Category Archives: Reason to Live

Repentance and Resurrection

I had a dream recently in which I was bearing witness against another person at the Judgment Bar of God. I felt the severity of the situation and the magnitude of each word that I said. I wasn’t there to tell part of the truth and be done – I had to testify of everything, I was compelled to do so.

The person I was testifying against was a politician, and I bore witness of what I saw and experienced during his administration. As I did so, he turned his face away from me, towards a darkness. At that point, I thought of the scripture about how the wicked will desire for mountains to fall upon them, so that they would not have to face such judgment. I note that my testimony was solicited purely for injuries suffered by the nation because of his misrule – his personal matters were not for my testimony, as I had only second-hand knowledge of such. I also knew that he was not alone as a ruler – all who have held power are held to account for it. Those who want to repent and to be made whole face that pain of truth and bear the burden of their mistakes. Those who are yet proud and unrepentant turn towards the darkness and wish to be as far as possible from God so that the pain of memory and truth does not trouble them.

As I bore witness, I also felt my own soul, troubled by what I knew would face me: the testimony of those who I had wronged and harmed in my life. But I resolved not to turn to the darkness. I wanted to face the pain and pass through it. I knew that I would be resurrected and that I would have a chance to choose better, without the clouding effects of misleading men to steer me wrong. I would have cleaner choices, and I could train myself with a millennium of doing better so that I would be made whole, perfect and complete in my repentance.

Resurrection is not an end of itself, or a gateway to an end-state. It is every bit the ushering in of a new phase of existence, as momentous as birth or death. We are taught that we are not all resurrected at the same time – in my dream I felt my place in that line. I knew that, because of my sins, I was not to be the first to be resurrected. But I also knew that, because of the good I had done and to the extent I had accepted Christ as my Savior, I would also not be the last. There would be people who I had clashed with in life that accepted the Gospel in death that would be resurrected before me. There would be people who I had looked up to and admired for their righteousness in life that had deeper demons than I could see that would be resurrected after me. Part of repentance was in forgiving others that I might be ready to live among them in righteousness and in not being judgmental, that I might welcome in others when they were ready to join with me in righteousness.

We were all in line, we would all have a turn. The most righteous would be the first to be raised, that they might prepare a place for those yet to come, each in turn preparing to welcome in more and more to do the work needed to welcome in more. We would do this with love, and I felt that compassion. I feel it again as I recall it.

But I also recall the pain of my soul as I remembered those who I harmed with my decisions. My repentance here is to prepare me to face the pain of judgment. I do not believe that I will face a wink and a nod and a free pass to heaven just because I made a few good choices here and there. Judgment is a full accounting of my life. I am allowed to feel joy for the good I have done, but I am also responsible for feeling the pain of my evils, if I am to cleanse those evils from myself and become perfected in Christ, able only then to return to Heavenly Father.

I want to be good, and part of that want means that I must face judgment and not turn away from truth. If I truly want to be one with my Heavenly Father, I need to be able to see the totality of my life and know where the atonement will make me whole because of the pain I feel for those sins now. The more I can repent of and make restitution for here and now, the less pain I endure in my judgment – and the more work I will be able to do to show love for my fellow humans, my brothers and sisters.

But I also know that there are sins in me that I am not yet aware of, that I have not yet repented of, that I have not yet made restitution for. The mortal oubliette in my person is opened up and brought into light in that judgment. The dream I had made me search inside my memory for when I had done wrong, and I found those episodes, and it pained me deeply. That is the first step to restoration, and I am glad for it, but I have more to do. I am not anxious about not being first in line to be resurrected – I am thankful that I am in line and that I know that I emerge into new life when I am ready for it. I hope to be there as quickly as I can be there, and that that all hinges on my willingness to repent today.

The Book of Mormon and Liberation Theology

For those interested in the socio-political details of The Book of Mormon, this is a compelling article for consideration.

