Monday, November 26, 2012

Catholic Mass and a Brass Quartet

Ironically in my last post I wrote about how fortunate I’ve been that my work has not kept me from worshipping in my LDS ward each Sunday. Well, that’s usually true, except this past weekend.

As it happened, I had to make a quick trip to Germany for a work assignment this week, and so I spent most of Sunday travelling to Cologne. I arrived at my hotel about 6 pm, and was thrilled to enter my room and see the Kölner Dom directly across the river. I quickly arranged myself in my room, and took off across the bridge to see if I could peek inside the cathedral. There was a schedule mass beginning at 7 pm, and I arrived a few minutes before that. I listened to the early comments of the priest and heard the singing of the Kyrie eleison from my spot standing near the door at the back. After the singing of the Kyrie I left, feeling warmed by having heard it.

I had just recently attended a concert of Bach’s B-minor Mass with my lovely wife (she was writing a paper on Bach and mass for a music history class she’s taking); without that training, I would not have recognized the Kyrie, the opening of the mass, proclaiming, “Lord, have mercy.”

As I left the cathedral, I went around the corner and heard the strains of brass instruments playing Bach. At first I thought it was still coming from inside the cathedral, but that didn’t make sense. As I rounded another corner, I found a brass quartet from St. Petersburg playing a movement of one of the Brandenburg concertos. They were in a bit of a tunnel formed by different buildings of a museum and the acoustics were pretty cool.

How fortunate I was to have those two musical experiences to end my Sabbath day of travel.

How fortunate I am also to know that although I would prefer to be in my own sacrament meeting (or some sacrament meeting) renewing my own covenants each Sunday, that I can also draw near to the Lord in other settings as well. I can reflect on my relationship to Him wherever I am. I can draw strength from Alma’s teaching to the poor Zomamites, that I need not only call unto God in my synagogue, but I can call upon Him wherever I am.

That said, I look forward to being home next weekend and to going back to my home ward.

BTW, you can check out my latest post at Real Intent, "Bearing the Vessels of the Lord," here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday, Thanksgiving and The Sabbath

It's Black Friday. Yippee. Not.

I considered a career in retailing at one point in my life. I took classes in the then-new Skaggs Institute of Retailing Management at BYU, and I did a retailing internship. I actually enjoyed the work, and it was my first introduction to business courses (I was an English major in search of some employability).

And I did work in retailing for a few years. I had my wife's grandmother trying to coax us into pursuing a career in retailing in Mesa; she told us that area would grow exponentially over the years and there would surely be lots of opportunity. And I would have loved to go to Mesa, but my lovely wife was not enamoured of such hot summers and non-existant winters. She's a four-season person.

In the end, I did not stay in retailing. There were lots of reasons, but one of them was Black Friday. And not so much Black Friday but the whole holiday shopping thing. It meant that every holiday season I would be working and not spending time with my family. And that would be true for the Thanksgiving to Christmas period and the post-Christmas returns period.

In another phase of my career development, I was working on a PhD in Theatre History (I never said this was a linear progression). I had finished my MA in Theatre History at BYU and was encouraged by my committee to pursue the PhD elsewhere, which made sense to me. When I arrived at the school of my choice (my selection criteria was particularly poor: I wanted a school that would accept me) I found that I was at odds with my program in a number of ways. My academic interest was different from my adviser's. My program's choice of plays in that year's season were not to my liking (and some were downright offensive to me, despite my rather less-than-prudish taste). And then there was the Sunday work. Sunday rehearsals and performance were the rule. The work on the annual summer Shakespeare festival was the bright spot for me, but by the time that rolled around, I had made the decision to leave the program.

It occured to me that if I taught pretty much anywhere but BYU, I'd be working Sundays at least part of the year as part of my academic duties. It caused me to reflect on what I really wanted from my life. My long-term goals were really pretty traditional. My lovely wife and I wanted a nice family, reared in the gospel with church activity complementing our lives. And I struggled to see how Sunday work would fit in that plan.

