Choose to Believe

My comments below are based upon the April 2015 Conference talk “Choose to Believe” by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy. I will present these comments in sacrament meeting today. This is what I believe, and so I should also make them part of my personal record, here.

Elder Clayton’s talk was hard for me to listen to during this last conference. I get queasy very easily, and this talk had descriptions of some pretty harsh injuries. He described how a young girl named Sailor lost both her parents in a plane crash and, in spite of the darkness of a Kentucky winter night and her own harrowing injuries, she braved the wilderness and made her way to safety. What guided her to safety? A light, in this case, from a house.

Elder Clayton chose his example because of the extreme conditions the protagonist endured – but nevertheless survived. She survived because of hope. She survived because she had faith that the light she saw was the answer, that it was the solution to her problem. She survived because she had that faith – and then because she acted upon that faith.

Elder Clayton took a quote from Alma Chapter 32 to illustrate his point further. Alma 32 is a powerful description of not only what conditions must exist for us to have faith, but also instructions on what to do to acquire that faith. Let me emphasize again – there are things that we must do in order to get our faith, for faith does not fall gently into our laps from angels passing overhead. Faith is something which we must rise up from our beds and walk towards. It is something which we must tend to, both with care and with regularity.

Consider these words from Alma:

26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.

27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.

30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.

I want to call attention to how Alma said that there are things we say within ourselves that increase our faith. We bear testimony of this faith: we must needs say that the seed is good. One could argue, perhaps, that Alma is making a suggestion on how one would observe the swelling and growing. I hold the view that this is an action to take, for Alma tells us that after we bear this testimony, “Behold, will not this strengthen your faith?”
So we bear our testimonies in church on Fast Day. If we cannot face the congregation, we should bear our testimonies to our friends and family at more intimate gatherings. If that is too much to bear, then we should confide a testimony in our most trusted friend. And, should we be even too shy for that, there is always the mirror, where we can look ourselves in the eye and bear our faith-growing testimonies there. The habit will improve our courage and deepen our faith, for faith truly is the opposite of fear.

Imagine that poor girl, if she were immobilized by fear. She would have perished in the cold. That would have been her choice, and perishing would have been the consequence of that choice. We are free to create as many reasons as we desire to allow fear to rule our lives. But that fear is the emotional manifestation of the power of Satan’s chains on our souls, and there are many sins that we can fall into that will intensify that fear, but provide us with a lie to justify their influences in our lives. We are free to fall into a trap of fear and then help Satan to chain ourselves down harder and tighter with his awful powers.

But the young girl chose instead to walk out of the trap that she was in. The sorrow of losing her parents was a chain that did not bind her. The injuries she had suffered did not bind her. The darkness, the wilderness, the cold, none of those bound her. She allowed her faith to guide her steps, until the spiritual hope became a very real physical hope. So it is with us.

We all face a wilderness in our lives. We all face something that we know to be our greatest challenge. We all face something that we know to be our most protracted battle with sin. All of these things are traps. The most important thing about a trap is knowing how to get out of it. Nothing else matters. Complaining about the trap does nothing. Lamenting about how unjust the trap is does nothing. Studying, analyzing the trap can be helpful if one does not know the way out of the trap, but clear instructions from someone that knows how to get out of the trap are the best. Follow them to the letter, and you can’t go wrong.

So how do we emerge from the wilderness of sin, depression, and hopelessness? We have clear instructions from Jesus Christ, both in the scriptures of old and the revelations of today. Choose to believe. Choose to act on faith. Follow that faith from consequence to liberating consequence. Note that God will not compel us in this matter. Satan, however, will compel us as much as he and his minions can to keep us in our traps of faithlessness, our prisons of unbelief, our private hells of inertia.

Satan will tell us lie after lie, that we cannot succeed if we leave behind our sin. He will lie that we need our sin to get through the night. He will lie to us to build up our self-absorbed pride, that we would reject any help offered to free us from his grasp. Depression is the same thing, as it is a lie we tell ourselves as skillfully as Satan does that we cannot hope, that we cannot have faith, that we might as well give up.

Should we rise up and begin to cast aside his chains, he will throw them back at us. He will bellow out threats and curses and all manner of evil things. He will surround us with darkness, spiritual and physical, that we might not discern the gleam of hope that pours forth from the Kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that in Hindu religious teaching, following sacred duty is considered to be the best path. Following the pride of one’s own passion will lead to misery, according to their teaching, and inertia is considered worst of all. I find this resonates with the truth of the Restored Gospel. We do not find happiness in raging against this thing or that thing in the world, and we absolutely do not find it in spiritless inaction. We find it in disciplining our souls, in doing the hard but necessary work of faith, and in accepting the love, grace, and care of the saviour Jesus Christ as we do that work.

