Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Missionary moments

I’m the ward mission leader in my ward. And I’m afraid I'm not particularly good at it.

Yes, I love the missionaries, and I love teaching with them (and I’m pretty good at that), and I love teaching the Gospel Essentials class from time to time (and I’m pretty good at that, so I’m told). But I’m not great at sharing the gospel one-on-one with those I meet.

But I came across two things this week that have motivated me to make a greater effort.

First, an article in Forbes about Clayton Christensen. Brother Christensen served as an area authority seventy in our area and attended our stake conference a number of years ago. His teaching on missionary work (and everything else) was superb. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife had an article in the Ensign about how to share the gospel with others.

In the Forbes article, Christensen discusses his own health concerns (suffering heart attack, cancer and stroke in succession) and his views on health care. Christensen is a Harvard professor and consultant and super smart. He’s highly respected, oft-quoted in his field, and in demand. And in this Forbes article, he talks about his gospel life as much as his research and his own medical experience. His gospel experience is just as much a part of him as his skin and he speaks about it freely.

For instance as he begin to talk about his first heart attack:

For seven years I was one of ten people who have responsibility for the Mormon Church in the northeast quadrant of North America. Almost every week I had to go to a city where all of the churches in the area [known as a "stake"] came together to have a conference. My job was to help them be better Mormons.

I got assigned to go to Montreal. The stake president in Montreal was a physician. We stayed at his home. At the meetings on Saturday the feeling of the spirit of God in that room was deeper than I have ever felt in my life. It was extraordinary. You walk out of it just committed to improve your lives for better.

He was talking about his heart attack. He could just have easily said, “I was on a trip in Montreal and staying with a doctor,” but he didn’t.

Even more intriguing is what he says next:

We were sleeping in the extra room in their basement. At about 3 o'clock in the morning I just had a horrible pain in my chest. I never had a heart attack before. This was something bad. I was thinking, if I wake Christine and tell her, she'll wake the stake president and they'll take me to the hospital. It's going to mess up a wonderful meeting on Sunday. And there are 1,000 members of the church who are going to come to that meeting. So I knelt down at the side of the bed and I said to God, "I have a problem. Whatever this is could you please just make it go away?" And it went away. I fell asleep and the meetings on Sunday were comparable to the ones on Saturday. The meetings ended about 9 p.m. on Sunday night, so then we started to drive back to Boston.

He then explains that the next day (Monday, Veterans Day) he had another heart attack while raking leaves and then finally went to the hospital.

In those brief paragraphs he covers church leadership, feeling the spirit in church meetings, personal prayer, and miraculous healing.

If it were me, I might have said, “I had my first scare on a trip to Montreal, but the big one came the next day when I got home.”

The second thing that motivates me? This video from the Church’s Youth website: (Note: I haven't quite mastered how to embed videos, so it may already be playing. If so, run your cursor over the video and you'll get a chance to reset it to the beginning.)

Watching it, I was reminded of my own experience of being invited to church by a friend.

I need to talk more freely about my church experience, and I think I need to invite more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My best Easter ever

No, it wasn't today. But today was great. Our bishopric gave inspiring talks about the Savior and His life and ministry. We had a wonderful Easter dinner with extended family. And we had a wonderful spirit as we read scriptures tonight before the kids went to bed.

But my best Easter Sunday is still fresh in my mind. I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh about a quarter century ago, attending as an adult the ward I attended as a child. It was General Conference weekend, and there was something wrong with the satellite dish, so we couldn't get the first bit of the first Sunday session of conference.

Someone asked the bishop if we could sing hymns until the dish was fixed. He went one step further and assigned an opening hymn and prayer, and another hymn, and then, he announced, I would read the Easter story from John. During the hymns I madly searched for the Easter story in John (Chapter 20, I quickly discovered).

I don't know why he asked me to read it. Perhaps because I was sitting on the front row. Perhaps because I was teaching seminary at the time. Perhaps because he thought I could read through it clearly. Perhaps because he wanted me to have the blessing of doing it.

