Category Archives: Reason to Live

The Equalizer of Righteousness

The story of King Benjamin is central to the narrative of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. It is very much a second beginning to the book, coming as it does after the collapse of the nation at the end of the first portion. Benjamin’s renewal comes at a cost: personal prides and vanities.

In his speech to his people in Mosiah 2, Benjamin emphasizes the equality of every person in his nation and that he labored as their king. He worked with his own hands that he would not have to burden his people with taxes. Unlike other kings had done, he was not going to enrich himself from the position.

He states, “Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.” This is a theme that he repeats in his speech. Service to others is service to God. Service to God is service to others. He reflects this need to serve towards his people: “Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?”

He goes on to speak of both being indebted to God and being paid by God – as king, the people owed Benjamin nothing, but all owed God everything. As king, he served all his people and God provided blessings because of their righteousness.

The equality of the gathering indicated the extent of the righteousness. Instead of remarking on how the gathering was attended by nobles and other people with lofty titles, every family gathered in their tents, equally on the ground. If it was, as some scholars speculate, part of a Sukkot observance, all were equal before God in that sacred observance.

To be a righteous people, we must be an equal people. And, as will be brought out in the story of King Noah, an equal people requires a just government.

Hatred, Conflict, and Wickedness

From the book of Jarom to the first chapter of Mosiah, we have only a few pages in the Book of Mormon. But their laconic statements carry powerful meanings. They show the connection between the wickedness of a nation and how embroiled in conflicts born of hatreds that it becomes.

While Jarom was able to exert sufficient effort to maintain his people’s righteousness, he notes that it was possible only through extraordinary efforts and that he spent much of his time in conflict with a rival nation. The implication here is that the people, in their wickedness, do not love their neighbors. They hate them. This hatred makes conflicts easier to develop and to escalate.

This is not good news for Jarom’s nation. His son notes that he was less righteous and more embroiled in conflict. The brief notes that follow in generational succession speak of more wickedness, more hatred, and more wars. We read that “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.” Even with the more wicked part being destroyed, the Nephites remain in danger, as the prophets write how God is not preserving them in their wickedness.

Five generations after Jarom, the prophet Amaleki writes about Mosiah, who took the people that would listen to him and led them out of the land of Nephi. The implication is that those who remained, like their ancestors in Jerusalem, were destroyed in their wickedness.

But the people did not know true peace in their land until they finally became more righteous, righteous enough to enjoy the blessings of protection from God. If there is a place in the world that is overrun with contention and violence, it is not more contention and more violence that will solve those problems. It will be righteous people ready to sacrifice themselves in the name of peace and love who solve those problems. It will be openness and fairness that resolve those issues, not paranoia and developing an “us against them” attitude.

My Remarks on Mother’s Day, 2021

Today is Mother’s Day. I would like to start my talk with a joke from the Catskills and then a story from China.

First the joke, about doing what your mother tells you to do.

It’s morning and a school day. David is still in his room. His mom goes in. “You’ve got to get up for school, David.
“David pulls the blankets over his head and replies, “I don’t want to go to school, mom.”
“But you have to,” says mom. 
“I don’t want to. The teachers don’t like me, and all the kids make fun of me.”
Mom pulls the blanket back a little. “David, you don’t have any choice. You’ve got to get up for school.”
“OK, OK,” says David. “But only if you give me one good reason!”
“I’ll give you two,” says mom. “You’re 52 years old, and you’re the principal!” 

Mom knows best, remember that. Now for the story from China.

Cai Shun lost his father when he was young so he lived with his mother, who he loved very much. Because there was a war going on, food prices were very high. Because Cai and his mother were very poor, they could not afford to buy rice. So, every day, Cai would go into the woods to pick mulberries for his mother and him to eat. One day, while Cai was out gathering mulberries, he encountered enemy soldiers. He was very afraid of what would happen, because he was just a boy and they were very strong men with swords and spears. The soldiers noticed that he had not one basket of mulberries, but two. The soldiers asked him why he separated black and red mulberries and placed them in different baskets. Cai replied that the black ones (which tasted sweet) were for his mother while the red ones (which tasted sour) were for himself. The soldiers were reminded of their own mothers. Impressed by Cai’s love for his mother, they carried a sack of rice to his home.

