Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Paper Or Plastic?

And now, on a more serious note.
I really do love New England. I love it for the same reasons that a lot of people make fun of it. I love the people, I love the landscape, and I even love the weather.

People say that it snows too much in New England, and they're not too far off. We get between 35 and 100 inches of snow each winter (and it really depends if you're on the coast or further inland). I've known the snowbank at the end of my driveway to be too high to see over when we're backing the car out. You can make snow caves and forts in the yard, and they'll last for months. We have to heat the house with a wood stove, because it gets too cold to be able to pay to heat it with natural gas. The wind chill brings the temperature well below zero for several weeks.

But, on the upside, we never have a problem with drought. The trees and other vegetation grow without any need for watering. We never water our lawn in the summer. We never have warnings on the radio that we're going to run out of water. If we have to have a sump pump to prevent our basement from flooding each spring, I guess that's just the price you pay for living in such a fertile land.

People say that New Englanders are unfriendly and stand-offish, and they have a point. We're not as warm and welcoming as Westerners or Southerners. In Utah, if you go through the register at the grocery store with chocolate chip cookies, butter, sugar, and flour, the cashier will start chatting with you about what you're making. She'll ask if you're making chocolate chip cookies, and when you say yes, she'll ask if they're refreshments for FHE that night, and when you say yes, she'll ask if you like your FHE group, and so on, and so on, until your head is spinning and you're talking to a complete stranger about how your parents reacted to your brother's announcement that he was marrying a girl he met two weeks ago.

If you bring the same items through the register in New England, the cashier will ask, "paper or plastic?" Random strangers won't often talk to each other. So people think we're unfriendly. I like to think we're not unfriendly, we're just very private. We don't mean to be unkind, we're just not accustomed to bothering people, to getting in their personal space, to asking them personal questions. Sometimes we don't know the people on our street very well. We have a very laissez-faire attitude--I won't bother you, and you don't bother me--I won't mess with what doesn't concern me, and you will likewise mind your own business. Live and let live.

Because of this so-called-unfriendliness, our friendships are tighter. Social circles tend to be smaller but more tightly knit. A New Englander won't befriend you immediately, but once you're his friend, you'll be friends for life. With strangers, New Englanders are cautious. With friends, they're fiercely loyal. My parents don't know the names of the people who live three doors down from us, but they still keep in touch with people who moved out of the state--or even the country--years ago. Some people call it provincialism--I like to think we're cautious with who we trust.

People say New Englanders are liberal, and they have a point. Our states usually vote for democratic candidates in federal elections. The schools tend to be more liberal. Things you'd never get away with at the University of Idaho are common at Yale. Massachusetts even legalized gay marriage, the only state yet to do so.

But because we're so liberal, we're very accepting of other people's differences. This liberalism can spring from our laissez-faire attitude--I may not be partial to your lifestyle choices, but it's none of my business. The same attitude that makes New Englanders so accepting of gays also makes us accepting of Mormons and Jews and everyone else. When people talk about being ridiculed during high school for taking a moral or religious stand, I just can't relate. I never had anyone pressure me to drink or smoke or have sex--once they knew where I stood, they wouldn't even have let me drink if I had wanted to. They wouldn't even swear around me, and if someone who didn't know me well told a joke or used language I didn't appreciate, I didn't even have to ask them to stop--another friend would jump in and reprove them for me, saying something like, "don't talk like that around Amy." There was always a lot of respect from others--it was as if they were saying, "Oh, you're a Mormon, and you don't drink? Well, that's cool, whatever. Seth's a Jew, so he doesn't eat pork, and John's a vegetarian, and Judy's black and Rachel's a Muslim, and that's no problem either." I'm not very liberal myself, but sometimes the tolerance (that seems to be the new liberal buzzword) they show works to my benefit.

People say that New Englanders are curt, and they have a point. New Englanders say what they think, without sugar-coating it. Sometimes that comes off as unkind--we think of it as direct.

I had an Institute teacher once, a good man raised in Utah, who told the class one day, "You know, John the Baptist was a New Englander." We were talking about John's cry for the Pharisees to repent, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matt. 3:7). We all laughed, and then he went on: "John didn't sugar-coat anything. He didn't try to be nice to anyone. He just told it like it was. John the Baptist was a New Englander!" New Englanders don't often use what I call the "Relief Society Smile." If you want an opinion, you'll get the truth, and nothing but the truth.

