Friday, December 31, 2010

It is resolved

My father was born on New Year's Day. I associate my memories of New Years with him because of his birthday, but also because of New Years Resolutions. I can remember trying to write down resolutions – goals for the year – at his urging when I was a kid. And now, even though my father has been gone for several years, I still think of him and resolutions when New Year's Day comes around.

Dad was a firm believer in self-improvement. He was well-read, not because of his formal training (he was an exceptionally average engineering student in college, but he had a fine career including professional recognition in his field), but because he enjoyed learning. There were many family dinners during which one of us kids was sent looking for the encyclopedia to prove (or disprove) some point of discussion at the table.

Dad sought to instill in us a desire to reach higher, to do more than we thought we could do. His example, together with my mother's, seemed to suggest we really could do anything we set our minds to. I remember talking to him as I graduated high school about what I would study at college. I was a little worried to suggest that I would study theatre, thinking it would be too artsy for his very practical view of life. He surprised me when he thought for a moment and said, "Whatever you study, if you're the best you'll always work."

Dad loved New Year's resolutions, and he encouraged us to write them. Goals for the year. Short statements of what we would seek to improve or build upon in the new year. Chart a course. Lay out a roadmap. Make a plan.

I spent many years of my life as a compulsive planner. Before we married, I wrote budget after budget demonstrating that we could not afford to marry while my wife said, "Let's see – we live separately now for more than it would cost us to get married and live together. What's not to work?" I planned my children's futures. I planned my own career (many times as I kept changing horse mid-stream during college).

Several years ago circumstances combined to help me take a shorter term view, to focus less on the future and more on today, to live in the moment, even one day at a time. And in the intervening years, I've been learning to balance prudent long-term thinking against the value of living today for today.

So not all my resolutions will be for a year. Some will be for a day. And I'll make them each day. And some will help me strike that balance between one day at a time and prudent long-term thinking. But they'll still remind me of my dad.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A first visit to the temple

Last week I received an early Christmas gift as my daughter received her endowment. She is not getting married and she is not going on a mission. She just decided it was time for her to take this step in her life. Fortunately her bishop and her stake president agreed.

She is not my first child, but she is the first of my children to go through the temple. It was a delightful experience to be there with her on that remarkable day. It was not an easy day, and it made me think of two or three other difficult days I've been in the temple.

When our family was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, it was after driving nearly non-stop from Pittsburgh, PA, to Salt Lake City. My parents were exhausted as we looked for the KOA campground near Point of the Mountain, and to listen to us in the car that evening, one would never have guessed we wanted to be together for another ten minutes let alone for eternity. (In fairness, I assume we won't be stuck in a 1964 Buick station wagon for eternity.) Yet we were sealed the next day, and it was a singularly spiritual event.

On my own endowment day, as I've blogged here, I was sprayed by a truck cleaning the sidewalk as I walked to the Provo Temple. But the sun dried me off and I survived.

On my wife's endowment day, we had missed the information that I also should arrive early at the temple (I knew I had to be in the session, of course) and got a frantic phone call from her saying that I needed to be at the temple RIGHT NOW. I made it in time enough.

And there was plenty of external excitement on the day my daughter was endowed, but we rode those waves all the way to the temple door, and stepped gently into the peaceful arms of the spirit of temple worship.

Going to the temple was not, for my daughter, a quick choice. It was a lifetime of choices that led to her being there that day, and I am grateful for those choices in her life and to those who helped her make them. Yes, her mother and I had some positive influence on her, but we do not take credit for her choices; they are hers alone. But we are proud of her (in that acceptable post-Benson/Uchtdorf sort of way).

It was very cool for me to sit through the session and see it with new eyes, wondering how she saw what I saw. And it is wonderful that she is planning to go back again tomorrow.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My second mission Christmas

It's important that it was the second Christmas of my mission.

The first had not gone so well at all. The first Christmas I'd been in Germany just over a month in a very difficult companionship (and I'd only realized later that I shared the blame for that). The families we knew best were all away for the holiday and finally the branch president and his wife invited us for Christmas dinner. I couldn't reach my parents by phone because no circuits were open and by the time I got through a few days later they weren't at my brother's home any longer.

Poor me. It wasn't a great Christmas.

But the second Christmas was almost magical.

I'd been on my mission over a year and felt more comfortable with myself as a missionary. While my companion leading up to Christmas would never be my best friend, we got along ok and we worked hard together. I was planning a Christmas surprise for him when we got word of his transfer, so I left his gift in his suitcase and he discovered it as he packed.

My new companion, a German, was spectacular. He was relaxed as he entered our companionship four days before Christmas, was calm about the slowness of the work over the holiday, and was quick to engage the members of both the German and American serviceman's branches we worked with. We grew to have an outstanding companionship and we enjoyed working together.

We spent Christmas Eve with our landlady, a widow who lived in one apartment in the house while we had the top floor. She was always kind to us, but Christmas Eve was delightful. We had bought a small tree and decorated it to surprise her and she made a great fuss over our gift. We feasted on hard breads and cheese and meat, sang Christmas songs and shared the Christmas story in her comfortable and well-furnished apartment. Her husband has been a rubber chemist and had a long career with the famous tire makers and his pension left her quite comfortable. She was grateful to have us in the house because we shoveled the snow in the winter, the only demand she made of us besides our very low rent we paid. (When two of the four of us left the apartment a few months later, she cut the rent in half.)

We also benefited from the kindness of members. The American branch had collected food for several weeks before the holiday and we assumed it was for some needy family. We were astonished when it was delivered to our apartment – three boxes of great US-Px food that we hadn't seen since we'd left the States. And on Christmas morning, a gift from the German members arrived on our doorstep, providing us ham and other Christmas meats. (We did no shopping in January thanks to the windfall!)

We spent Christmas Day in the home of the American branch president, and December 26 (Zweiter Fiertag, or Second Holiday in German) with the German branch president and his family.

We were warm, well fed and well loved that Christmas. This Christmas as I have some, but not all of my children at home, I am glad to know that they also are all warm, they will be well fed and they are well loved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Slow down, turn off distractions, and feel the spirit of the season

I had planned to post a series of Christmas memories this week, and I may still get to that. But I need to blog about our sacrament meeting yesterday.

Our bishopric had chosen to do a First Presidency Fireside-style meeting – each member of the bishopric spoke, surrounded by special music by the choir, a men's group, Primary children and some instrumental numbers, as well as congregational singing.

I sang in our two choir numbers and in the men's number. The choir, which has normally sung Hymnplicity arrangements of hymns this year, sang pieces that were different – first Christmas Allelulia, and then the John Rutter arrangement of the Wexford Carol. The Wexford Carol, in particular, was pretty cool to sing. I enjoy John Rutter, though he's challenging for me to sing. I was introduced to him by a ward choir director years ago who attended a choral workshop with him in England quite some time ago. Her excitement about his work was infectious.

The men's group – nine men all together – sang an a capella version of Rise Up Shepherds which went very nicely. There's something about the blending of men's voices that is very cool.

Our Primary chorister is awesome. She was not at all rushed as she arranged the Junior Primary kids and passed out little tiny bells on tongue depressors for them to use during their version of Christmas Bells, and then the Senior Primary sang Come Little Children with some parts and a violin accompaniment.

We had a young man play Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring on his string bass, and the sister who played violin with the Primary also played a violin solo arrangement of Still, Still, Still. I could listen to this violinist all day.

Even the organ was more daring for the day with more brass in the closing hymn and the addition of the 32' bass in the final chorus of Joy To the World.

My observation of these musical sacrament meeting programs is that the spoken word sometimes gets trumped by the music, but that was not the case yesterday. Our bishop's first counselor spoke about the importance of Handel's Messiah in his family as he was growing up, and he quoted from Elder Condie's article in December's Ensign. He then spoke of the Savior's birth and the blessing it was.

The second counselor spoke about the shepherds, and particularly about the fitting irony that they went from being shepherds to seeking their shepherd.

And our good bishop, who is a dear friend, encouraged us to do three things this season:

1. Slow down
2. Turn off distractions
3. Seek and feel the spirit of the season

I was impressed by the care with which the bishopric's messages were prepared and presented. Our bishop is not naturally an outstanding public speaker, something he readily admits. But it never ceases to amaze me the spirit he conveys when he teaches as bishop. He and his counselors had clearly devoted a great deal of effort to their preparation just as the musicians who performed had done. And the result was terrific.