Choose to believe. In that belief is the light of Christ, the saving grace for us all. Choose to believe. In that belief, there is peace and an untroubled soul. Though we will endure harrowing ordeals as we remove chains of sin in our lives and as we pass through awful wildernesses, we do have that light of Christ to guide us as we pray, as we study, and as we bear testimony.

When we seek to not struggle with a sin or when we entertain a doubt about the truth of the Gospel, we give place not to faith, but to fear or pride. When we fail to say that our sin or our doubt is evil, we allow it to grow and to spread and to take deeper root in our heart, like a weed that cannot be easily eradicated. When we are in that state, we allow contention to disturb our peace and pride to blunt our intellect. If there are things in our lives that cause contention or confusion, they are of Satan. They are not of God. Let go of them. See them for the chains that they are, and seek to struggle against them, that you may remove them from your lives.

Had that young girl Sailor sat down in the ruins of the plane crash and cried out, “Don’t judge me! This is who I am and who I will always be, for fate has made it so!” she would have perished. Even if all mankind refused to cast the first stone, she still would have had to go before the judgment bar of Heavenly Father, for He will judge us all, and he will not tolerate the least degree of sin. While it is no sin to be a victim of fate, it is a sin to try and make what is wrong to seem right. It is a sin of pride to think that not even Jesus Christ can change who you are, for he can change any one of us when we allow Him into our lives with a choice to believe.

I know a story that is the opposite of Sailor’s. It is that of an addict, who I once tried to help. He had his reasons for his addiction, and they were like golden treasures to him. He allowed those reasons to justify his addiction, and those lies allowed him to live a life that, in spite of all the physical hardships it gave him, was spiritually easy. For him to recover, he had to see those reasons for the lies that they were, and that became a painful process of admitting to himself how wrong he had been.

He hated pain. Physical pain was bad enough, but he found the spiritual pain to be unbearable. Sailor, on the other hand, endured both the spiritual pain of making the brave choice to move out into the night and the physical pain of her injuries as she crossed a briar-infested wilderness. The addict actually saw the light once – I gave him a blessing that he requested, and he had what was then, to him, an undeniable impression of the presence of the Holy Spirit – but he then chose to return to a life that was spiritually much easier and he then cast his doubts all around his eyes, that he would no more see that light. Sailor kept searching for the light until she saw it and then never averted her gaze from that saving beacon.

I suppose that addict hoped that a kick in the bottom or a bash on the head would cure him, as it would require no effort on his part. The kick or the blow would land on him and drive the sin away, and that would be that. He loved programs where everything was done for him and all he had to do was affirm with words that he was cured, that he had seen the light. In reality, his lack of action meant that those words were empty and that he would blind himself from any light that he had been shown.

I myself have been made with a brain that is prone to depression and a body that is prone to fits of pain. This is who I am, for fate has made me so. But it is not who I will always be. When I realized the grip that the darkness of my own wilderness of depression had upon me, I had to choose to believe. I had to choose to humble myself and to let others not only tell me that Christ could help me, but to believe their words and then follow up that belief with appropriate action. I have seen the path of the addict, who refused to act, and decided it was not for me. I know that the path Sailor took, however arduous and difficult it is for me to hear about, is exactly the path that I should follow. It will free me from my trap.

I choose to believe. I choose to act on that belief. It is a good thing, and it has brought peace and clarity to my life. I have to be honest about my imperfections and my sins if I want to emerge from their agonies. I know that Christ loves us when we do the difficult work of repentance, and that his light is always here in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even when others claim to be unable to see it, or say that it is visible, but only in another place. I testify that this is the place of truth, and that when we work alongside Jesus Christ to make our lives change and conform to the truth, we are truly perfecting ourselves and preparing correctly for our return to Heavenly Father.

I said Elder Clayton’s talk was hard for me to listen to. I did not say it was impossible. I took the example of young Sailor to heart and made it through the wilderness of things that I found uncomfortable and made it to the light of Christ that awaited me through it all. That is an example to us all. It is not up to us to ask for the light to be easier to reach, nor is it up to us to ask that the light change its character to suit our needs. It is up to us to be thankful that the light is there, that there is a way to reach it; to choose to believe in that light, that pure light of Jesus Christ, and then to rise up and act on those beliefs. Jesus never said, “wait right here and I’ll bring you everything you need.” He said, “Come, follow me.” Let us choose to believe, and then follow Him.

