Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to rear perfect children...

Well, I don't know how to rear perfect children.

Parenting is one of the most daunting responsibilities we'll ever know. I honestly think if we had any idea how hard it would be we wouldn't go there. But parenting can also be a great source of joy and awe. Sometimes we get both ends of the spectrum in the same day.

Just as we have our agency, so do our kids. They will make choices. Period. It's up to us as parents to sort out how to respond. Over time I'm learning (I've been a dad for almost 29 years, and I have seven kids) that the best responses are calm ones that allow consequences (good or bad) for choices our kids make. Parental anger doesn't do anyone any good (especially the angry parent).

My wife and I taught a parenting class at a stake women's conference last weekend. A central part of our discussion was the difference between rules and boundaries.

Rules are there to guide behavior. And they apply to everyone in one way or another. When we drive, we follow the rules – we stop at stop signs; we don't speed; we honor traffic signals. In our homes we follow rules, too. We go to bed on time (though not everyone may have the same bedtime); we treat one another with respect; we don't sing at the dinner table.

If someone breaks a rule, there's a consequence. Some are natural consequences – if you don't take an umbrella and it rains, you get wet; if you tell lies about your friend, she won't want to be your friend for long. Some are imposed consequences – if you come home late with the car, you can't drive for a week; if you play in the street, you have a time out on the step (because as a parent, I don't want you to have the natural consequence of getting hit by a car).

Of course rules need to be pretty simple or Mom and Dad are constantly in Police Mode. But consistency is also important if we want our kids to learn.

That said, sometimes our kids will choose to break the rules. They may want to test us and see if we'll be consistent. And maybe the "price" they pay is worth whatever benefit they get from breaking the rule that day. (How often do you think an occasional speeding ticket is "worth" being able to get there faster?) In fact we want our kids to break some rules so they learn from (or with) us how to overcome the resulting consequences.

As our children get older, their behavior may be more outrageous to us. In middle school kids will begin to be exposed to drinking and drugs, and some may try these. Sometimes our kids will make choices that offend us or may even endanger us. We can try rules, but the kids may ignore them. In that instance, we may also need to establish boundaries.

Boundaries exist to protect us, not to change our kids' behavior. If the always-angry teenage boy constantly yells at his mother, she can impose a boundary of simply not being available to listen to his tirade. (I realize that with very loud teenagers, just leaving the room may not keep us from hearing them, but at least we're not in the same room.) When we set a boundary, the consequence is something the boundary setter can do, not something the offender does. So in the case of the mom and the angry teen, Mom needs to take action – she leaves, she closes the door, she puts on noise cancelling headphones. It's her choice to do something she can control to protect herself.

Another example: If I need a certain number of hours' sleep, and if I need everyone to be home before I can sleep, then I can say to my teenager that I need to be in bed by 11 pm, and I need to have you home by then. If you aren't home by 11, I will lock the doors, and you will have to sleep somewhere else.

(By the way, boundaries work in many situations, not just with surly kids. You might establish a boundary with a co-worker or a spouse, too. Even people who normally have very positive and healthy relationships can have boundaries to keep those relationships positive and healthy.)

There are gospel principles underlying these suggestions. First, when Eve and Adam prayed after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God gave them commandments. Those commandments were a sign of His love for them and their children, and provided a structure, a path, back to Him. Similarly, we have rules for our children out of love for them, so we can prepare them to be successful in life and in returning to God.

Second, even when our kids do things we don't like, we can still love them. Our love, however, is (or can be) universal, but not necessarily unconditional. Elder Nelson taught that God's love is not unconditional, because His blessings (a sign of His love) are conditional upon our obedience ("Divine Love," Ensign, Feb 2003). The boundaries help us to establish those conditions in our lives.

Finally, perhaps Mary was the greatest mom in the scriptures, because she allowed her son to reach His full potential. Granted, he had some divine help with that task, but as He was growing in wisdom and stature, it's likely he had some maternal influence, too. Mary trusted Father in Heaven to do His part. We can have the same trust in our lives, to allow our children to walk their own paths home to Heavenly Father. We may not always understand how that path twists and turns. But we can have faith that He understands. He loves our children as much as we do (perhaps even more), and He has just as much at stake in their eternal success. We're wise to let Him help.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Prayer is the Soul's Sincere Desire

Since our priesthood lesson a couple of weeks ago, I've thought about prayer a little more.