New England isn't perfect by any means, but it certainly isn't as stuck-up, stand-offish, cityified, and flaming liberal as people seem to imagine. Your neighbors won't harass you, your church will take care of you, and people will be honest with you. You'll have to work harder to win their hearts, but they'll be loyal friends, and they won't judge you too harshly. And then there's the beautiful trees. Oh, how I miss the trees, especially during autumn...

Pictures from:

Pahking My Cah By The Big Red Barn

I am a New Englander. I've heard some funny stereotypes of New Englanders over the years, and I've decided to set the record straight.

Here are some stereotypes that aren't true:
No, we're not all rich WASPy prep school kids.
No, the entire Eastern seaboard is not covered with cities.
No, my hometown does not look like New York City. We actually have far more land per household than people in Utah do.
No, it doesn't snow six months of the year. That's Alaska.
No, we're not curt and unfriendly.
No, we don't all say "pahk my cah."

...and some that are:
Yes, we consider 6 inches of snow "a dusting."
Yes, it's impossible to tell which direction is north.
Yes, we have roads that are impossible to navigate unless you know where you're going.
Yes, we measure distance in hours.
Yes, "turn left at the big red barn" is an acceptable way to give directions.
Yes, we have more trees than people.
Yes, the humidity really is 120% in the summer.
Yes, an elevation change of a few hundred feet really is called a "mountain," which makes Westerners chortle.
Yes, I absolutely love it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:1-5).

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins"(Matt. 1:21).

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound...To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isaiah 61:1-3).

"Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ...In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name" (Ether 3:14).

"He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:2-5).

"And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and...he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world" (1 Ne. 11:32-33).

"Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings...for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name" (2 Ne. 25:13).

"[The angels] said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen" (Luke 24:5-6).

"Remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world" (Helaman 5:9).

"And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels" (Doc. & Cov. 45:44).

"What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet?
Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God" (Doc. & Cov. 45:51-52).

"And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Isaiah 25:9).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ecce Homo--Behold The Man!

According to Christian tradition, yesterday was Good Friday, which marks the day of the Savior's crucifixion and death. After eating the Last Supper, a Passover meal, with His disciples, the Savior went to a familiar garden on the Mount of Olives, "for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples" (John 18:2), a garden that we call Gethsemane. In one of the olive vineyards on that mount, in a place called Gat Shemen, (Heb., olive press), the sinless Son of God suffered in agony for the sins of all men who would ever live, and "would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless...[He] partook and finished [His] preparations unto the children of men" (Doc. & Cov. 19:18-19).

Luke records that Christ's anguish was so great that "his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44). His disciples, though they sat but "a stone's cast" away from Him, "could not watch with [Him] one hour," and slept through the most transcendent act of love ever performed (Luke 22:41, Matt. 26:40). He who had never experienced the pain caused by sin was overtaken with the aggregate agony of the sins of all mankind, the incompleteness and pains of fallen man, and the rebellion of all the inhabitants of the worlds He had created.

Christ's choice in the Garden atoned for the effects of Adam's choice in Eden's garden. In a way we cannot fully comprehend, Christ accepted and suffered the pains, trials, and the hurts of men, in addition to their sins. He therefore knows our struggles and has the power to help us overcome tribulation, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33). As Alma prophesied, "he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12).

As He suffered alone in the Garden, the soldiers of the chief priest came to take Him by night, led by Judas, a member of Christ's inner circle. Refusing Peter's offer of military aid, the Lord allowed Himself to be led away, to be mocked, spit upon, scourged, and subjected to all manner of humiliations throughout several illegal trials during the next twenty-four hours. "And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men" (1 Ne. 19:9). Finally, delivered up to Pilate by those who wished Him dead, the Savior had a beautiful exchange with His interrogator. Asked about His Kingship, the Lord responded, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
"Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then?
"Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37).
And though Pilate could find no fault in Christ, he, for fear of the Jews, delivered Him up to be scourged, perhaps hoping to satisfy the mob with such a horrific punishment. Following the beating and mocking of the Roman soldiers, being crowned with thorns and arrayed in a purple robe, Christ again appeared before the people, and Pilate declared, "Ecce homo"--"Behold the man!"