So I walked away from my PhD program. The Sunday work was not the only reason as I mentioned, but it was one of several.

I am the first to acknowledge that others may make a different choice from mine in the same situation, and that may be ok for them and for their family. I have a number of good friends who are in positions that require Sunday work; they are faithful, participating Latter-day Saints in all levels of church activity and leadership. But I decided I was not comfortable being one of them.

I'm happy to say that in my present 25-year career, I can count the times I've missed church because of work on one hand. That's not a badge of honor for comparison with others, but it's rather a blessing to me. I'm grateful that I was able to find a place in which I could honor the Sabbath in the way that is important to me.

And I'm really glad I didn't have to work at a retail outlet today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful Turkeys

In our lesson in yesterday’s HP group, this quotation from George Albert Smith struck me:

I don’t know of any man in all the world who has more reason to be grateful than I.

What a great way to start Thanksgiving Week!

It’s been a very stressful few weeks for me, and frankly gratitude has not been at the top of my list. Even so, I know what season it is, and I know in my head I need to count my blessings. There was a great post on blessing counting at Real Intent (see it here) in which Montserrat reminds us of the value of counting, and the value of blessings. She refers to President Eyring’s gratitude journal and the value of that daily record of blessings not only to him, but to his family, as well.

She says, simply,

When we count our blessings our focus changes from what we don’t have to what we do.

How cool is that?

When we moved to Taiwan a number of years ago, the change was tough on our kids who still lived with us at home. New country. New school. New church environment. And on and on. It was easy for the kids to complain. My lovely wife had the great idea that they should list five good things from the day before they went to sleep each night. Over time, that exercise had a terrific effect, helping our kids change their attitude and to look for the good in our new adventure.

In our home, we have a Thankful Turkey – not the eating kind, but definitely the stuffing kind. It’s a cardboard box with a paper turkey head and paper turkey feathers. There’s a slit in the top and a stack of papers nearby. Family members throughout the month of November are to list things they’re thankful for and stuff the turkey with them. At Thanksgiving dinner, we open the box and read them. We also keep the slips from prior years and read a few of those, too.

So, it’s pretty simple to count to five. And it’s pretty simple to list five good things from a day. And doing so does shift our focus from what we don’t have to what we do. What is stopping me from doing it? Perhaps the easiness of the way, like those Israelites who wouldn’t look at the serpent on Moses’ staff. Well, today I’m looking:

1. Continuing employment, even when it is stressful
2. A loving and supportive wife and family
3. My children’s success in their very many endeavors, from education to employment
4. The peace that comes from studying the scriptures, and the witness of their truth
5. My ability and opportunity to face each new day
How about you?

The Thankful Turkey Box photo and directions for making one can be found here at Family Fun Crafts.
BTW, check out my latest post at Real Intent, "The Power of Memory," here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An apostolic stake conference

We had Dallin H. Oaks (see his bio here) at our stake conference this past weekend. He was joined by Elder Nolan D. Archibald of the Seventy. In the Priesthood Leadership session, Elder Oaks indicated that ours was likely the last stake conference he would ever attend, owing to the size of the church and other ways of apostles’ addressing conferences (presumably through video links).

We had heard that before, of course. When Elder Packer visited Michigan over ten years ago he addressed priesthood leaders from all over the state and said that apostles would no longer travel to US stake conferences, and he indicated the coming of video stake conferences (which has happened)would replace such visits. Since then, we have had two apostles visit our stake (including Elder Oaks this week). The other was Elder Eyring a number of years ago when one of his children lived in our area.

Elder Oaks was delightful. I heard him speak in our adult session on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning. In both meetings he was highly complimentary of his companion, Elder Archibald (who also gave awesome talks, one about grace and the atonement and one about our terrific youth), our stake presidency (who are awesome) and about those who participated by speaking or providing music in the meetings.