I've been a member of the church since I was nearly nine years old (my parents and siblings and I are converts), and I prayed with my parents as long as I can remember. Prior to our joining the church, blessings on the food were common in our home, and at night we'd say The Lord's Prayer and / or "Now I lay me down to sleep…" After joining the church, blessings on the food continued and we had regular family prayers, and we were encouraged at home (and of course at church) to pray individually, too.

A favorite childhood memory was trying to say prayer after some family nights. My mom played piano, and after FHE, we'd gather round the Steinway in the living room and sing hymns. Dad kept asking for one more and one more. We'd sing and then become remarkably silly (not sure why), and by the time we'd kneel for prayer it was nearly impossible for everyone to keep a straight face. On more than one occasion, Dad suggested we simply allow Heavenly Father in on the joke so we could get through the prayer.

Around age 13 I was called as deacons quorum president. I was told to go home and pray about whom to call as counselors. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I knew how to pray. So I knelt by my bed several nights and asked who I should call. One name kept coming to me, so I assumed that was the right choice. (It wasn't like there were a lot of alternatives; we were a typical small quorum of five or six boys.) I recommended him and the bishop approved. That was likely my first "answer" to prayer that I recognized as such.

Over the years, I took to heart the counsel in Alma 34 that we ought to pray about everything in our life, and ask for blessings. As a young man I typically felt that my prayers for others were more readily answered than prayers for myself, or at least more directly. I learned from the example of a great district leader on my mission to pray for our investigators by name. When he prayed in our district meetings, he mentioned each investigator and often something particular about where they were in the lessons or what question they were trying to answer at the time. I've been fortunate to see positive answers to my prayers on behalf of family members, friends and those I home teach.

As I've entertained gospel questions through the years – probably beginning in my late high school years when I really started to wake up to a desire to know more than I did – I've found that I rarely got burning answers during my prayers. Instead my prayers have framed my study, and answers have come later as I've read or listened to others. Even so, I've been able to link those answers to specific prayers enough that I see the relationship in my life.

I've relied on prayer in my callings where I've had responsibility to minister to others or to handle matters of administration such as extending callings, staffing organizations, organizing meetings. In some cases, like when I was a deacon, names have come clearly to me in prayer. In other cases, I've felt the warm confirming spirit as others have recommended names to me to consider.

I remember a lesson taught me by a loving stake president who once told me he couldn't explain to me why a particular name I'd recommended had not been approved. He said simply, "The spirit tells me yes or no, not why."

Several years ago, because of some challenges in our family, I had been in the habit of giving the Lord my laundry list of wants in prayer, expecting that if I had enough faith, and if I were righteous enough, these "desires of my heart" would be granted. They were righteous desires: safety for my children, and healing for some who were in desperate need. Sometimes I'd remember a perfunctory "Thy will be done" at the end of my prayers, though probably not always (and not often enough to actually demonstrate my faith in His will).

I had a rather large epiphany along the way. Thanks to a variety of sources converging on me at the same time, it occurred to me that I might have it wrong. Yes, I was concerned about specific things, and yes I hoped for specific outcomes. But those outcomes were out of my control. And I believed that my Heavenly Father loved all the players involved. And my prayers changed. I moved from praying for a specific outcome – my desired outcome – to praying for understanding of what I should do, how I should respond.

I have found much more peace in this approach. While previously I worried how things would end up, and I cringed each time it seemed things were going awry, now I know that the Lord is at the helm, and all I need to do is seek to understand His will for me (and do the best I can), and trust that He'll do the rest. In this way, I've been able to lay my burden at His feet.

I read Alma 34 now and think about my new understanding (after all these years). Surely it is good to seek the Lord's blessing in every aspect of our lives as Amulek recommends. In so doing, we learn humility, for when those blessings come we can recognize they are the Lord's blessings and not only the results of our labor.

But I believe it is also good to seek the Lord's will for us. Elder Eyring said in October General Conference in 2005, "We can pray every day to know what God would have us do. We can commit to start to do it quickly when the answer comes. My experience is that He always answers such petitions" ("Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady," Ensign, November 2005).

