Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Time In Which We Come of Age©

Updated: 14 June 2017

I read something Elizabeth Dole said at a university commencement in 2015 that put into words something which I have been concerned about for the past several years. Admittedly, capturing such amorphous, fuzzy, misty thoughts floating around in my mind is not a strong suit. But ... I am pretty good at recognizing them when someone else crystallizes them in words. Here is what she said:  “In addition to the wonderful skills, traits and knowledge you have learned at Norwich [University], the time in which you came of age has shaped your perspective in a unique and profound way.”(1)  A common notion you may say. Good for you, but I have been thinking about the problems which exist because of the “generation gap” for a long time and I never quite got my finger on this button. Now I have it quite a few things come into much clearer perspective.
Mrs. Dole frames this idea in a fairly positive context with a bit of a warning about growing up in the age of information and connectivity. For me her insight illuminated the potential source of a number of problems I observed as I spent my life teaching the young and experienced an ever widening gap as I grew older, but the students sitting before me were generally the same age from year to year. I have also observed the reality of her insight in my children and especially my grandchildren.
The crux of the problem I have observed is that each generation (20 years or two decades or so in length), grow up thinking that their way of seeing and thinking and feeling is the correct way to see, think, and feel. Of course, what else are they to assume? Here is where wise parents and educators come in. It is their duty to help the most recent generations learn that what they see, think, and feel is shaped by the time and place in which they come of age, but it has not always been the way it is now, and that others growing up in another time or another place, many of whom are still alive, are shaped by their times and places too and therefore, there are many different ways of perceiving the world, and of thinking and feeling about it. Thus, they should exercise some caution, judgment, and a modicum of humility before making too many assumptions and judgments about the relative superiority of their time and place.
Because ... it is entirely possible that in the rapid pace of change the world is experiencing now, it is just possible, that some very good things have been forgotten, lost, or ignored in relationship to how one perceives, thinks, and feels about the world in which they live. In another commencement address Mrs. Dole pointed out that many of today’s students, (now it involves the majority of those in high school) do not know by personal experience a single thing which happened in the Twentieth Century, and many of them do not have a memory about 9/11, 2001! What they know of two World Wars, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and the Gulf, for example, which shaped much of the Twentieth Century, is not by personal experience, but by way of a history class and/or the Internet.

Moreover, there are many prophecies in the Bible and in Mormon scriptures as well as by modern prophets which characterize the time we live in as one in which Satan claims this earth as his dominion and as a time of especially great wickedness, corruption, war, rebellion, loss of natural affection, degradation, conflict, loss of morality, hate, materialism, political and social strife, spiritual weakness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, just to mention a few. Those who educate and guide the young need this spiritual perspective as well as one borne out of the understanding and wisdom which comes from wide reading in history of all kinds--not just about political events, wars, and the elite--but also the history of science, art, culture, religion, technology, economics and other subjects.  Many biographies contribute to this widening of perspective and deepening of understanding and wisdom.

Interestingly, a day after I read Dole’s talk I came across one from Peggy Noonan that addresses the issue and provides an example with great insight–especially on the value of history and biography. She was talking about young–under 45–journalists and politicians who want to make history, but know nothing of history because all the have they got from the Internet.
They have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. They read the headline on Drudge or the Huffington Post and then jump to another site with more headlines. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is therefore superficial.  Here is the problem:  If those trying to make history have only a shallow sense of history, they will not be able to make anything good. 
They came to maturity in the internet age and have filled much of their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned, that is, through sensation, and not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. 
Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world -- of life itself. 
Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma.  The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events:  It makes your brain do work. 
But, oddly, it's work the brain wants to do. 
A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear.  Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands.  In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.(2)
Here is one more along these lines that is worth stopping to think about in this context. It is from Helen Mirren's commencement address at Tulane less than a month ago.
My parents' generation were born at the end of one World War, survived a global economic meltdown, and then fought a second World War. And of course, for their heroic efforts they were rewarded by my generation deciding to reject everything they stood for.(3)
Many examples of good things which may be lost as a result of the colloquialism amd “presentism” of our personal perspectives could be given. I may do that someday when I can devote the necessary time to think them through.(4) My purpose in writing today is to heighten awareness of this issue and the problems it can create in the minds of teachers and young parents and in the minds of the young themselves. (This has to be the height of folly, doesn’t it, to think a young person–under 18 or perhaps even under 25, will read this? Alas, hope springs eternal.)  
My hope is that parents and teachers armed with this illuminating insight may take some action to help youth more properly adjust their thinking and feeling–much of which is good, even great, but some of which may be deficient because of the absence of some good things which are not present in the present!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes

1.  Elizabeth Dole, commencement address at Norwich University, 9 May 2015, available on the internet at: 
 http://oc.norwich.edu/blog/transcript-sen-elizabeth-doles-2015-norwich-commencement-address/
Peggy Noonan describes the process discussed in this paragraph:  "It [reading] will change how your very mind works. And in some magical way the deep thoughts of others give a spark to, and almost give permission to, thoughts of your own that had been lurking about but never had the courage to present themselves..." See footnote 2 for reference.

2.  Peggy Noonan, commencement address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 13 May 2017.  Available online at:
http://www.cua.edu/speeches-and-homilies/2017/commencement-2017.html

3.  Helen Mirren, commencement address at Tulane University, 20 May 2017.  Available online at:
https://www2.tulande.edu/grads/speaker/

4.  I’m thinking here of such things as the almost universal notion in liberal universities and colleges which equates tolerance with acceptance, and promoting nearly unquestioningly the values of diversity and individualism without regard to the positive benefits of cooperation and unity. Or, what appears to be to be a near fatal loss of understanding of the values and principles accepted and espoused by the Framers of the Constitution and the devaluing of the Constitution itself. Or, the denigration of the values of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and of traditional family life. Or, the nearly total abandonment of accompanying emphasis on chastity among the sexes and fidelity in marriage.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-Three: “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 8: "The Name Paanchi.”

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was a Prophet

Evidence Fifty-Three:
     “Zingers” in the Book of Mormon, Part 8: 
“The Name Paanchi.”© 

In previous blogs I have mentioned what I call “zingers” in the Book of Mormon–little things that on closer inspection often turn out to be very important as evidence for the truthfulness of the book and of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Today’s “zinger” is a very small thing indeed–the name of one of the personalities in the Book of Mormon–Paanchi to be precise. (See Hel. 1:3.) According to Hugh Nibley, it is an Egyptian name and its presence in the Book of Mormon is quite remarkable. As a bonus, Nibley also remarks about the ancient order of battle that is also reflected in the Book of Mormon. Here is his statement.
Another characteristic of the Book of Mormon is the ritual nature of war. In Alma 44:5, we have what can be called a “rule of battle for the sons of light.” War is highly ritualized in the Book of Mormon. It is one thing that used to excite derision from Book of Mormon critics.  What could be more silly, they used to ask, than a general who would give away his plan of battle to the enemy, or allow him to choose the time and the terrain? Yet this is very particular and strictly in order. In a study by Gardiner, he himself refers to “Piankhi’s Instructions to His Army.” That is a peculiar name, a pure Egyptian name, and one odd enough that no one could have possibly invented it in the Book of Mormon. Piankhi was a general before the time of Lehi, was very famous, became king of Egypt, and the name became quite popular afterwards. Piankhi-meri-amen means “Amen is my life.” But of course the name occurs in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 1:3). It was this name, I strongly suspect, that first put Professor Albright on the track of the Book of Mormon. He recognized that it couldn’t possibly have been faked or forged. What could be more silly? Here’s Piankhi, and there are the instructions, “Piankhi commands his generals to give the enemy choice of time and place for fight.” This is the way it was usually done, arranging battles ahead of time, just as the Book of Mormon people use to.(1)
Of course these flecks of evidence do not prove the Book of Mormon is true.  Nothing does.  But they are morsels suggesting the book comes from ancient times, that it’s background is the ancient Near East, just as Joseph Smith said.
Thank God for Joseph Smith!  