As I stood before the congregation and read, it was a remarkable experience for me. As I read those words aloud, the truth of the resurrection and the events surrounding it swelled in my heart. The confirmation of the spirit was clear and strong for me that day, and returns each time I read that chapter.

It happened again today as I deviated from our planned lesson in Gospel Essentials and read John 20 with our class today. (We did spend time on our planned lesson, too, but the meat was clearly in John.)

And it happened again in our living room as we read together as a family.

I'm grateful for that confirming witness that reminds me of our Savior's love for us, and for me.

Friday, April 22, 2011


My oldest daughter (and fourth child) graduated from BYU today. She’s the second of our kids to graduate college, and the first to graduate from BYU. It was hard not to think of our own graduation (my wife and I received our bachelor’s degrees together in 1983) and make comparisons. Her graduation was much larger than ours (hers in April, ours in August). Her commencement speaker was Richard G. Scott (delightful!); ours was Hugh Nibley (also delightful, but in quite different ways).

Our daughter is quite nervous leaving the safety of BYU, though she will also tell you she is ready. She has no job, yet, but has a few leads, including a big interview next week that we hope will go well. And she has a backup plan or two in case that doesn’t pan out. If all else fails, she can spend a while at our house and sort out options for the future.

As I look with her toward her future, I also look toward my own. I’m coming ever closer to the time when I said I’d go back and certify to teach, and wonder if I ever will. I face my own uncertainty about those big decisions that can change the future, and it’s no easier for me than for my daughter. In some ways it’s more difficult for me, since I still have kids at home to get through school.

But it’s telling that commencement signals the beginning, not the end. And many of us learn that each day is a new beginning. We do not “graduate” from things in life, but each day we commence anew, seeking to know God’s will for us that day, to know whom we can serve and how. We commence each week as we partake of the sacrament and renew sacred covenants. We commence as we attend the temple for those who have died before us and remember covenants we have made there and recommit ourselves to honor them. We commence as we regularly rededicate ourselves to those relationships that are most important to us. We commence as we repent of our mistakes and invite the blessings of the atonement to help us to improve.

A friend reminds me from time to time, Right where you are is a great place to begin. Here’s to beginning.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On knowing and believing

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently.

She is a convert to the church and she has had some remarkable experiences which have taught her that God loves her, and that He has intervened in her life. She will tell you that she knows that Jesus suffered for her sins and by His atoning sacrifice she has already been greatly blessed.

And yet sometimes she feels weak and inadequate. Sometimes she feels unworthy of His love. She feels, sometimes, that she is not worth rescuing.

As I listened to her, I thought of my own experience. I joined the church with my parents when I was about nine, so I effectively grew up in the church. I have never doubted that God lives. I have never questioned that Savior suffered and died for me. I have repeatedly felt the witness of the Holy Ghost testifying of the truthfulness of the plan of salvation as it has been taught to me and as I have taught it to others.

And yet when it came time for me to call upon the atonement in a very real way, I did not reach for it.

I knew it was true, but I did not really believe it was true for me.

Of course at the time, I did not understand that’s what I was doing. By clinging to what I “knew”, I was looking through a glass darkly, seeing the shape of the atonement without allowing it to lift and comfort me as I had watched it do for others. I knew the facts of the atonement, but I did not believe it (enough).

Often our discussion is on the progression from belief to knowledge. For me, in this instance it’s moving from knowledge to belief – or perhaps better said, faith. Specifically developing the faith that the atonement – which I had seen work for others – could also work for me.

Fortunately on most days I have crossed that bridge. And on many days so has my friend. And I’ve recognized and enjoyed those blessings of the atonement in my life. But it is, I suspect, a challenging bridge for most of us to cross, precisely when we need to cross it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see

I am grateful for quiet answers to fervent prayers.

Answers that come as whispers, barely perceptible, but still essential to discovering a next step.

Answers that provide just a shade of comfort in the glaring light of adversity.

Answers that come in the form of a phone call, an otherwise casual conversation, a hand offered in fellowship that turns out to be a rescuing hand.

Answers that come in an expression of love from a church leader.

Answers that provide someone to comfort me when I stand in need of comfort.

Answers that illuminate possibilities that had previously been hidden.

Answers that reveal just one next step in the darkness, even when I’d prefer to see a lighted path.

Answers that are only clear in retrospect, which, when taken together, make clear that God is in His Heaven.

Answers that, while they do not solve a problem, still ease the burden.

Answers that come in familiar strains of music and oft-quoted verses of scripture when I need them the most.

Answers that prepare me to be aware of others so that I might comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

I am grateful for Him who sees my heart even when others cannot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Consecration and Welfare

This quotation from President Eyring caught my attention in conference:

His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program.

The names and the details of operation are changed to fit the needs and conditions of people. But always the Lord’s way to help those in temporal need requires people who out of love have consecrated themselves and what they have to God and to His work.
I was reminded of when I taught a fifth-Sunday lesson years ago. I asked the class if the law of consecration had been “repealed.” Many in the class said it had. And I disagreed.

I have always drawn a distinction between the united order and the law of consecration. The former, it seemed to me, was a method of implementing the latter. But the abolition of the united order did not mean the law of consecration was dead. I acknowledge that in Kirtland there was a more open practice of concecration which was distinct from the United Order. But the principles of concecration are very much alive. President Eyring seems to echo that idea, suggesting that today’s welfare program is similar to the law of consecration. (Of course, Nibley echoes this sentiment also in his essay, “The Law of Consecration,” found in his collection Approaching Zion.)

One of the key messages of the Book of Mormon for me is that we can judge a people by how they treat the poor among them. King Benjamin offers counsel to individuals as well as to his entire kingdom as he reminds them about the relationship of serving others and serving God (see Mosiah 2:17). His injunction to share of our surplus with the poor in order to retain a remission of our sins seems a personal injunction:

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants (Mosiah 4:26)

Nibley’s essay, “How to Get Rich” (also in Approaching Zion) reminds us of several rules given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy (“And,” he clarifies, “the rules for them are the rules for us!” (emphasis his)):

1. Everything you have or ever will have, individually and collectively, is a gift from God; you owe it all to Him (179-180).
2. We have not earned the good things we enjoy. God Himself gave us the capacity for success because of the covenant He made with our fathers (182).
3. Since God is giving it all away free to everyone, regardless of all other circumstances, everyone has a right to whatever he needs to live on (184).
So what is left for me to do? It seems it is more than just slipping the value of two fasted meals into the blue envelope each month.

Among the bishop’s resources for the care of the poor and needy are fast offering funds, food from the bishops’ storehouse, services of LDS Employment Services and LDS Family Services, and Deseret Industries (even available in my Midwestern community as a training resource), and me.

The Lord’s storehouse, available to each bishop in each ward, also includes all the resources – “the time, talents, compassion, materials, and financial means” – of members of his ward (Handbook II 6.1.3).

So, President Eyring, King Benjamin and Jehovah (as recorded in Leviticus & summarized by Nibley) remind me of a few things about a covenant that I have made:

1. Everything I have is God’s.
2. Even if I “earned” something, my ability to do so came from God, so see #1.
3. Returning a portion of what is already God’s back to God (like tithing) and calling it a day is not enough.
4. I must share my surplus – whatever I don’t need to live on.
5. How I care for the poor will determine whether I retain a remission of my sins.
6. Sharing of my surplus is the essence of the welfare program, but sharing it through the welfare program is not the only way I can do it.

Now, to sort out what I need to live on so I can understand the surplus…

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My conference Top Ten

I’m trying to hang on to the spirit of conference for just a few more days. Here are ten of my favorite thoughts that I noted as I listened over the weekend. Feel free to add yours in the comments if you like.