Jesus kept all the commandments. Of the first ten given to Moses, the fifth one reads, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Jesus honored his mother. We should all learn from what he did, that we might keep this commandment ourselves. Eight times is this commandment repeated in the Bible – mothers and fathers both get first mention when the commandment is repeated. Therefore, we must show this love for our parents, this honor for our parents, equally. We do not honor our fathers and then our mothers. We honor both at the same time. 
What I say today can apply to both parents, but I am drawing a line of emphasis under honor and respect due our mothers today, due to the occasion of this being Mother’s Day. 

The commandment to honor our mothers is understood to be more than just smiling and saying nice things about them. We must support them and see to it that they are cared for, that they have enough to eat, a good home, clothing, and companionship from us, their children. This commandment also applies to stepmothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers.   

Even as Christ was dying in agony on the cross, he took time to have a thought for his mother: we read in John 19:25-27

25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Christ knew that he was to die and he knew that he must see that his mother had care. He gave that task, lovingly, to his apostle John. The implication from this, of course, is that Christ took loving care of his own mother as he lived. The very Son of God, the Atoning One, took time and effort to ensure that his mother was cared for – and made it a priority in his life. He said that he was about his Father’s work, and part of that work was to care for his mother. 

The connection between parents and God has been obvious to scholars of many faiths, throughout time and recorded history. So it is with us: anyone who gives us the gift of life cannot ever be repaid. Therefore, honor and respect is due to that person. We keep that person’s commandments because of our love and our gratitude. We are loved unconditionally, and so we find ways to return that love in placing a priority on the person who gave us life.

Under Jewish law, which Jesus observed and which gives us more detail on keeping this commandment, only a parent’s request to disobey God could be refused. Anything the parents asked for within the bounds of righteousness, the children were required to provide. Jesus set this example in John 2:3-4:

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; for mine hour is not yet come.

If you wish to honor your mother, try that attitude. Promise to yourself and your mother: mother, as long as I live, I will do what you ask me to do. You will keep the commandment that way and be blessed all the days of your life. 

The great composer Giacomo Meyerbeer lived in 19th-Century Germany. Even though there was great oppression against Jews, his mother had raised him to respect and honor that religion. Giacomo stayed true to what his mother taught. After his grandfather died, Giacomo wrote to his mother, “Please accept from me a promise that I will always live in the religion in which he died.” And he did. That, my brothers and sisters, is a powerful way to honor our mothers.

Another rule for keeping the commandment is for children to let their mothers know how they are doing, so that their mothers do not worry about them. Jesus showed us that we can never be too preoccupied to take a moment to speak with our mothers to console them.

Whether our mothers be living or dead, we can also honor them with the study of scripture and applying the lessons of the scriptures in our lives. Living righteously honors our earthly parents as much as it does our Heavenly Father. 

The commandment extends to anyone who offers care for us, even if they are not our direct parents. Those who teach us in church and in schools are due this respect and honor. Any woman who offers righteous guidance and wisdom to us is mother to us: honor that person in doing that which is righteous, without argument, complaint, or criticism.

Nephi included an account that pains me to read. While his brothers claimed to be righteous, they were guilty of drawing near to God with their lips, but being distant in their hearts. They claimed to keep the commandments, but committed a severe breach of observing them when they bound Nephi with strong cords while they were on their voyage to the Promised Land.

In 1 Nephi 18:17-18, we read

17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.

18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.

What pain do we bring to our mothers when we fail to be righteous? May such a day never come, may none of us here ever bring grief and much sorrow because of our iniquity. May we all deepen our desire to observe our covenants, to do the daily tasks that build up our righteousness, that such a day never come to our homes. May we make that promise to ourselves and our mothers to live righteously and never waver in our righteousness.

Let us be like Nephi, who honored his mother as he worked to heal a broken world. In his trial, he said, “Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.” This is what his mother taught to him. His father, as well, but consider the day and remember the parent! Healing a broken world involves not only praise for God, but constant acts of compassion and creativity for those around you. It is exhausting, but necessary.  I will also note that one of the rules for honoring one’s mother includes to never disturb her sleep. Her rest is sacred. And if she needs time away from everyone for a while, count that as part of her rest. She has much work to do, so let her take the time she needs to recharge.   This is so she can do as Nephi, and teach others to heal a broken world.

This is not a weekend service project. This is not a lone week devoted to a charity. This is constant work. Mothers live a life in which the saying, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” is their one and their all. Just as God never desists in loving us, just as Christ never desists in pleading for our causes, so it is with our mothers. 