The notion that The Book of Mormon has a thread of liberation theology in it was something I was recently considering and, prior to putting out my own thoughts on the matter, I wanted to see what was already out there. I find Dr. Potter’s assertions that the liberation theology in The Book of Mormon to be not just “a preferential option for the poor”, but also a stark warning to those with wealth and privilege to be most agreeable.

Bear in mind that while liberation theology shares with Marxism a criticism of capitalism, it by no means agrees upon the actions necessary to correct the abuses of capitalism and the social divisions and stratifications necessary to maintain a capitalist society. While Marxism would have workers of the world unite in a struggle, The Book of Mormon argues instead that the rich should humble themselves, give of what they have to the poor, and to use power in service, rather than to demand servitude.

As a church that has a long history of being predominantly white and English-speaking, with a patriarchal system, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is itself putting forward a message that it is worldwide, multicultural, and home-centered, with that home equating roles performed by husband and wife, particularly in terms of spiritual authority. It is a mistake to equate the Nephites with white Americans with conservative 1950s political views. It is a mistake both of history as well as self-perception.

It is even a mistake to equate the Nephites with the Church: how often do prophets preach to the Nephites because of their rejection of their message? Better to equate the Nephites with the Lamanites, both descended of the same parents, as well as parent-culture. Both can be blinded by lies. Both can be caught up in pride. And both can be redeemed by the same gospel message.

And so, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have this document that stresses the importance of community, of shared experience, and of material sacrifice, while condemning those who seek after riches, who place the self above the community, and who seek to create or perpetuate unequal social systems. I’m going to finish reading this document and will likely have more to say on this matter going forward.

Tisha B’Av in the Book of Mormon

In my reading today, I noted a specific date reference in Alma 49 – to the 10th day of the 11th month, to be specific. That was tied to the march of the Lamanite armies under Amalickiah, with their intent to destroy the Nephites plainly present. At the end of the 48th chapter, Mormon notes the lamentations of the Nephites at the prospect of having to kill people in their defense, as such a killing would deprive them of an ability to accept atonement in their lives – which atonement would be focused on in the first 10 days of the new year, leading up to Yom Kippur.

Well, the great lamentations go with the 9th day of the 11th month, Tisha B’Av, a date set by God as a day of Israelite sorrow in the Book of Exodus. It is the date of the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temple as well as the extermination of the Bar Kochba Revolt. And here, in the Book of Mormon, there is what seems to be a reference to that day. The armies that enter Nephite territory on the 10th of Av were surely underway on the 9th.

The “why” of all this is that with such a significant date tied to these events, the existential struggle that spans 12 years and 14 chapters in the Book of Mormon narrative comes forward not just as a regrettable war, but as a calamity on the level of the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. The walls come crashing down, and the people are left exposed to the wrath of an enemy. They will be destroyed in their wickedness, but preserved if they endure the horrors in righteousness.

Some Working with Numbers…

Some work with numbers to prove why it’s a very good idea to wash hands and to keep a goodly distance from others… It starts out grim, with fatality statistics, but we can nevertheless find some hope in those numbers, so do bear with me.

CDC data for 2017 shows there were 2,813,503 deaths in the USA that year. The top ten causes were:

Heart disease: 647,457
Cancer: 599,108
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
Diabetes: 83,564
Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
A comment on “Influenza and pneumonia”. That’s a heavy emphasis on “and pneumonia”. When we look at the breakout of those numbers, just less than a fifth are influenza – about 10,500. The rest are “and pneumonia.” So when we talk about influenza’s mortality, it needs to be decoupled from “and pneumonia” to get a truer sense of influenza’s mortality.

Now take the number of deaths and divide by 365, one gets 7708. That’s about how many deaths per day we have normally in the USA. We had an additional 1000+ yesterday, a 13% increase over the normal rate.

When we divide 100,000 by 2,813,503, we get 0.0355, or 3.55%. That means, every 100,000 deaths is an increase of our annual mortality rate by 3.55%. Put another way, every 28,135 deaths is an increase in the USA’s annual mortality rate by 1%.

