Category Archives: Reason to Live

Idols and Anger

In 1 Nephi 3, Lehi tells his sons to return to Jerusalem to get scriptures and religious records. In a pre-literate society, these would be rare and valuable things. In Lehi’s view, the information on them is worth more than the monetary value to be had from them – these are the words of God, after all. Lehi knows that his family is going away, far away, and that having such records with them will be what they need to retain their covenant relationship with God.

Lehi’s sons oblige their father and return to the city. There, Laman first asks the owner of the records, a man called Laban, if he might have them. Laban accuses Laman of being a robber and drives him out of his house. One should note that Laban is a very rich man – one of the types Jeremiah warned us about. At any rate, Laman having made his attempt wishes to chalk up a loss and then move on.

Nephi disagrees: he proposes to offer up the family fortune to acquire the records from Laban. Upon seeing the fortune, Laban chooses to keep his possessions and rob the sons of Lehi of all that they have. The sons of Lehi are driven from Laban’s house, and find shelter in a cave.

It is in this cave that Laman and Lemuel, Nephi’s older brothers, become enraged to the point where they begin to beat their younger brothers – Nephi and Sam – with a rod, until an angel halts the beatings and reprimands Laman and Lemuel. But what was it that made Laman and Lemuel so outraged?

Look at the treasures of Lehi for the answer. As long as the gold and silver and other fineries remained in the family home, a return to Jerusalem and the riches was always an option. The family, with or without Lehi, could always go back to the way things were after this unusual interlude in the desert.

But without the riches, the path back is destroyed. Without the riches, the family is completely committed to the path of being destitute wanderers in the desert. With or without God, the fact is that wandering in the desert is always harder to do than enjoying comforts in the city. And with the path back to the city destroyed, Laman and Lemuel become violent.

Laman and Lemuel do not see that returning to the riches is to be the adulterers in Jeremiah’s allegory. They do not see that returning to the riches is to forsake the meaning of their covenants with God, that it hollows out their religious purpose. Culturally, they still exhibit the external modes of righteousness. Internally, they are chasing after other gods: the gold, silver, and other fineries that are the idols of their desire.

We must remember that even if a thing is not associated with a Canaanite or Phoenician or Babylonian or any other god, it can still be an idol when our attentions to that thing cause us to forget that God asks us to be mindful of the poor and to have no divisions amongst us. And when those idols are threatened by God, the idolaters lash out with violence.

My Father Dwelt in a Tent

When Lehi abandons Jerusalem in 1 Nephi Chapter 2, the scripture is explicit in stating that he abandons his gold, silver, land, and possessions in the process. He takes only his family, provisions, and tents. That’s it.

That makes sense: when leaving behind wicked people, leave behind as well the objects of wickedness’ desire. Verse 15 underlines Lehi’s abandonment of the comforts of the city for the sparseness of the wilderness by stating, “And my father dwelt in a tent.”

We also see the first indications of trouble with Laman and Lemuel. What is identified as the source of their troubles? A desire to return to those comforts of home, the gold and the silver. They are with their family in the wilderness, but a stronger desire in their hearts is to leave the family behind and partake of the riches they knew. This is what Jeremiah identified as wickedness and abomination, as leaving behind God for to worship the works of their hands.

Laman and Lemuel are not drunkards, neither are they fornicators, adulterers, or robbers. Their sins stem from attitudes that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying luxuries and that what’s theirs is theirs. They see themselves as property owners, not as property stewards. The gold and silver is for them to enjoy, not to be spent in doing the work of God.

Lehi, by contrast, knows that time is, ultimately, short, and that it is better spent in doing the will of God than in idle enjoyments. He flees to the wilderness with nearly nothing. He could have fled to Egypt or on to Carthage. While Egypt fell under the rule of the Babylonians, Carthage remained independent. So why not go to those places? Even without riches, an astute man such as Lehi, with four enterprising sons, would be able to make a comfortable living in such places. There would also be the option to get ahead of the curve and go into Babylon itself, thereby avoiding becoming casualties in a siege and sack of Jerusalem. But, no, Lehi’s flight abandons not just Jerusalem, but all the cities and their riches – and the sins that go with those riches, as well.

Abominations and Wickedness

In 1 Nephi, Chapter 1, Nephi makes reference to the wickedness and abominations of the people of Jerusalem. What, exactly, was the composition of the activities defined as such? I could assume certain things, but that would be an assumption based upon my experience and frame of reference. What were the abominations and wickedness that Nephi was talking about?