Above all, mothers show us a path forward in life. We have words about Christ’s life, but we can see a living example in our mothers. I would like to close with two poems. The first poem was written by Langston Hughes, titled “Mother to Son”:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

The second is by Joanne Bailey Baxter, a memoir of her late mother, titled “Mother on Mother’s Day”

You were the center of our universe
The mother of us all
You gave to us your everything
We only need to call

And soon your strength was tested
Though you put up such a fight
For from a distant spiritual land
The angels called you in the night

For someone up in heaven
Looked down upon the land
And chose mom for her strength
To come and give a hand

He knew that her legacy
That she had left behind
Would withstand the pain and grief
Over a period of time

For she had fulfilled his prophesy
Spreading love, honor, and hope
She instilled in those she left behind
The ability to understand and cope

May we all honor our mothers. May we all withstand the pain and grief, understand and cope, as our mothers have taught us to do. Life ain’t been no crystal stair – just ask Jesus – and our mothers show us how to walk that path, even the last mile of it. Talk to your mothers today if you can. Give them comfort. Study the scriptures and walk up to the covenants that you have made. Live a life that each day draws closer to the Savior, and make your mother proud.

You Have No Grounds for Prejudice

Jacob 3 continues the sermon from Jacob 2. In it, Jacob points out that the only reason a rival tribal group is hostile to the tribal group to which his audience belongs is because of the sins and errors of their fathers. Having just torn into the sins of the fathers of his own tribal group, Jacob concludes that there is no reason to consider the other tribe to be more wicked.

He seals that with a commandment from God: “Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.” In other words, stop hating the “others” based upon a perception of them which is man-made.

In the narrative, the two tribal groups are all descendants of the same family group, and they are only 2-3 generations away from those family founders. Both have expressed hatred for each other and Jacob’s group is already referring to the other one as dark, loathsome, and cursed. That’s all a perception, though: in only 2-3 generations, we don’t see any sort of situation that leads to a sudden change in human skin pigmentation. The racism/tribalism in this case is all in the heads of the people suffering from that disease, as it always is.

With a comment along the lines of Jesus’ about clearing the obstructions from one’s own eyes before helping another to clear a minor irritant, Jacob instructs these wayward fathers to remember their own children. The implication being that they are not immune from committing the same paternal errors associated with the “others.” They are, in fact, cited as being more sinful because of their neglect of their families, and that they are putting their nation on a path to destruction. All this, of course, is connected back to their seeking of wealth and social divisions based upon wealth.

In sum, Jacob emphasizes the equality of man before God and the need to treat each other with equality and dignity: anything less than that puts us on the path to destruction as a nation.

The Abominations of the Husbands

The sermon in Jacob 2 seems to be split into two portions. The first is about people who have focused on going after wealth and the second is about people committing whoredoms in having many wives and concubines. Of the two parts, I have heard much more sermonizing in my life about the latter than the former, so much so that I didn’t realize the connection between the two.

Basically, the part about the wives and concubines is after the style of David and Solomon. This matter is not that of committing infidelities on the side: this is about using women as elements of one’s status – objectification of women, as it were.

Even in teachings about the law of chastity, I see a slighting of Jacob’s message here: he’s specifically talking to rich men who are destroying their familial relationships through their greed, expressed via sexual avenues in this case. He spoke about rich men destroying social relationships through social stratification in his earlier part of the message. In essence, this is not a teaching that applies to one and all, equally. Yes, there is a law of chastity that God expects us all to keep, but this lack of chastity among the rulers of the people is especially dangerous, as this is what leads to the destruction of the people.

This message is clearly addressing “the abominations of the husbands”. It’s the husbands who have “broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.”

Jacob condemns not just sexual sins, but sexual sins as an extension of an abuse of power born out of an unjust power structure based on wealth. When a society has a law for the rich and a law for the poor alongside a law for the men and a law for the women, it is not a godly nation. It is ripening for its destruction.

The Return to Wickedness

In Jacob 2, the prophet Jacob is compelled by God to declare to the people that they are becoming more wicked and to deliver a warning to them. That warning, starting in verse 12, pertains to riches. Jacob condemns those who seek riches and then, as they obtain them more abundantly than others, establish a social hierarchy.

The signs: displays of wealth, costly apparel, and persecution of others because those with more wealth suppose that they are better than the others.

This supposition is not necessarily a blunt, broad, or overbearing one. It can also be subtle and done with a smile. Persecution can be done without hatred or ill-feeling towards the persecuted. Persecution can arise simply out of seeing other people as different and deciding that their social position or legal equality should therefore be different. Statements defending persecution often include comments on how we can’t expect “those people” to behave, act, or decide properly about certain things. Because of those statements, “those people” find themselves walled off from equality by people who believe that money makes someone more important.

Persecution, whether it’s done by someone who expresses open hatred or by someone who protests that they’re “the least racist person”, is condemned by God. God’s judgments for persecutors are promised, and speedily so.

Jacob’s message from God is direct and piercing: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they bay be rich like unto you.” Seeking riches in and of themselves is no crime, provided one seeks God first and then seeks the riches with the intent of doing good – to others! “To clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” When one uses money for those purposes, there is no time nor desire for fine apparel or displays of wealth – and with none of those things, there is no persecution.

Jacob’s message is to see those with less wealth not as requiring different societal position, but as requiring the same love and compassion as any human desires or needs. Jacob closes his comments on the pride of riches with a comment that, “… the one being is as precious in His sight as the other.”

The Primary Signs of Wickedness

I say primary and not just first, because these signs are the first and most prominent among a people that is becoming – or which has become – wicked in the eyes of God. Jacob 1:15-16 describes the primary signs: “And now it came to pass that the people… began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son. Yea, and they also began to search much gold and silver, and began to be lifted up somewhat in pride.”

The people were good prior to that change, but now they show the early stages of wickedness, and those things can only get worse if left uncorrected. They obviously do not value women as individuals and they are obsessing over riches. Both of these things lead to ruin. Imagine a society like Margaret Atwood’s Gilead – the rich have a law very much different from the poor, and the women at all levels are made to suffer under a patriarchy. When a nation makes women less than men before the law, that is a crime in the eyes of God.

The riches go along with that in terms of creating further unequal social structures, and I’ve made comment on that line in previous posts. But finding an added element of gender rights to this narrative is fascinating. Therefore, beware those who fight against equal rights: they will drag a nation into wickedness and ruin.

The Sin of -centric Thinking

I used to teach History. I remember the first time I was cautioned about Eurocentric thinking. I bristled at the thought because I myself had been taught from a largely Eurocentric point of view – that is, pretty much all the history worth knowing was from Europe and the USA, and that’s that. Once I learned how much history happened outside of Europe and how it was downplayed by Europeans because it didn’t happen in Europe, my thinking changed.

There’s also the idea of “American Exceptionalism” that postulates America is a special place, and that automatically makes it a better place and its national interest better interests. That’s another type of -centric thinking that comes out of a biased point of view. It’s propaganda for a theory of superiority of one people relative to another – the beginnings of nationalism and racism.

The Book of Mormon takes both of those ideas out to the dustbin of history. The success of America in its revolt against the British came not because of any inherent goodness of the Americans or specialness from their geographic blessings: the Book of Mormon laconically states that God willed it, and so it happened. While other authors of the day sang the praises of the mettle and determination of the Founding Fathers, the Book of Mormon passes over it all as a matter of God’s will, nothing more and nothing less. The USA is not a special, gifted place because it is the USA, in so many words. It is a nation made up of people who can choose to ruin it as surely as they can choose to make it better.

As for other -centrisms, 2 Nephi 29 comes down very hard on the people who think they have it all, and who forget that all humanity is a family. It talks about the Gentiles rejecting additional words of God because they already have a collection of God’s words to people in Palestine. There’s a deeper issue in that, “Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?”

It would seem that the Gentiles have forgotten whose shoulders they stand upon. The next verse is even more severe: “O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.”

The antisemitism that accompanied much of Western Civilization’s thinking – and which remains with us to this day – is clearly condemned in this passage.

Later in the chapter, God speaks of drawing Israel, his covenant people, from all the world. Essentially, we cannot say that only one people is blessed above all others. Rather, the seed of Abraham is in all nations, and we have to live according to that knowledge. Should we, in a bout of some kind of -centric thinking, deny equality to another, we may very well be making war against Israel, and, by extension, war against God Himself.

On the Corruption of the Last Days

2 Nephi 28 describes the wickedness of the latter days, in which people put themselves above others out of their pride, and who justify their wealth and lofty position at the expense of others with false doctrines. They are corrupted because of pride, and pride leads them to rob the poor.

“They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.”

Wickedness is associated once more not with base and brutish actions, but with premeditated sins of civilization – amassing wealth and fineries through exploiting the poor and denying them the resources used in making those fineries.