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Hugh Nibley, “Rediscovery of the Apocrypha and the Book of Mormon,” in Temple and Cosmos, Beyond This Ignorant Present, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 12, (Salt Lake City and Provo,UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), p. 255.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Stirling W. Sill on Improving Reading Skills©

Introduction: Sterling W. Sill has been one of the more influential people in my religious and intellectual life. I have read most of his books and greatly benefited from all of them. A hallmark of his writings was his emphasis on practicality–especially the practicality of applying gospel principles in one’s life.The proper application of gospel principles is one definition of wisdom. From this perspective Elder Sill was a man of considerable wisdom.  

One thing he exemplified in his personal life and about which he often commented was the importance of reading. Below are seven suggestions from Elder Sill about improving our reading skill.  I hope they will benefit you.

*****

It is thought that one of the most important skills we can acquire is to learn to read effectively. The following suggestions may help us to help ourselves.
1.  We should remember that mere reading does not compare in its value with a good reading habit. A good reading habit can place us among the educated and successful ones of our day in a very short time and, at the same time, make the process pleasant as well as profitable.

2.  We should plow deep enough in our reading that ideas uncovered become our permanent property. Sometimes we allow ideas to skate so lightly above the surface of our brains that they do not remain long in our possession. We should develop a reading ability so that we know what the author said and meant, what we think about it, and what we are going to do about it.
3.  By reading effectively we can actually learn to get out of a book more than there is in it.  To be able to do this is a valuable skill. In some ways, reading a book is like any other process of invention or discovery. We add to it as we think about it and use it, and we ought to take notes as we read.
4.  We ought to learn to correctly pronounce the words we read and use. We ought to know what they mean. We ought to think about applications of those words and how we can use the ideas they present.
5.  Some people are “eye-minded”: sight is the most important entrance to the mind. Other people are “ear-minded.” A soldier gets his orders through his ears and, consequently, the orders increase in importance in his understanding. Some people develop a still greater ability to understand by utilizing the double focus of eyes and ears. They read aloud to themselves so that the impulse comes not only by sight but also by sound.
When we learn to read, we ought to develop the ability to read to ourselves convincingly and entertainingly and with as much harmony and music as possible. We don’t like to listen to a boring, dull, unenthusiastic reader or speaker who makes the most exciting ideas unpleasant. But we can put ourselves to sleep, intellectually, quicker than anyone else can. When we are bored with our own performance, the needle of our brain does not record very much.
6.  In more ways than one, we ought to learn to follow the Ethiopian eunuch in developing a great interest in and sincere love for righteousness. One passage of scripture says that Cain loved Satan more than God. We are in trouble when we love cheap, profane, and vulgar ideas more than we love high-mindedness and intellectual power.
7.  One of the most beautiful reading aids is memorization. We like best those personal friends we have known and loved for a long time. And our love usually increases as we get to know these friends better.
We enjoy singing best the beautiful music that is most familiar to us. We love magnificent pictures that become a part of us. As we learn to love people, so also can we form an affinity for important ideas, memorable experiences, and great biographies in literature. Those ideas that are stamped more permanently into our hearts by memorization are the ideas that can most readily and advantageously change our lives.

*****

Let’s think together again, soon.


Source:  Sterling W. Sill, Great Literature and the Good Life, (Bountiful, UT.: Horizon Publishers & Distributors Inc., 1985), pp. 98-99.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Although I am not in love with the politics of liberal journalist Fareed Zakariah, I very much liked what he had to say about a liberal arts education at the 2014 commencement at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers.  I commend it to you:


*** 
You are graduating from Sarah Lawrence, the quintessential liberal arts college, at an interesting moment in history—when the liberal arts are, honestly, not very cool. You all know what you’re supposed to be doing these days—study computer science, code at night, start a company, and take it public. Or, if you want to branch out, you could major in mechanical engineering. What you’re not supposed to do is get a liberal arts education.

This is not really a joke anymore. The governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina have announced that they do not intend to spend taxpayer money subsidizing the liberal arts. Florida Governor Rick Scott asks, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” Even President Obama recently urged students to keep in mind that a technical training could be more valuable than a degree in art history. Majors like English, once very popular and highly respected, are in steep decline.

I can well understand the concerns about liberal arts because I grew up in India in the 1960s and 1970s. A technical training was seen as the key to a good career. People who studied the liberal arts were either weird or dumb. (Or they were women because, sadly, in those days, the humanities was seen as an appropriate training for an aspiring housewife but not for a budding professional). If you were bright, you studied science, so I did. I even learned computer programming—in India in the 1970s! When I came to the United States for college, I brought with me that mindset. In my first year at Yale, I took a bunch of science and math courses. But I also took one course in the history of the Cold War. That course woke me up and made me recognize what I really loved. I dove into history and English and politics and economics and have stayed immersed in them ever since.

In thinking about my own path, I hope to give you some sense of the value of a liberal education. But first, a point of clarification. A liberal education has nothing to do with “liberal” in the left-right sense. Nor does it ignore the sciences. From the time of the Greeks, physics and biology and mathematics have been as integral to it as history and literature. For my own part, I have kept alive my interest in math and science to this day.

A liberal education—as best defined by Cardinal Newman in 1854—is a “broad exposure to the outlines of knowledge” for its own sake, rather than to acquire skills to practice a trade or do a job. There were critics even then, the 19th Century, who asked, Newman tells us, “To what then does it lead? Where does it end? How does it profit?" Or as the president of Yale, the late Bart Giamatti, asked in one of his beautiful lectures, “what is the earthly use of a liberal education?”

I could point out that a degree in art history or anthropology often requires the serious study of several languages and cultures, an ability to work in foreign countries, an eye for aesthetics, and a commitment to hard work—all of which might be useful in any number of professions in today’s globalized age. And I might point out to Governor Scott that it could be in the vital interests of his state in particular to have on hand some anthropologists to tell Floridians a few things about the other 99.5% of humanity.

But for me, the most important earthly use of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. I realized that coming from India, I was pretty good at taking tests, at regurgitating stuff I had memorized, but not so good at expressing my own ideas. Over the course of that semester, I found myself beginning to make the connection between thought and word.