It is wonderful to have visiting general authorities and to see them differently than we do in General Conference. In his formal addresses, Elder Oaks appears to me as he did when he was leading BYU and I was an underclassman: stern and scholarly. In person he was clearly knowledgeable, but he was not stern. In fact, he entertained the adult session quite wonderfully, sharing his experiences from the last 28 years as an apostle. In the Sunday session, he had engaging stories for the children and the youth. His humor was self-deprecating, including a letter he shared from a ten-year old girl in England who wrote she could tell he was an apostle because he was clean and his head was shiny.

My wife helped to prepare and serve him dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday; he was gracious and grateful. He complimented their efforts and thanked them for their willingness to meet some specific dietary requirements. He spoke highly of the stake president’s family who hosted him. And he shook many, many hands.

In each meeting before it began, he went through the chapel shaking as many hands as he could get to. He shook the hands of each of the choir members on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He greeted each person with a warm, “Welcome to conference” or “Welcome to church!” And after the meeting he waited in the chapel to shake more hands.

Of course he also taught us. Building on Elder Archibald’s talk on grace and the atonement, Elder Oaks taught about the importance of the Third Article of Faith and its succinct clarity regarding the blessings of the atonement: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind can be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”

He explained that his first assignment as an apostle was to prepare a discussion of justice, mercy and the atonement to be presented to all the general authorities. He spend several months preparing, and read all the standard works (in their entirety) looking for references to those three topics. He then presented a 45 minute talk on the subject. He suggested that the third Article of Faith makes clear the universal blessing of the atonement, and the proper relationship between our obedience and the Lord’s sacrifice; both are required for our salvation.

In the Sunday morning session, he taught a number of things but the one that sticks most with me was his challenge to the teenagers to learn and remember Doctrine & Covenants 38:42: “And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Even so. Amen.”

He made several key points about this verse: First, we should take steps to separate ourselves from the wickedness around us; we should shun evil and resist temptation. Second, the saving of ourselves in this verse is not salvation – only Jesus Christ can do that for us. We save ourselves by separating ourselves from evil, and we cannot depend on someone else to do it for us; we must choose to do it. Finally, the third sentence refers to moral cleanliness, but is not limited to priesthood holders who bear the emblems of the sacrament, though it includes them. He also said that it includes young women who – in the Lord’s own time and according to His timetable – may also bear the vessel that will hold a spirit child of our Father in Heaven. (In making this point, he did not state the motherhood = priesthood argument. He did clearly say we do not know why priesthood is reserved for men.)

It was wonderful to have Elder Oaks among us. I understand the size of the church makes it difficult for apostles to be everywhere we might wish them to be, but I am grateful for the chance I had to be where I was last weekend to hear and see him.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Moving forward now that it's over

I mentioned last week that this is not a political blog. And I still maintain that it isn’t. It is a blog about my personal experience as a Latter-day Saint.

And yet, today I’m writing something more political. Now that the election is over and the nation is still on the map, I have some things I’d like to get off my chest.

First, I’d like my fellow church members to understand that if we do not agree politically, it does not mean that you or I are more or less faithful or enlightened. It just means we see the world differently. And because it’s possible that we see the world differently, we ought to make fewer assumptions about what views each of us espouses.

Second (and related to the first), please do not try to substantiate your political point of view by associating it with doctrinal truths. One side will argue that mandatory health care violates the doctrine of agency; another will argue that legislating morality does. Our political institutions, however inspired they may or may not be, are institutions of men. I believe it belittles divine institutions to assume that our political system is one of them.

Third, that is not to say that our religious views should not inform our political opinions. There is always a place for the gospel in every aspect of our lives, and we would be foolish to check our religion at the door in matters of governance. But there is also value in communicating our point of view in a way that allows all who hear us to understand; let us search for discourse that is inclusive not exclusive. In addition to holding a view because we believe God says we should, we would also do well to communicate that position in a way that it shows benefit even to a non-believer. Further, we may apply gospel teachings differently to our political views. One may take seriously the Savior’s injunction to care for the poor, and may believe that is a reasonable expectation of his government. Another may use the experience of the Nephites in the war chapters in the Book of Mormon to justify a military build-up.