Seeking to understand the Lord's will for me is one way in which I can say with my whole heart, "Thy will be done." And that attitude allows me from time to time also to pray for specific outcomes, but with the faith that His will supersedes mine every time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

On forgiveness

I was reading the April issue of Reader's Digest and was irked by an article on forgiveness. The author suggested that universal forgiveness was wrong, that sometimes holding a grudge had value, and implied that forgiveness should only be granted when the offender deserves it.

The author was wrong.

In my experience, forgiveness has very little to do with the one who offends me or hurts me, and it has everything to do with me.

In a Law-of-Moses-Eye-for-an-Eye world, retaliation and justice and punishment seem to be the rule. In a world of forgiveness, justice has its place, but forgiveness allows the offended (not necessarily the offender) to be free of the burden of the offense.

In granting forgiveness, we allow the blessings of the atonement to work in our lives. Lest we somehow think that the atonement is only for the sinner, let's remember Alma's words:

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word light be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:11-12).

The Savior bore all our pains so that he may succor us in our infirmity, whether as sinner or innocent victim.

By extending forgiveness, with the help of the Savior, we can take advantage of His atoning sacrifice.

A friend wrote the following:

"Forgiveness, I have found, is not a passive thing. It takes work. And, in some cases, LOTS of work. It requires a constant effort to be kind to those who have wronged you, to not talk behind their back and only say uplifting things about them. It requires constant prayer and meditation, and a WILLINGNESS TO LET GO. Forgiveness cannot be fully achieved until those who have been wronged can LET GO of what the offender did or didn't do."

It is valuable to note that forgiveness does not rob justice. Nor does it mean we need to put ourselves in a venerable position in the future.

Though we may forgive someone who physically hurt us or our property, that person is still subject to laws and should enjoy the consequences of his actions. We may even forgive someone and still not be able to continue contact.

It is tempting at this point, concentrating on the benefits of forgiveness to the forgiver, to wonder if forgiveness is a selfish act. It may be, but at its best I do not believe it is. I believe it is an act that – like other holy acts in our lives – helps to align us with the Savior.

Part of forgiveness is recognizing what is ours and what is not. In mortality, judgment belongs to our justice system, not to us. In the eternities, it belongs to God, not to us. What belongs to us is the need to forgive. And the blessings of forgiveness belong to us, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I know what I know. Do I know what I don't know? And is it ok if I don't know?

In this post I plow some ground that I've been over before; thanks for you patience.

Last week I got a little heated under my collar at a discussion I participated in with R. Gary on a thread at Clean Cut's blog. Without discussing the particular point of doctrine, here's the gist:

R. Gary advanced an argument, based on statements of modern prophets. Fair enough. I sustain the prophets, too, and I'm ok with looking to them for wisdom and truth – in fact, I encourage it, and do it in my own life, too. (And I encourage you to do the same!)

But R. Gary and I didn't interpret the particular quotation in the same way. I asked questions. R. Gary responded openly and in a very straightforward manner based on his understanding. And I was offended that I felt he suggested that I was something less than faithful.

My characterization of his response to me was unfair. I should not have taken offense. R. Gary is as near as I can tell a faithful latter-day saint, and is welcome to his views, which he clearly has carefully studied out in his own mind and balanced against public statements of the brethren.

I admit it. I'm not as certain as R. Gary on the point of doctrine he cites. I agree that he has a list of quotations. And I understand where he is coming from. But I don't agree with his conclusion. We are simply not on the same page. That doesn't mean he is wrong. I know I'm not right, because I don't know the answer, yet. I am still very unsettled on the question.

But the conflict points out to me an interesting possibility in the church, and that is that if we take a collection of members, it's highly likely that we're in different places in our understanding of doctrine. And that should be no surprise, because we each have different experiences. Some are new to the church; others are more seasoned. Some have intense interest in finer points of doctrine. Others are content to lead good lives, keep the commandments, and not sweat the details of those finer points. Some put questions "on the shelf" for later consideration (I'm a fan of that method, by the way, as it's worked well for me in the past), and others just aren't interested.