Jeremiah, a contemporary, mentions people worshipping the works of their own hands and following after other gods, likening such to committing adultery. But is that all?

Chapter 5 of Jeremiah indicates a social aspect to the abandonment of worshipping God: As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?

It’s clear: neglect of the poor and increasing social inequality is linked with abandoning worship of the one true God. In Chapter 7 of Jeremiah, the prophet declares that the people are not saved just because they attend temple services: the wrong that they do remains a wrong. When the uncharitable enter the temple, it is “a den of robbers.”

That there is child sacrifice associated with abandoning God makes it all the worse – but that goes along with the lack of charity and care for the poor. Jeremiah 9 adds lying to the list of abominations – not just a lie here or there, but constant lying to support and justify the actions of the wicked. Jeremiah 10 refers to luxury items and fine clothing as the trappings of the wicked. Jeremiah 17 again refers to those who pursue wealth as those who depart from God. Jeremiah 22 expands on that idea, condemning those who do not pay their workers properly, but hoard their wealth rather than pay justly for the labor they employ.

Note that this is not saying that the rich are not paying the going rate for labor – they very well may be doing so, but that rate itself may be unjust recompense for the labor rendered. Simply paying a wage does not mean that one is not exploiting one’s workers. Again, it is in being unjust and covetous of wealth that one serves a different god, a false god – this is what is meant by abominations and wickedness.

In later chapters of the Book of Mormon, the righteous are counseled to avoid wearing fine apparel or amassing wealth – the wicked, likewise, are condemned for it. I would say that the same rules would apply for people of this day, and that the people who promote the benefits of the wealthy at the expense of the poor have gone on to worship mammon and have forsaken God. There is nothing sacred or holy about an economic system that creates opportunities for the wealthy to exploit their fellow human brothers and sisters. It is, in fact, an abomination and a great wickedness.

A Search for a Better Purpose

I thought this morning, “I’m thankful for this day.” I say I thought that, but it was really a thoughtless moment, a sort of reflex action of gratitude I say to myself on any given day. I determined to think more carefully about my thankfulness for the day.

Was I thankful that I have work, a family, and time to enjoy leisure? Nice those things may be, but are those the purpose of my life? I have time to ponder the words of God in scripture, but is that all I am here to do, ponder when the mood strikes me? Preach those words, perhaps, but what is the best way to preach?

It is said that the word of God brings peace and comfort. But I know too many people who are complacent in thinking that peace and comfort is enough. They make no effort to better themselves. They do not examine their lives – ironically, an activity that does not bring peace and comfort, yet which is consistent with the word of God.

God asks that we repent. The word means literally to rethink. It is not enough for me to do the good that I know to do. I need to rethink what I am doing, to scrutinize my assumptions and ask myself what mental baggage do I need to set aside. The word of God brings peace and comfort only after the storm and struggle. Ibsen is right – I must war with trolls if I am to live, and the trolls exist within my heart and mind.

That’s easy enough to say: I declare that I’m working on my inner issues and everyone can assume that I’m succeeding in that effort. If I don’t pressure others, there’s no “what about you?” accusation that could come back to force my own self-judgment into the consideration, somehow exempting the target of that pressure from a similar activity. And if I say I’m not successful, I get pity or sympathy from a potential audience, not a hoped-for self-examination of their own efforts.

It’s just too easy, when trying to preach the word of God, to be told to mind one’s own business if the words are harsh or to face complacent smiles if the words are too easy. There are those who want to hear a message of self-examination, but their numbers are miniscule compared to those who have no intention of changing who they are in order to become a better person. How do I reach such people with a message of Godly wisdom and enlightenment?

And if I do not reach another with that message, what have I to be thankful for in that day? And the answer here is not in reassuring me or telling me that I had good words to say, but in pondering about one’s own life, in searching for that deeper meaning to existence.

A 2021 New Year’s Thought

To think that 2021 could not be worse than 2020 is a failure of the imagination. It is not what I want to be pondering right now, but I must nevertheless consider it. Now, no matter what goes on, I must still work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. Nowhere does the chaos in the world give me permission to be unrepentant, or prideful, or depressed.

Even though it seems like 3 out of 4 of my coreligionists supported a political movement not only naked and unashamed of its embrace of racially-discriminatory policies and agendas, but also one that denies the validity of our elections, I must remain true to a faith that I evaluated solely upon the truth it offered, not the members within that faith.