Pilate's cry has resounded throughout time, though doubtless he did not understand the import of the words he spoke. When, following His resurrection, Christ visited the people in the land of Bountiful, He gave a similar commandment: "Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life" (3 Ne. 15:9). Alma counseled his son, "so was it prepared for [our fathers], that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. And now, my son, see that ye...look to God and live" (Alma 37:46-47).

The way ahead of Christ's ancient disciples was uncertain, when Pilate declared to the multitude, "Behold the man!" At times our way can seem uncertain. We can feel lost in a chaotic world, without the moorings that give our lives meaning and direction. But, as President Hinckley has said,

"One thing we do know. Like the Polar Star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives. He is the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith.

"In sunshine and in shadow we look to Him, and He is there to assure and smile upon us.

"He is the central focus of our worship. He is the Son of the living God, the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten in the flesh...None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak the name of Jesus Christ in reverence and wonder. He is our King, our Lord, our Master, the living Christ, who stands on the right hand of His Father. He lives! He lives, resplendent and wonderful, the living Son of the living God." (We Testify of Jesus Christ, Ensign March 2008)

May I join my testimony with his, and with those of prophets throughout the ages, for I know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Living Son of the Living God. I know that He who was heralded by angels, born of a virgin, laid in a manger, and raised by a poor carpenter, He who healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, calmed the seas, and walked on water, He who was scourged, mocked, and crucified, even the Lord Jesus Christ, rose from the tomb and ascended to heaven, that He lives today and will come again, with power and great glory, to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I know that He who bled from every pore and bore the "chastisement of my peace" stands with outstretched arms and beckons me to follow Him. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament, the Great I AM, the Lord Immanuel, my Redeemer, my Savior, my Friend.

This is the "good news" of the gospel, the "reason for the hope which is in" us. These are the glad tidings which men and angels have proclaimed--that the Lord of Hosts has, in His infinite mercy, condescended to come to earth, to "dwell in a tabernacle of clay," (Mosiah 3:5) to work out His infinite Atonement for all mankind, to suffer, die, and rise again, and so to bring men back into the presence of God, to make us joint-heirs with Him (Romans 8:17), that we be "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that...the prisoners shall go free. Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life!" (Doc. & Cov. 128:22-23)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echod."

The Lord covered a lot of ground in His teachings on Tuesday of the last week of His life. He spoke about the signs of His second coming. He condemned the Pharisees for being "whited sepulchers," and several times He resisted their attempts to trap him with His words.

But one of His most well-known mini-sermons of that day concerns the two greatest commandments in the law of Moses. Questioned by either a tricky lawyer or an honest, truth-seeking scribe, the Savior's answer had a few dimensions we generally overlook. Mark records it thus:

"Which is the first commandment of all?" (Mark 12:28)
"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31)

Christ's answer was in keeping with Jewish tradition--He would have fit in with even the strictest Pharisee, for He was quoting the Shema, the most central prayer in Jewish liturgy, found in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41). The Shema is the first prayer in the morning service, and is used on Yom Kippur, the holiest of the High Holy Days. It has also become the traditional last words of Jewish martyrs, a significant fact given Christ's prophecies about His impending death. Praying the Shema is also known as "Accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven." It is a beautifully poetic and heartfelt prayer, a testimony about the nature of God and His commandments, which begins:

"Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echod."

To the people of His time, the recitation of the beginning of a well-known passage was the equivalent of the recitation of the entire section. Let's examine some of the rest of the passage that was implied by Christ's "greatest commandment:"

"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates...Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue...that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes...That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Numbers 15:38-41).

Almost immediately thereafter, Christ condemned the Pharisees for perverting this very commandment, "But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments" (Matthew 23:5).

But we know that at least one man in the congregation took Christ's message to heart--the scribe who had questioned him, "said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:32-34). The scribe had learned the lesson taught by Samuel centuries before: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).

The Shema is an interesting passage for Christ to quote at this point, since, as with the rest of the law of Moses, it points directly to Him. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who would come to redeem His people. His ministry was a testimony to the unity of the Godhead that the
Shema so boldly proclaimed, as He had earlier testified when "the Jews kill him, because he...said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do" (John 5:18-19). He spoke diligently of the Lord's commandments wherever He was, teaching the Law to His children. He fulfilled the whole law, "every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; [which] will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal" (Alma 34:14).