I know I’m supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. The columnist Walter Lippmann, when asked his thoughts on a particular topic, is said to have replied, “I don’t know what I think on that one. I haven’t written about it yet.”  There is, in modern philosophy, a great debate as to which comes first—thought or language. I have nothing to say about it. All I know is that when I begin to write, I realize that my “thoughts” are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. It is the act of writing that forces me to think through them and sort them out. Whether you are a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant, or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and brings clarity and order to your ideas.

If you think this has no earthly use, ask Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Bezos insists that his senior executives write memos—often as long as six printed pages—and begins senior management meetings with a period of quiet time—sometimes as long as 30 minutes—while everyone reads the memos and makes notes on them. Whatever you will do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly and—I would add—quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill. And it is, in many ways, the central teaching of a liberal education.

The second great advantage of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to speak and speak your mind. One of the other contrasts that struck me between school in India and college in America was that an important part of my grade was talking. My professors were going to judge me on the process of thinking through the subject matter and presenting my analysis and conclusions—out loud. The seminar, which is in many ways at the heart of a liberal education—and at the heart of this college—teaches you to read, analyze, dissect, and above all to express yourself. And this emphasis on being articulate is reinforced in the many extra-curricular activities that surround every liberal arts college—theater, debate, political unions, student government, protest groups. You have to get peoples’ attention and convince them of your cause.

Speaking clearly and concisely is a big advantage in life. You have surely noticed that whenever someone from Britain talks in a class, he gets five extra points just for the accent. In fact, British education—and British life—has long emphasized and taught public speaking through a grand tradition of poetry recitation and elocution, debate and declamation. It makes a difference—but the accent does help, too.

The final strength of a liberal education is that it teaches you how to learn. I now realize that the most valuable thing I picked up in college and graduate school was not a specific set of facts or a piece of knowledge but rather how to acquire knowledge. I learned how to read an essay closely, find new sources, search for data so as to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and figure out whether an author was trustworthy. I learned how to read a book fast and still get its essence. And most of all, I learned that learning was a pleasure, a great adventure of exploration.

Whatever job you take, I guarantee that the specific stuff you have learned at college—whatever it is—will prove mostly irrelevant or quickly irrelevant. Even if you learned to code but did it a few years ago, before the world of apps, you would have to learn anew. And given the pace of change that is transforming industries and professions these days, you will need that skill of learning and retooling all the time.

These are a liberal education’s strengths and they will help you as you move through your working life. Of course, if you want professional success, you will have to put in the hours, be disciplined, work well with others, and get lucky. But that would be true for anyone, even engineers.

I kid of course. Remember, I grew up in India. Some of my best friends are engineers. And honestly, I have enormous admiration for engineers and technologists and doctors and accountants. But what we must all recognize is that education is not a zero sum game. Technical skills don’t have to be praised at the expense of humanities. Computer science is not better than art history. Society needs both—often in combination. If you don’t believe me, believe Steve Jobs who said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts—married to the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

That marriage—between technology and the liberal arts—is now visible everywhere. Twenty years ago, tech companies might have been industrial product manufacturers. Today they have to be at the cutting edge of design, marketing, and social networking. Many other companies also focus much of their attention on these fields, since manufacturing is increasingly commoditized and the value-add is in the brand, how it is imagined, presented, sold, and sustained. And then there is America’s most influential industry, which exports its products around the world—entertainment, which is driven at its core by stories, pictures, and drawings. (Did I mention that Julianna Margulies was offered $27 million?)

You will notice that so far I have spoken about ways that a liberal education can get you a job or be valuable in your career. That’s important but it is not its only virtue. You need not just a good job but also a good life. Reading a great novel, exploring a country’s history, looking at great art and architecture, making the connection between math and music—all these are ways to enrich and ennoble your life. In the decades to come, when you become a partner and then a parent, make friends, read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, see a play, lead a conversation, those experiences will be shaped and deepened by your years here.

A liberal education makes you a good citizen. The word liberal comes from the Latin liber, which means “free.” At its essence, a liberal education is an education to free the mind from dogma, from controls, from constraints. It is an exercise in freedom. That is why America’s founding fathers believed so passionately in its importance. Benjamin Franklin—the most practical of all the founders, and a great entrepreneur and inventor in his own right—proposed a program of study for the University of Pennsylvania that is essentially a liberal arts education. Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph does not mention that he was president of the United States. It proudly notes that he founded the University of Virginia, another quintessential liberal arts college. 

But there is a calling even higher than citizenship; ultimately, a liberal education is about being human. More than two thousand years ago, the great Roman philosopher, lawyer, and politician Cicero explained why it was important that we study for its own sake—not to acquire a skill or trade, but as an end unto itself. We do it, he said, because that is what makes us human: It is in our nature that “we are all drawn to the pursuit of knowledge.” It is what separates us from animals. Ever since we rose out of the mud, we have been on a quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe and to search for truth and beauty.

So, as you go out into the world, don’t let anyone make you feel stupid or indulgent in having pursued your passion and studied the liberal arts. You are heirs to one of the greatest traditions in human history, one that has uncovered the clockwork of the stars, created works of unimaginable beauty, and organized societies of amazing productivity. In continuing this tradition you are strengthening the greatest experiment in social organization, democracy. And above all, you are feeding the most basic urge of the human spirit—to know.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2014, Godspeed.

***

Let’s think together again, soon.


Source: Fareed Zakaria, commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, 2014, available online at: 
https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/news-events/commencement/archives/2014/fareed-zakaria-keynote.html

Monday, March 13, 2017

Taking Inventory of Our Mental Assets and Liabilities©

Last night I came across a great thought by Napoleon Hill, one of the early apostles of success and positive mental attitude which provoked my thinking. He spoke of taking “inventory of mental assets and liabilities.”(1) This was a new idea to me; one which it struck me was a great one, a very useful one.These days it seems that we only inventory our mental assents but it is rare to consider our mental liabilities.The exception here may be the stark recognition of our nearly total lack of education, or lack in a specific field which interests us. Otherwise there also seems to be a tendency to assume that the right mental assets–good memory, quick mind, and the like will compensate for any liability we may have.

It is useful, however, even if it is hard on the ego, to be honest in evaluating you mental liabilities. To do so, one needs to think broadly about what constitutes a  “liability.” Mental liabilities can go far beyond a poor memory, a bad or mediocre education, or being a bit slow to pick up on complex ideas and principles.  

Mental liabilities may also include mental laziness, cynicism, doubt, mental procrastination, lack of interest in or concern for truth, avoiding problem solving, over reliance on feeling and emotion rather than rational thinking, limited vocabulary, limited ability to express one’s self in writing, dependence on the opinions and thinking of others, poor reading skills, bad attitudes about school and education generally, lack of curiosity, apathy and/or indifference, contentment with one’s opinions, prejudices, biases, and ignorance; lack of understanding of the dangers and limitations ignorance imposes on a person; pride, arrogance, hubris, conceit, being a know-it-all--all of which inhibit your teachability; unreasonable skepticism, hypersensitivity to the opinions of others about you, and a host of others.[Feel free to add to this list in the comment section.]

One must admit that the list in the preceding paragraph contains some fairly lethal liabilities, which if not corrected will at the very least keep us on a low plane intellectually, and at worst to lead to a disastrous waste of one’s life. Introspection about one’s mental liabilities is important because recognizing a weakness is the first step to correcting it; the first step to overcoming mental liabilities. It is a challenging thing to list in two columns one's mental strengths and weaknesses. To do the latter may require more thought than the former, inasmuch as most of us are perhaps more aware of our mental strengths, or what we think they are, than we may be about our mental weakness, which we may tend to ignore. It is quite a challenge. Are you up to it? I urge you to give it a try, it may be a game changer for you.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Napoleon Hill, cited in Angela Ahrendt, “From the Heart,” commencement address at Ball State University, 8 May 2010, available online at:
http://cms.bsu.edu/news/articles/2010/5/angela-ahrendts-commencement-address-from-the-heart

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-two: Revelations Run Counter to Racial Prejudice and Bigotry in Jacksonian America©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Evidence Fifty-two: Revelations Run Counter 
to Racial Prejudice and Bigotry in Jacksonian America© 

A recent publication is the stimulus for this essay. In 2016 the Church published a book to supplement the Sunday School gospel doctrine lessons for 2017 on the Doctrine and Covenants. It is called Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants,(1) and contains essays by many authors about various sections or groups of sections of this sacred book. Jed Woodworth is the author of the chapter titled “The Center Place,” and deals with sections 52, 57, and 58. The subject matter is the location of the city of New Jerusalem or Zion, but Woodworth’s careful reading highlight’s the use of a unique title given to a group of people in section 57 with significant and relevant doctrinal and practical implications for our day.
The idea of a New Jerusalem is familiar to many Christians from John’s book of Revelation. In chapter 3 verse 12 the apostle speaks of 
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
For Latter-day Saints the idea becomes even more important because of statements in both 3 Nephi and Ether in the Book of Mormon. Ether 13:2-6 was especially tantalizing to the Saints because it speaks of the New Jerusalem being built “upon this land,” referring to this “choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord.” It isn’t any wonder then that the early Saints should be curious about the location of this “New Jerusalem” in America, nor that an early revelation to Joseph Smith should speak of it. In August of 1830, about five months following the organization of the Church, Joseph received a revelation calling Oliver Cowdery to lead a mission to various tribes of Indians, the ultimate destination of which was the western border of Missouri. West of that border the lands were designated Indian territory.  
For many years white society occupied Indian lands as state after state was incorporated into the United States. In 1821 Missouri became a state. Six years later Jackson County was created on the western border and Independence was the county seat. Yielding to white pressure to remove the Indians from the states, the Jackson administration designated the lands west of Missouri as Indian territory or a reservation in modern terms and its official policy was separation of the races. Five Sac and Fox tribes that resided in Florida and other southern states, along with others were being relocated to the West. By 1831 the Osage Indians who had occupied western Missouri and other large sections had vacated the area. It was to these tribes in the west that Cowdery and his fellow missionaries were sent.

Interestingly, in the revelation calling Cowdery (D&C 28), verse nine reads:
And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. (2)
An important part of Cowdery mission was “to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem.”(3) Cowdery wrote to Joseph, and Parley P. Pratt a member of the mission, returned to Kirtland; one or both may have confirmed Joseph’s belief that this region was the place for the New Jerusalem. Joseph Smith said that in June of 1831 he received “an heavenly vision, a commandment ... to take my journey to the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and there designate the very spot, for the commencement of the gathering together of those who embrace the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”(4)  Soon after he arrived, Joseph received a revelation on 20 July 1831, in which the Lord revealed that the city of Independence, Jackson County, Missouri was to be  the location of the New Jerusalem or the City of Zion and a temple.(5) But the location of Zion was not the only interesting thing to be found in this revelation.

This and other revelations also answered the question as to who would be invited to live in the New Jerusalem. The Saints were instructed to purchase the land “lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile.”(6) What is this language–the land between Jew and Gentile? Why not use the usual designations and speak of the land between the Indians or Lamanites and the Gentiles, or even the red men and white men? In reality all these terms are “racial” and cultural in nature, and draw distinctions between the groups, but the use of “Jew” instead of “Indian” or “red man” emphasized a different distinction and did not carry the negative connotations which “red man” or “Indian” did. In the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular, the designation “Jew” has several meanings.(7) Initially it referred to those who were of the tribe of Judah. Eventually it was broadened to refer to those who were of the House of Israel, God’s ancient covenant people, and the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Lamanites were the ancestors of at least some Indians in the Americas and they were of the House of Israel. This passage speaks of the Indians as “Jews.”  Woodworth points out that according to the Book of Mormon both Jew and Gentile had vital roles in God’s plan of salvation. The clear implication of this passage was that God was inviting them to work together. Other scriptures designated that the gospel was initially to go from the Jews to the Gentiles, but at a later period the process was to be reversed and the gospel was to come from the Gentile to the Jew.(8) In this sense, according to Woodworth, the revelation “echoes this covenantal structure” when it speaks of the Indians as Jews. (9)

Woodworth’s insight then, is that at the time the US government’s official policy was segregation of these races, Joseph Smith’s revelation were moving in exactly the opposite direction. The Indians were to be included in the New Jerusalem rather than to be marginalized and pushed to the outskirts of civilization. God’s holy city of Zion was to be in the very midst of or between the Jew and Gentile. Since Zion is the “pure in heart,” the clear implication is that the Jew/Indian/Lamanite could with “all people” become pure in heart and dwell in Zion.In a day when race issues in and immigration to the United States are the hottest of political topics, this insight gives every Latter-day Saint reason to pause for contemplation and inquiry for inspiration and understanding.  

Woodword also points out that section 58 adds breadth to this vision. It was revealed to Joseph Smith while he was still in Missouri in the summer of 1831. It speaks of the honor which was given to these brethren to lay the foundations of Zion and of  “bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand.” Then it refers to the great feast or banquet so frequently spoken of in scriptures “unto which all nations shall be invited.”(10) He also notes that the word “nations,” would resonate with both the whites and the Indians as the word used to describe the largest unit of their political organization.

Well, thank you Jed Woodwroth for these thought provoking insights. Joseph Smith has frequently been accused of grabbing on to all the popular notions of his day and including them in his scriptural writings and theology. In our day many of these issues have been examined and most of them turn out to be just the opposite of what the critics claim. That certainly appears to be the case here.  Joseph Smith is not influenced by the popular prejudice which prompted a national policy of segregation of the Indians. He saw that as children of God they inherited the same potential and could have the same destiny as any other of God’s sons and daughters. The gospel is inclusive; its blessings are for all nations, all kindreds, all tongues, and all people. For me this is one more evidence of the divine inspiration given to Joseph Smith as God’s prophet.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Matthew McBride and James Goldberg, eds., Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016.  Woodworth’s chapter is found on pages 122-29.

2.  Emphasis added. The original version in the Book of Commandments said “among the Lamanites,” but was later revised to read “on the borders by the Lamanites.”

3. The covenant between Cowdery and those going with him on this mission was published in the The Ohio Star, Ravenna, Ohio, 8 December 1831.  An original has not been found, but there is little reason to believe this is not genuine.  A facsimile reproduction and transcription is available online at:
http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/covenant-of-oliver-cowdery-and-others-17-october-1830/1?highlight=Lamanite%20Mission

4.  Joseph Smith to the elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Messenger and Advocate, (September 1835), 1:179.

5.  D&C 57: 2-3.

6.  D&C 57:5.

7.  See Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 128, n. 24.

8.  Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 128.

9.  Woodworth, “The Center Place,” p. 126.

10.  D&C 58:6-9, emphasis added.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Young People, The Records of Your Early Life May Significantly Affect Your Future©

Over a lifetime of working with and serving the youth of the Church, I have observed many youngsters who have severely marred their lives at a very young age, or who were at the time in the process of so doing, or on a path that would lead to serious difficulties in the future. It is always important to help the young avoid doing, saying, and thinking things that can lead to disaster, and in the moment one does the best one can. On the other side of these life-altering events, especially those that turn out negative, one looks back to see what one could have done better.  

I have had my share of these times, and looking back I have been amazed at how easy it is for a young person who is energetic, carefree, curious, relatively ignorant although highly intelligent, and sometimes resistant to the restraints life imposes on us, how easy it is for them to do something at a very young age that is tragic or will eventually lead to tragedy.

At an early hour this morning I read something that caused me to reflect on these things once again. It contains some advice which, if the youth will take it seriously, could help many avoid marring their lives at a young age.(1) It is a very brief (2 ½ minute) essay by Richard L. Evans about the records of our lives. At the outset he talks of the tendency in many youth to be a bit careless or indifferent about the course of their lives, assuming that when it is “convenient or necessary” they will settle down. In truth, it is a tricky business and significant dilemma for guides of youth to know how much to tolerate and when to intervene.

Elder Evans teaches the young the importance of the many records that are kept of our lives. He mentions school records of our accomplishments in every subject we take, “which affects our future as we become candidates for further opportunities.” A high percentage of today’s youth probably understand this idea pretty well. He also mentioned a soldier’s military record that goes with him wherever he goes–“explaining his past and qualifying his future.” A record is also preserved of our violations of the law. They can similarly influence our future. Less familiar to youth, but a powerful example has to do with individual credit ratings kept by the banking institutions of America. They track the “certainty and promptness with which we pay off our obligations; and any future credit or financial backing we may expect or hope for is qualified by the record.” Our interactions with others–our daily conduct and considerations” in many of the small matters of life are housed in the “indelible” memory of our family, friends, and associates. In each of these instances, the “record” of the past can significantly influence the future.  

The problem is that many youth are unaware of or ignore the importance their past record will have on their future. “Sometimes youth permit the record to become clouded,” Elder Evans observes, “thinking that it won’t matter later. Unfortunately, however, it does matter later. And often there follows the heartbreak of wishing the record were different.”

How many colleges, universities, and graduate programs have not been attended because of a poor school record? How many promotions and additional training were not received or future employment gained because of a poor military record? How many opportunities of every kind have been lost because of the record of one’s legal rap-sheet? How much money has not been loaned to couples wanting to buy a home or partners wanting to start a business because of poor credit scores? How many relationships have been disrupted in families and among friends and associates because of the accumulated memory of how one has been treated in life? In the case of the Church, how many missions have not been served, marriages not solemnized in the temple, and callings to leadership positions not extended because of the past conduct of individual members? One of the great opportunity-destroying elements in life is the “record” of our past, many times of our youth.

So, Elder Evans addresses the youth with great wisdom. “And so it would seem that this should be said to young people, everywhere , at home or away:”
Live so that you can look at anyone without an accusing conscience, without the memory of things you wish weren’t there. Be straight and open and honest. Don’t permit anything to get into your record that will not stand scrutiny under the search light of day. If you do, it will rise to plague you in times to come....
I regret that this principle was not as clear in my mind as a teacher and church worker when I needed it the most, as it is this morning. “Regret,” said William George Jordan, “is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life.”(2) This being true, I sense new responsibility.The Internet and Blogspot give me a new chance to fulfill it. I pray the young will have the good sense to listen and that those who are a little older will pass this lesson on to their children at an early age and continue to teach it throughout their lives.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Richard L. Evans, “The Record,” in At This Same Hour (New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d., probably 1949 or soon thereafter), pp. 36-37.

2. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Can We Live Life Without Regrets?©

Regret gets a bad rap in our modern and excessively “feel good”  “do your own thing” age. It is an age of personal rights without corresponding personal responsibility and accountability. It is an age in which “no child is to be left behind” which has been morphed by do-gooder social engineers into a society of praise and self-esteem junkies who require gold stars on the forehead for every attempt and a good word about every assignment completed. 

A manifestation that is particularly troubling is the attitude many hold about regret. Two sayings–and sayings are especially popular in this sound-bite society that does not want to examine today’s superficial  philosophies too closely–are prevalent. Coaches, teachers, and life coaches shout the mantra “No regrets.” Today this is shorthand for “Give it all you’ve got,” or “leave it all out on the field.” Give every effort, expend every ounce of energy, use all your skills and determination to reach the goal, thus, leaving no reason for regret. You gave it your very best.(1)  In other contexts, parents, teachers, friends, life coaches and arm-chair philosophers may use the phrase to encourage “living life to the fullest.”“Try anything once.”  “Live large.”  “You only go around once,” so don’t die with regrets that you let fear, lack of ambition or self-confidence, or anything else hold you back from anything you desire to do. I suppose this is the positive side of “no regrets,” although, as an aside, I suggest not only the impossibility of trying everything, but also its sheer folly as well.
A second popular phrase today, from my perspective is the negative side, but it is not seen that way by those who invoke it. We often hear it in interviews with celebrities. The reporter asks something like, “At this stage of life do you have any regrets–things you would do differently?” The celeb, often with great self-assurance, parrots the commonly held view, “I have no regrets. If I had my life to live over again I wouldn’t change a thing.” When this comes from those who have hit it big, it is perhaps understandable. With such good fortune, why change their trajectory?  

Sometimes, however, we hear it spoken with an air of arrogance by the rebel, the bad-boy or bad-girl–those who glory in individualism and relish running against the grain, resisting restraints and conventional mores. In the ignorance of arrogance, or should it be the arrogance of ignorance, they think they have, like Frank Sinatra, done it their way and they claim they have no regrets for doing so–notwithstanding substance abuse, rap sheets, sexual license, family conflict, and multiple divorces which are often in their background.

Whenever I hear “I have no regrets, I wouldn’t change a thing,” I find myself saying “Really?”  Really, no regrets? Pardon me for saying so, but I just plain don’t believe it. It is either  an expression of a total lack of introspection and inspection of one’s life, or a monumental insensitivity to the victims of the inevitable mistakes, blunders, failures, and ignorances which accompany everyone’s life. No regrets, really?  