I heard Elder Theodore M. Burton speak on my mission. He was a member of the Seventy at the time, and he suggested that our testimony is like a circle. He said if our testimony is small, the circumference of the circle – the border of our testimony – is also small. We know what we know, but we don't know what we don't know. As our testimony grows, he said, the border of our testimony also grows, and we become increasingly aware of what we don't know. And since we know more, we become aware that there is much more that we do not understand.

This teaching has helped me to keep questions that I've had in check over the years. I'm able to be comforted by what I do know, by past spiritual experiences, by the confirming witness that comes sometimes when I sit in sacrament meeting or in the temple, by the truths I've been taught from the scriptures, and by the confirming witness I have as I sustain church leaders.

That I have continuing questions about certain points of doctrine or history does not make me less faithful. For me, the presence of questions means that I am still seeking, still trying to learn, hopefully while doing my best to live the gospel as I should. If I know these things about myself, then I can also assume them for others who are still learning, too.

As for the last question in my title – is it ok if I don't know? I think so. After all, if I knew everything, there would be no need for faith.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Priesthood Keys

I attended a district conference during a business trip recently. One of the branch presidents from the district spoke in the priesthood session about priesthood keys, and his talk moved me to do a little more study to confirm some of the things he said, and to reinforce my own understanding. Yesterday in the Gospel Principles class I teach, we talked about keys, too, so this all dovetailed nicely.

Church leaders have spoken on keys of the priesthood from time to time. Generally keys of the priesthood are required in directing the work of the priesthood. We believe that when John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey that not only did he give them priesthood power, but also priesthood keys. And others came to restore other keys.

Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith conferred those keys on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which allowed for the orderly direction of the Lord's work after Joseph was gone. Wilford Woodruff reported: “On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: ‘Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you’ ” (quoted by Eyring in "Faith and Keys" in October 2004 General Conference).

Today, priesthood keys are held by those who lead in the priesthood: The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, stake presidents, bishops, and elders, teachers and deacons quorum presidents, as well as mission presidents and temple presidents. Their counselors do not hold keys (see Priesthood Keys in "Priesthood" at Gospel Topics at

So is the matter of keys simply an arcane item of church government? I don't think so. It is through keys that the authority to perform ordinances is given. For instance, a bishop authorizes a faithful priest or holder of the Melchizedek priesthood to baptize in his ward. A deacon's quorum president makes assignments for the passing of the sacrament. A stake president authorizes the ordination of a new elder, and grants keys to a new bishop to serve in his stake. Without the proper keys, the proper exercise of the priesthood is impossible. And it is through the exercise of the priesthood in the ordinances of the gospel that we see the power of God in our lives (see D&C 84:19-22).

Elder Eyring gives other reasons for the importance of keys. He says:

"…All of us who serve others in the true Church want to help those we love gain a lasting testimony that the keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord’s servants in His Church. I speak today to encourage all who labor to instill and strengthen that testimony.

"It will help to recognize some things. First, God is persistent and generous in offering the blessings of priesthood power to His children. Second, His children must choose for themselves to qualify for and receive those blessings. And third, Satan, the enemy of righteousness, has from the beginning tried to undermine the faith necessary to receive the blessings made possible by priesthood power"
(Faith and Keys).

I was touched by the third one. Elder Eyring goes on at some length to teach the need not to see our keys-bearing priesthood leaders as who they were before they held keys, but rather to recognize that they are more than who they were because of the keys they hold.

My present bishop is a very good friend of mine. We have served together in a variety of ways over the years, and our sons (now 13) have practically grown up together. I know him to be a good man, and as a friend I would do anything for him. But it is important for me to see him as more than the good man who is my friend. He is also my bishop. He carries that mantel (and he carries it well because the Lord loves him and is blessing him in his service). I cannot fully express the blessing it was to me when the Spirit confirmed for me that he was called of God to serve as he does. One day he'll be released, and maybe I'll be able to call him by his first name again.* But for now, I pray for him and I honor him as my bishop because he holds priesthood keys.