The signs upon His hands were nail prints rather than phylacteries, and bound upon His head was a crown of thorns. The gate He entered was the gate of baptism, and He stands at the door to His home, a door written upon with His own blood. For He who brought our forefathers out of the captivity of Egypt also brought us out of the captivity of death and hell. Truly Christ could say, "I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God." And the response of the faithful people of His day, and of His followers today, remains, "Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One."

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Stones Cry Out

Welcome to Holy Week, which commemorates the last week of the Savior's mortal life. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This Sunday is Easter, when Christ rose from the tomb and thus gained the victory over death.

As part of Holy Week, each day I'll be reading the New Testament passages that correspond to what Christ said and did during that day of His final week.

As Christ descended from the Mount of Olives that Sunday, riding upon the colt of an ass, His disciples and other multitudes strew their clothing and palms in His path, recognizing Him as their King, and crying "Hosanna!", the Hebrew word for "Oh, save us now!" All four gospels record some variant of the cry: "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13).

But the ruling religious elite weren't at all pleased by this adoration, as Luke records: "And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples" (Luke 19:39). The Savior refused to rebuke those who acknowledged the truth: that He who then descended the Mount of Olives was about to descend below all things, to rise above all things, that He might be in and through all things, the light of truth (Doc. & Cov. 88:6). He was and is the "light [that] shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5). And though that week did not end as the disciples then expected, by the end of it they knew even more powerfully that Christ was the Lord, "for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me" (Isaiah 49:23).

Jesus, instead of rebuking His disciples as the Pharisees enjoined, rebuked the Pharisees, and testified that He was the promised Messiah: "And he answered and said unto them...if these [disciples] should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40).

When the Savior comes again, this time in a cloud of glory, the stones will cry out, "and the mountains flow down at thy presence, thou shalt meet him who rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, who remembereth thee in thy ways. For since the beginning of the world have not men heard nor perceived by the ear, neither hath any eye seen, O God, besides thee, how great things thou hast prepared for him that waiteth for thee. And it shall be said: Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? And he shall say: I am he who spake in righteousness, mighty to save" (Doc. & Cov. 133:44-47).

May I echo in the words of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. Though He may tarry, yet I will expect Him every day of my life."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Assurance of Things Hoped For

I've been reading Lectures on Faith recently, (thanks, Daniel, for reminding me how good it is) and it led me to a few translations of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, Paul's beautifully worded and profound sermon on the power of faith. He defines faith as "the substance [Joseph says "the assurance"] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (v. 1). Rendered less poetically but more plainly, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (NIV).

Paul lists many examples of scriptural heroes who did great deeds and obtained great promises by their faith, then says of them:

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country...they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:13-16).
What a beautiful sentiment! Paul is admonishing us to be like these spiritual giants who "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" and, by faith, saw the city for which they had been striving "afar off." It's the same sentiment that Eliza R. Snow expressed in her beautiful hymn, O My Father:

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

It's that kind of longing that's so hard to recapture in a world that, as Wordsworth put it, "is too much with us."

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!*

A sordid boon indeed, Paul says--for the Heavenly City awaits those who feel that longing for "a more exalted sphere" that causes them to realize that they were created for greater purposes than those that now occupy their days. When we forget our divine nature and eternal destiny, it's easy to get bogged down in the comings and goings of mortal life. But when we look forward with an eye of faith, and glimpse the glorious promises, though still "afar off," the Spirit whispers that we were created for another world, a "more exalted sphere," a greater purpose, and that the things which occupy so much of our time here are of secondary importance, for we are only "strangers and pilgrims" here, never meant to be permanent citizens of this fallen earth. We begin to feel a celestial homesickness, a longing for our heavenly home, and though we "cannot behold with [our] natural eyes, for the present time, the design of [our] God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation" (Doc. & Cov. 58:3), we are "persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

And all this by faith--the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Truly it is a principle of great power, as Joseph Smith proclaimed:
"Man...spake by faith in the name of God, and the sun stood still, the moon obeyed, mountains removed, prisons fell, lions' mouths were closed, the human heart lost its enmity, fire its violence, armies their power, the sword its terror, and death its dominion; and all this by reason of the faith which was in them" (Lectures on Faith 1:22).