Fourth, the scriptures do teach that our continent is blessed (or at least it was for the Nephites), and that our Constitution is inspired. That does not mean that every founding father was a religious Christian or was perfect. They were men with varied sensibilities about religion and government. Certain of our general authorities have made very political statements even during their service in the senior quorums of the church, but it is telling to me that even the most strident did not make those statements as president of the church. The official stand of the church today is not to prescribe political allegiance to a particular party or ideology. The great work of the constitutional convention was the crafting of a document that transcended strident political views, not one that established them. The resulting document was the product of compromise; it was not universally loved or even accepted (some members of the convention did not recommend ratifying it), but it has withstood the test of time.

Fifth, the international church is greater than American politics. There are faithful Latter-day Saints who practice their religion every day in countries with vastly different political systems from ours in the United States of America. They are no less worthy of God’s blessings than those who are fortunate enough to live here. Their forms of government are not inherently evil, so long as they allow the free exercise of the worship of God.

Finally, our two-party system tends to foster tension, a tension that can be healthy in restraining government from acting too quickly, and, conversely, that can divide the electorate. In our history, we have had varying degrees of success in compromise and collaboration. It appears that in today’s political environment such compromise is far less likely. Personally, I find that a sad development. But whatever tension exists politically, it need not lead to contention in our lives. In an environment where political discussion devolves to position-taking and -defending, it unfortunately leaves little room for a free exchange of ideas with an eye toward discovery of a common path for the common good. On the other hand, discussions that seek learning and understanding (rather than proving and proclaiming) can be mutually beneficial.

I am not so naïve as to believe that political discourse will somehow rise above the bitter battles we have seen in the recent election. Most elections in our nation’s history have featured strong political talk – about issues and about personalities of those involved. But as Latter-day Saints who discuss political ideas with one another, we can also open our hearts and minds and respond to one another with civility and charity. At least I hope we can. And as we move forward after this election, we can still unite under our duly elected government and work together for common goals.


BTW, in a completely unrelated matter, you can read my latest post at Real Intent, "Distilling Knowledge," here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Primarily Speaking

It’s that season again.

I don’t mean leaf raking (though it is). And I don’t mean pre-Christmas (though it is). And I don’t mean Thanksgiving (though it is).

I mean, of course, Primary program season.

We had ours ten days ago, and it was awesome. Our primary presidency takes a great approach. At some point in the year, they being asking the children questions related to the Primary program, and then they develop a program based on the children’s own comments. Each child, in the end, presents his or her own words in the program.

Our primary presidency also mixes the kids by topic, rather than by class. As a result, you have Sunbeams and CTRs and Valiants all mixed up. The older children help the younger ones. The children do a great job of teaching the rest of us the gospel. It is far more than a cavalcade of cute kids tugging at our heartstrings (though it’s that, too).

I’m sure there is a little of the Music Man effect for some parents. But this is the first year I had no child in the program, and the spirit of the meeting was still soft and sweet and lovely as we listened to childlike testimony and teaching. There was of course a blend of silly four year old boys playing with the microphone and second verses of songs that were a little harder to hear than more familiar first verses. But far more powerful were the lessons we were taught by what we heard and saw and felt.

Kudos to our Primary presidency who teach the gospel to our children, and who do such a great job of helping our children teach the gospel to us.


BTW, I've used Honest Jon's cartoon above. Please visit his website and buy his books. I'm putting When High Priests Take Over The Nursery on my Christmas list!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomorrow's the day

This is not a political blog. And that doesn’t change today. But I will remind my U.S. readers that tomorrow is Election Day. Unless you’ve already voted absentee or early in your state, I hope you’ll head to the polls tomorrow to exercise your right to have your voice heard.