It was a wonderful meeting. And a great beginning to this Christmas week.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gifts of the Spirit - the Gospel Principles Discussion in my HP Group

I did it again in our last high priest group meeting. I made a comment that drew odd looks from my fellow group members.

We were reading in the Gospel Principles manual, Chapter 22 in which some of the gifts of the spirit are enumerated and discussed. I had taught this lesson earlier this year in the Gospel Essentials class and had appreciated the simple discussion of the gifts in that forum. But I was just a little bothered in our high priest group that we were rarely stepping beyond the words on the page as we read.

Finally when we read, "Every person can have a testimony through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit," under the heading The Gift of Knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I decided to speak.

I've written here repeatedly about my understanding that we don't all have each gift of the spirit, and I believe that in my own experience I have sometimes felt one gift when I needed and then another at a different time.

I suggested that while it's true we may all have some testimony of the Savior, those testimonies may not look the same. The answer one person gets to the promise in Moroni 10:4 may come differently than it does for someone else. Some will more easily say they know; others will believe.

I assumed I'd get broad agreement, particularly since D&C 46:11-12 says, "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby,” and the lesson manual quoted those verses on the next page.

I was surprised, however, that some suggested that I was wrong. One brother suggested that this particular gift was a requirement for all. Others suggested that all could get the same answer equally. I suppose that in theory God could choose to do that if He wants to, but my experience is that it does not happen that way. And it's ok that it doesn't.

The Gospel Principles manual continues: "To develop our gifts, we must find out which gifts we have…. We should seek after the best gifts." I agree that there is value in understanding what gifts we have, and petitioning the Lord for those we need. And for recognizing them when they come, even if only temporarily in response to a particular need.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On witnesses

Toward the end of my mission, Elder Theodore M. Burton, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and the equivalent of our Area President (they had a different name then – executive administrator, I think) taught us in a zone conference. Among other things, he suggested that as we study the scriptures we would do well to focus on things the Lord says more than once. He argued that there is less value in hanging onto half a verse of meaning rather than look at messages the Lord repeats.

That is advice that has influenced me in the 30+ years since I heard that message. I was stuck as I read the December Ensign last week because I kept seeing examples of that principle.

In "Three Stars" John B. Rowe cites D&C 6:28 which makes the point: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established." That same point is made in Deuteronomy 19:15 and 2 Corinthians 31:1.

In "Modern Day Fiery Serpents" David Smith recounts the story of the children of Israel who had been bitten by fiery serpents and would be rescued by looking upon the serpent lifted up by Moses. That story is told in Numbers 21, Alma 33, 1 Nephi 17 and 2 Nephi 25. It's a great example of Elder Burton's suggestion that important things are repeated throughout the scriptures.

In the same issue of the Ensign, Elder Hamula refers to another example: Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith (which we can read about in Joseph Smith History) – three visits in one night and another the next day in which Moroni's message does not change. Core to that message is his quoting of the prophet Malachi, as retold in D&C Section 2. Here, as in the other examples, the message is so important it is repeated by prophets of different dispensations, and it is chronologically the first entry in the Doctrine and Covenants (after the later-revealed preface).

As I study the gospel, I am drawn to messages that are repeated in multiple sources more than I am to portions of verses that stand alone.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On turning one

I posted my first entry on this blog a year ago today. I had no idea what to expect. I started my blog for a number of reasons. First, I was driven to write, and blogging allows me to do that. Second, in an article in the October 2009 issue of the Ensign encouraged us to participate in the online dialog about the church.

I said I would blog about my own experience in and with the church, and I've tried to stay true to that mission. A few of my posts have strayed slightly, but in most of them I try to look at my own experiences and what they have taught me.

I've been surprised at the response. Since I started blogging, there have been well over 5,000 views of my blog. My most-viewed entry was coincidentally posted on my birthday, October 4, 2010, about my experience receiving my endowment in the Provo temple before my mission. I think that one got so many views because it was cited in a Mormon Times review of recent blog posts.

I've been recently surprised when people I know tell me they've been reading my blog. It pleases me to know that someone finds it interesting. I suppose if I were more controversial or hit more "hot" topics I might generate more comments, but for now I'm ok with where we are.

Looking back, here are a five of my favorite entries:

Face to Face With Apostles in which I talk about three very brief personal interactions I've had with members of the Quorum of the Twelve

Salt Lake Sealing in which I talk about my experience as a child being sealed to my parents

A Memory of Yom Kippur in which I chronicle a vivid memory of the atonement's becoming real for me

Might I Be Wrong? in which I share a question that is one of the most helpful in my relationships with others

Adam and Eve As Co-Parents in which I discuss the value of moms and dads working together as parents

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Perhaps one of you will reach them

A friend bore her testimony in church yesterday and it really rang true to me. She told of attending a gospel music concert a few weeks ago. One of the singers at that concert bore witness of Christ and encouraged all in the audience to continue to spread the good news. The singer spoke of members of her family who needed the message but that she could not reach. She said, perhaps one of you will reach them.

I think about times in my life when help has come to me when I've needed it most. While sometimes that help has come from those closest to me, often it has come from someone else – a scout leader, a friend, even a stranger. When I was in high school, I know my mother prayed for me to stay true to the church, but it was a remarkable friend I met just before my senior year that helped me renew my resolve to stay active and prepare to serve a mission. When I served in a calling I didn't particularly like, a stake leader with a sincere and open heart loved me enough to help me learn to succeed. When I suffered a deep depression at a time of major upheaval in our family, I know my wife prayed for my relief, but it was a trusted friend who was able to listen and help guide me through that period. And yesterday, when I carried a particular need with me to Fast and Testimony Meeting, it was the testimony of a friend that spoke peace to my soul.

I have loved ones in my life with acute needs, but needs I cannot fill. And I pray that there will be others in their lives who will do what I cannot. I'm reminded of Elder Uchtdorf's talk about our being Christ's hands, blessing others through our lives. I have faith that those people will exist for my loved ones, and that I will be that person for someone else.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Counts?

Sister Beck, in the recent Worldwide Leadership Training, said:

"What counts for the Lord? Is it going to be the meetings? Is it going to be the numbers? […] Or is it going to be the caring?"

As I've thought about this comment, I've reflected on the role of statistics – or the role of what I keep track of -- in my church life. On my mission, statistics were a big deal – how many proselyting hours, how many discussions – though they were less of an issue to my mission president than to his predecessor, who reportedly regularly made transfer decisions based on statistical performance.

An as a leader in the ward, I've often focused on statistics – home teaching, attendance figures, and other measures of activity.

That said, I am not a 100% person. I'm not a 100% home teacher. I'm not sure I've ever been. But I do know and see the families assigned to me who will let me come. I could probably see them more often; I certainly could minister better.

I'm not 100% at scripture reading, meaning I don't read every day. But we read most days in a week as a family (it was much easier during our seminary sabbatical last year when we could read in the mornings; now that I have another child in early morning seminary we're back to reading before bed, which is always more challenging). And I do know the scriptures, and I am in them often, and learning them more.

I can track my tithing faithfulness; I can measure my performance against the key worthiness elements of the Word of Wisdom. But more importantly, I can see blessings for paying tithing and I feel the nudge toward (and the blessings of) the non-worthiness elements of the Word of Wisdom.

I'm glad we no longer collect statistics on temple attendance. I can remember we used to do it in all sorts of ways. The temple has always seemed to me the ultimate in private worship and service. Nevertheless I do have a goal for my own temple attendance, and, more importantly, I can feel when I haven't been in while – I can tell that something is missing in my life.

Bishop Edgley visited our stake quite a number of years ago. In a priesthood leadership session, he put up some statistics on two stakes – one with a very high activity rate as measured by sacrament meeting attendance, temple worthiness (number of endowed members who held recommends), percent of age-appropriate Melchizedek priesthood holders, and so on, and one that was far less active. He then asked us to guess where these stakes were. As it happens, they were both our stake, split statistically between active and less active members. He taught us about the need to minister to the active and less active. He then taught us something that has stuck with me: The Lord does not use statistics since he can read our hearts. But we use them as indicators of where we might look for improvement in ourselves.

I doubt – Sister Beck's comment notwithstanding – that there will be a retreat from the collecting and reporting of statistics, nor do I believe there needs to be. But I hope Sister Beck's comment, like Bishop Edgley's from years ago, will remind us of the proper perspective: in the end, each of us needs to do the best we can. Each of us needs to take the next step, whatever it is. And to the extent we can minister to one another and help one another to take those steps, that's a good thing.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Power of Testimony

In our recent stake conference, Elder Ringwood of the Seventy spoke about testimony. He suggested that for most of us in the church, the reason we do what we do is our testimony – we attend meetings, we home teach, we give service because of our testimony. I found that interesting because we teach that faith is the motivating principle that moves us to action. And therein I find a relationship between testimony and faith.