In the name of our beloved saviour who sacrificed his all for us that we might return with him in love and joy to our Heavenly Father, even Jesus Christ, Amen.

A Grander View

Perhaps this might offend someone… but it might also uplift someone else. I write this as a rant, so I’m already convinced of the certainty of these arguments. It’s not a soul-searching piece. It’s just another page of my open-source diary.

Birth is not a beginning and death is not an end. There is no end to existence, though it may pass through phases, times, and seasons. I watched as this world came into being, and I shall exist long after its passing. My life here has a purpose, but it is for an end beyond this life. And of this beyond, what proof do I have? I have enough for my own purposes, and I had to fight and struggle for that proof born of faith. I confess a tired impatience when others speak of that faith as a secondary concern, or of it being no concern at all. It is the same tired impatience I experienced when an ignorant young wag would try to debunk my geographic knowledge by virtue of the fact that I had not yet been to every place in the world. I had been to enough of it to know that it was there and to trust in the tales of honest travelers who had been to other places in the great, wide world.

By that same token, I have been to spiritual places in number enough to trust in what is told to me by honest men that have seen more of that realm. That knowledge informs a view I hold that looks beyond the limits of mortality. I see my ultimate end as being one with God, as part of His family, engaged in the work and glory of bringing to pass the eternal life of mankind.

Why are people born the way they are? Jesus said it wasn’t because of anyone’s sins: it just happens. Pick any condition in the “born this way” category, and it just happens. Each of us faces a string of burdens in life, unique to our own existence. We can choose to be guided by pride and demand that we are right, damn anyone that dares to disagree. In the process, we can destroy goodness around us and blind ourselves to truth. Or, we can choose instead to be guided by humility and accept that we have much to learn and, in the process, open our eyes to truth as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, care and precision.

So how can I, a person who claims to be a just, enlightened, unbigoted intellect, be against the idea of same-sex marriage? How can I be against the idea of full gender equality in my own faith? Well, I shall explain.

First, the same-sex marriage thing: We are here to prepare to be part of an Eternal Family. That is no euphemism. I was a spirit child before I was a mortal child, and as a spirit child, I was the product of a loving union in the realm from which I came and to which I hope to return. Gender was important to the creation of my spirit. Important? No, it was vital. Gender is vital to the continuance of that work, for there is more of it to come. I cannot live alongside my Heavenly Father and do the things which He would have me do without an Eternal Companion of the necessary opposite gender. Biology for the continuation of the species is not limited to the time between birth and death in this mortal existence. It is Eternal. Marriage between a man and a woman can continue for eternity, should it be sealed upon earth by the proper authority and in the proper place. Any other sort of union cannot.

Now, if persons wish to make same-sex marriages legal, that is their business, and they have to accept that I will oppose such measures on my own moral grounds. Even so, if someone wishes to live a life in a same-sex union, so be it. We all are free to choose for ourselves how we live our lives. But don’t expect Eternal truths to change because of societal druthers. No matter what may be permissible in society, I am quite certain that my religion will never recognize same-sex marriages as being acceptable to God as things that can be as Eternally binding as those marriages I mentioned as being sealed by the proper authority and in the proper place. And I’m fine with that.

Now, given that gender has Eternal meaning and implication, part of our existence here is to experience what it means to be who we ultimately will become. Our roles and experiences here guide and form our souls, and our souls have a gender. All the stuff the Greeks came up with about the body being a prison for the spirit is only so much philosophical noodling. The body and spirit are the soul, and gender has no small part of defining our souls’ eternal experiences.

For some reason, men need to learn important lessons about leadership, organization, and service that go with serving in the priesthood in my religion. I don’t believe that women don’t need to learn those lessons: I just believe that they don’t need the priesthood in order to learn those lessons. For some reason, men need to be ordained to the priesthood in order to perform solemn observances in the Lord’s temples in my faith. Women can perform those observances without being ordained to the priesthood – they have that right from birth. There are things of Eternity in this difference and distinction. Asking why is fine, but demanding an answer that fits a notion at variance with Eternal truth is not.

And I admit that my answer on the women not having the priesthood thing is not as solidly formed in my mind as is my response to same-sex marriage. But I do know that the answer is there, and that it explains things fully and to the satisfaction of anyone not motivated by pride, self-importance, or with a mind to justify sin. Yes, it takes faith to muster up the patience to await that answer, but faith and patience have been good to me in the past, so I trust in them for my future.

Women should have the vote, equal pay for equal work, the same standing as men in a court of law, the right to own property, the right to have credit cards in their own name, the right to initiate divorce, the right to have custody of their children, the right to learn any subject taught in the university and a host of other equalities that they have struggled to attain – some only in the last 40 years in the USA – but there is an end to equality where gender makes a difference, and that applies to me as much as it does to my Eternal partner, my wife. The inequalities of gender do not make one greater or lesser – just necessarily different in order to experience the fullness of Eternal Life.

