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—
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.

The Path I Follow

I may rest along the way, but not too long.
There is a destination I intend to reach.
I see many footprints along the way,
Some leaving the trail,
Others joining.

I walk alone at times, but I also know times of company
Good and bad
Some footpaths that have left the trail are mine
I nearly died out there
I almost lost my way more than once

There is a handrail
I can hold to it
I can lean on it for stability
I can use it to pull myself along
When the slope is too steep
When my arms are stronger than my legs
When I stagger and falter.
Sometimes, all I can do is sit by the rail and weep.

I have crossed dry plains, marshlands, mountain passes, deep and soothing forests, quiet deserts, and eagle-topped hills.

I have heard many languages spoken by my fellow-travelers
Many faces of various shapes and colors dot my memories
I hear voices from the dust
And I have had friends pass to the dust,
And I am promised such a fate, as well.

Still, I walk on.
Death is part of the journey.
It is not the end, it is a stretch of road.
In life, we choose the path we follow when we are dead
We choose a rough and rocky path forward
Or pacing between prison walls

Pebbles in my shoes, pains in my muscles
Illness in my guts, mind swimming in fatigue
But I have a destination I must attain
Even when others question if it is truly there
Even when others mock me for thinking it is there

I move more quickly when I give aid to others
I move not at all when I feed my demons
I leave the path when I harm others unknowingly
I drive others from the path when I harm, aware of the harm I do
I have real guilt for the wrong I have done
And I will not arrive at my destination on my own
I cannot enter that place, unclean as I am

So I try to open every door on my path
That I might have a door opened for me
I try to give hope to every person on my path
That I might have hope given to me
It is not hypocrisy when I try to do good as I sin
It is a desperate desire that I might become clean
And humble
And found worthy

I see those who do not bow their heads,
Who draw things unto themselves,
Who amass and array about their persons
Who do not see any need to change
Who do not see any need in their fellows
They do not walk with anyone,
But remain in their palaces
And they cannot arrive at the place they do not move towards

Sometimes all I can do is say “one more step”
And then take it

You will see many sets of footprints on the path
The trick is not to follow any of them
But instead to hold that handrail
To smile and to be kind
To ask for help when you need it
And to have hope that you will arrive
And be cleansed of your evils that you might enter therein
There is a way for that last door to open
And then I will have the rest I seek after a life and a death
Of walking on that path

The Ungodliness of Inequality

A passage of scriptures in 2 Nephi 26, starting with verse 20, again addresses the concept of economic disparity being a keystone of wickedness and unbelief:

“And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. “

That is the very first characteristic associated with their wickedness – the root thereof being “that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.” Not getting gain from ethical business practices, getting gain from exploiting the poor and those with relatively less power in the society.

These prides are themselves connected to the secret combinations and murders “of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things.” The exploitation of the poor is directly connected to back-room dealings and murders. It does not matter if such things are made legitimate by the laws or customs of men: these things go against the laws and customs of God and His people.

God is contrasted with this power of pride and wealth in verse 25: “… he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.” There is no monetary cost to come unto God, none at all. The cost is in faith and humility and charity. In verse 27, “… he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”

In verse 29, the sermon returns to the enemies of God:

“He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”

It is not enough for these men to get gain, but that they must also be seen as doing the equivalent of God’s work in the eyes of the world, even as they build up their own kingdom. In the next verse, we are told, “Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love.” These things, these prides, these oppressions, these inconsiderate acts and practices that build up some and hold many down, these are forbidden of the Lord, and they are the first on the list of things that are forbidden. Murder, lying, stealing, cursing, envying, malice, contentions, and whoredoms all follow in a catalog in the next verse. Those are also bad, but the chief among those listed is the pride in setting one’s self up to get wealth and gain as they rule over a nation.

One has to assume that, if these proud and uncharitable men are ruling a nation, that they have made arrangements to make their works of darkness nevertheless legitimized by their laws. Consider that Christ was crucified according to law, not an act of a mob swept up in a moment of violent whims. The apostles were put down according to law – and I’ll note that at the same time, the devout teachers who followed Rabbi Akiva were also martyred by that same law. All these people were preaching against the pride and riches of the powerful, and the powerful had an answer for that ready to go in their unjust legal system.

The catalog of wrongdoing from murder to whoredoms will always be among normal human populations. Such is the way of things. But when committed by individuals, they do not flourish and those who commit those sins have opportunity to repent in a just society. That is why they are mentioned in passing in a sermon targeting the chief evil among men, that which gets their governments to be exploitative and unjust. In an unjust society, built up to ensconce men in power, those wicked things flourish, especially in service to those men in power. And let us make no mistake – “men” here is not a general term referring to all humanity. “Men” is specifically focused on the male segment of the population, which has been dominant in perpetuating unjust and unequal power structures throughout history. There seems to be a special need for males to have specific instruction in how to govern according to the laws of God, and that their tendency to abuse power has been a plague upon humanity from the earliest times.

But God offers an alternative, should we approach with humility and a willingness to let Him prevail over our own prides and desires. In 2 Nephi 26:33, we read:

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

All are alike unto God – this conclusion to a sermon about the wickedness of pride and wealth gained from oppressing the poor is interesting in that it addresses the very thing that makes the unjust society possible: inequality. Inequalities produce stratified social structures where those in power benefit from the exploitation of those not in power, and that the power itself enforces those inequalities as a means of ensuring the perpetuity of that unjust power. God’s power is just, as it is based upon equality.

Inequality results from men who seek their own gain. Equality results from men who seek the charity of all.