What confounds me further in my thinking is that in more than one portion of my coreligionists’ scriptures, there are direct equivalencies drawn between those who do not support the validity of elections and those who do, ultimately, support only themselves in prideful constructs. In other words, that which they do support now is clearly called out in scripture as evil. Yet, they join with it and call evil good. And, perhaps, more than one will say a prayer for me specifically or in general that I might come to my senses and join with them in their fantasy to “stop the steal”.

And if I do not join with them in their push to overturn what has been a free and fair election, such as they go, then I presume they will be troubled that I am become a hell-bound soul.

To quote Curtis Mayfield, “If there’s a hell below, we’re all gonna go.”

I would have had the same experience of unease during the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s or the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. My coreligionists joined in with those movements and expressed sympathies for them. And while the top leadership of my church condemned the KKK, it did not condemn the Nazi party. There are even articles written by that leadership that attempt to illustrate where Nazism and my church have commonalities. There is even a case of one of those top leaders denying immigration assistance to converts with Jewish ancestry as they plead for his help in escaping Nazi-occupied Austria.

I feel deep pain as I contemplate such things, but nowhere does that release me from my own obligations to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. Rather, it reinforces the idea that, while I can look to a fellow man here and there as someone worthy of emulating, ultimately I must not trust in the arm of flesh for anything of an Eternal nature.

I see hell as a state of being perfectly aware of one’s flaws as a person. Just as we only get glimpses of heaven as we walk this earth, we only get similar sparse revelations of the hell that awaits should we periodically take stock of our regrets and evils. Once we exit those moments, we are back in the mundane world.

Judgment is called “great and dreadful” for a reason. It is something best approached with contrition, humility, and sorrow for one’s sins. Yes, we have a hope for joy in Jesus Christ the Savior, but that is a hope meant to sustain us through the trials and hardships of repentance, which must reach deeper and wider than we imagine in order for them to fully cleanse us and make us whole. The man who walks boldly to the final judgment will be left miserable when, for the first time, his full accounting of sins is revealed unto him.

Now, that misery also awaits the person who is fully aware of his own personal catalog of evil, but the difference is that person is already enduring some hell and is now broken and contrite, ready to accept a change in himself in order to be done with the evils of mortality. I would presume that the bold man made suddenly miserable has a similar capability to become broken and contrite and to thereby desire the path of the penitent one. But I presume also that such a path is more difficult to follow, the soul being unfamiliar with that terrain on account of a lack of repentance in mortality.

Unquestionably, there are things we all do not yet consider as requiring repentance that will demand it in the judgement that awaits. Likewise, I do not consider that there are men who are brazen about some sins without being considerate of others. It’s a matter of percentages, ultimately. But each one of those unconsidered sins is potentially that which we cling to in our pride, and which keeps us from returning to the presence of God. I would say that the more we take stock of our evils and repent of the, the less likely we are to cling to that pride which justifies the sin in our own mind and makes us ready to wage war against God in our defense of sin.

I would draw a conclusion that those who are worried most about hell that they are constantly turning to prayer and fasting and acts of contrition are the ones most prepared to return to God’s presence. Those who wonder if there is any sin upon them as they pass through mortality are unprepared for that meeting at the judgment bar.

And though I do not support a faction that is the clear parallel of that which has been condemned in my holy scriptures, I do not presuppose that I am given a free pass into heaven that does not require of me that I face my other sins and infirmities of the spirit. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did great works in advancing the causes of peace and justice: he must still answer for his adulteries. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did much that which was wonderful and good as he campaigned for justice and equality, but he must answer for the cruelties he dealt out to his family members.

Now, I believe that they will have an easier time working through those troubles than someone who may have been generous to his servants and staff, but who also participated actively in constructing and carrying out Hitler’s genocides. Doing good prepares us for cleansing ourselves of sin. Doing evils hinders that cleansing process, possibly bringing it to a complete halt. We must be cautious.

This is why I say that, no matter what sad folly has misled the souls of 3 out of 4 of my coreligionists, I am nevertheless not excused from my personal responsibilities to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. It is not as if knowing the truth is supposed to guarantee a sinless existence: the very scriptures that condemn following after an antidemocratic personality also note that many members of the church did follow after such a person, to the woe and consternation of those who did not fall after such a person. Those same scriptures feature a Christ come to visit them, who then laments how often he would have gathered them as a hen gathers her chicks if they would but listen to his words and then obey them. People failing to do what is right in spite of the truth taught to them is a theme throughout my scriptures: why should I be surprised that this day is peopled with the same humans as of old?