Here endeth the rant. I don’t care if anyone reads this or is persuaded by it. I just care to commit it to a document for my own sense of posterity.

Climate Change: Leading to a Bluer America?

Looking at internal migration patterns in the USA, California begins to loom as a state facing its worst drought in recorded history. People are leaving that state, and the numbers are going to increase as time goes on and the drought worsens there. Where are they going to go?

Texas looks good to them. Cheaper houses, warm climate, not too many earthquakes… seems like the place to be. Austin’s gotten crowded, but there’s still stuff to do in Dallas and Houston and San Antonio, right? And what happens to Texas politics if there’s an influx of a bunch of them there libberul Californy-ans?

Texas turns blue, that’s what. As in, votes in Democrats to the the state and federal house and senate, puts a Democrat into the governor’s chair, and puts Texas’ 38 electoral votes into the Democratic camp. Republicans have a hard enough time winning presidential elections – they couldn’t possibly do it without Texas.

Ironically, it’s those Texas Republicans, with massive backing from the oil industry, that have been some of the most vociferous critics of the need to take action to alleviate the problems of global climate change. Now, while it looks like California’s drought woes are based upon an pre-existing cyclical pattern, it does seem like a kind of poetic justice that there’s a shot of a climate change leading to the toppling of those people that pooh-poohed the idea that the environment was something to worry about.

Because it sure is something to worry about when it changes your safe seat into a toss-up or a win for the other party.

I, for one, plan to hide and watch. This looks like it’ll be an interesting story to follow, given the upcoming election. Because the Republican’s haven’t had a convincing win since 1988. Bush II’s wins in 2000 and 2004 were near-run things. Moving Texas to the blue column would have produced Democrat victories.

Now, while I view the main political parties as basically different branches of a political elite that remains largely captured by special interests like AARP, AIPAC, defense lobbyists, and the federal employee unions, I still find the outcome of political contests to be as entertaining as a Super Bowl featuring two teams I don’t have an emotional attachment to. Win or lose, I can still enjoy to watch how the game is played.

And it looks like the GOP will have some heavy lifting to do, all thanks to Mother Nature.

6 April 2015, 11:45 am

Flower petals snow
Bamboo chattering greetings
Water wind whispers

Birds call their kindreds
Maples reach to the ripples
Fish swim anciently

The path beckons me
To where the lowest branch laughs
Where vines turn and twist

Soft colors float by
Songs decorate the spring clouds
I rest in heaven

My Irrational Faith

I know that my redeemer lives. This knowledge is born of my faith, and my faith comes from my personal spiritual experiences. My experiences are repeatable for myself: therefore, to me, they are scientific proof. To anyone else, they will mean nothing unless that anyone else has his own corresponding spiritual experiences.

Whoever searches for a reason for faith in external proofs is a fool that does not understand faith. What, would such a searcher have the same demands for evidence were someone to profess love for that person? Is not the unspeakable bond of the heart sufficient? If not, love can never be in the life of that person. And, since faith is love, so goes faith.

But open a heart to love, and it opens to faith. There are things about love for which I have no reasons, but only trust, and that trust is sufficient even if irrational. When I allow this irrational, unproven faith into my life, I find that my heart fills and then spills over with joy and love. When this faith guides my heart and my actions, I seek to do good and to serve others. Would I subject such goodness and service to withering doubts to drain my desire to do them? Or would I be better for it if I kept my faith, nurtured it, purified myself that my faith would become more perfect?

For this I know: were there nothing to have faith in, there would be no restraint on the soul. Our world groans under the oppression of the faithless, the sociopaths that will murder to get gain. Would we have no faith, no love, to keep their numbers from including the whole of the human race, descended into an orgy of shouting, murder, shrieking, and tortured lusts? For that is the logical conclusion of the logical elimination of faith and love – every man prospering according to his own strength, preying on others lest he himself become prey. There is no rational reason to be otherwise, save as part of some calculated evil that requires patience to unfold. I will mock any philosophy that purports a reason to avoid sociopathy if that philosophy does not make an appeal to the irrational.

And that irrational is the faith and love we rightly associate with the divine. It is that which elevates the soul and promises us, one and all, that observation of a higher law is justified. It is that which motivates sinners to change their hearts and minds and to desire no more to sin. It is that which consoles in time of grief, it is that which elevates in time of depression. It is the only thing that can save us.