Of course new coverage has been focused on the presidential race, but in my community, the ballot is six pages long, including:

President / Vice President
U.S. Senator
Two U.S. House of Representative slots – one temporary one for the rest of this year (a crazy story I’d tell if this were a more political blog), and one full-term
State Representative
School Board
State School Board
Regents at various State Universities
Judges (State Supreme Court, Appeals Court and Local District Court)
Six state ballot proposals, five of which propose changes to the state constitution
Five county proposals that would significantly alter the county charter
And, Library Board

It’s easy to become cynical. It’s easy to be turned off by all the negative ads, especially at the top. (It’s times like this I’m glad we only get our TV entertainment through Hulu, Netflix and AppleTV.) It’s easy to be annoyed at the robocalls (we have three registered voters at our address, so we get LOTS of these calls).

But it’s also not that hard to rise above the annoyance and to read the voter guides, the candidate websites, and make some informed choices.

I’ll close with two memories:

First, in fourth or fifth grade, we did a little skit that we took around to other classes in the school encouraging people to encourage their parents to vote. One member of the class was dressed as Uncle Sam as we all sang some patriotic song. I wanted so much to be Uncle Sam, but I was beat out by another kid – taller and more boisterous than me. That stinging political defeat did not turn me off to politics, however: it continues to remind me that I need to use my vote, my voice.

Second, my patriarchal blessing encourages me specifically to exercise my franchise and vote. It seemed an odd thing to include in a patriarchal blessing when I heard it, as I pretty much thought the blessing would confine itself to quite spiritual things. As I’ve considered my blessing since, I realize it has a mix of temporal and spiritual counsel, and I’ve tried to be true to that part that urges me to vote.

I hope you’ll vote tomorrow.


Oh, there's another place to vote: head on over to Everyday Mormon Writer and learn how to vote for your favorites in their Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest! Voting closes tomorrow there, too.

You can also check out my latest post at Real Intent, "Questions? You've got Questions?? here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Safe In The Storm

Yesterday afternoon, our daughter’s normal P-Day, we received her email confirming that she’s fine despite the fact that, thanks to Sandy, she was a couple of days without power in her apartment in Chinatown in New York City.

Of course, we knew she was fine because we’d already gotten three e-mails from her awesome mission president. (For one of them, he had to wait until a large tree was removed from his driveway so he could drive to a place with power to send the email! Kudos to him for the effort to keep us, and all his missionaries' parents, informed.) And, because of his notes, we knew that the missionaries were prepared with extra days’ food, water, batteries, and so on. And the missionaries had been instructed about what to do and how to behave.

We are grateful that our daughter is safe. We’re also grateful for a mission president and an organization that plan carefully for such emergencies, and were thoughtful enough to keep us posted.

We have another daughter and two nieces who were also in the path of the storm, all safe and sound.

My brother remarked a number of years ago after a huge snowfall in Chicago that one benefit of these large weather events is that we’re reminded that we are not in control of everything we see. There are things bigger than us, and there’s value in learning to rely on the Lord’s help when we simply cannot help ourselves.

Our family lived in Taiwan for 2-1/2 years and we had three or four typhoons (including the week we moved back home) while we were there. The first one was very frightening for us because we’d never been through it. The subsequent ones were curiosities, but not so completely scary. Still, we learned to be prepared at home, and to stay put until it was safe to leave.

Those were two key principles: being prepared and being in a place of safety in the storm. There are, of course, gospel parallels. As we live providently and keep commandments, we can be prepared not only for temporal storms, but spiritual ones, as well. And knowing the place of safety – whether our home, at the sacrament table or in the temple – will help to protect us in spiritual storms, as well.

Continued prayers for those who are rebuilding and cleaning up after the storm.

And if you'd add action to your prayers, consider a donation to the Red Cross -- click here for more details.


BTW, follow this link to Everyday Mormon Writer to vote for your favorite story from their Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest.