kindness and intimate involvement in my life)—coexist?  For if we evolved from single cell organisms over the eons, at what point was human consciousness born?  Could the same type of soul enter our primitive ancestors?  Was there a magic point where we were human enough to receive human souls?  And evolution, I insisted, has to exist, because our scientific knowledge of the genetic process allows us to clone sheep.  Evolution, at least at its most basic level, can’t be denied.  I was sure I had God there.

He made a counter-observation though, one I had never considered, at least not consciously.  It was a reprimand in the form of a rhetorical question.  He simply asked, “Who do you think you are, to believe you can understand a system you are part of better than I, the one who created it?”   But it was a reprimand from a god who knew me intimately because he understood I was at an intellectual impasse, that I couldn’t grow because I couldn’t deny science and I couldn’t make it work with my religion.

That night thought, which came in the form of a recurring dream, changed my life, for it allowed me to unify my analytical and mythical mind.  And it came to me at just the right moment, the moment I could not go on living without God even though in my mind he simply couldn’t exist.

It provided a metaphor.  The fish in the aquarium can learn his aquarium well, but he can’t know that there is a power plant somewhere generating electricity to be transferred over hundreds of miles by wires that lead into the house, travel through the walls, and come out at an electrical socket where the air pump that keeps him alive is plugged into.  And even if he were to develop an instrument that could trace that charge from the pump all the way back to the power plant, he still would not know what keeps him alive, because he wouldn’t know about the railroad that feeds the coal to the power plant, or the coal mine itself, or the plants that died millions of years ago to create that coal, because the fish in the fish tank can never know things outside his system.   We are no different.  All human thought leads to an impasse.  I’ll demonstrate that from both the creationism and evolution end.  Both paths are terrifying short.

Belief:  I am because God created me.
Challenge:  Who created God?
General Theist Belief:  God is eternal
Mormon Belief:  God has parents; procreation and souls are eternal.
Buddhist and Hindu Belief:  Souls are eternal and recycled.

However, none of these answers explain what started the chain reaction, what exactly is existence.  And no human thought ever will.  It is impossible to completely comprehend a system when you are part of it.

Belief:  I am because I evolved through a complex chemical chain reaction that began with the big bang.
Challenge:  What created the instability that led to creation?  Or in other words, who or what declared, Let there be light?
Belief:  It was inherent in the system.
Challenge:  Why?   There can be no change without a stimulus.  Inert remains inert unless acted upon. 

Therefore, perhaps the ultimate gift of life is that I am free intellectually to believe as I wish—at least as far as the big questions go.  No one has anything up on me.  While it is true that I cannot prove the existence of God, at least not intellectually, it’s equally true that you can’t prove he doesn’t exist.  Our current academic world would have me believe otherwise.   Belief is written off as ignorance—the act of a lazy mind, a childish mind, one that can’t face the grown-up thought that we are all alone in the universe.

I can switch that around quickly and say that unbelief is the act of a lazy mind, a childish one that can’t face the grown-up fact that analytical thought, though useful, is finite, while existence is infinite.  Therefore, to even begin to understand I why?; Why I? (as my old professor, Dr. Emory Estes phrased it), I must look for tools beyond scientific thought.

Mormonism is based on the promise that there is in fact such a tool: revelation.  Like all religions, we recognize there is a veil that keeps us from fully comprehending I why; why I intellectually.  But we also believe that the veil can be punctured, if we sincerely ask God for help with what we need most to survive. 
Mormonism is the answer one boy received to that question, I why?; why I?.  Young Joseph Smith was searching for his identity.  Particularly, he wanted to know which church he should join.  It’s best stated in his own words:

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.  It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.  I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did: how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I I would never know…” (Joseph Smith History 1:11-12)
Millions, including myself, have received that same answer.  But this is what I know for sure.  Not only can I not prove to you that Mormonism is true, I shouldn’t even want to—at least not intellectually.  Life’s greatest gift is to truly be able to believe as you wish about existence.  I am is the ultimate mystery, the ultimate gift—to live, to breath, to interact with the world around us.  If thought could take us to the origin, the Genesis, the active ingredient that moved an infinitely compressed universe to the infinitely large one that exists that ultimate freedom would be taken away from us, and with it, all thought.  Every great thought, one way or the other, has at its core—I why?; why I?  We think because we seek our beginning.
And yet, the answer cannot fully be revealed, at least not intellectually, for if it was, mortal existence would become meaningless.  We would know exactly what we needed to do to fulfill our purpose.  Striving would cease, and with it, growth.

And yet we are promised in James, if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upraideth not; and it shall be given him. 

Mormonism has so much faith in that scripture that it is really all the missionaries ask you to do:  Ask of God, find out for yourself, is this true?  Because the one way we are a terrifyingly original religion is that we do believe God does speak directly with mankind, one on one.

If what I want to share with you is good, you’ll know it, through a feeling, a prompting.  Not because of my intellect, not because of my goodness, or my actions (though, of course, these attributes help if I have them), but because somewhere in your heart, you have already asked God for the answer. 

And if you don’t.  That is fine too.  We each have the ultimate pleasure of believing as we wish.   So much good has been added to this world by the simple quest to answer I why?; why I

I blog my religion, not to convert so much, but to keep that door open—to say, you will not write me off without even knowing who I am, you will not extinguish me because of my label, I will put my foot in the door, keep it cracked open, because I have good things to share.

Isn’t that why anyone writes, to bear witness, to say I am.  Perhaps the need to do that is infinitely more important than we can ever begin to comprehend—whether we be Jewish, Christian, Islam, Buddhist or Mormon.  Maybe the soul, whatever that is, is that spark that ignited the whole big bang—the great I Am rocketing out, stretching an infinitely compressed idea into a great dialogue that will never end--infinite choices, infinite actions and reactions, natural laws, natural consequences, world after world, creation after creation, molding us into something great beyond our wildest dreams.

Well, it’s enough to wake you up at night, to say the least.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Our "Sacred Grove"--A stand of maples at Dry Creek. 

At some point in our lives, usually as teens, most Mormons receive a special blessing, called a patriarchal blessing, which is to act as a guide throughout ones life.  This blessing is considered sacred and is not to be shared openly except with close family members.  But instead, we are to act on it, sort of as self-fulfilling prophesy--a revelation we make sure comes true through our actions.  A large part of our decision to move back to Dry Creek and to start the blog was guided by my patriarchal blessing.  I won't go into specifics, but in it I am promised that I'll play an important role in the lives of my grandchildren.  Although I welcome the world to read my blog, and hope you find it meaningful, it is for my future grandchildren I created Dry Creek Sustainable Living.

Therefore, some posts are meant primarily for my family, now and in the future.  This is one such post.   It is a talk I prepared for church on Sunday, October 28, 2012.  It is not the talk I gave, nor the one intended to give. But as a writer, I have to discover what I want say along the way.  Outlines just don't work for me.  So, I wrote this first and then just showed up for church and gave a talk without notes.  Writing this was my preparation. In church, I focused primarily on revelation and talked for about 15 minutes.  This would have been way too long.  None-the-less, I want my future family have record of this.  If you like my blog, but are tired of reading Mormon posts, feel free to skip this one (along with the next four).  I won't be offended.  If you want to learn more, enjoy.  Due to the length, I've broken it up into five posts, each discusing one of the five blessings I'm most greatful for.


Adam fell that men might be; 
and men are, that they might have joy.
--2 Nephi 2:25


When we were asked to speak on gratitude, I thought, that's easy, I have so much to be grateful for in this life:  from sunlight igniting stark white aspen trunks on an October morning, to the clank and clamour of the orchestra rising in the Beatles "A Day in a Life" to a stack of warm waffles smothered in blueberries and whip cream.

However, I have always loved these things and yet there was a time in my life when I was miserable enough to seriously contemplate suicide.  Obviously, even things as great as aspen trunks licked by lemon light, the artistic genius of the Beatles, or the heavenly flavor and texture of warm blueberries and whip cream are not where deep, steady joy is found.  And isn't that what we all want?--a solid satisfaction for life that will weather hard times?--to be able to wake up and say, "I'm glad I'm here" not only on that perfect fall day, but on that rainy day when you pull up to your father's house and you cannot enter, but just sit out in the car listening to the steady rain, wondering how on earth you're going to drag yourself into that room in front of all those people after you've just found out your love for your dad is at a cellular level, so deep it's not even really an emotion, but a root, and his death is your death too. Or so it seems at the time.  Isn't that what we want--to earnestly be able to say I'm glad to be alive--even in the middle of that kind of pain?

That is the type of gratitude I want to speak about today, which is scary, because just when you believe you have that kind of gratitude, life will throw a brick at you to check your sincerity.  Also, it's easy enough to speak about gratitude when everything is moving smoothly in your life.  What about the person in the congregation who is in the middle of a divorce or has just recently lost a child?  What gives anyone the right to stand in front of them and preach about gratitude?   So, if you're that person who has lost a child and you feel angry, please know two things:  a) the bishop asked us to talk about gratitude--it's his fault, not ours, and b) I cannot possibly know what you're going through and won't pretend too. Instead, I want to share what I'm grateful for--what transformed me from a deeply unhappy person to someone who is generally satisfied with life.   I'll proceed in the order I discovered or rediscovered them fairly late in life, as follows:  prayer, marriage, the holy ghost, the ward, and a personal God.

1. Prayer

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,
that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not;
and it shall be given unto him.
--James 1: 5

As a child growing up here in this ward, I had an innocent yet deep trust in prayer.  I still remember a couple of instances when I used prayer and believed it truly worked.  One occasion was at a father and son outing at Copley's Cove.  A group of us went hiking to that box canyon to the north, just above the campground--the one that has the waterfall coming over the edge in the early spring.  I was maybe eight or nine.  We all sat down and had snacks there.  Some of the group climbed down in and some of us just sat on the edge and watched.  Afterwards, everyone followed the loop around back to the main White Sage Flat trail.  Halfway around that loop, my friend Jason realized he'd left his backpack on a rock, so he and I went back to get it.  I think now that somehow we missed the turn off trail leading back to camp and instead headed up towards White Sage Flat. 

Anyway, after some time, it became clear we were heading in the wrong direction and both of us felt lost.  And so we did what almost any child would do--we got down on our knees and we prayed.  When we did, I had a strong impression: if you head down slope you will end up in the canyon somewhere and then you can just take the road back to camp.   We did indeed come out on the road, embarrassingly close to camp--we could see it from the rock slide we scurried down after breaking our way through a thicket of scrub oak.

Later, in high school and college, when I'd moved away from the church, I wrote that incident off.  After all, it was common sense, right?  If you're lost in the mountains, head down into a canyon since the branch canyons merge into bigger canyons, which eventually come out into the valley.  No duh?  What I didn't understand in high school and college that I understand now is exactly that:  God answers prayers through the obvious.  He is after all, the author of 'plain and simple truths' and we need to pray most when we are too lost and confused to find the obvious solution on our own.  It may be obvious now that all I had to do was head down slope, but I'm pretty sure that if we didn't stop to pray that day the ward would have had to send out a search party for us.  As simple as the answer was, in our fear, we wouldn't have seen it.  And isn't it beautiful that the answer to most of our prayers are obvious and will come about through our own abilities, our own intellect, or own creativity, if we will but stop and listen to the whispering of the spirit?
After all, it is the problems with the simple solutions that are most devastating to humanity.  If you are abusive to you spouse or children, the solution is obvious:  Stop.  If your marriage is in shambles because you go to the bar every night after work and your wife is sick and tired of raising your children by herself, the solution is obvious:  Stop.  If pornography has slowly leaked into your marriage and fantasy has replaced true intimacy with your spouse, one on one, in real time, the solution is obvious:  Stop.

And yet hundreds, thousands, millions of people cannot make these obvious choices day after day.  Humanity is miserable because people can't do what is obviously best for them and others.  Why?  Because we forget to pray.  Day after day, year after year, we forget to pray, eventually believing we can make it on our own, that God is dead, that he's a figment of our imagination, that he's simply a concept by which we measure our pain.  And finally we come to a place where we are so hurt and angry we cannot even consider prayer.  After all, what has God done for us?  Nothing.

I had brought myself to such a low and desolate place in 1995 and I'm here to tell you God answers our prayers even if we are so jaded all we can muster is a curse.  I love the shrimp boat scene in Forest Gump when Lieutenant Dan curses God because of the storm.  I had a similar pivotal moment in my relationship with God.  Obviously, so much greater is our reward, if we can talk to our heavenly father without screaming profanities at him.  But just as we will listen to our children, when out of pain, they yell and scream at us, God too will listen to us.  He never shuts us out, never writes us off, never disowns us.  There is always a way back.  If we are simply humble enough to ask, or at least scream for help.

I'm not going to go into the details but on Thanksgiving night 1995,  after spending the day with a wonderfully warm family in El Paso that just highlighted my own misery, I staggered down Mesa Street in El Paso screaming "I want to die" and cursing God for my miserable life.  I woke up with an impression:  go home, go back to Utah, just start over.

Although the answer was simple, obvious, it didn't seem logical or satisfy my ego.  I was determined to become a writer and let's be honest, rural Utah is not the best place to launch a writing career.  And as a writer, I was doing everything right:  I was part of a strong writing community in El Paso and knew some key people who could help open some doors.  Luckily, I was so miserable that I listened to the voice inside of my head instead of my intellect and pride.  That's a good thing because that choice brings me to my next topic, Marriage. Had I stayed, I'm fairly certain I would have at some point ended my life and never have met Marci.  What were logical career choices were not the right choices for me, an individual spirit of God, put on this earth for a purpose.

I cannot help but wonder how many people would be living alternative, better lives--not richer, more influential, more ego-satisfying lives--but truly better lives if at key moments they chose to listen to the voice whispered inside their head rather than what was logical?   If we do not pray regularly, we cannot know what road we are suppose to be on as individual spirits of God, each put on this earth for a specific purpose. And if we are not on the road that God (not our family, not our friends, not our community) intended for us, we cannot and will not be happy.  That misery has its purpose.  It's God's way of saying, wake up stupid, you're driving off the road!

Obviously, if you have suffered a great loss, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, you will be miserable.  It would be unnatural not to be.  But if life is going along as a matter of routine, and you are still unhappy day after day, weak after weak.  Stop.  It's obvious.  It's not working.  God made man that he might know joy.  You need a spiritual tune up.  Sink to your knees.  Pray.  And be willing to accept the answer.  Obviously you don't know as much as you think you do or you wouldn't be so dang unhappy.  As Cheryl Crow puts it:

If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gratitude: Marriage

This is the second post for a talk I prepared for church on Sunday, October 28, 2012 on Gratitude.  I want my future family have record of this. If you like my blog, but are tired of reading Mormon posts, feel free to skip this one (along with the next three). I won't be offended. If you want to learn more, enjoy. 

After I've posted each section, I'll place the entire talk on the Mormon Culture page.


I had loved before, but I knew not why.  But now I loved--with a pureness--an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling... the wife of my bosom was an immortal eternal companion; a kind ministering angel, given to me as a comfort, and a crown of glory for ever and ever.

--Parley P. Pratt (1807-1857) on learning the concept of eternal marriage.

It is within families that truth is best learned, integrity cultivated, self-discipline is instilled, and love is matured.  It is at home that we learn the values and standards by which we guide our lives.  It is at home that we come to determine what we will stand for.

 --Gorden B. Hinkly, Standing for Something (2000).

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.

 --Doctrine and Covenants 74: 1
Marci truly saved my life.  She is God's answer to a two-year long prayer that began with my cursing him that Thanksgiving night in El Paso, a prayer that basically said, "Okay God, my way hasn't worked and I can't go on anymore like this."  Although it's hard for the intellectual mind to believe this, I truly believe I was miserable because I had drifted so far from where I was suppose to be by not praying regularly that I was not only emotionally and spiritually in a place I couldn't find her, but physically too.  That voice that said, "Go home, start over," knew I couldn't find her at SUU while I lived in El Paso.  Good stuff for movies right, but real life?  Intellectually, at first it seems that you can't make it work.  There are simply too many of us, too many independent wills--how can God direct my life without ruining someone else's life?  After all, I'm sure I'm not the only one to have ever loved Marci?  What about the others?  Why me, not them?  But even physics suggest time is relative.  If God's time is not our time, even by using our rational minds, we can conclude that it is possible for each of us to still have independent wills and for God to still be a step ahead in order for him to provide us what we need, if we will but listen.  After all, even as a mere mortal, I often know what my children need before they do, and I'm restricted by living in the same time as they do.  Why is it so hard to believe that God, freed from the restrictions of time, cannot do the same for us, and that personal revelation is real, if we will but listen?
I'm not sure every marriage was meant to be.  Obviously people can and do marry the wrong person.  But I also know that marriage, if we'll work on it, does, as D & C, Section 74, literally have the power to to sanctify us, even when one spouse is not fully living the gospel.  It is primarily in the home with those closest to us that we truly learn life's most important principle:  love one another.  It is in the home--that constant, close proximity--where we are truly tested, where in order to demonstrate our love we must give up our time, our money and our ego for the sake of others.  It is in the home, we must learn to both carry and be carried, sanctify and be sanctified by another.  Outside the home it's far too easy to profess love, even feel it generally, but never act on it.  I love how John Lennon so honestly captures this.  In, "I Don't Wanna Face It" he says, "You say you want to save humanity / it's people you just can't stand."  Home is too tight a space to allow too great a disconnect between expressed anthems and action.  To be successful in the home, we must live love.  There simply is no way to evade the demands love and be successful in the home. 
Perhaps, because of this, marriage and family is one key place where Mormonism varies significantly from other religions.  Although almost all churches sustain and support the family structure, Mormonism is unique in that it believes the highest level of spirituality is reached only through the family.  It takes one level of greatness to be Gandhi in society and an even greater of level of greatness to be Gandhi in the home.  So, in our church, one does not give up family in order to reach the highest spiritual plain, as the Buddha did.  Rather, family is the central unit of the church, of existence, and everything we do should be aligned with what is best for our family.   We perfect ourselves as a unit, not as individual wills.  Ideally, before we take that hunger fast to free India from Britain, we make sure our spouse and children agree to it.  And if they don't support it, we don't do it, even if it is for the greater good.  At first this may seem counter productive.  What if Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. put the personal needs of their families before that of their nations?   Where would we be? 
I would flip that question around.  Where would we be as a nation, as a world, if every home had a mother and father who applied the integrity of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in their home?  I would argue the Civil Rights Movement--in India, or America, or anywhere--would never have to even occur because a society that has true integrity in the home has integrity at large.   And a society that has social inequities and injustices in society is teaching those erroneous ideas in the home.   And yet in our society that is what we give up first on.  As individuals, we struggle for decades to move forward in meaningfless careers and then step out of our marriage the moment it gets hard with little regard for our children, claiming we need space to grow spiritually.  If your spiritual growth requires disregarding those who need you most, I think you need to seriously ask yourself if you are wanting growth or is it escape you seek? 
Although I'm a Mormon, I'm a big fan of Buddhist philosophy and have found many of Buddha's teaching help me become a better person.  And yet I've always had problems with Siddhartha's path to enlightenment.  Perhaps the very real, but untold tale in the story of the Buddha (and numerous other soul-searchers) was the cold, sober realization that he left his wife and children in search of truth only to find that truth is found by sitting still, that wandering isn't freedom, but that freedom arises from the strength to stick with the mundane.  Perhaps his brief moment of release was followed by the sober realization that he could have just as easily found enlightenment in his living room as under a tree.  After all, it was his change in thinking, not the tree, that produced his release from suffering.  How much greater would his reward have been to pass that teaching directly on to his children.  If we want the most of what life has to offer, we will struggle to find ourselves within the walls of our homes first, which is why Doctrine and Covenants 74:1 emphasizes the hierarchy of marriage even over the gospel.  Even in the case where one parent believes in the church and the other doesn't, that marriage should be honored.  Once married, the highest level of spiritual growth simply cannot be obtained outside the walls of the home.



Bookends: Hoh Rain Forest and Notes from the Field

Here are two poems, written ten years apart, that form a dialogue I've had with myself over the past decade.  The first, "Hoh Rain Forest," I wrote in an attempt to capture part of a 30-day camping trip my family and I took along the west coast and back down through the Cascades back in 2012 when our kids were still young.  As is so often the case with poetry, the poem grew beyond my intent and is really about my religious agnosticism at the time.

The second poem, "Notes from the Field," treads that dangerous ground between art and propaganda, in that I knew what I wanted to say before sitting down to write.  I just needed to find how to word it.  I'm well aware of the dangers of sitting down to write literature with an objective in mind.  Art is an act of discovering truth, not stating what you already believe.  That's what separates the crap of Christan rock from faith-driven groups like U2 or the Killers.  Christian rock groups pander to a particular audience, a particular creed, and as such, must always have an uplifting message.  Thus the music isn't earnest.  Any doubt, anger, irreverence must be sanitized by the end of each song.  U2, on the other hand, although faith-driven, can and does write about more than their faith.  Further more, Bono is the greatest critic of his own faith and himself.  So, when he does write songs like "Yahweh" we're moved.

It's too early for me to know whether "Notes from the Field" works or not.  To me, it doesn't really matter.  My blog is a journal with myself open to the world.  I have no idea why I have that need.  I just do.  Anyway, enjoy.

Hoh Rain Forest

Here in the sponge land
of moist temperate air
and giant moss-draped
big leafed maples,
these glacier carved
rock canyon walls
are like God,
seen only by those
willing to believe anything
and those willing
to get down in the mold
and decay of life,
dig through root
and rusted rot,
moving worm
and slug,
and clumps
of moss
by tiny

until stone sacred
is reached.

Mother Theresa
knew God
in the bedrock
beneath crowded clumped

Somewhere above me
the great white peaks
of the Olympic Mountains

and I'm caught between
willing to believe anything
and willing to dig deep.

Notes from the Field

You say I'm a fool to believe.

I've paid my dues,
know these back streets
and dirty alleyways.

Seen a girl's soul break
as her sisters tried to sell her body to me.
One edge, thank God, I turned my back to.

Little lost boy
wandering the dirt calles
looking for God in the eyes of a dog
standing stately on a smoldering heap
of humanity--you can't tell me
unless you've been on your knees
begging God please take this whole damn
hole away--the empty glass towers,
the piercing white meteor showers,
the Milky Way split open, spewing
sterile light, standing the no-man's land
between void and mossy fecundity,
ready to climb the chain link and plunge
to the marble river below.

Unless you've dug
Mother Theresa deep
you can't tell me for sure
God doesn't whisper be still
through the rich eyes
of a child on a Juarez street corner.

What you call shallowness, cowardliness,
taking the easy way out,
stepping away from reality

I call gardening the soul
and I'm ready to get my hands dirty,
dig deep.


There is no question that for some that religion is a Lazy-Boy chair for the mind.  I don't think there is anything wrong with that.  Life is hard--why not take refuge in something soft and comfortable, which might even be true?

But to assume fear or laziness motivates all belief and that only the simple-minded cling to God is not only arrogant, it's ignorant, every bit as ignorant as Bible thumpers claiming evolution doesn't exist after man has cloned a sheep and named her Dolly.

Further more, knowing the temporal world doesn't qualify you claim a spiritual existence does or does not exist.  Knowing a car engine more intimately than you know your spouse doesn't necessarily make you a poet.  It only qualifies you as a mechanic.  Only digging deep into words, feeling their sharp points, rough edges, marble smooth surfaces--only after handling their opaqueness and their translucency with your eyes after you rake through a poem again and again in the early hours of the morning qualifies you as a poet.  Likewise, science is no more religion (and vice-versa) than mechanics is poetry.  Though, of course, they are also not mutually exclusive--at least this is my belief so far.

I'm not sure I'm qualified to know.  But this I do know:  I've dug deep enough spiritually to say with certainty, man is more than flesh and bones, that spirit, though invisible to the microscope is none the less as real as electrons or DNA.  Actually more tangible for me.  I've never seen an electron or manipulated a strand of DNA.  I have without doubt felt presence of God in my life, although I did have to dig deep for it.

However, just because I personally haven't viewed an electron or manipulated a gene doesn't prove they don't exist.  Obviously, if you can clone a sheep, you know a thing or two about genetics.  But do you know what animates the eyes or mind of your creation?

Many scientists and theologians suffer from the same arrogance:  they believe there is only one way to know life.  Existence is far too complex to be viewed through one lens.  For me, to even begin to understand life, I have to at least dabble in...

minimal wage jobs

while focusing on my way of know the world intimately--through the spirit--and remaining humble enough to recognize there are other minds, other eyes, other ways to know light flickering on aspen leaves on a cold October morning.

On the headstone of the Mormon theologian, James E. Talmage reads the following inscription rooted in the teachings of Joseph Smith:

Within the Gospel of Jesus Christ is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known.

This is the size of the Mormonism I believe in, though admittedly it is not the Mormonism of all members.  There are Lazy-Boy Mormons--those who believe narrowly, without much effort.  But the same could be said of followers of any creed, including atheists.

Aspen at Dry Creek, October 9, 2012


Brandon Flowers Here Are Some Song Lyrics for You; Richard Dawkins, Call Me, I'll Debate You Any Time

In another media stunt to ridicule Mormonism, a recent TV show paired biologist Richard Dawkins with Killers lead singer and song-writer Brandon Flowers for a meaningless debate on Mormonism in particular and religion in general.

I'm a big fan of Flowers and like Dawkins mind, despite its narrowness and passionate hate for all things that can't be detected in a microscope.

But, come on!  Brandon is a punk-rocker, not a theologian and has never professed to be one.  Nor is he a historian or a linguist.  Nor has he professed to be any of these. Not only that, as is clear from the history of his lyrics, like me, Flowers has only recently come back to the church, which means for years he might not have even cracked open his Book of Mormon or Bible.  Logically, no matter how intelligent he is, how gifted of an artist he is, he still has a high school boy's knowledge of his religion.  He most likely came (in his case returned) to Mormonism for the same reasons we all do: through individual revelation, Mormonism answers...

1.  Where did I come from?
2.  Why am I here on earth?
3.  What will become of me after this life is over?

As Coke Newell suggests in Latter Days, "the answers to the three preceding questions [are] the reason three hundred thousand people a year in 160 nations convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" (as of 2000).  Coke Newell goes on to say "I converted in 1976 at the culmination of a winding, yet upwardly inspiring--and to me, completely logical--journey from atheism to Native American thought to Zen".  Like Newell, though born into Mormonism, I followed pretty much the same route to belief.  But, I'm not here to make you the next Mormon, necessarily.  I just hate bigotry in any form, and if I was capable of doing it, I'd defend Islam or Hinduism just as hard.

What would have made the debate fair is obvious:

A.  Brandon Flowers debates an atheist singer-songwriter.
B.  Richard Dawkins debates a prominent Mormon scientist.
C.  At the very least, Richard Dawkins debates a prominent Mormon theologian.

If Dawkins debates me, it clearly won't be fair.  I probably have less knowledge of the church at this point than Flowers for pretty much the same reasons.  But when has anyone ever been fair to Mormons?  At least no one is burning down my house, tar and feathering me, or taking my land (yeah, I know, it belonged to the Indians first anyway--my wife and children, all Navajo, often remind me of that).

Still, I'm feeling like David right now.  Brandon, below are some lyrics for you free of charge.  Read them, use them if you'd like.  And whatever you do, don't forget to follow your own advice: "Don't break character / You've got a lot of heart".  We love you.  Punk rockers and Mormons alike.

And Richard, it's tempting to use your nick name, but I won't, I'll fight fair, since I'm already breaking my religion by wanting to fight at all.  What can I say, I'm only human. Call me up sometime you big, gorgeous Goliath of a mind.  I'm well aware my intellectual and evolutionary self doesn't have a chance in hell against you.  But if I continue to live right, my spiritual-self just might lay your intellect out flat on the ground gasping for air.  Win or lose, I never knew until now, but as Brandon would say, I was "battle born."