In that regard, it matters less, I think, if a person says he knows or believes than what his faith or his testimony moves him to do.

Elder Ringwood asked why we were in the leadership meeting we were attending. His answer: our testimonies drove us to be there. Why do we share the gospel? Our testimony drives us to do it. Why do we attend the temple? The power of our testimony moves us there.

There is a bit of circular logic (and he freely admitted that). Our testimony drives us to pay tithing, and paying tithing increases our testimony of doing it. And that pattern repeats itself in many ways in our church lives, whether with family prayer or personal scripture study or repentance.

It's what I call the overflowing principle. Imagine that you are a bowl. The spirit is the water in a pitcher. As one pours water from the pitcher into the bowl, eventually the water will overflow the sides of the bowl and spill out. The best member missionaries are those who simply can't help it – it just overflows out of them. The happiest members of the church I know are those whose water simply overflows.

Those of us who feel like we’re always scraping the bottom of the bowl for a few more drops of water are likely to feel less fulfilled by "doing our duty." And so we need – for our own survival and comfort – to find ways to fill our bowls.

But when we have those days when our bowls are full and overflowing, it can be astonishing what we can do because we are driven by our faith and testimony.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Give Thanks

Oh Thou, who has given us o much, mercifully grant us one more thing -- a grateful heart. (George Herbert)
That quotation hangs on our kitchen wall above the breakfast table. And I think we are a pretty thankful lot in our house. Our kids have learned to thank others for the kindnesses they perform. We thank one another for preparing dinner, for doing chores.

My ten year old daughter often says prayers that are only thank-you prayers, something that really touches me.

We practiced a long-standing family tradition for Thanksgiving this year. The first Family Night of November, we introduce the Thankful Turkey -- a box with a turkey head and tail, and with a slot in the top. The idea is that we should spend the month writing things we're thankful for, and then we read them at Thanksgiving dinner. We also invite guests who come to dinner to contribute their thanks to the turkey.

There were sixteen of us at dinner this year, including out of town visitors. The thank-yous ran the gamut from the general (six or seven "family" entries) to the very specific (thanks for the Relief Society sisters who provided meals while my wife was recuperating from back surgery this month) and everything in between. It was fun to have everyone take turn drawing a slip from the box and reading it. One of the kids even penned thank-yous from our dog Molly and the cousins' dog Owen who was also visiting for the day!

My thanks are wide ranging, too. For specific blessings such as my wife's progress in her recovery from surgery to my children's success in their endeavors to my own continuing employment to the blessings of the gospel in our lives to a home with heat and protection from the elements to plenty of food to eat to the genuine love I feel for my family.

It's amazing the blessings I enjoy. And it's wonderful to take a few days and concentrate on those instead of the challenges (I enjoy plenty of those, too).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Origin of Testimony

In our stake conference this past weekend, Elder Michael Ringwood of the Seventy spoke in our priesthood leadership meeting about, among other things, testimony.

He recounted his experience in an interview with two apostles (prior to his call as a Seventy, I assume, though he did not say). Much of the interview was mechanical in nature. But at the end, one of the apostles asked Elder Ringwood and his wife, "Tell us about the origin of your testimony."

The ensuing discussion in our leadership meeting got me thinking about the origins of my testimony. I use the plural because for me there have been many formative experiences, and there is not just one from which my testimony evolved. But here are some of the origins that occurred to me:

1. When I was a small child, my non-LDS parents read Bible stories to me and said prayers with me at bedtime. I don't know if we did this every night, but we did it often enough that I remember doing it at a very early age. Knowing that my parents were believers made it easy and natural for me to believe, as well.

2. When I was in third grade, a friend invited me to a Primary activity. That invitation set in motion a series of events that eventually led to our family's hearing the missionary discussions and choosing to be baptized. I suppose it's possible that we might have found some other path to membership, but I will forever be grateful to that young friend for his invitation.

3. I remember the night we were baptized. I remember standing in the water with Elder Kelly. I remember watching as my other family members were baptized. I remember the feeling that filled me on that day.

4. Just under a year later, our family was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. In that sealing room, the feeling of the night of my baptism was there again, and I was coming to understand what it felt like to have the Spirit speak to me in that way.

5. At a youth conference before my senior year in high school I met a new friend who was the son of our new mission president. This kid became a good friend who did nothing unusual but be a great friend to me. At the same conference, I felt the tug of the spirit (again) and found myself recommitting myself to prepare for a mission and make better choices than I had been making. Having the added friendship was a real boost to that effort for me.

6. As a freshman at BYU, my roommate introduced me to questions, particularly of church history, that I had never considered before. As I studied those and resolved some of them, I also had a series of spiritual experiences that involved specific answers to prayer, receiving a patriarchal blessing, continued preparation for a mission, and a renewal of my witness that the Book of Mormon was true.

Those foundational origins for me laid groundwork, but did not set limits on my testimony. Instead they were the footings on which the rest of my testimony has been built over the years. It's only as an adult that I've realized that my experience, while not terribly unusual, is not universal. Some have far more subtle origins, and some more dramatic.

I am grateful for those origins, most of which were quite personal and not really the result of someone else's preaching to me. I certainly was affected by talks I heard and teaching I received, but it was, at best, a catalyst, not a reason for my testimony. My parents provided opportunities for me to learn, but did not push me to do so. Those are lessons I need to keep learning as I find my way as a parent.

What are the origins of your testimony?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Allowing Mourning

As I began to write this post I had a flash of a memory from my undergrad days at BYU. We were in one of my English classes, a survey course, I believe, studying Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning." Our instructor, pointing out the need to understand the words before we could understand the poem, indicated the first time she read this poem she substituted "Morning" for "Mourning." And she wondered how anyone could forbid morning from coming.

In Donne's poem, the speaker tries to sooth his lover's mourning at his leaving by presenting a series of metaphysical images which demonstrate how their being apart is actually good for them.

I think about things I have mourned in my life, and about the scriptural injunction to mourn with those that mourn. Of course I have mourned the death of loved ones – first my grandparents in my youth and then my parents when I was an adult. I was relatively young when my grandparents died. The one I remember the most was my mother's father. I knew him better than the others because he spent half of each year in the same town that we lived in. I must have been about 14 when he died (my brother had recently returned from his mission). When my mother gave me the news, I felt nothing. And I was surprised by that. It seemed odd that I didn't feel anything, but there I was.

A day or two later we gathered in the funeral home for a family viewing before Papa's many friends and business associates would file through to pay their respects. When I saw my grandfather in the casket, tears poured from my eyes. I could not control them, nor did I understand them. It was not as if I wanted him to come back; I knew he wouldn't. But the tears were unrelenting.

My mother kindly moved me to a more private part of the funeral home where I continued to weep. My brother, just home from his mission, came in to try to comfort me. He tried to talk about the Plan of Salvation, about life after death. But in the end, he said sometimes we just need to cry, and asked if I wanted him to stay or be alone. After a while, the tears stopped. I blew my nose, and I was done crying.

I have also mourned other losses besides the death of loved ones. I have mourned the loss of my dream of what some of my children would become as they made choices that were radically different from the ones I would have made for them. (I have since learned that it's unfair of me to suppose that my children will choose the dreams I have selected for them; they must be free to choose their own paths.)

I have mourned the loss of opportunities that I either missed or squandered. For instance I work in a job that many would consider to be terrific, but it is not my first choice of profession and does not bring me joy. And for a long time, I mourned what could have been had I traveled a different path. (And at the same time I've learned that work does not have to bring me joy, even though some days I wish it would.)

I have, from time to time, mourned change in my life. When I have left a calling it often has also meant leaving the association of those with whom I worked in that calling. I have mourned the loss of friends who have moved away, or friends I have left behind when I've moved. I have mourned my own innocence when events out of my control showed me more real life consequences than I ever wanted to see. And I've mourned because of mistakes I've made as a parent and as a husband.

When we mourn with those that mourn, what do we do? Of course we bring funeral potatoes. We send sympathy cards or flowers. We offer to help. Sometimes we just listen. And sometimes, like my brother, we let the mourner just cry.