Even if they harden their hearts, I must keep mine tender. Even if they espouse lies, I must not abandon my seeking of truth. Even if they persecute me within the walls of our common church, I must forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Even if 2020 turns out to have been the year in which a general consensus formed around a fascist movement in the USA that eventually leads to the deaths of millions, even tens of millions or more, I must be hopeful in 2021 about what I can do to improve my own soul as I remember that no one can repent for my wrongs but myself.

Just as 1860 was a truly horrible year in US history, it did not prevent the years that followed from being any worse. So it is today. Bad as things are, they can get worse. But I always have myself in the here and now and I will always be responsible for the maintenance of my soul, that I might approach the judgment bar of God with fear and trembling, hopeful that the atonement of Christ can stretch enough to pay for my sins, and also hopeful that my covenants were honored enough that I might be ready for my final repentance, preparatory to returning to God. I would hope that for one and for all, but it’s my own existence that I have to work most on.

And so, I am resolved for this year.

Christmas Day 2020

I am a Christian, and this is a day given us for remembering Christ, and my comments will be on that wise. No offense taken by me if you want to pass over them, I wish everyone well on this day.

As I ponder my faith in Jesus Christ and my hope of a resurrection, I consider that in spite of conditions on earth – and, be warned, things in general are going to get much worse before things in general start getting better – I always have a covenant with my Heavenly Father that can be of good use to me because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of our Heavenly Father. Without that atonement, I am lost. With it, I am claimed and can work out my salvation with fear and trembling, but work it out all the same.

Christmas day is not just a day to consider the birth of the Savior, it is a day also for contemplating his atonement, death, and resurrection, which resurrection is promised to all as a precursor to judgment. And it will be Jesus Christ who will be my advocate with the Father: if I am worthy, and repentant, and one who has done good in remembering the poor, the sick, the homeless, the afflicted, all my brothers and sisters… if I have been able to lay aside my sins and return to them no more, I will have done what I can to honor my covenants, and that gives me hope of returning to the presence of my Heavenly Father.

Life is hard and will get harder, especially the older I become. Winter approaches, I can feel it in my muscles and bones. But there is a Spring to follow that Winter. Even if I have been too sinful to see the earliest days of that Spring, I can nevertheless repent, strive to do good, and humble myself so that I have a hope of seeing those Spring days yet to come. That hope arises out of my faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So today is a day given unto me to think on that matter, and these are my thoughts. I wish everyone well on this day.

Confronting the Racism That Comes to Me

We don’t get rid of racism unless we confront it. And we don’t confront it successfully unless we confront it within ourselves. It’s an ongoing, life-long process, unburdening ourselves of the constant flow of racist ideas that cross our consciences. But it’s also worth doing.

Step one is being able to notice racism for what it is – for that, I turn to Ibram X. Kendi’s definintions:

Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.

“A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.

“A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior to or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society.”

— Ibram X. Kendi, pp. 17-23 of his book, How to Be an Antiracist.

For example, in many Republican Party political ads, I saw images of Whites being threatened or standing defiantly as Blacks, Hispanics, and Women were shown to be shouting and protesting. That’s racial inequity – the different groups were not on approximately equal footing. If one does not see a problem with that, then one has normalized that inequity – racism.

It’s as simple as that, and racism on that level alone is easy to work on, once one is aware that it needs to be worked on. Racism on that level is also the most pervasive in the USA, so it is a good thing to be aware of and a good thing to work on.

What about racist policy? Well, a law that requires one of a particular set of photo IDs in order to vote looks like it is fair and even. But when that law disallows Native American Tribal IDs – and Native Americans in that state have a lower rate of acquiring other, accepted IDs – that law sustains racial inequality. Even if the motivation for the law was simply to keep the Republican Party in power (the laws against Native American IDs are unique to Republican-ruled states), and not to target Native Americans in particular, the result of that policy leads to much more than the Native Americans not voting – because they don’t vote, they get ignored for other governmental considerations, ranging from law enforcement to access to government programs.

And what about racist ideas? We see that in the Trump Administration’s impact on immigration and refugee policy. Muslims and Latinx persons face substantially more hurdles and rates of rejection than immigrants from Western Europe, for example. Why? Look to Trump’s policy advisor on immigration, Stephen Miller. We have writings of his that spell out explicitly racist ideas regarding his view that White Europeans are much more desirable immigrants and refugees than other persons who are non-White and/or non-European. Those ideas drive racist policies, which leads to racial inequity… racism, this time of a deeper and harsher nature than racism done in passing.