The knowledge that such a power is available to us is immensely comforting. I want that power, that longing, that assurance, more fully in my life. For each time I catch a glimpse of the glorious plan of our merciful God, and the power by which it operates, I am led to plead, with the apostles of old, "Lord, increase [my] faith" (Luke 17:5).

Monday, March 10, 2008

What Men Want

I love Pearls Before Swine. It's clean, funny, and often has good social commentary. This strip is especially biting. What the mouse is saying isn't new--in fact, everyone knows it. It's hearing a mouse say it that makes it funny.

I hate the attitude the mouse expresses, and I find it so prevalent in our society, even in LDS culture, and I think that's awfully sad. I usually find it paired with a wink and a nudge and a sigh, "Well, boys will be boys," they say, as if that's an excuse. Boys, indeed, may be anything they like, but more is expected of men. As Paul put it, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11). The time has passed to continue reveling in childish things.

On his deathbed, Lehi exhorted his sons to "arise from the dust, my sons, and be men" (2 Ne. 1:21). I find no more scriptural justification for men who "only want one thing" than I do for nymphomaniacal women. (Yes, I just used a six-syllable word =). The Lord expects better of His children, especially those who have made sacred covenants with Him.

Note that I am not condemning the sexual desires of anyone, male or female--nor even their strength or consistency. As President Packer has stated,

"It was necessary that this power of creation have at least two dimensions: one, it must be strong; and two, it must be more or less constant. This power must be strong, for most men by nature seek adventure. Except for the compelling persuasion of these feelings, men would be reluctant to accept the responsibility of sustaining a home and a family. This power must be constant, too, for it becomes a binding tie in family life." ("Why Stay Morally Clean," New Era, July 1972, p. 5)

However, this admittedly strong and constant desire cannot excuse obsession with anything that falls outside the bounds the Lord has set. As Jeffrey R. Holland observed, "I refuse to buy some young man's feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology." ("Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments") The prophets have also extended this condemnation of unrestrained desire to married persons. While the Church Handbook provides that "sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife," President Kimball noted that "sex experiences were never intended by the Lord to be a mere plaything or merely to satisfy passions and lusts." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 311-312)

Though the world may instruct us that men, by virtue of their Y-chromosome, are necessarily inheritors of--and victims to--their unbridled sexual desire that overwhelms their capacity for higher reasoning, that view is insulting to God, in whose image their bodies are made. As Isaiah so beautifully wrote, more is expected of we who have covenanted to serve the Lord: "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels [that is, the priesthood] of the Lord" (Isaiah 52:11).

Friday, March 7, 2008

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

This is the first in a series of articles about How To Understand Women.

Imagine this:
Your wife comes out of the dressing room (bathroom, bedroom), looks at herself in the mirror, and then turns to you and asks the dreaded question:
"Honey, does this make me look fat?"
What do you say? "Yes" is clearly the wrong answer, as it's likely to make her angry. "No" also seems to be the wrong answer, as it can seem dishonest or dismissive of her concerns about her appearance.

Men constantly lament that women are hard to understand. They say that we play mind games and ask trick questions and revel in drama. I think some of their complaints are exaggerated, but I'll admit that weight can be a touchy issue for some women, and so this can be a hard question to answer both tactfully and truthfully. Men's frustration with questions like these has caused Dave Barry to recommend putting out your eye with a fork immediately in order to avoid answering, as he believes such a tactic is likely to cause less pain than giving either answer will. I wouldn't recommend such extreme measures, since it turns out that there IS a right answer to this question.

If your wife asks you if she looks fat in this dress or those pants, that isn't actually the question she wants you to answer. She knows how she looks in an outfit. She knows when her pants have shrunk, and she knows that after three kids and too many late nights, she isn't a size six like she was when you married her. If you're upset about that, and look at her with longing for her once-youthful figure, you may want to take a look in the mirror. Chances are you're balding and wrinkled, and have exchanged your six-pack for a keg.

So the right answer is not to comment on her appearance, either to disparage or encourage her. The right answer comes from understanding what on earth would ever possess a woman to ask such a horrible question.

I submit that there are only two reasons for a woman to ask her husband, "Does this make me look fat?" They are:

1. She is trying to start a fight, or
2. She is feeling insecure about your love for her.

Your job is to decide which is her motivation. Likely it will be the second option, so I'll focus on that one.