I believe that Jesus made no cold calculation before he submitted to the awful trials of his atoning sacrifice. No, he made that decision with the warmth of faith and love. He did not know what was on the other side of that bitter cup when he assented to drink of it. He trusted that it was the right thing to do, because he had faith in the Father, whom he loved perfectly.

May I know a day of such perfect faith and love in my own life: that is my prayer.

The Crisis of What Might Have Been

Have I done all that I could have done?

That question haunts lives. That question leads to rash decisions to change everything. That question is the root of the life crisis, whenever it may happen. It is in resolving that question that we either find peace or our undoing.

Popular culture has given us a strange view of success, seeing it as an end in and of itself. The “happily every after” formulaic ending dismisses all future storms and trials and gives the erroneous impression that should one perform similar feats in one’s life, the same formulaic, dismissive ending awaits.

History, however, shows that there are no endings in a life, other than the actual ending of life. No amount of prior success can cause one to gloss candidly over a current struggle. Ronald Reagan attained fame as an actor and became a president beloved and revered by many – yet, he faced a battle with Alzheimer’s as his life drew to a close. A harsh, cold winter to close out a life that knew a brilliant summer and fall. Abraham Lincoln never gave up in his political struggles and became elected president – twice – and then his life ended in an agonizing day of pain following a fatal gunshot wound. Helen Keller learned how to communicate, a triumph for sure, but her struggle for workers’ rights goes largely ignored.

Success is all in how one chooses to measure success. There are the false standards of the world that only measure to a point and then ignore subsequent pains. Then there are standards we can choose in our own hearts. I prefer the latter.

So what standards do I select? Moral ones. If I can live my life and keep my soul intact, if I can shine it up after it’s taken some damages, if I can get clean and sober and stay clean and sober, then I am succeeding. If I can help other people, if I can be kind, if I can be a good person where I am, then I am a success.

What might have been different in my life? Lots of things. Would I be more successful by worldly standards with different choices? Certainly. Would I have been more successful by my own moral standards? No, and quite possibly I would have had need to jettison those moral standards in order to rationalize what I might have done to attain worldly success.

Successful lives, according to worldly standards, are typically a result of blind luck or criminal intent. Success from my standard can be found in finding joy in small moments and in being kind to people who won’t do anything for me in return. With the wrong view of life, it is possible to be completely bored with a fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower and with the right view, to be completely satisfied with watching an ant make his rounds.

I’ve seen no-talents fall blindly into success and geniuses forced to keep their day jobs. I’ve seen criminals praised for their business acumen and truly talented individuals completely ignored as they quietly heal lives. Asking what might have been indicates a yearning for the world and its fickle treasures. Being at peace with decisions made, even if those decisions could have been better, is the key to being at peace with one’s life, which I consider to be success.

Changes are still possible in any life. But choose those changes carefully. Peace and happiness are more important than money and power. True success is intrinsic and the crisis of what might have been is resolved successfully in finding the peace of the just and charitable soul.

25 March 2015, 12:05 PM

I have had moments in my life
That now are real and solid dreams
Moments of repeated stillness
The same breeze, differently flavored
The same leaves, differently colored
My eyes dreaming along with
The moment.
Heaven is made of the peace of
Those moments.

Not of This World

There are many things wrong in the world, all of them because of humans. It’s not even all the humans doing the things that make the world a harsh, unfair, imperfect place. Relatively few people are involved in the destruction of things for their own benefit: very few are involved in murdering the world and those who live in it for their gain. The rest of humanity is doing just fine, or would be doing just fine, were it not for the consumers and destroyers of the world.

There is no restriction on who will or will not be evil: men may choose for themselves if they will follow a path of self-sacrificing love or of prideful hate. There is a consequence in every choice, and those who choose evil will discover to their horror what an illusion they chased after. Wealth and power are illusions. There is no way we can truly own anything, although there are ways we can deprive others. There is no way we can have true power without love, although we can compel others with hate. In the world to come, we will have everything we need and want nothing more, so there will be no ownership. In the world to come, others will be glad to do anything we ask, and we will be glad to do the same for others, so there will be no power.

If there is power, it will be love, and not the power of the world. If there is ownership, it will be our own minds, souls, and the consequences of our choices which we cannot give away, ever, so there will be no ownership of the world. Those who cling to this world in this life will find it hard or even impossible to be loving, for clinging to the world is evil. It is the service of evil to demand everything for the self. Those who can let go of the world in this life will find it hard or even impossible to be hateful, for letting go of the world is love. It is the service of love to offer everything of the self unto others.

I do not want the wealth or power of this world. I want the love that is not of this world.