So, with a little back-of-the-hand math, a low-end death toll of 100,000 would make COVID-19 the 7th leading cause of death in the USA, ahead of diabetes. 200,000 COVID-19 fatalities would make it the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA. You can see a pretty close cluster between 3rd and 6th place, but it’s a big gap to reach cancer and heart disease. That being said, it’s not impossible if we don’t, all of us, take this pandemic seriously. Death tolls of 1-2,000,000 are possible if we do not wash hands constantly and keep our distance from others of at least 6ft / 2m.

Around 1,340,000 American soldiers died in combat, accident, or disease in all of our nation’s wars and conflicts. If we wash and distance, we need not face down that awful milestone.
We want to take pains to avoid being in the statistics for heart disease and cancers – we diet, we exercise, we change what we do to beat those diseases. It’s the same with COVID-19: change what you do, and you beat that disease. Don’t change, and you risk becoming a sad part of a larger statistic. The good news is that you *can* change.

Finally, remember that if you’re reading about these numbers, look at them as golf scores – we have to play this out over many days, weeks, and months, but if we come out with a low score, we do all right. Stay indoors, and you’ll come out all right, most likely.

I’ll close with a quote from Mel Brooks:”Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Life is a play, and we’re unrehearsed!” Don’t feel bad if this caught you flat-footed. You’re reading this, so you can take control of your own health and breathing, even if other things are spinning around you. You can own this, you can command this aspect of your life.

Now I’ll really close with a quote from Mel Brooks’ good friend Carl Reiner: “I read the obituaries every morning. If I’m not in them, I have breakfast!”

Save Lives, Not Costs: A Christian Philosophy

I am heartened by leaders who talk about saving lives, regardless of cost.

I am dismayed by leaders who talk about saving costs, regardless of lives.

Christ taught that one cannot serve both God and mammon. Serving God means loving my neighbor as myself, healing the sick, and caring for the poor and needy. Serving mammon means putting matters of money and finance ahead of other concerns.

This is why I am dismayed by the leadership from President Trump and leading Republicans. Yes, they want to save lives. But they want to save hedge funds, stock dividends, and corporate earnings first. I will pass over their too-comfortable association with white supremacists and major polluters. I will pass over profiteering from tragedy. I will pass over separating children from parents in cruel applications of the law. When leaders speak of sacrificing the people to prop up the economy – and it is the poor people, the needy people who are sacrificed, not the rich, make no mistake there – they show that though they may draw near to God with their lips, they are far from Him in heart. They do not serve God. Their master is mammon, and their judgment awaits. They will have the world with all its power and fortune, but they lose their eternal lives in the transaction.

Know that there are a few Democrats who shame themselves with service to mammon and a few Republicans doing God’s work in saving lives without concern for the costs. But when considered as a whole, it is the Republican Party whose leadership on local, state, and national levels that has been brutal in its willingness to sacrifice the poor to save the rich. Shame on them for such practices and shame on any American who supports them.

So ends my Jeremiad. And, like Jeremiah, I expect that the targets of my criticism will denounce me and say that it is sinful to criticize the leaders of this proud nation, that they are doing nothing wrong, or not much wrong. Jeremiah had the destruction of Jerusalem as his justification and I fully expect the United States to have one of the highest per capita mortality rates from this pandemic as my justification. These are not happy things – would that men would change so that these things need not be the future.

I wish all good health and that your sorrows be swallowed up in joy. May we all ask of our leaders to remember that lives are more important than monies.

Life As I Know It

Life as I know it involves a number of complex bodily systems working together to provide a homeostasis. It involves joy and anguish, good times and bad. It involves the greedy affecting me and my family and friends with the consequences of their greed, and it involves the blessings of encounters with the kind, considerate, and compassionate.

Life as I know it continues as before. The furniture or schedule may be rearranged, but my complex bodily systems continue to provide homeostasis, allowing me to continue to experience the full range of life experiences. If I go to a war zone, I will keep my head down so that the snipers don’t shoot me. If I live where there is a pandemic, I keep my distance, so that the virus doesn’t infect me.