Richard Dawkins and his whole damn
universe may decay
but this testimony is for real
and grows every day
in fecundity, encompassing everything
from Buddhism to the Big Bang.

“As man now is, God once was;
as God now is, man may be"*

Maybe you can clone a sheep,
stitch a few strands of DNA together,
fling a rocket ship to Jupiter and back,
but your puny rational mind
will never encompass the entirety
of a system it is part of.

“As man now is, God once was;
as God now is, man may be"*

Revelation is the third eye
otherwise we are fish in a fish tank
looking out of the glass
at the room around us
believing we know all that is
and there is nothing beyond

“As man now is, God once was;
as God now is, man may be"*

Richard Dawkins and his whole damn
universe may decay
but my soul is forever
and grows every day
in fecundity, encompassing everything
from Buddhism to the Big Bang
I am and I will carry on
creating world of my own some day.

“As man now is, God once was;
as God now is, man may be"*

Richard, your science may not be able to encompass religion in general and Mormonism in particular.  But my religion can encompass your science.  Because of this, your thoughts, no matter how ingenious, are finite, limited, and most likely will not fully stand the test of time without being modified either by you or by scientists who come after you.  But because "as man is, God once was" and because "as God now is, man may be" everything man has learned or will learn will fit within the scope of my religion providing it's true.  Our understanding of the universe may change with time and education--in fact it has to for us to grow and become like God--but the three fundamental truths of Mormonism--1) that we existed prior to this life as spiritual beings, 2) that we chose to come to earth to gain knowledge (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), 3) that we continue to evolve towards perfection both in and after this life--these are eternal and all encompassing, which is why I can read scientific text, Buddhist or Hindu texts as avidly as I read Mormon text.  If it is good or true, it will not contradict my religion.  I simply might not have the intellect yet to comprehend how it fits.  As cocky as I am--me, poor little David against you big Goliath--I am humble enough to realize my limits, intellectual, or otherwise.  I am humble enough to realize there are parts of the universe out there that exist even though I can't see them.  Are you?  And if not, how can you call yourself a scientist?  Isn't exploration of the unknown the heart and soul of the sciences?  Maybe, just maybe, part of that universe isn't accessible through a microscope or telescope.  Maybe it takes a soul.  You have one.  By means science cannot prove, I can promise you have one.  Use it, see what you can find.

Galaxies await to unfold.  Enjoy.


I'm actually a fan of Richard Dawkins, and so I hope that he and anyone else reading this post caught the mixture of jest and earnestness.  Although I sincerely believe basic Mormon doctrine, I fear making it to the Celestial Kingdom (our highest realm of heaven)  because how fun can it be to live in a place where everyone believes the same thing?  What's left to debate?  Truth is, I love to argue.  At least in this way, Richard, you and I are brothers.   Reader, bring it on--be ye Dick or not.  There. That ought to guarantee I don't go to the big white room reserved for all the really special people.  That way Richard and I can continue this debate for eternity.

*“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be"  --Lorenzo Snow, Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1898–1901.

What do Chekhov, Issa, Basho, Duane Niatum, Natalie Goldberg and Italo Calvino have to do with Mormonism?

You're a writer who loves these big, tough songs that pierce your heart and make you feel alive all over again. You believe in literature with a soul. You believe in the book that makes you think, that makes you feel as though you've been somewhere and experienced something, that you're a different person for having read it. Writing to entertain doesn't matter to you. Writing to impress others with your cleverness or your hoped-for-brilliance doesn't matter as much as it once did. Your desire is like Chekhov's who spoke of describing a situation so truthfully that the reader can no longer avoid it. Or, in your own words, to wrangle with the tough places in yourself and your subject. Those things matter to you.

Thus opens "Writing: An Act of Responsibility" by Phyllis Barber, which serves as the introduction to The Best of Mormonism 2009 as well as a personal reflection by the author on the role of contemporary Mormon writers in Literature. As is clear from the opening paragraph, this essay, like the entire anthology, holds its own ground. So, one might ask, why even publish an anthology of Mormon writers? If they truly are on par with their intellectual peers across the nation, why not read their work in Black Warrior Review, Iowa Review, Puerto del Sol, New Yorker, etc.? Obviously, one reason might be the same reason I assume Duane Niatum put together Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Literature in 1988. Prejudice. Lack of market. Unequal access. History distorted by other voices. The desire to be taken seriously without abandoning your culture.

But, I think there is another reason, which is indicated by the fact that this personal reflection is written in second-person, not first. Very different from say Natalie Goldberg, whose personal reflections are always wonderfully personal, wonderfully informal, wonderfully irreverent. That second person is there for two reasons: First, as Mormon artists we are unsure of ourselves in the outside world. Not afraid that we aren't good enough writers, but afraid that if we write about what matters to us most, our religion, we won't be taken seriously by non-Mormons. So we distance ourselves, seek safety in the second or third person.

The truth is we don't fully believe that we can "describe a situation so truthfully that the reader can no longer avoid it." Not that we'll fail as writers, but that the world will fail as readers--that the mere mention of our religion will kill any chances of being heard. Believe me, this is a valid fear. If you're still tuned in, you're more enlightened than most. Thank you.

Barber doesn't openly discuss this fear. Most Mormons won't. When it comes to facing prejudice, Mormons have largely turned the other cheek. It's what we're taught. Confrontation kills the spirit. The Holy Ghost and argument can't coexist. It's pretty difficult to get a well-brought-up Mormon to Bible bash. The unintended effect is a lot of us spend much of life invisible. Not that people don't know we're Mormon. We're pretty open about that. Not that people don't know we're writers; we're pretty open about that. But we're afraid to be Mormon writers. We want our intellectual and artistic life to be separate from our spiritual life. Absurd, of course. If poetry is bread, and I'm Mormon, it's ridiculous that I should try to write only secular verse. And yet we do. That is the deadliest effect of prejudice. It makes the victims question themselves. I am is no longer I am. I am is either what you want me to be or I am is a reaction against what you want me to be. Either way, I am no longer exists.

Barber does talk extensively about the other fear that plagues Mormon writers. Will we be open enough, or will our religion cloud our vision? In other words, will we be as prejudice towards others as others are towards us? Will we get on our high horse?

In reflecting on this, Barber uses politics as a venue to discuss the role of personal belief in literature, paraphrasing Italo Calvino's rules as a start:

1) Literature should never be used for a single cause--i.e., Maoist theory is the only valid subject for Chinese writers.

2) Literature should never be viewed "as an assortment of eternal human sentiments". It is not the job of the writer to write what is already known, but to discover the unknown.

3) Literature is vital when it "gives voice to whatever is without a voice".

4) Literature has the potential to "impose patterns of language, of vision, of imagination, of mental effort and the creation of a model of values that is at the same time aesthetic and ethical".

I believe Calvino's descriptions of the right and wrong mixtures of politics and literature extends perfectly to matters of religion. I also believe Calvino's descriptions of right and wrong mixtures extends to many of the arts. I therefore propose to write several small articles about the work of Mormon writers and artists.

The purpose is not to proselytize. I'll leave converting to the missionaries who have probably already knocked on your door during supper time. And the purpose is not to build bridges--to find universal values that we share across our distinct cultures. If you don't like me for who I am, too bad. I spent the first thirty years hiding who I really am, and I've been done with that for more than a decade. I AM.

Rather, I want to demonstrate that there is a healthy, vital Mormon arts community out there, and if you're not familiar with it, you're missing out. Imagine the world without Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist or Islamic art.

Secondly, Mormon culture is strong enough to ""impose" unique "patterns of language, of vision, of imagination, of mental effort and the creation of a model of values that is at the same time aesthetic and ethical." Much of Mormon art is uniquely Mormon. Just as you can't read Issa or Basho without becoming a little bit Buddhist, you can't read or listen to certain Mormon works without becoming a little bit Mormon.

If that scares you, well, you've got a problem. But, you don't have to deal with it. Just exit this blog, don't return to it, and your world will remain forever the same.

As for my title, "What do Chekhov, Issa, Basho, Duane Niatum, Natalie Goldberg and Italo Calvino have to do with Mormonism?"

Nothing really, but would you have you typed in "Mormon Writers," "Mormon Artists" or "Phyllis Barber" in your search? Probably not. Thus the need for this and many similar posts.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Last night, while watching On Sacred Ground (Part IV) by Truman G. Madsen, I was struck by a Jewish saying and the context in which it was presented.  Paraphrased, it goes like this:
If you save an individual, you save a race; if you destroy an individual you destroy a race.
Madsen explains that when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac he knew of the plan of salvation, the way families are linked forever, and that in sacrificing his son, he would not only be ending his son’s life on this earth, but that he’d be breaking the family chain forever, for to sacrifice his son would be an act of murder, which would make him unworthy of the Celestial Kingdom.   And yet his faith was so strong he was willing to do it, for he knows that through obedience he is promised an eternal family.  Through faith then, he assumed that somehow Isaac will be made whole again, and his family will continue.
What struck me so strongly is the worth of the individual--not only because of himself or herself--but how essential the he or she is to the integrity of the whole.  I had to ask myself, do I treat everyone I come in contact with, with the respect they deserve, knowing generations are counting on them to be the best person they can be?  Am I there to help others in the way others have helped me?  

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