Have they never injured anyone so seriously that it cannot be adequately compensated, redressed, or repaired? Have they never said a harsh, cruel, cutting, mean, sarcastic or abusive thing which cannot be called back, but which they wish with all their heart they could? Have they never made a bad decision in their family, business, among friends, in their neighborhood or community which carried in its wake a disastrous impact which could not be totally repaired? Did they never hold back a helping hand which they later lamented because they realized  they didn’t engage because of selfish reasons, fear, or inconvenience? Have they never judged someone wrongly and their judgment precipitated consequences they could not prevent or later remedy? Have they never had their motives misunderstood so deeply that despite their best efforts it could not be corrected? Have they never wasted time to the extent that important opportunities for growth, progress, productivity, success were irretrievably lost? No. Really? I don’t believe it.  

It is possible I suppose, for one to say he has learned great lessons for which he is grateful without regret. But the attitude which values only the lessons learned and at the same time casually dismisses the real genuine damage and injury that was done, but which was not redressed, is worse than callus, it is chilling. Are they really that proud, insensitive, uncaring, and cold hearted?  

True, chronic regret may stifle, even paralyze. Aldous Huxley was not happy with his first version of Brave New World and apparently let it sit a long while. In the “Foreword” to his 1968 paperback version he wrote:  
Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. (2)
But I am affirming the merit of regret. William George Gordon says, “The man who looks back upon his past life and says, “I have nothing to regret,” has lived in vain. The life without regret is the life without gain.”  This is true because every life is marred by sin, error, mistakes, and wrong doing.  He continued, 
Regret is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life. But if regret remains merely “regret,” it is useless; it must become the revelation of new possibilities, and the inspiration and source of strength to realize them. Even omnipotence could not change the past, but each man, to a degree far beyond his knowing, holds his future in his own hands.(3)
From a religious point of view, regret or remorse is one element in the positive forward moving process of repentance. When sin and error are present in our lives we can ignore and deny them and their consequences; we can become catatonic, wallowing in the muck of regret; or we can be moved into action to correct the mistake and not repeat it. It is all about how one views one’s personal responsibility and the purpose of life. Regret can and should be a catalyst to growth and improvement. It begins with an acknowledgment that one is not perfect, has not lived a perfect life, and has at many points through his life harmed and injured others. The presence of regret suggests one’s sense of personal and social responsibility. It’s absence implies a cold hard-heartedness that as Jordan says, is a life without gain. Regret is also the presence of an opportunity for greater light and wisdom regarding our future interpersonal relationships.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. This idea is so common it does not need a footnote, however, one example may suffice.  In this one Pat Williams recount’s John Havlicek’s address to his teammates at Indiana University prior to their 1976 basketball championship game.  See, Pat Williams, Secrets from the Mountain (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2001), pp. 88-89. 

2. Aldos Huxley, “Foreword,” to Brave New World, (Harper & Row, Publishers, September 1968), p. vii.

3. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control, (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Dark Side of Tolerance©

Tolerance is only complacency when it makes no distinction between right and wrong.
--Louise Erdrich 

I have been re-reading a bit of one of my favorite preachers–a Baptist named Vance Havner. He is two things I like very much in my authors. He is thoughtful and he is eloquent. In recent reading I was stirred up by some of his comments about tolerance, light, darkness, sin and evil. So stirred up that I was moved to share just a few sobering paragraphs with you. His comments about tolerance, however, have nothing to do with race or politics. He said:
The devil never had a greater ally than this modern atmosphere of genial, amiable, pleasant tolerance, in which nothing is bad, everything is good, and black and white are smeared into an indefinite gray. Nothing matters if everybody is in good humor. (1)
Hardly anyone these days asks where all this goodwill of uncritical and also unexamined tolerance leads?  Havner did! He suggests that it ultimately leads to darkness. Jesus said he was the Light of the World, but he came into darkness. If it was dark back then, how much more so now. Here is Havner:
We are living in the dark. The closing chapter of this age is dominated by the prince and powers of darkness. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. The night is far spent; the blackness is more extensive and more excessive as it deepens just before the dawn. Mammoth Cave is not limited to Kentucky; it is universal! 
Strangely enough, man never had more artificial illumination and less true light. Bodily, he walks in unprecedented brilliance, while his soul dwells in unmitigated night. He can release a nuclear glory that outdazzles the sun, and with it he plans his own destruction. He can put satellites in the sky, and left to himself, he is a wandering star to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.(2)
A gloomy view to be sure. But isn’t the fact that we find it so gloomy in itself illuminating?  What does it illuminate? Perhaps how desensitized we are to the reality of the darkness which surrounds us. How dare Havner call our tolerant and urbane civilization darkness! How dare he! In our quieter and more contemplative moments, however, we know he is right. You thought the above was gloomy?  Hear Havner's description of today’s evil and notice how we got there–little by little:
We not only live in the dark, we get used to it. There is a slow, subtle, sinister brainwashing process going on and by it we are gradually being desensitized to evil. Little by little, sin is made to appear less sinful until the light within us becomes darkness–and how great is that darkness! Our magazines are loaded with accounts of sordid crime, our newsstands with concentrated corruption. We are engulfed in a tidal wave of pornographic filth. Television has put us in the dark with Sodom and Gomorrah–right in the living room. We get used to it, acclimated to it. We accept, as a matter of course, its art, its literature, its music, its language. We learn to live with it without an inner protest.(3)
We permit the slaughter of over 60 million fetuses in the name of personal choice and liberty and consider it no different than if we were cleansing the dust from the top of the table. Talk about desensitized! Talk about darkness! Talk about evil! How do we get used to such darkness?  
One may live in a twilight zone, in conditions of low visibility, until he finds the practices of this world less repulsive. He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind. He renounces what he calls the “Pharisaism” and “puritanism” of early days with a good word for dancing, smoking, and even cocktails now and then. Instead of passing up Vanity Fair, he spends his vacations there.(4)
Why no protest? Because we are a tolerant, accepting, nonjudgmental, and civilized society. We live in the age of “do your own thing” and nobody will protest. In fact, if someone does, what happens? The political correctness police move into action. The ones to protest are the ones on the side of darkness. Not unlike the civilized people at the University of California at Berkeley. A very liberal place which one would think would be the epicenter of  “free speech.” In reality, however, it is the epicenter of political correctness and darkness--hooded thugs who protest, then riot, burn, and destroy in opposition to a conservative slated to give an address on their urbane campus.  

Havner got it just about right. Tolerance can lead to a serious desensitization–a tolerance of evil which leads to the worst kind of darkness–darkness in the mind and soul.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Vance Havner, The Best of Vance Havner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1980), p. 81.

2.  Havner, pp. 84-85.  

3.  Havner,  p. 85.

4.  Havner, p. 86.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Attributes that Should Accompany Broadmindedness©

"He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind."
--Vance Havner


Yesterday I wrote about the neglected meanings of the word "discrimination." Today’s essay is a companion piece about a different phenomenon–the almost unthinking acceptance of the positive values given to the word broadminded and the neglect of its dangers and associated attributes which should accompany it in order to avoid its negative effects. The thoughts are not mine, however. Today this column is relinquished for reproduction of a short but thoughtful essay by a man whose intelligence, wisdom, and articulateness I greatly admire and respect–Richard L. Evans, the voice of radio’s “Spoken Word,” for forty years.