Let us be realistic: a cure will be found, a vaccine will be developed. A distribution method will be employed, people will get the vaccine – and people will refuse to be vaccinated, such is our world. That is at some point in the future. Until then, if we keep our physical distance, we do not become a link of disease transmission between the infected and the currently uninfected. We do not become the infected ourselves. The overall fatality rate is around 2-3%, but we know it is much higher for people whose complex biological systems have been weakened by cancers, diabetes, rheumatism, or other diseases and disorders… or the wear of age.

We also know that, in addition to the fatal cases, there are disease victims who face long-term symptoms as a result of their encounter with the disease. Most frequent is a permanent respiratory system problem. The disease passes, but the symptom does not for another 5-10% of victims.

We have questions about whether or not a person who survives an infection will be immune to a second infection or, if there is immunity, how long it lasts. We have questions if there is already a cure at hand – the answer there is simple, no. There is no vaccine.

Is there a drug already among us that will successfully control the symptoms? That is a dangerous question, as it presumes we would also know the correct dosage and timetable for the administration of that drug. Getting the correct compound to the correct patient at the correct time is the science of pharmacology. Do not second-guess it, especially if you haven’t been trained in that field. Until there is a properly-researched treatment, keep your head down where there are snipers and your distance where there are viruses.

If you are still reading this, your complex biological systems are providing you with homeostasis, and you experience both the storm and the calm: life as you know it continues as it always has thus far.

Los Héroes Mayores

In Mexico, there is a monument
Tall and proud
Six columns for six heroes
Who died rather than surrender
Los Niños Héroes

Niños because they were children
Still new to life
But they knew their moment of valiance
When it arrived.

In my neighborhood, in my city
I know people who are young no more
They are my elders,
Kind and gentle in their age
Beset with unseen enemies round about

Here is diabetes advancing
There is the stab of a stroke
Beyond is the cancer
Too close is the loss of balance
And the fall that comes after it

Legion is this army that advances
Veteran soldiers of disease and desuetude
Their allies may be contagious
But these soldiers can strike on their own
Such is their skill over the millennia

How do we choose to face them?
We cast about for our friends, our support
But they fall, too, to the relentless advance
Ultimately, we face them alone
We face the unseen enemies alone

We know not one of us gets out alive
We know not one of us escapes unscathed
There will be scars before we die
There will be nights of agony before we die
There will be all but death, ere we die

But life is no eruption of accidents
We chose to be here
We chose to make choices
We chose to face agonies and despairs
That we would know peace and joys

As long as we are rational,
As long as we can yet choose,
We choose how we face that unseen army alone
We choose how we come to terms with the victory of death
We choose how we endure the sting of the grave

I heard once the tale
Of a man, advanced in age,
Who knew he would die of stomach cancer
His son asked him what was the purpose of it
The elder replied, “The Lord needs valiant men.”

And so he took the final charge in his hospital bed
Without flinching, he did his last duty
He accepted his lot and dug into his soul
Finding the eternal courage to become one of
Los Héroes Mayores

Mayores because they are elders
Experienced in life
But they knew their moment of valiance
When it arrived.

Green Beneath the Snow

The Chinese are right
About white
Being the color of death
It is pale, it is calm, it is pure stillness
White is the color of death

We do not speak enough about death
Less so than even sex, or madness, I warrant
And so we fear all the things we speak nothing of
For it is in speaking that we learn
It is in learning that we understand
It is in understanding that we come to terms
To peace
To forgive, as the French say

The snowscape in the first dawn after an evening shower
Before track or foot or car crosses it
We step out into it
Maybe laugh at our footprints made in the snow
It is cold, yes.
But it is quieter more than it is cold.
It is still, peaceful, quiet, and cold
It is the land of death, and we do not truly fear it

The caribou do not fear the land of death
They teach us as they eat
There is green beneath the snow
There is green beneath the snow