Elder Eyring continues:

"We must…know for ourselves that the Lord restored His Church and the priesthood keys through the Prophet Joseph Smith. And we must have an assurance through the Holy Ghost, refreshed often, that those keys have been passed without interruption to the living prophet and that the Lord blesses and directs His people through the line of priesthood keys which reaches down through presidents of stakes and of districts and through bishops and branch presidents to us, wherever we are and no matter how far from the prophet and the apostles....

"Satan will always work on the Saints of God to undermine their faith in priesthood keys. One way he does it is to point out the humanity of those who hold them. He can in that way weaken our testimony and so cut us loose from the line of keys by which the Lord ties us to Him and can take us and our families home to Him and to our Heavenly Father….

"To keep ourselves grounded in the Lord’s Church, we can and must train our eyes to recognize the power of the Lord in the service of those He has called. We must be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. And we need to pray for the Holy Ghost to help us know that men who lead us hold this power. For me, such prayers are most often answered when I am fully engaged in the Lord’s service myself"
("Faith and Keys").

My own experience is similar. I will see the keys of the priesthood active in priesthood leaders when I'm engaged in the Lord's service.

*Don't get hung up on this point. I call my good friend Bishop because he's my bishop. Others still call their good friends by their first name privately, but use official church titles in public.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Otterson on Beck and Wallis

Posting two entries in one day is rare for me (in fact, I've never done it before, and I don't expect to do it again). But I couldn't wait:

Three cheers for LDS Church Head of Public Affairs Michael Otterson for his continuing participation in discussions of interest in the On Faith blog. In this entry he responds to the social justice question bantied about between Glenn Beck and Rev. Jim Wallis.

My praise for Otterson's post is because:

1. He responds civilly and with a cool head

2. He cites the virtues of both Beck and Wallis and villifies neither

3. He recognizes the difference between a religious and political issue

4. He recognizes issues that reach beyond the US borders

5. I happen to embrace and agree with what he says

I hope you enjoy his post as much as I did. You may also be interested to know that the Church Newroom's blog also links to his post.

Seeking Counsel

I've been engaged in a conversation about seeking counsel from church leaders over at another blog, and I decided to consolidate some of my thoughts on this subject.

A couple of premises from which I operate as a member of the LDS Church:

1. I have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and the restoration of priesthood authority which allows for administration of ordinances and the organization of the church.

2. Men and women who serve in leadership callings in the church are called by inspiration. The Fifth Article of Faith says they are called "by prophecy and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."

3. Those who serve come from a "lay" ministry. Although General Authorities serve full time, clergy in our church do not receive specific training in the ministry beyond what is available to us all: study of the scriptures and inspiration (or revelation) for their stewardship. Although local leaders (bishops and stake presidents) spend part of their time in offering counsel to individual members they are not particularly trained to do so; they do not receive academic training in their leadership capacity in psychology or counseling.

4. I have served as a bishop twice (once in Latin America and once in the United States), so I have my own experience, and I have spoken with others I know who have similarly served, but I am not aware of rigorous academic study of counseling practices among lay leaders in the LDS church.

5. Members generally respect the office of bishop and stake president; they have faith that men who hold those callings are called of God and can speak for Him. This faith comes from their experience with good men who have served in those roles, along with the teaching that we trust in the Lord and in His servants, and we accept inspired words as His words. Often seasoned members will respect the office more than they do an individual who serves in that office, meaning they recognize that the calling comes with certain gifts and blessings from the Lord. Seeking advice from your bishop is not the same as seeking advice from a trusted friend.

6. The men who serve in these callings are (in my experience) good men who do their best to serve in the way the Lord wants them to. They rely on their own experience (often as counselors to other bishops, for instance), on training they receive, on the scriptures, on the handbook of instructions and other church policy, and on personal pleas to the Lord for wisdom and guidance in specific cases. But these men are not perfect, and they are not infallible. Sometimes their counsel is limited by their own experience. Sometimes they do not know what they do not know. Sometimes they may not have read the latest policy, or do not remember it.

That last point may be troubling to some.

I remember a play I wrote when I was in college. In it, a bishop expressed private doubts to his stake president about a decision he had made as bishop. My father-in-law, a very faithful and somewhat conservative Latter-day Saint, was troubled by my characterizing the bishop as doubting, not because bishops do not have doubts, but because he worried that I might unfairly suggest that doubt is a regular part of a bishop's experience.