*********
“Broadmindedness” is a word that has much meaning and much to commend it. But “the question is,” said Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “the question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
We sometimes let words run away with us. If, for example, a stream is allowed to run too “broadly” it may dissipate itself in devious shallow courses instead of running full and effectively.  It is possible also for a person to become so “broad” that there is shallowness, that nothing stays fixed, that the mind is wide open for every breeze to blow through
It is good to be broad in understanding, but there is also a need for depth. It is good to avoid narrowness, prejudice, too have an open mind, but not so open that it doesn’t discriminate, not so open that it spreads out all over without convictions or principles or judgment or depth or definition. “Broad” is only one dimension. There are others equally essential.  Concerning an obsession with one dimension, Emily Dickinson said: “He preached upon ‘breadth’ till it argued him narrow, / The broad are too broad to define.”
One could conceivably become so indiscriminatingly [sic] “broad” that there would be no bounds to his thinking, no lines he wouldn’t cross, no principles he would be governed by, no direction he wouldn’t go. If a navigator were so “broad” as to ignore the safe channel, he would likely be wrecked.  If a pilot were so “broad” as to fail to follow the beam, he would hazard his own life and other lives also. To broadness must be added judgment, depth, definition and direction–broadness that is straight and true, broadness that includes principles and standards and character and competence.
This would be our appeal to young people: Don’t let a false and shallow kind of “broadmindeness” rule your lives or determine your decisions. Never let yourselves be run by a word without looking at its several sides. Broadmindedness can have much virtue, much strength, much understanding–but broadness without balance, broadness without standards, broadness without judgment, without moral qualities and character simply isn’t safe. We should never become so “broad” that principles are set aside.(1)

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1.  Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, Volume Five, (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1972), pp. 176-77.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Need More, Not Less Discrimination©

"Never let yourselves be run by a word without looking at its several sides." 
--Richard L. Evans

It is worth considering another point of view about the highly loaded word discrimination. In today’s world discrimination has been politicized and narrowed in meaning to the point of making the word nearly useless.We are obsessed with discrimination as an act of prejudice or a prejudicial outlook, or treatment, where discrimination in a perverse sort of way is categorical–stereotypical–rather than individual.  In other words, the finer, and I do mean finer points of the word’s meaning are perverted from truly discriminating to true prejudice.

The word is not useless, however, and its broader meanings and applications should not be overlooked or abandoned. Wikipedia tells us the etymology of the word is from Latin into English and meant to “distinguish between;” coming from a verb meaning to make a distinction. Discrimination means “the act of making or perceiving a difference,” but it implies the ability to ultimately make fine and important distinctions. 

The ability to discriminate or make subtle distinctions is a very essential element of our own education. Early on we begin to do two things–generalize and discriminate. Things we play with are called toys–a generalization. However, a child without clear distinctions may consider a loaded pistol as a toy. So we must learn to discriminate between toy and not-toy. As every parent learns, that process of refining our ability to generalize and discriminate is endless during childhood and indeed it continues through life especially as the categories become more complicated and abstract.

Like so many other wonderful words in our English language, discriminate and discrimination have been co-opted as largely a negative–in this case they have become a political bludgeon. I would here argue for the reinstatement of the admirable meanings of this very useful and important word. Consider how essential it is to discriminate between the following, and the consequences when such distinctions are not made:

Truth and error
Strong and weak evidence
Good and bad
 Character and persona
Dangerous and beneficial
Fact and opinion
 Foolish and substantive
Right and wrong
Ends and means
 Valid and specious
Intention and action
 Important and unimportant
Freedom and anarchy
Maturity and immaturity
It seems that many of today’s American politicians, journalists, pundits, commentators, and bloggers are almost constitutionally incapable of  discriminating between such things as:

Islam as a religion and radical versions of Islam
The value of the life of a child before birth and after birth
Living under the rule of law and lawlessness
Legitimate disagreement and prejudice and bigotry
Wealth and success
Fame and/or status and knowledge and intelligence
Facts and “alternate facts”
What is legal and what is moral
 Possessing educational degrees and wisdom
Actions and policies and consequences
Slogans and solutions
Superficially presenting “both sides” and true neutrality, objectivity
Information and education
High emotion and winning an argument
Civility and weakness
Sexual preference and perversions 
Sexual license and sexual consequences
 Sanctuary cities and civil disobedience
 Personal preferences and correctness
 Majority rule and personal rights

In the face of the philosophical diverseness, fuzzy and simplistic thinking, hyper-emotionalism, political correctness, deep partisanship, materialism, relativism, secularism, and a dozen other “isms” which dominate the American polity today, as a society we need to be more discriminatory than ever.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

President Trump Missed His First Great Opportunity©

“Real life is about reacting quickly to the opportunity at hand, not the opportunity you envisioned.”
–Conan O’Brien

“To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good
that is within our reach, is the great art of life.”
–Samuel Johnson

“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved,
of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”
–Gian-Carlo Menotti

***
Alas, the new President missed his first great opportunity yesterday. With the women’s march on Washington he had hundreds of thousands of America’s women come to his house. Unhappy women, discontented women, scared women, some angry women. Probably the vast majority of them pretty darn good women. But they came by the tens and hundreds of thousands. You have to admire their commitment to participate in such sheer numbers.

The day before he told the nation that nobody was going to be neglected, everyone was going to be heard. Here were hundreds of thousands of voices wanting to be heard standing on his doorstep.  He also said he was going to be a man of action and get things done.  So, why didn’t he.....

Have his chief of staff call the organizer of the march and ask if the President might come to the Lincoln Memorial and have 5 minutes to speak to the women?  Just five minutes. What would he say in those five minutes?
  • Welcome to Washington, D.C.  Thank you for coming.
  • Thank you for participating in our democracy.
  • Yesterday I promised you I would listen and try to be the president of all the people.  In fulfillment of that promise, here is what I have come prepared to do.  I have brought teams of helpers.  They will be with you all day recording what you say.  They will receive your statements, your petitions, whatever.  One group will receive your objections to me personally, another group will receive your concerns about policies etc., and a third group will receive your suggestions for improving this nation.
  • We have contacted Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina to head up a special committee to review all of this and in three weeks give us a report of the 10 or 15 most important items in each category. Three weeks after that I will address the nation and outline what we intend to do on these matters–how we will address them.
  • We wish you a great day in Washington.  Sorry, we couldn’t have arranged better weather for you.  Thank you again for coming and participating.
I think the dunce missed one of the great opportunities he might get in his administration.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parents, Lead Your Children to the Finer Things of Life©

I read something last night which prompted this blog, because it seemed so profound and has so many applications, especially for young parents. More than a decade ago I served as a mission president in northern California. Nearly all of the 450 young men and women whom I presided over during the three years we were in the mission field are parents now. Almost daily I see on FaceBook pictures, read accounts of activities, and rejoice in accomplishments of their children.  I think about these young parents whom I love with a depth only parents really understand. Most are outstanding, some have stumbled and picked themselves up, some have yet to get up, and some seem to have abandoned their religious moorings altogether.  In nearly every case, however, I see troubling signs of worldliness creeping in almost unaware. What I observe in these cases is not confined to my young friends, it is everywhere in our society. Indeed, they are perhaps the least of the problem. Nevertheless, what I read last night combined with these observations prompt what follows.