So why do I fixate on the Republican Party for this discussion? It is because I can find multiple examples in that party’s advertisements, policies, and supporters. The Democratic Party has been active and effective at purging the racism out of their ranks – it’s why the Alabama Democratic Party went through such a major transformation in the last 15 years. The Republican Party, however, has not been uniform, let alone effective, in disavowing racism… especially when it actively embraces it as part of its national platform and in its plans to control voting access in order to retain its grip on power.

Why I Fear for the USA

To be honest, I was hoping for a massive repudiation of the racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice in the election results of 2020. Instead, we are dealing with a nation that has more people committed to those ways than in 2016, and a close electoral college result. In other words, there are now no negative repercussions for politicians that openly espouse racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice – the Republican Party will run you as a candidate and get you elected.

Because whoever wins will barely win, that means that the racially-skewed voting rights laws promulgated by Republicans will remain entrenched where they control the state houses. That means that the antisemitic lies told by Republican candidates and their media backers will intensify, because those messages resonate with an increasingly intolerant and insecure White population. That means the messages of intolerance directed against Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus will spread to other faiths that are not part of a Republican-approved grouping. That means that when their political leaders display gross foolishness in ignoring science and murderous cruelty in ignoring justice, the Republicans will fall into line and support that foolishness and cruelty.

This is not about any other group – this is specifically about the political party that is dragging the USA over a cliff of racism, antisemitism, religious intolerance, and ideological blindness to both science and justice, the Republican Party.

Healers cannot let themselves become enraged when yet another person walks up to them with a bleeding wound. The healers must heal. But if the same things, time and again, are injuring others, then the healers seek to find a way to control, curtail, or eliminate those things so as to reduce the constant injuries. In the USA, much of the woes in terms of poverty, schools, the justice system, and economic opportunities can be connected to a common thread – a lack of equitable and just voting rights for all citizens. If we want to solve those issues to the benefit of all Americans, then we must first make sure that all Americans vote, and that all votes are counted, and that all people are heard. Time and again, a Republican will lie about needing to clean up voter roles or tighten up voting rules in order to combat fraud – those lies mask a brutal effort to strip fellow Americans of their franchise.

And, in this recent election, there were no negative political consequences for those actions.

Those actions will continue, and that will be the ruin of this nation.

On Why I Am Pro-Choice

This is why, ultimately, I have to be pro-choice. When we look at the anti-abortion hardline position of zero abortions, anywhere, we lose out on those performed to save the life of the mother. We also potentially criminalize miscarriages, which has happened already in jurisdictions with strict anti-abortion laws on the books.

So, no, I’m opposed to strict anti-abortion measures. I’m also more inclined to align with the pro-choice group on issues of better access to prenatal care, better postnatal health care for both mother and children, and better financial assistance programs overall – and those measures remove demand for abortions through improving the lives of both the parents and the children. Pro-choice groups also tend to be pro-teacher and pro-universal child care, which a nation without abortions would need lots more of.

My church’s position is clear: it is opposed to abortion, except in the cases where the life of the mother is endangered, rape, incest, or when postnatal survival is in serious doubt. But not even those exceptions are permitted in a hardline anti-abortion position, so I must align with the pro-choice people. Not allowing those exceptions is tyranny: not advocating for better health care, education, and child care is unchristian cruelty.

D&C 134 – My Thoughts

In my faith, there is a scripture that outlines what we see as the correct relationship balance with human free will, government authority, and church authority. I have linked that scripture, below and following my remarks.

In reading it today, I was impressed upon by the words “equity and justice” in verse 3. Being also constrained to “judge righteous judgment” elsewhere in the scriptures, and being admonished to not blithely say “all is well in Zion”, I take those words as a solemn enjoinder to take seriously and with great weight the cries of those who claim oppression and persecution, remembering in their cries those of my own ancestors.

Even those uttering cries of oppression and persecution condemn those who turn to rioting and violence: therefore, let not my consideration of those cries be tainted with associating them with lawlessness. Millions continue to speak lawfully and peacefully, and their cries are justified.

A necessary first step in equity and justice is in hearing honestly reports of the plight of the oppressed. The necessary second step is to be so moved as to no longer accept things as they are, but to strive for the changes in laws necessary so as to establish equity and justice.

That is what came to my mind this day.