I do not believe that bishops spend a lot of time in doubt; they may simply not have time. In one ward I served, I easily spent twenty or more hours a week "bishoping" in addition to my 50-60 hours a week of work. (It was only later that I realized what a toll my service had on my family, and my next time around I tried to be more sensitive, though the time required really was more a sacrifice by my family than by me.)

Knowing that bishops are not perfect (I used to joke when I was a bishop that no one should think I was perfect, and if they did, they should consult my teenagers, who could set them straight), one might worry whether a bishop is acting under inspiration. This question seems to pop up often – wondering for instance when the General Authorities are speaking for themselves or for God. And of course the same question may apply for bishops and stake presidents.

The problems that may arise are easy to imagine. If we assume leaders are always inspired, we will be obedient, but may be troubled by discrepancies of history or finer points of doctrine or our own spiritual experiences. If we assume leaders are not always inspired then we are left with inevitable inconsistency in the application of their counsel.

Here are some ways I have come to terms with this question. These ideas are not new with me, but they do work for me.

1. If I receive a calling, I assume that calling is from the Lord. I know the process that most leaders follow when issuing a calling. Auxiliary leaders pray about the calling and offer inspired recommendations to bishoprics, and bishoprics pray to confirm the correctness of calls. Even if a call is uninspired, it would rarely be detrimental to accept it, but in my experience, the callings I've received have been great blessings to me, even if I was reluctant to accept initially. (I do remember one occasion when my wife received a calling she questioned. She asked if she could pray about it for a few days, sincerely not wanting to decline. By the following Sunday, the bishopric member who had issued the calling informed her that the bishopric had reconsidered and extended a different calling instead.) I remember sweet experiences extending calls where the person to be called seemed to be aware of the calling before I extended it. On one occasion, I was extending a release and in the middle of the interview I received the distinct impression that I should not extend the release after all, so I didn't. I am comfortable assuming that calls (and releases) come from the Lord, and I can seek that confirmation for myself, as well.

2. If I receive counsel over the pulpit, I assume it is the result of significant preparation. I understand that general authorities give a great deal of time and effort in preparing general conference talks. I have heard accounts of multiple drafts, reworking, rewording, and seeking the right nuance of meaning. If I have a concern about the counsel, I can seek my own confirming witness. I do not know if local leaders spend the same time and effort in their public addresses, and stories I hear suggest there is a wide variety of experience. I know the care I took when I spoke in sacrament meeting, and I try to assume that others do the same. (I reserve this position for counsel, but not necessarily for doctrine or history; if a bishop reads a source that has the history wrong, he may well repeat the wrong history.)

3. If I receive counsel in a blessing, I accept it as revelation for me. Elder Oaks' talk has caused me to think about this principle, and frankly I'm still working on it. But if my stake president were to give me a blessing that I sought, or pronounced a blessing while setting me apart, I would accept the words he spoke as revelation. This is particularly so if the blessing came after I had prepared myself and the person pronouncing the blessing had prepared himself. Of course I still have the opportunity to go to the Lord in private prayer to discuss particulars of a blessing for further understanding.

4. If I receive counsel in an interview, I try to have an open conversation with the interviewer to understand the counsel, why the interviewer recommends it, and how I should receive it (am I getting his opinion or am I getting inspired counsel?). Frankly, most often in an interview setting I'm told to go find my own answer. In fact, sometimes that's the answer I'm given in a blessing as well. In this kind of counsel, as in all counsel, I look for consistency with the scriptures, accepted church policy and the teachings of the prophets. When I gave counsel in an interview, I tried to hold to the same standard. One stake president suggested that the bishop in an interview should spend less than 20% of the time talking, and the other 80% praying for inspiration to say the right thing. Not bad advice.

I am grateful for the opportunity to receive personal revelation and for a faith which teaches me that is possible. I'm also grateful for inspired leaders who likewise receive revelation for their stewardships.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of the People, By the People and For the People

I've been on vacation this week with my family, and we travelled to Washington, DC, via Gettysburg. As a result, I've been more reflective about my country, its founding fathers and principles, and about my own political views.