Richard L. Evans, now deceased, was an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He delivered 2-3 minute messages on the church’s “Spoken Word” from Temple Square every Sunday for forty years!. In one of his messages(1) he quoted President N. Eldon Tanner of the Church’s First Presidency as saying,
The parents that you should honor more than any others are the parents of your children yet-to-be. Those children are entitled to the best parents that it is possible for you to give them–clean parents.(2)
Elder Evans went on to elaborate a bit about this idea.  In the process he also said something that struck me as deeply profound. He wrote:
Honoring the parents of your children-to-be!  Think of the importance of the partner you choose in marriage. Think of marrying someone who shares your own ideal so your children will not be pulled apart by their parents. Think of the importance of learning and working and providing for them.Think of giving children parents who are moral, reverent, clean and kind. Think of giving children homes of love and responsibility and respect; parents who would not neglect to teach them, but who would lead them to the finer things of life.(3)
That paragraph could be the subject of a sermon or a chapter in a book or an essay such as this. However, I was struck most by the last phrase in bold italics. It led me to ask myself, “What are the finer things in life which parents should be leading their children toward?” As I considered this I reflected on the kinds of things which are so often trumpeted on FaceBook pages and elsewhere, and I wonder.

Are sports competitions, small and great (a child’s participation, or attendance at professional sports events), where so often these days winning is the only thing, rules and morals and sportsmanship be damned, really the finer things in life. Or even if these negatives are not present, what does one say about the almost idolatrous affection for one’s favorite team or alma mater sometimes portrayed? Foul language, “trash talk,” self-promotion, arrogance, strutting and swaggering, chest beating, taunting, “in your face” attitudes, anger, and even fighting are standard fare in most of what we see in sports today. Young people learn to do these same things from the teams and models their parents idolize. Finer things?

Many young people are very conservative and are deeply committed to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, as I believe they should be. However, I confess it has astounded me how many seem to be teaching their children how to handle a weapon at very young ages, or who relish the family “hunt” which, of course, involves killing animals. Too often, even when the ostensible purpose is to stock the family freezer with meat, there grows up in the heart almost a blood lust in hunters. Are these things really the “finer things of life”?   Is intentional violence against animals a fine thing? 

How about entertainment in general?  “Fun” is one of the great values of most of America’s youth. If something isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing. The corollary to this is, if it isn’t entertaining (a special kind of fun), it isn’t worth our time.  Is this value, these priorities the “finer things” of life? One contemporary example. Does permitting children to spend as much as 6 hours a day on personal electronic devices playing games and engaging in social media qualify as among the “finer things” of life?(4)

More, but only mentioned without elaboration: rampant materialism; irreverence; disrespect; harsh language; fostering fads and fashions of the world such as casualness in grubby dress and unkempt grooming, ubiquitous presence of facial hair; sexual innuendo; the trashy; the low-minded; off-color jokes; the undignified and ignoble; wasting time; dodging responsibility; blaming others; excuses; cheating employers; breaking laws (traffic laws for example); and a thousand more; critical attitudes about everything from the driver in the car that cut you off to the government to church leaders and church policies. Where do these things fit in the call to lead children to the “finer things” in life?

Do not over react or dismiss this. I am not against sports, entertainment, guns, hunting (well maybe), and fun. But it seems to me that there is overmuch emphasis on these things in the world and in many modern LDS families. I once complained that boys practice skateboarding tricks by the hour in the church parking lot and pavilion behind our house, but could you get one of them to spend even 15 minutes reading and memorizing a scripture in preparation for his mission? One of my great mission assistants said that described him perfectly as a boy. Nor do I expect perfection from young parents. Anger, excuses, critical attitudes, and dodging responsibility are things all of us have to learn to master and for most it takes some time.

This call to my young friends, parents and parents to be, is to give serious consideration to the matter of parenting, especially their manner of parenting, and not assume that what they are doing is the way the Lord wants them to do it.(5) I encourage them to ask themselves, “Am I teaching my children and fostering in my family the Lord’s culture or man’s culture?   Is our goal to lead them to the finer things in life? If so, how much thought has been put into what those “finer things” are? How much thought has been given to the things we stress and do in our family? Can we have fun and be righteous people, keeping the balance so the pendulum doesn’t swing too far away from righteousness?

What are the finer things? Well, in Elder Evans’ book(s) he has a lot to say about that. He constantly discusses sterling character, faith, righteousness, truth, excellence, integrity, culture, refinement, goodness, responsibility, reverence, respect, love, charity, compassion, confidence, education, testimony, knowledge, chastity, cleanliness, empathy, tolerance, manners, morals, communicating well, loving God and his Son, loving mankind, hard work, honorable work, commitment, duty, obedience, action, involvement, generosity, kindness, service and more. Such things as self-control, personal dignity and nobility; duty, magnanimity, common sense, keeping promises, elevated thought, reverence for family life, loyalty (especially family loyalty), are repeatedly stressed in his writings.  

I might add a suggestion or two, not listed in any priority: life long learning, books and reading, writing well, wisdom, judgment, maturity, appreciation of the various disciplines of knowledge, high level music, the fine arts, edifying performing arts, good literature, creativity, elevating entertainment and recreation, meaningful travel, museums and parks, love and respect for nature, humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors, cultivation of religious sensitivity, worship, and service, service, service; certainly these are among the finer things of life.

Parents could do worse than to take the 13th article of faith as their family guide.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. The book I am presently reading is, Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, Volume Five (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1972).  It is a collection of some of his last “Spoken Word” messages before his death in 1971.

2. N. Eldon Tanner, cited in Evans, Volume Five, 123.

3. Evans, Volume Five, 123-24, emphasis added.

4.  I recently read a report of a study which indicates that nationwide children spend over 6 hours a day on personal devices, over and beyond use in school!  As I have observed my grandchildren, I suspect this statistic is correct. However, it may be that many LDS parents pay closer attention and/or restrict the use of such devices more than most parents because we have received counsel regarding this for 10 years or more.

5.     Several of the General Authorities of the LDS Church have spoken about the difference between the Lord's culture and man's culture.  My plea here is that young parents would take their role seriously enough to study many of the fine books and talks written by church leaders and members about parental responsibilities and parenting, because we are not born knowing how to parent and even in the best of homes there may be traditions and teachings that do not conform to the Lord's way. So they must inform themselves about how the Lord wants them to parent.  I know of no other church or institution which endows its people with such resources about marriage, family, parents, children, family life, and parenting as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Just one example:  Two general conferences of the Church have been held every year since the organization of the Church in 1830.  One would be hard pressed to find a conference where one of the above mentioned subjects has not been discussed; and in the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries there have often been several talks on these subjects in each conference.  We of all people are most blessed, but we are also the most responsible for doing it correctly--given all the Lord's counsel on the subject. Thus the imperative that parents ought to be anxiously engaged and about the work of finding, reading, studying, and implementing this counsel.