I remember with clarity one friend who mourned with me. We had moved back to the US from an overseas assignment. I had just been released as bishop. The transition back to life in the US was difficult (more difficult than going overseas, as has always been the case for us). Some of my children were not adjusting well, and all the change caused some emotional earthquakes in our home. A good friend had warned me that my release as bishop would likely be followed by a period of depression, and I ignored him. But within months of our return I was, in fact, in a deep depression – fueled by the release, the move, the upheaval in our home.

I finally reached out to a friend who patiently listened as I talked. He read as I wrote. He said very little, really, except to say by what he did that he was there for me, ready to listen and ready to do, if something needed to be done. He encouraged me to visit with the bishop, which I did, but that was not particularly helpful to me. Certainly not as helpful as the listening ear of my dear friend.

And in time, I healed. The sun began to shine on me again. It took years to sort out the tremors in the family (and some still resonate ten years later), but it took much less time for me to find relief. And having someone mourn with me made all the difference.

And it made me look a little closer sometimes for someone whom I might love a little more, encourage a little more, someone who needs someone to mourn with him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Repeating the sacrament prayers

Yesterday one of the priests in our ward had to repeat the sacrament prayer. When that happens, I imagine other congregants do as I do – we say a silent prayer that they young man can find his voice and read the prayer correctly to avoid embarrassment.

Few prayers are delivered word for word in the church, but some that are related to ordinances are, including the sacrament prayers.

I remember two specific experiences that have colored my memories. The first was when I was newly called Teachers Quorum president. Right after a meeting (it might have been a morning Sunday School meeting – we had those back then), I was given a stern talking-to by a newly ordained priest who had to repeat the prayer. He hadn't made a mistake – he read the prayer right from the card – except that he read the wrong prayer. As we teachers set up the sacrament, we had not taken care to be sure the right prayer was facing up on the card.

At the time, I thought (but did not say out loud – this guy was a weightlifter and I was certainly not), "You could check the prayer before your start!" But in the intervening years, I thought he was right: I should magnify my calling and perform my duty as best I can; I should do whatever I can to assist others in performing their duties.

When I became a priest, I worked hard to avoid having to repeat the prayer. I practiced it before I gave it the first time. And the priest who "trained" me (the same one who had the inverted card a year before) recommended I start with the prayer on the bread so I wouldn't have a swarm of deacons around the table distracting me. I may have had to repeat a prayer or two as a priest, but I don’t remember having to do so. In my second memory, I was rescued by my companion:

I was in the MTC – well, I think it was still the LTM officially, but we were in the "new" buildings where the MTC is today. Our branch was made of all German-speaking districts and we did the sacrament prayers in German. Sometime during the course of our stay my companion and I were to bless the sacrament. I practiced the prayer for a couple of days ahead of time. And when the time came, I read the prayer slowly and carefully, and started to stand up when my companion whispered, "Amen." In my zeal to get all those complicated German words right, I'd forgotten the last word. I fell back to my knees, said Amen, and stood. My pride was a little bruised, but my companion was kind about it.

There is value in learning exactness in small things like sacrament prayers as it attunes us to exactness in larger things.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why was it such a great sacrament meeting?

Two Sundays ago we had an awesome sacrament meeting, and I've been trying to figure out what made it so good. I recall I did stay awake for the whole meeting – not sure of the cause and effect there (did I stay awake because it was a great meeting or was it a great meeting because I stayed awake?). All I know is 1 pm sacrament meeting is really tough on me; I never ever took 1 pm classes in college for the same reason.

In any case, going into the meeting I don't remember anything significantly different from other normal weeks. My wife was away doing stake visits associated with her calling, which is not unusual these days. Reverence in the chapel was about normal – a low moan before the meeting, except at the deacons' bench where the chatter is near constant. The hymns were ok; I enjoy singing the hymns and our chorister has a great sense of tempo. My wife is my favorite of our ward's organists, though her new stake calling keeps her away from playing more than we'd both like. But the organist who played is also excellent.

The sacrament itself was not especially different. Our young men generally do a nice job with the sacrament: prayers are understandable when spoken by the priests, and the young men who pass do so with care. They're about as neat and orderly as 12-15 year boys can be.

Our youth speaker was particularly good. Our ward's priests and Laurels, as a rule, do a great job with talks in sacrament meeting. They are typically closer to ten minutes than five, and are carefully prepared and presented. This one, by one of our priests, was on the blessings of the atonement aside from repentance, and it was really quite a nice talk. It displayed a maturing view of the atonement and careful reading of appropriate scriptures and background material. I remember thinking what a great job the young man had done (and I told him so later).

But the talk that really got to me was our second speaker, who happens to be the wife of our bishop's second counselor. She is a young mom, and I don't know her well. Her talk was on the resurrection, and she spoke from the heart using many personal examples of loved ones she has lost and how her testimony of the Savior's resurrection has informed her view of those events at various times in her life.

I think it was the personal nature of her talk that was compelling to me. It caused me to reflect on my own loss of my grandparents in my youth, and my loss of my parents as an adult, and to think about what comfort the Savior's resurrection offered me (more as an adult than as a youth).

But I think the thing that must have made the greatest impact on me was her repeatedly and convincingly bearing testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means in our lives – that we will be resurrected, that we have hope of seeing our deceased loved ones again, that we can become free from the physical pains of this world. As she bore testimony (and she did it throughout her talk in a number of different ways), the spirit washed like waves over me. About two thirds of the way through her talk she quoted Joseph Smith on the truth that mothers would again see their babies that had died. (This topic was a tender one for Joseph and Emma as so many of their children died so young.) I could not stop the tears from flowing, nor did I want to.

(Although my tears were unstoppable, they were not emotional tears. I know myself well enough now to know the difference in me between emotion-driven tears (I cry at Hallmark commercials, for goodness' sake) and what, for me, are spiritual tears.)

She was followed by a soloist who sang "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." The soloist is a friend of mine, and I know that he does know that, as well as any of us can, anyway. After the wonderful talk, I could not look directly at the soloist as he sang, or those emotional tears would have gotten to me.

The final talk was not so special to me; one of our full time missionaries was assigned to speak on family history work (it seemed an odd choice of assignments to me), but that was ok. I was still in the glow of the second talk; I felt like I'd had my spiritual main course already and the young elder's talk was just the dessert. When the ward choir finished with one of my favorite hymns, "Thy Spirit Lord Hath Stirred Our Souls," I agreed that indeed it had.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Promise

In our family scripture reading we finally got to the end of the Book of Mormon (this time it took us about 15 months). As we read Moroni's promise, we talked about all the steps Moroni wants us to take in order to gain a witness of that great book. It's not the simple, "If you were lucky enough to get this book, ask God if it's true and He'll tell you through the Holy Ghost." Here are the key verses:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:3-5).

So first, of course, we must read.

And we must remember God's mercy through the ages, from the creation to now. That presupposes that we have some knowledge of God's mercy during that time. We must become acquainted with that mercy (some of which we get from reading the Book of Mormon, of course).

We need to ponder that mercy in connection with our reading of the Book of Mormon. To me this means that I must ask myself how the Book of Mormon is a continuing sign of God's mercy. How does it demonstrate His mercy to me?

Then when we receive these things (the book, an understanding of the mercy?), THEN we ask God in the name of Christ if these things are not true. I was always bugged by that wording as a missionary. Why should I have people ask if it's NOT true? I wonder sometimes if this makes that particular question more of an offhanded one: go ahead and ask if it isn't true, as if that isn't even a possibility.

Ask with a sincere heart. I can only judge that in myself, but a clue of my sincerity comes in the next phrase: with real intent. What do I intend to do with the knowledge I'm about to receive? If I intend to change my life because of it, then it seems I'm sincere. If I have no intention to change, then how real is my intent?

I must have faith in Christ. Faith is, of course, a motivating force in our lives, encouraging us to act according to the object of our faith. In this case, that faith is to be in Jesus Christ – as testified by the Book of Mormon, I assume. With that faith I would look forward to, among other things, the answer that the Book of Mormon IS true.

If I meet all those conditions, then the Holy Ghost will bear witness to me.

In subsequent verses we're taught to deny not the power of God, the revelatory power of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the spirit which manifest themselves differently to different people. To me, Moroni says: Do not deny that an answer is possible. Have faith that one is possible. It will come.

It has for me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Face to face with apostles

A post over at Wheat and Tares got me thinking about my personal experiences with apostles. I don't have many – I have met only two, and those both briefly. And I shook hands with a third.