This is my sixth trip to Washington DC, and my third in the last fifteen years (we've come about every five years with our kids; the last two at home are 13 and 9). For this trip and the last we stopped in Gettyburg on our way to DC, and this time, after a brief stop in Gettysburg, we ended up on the Mall in Washington the same day.

So we stood at sunset in the Lincoln Memorial, and reviewed together the words chiseled into the south wall of the monument, the text of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Just hours before we had driven the self-guided tour across the fields of Gettysburg where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers gave their lives in an astounding show of valor, and where the Union armies finally began to turn the war in favor of the north.

Lincoln's words on that occasion, elegant in their brevity, remind me of the source of our nation's strength, and cite the conflict that divided them: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

He concludes indicating that the ground which they were dedicating as a cemetery had already been hallowed by the blood of the fallen, and suggests instead: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

At stake for Lincoln was the fate of the Union. In a presentation given in the National Museum of American History (one of the Smithsonians), we listened to a film which suggested for Lincoln his first priority was preservation of the Union, and all else came second to that priority as he prosecuted the war, and has he wrote and signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In Lincoln we had, as happens through history, a man forged for a particular point in time, a man who rose to a challenge and faced it and led his nation through it. It was not without pain and sacrifice, as his Gettysburg address makes clear. And it was not without controversy, as his own assassination demonstrated. But through it our nation survived.

Today we find our public discourse mired in discontent. A duly elected president and members of a duly elected congress are enacting a health care plan they campaigned on. Yet there are those who feel their liberty is at risk because of government interference in their lives, and because of the implicit tax that the new health care legislation places on those who would otherwise choose not to be covered (and the actual tax increase on some to help pay the cost). Some feel that the political brinksmanship under which this new plan has been enacted diminishes its legitimacy (though the methodology is legal and has been used before). And to hear some commentators tell it, we are either on the road to ruin economically because of run-away costs (or their potential) or because of the loss of basic freedoms or both. There is stark argument about whether there is a right to health care, and whether there is a right to be free of it.

Indeed, I would not be surprised to see either side quote Lincoln to support their view. But for me the point of remembering Lincoln in this instance is that no war is needed. There is an established political process – in fact several – that will allow us to move forward peacefully (even if the discussions are rancorous). First, midterm elections will soon be upon us and voters once again will have the chance to exercise their franchise, just as they did when electing the present congress and president. Second, the court's check-and-balance of the legislature will allow some to test the correctness of the measure at hand and how it came to be.

I'm grateful to live in the country I do, knowing that this matter will sort itself out. The debate will continue to be vigorous, and I hope that the debate may proceed on its merits (though I am not so naïve as to believe it will limit itself to the merits of the matter, Elder Cook's counsel notwithstanding).

Mormons teach that there are blessings for those who live righteously, and the Book of Mormon promises that is especially so for those who live on the American continent. As a result, members of the LDS church have passionate views about politics. I've expressed before that there are not political litmus tests for worthiness, and I believe that is so. I also personally do not generally favor citing religious views to support political positions. But I am glad to know my fellow saints will engage in the debate with their countrymen. And I'm grateful to live in a country where the engagement of the citizenry continues to encourage a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Conference Impressions

Here are some of my favorites from Sunday's conference sessions:

1. Elder Uchtdorf's message, "You are Christ's hands." I appreciate his thought that we ought not to make others feel deficient, and that it is wrong to suggest those who suffer deserve their suffering.

2. Elder Scott's Easter message, which echoed Elder Holland's from last year that suggested that God did not forsake the Savior on the cross.

3. Elder Cook's call for civility in our discourse even when we disagree, suggesting that a measure of how we follow the Savior can be seen in how we disagree.

4. President Monson's touching Easter message with the greatest words in Christendom including the words, "He is risen!" That the darkness of death can be dispelled by the light of truth. I was particularly touched hearing the story of the family who lost a son to illness while sitting in the home of a family that had done the same.

5. Elder Nelson's linking of Family History to the atonement, and his gentle prodding that I need to get to work!

6. Elder Hales story: "Grandpa, are you in there?"

7. That Elder Foster is a farmer and a rancher.

8. Elder Anderson's recommendation that we speak more of Jesus Christ with our children.

9. President Monson's concluding counsel to look to the lighthouse of the Lord.

What touched you?