Generally, what a woman means by "does this make me look fat?" is not "please give me fashion advice" or even "do you think I've gained weight?" She generally means "Am I attractive to you? Do you love me? Do you still find me appealing?" And if the answer to each of those questions is "yes," then the right answer is, "Dear, you are beautiful (gorgeous, stunning, lovely) and I love (cherish, adore, can't get enough of) you." This would be a good time to pick her up and kiss her to pieces. Seriously.

Men, never underestimate the power of a well-timed compliment. When a man notices and comments on a woman's appearance (cooking, intelligence, talents, etc), he can really make her day (and make her swoon =) ). When she feels secure in your love for her, she won't be prone to ask trick questions, play mind games, or be difficult to understand.

Sometimes, getting along with women really is that easy.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Many thanks to Daniel for this inspiration.

Why Is This Night Different?

Why is this night different from all other nights?
The young boy asks his father, that first Passover night
As the destroying angel comes near and then passes by
Why is this night different?
My child, tonight we shall be redeemed
Delivered from the bondage of Egypt
Saved by the blood of the Passover lamb on our door
Tonight we sing praises. This night we shall be redeemed.

Why is this night different from all other nights?
A shepherd boy meets the Messiah that Passover night
As heaven and earth ring with news of the Christ Child’s birth
Why is this night different?
My child, tonight we shall be redeemed
Delivered from the bondage of earth
Saved by the sinless life of the Babe of Bethlehem
Tonight we sing praises, for in due time we shall be redeemed.

Why is this night different from all other nights?
Disciples question the Master that Passover night.
As He breaks bread with them and cries out in Gethsemane
Why is this night different?
My child, tonight you shall be redeemed
Delivered from the bondage of sin
Save by the blood of the Passover Lamb on the cross
Tonight we sing praises. This night we have been redeemed.

Why is this morn different from all other morns?
Mary learns, by the Garden Tomb beside Calvary
As angels declare glad tidings again—He is risen!
Why is this morn different?
My child, this day you have been redeemed.
Delivered from the bondage of death
Saved by the Lamb who died and rose that we might live
Today we sing praises, for this day we have been redeemed.

Saved from all woe by the Lord, our Passover Lamb
We will sing praises, for this day we have been redeemed.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?

After Christ miraculously fed the five thousand with a lad's five loaves and two fishes, He was hailed by those who would, for His miracles, make Him their king. Knowing that this was not His mission, and desiring to be followed for His teachings, not His food-related miracles, He left the multitude and went to be alone. But they were persistent, and followed Him and the Twelve across the sea to Capernaum. When they confronted Him, Christ counseled them to believe in Him, for He was sent from God.

The people protested, asking for a sign of His divinity, and cited the miracle of manna from heaven as Moses led the children of Israel in the desert. Wanting them to understand, Christ referred to Himself as the "bread of life," reminding them that "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:49-51).

Those who heard him murmured at His saying, for they knew His father and mother, and failed to understand how they could eat His flesh. Christ then explained His divine Sonship and Messianic role, a hard doctrine for the people of His day. John recounts that "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66). No doubt saddened by this wholesale desertion on the part of His fickle followers, Christ turned to His chosen Apostles. "Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 6:67-69).

I have long loved the poetic beauty of Peter's solid testimony. When other voices beckon, when the principles of the gospel seem difficult, my mind can hear the heart-stricken Christ turn to me and ask, "Will you also go away?" But the alternative to the life I love has never interested me. Where would I go, when I know this is true? How would I live, without the testifying and comforting power of the Spirit of God that I have long enjoyed? What beauty or power would life hold then, if I thought myself deluded all these years? "Lord, to whom shall I go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And I believe and am sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the Living God."

I am sure, certain of the living reality of my Savior, convinced that this is His great work in the latter days, secure in the knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and of the prophetic mission of its translator. I know that He who proclaimed Himself the bread of life, who suffered in Gethsemane, died on Calvary, and rose the third day from the tomb, lives today and beckons me to follow Him. I love Him, He who holds the keys of death and hell, He who ransoms His children from the grave, He who stands on the right hand of the Father, He who will come again and subdue all enemies under His feet, the King of Kings, whose right it is to reign. I know that His name is the only name under heaven whereby man can be saved. I honor Him. I worship Him. For He has the words of eternal life.