The first was in the early 1990s when we lived in Hiroshima, Japan. Elder Maxwell spoke at a stake conference. After the meeting, we were about to set out home and I mentioned to my wife, I'd really like to go back and meet Elder Maxwell and shake his hand. So we took our five kids back inside where he was greeting members on the stage of the auditorium where we'd met. By the time we got there the line had thinned quite a bit. We had first greeted Elder Bateman who was in the area presidency (and chatted about West Africa – my parents had lived there when Elder Bateman, before his call as a general authority, had come on an exploratory trip before the church sent senior couple missionaries there and had met him in their home in Lagos).

When we got to Elder Maxwell, I was so impressed by his gentle manner and his genuine interest in us. I shook his hand and introduced myself, and, not wanting to take any more time than necessary, tried to pull my hand away so I could introduce my wife and children. But he held onto my hand, looked into my eyes and smiled. It was as if he had said, "You waited to see me; let's just share a moment together." Frankly, I was not all together comfortable, but I did feel his love.

Several years later we lived in Venezuela and Elder Hales visited for a regional conference. Because I work for a car company, I was asked to try to arrange a vehicle to transport Elder Hales, and I selfishly agreed to do so on the condition that I could drive it. So I transported Elder Hales and his wife from the airport, and to and from his meetings and hotel. It was a delightful experience to visit with him. He and his family had lived overseas on work assignments prior to his call as a general authority, and it was interesting to hear his perspective on that experience. He also spoke of a rather serious and mysterious illness he'd contracted on an earlier visit to Latin America, one that landed him in the hospital for some time. And he expressed genuine concern for my family and for the ward in which I was the bishop at the time.

After the Sunday meeting, his flight arrangements did not allow him to stay after the meeting to visit with members, so prior to the meeting, he walked through the crowd in the basketball stadium shaking hands. After the meeting, as we waited in the line of cars leaving the stadium to return him to the airport, he saw a disabled man exiting the arena. He asked if I knew who he was, and I identified him as a member of our ward. Elder Hales got out of the car and walked over to him and visited with him briefly as the motorcade waited. I was touched by his attention to individual members despite the realization that his commercial flight would not wait for him if he were late.

The third – just a handshake -- was with Elder Packer. He spoke at a regional conference in our state. While we watched the Sunday session on a live video feed, I attended the priesthood leadership session in person the day before. I sat just a few rows from the stand as he instructed us for most of the meeting. Much of the time he answered questions from the audience and taught us based on the questions that were asked. I felt that some of his teaching applied specifically to me, and some didn't. As he left the chapel, he shook hands with those of us who were close enough to the aisle to do so.

It was impressive to me to sit at that apostle's feet and receive his instruction and blessing and to feel the spirit bear witness of his message.

These three men were each quite different in their approach. They taught different subjects. Each spoke in his own style. But in each case, I felt a confirming witness of their divine call. My heart was touched by their message. And my life was improved by being in their presence.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reaction to the Labels Iron Rod and Liahona

In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is the last of a four entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.

Brother Poll's response to his own 1967 article was published in Dialogue in 1983. Brother Poll summarizes one result of his original article, "The article did little, I confess, to make Mormons of the two tendencies feel more accepting of each other. Its most significant contribution. . . was to help make the Liahonas more accepting of themselves" (1983, p. 70).

Poll summarizes some responses he received, including defensive ones from self-declared Iron Rods and sympathetic ones from self-declared Liahonas. He then maintains his characterization and provides more texture to the differences between the two.

In a subsequent article, "Explorations in Mormon Social Character: Beyond the Liahona and Iron Rod", Jeffery Jacob (June 1989) attempts to categorize the social structure of the church even more by expanding on Poll's binary model. And I'm sure that others have also tried to characterize members of the church. (Frankly, I didn't get Jacob's article; it was far more technical that I was ready to try to comprehend.)

The key premise – and to me one of great value -- of Poll's analysis, however, was the faithfulness of both of his groups. They did not differ so much in the what but the how as it related to gospel living. He contends that both groups attend the temple, serve in the church in various positions, and attempt to lead honorable lives. He also notes that members of both groups also fall away.

In the end, if the symbols are to be helpful to us, I believe they are so personally. I can judge where I am on the spectrum, but I need not judge where someone else is. Recognizing that faithful members can be at either end or somewhere in between suggests to me that I can also be accepting of others as they are. It is not mine to judge someone's motives or even his or her actions. Even those called to judge do so within a relatively limited set of circumstances.

As a comment to my first post on this subject, one respondent said, "Creating dichotomies … seems to me more divisive than unifying, which kind of hurts the purpose of the Church." I agree that concentrating on differences is not always helpful, especially when we are trying to be "many members, yet but one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Iron Rod and Liahona as Symbols of Saints

In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is the third of a few entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.

Poll's essay does a great service by giving voice to a difference which exists among faithful Latter-day Saints. Critical to Brother Poll's view is that both types of Saints are faithful, contributing members; one is not meant to be seen as better than the other. This notion that we can be different and still be faithful is reinforced for me in the writings of Paul:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10).

Of course the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants also teach of the diversity of spiritual gifts.

Paul continues, however, and makes the point again with a different metaphor:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

The point is, the church is made up by many types of members, and together we strengthen and love one another. We are not, necessarily, meant to be the same.

I'd like to look at the symbols Poll chose to mark his two groups, the iron rod and the liahona.

I recognize that often for illustrative purposes we take existing elements and relate them to whatever point we are trying to make. Elder Packer spoke of the Savior's teaching that something was "like unto" something else. So I understand that the terms, while not a perfect fit to their symbols, can still have value.

Brother Poll suggests for the Iron Rod Saint that the way, though not easy, is clear. I agree he is correct, as far as the iron rod reaches. But in Lehi's dream, even those who arrived at the tree were lured away. So although the way is clear, the Iron Rod is not sufficient to guarantee safety, only safety along the way. Now Brother Poll may have accurately described members' view of the Iron Rod, but I don't think it accurately describes the rod in our lives. Clinging to the word of God will, in fact, allow us to feel God's love in our life, to know His condescension as Nephi describes. But even once we know that love, we are at risk of forgetting it, being ashamed of it, or simply wandering away through our own negligence. The answer is not going back to the path to hold on to the rod. It is to stay at the tree!

In writing this, I don't suggest Brother Poll is incorrect to characterize some members in the way he does, but to suggest those members who believe that holding onto the iron rod is all they need to do may not understand the nuance of Lehi's dream.

Brother Poll characterizes the liahona as a compass which functions differently depending on the circumstances of the user. My reading is that when the user was faithful and diligent, the compass functioned; when he was not, it did not. It is not as if it gave one answer to one and a different answer to another. Further, Brother Poll suggests that it pointed the way, but did not mark a clear path. Fair enough, but when followed it provided enough information to guide its faithful and diligent user to the desired end. If the compass was not infallible, as Brother Poll writes, it is not because of the compass.

As I stated in my first part of this series, I view the iron rod and the liahona as two manifestations of the same thing. As we heed God's teachings, as we are faithful and diligent, we draw nearer to Him, to His direction in our lives. As we follow His direction, we, in turn will be drawn ever closer to Him. As we ignore his teachings, we either let go of the iron rod, or we suffer loss of connection with the liahona, and we are left to wander on our own. But the atoning sacrifice of the Savior helps to restore the connection, to place us back on the path.

Well, Brother Poll selected the labels he did, and those labels served if nothing else to generate discussion. My view is that the labels work to a point, but if we reduce our understanding of those scriptural symbols to the labels, then we will misunderstand the scriptural symbols. But if we use those symbols to foster understanding and acceptance of one another, then perhaps they will have served well.

Next: Reaction to the Labels

Monday, October 25, 2010

Iron Rod Saints & Liahona Saints

In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is second of a few entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.

In Brother Poll's sermon, he coins the terms Iron Rod Saints and Liahona Saints. His words:

The Iron Rod was the Word of God. To the person with his hand on the rod, each step of the journey to the tree of life was plainly defined; he had only to hold on as he moved forward. In Lehi's dream the way was not easy, but it was clear.

The Liahona, in contrast, was a compass. It pointed to the destination but did not fully mark the path; indeed, the clarity of its directions varied with the circumstances of the user. For Lehi's family the sacred instrument was a reminder of their temporal and eternal goals, but it was no infallible delineator of their course….

The Iron Rod Saint does not look for questions but for answers, and in the gospel – as he understands it – he finds or is confident that he can find the answer to every important question. The Liahona Saint, on the other hand, is preoccupied with questions and skeptical of answers; he finds in the gospel – as he understands it – answers to enough important questions so that he can function purposefully without answers to the rest ("What the Church Means to People Like Me," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 2 (Winter 1967): 107-17).

Brother Poll's sermon / article then does quite a wonderful job of describing two types of faithful Latter-day Saints. He self-identifies with the second, and speaks of the blessings the church has to offer someone like him.

I first encountered his essay reprinted in A Thoughtful Faith. It's the first essay in a collection which touches on the growth of testimony beyond simple knowledge to sophisticated faith. (Simple and sophisticated are my words, not those of the essayists. I recognize that both are somewhat charged words, but I use them here with positive intent: while it is true that a simple testimony may be for some sufficient to sustain faith, life in a complicated world requires for some a more sophisticated approach. Poll's essay makes clear that there is room for both in the church.)

Brother Poll paints two types of saints as quoted above. In a subsequent entry, I'll discuss his terms. But here I'll simply state that I don't believe it is a binary state – one may not be either Iron Rod or Liahona. I find myself identifying with both, and at different times in my life I have felt closer to and found more comfort in one position or the other. (I should note that my observation is hardly earth-shattering; Poll himself discusses the matter in his follow-up essay, cited below.)

I acknowledge that Brother Poll gave voice to a circumstance that is not unique and is, in fact, quite compelling. He presented a follow-up essay in 1982 by which time over 1,500 reprints of his original Dialogue article had "found their way into circulation…. The sermon has been reprinted in Sunstone and its argument figures porimnently in the conclusion of Arrington and Bitton's The Mormon Experience" ("Liahona and Iron Rod Revisited," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, June 1983, p. 70).

Note -- I've included links to the Dialogue articles, but please check out Dialogue's website here.

Next: Iron Rod and Liahona as Symbols of Saints

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Iron Rod and the Liahona

In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is one of a few entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.

In this month's general conference, I heard two references to the iron rod. I don't know if it was mentioned more than usual, but it was enough that I took notice and went back and counted. Sister Wixom and Sister Cook both spoke of it. And there were no references to the liahona that I noticed.

The mention of the iron rod got me thinking enough that we had a family night on the two this week. We know the iron rod comes from Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. It is a means of conveying people safely from their starting point through the mist of darkness and along the river of filty water to the Tree of Life where they may partake of the fruit of the tree – the love of God. Nephi learns that the iron rod is the word of God.

In the dream, despite the physical stability and safety of a rod of iron, some still let go of the rod and wander in the mist of darkness or are tempted away by those in the great and spacious building. The faithful needed to do something in order to take advantage of the iron rod – they needed to take hold and continue holding on. If the iron rod is the word of God, it would suggest that we need to take hold of the word (study it, follow it, live it) and keep holding on (endure to the end).

It is interesting to me, however, that once they arrived at the tree and tasted of the fruit, some still fell away mostly because they had, as Lehi recounts, been led away by those of the world in the great and spacious building. Even when we taste the fruit of the love of God we must be watchful, presumably continuing to study, follow and live the word of God and endure to the end.

The liahona -- a two- spindled compass with changing writing -- is different. (It occurred to me as I taught my family about the liahona this past week that cell phones today also have directional indicators and writing that changes regularly.) The liahona appears under mystical circumstances to lead Lehi's family further on their journey in the wilderness, and it operates by the faith and diligence of those who use it. There is, in my reading, no indication that the behavior that typifies holding onto the rod of iron is any different from the behavior that allows the liahona to work.

For me, the iron rod and the liahona are two separate images that teach similar lessons, namely that our arrival at the blessings of God's love come through following His word.

Next: Iron Rod Saints and Liahona Saints

Monday, October 18, 2010

Talk tips from the Seventy

As I've been listening to conference again during my daily commute, I've been impressed by the talks of many of the Seventy. I really enjoy General Conference as a rule, and like many, I have some speakers I typically like more than others.

Through the years I've had more than one opportunity to be the person who selected themes for Sacrament Meetings, and for years I followed the common model to invite people to start with a conference talk in preparing their own. (In fairness, I assigned a topic with a conference talk as a reference, not a talk as topic.)

There are great apostolic talks that I still remember through the years. In October 2000, Elder Hales gave what I still consider to be The Talk on Baptism. Elder Oaks gave a talk on the sacrament in April 1985 that teaches clear truths about taking the name of Christ upon ourselves . Elder Holland's "None Were With Him" provided eloquent comfort for all who stand alone at one time or another in their lives.

Those apostolic sermons are impressive and teach us a great deal. But I think the talks of the Seventy are great models for us as we prepare our own talks. Typically they are shorter – about 10 minutes in length. (Even the apostles speak only for about 15 minutes these days, with members of the First Presidency only taking a little longer.) Often they are focused on one theme, idea or concept. They often include scriptural foundation, teaching of the modern prophets and personal experience to illustrate the point.

For instance, from this conference:

Elder Gong's talk about temple mirrors, family history and temple covenants drew on his own Chinese ancestry, his mother's convert experience, and his own reflections on his family.

Elder Kearon's talk to young men in the priesthood session (and its message easily adapted to all members) spoke of his own boyhood error of disobeying his parents out of laziness and rebellion and the positive scriptural example of the Anti Nephi-Lehis who had buried their weapons of war and rebellion.

Elder Oceda told a story of a father who learned a lesson of humilty after behaving badly with his family regarding family scripture reading.

Elder Jensen's personal story of seeking his testimony as a missionary led to a discussion of the role of the Holy Ghost and his personal story of the loss of a grandson while Elder and Sister Jenser were serving out of the country reinforced his quoted teaching of President Monson regarding the Holy Ghost's role as comforter.

Elder Lawrence used his own experience – as well as Alma's -- to teach about parenting teenagers.

Elder Malm used the object lesson of a hollow tree in Gothenburg, Sweden as a contrast to the healthy path of accepting the blessings of the atonement in our lives through obedience to commandments and the sustaining influence of the spirit.

Elder Mazzagardi's account of his interview with his granddaughter while walking around a lake prior to her baptism allowed him to teach us the dangers of the influence of the adversary.

Elder Arnold's story of his wife's "stupid cow" will help us to remember the value of fences to protect us in our lives.

As I think about future assignments to speak, I'll remember these examples of teaching from personal experience, from the scriptures and from the words of the living prophets.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lessons on parenting

Sometimes themes emerge in my life. Recently several areas of my life have converged to teach me a couple of lessons on parenting.

I have seven children, and just the youngest two are at home. One is a teenager and the other is right on the cusp of that turbulent period. You'd think by now I'd have this parenting of teenagers down, but one lesson I learned long ago is that each one is different and it takes some time to learn the individual approach required.

In conference I heard two talks that hit me in the eyes as a father. First (in the order it impressed me, not the order given) was Elder Lawrence's talk on courageous parenting. In it he suggested that parents who have misgivings about their children's choices should express those misgivings. But it was the subtlety of a story he told that really impressed me:

Years ago our 17-year-old son wanted to go on a weekend trip with his friends, who were all good boys. He asked for permission to go. I wanted to say yes, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable about the trip. I shared my feelings with my wife, who was very supportive. “We need to listen to that warning voice,” she said.

Of course, our son was disappointed and asked why we didn’t want him to go. I answered honestly that I didn’t know why. “I just don’t feel good about it,” I explained, “and I love you too much to ignore these feelings inside.” I was quite surprised when he said, “That’s OK, Dad. I understand.”
What impressed me is that he expressed his concern for his son without a rule, without citing a higher authority (or demanding deference to himself as the authority). He simply told his son that he didn't feel good about the decision.

The second conference talk that hit me was Elder Uceda's in the priesthood session, in which he told of a father who demanded compliance with his plan for family scripture study. The father, after his daughter ran from the room, did two things that were impressive to me. First, he prayed, acknowledging to the Lord his error in the way he spoke to his child. Then he humbly apologized to the child. It may seem too much a coincidence that the child was also ready to apologize and seek her father's forgiveness, but I'm not at all surprised by that. The father was humble enough in his apology to accept his daughter's reading about the natural man as applying to him when the daughter intended it for herself.

That prayerful humility is powerful.

The third lesson came from Sister Sylvia Allred, First Counselor in the General Relief Society presidency. She spoke at an Interfaith event sponsored by my company last week about strengthening families. After reviewing the pressure on families' time in recent years (citing a time-diary study from the University of Michigan using data from 1981 and 1997) she reiterated (without explicitly saying so) the lessons of Elder Oaks' "good, better, best" principle of priority setting in the use of scare family time. And, among other things, she urged the audience (which included people of many faiths) to have dinner with their families. That simple act of eating together would, she said, contribute to family unity, allow for conversation, and help improve family diets.

Having missed dinner at home a few times in the past two weeks, I know that I have missed that interaction with my children.

Listening for the promptings of the spirit, prayerfully and humbly seeking reconciliation when needed, and spending quality time together – what great and simple lessons for parents, especially for me.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My profile at

So, I've added a picture of myself at the right. (It's a little scary, isn't it? I might have to work to get it smaller…) If you click on the photo you'll go to my profile at

I thought for some time before completing a profile. I was helped in my decision by reading about others' profiles, and their answers to frequently asked questions on a few other blogs. I decided that I wanted to participate in the conversation there.

Will anyone actually see my profile? I don't know. (I suppose you will, if you click on my picture.) I don't know how many profiles they have at, but it seems like they have plenty. And unless someone really wants to search for old white men from North America (you can search by gender, age, nationality and key words), I doubt mine will pop very often.

As I responded to FAQs, I selected a few, and tried to give short answers (to one I gave a one-word answer; I couldn't be briefer than that!). I chose short answers because I suspected that people reading would not want to wade through my words.
I also was honest. I responded to the question: "What have you done successfully to shield your family from unwanted influences?" In my response I was clear that I had in fact not fully "succeeded," that some of my children made choices different from the ones I would have made for them. But I also stressed that I respect their agency and we still love them and embrace them in our family.

So, have a look if you like. And create your own, if you like. And feel free to give me feedback on mine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Temple Memories -- Washington DC

Fourth in a series of Temple Memories, inspired by the new Temples booklet which came as the October Ensign.

I was in high school when the Washington DC Temple was dedicated. Along with other primary children, I'd contributed change to help fund its building. I did not attend the dedication itself because of school conflicts, but I went within the year on my only trip to do baptisms for the dead.

My sisters and I made the five-hour drive with a family group sheet that included our grandparents as parents. We had misunderstood the policy and believed that we could bring that family group record to the temple and do the baptisms without having the names cleared first. I think it hurt the poor sister in the baptistery to tell us we couldn't do the baptisms than it hurt us. She did mention, however, that there was another group coming to do baptisms, and perhaps we could join them. We did join them.

I don't remember anything about the group, but I do remember the experience of being baptized multiple times, and of the repeated confirmations. The temple worker who performed the confirmations spoke very quickly as he said the prayer and read the names. On just one of the names he stumbled, and the whole process was over almost before it began. As I stood up to leave he told me that he wondered if when he stumbled on a name if it meant that person was not ready to accept the baptism and confirmation that had just been performed. I didn't answer him and thought to myself that maybe he'd just stumbled on the name because sometimes that happens. But I allowed for the fact that I didn't have any evidence either way, so perhaps he could be right.

I returned to the Washington DC Temple almost ten years later. Living again in Pittsburgh for graduate school brought us back to that temple district. Attending was not simple, since it meant sorting out child care, overnight arrangements and paying for the trip (we were hungry grad students, after all!). Fortunately my wife had an aunt in the area who was a great help on some of our trips.

On one occasion, in response to an invitation from our bishop, we prepared for a ward temple trip. The idea was that every ward member should somehow participate – preparing names, attending sessions, doing baptisms, or providing other service to allow others to participate. He encouraged me to invite my parents, who had since moved from that ward, to come with us.

I prepared names for my father's aunts and uncles and their parents and submitted them. On our day in the temple, baptisms were performed, we and other ward members did endowment work, and then at the end of the day, my parents, my sister, my wife and I found ourselves in a small sealing room where we sealed those aunts and uncles to their parents. Aside from my own sealing to my parents and my sealing to my wife, it was one of the choicest experiences I've had in the temple. My father, who knew these aunts and uncles when he was a boy, said he imagined his aunt Ethyl in the room embracing each of her siblings after his or her sealing to their parents. Through the experience we felt such a closeness to my father's grandmother Annie that we chose that name for our oldest daughter. And that tie to her has propelled us to do more research and more temple work on her line since.

On that day in the temple, my heart was turned not only to my "fathers" – the ancestors whose work we did, but also to my own father who was there in the room with me. I felt a spiritual closeness to him that new to me, and it was quite a gift in my life. Though he was ever faithful since his conversion to the gospel, he did not speak easily about spiritual things, but his sharing his vision of his Aunt Ethyl in that sacred place was a treasure.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Provo Endowment

This is third of a series of posts on my own temple experiences, inspired by the new Temples booklet issued in place of the October Ensign. The prior posts are here and here.

Like most young men who serve missions, I received my endowment shortly before entering the MTC. In my case, it was the day before. I was endowed in the Provo Utah Temple, and accompanying me that day was my college freshman roommate, who was also receiving his endowment, and who was also entering the MTC the next day (though we didn't go to the same mission).

I suppose I would have preferred to go to the temple with my folks, but my dad was working out of the country and could not make a trip home before I left to go to the Washington DC Temple. And it did not bother me in any way that he could not.

As my friend and I walked from our motel to the temple that morning, we encountered a truck that was cleaning the sidewalk outside the Marriott Center on BYU's campus. I assumed the driver saw us and would let us pass, but my friend thought he would spray us with water, which he did! I was about to get mad when my friend laughed it off and said that sort of thing always happened on one's first trip to the temple. (Indeed I've since heard far more significant stories of hardship associated with that first trip.) By the time we arrived at the door to the temple, we were dry.

If the kind folks at the Provo Temple were concerned about our arriving without escorts, they didn't say anything about it. I did notice that they took great care not to lose us, and I suppose our big "Own Endowment" tags pinned to our shirts helped with that.

My bishop had done a pretty good job of preparing me for that first visit. Without giving too much detail, he helped me be aware of what would happen and in what order so that I was not surprised at any step of the way. I don't know if he gave me the advice or not, but somewhere along the way I decided that there was no way I was going to remember everything, so I decided just to let it wash over me and I tried to capture feelings and images rather than specific points along the way. I figured I'd be back again a few times over the next two months. That strategy worked for me, and I have recommended it to other first time attenders I have known.

The spirit of the temple was amazing to me. I was reminded repeatedly of how I had felt in the Salt Lake Temple nine years (almost to the day) earlier. I certainly came away with plenty of questions, and without an experienced escort, I had no one to ask, but that didn't trouble me, either. I do remember the kindness of two sisters who worked in the temple and seemed to keep their eyes on my friend and me throughout our day. They made sure we were on the right escalator and headed into the right room, and they whispered gentle instruction to us about where we could and could not talk and what we could or could not discuss.

Of course during my stay at the MTC, I did get to return each week, so in the course of that time I had nine visits to the temple in as many weeks. I appreciated a meeting with the temple president the first day I attended as a missionary in which we could ask any question we wanted. I was too timid to ask my questions, but some of them were asked by others, and his answers satisfied me at the time.

My impressions as a boy had been confirmed. The temple was a place of peace, a place of happiness, and now a place of learning and of service. And I still found myself wanting to return.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Salt Lake Sealing

I was just about 8 weeks from my 10th birthday when we drove to Salt Lake to be sealed. We had been members of the church less than a year, but our mission president had petitioned for us to go early. Only many years later did I see the letter from Elder Ezra Taft Benson to our mission president granting the permission that we go early.

We were baptized in September, but went to the temple in August because that's when Dad could get a week away and when my siblings and I wouldn't have school conflicts. We drove out and back pulling our six-man travel trailer behind the station wagon. My parents drove nearly straight through from Pittsburgh, and as an adult now I can only imagine how fatiguing the trip must have been.

We stayed at a KOA campground just north of Point of the Mountain, and on Tuesday morning we all drove together to the temple. My older brother, two older sisters and I were ushered in to a waiting area while my parents went through their endowment session. I don't remember much, except that we were dressed in white while we waited, and we were entertained by another much younger boy (a toddler, I think) while he waited for his parents, too.

When the time finally came, a sister walked us to our sealing room. I have no idea the route we took, since it was my first of only three times in the Salt Lake Temple (and the other two would be as an adult for weddings). I remember lots of chandeliers, a large staircase, and the sealing room itself. It was a small oval-shaped room with just a few chairs and of course mirrors in gold-painted frames hanging opposite one another.

My parents were in the room as was our branch president and his wife and probably another witness and the sealer of course, though I don't remember that.

What I do remember is kneeling around the altar with my parents. I have no idea if they had already been sealed or if we witnessed that (I assume we did not witness it), but I do remember the six of us around the altar together. And I remember the free flowing tears following the sealing itself. We looked at one another in the "eternal" mirrors, we hugged and cried.

I can't pretend that I understood everything then that I do now about the sealing (nor can I pretend I understand everything about the sealing now!), but I do know how I felt: The temple was a place of peace, of happiness, and a place where I wanted to return. Even at that young age, I attributed the peace that I felt to the influence of the spirit, and that experience kneeling around the altar with my parents has been and continues to be a key landmark in my path to testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and His restored church.

I am grateful that my own children have been born in the covenant, owing to my wife's and my having been sealed at the time of our marriage, but I sometimes wish they could have had the powerful spiritual experience I did as a young boy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I love to see the temple

My new Ensign arrived yesterday. That is, my substitute for the Ensign. The church has updated and republished its Temples booklet and sent it to all Ensign and Liahona subscribers. I like the new edition.

The reasons given for the reprint? The old version was out of stock in various languages, the old version excluded many of the new temples, and (of course) the old version didn't include a message from our present prophet, President Monson.

I enjoyed leafing through last night to see the temple photos. Personally, I would have enjoyed more large-format photos of temples rather than of people illustrating various articles, but I was pleased to see so many temples represented throughout the magazine.

I also enjoyed seeing detail shots from some of the temples featured. The interior murals from the Manhattan New York Temple were a surprise to me. Very cool.

I live in Southeast Michigan where we have the Detroit Michigan Temple, dedicated in October 1999. Having a temple so close (we're about 45 minutes away) is an incredible blessing. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and our family drove to the nearest temple to be sealed in 1968 – Salt Lake City. When the Washington, DC temple was dedicated in the 1970's we counted ourselves about as lucky as we could be.

I've spent time at BYU in the shadow of the Provo Utah Temple, and during my years there I had periods of taking good advantage of that resource and years in which I was distracted by other things. After grad school in Pittsburgh, we moved to Michigan and the Chicago Illinois Temple was the closest – about as long a drive as Washington was from Pittsburgh, unless there was a traffic issue in Chicago (and when wasn't there?). The Toronto Ontario Temple shortened our commute, and was personally delightful for me because my wife and I were able to sing in the choir for one of the dedicatory sessions.

When "our" temple was announced in Michigan we could hardly believe it. We did not grow up here and do not have the same sense of history that some do in this area (though we've now called Michigan home for over 20 years), but we know that the foundations for the Detroit Michigan Temple were laid by many saints working over many years to build the church here.

The Detroit Temple sits on Woodward Avenue. At the groundbreaking, the Bloomfield Hills stake president suggested it was likely Joseph Smith had passed the site of the temple, as Woodward Avenue is likely the road that Stephen Mack (Joseph's uncle) had paid to build between his farm in Pontiac and the city of Detroit.

At the dedication of the Detroit Temple, I sat in the stake center next door with our children who attended while my wife played the organ for the choir in the celestial room. (I gave up my seat -- available to me as spouse of the organist -- in the celestial room to be with our kids.) My wife remembers hearing President Hinckley talk about his lovely wife while she sat on the front row. Since my wife was at the organ, she had a clear view of Sister Hinckley during the president's tender remarks. It was quite a moving experience.

The new Temples magazine includes an edited version of President Hunter's article on our being a temple-going people. It's one of my favorites as President Hunter taught repeatedly that we are a temple-motivated, temple-loving, temple-attending people. He encouraged us to hold a recommend even when we were not close enough to attend a temple regularly.

I'll write about some of my temple experiences over the next few posts. I've laid some of the groundwork here, but for me temple worship is uniquely private, personal and sacred. Like so many spiritual things, common physical experiences do not always yield the same spiritual result. But for me, the temple has been a place of peace, of comfort, of testimony, of learning, of growth.

The new Temple magazine will be available for viewing at, though it wasn't yet there when I checked this morning.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On obtaining faith

I have written before about my inability to explain why two people can share similar experiences and emerge with different spiritual results -- why one develops faith and another turns away. My recent study of faith doesn't directly answer that question, but it does give some clues for obtaining faith.

Last week I posted an object lesson on faith, one that I used in my lesson to my high priest's group last Sunday. In the course of that lesson preparation, I also reread the Lectures on Faith. I had first read the lectures in the MTC when I was interested in how faith worked. (My poor MTC companion was worried at my "extracurricular" reading at the time, fearing that I had honed in too closely on one topic, but I wasn't worried, and it turned out to be an illuminating time for me.)

The Lectures on Faith used to be included with the Doctrine and Covenants, appearing before the revelations in editions from 1835-1921. They were removed because they are not revelations to the church, and they have not been canonized. There is evidence that Joseph had assistance from other brethren in their preparation. But the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants included an introductory letter signed by the First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdrey, Sidney Rigdon and F.G. Williams) in which the lectures are described "as delivered before a Theological class in this place [Kirtland, Ohio], and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation…." (quoted in Lectures on Faith, Publisher's Preface, 1985).

In the third lecture we read of
three things [which] are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfection, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive… (Lecture 3:2-5).

It is interesting to me that the lectures teach that we must have knowledge in order to have faith, namely knowledge that the course we are pursuing is consistent with God's will. The Savior teaches in John that it is by living the gospel that we gain that knowledge (John 7:17). Clearly, some iterative process is required.

The sixth lecture includes the famous quotation: "…a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation…" (v. 7). The verse continues:
…from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.
Verse 8 continues,
It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.
It would seem, therefore, that the gift of faith cited in Alma 32 is not a gift cheaply given. It is won at a price of great sacrifice – even of all earthly things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A memory of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur was this past weekend.

I think about it each fall, not because I celebrate the Jewish Day of Atonement.

But I do remember the day with fondness.

Years ago when I was serving as bishop, I had been meeting with a couple over a series of visits. In our last session together, the brother observed that it was Yom Kippur. He was grateful that the Day of Atonement reminded him to enjoy the blessings of the atonement in his life.

As I drove home from that interview, I thought about my son. At the time, I was unhappy with him and his choices. Two years earlier (almost to the day, as it turned out), I had written a self-righteous letter encouraging him to take advantage of the atonement in his life.

On this particular night, I got home and found that letter, reread it, and then wrote a new one. In the new letter I apologized for the first. And I acknowledged that it was I who needed to seek the blessings of the atonement.

Yes, I was his father. Yes, I wanted what was best for him. But brow-beating him into submission was the wrong way for me to invite him to come unto Christ. And, looking back on key events in our shared lives, I realized that I’d done more than my share of brow-beating, albeit subtly at times.

That was years ago. I’m pleased to report that my son is a forgiving man, and that we enjoy a wonderful relationship. I have my son and the atonement to thank for that, because through the atonement I am able to change. And I’m grateful for Yom Kippur to remind me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Musings on Faith

I'm teaching the High Priests on Sunday about faith, and so I'm musing a bit.

An object lesson:

If you want light in a room, what do you do? Turn on the light.

Why? Because for years, in fact many times a day, we get light be flipping a wall switch. We learned early in life that flipping that switch made a light come on.

What happens if the light doesn't come on? Do we stop flipping wall switches? No. In fact, usually if the light doesn't come on, we try the switch two or three more times, just to be sure! And then we begin to check the elements of the circuit: we change the light bulb. We check the connection of the wires to the light fixture and the switch. We may even swap out the switch.

But we do not give up flipping the wall switches. Why? Because we have faith in the flipping of the wall switch. That action has worked so well for us in the past we "know" it should work. Of course we do not know it works each time, but we've seen it enough to "know" that it should work.

We may even have studied enough to know how it works. Our knowledge of physics reinforces our own experience and confirms what we "know" to be true: the flipping of a light switch turns on the light.

Our faith in the Savior can be similar. Many of us have already had a variety of experiences that have built our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have read His words, lived his teachings, received priesthood ordinances, given service in His name, and likely felt the spirit somewhere along the way. So we have faith in Him and His teachings.

We may even have learned other historical or scientific evidence that underpins our testimony.

If we encounter a bump in our spiritual road, it might be like flipping that switch and not getting any light. Just as we don't give up on flipping light switches, we also don't give up our faith in the Savior. Instead, we look at our bump in the road and seek understanding. Sometimes it comes quickly and sometimes it doesn't. But if we are wise, we continue to flip those spiritual light switches. We continue to study, to pray, to participate in ordinances, to continue to serve, in short, to exercise our faith. And we check our own spiritual circuitry to be sure our connection is what it should be.

And in His time, we find resolution. It may come in the form of a specific answer. Or it may simply come as peace.