Saturday Conference Impressions

After the first day of conference, I've already begun assembling some favorite thoughts and passages:

1. President Monson's going "off script" in his opening remarks to talk about his beloved Frances. Very sweet and human view of this couple who have spent so many years together.

2. Elder Packer's discussion of authority and power of the priesthood. I had heard his telling of the story of the ordination of the pre-mission elder in a leadership meeting in Michigan. He also noted then that he could have ordained the father if need be, but didn't call it a battlefield promotion that time. Nice touch.

3. Sister Beck's discussion of personal revelation as being most important for women. And her quoting of Eliza R. Snow was awesome!

4. Elder Anderson's reminder of the experience on Parley Street in Nauvoo. I reflected on my own tears as I read those signs he talked about and was appropriately jolted by the hope he described in those departing Nauvoo residents. His reiteration of the need for proper profession care for those who suffer from clinical depression impressed me, too.

5. I was grateful for my mother and my wife as I listened to Elder Ballard.

6. Elder Perry's memories of his mother's preparing for lessons was wonderful, and hinted that such careful preparation is even possible with highly "correlated" lessons. I remembered my mother's helping my dad research high council talks, and how she prepared her own lessons. And I think about my wife's preparations for her Relief Society lessons.

7. Elder Christopherson's comment that God's commandments give protection from self-inflicted pain.

8. Elder Bednar's concept of an early warning signal in our homes (and wondering how I've done with that in the past), coupled with Elder Eyring's call to rescue early.

9. Elder Holland's frank and honest discussion of pornography, done in his own remarkable style.

10. Elder Oaks' clear discussion of healing blessings, clarifying the need to take advantage of all methods of healing, including blessings. His acknowledgement that faith to do miracles exists outside the church as well as in. And his teaching that the words of the blessing are not the most important part (to suggest that we should not fear being voice).

11. Elder Rasband's look into how missionary assignments are made.

12. The First Presidency messages from General Priesthood: Patience, Diligence and Standards. Masterful discourses all. I agree with President Monson: it was one of the best priesthood sessions I've attended.

What touched you?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

General Conference!

It's about twenty minutes to conference, and I'm as excited as I can be. The semi-annual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a great gift to me.

It hasn't always been so. I grew up in Pittsburgh where we watched one session on public television, sometimes at home and sometimes at church, but usually on a Fast Sunday (so as a kid I sat in the kitchen watching TV but not being able to eat!).

When I got to BYU as a freshman, conference was everywhere, but I didn't watch it all. It was not part of my habit.

While I was in the MTC, I watched all the sessions of conference for the first time in my life. I made connections between the speakers, discovered some speakers I really enjoyed and others I didn't understand so well. But mostly, watching the conference in that setting, I caught the spirit of the meetings, the talks, the music. I took notes, and learned new things.

When I was on my mission in Germany, I saw or heard very little of conference until my last one when I listened to direct-wire broadcast of a couple of sessions, one in German and one in English (for the benefit of the US servicemen who shared the chapel we attended).

When I came home, I made more of an effort to listen and / or watch, though sometimes a college work schedule interfered. But it wasn't until I went to grad school back in Pittsburgh that I really became an adult convert to the "all sessions" conference. I had the assignment to do a follow-up lesson in Elders Quorum on the conference, so I determined I would attend all the sessions at our stake center (where our ward met). We took the kids along and they played in the children's room while we watched on the TV there. That became our pattern for years to come until we could listen or watch at home on the internet.

When we lived in Japan, tapes were made available to us well after conference. In Venezuela, we received tapes made by my wife's brother (he lived in Ogden), and we arranged to watch a session at church after sacrament meeting several weeks after conference. In Taiwan, we had "conference weekend" the week following conference in Salt Lake, and again we watched at home via computer.

Now that we're back in the US, we are watching while visiting family over conference weekend.

I still take notes, even though I haven't done a conference summary lesson since I taught institute in my stake several years ago. Note taking helps to focus my attention and to note key messages (for me) in the speakers. I enjoy returning to the conference issue of the Ensign, and listening to the talks again on my i-Pod.

Enjoy conference! (And tune in at, if you like!)