We talk much of spring, but we forget
To remember that spring only follows winter
We forget
That the green beneath the snow gives us spring
That the New Englander was right,
In strange aeons, even death dies

That stillness and quiet of a cold snowscape
We find peace in it
So it is in restful death
In death, we have a Sabbath, if we choose
A rest from our labors
A shelter from our cares
We make the choice to rest in death here in life
Failing to make that choice, then death is not stillness and quiet

Death can be the color of storms
Violent and lashing, alternating despairing rain and terrifying lightning
Thunder roaring and booming
Tornadoes lurk in the murk
Ready to spin and to smash and to make all in their paths
One with the Destroyer

Why would anyone choose a storm for death instead of a snowscape?
It is because they fear it, and they do not learn how to master it.
It is because they have pride, and they do not learn how to love one another.
They forget what the Jew taught us: Love God with all your might, mind and strength
And love your neighbor as you love yourself

Death is a hilltop in West Texas
Where the American taught us
Medicine is to be found
Eagles circle above

Stillness and peace are there, as well, as the sun sets
And I hear nothing but the whispers of the spirits
Where the distance between their lips and my ears
Is made shorter in the peace and the stillness
Is made shorter in the wings of the eagle

Death is a moment in a hospital
Where a loved one nods and says, “It is time.”
Even then, as the frantic business of emergency rooms
Pours through the halls and intercoms
The loved one has a peaceful, if painful moment

What of those who choose death over life?
Do they find peaceful snows or hilltops?
Or raging storms of hellscape punishments?
My thought is this: if madness takes one to death,
It is no worse than cancer or heart attack or stroke:
The peace is in the person’s true choices
But if pride takes one to death,
If one cries out like the Roman about what a treasure is lost in one’s death,
The storm awaits.

Is there life after death?
The Austrian was right to reject that question.
We die, no question of that
And then the mortality ends.
The body dies, the spirit endures on
If there is resurrection or reincarnation,
None of those
None of those
Will extend this mortality one instant
Before birth
Or after death
But the spirit
The spirit does not draw breath, so it knows not mortality
I have spoken with the unborn and the deceased

How to speak with the dead and unborn?
Be someone the dead and unborn want to speak with
Be someone the dead and unborn are able to speak with

The dead wait for us
Those at peace are patient
Those in storms wait with agonies
But they all wait
We are all in between birth and death
The great movement of mortality
Pressing forward
The line of time
Forcing the direction,
Determining the destination

Death is the phone call too early in the morning
The news delivered only when we are sitting
The tragedy, the agony, the sudden cold emptiness
The tears that exhaust the eyes
The mournful haunting of memory ever after
Until we ourselves join with the dead

Death is the moment the body
No longer sustains the motion of the spirit
The spirit then departs
That which lacks integrity sufficient for
Breath of life

Death is neither success nor failure
It is neither good nor bad
It is inevitable, it is inescapable
It is foreordained, it is neither reward nor punishment
It is promised to us all
There is no need to hasten the day of its arrival
Be patient and enter the quiet of the wintry dawn, perhaps
Life is not a measure of how much we suffer
It is a measure of how much we love
It is a measure of how much we serve
And those who love and serve will know peace and calm
And those who love and serve not will know storm and stress

The Siberians are many: one of their tribes
Teaches we walk backwards into the future
We see only the past clearly
The future behind our backs as we walk backwards
We walk backwards towards death

Death is a Japanese garden
As winter rain falls
A spring awaits
But now, a peaceful rest

Is there a different form of life after death?
Ah, such is the stuff of what prophets speak
Which ones to heed?
If you love and serve, you will know
If you try to save your life, you will lose it
If you give freely, you will live as life should be lived
The breathless sleep but an interval between mortality
And that different form of life that perhaps comes to us
Love and serve, that is the key
Love and serve, you will be free to dream in the breathless sleep
Love and serve, and you will have peace before you have joy
Love and serve, and you will discover
Green beneath the snow