By the way, I note that texts are available at today (but were not by the time I posted this -- but are now); I have not yet consulted them. These are from my notes, and I freely admit that I may not have heard exactly what the speaker said. But this is what “spoke” to me.

Elder Gonzales: Our covenants are an expression of love.

President Eyring: Act on covenants to help others. And remember, Bishop: The Relief Society President may receive revelation before you.

Elder Ballard: Don’t look for the large nuggets: look for the flecks of gold

President Uchtdorf: Am I going to through motions or am I experiencing joy?

Sister Allred: Her international experience as a Relief Society leader.

Elder Bednar: Light as a metaphor for testimony. The experience of Saul / Joseph Smith / Alma the Younger are unusual, not “normal.” (I note that President Uchtdorf also taught a similar message.)

President Monson: Sacrifice now in temple service as others did in temple building in the past.

Elder Scott: A beautiful testament of his love for his wife. Satan seeks to undermine the significant of temple ordinances.

Elder Robbins: No checklist to “be”.

Elder Holland: Bedlamites. If we speak with the spirit and you listen with the spirit, prophetic epistles will come.

There are others, and I’m sure that I’ll find more as I read and listen again to the talks in the coming weeks. Maybe these will remind you of something you heard that touched your heart. I hope so.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Post Conference Let-Down

I remember on my mission that I loved zone conferences. I could see other missionaries I knew. I could escape the day-to-day grind of whatever city I was working in. I could listen to my mission president (whom I loved). We often would spend a part of the conference doing street contacting, and always with other companions than our own (which, depending on the time of my mission was a blessing to me and / or to my companion).

I happened always to travel to another city for zone conference, and always by train. I found that whatever spirit I took with me out of the conference seemed to have a half-life equal to the time it took the train to roll into my city. Getting back to the same-old-same-old seemed to overshadow the spirit of the conference.

I find that General Conference is the same way. I love spending the weekend listening to the talks and music. We prod our kids to listen, plying them with snacks for Conference Bingo or whatever inducement we are using. (This time is was a suggestion from The Friend: my daughter wrote the topic, a quotation and a personal application or action for each talk.) I take notes of what I hear and what I feel prompted to do.

But still, come Sunday evening, it’s all a bit of a blur. Those talks I felt sure I would remember all mix together in the conference stew in my head and by Monday morning, I can rarely remember who said what, except in the broadest of terms.

Of course, I’ll review my notes, and I’ll listen to the talks on my i-Pod, and I’ll read the talks in the Ensign when it comes out. In our ward, most sacrament meetings are based on conference talks (sometimes too much so, but that’s another post), and of course we’ll cover some of the talks in Teaching For Our Times lessons in priesthood.

But even with all that study, the spirit of the conference, of the meetings themselves, of having the speakers in my family room with me, of listening to the remarkable music (and even the remarkably slow music…), of sustaining the general authorities and auxiliary leaders, of hearing the off-the-cuff remarks that don’t make it into the written record, does not always shine through in the same way.

So, I’ll do my best to remember what I felt this weekend, and I’ll remember to come back in October for more.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A conference tale

A friend told me years ago a story he’d heard. Of course, he was telling the story second hand (he reported that his friend had heard it related by a visiting authority at a stake conference), and therefore likely got specifics wrong, and it’s been many years since he told me the story so I’ll likely get details wrong, too.

Seems there was a member of the Seventy sitting in conference in the tabernacle (helps you know how long ago it was!) listening to yet another of the brethren speak about a basic principle of the gospel as he watched dust float in the shafts of light. He wondered when the Saints would finally graduate from milk to meat, when conference talks could be substantive and filled with new (or at least rich) doctrine.

As the session ended, he rose to leave the hall, saddened that there was nothing new to be learned at this session. As he looked up to go, he saw two brethren embracing, tears streaming down their faces, talking about the wonderful spirit they had felt in the conference session that day.

And he was saddened that he had missed it.