Monday, May 28, 2012

Keepin It Real on Memorial Day -- Ivan W. Nelson: Veteran of WWII and Patriarch of the Nelson Clan


On this fine Memorial Day, I give a shout to my main man and grandpa, Ivan W. Nelson and his exploits in the Pacific Theatre of WWII.  A fine man and an example to me.  Served honorably in the Navy and then with his wife Gladys raised 6 wonderful children of whom my mom is one.  Worked hard for his country and then just as faithfully for his wife and family.  I miss him and love to think about what a great man he was.  His service, his life, and his family all inspire me to be like him -- just a regular, unflashy, solid, hard-working guy who leaves his mark on the world in small yet profound ways.  I'm proud to call myself a Nelson.


But, rather than me rambling away like usual, I elect to pass the designated Torch of Keepin It Real to my wonderful mother, Diane.  This is the talk she gave at Grandpa Ivan's funeral.  It tells more about his role as father and husband than his role in the military but after all, the people who fought to preserve our freedom and were able to return had to jump right back into taking care of everyday life and for Ivan, it was a young family that needed taking care of.  I know he never put any other accomplishment in his life -- military or anything else -- above the family he raised with Gladys.  Without any further ado, here is Diane's tribute to Ivan exactly as she read it at his funeral and I use it here with her permission.  Enjoy my fine friends:

"Memories of Dad"
Talk given Friday, Sept. 25, 2009 at funeral services of I.W. Nelson

There isn’t a time that I remember my Dad that this old home movie doesn’t comes to mind. Picture this: The setting is late 1950‘s, the Nelson family in our old backyard on East Lawrence Road.  A typical summer scene, an old fashioned blow up kiddie pool full of water & a sea of small kids, everyone of them in underwear floating, fussing & fighting over the garden hose.  Suddenly the back door flies open.  A big hairy barrel-chested blond man in swimming trunks jumps out -- that would be our Dad, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE! He flexes his muscles, he beats his chest & lets out a tarzan yell the whole neighborhood hears.  He heads for the sea of kids in the pool.  The sea of kids parts.  The oversized man enters the miniature pool.  In deep-knee bend position, in swan-like diving style he takes the plunge -- commonly known as a belly flop!  All the water once inside the pool now washes over the sides. The tubes of air leak slowly out, but nobody cares!  The walls of the pool collapse as each child streaks to stack himself one on top of the other. Their raucus cry rings thru the air, “DOG-PILE-ON DAD!” This is the way I like to remember my Dad, bigger than life, strong, robust and full of fun!  I guess that’s why we always felt he’d live forever!  But as I see it now, in humble gratitude to our Savior Jesus Christ, he will live forever. 
Dad had a very unique approach to life sometimes “If a little bit is good a whole lot is better!” Let me illustrate with this incident at the cabin. I was doing my laundry one day which consisted of very dirty white gym socks. The dirt up there is black & I was scrubbing away when Dad happened to pass by: “Hmm,” he said. “Well, I can see you need a little assistance with your laundry, dear. If so, I’m your man!” So I very gratefully gave him a big basket of white socks and underwear & said, “Go to it dad, such a deal!” and walked downstairs in the basement to take a little break. I could hear the washer start & thought he’s got it under control -- Wow thanks Dad.
 However, in a few minutes I had to use the basement bathroom, which is directly below the laundry room, so I opened the door.  Coming out of the toilet bowl, the back of the toilet & bathroom sink & any pipes nearby, were mountains of sudsy clorox smelling bubbles. And I mean they were up to the ceiling! I backed out of their pretty fast as that bleach smell was pretty intense. I could even taste that bleach! Upon further investigation,I found Dad had used 3/4 of a new jug of clorox & half a box of Tide with Bleach.  “Boy Dad” I said, “I think you might have gone a little overboard,” & told him what happened.  Smiling he answered “ Well, they’re white aren’t they?”  Yes, and soon to disintegrate!
Julie [my mom's sister] shares another memory: Julie loved her horse. One day Dad took her to ride Smokey.  Dad put the saddle on top of the horse & tightened the cinch under its belly to it’s normal position--Well, if a little pressure works, a whole lot is better so he tightened it a bit more. He kept on tightening the cinch ‘til Smokey’s knees buckled, he fell down on the ground and laid on his side like he was dead. Julie thought Dad had killed her horse! 
Speaking of horses, Bill had a horse named Buck. He’d bought it with his own paper route money.  Dad tried to befriend the horse attempting to pet the animal, but the horse instinctively knew he could buffalo Dad. He laid his ears back & bared his teeth and started chasing Dad.  The pasture was a grapefruit grove, so Dad picked up a grapefruit & threw it at the horse, & luckily the horse loved grapefruit and stopped to eat it. It only made Dad all the more mad and he continued lobbing grapefruits at the horse as it ate.  This same horse was trained to stop when the rider dropped its reins. One day Dad was galloping the horse at break--neck speeds & happened to lose the reins. The horse instantly put on his brakes, stopped on a dime, & Dad flew up over the horses head. The moral to these memories is Dad Never Gave up! 
Dad had a contagious laugh I don’t care what he was laughing about--to hear him laugh set us ALL on our way to hysteria at times. Even at times when propriety would suggest otherwise.  
In Third Ward one Sunday, a woman sat down in front of us with her baby & husband. All of a sudden the child ripped the Mother’s Wig off. Dad became a tidal wave of silent laughter with tremors registering on the richter scale at 10+. He was a big guy & those tremors continued for 5 minutes at least. He could not be subdued & neither could we. He suppressed any loud noises, but that only made it worse. I just knew Dad would shake that pew right off its bolts. 
One Friday nite, returning from a date, I heard the same kind of hysterics going on in the kitchen. Mom & Dad were both dying of laughter. I’d invited my date in for a soda & so we went to the kitchen to see what on earth was going on & there stood my folks, doubled over in a fit of laughter, trying to catch their breath, picking manure out of their pockets, hair, shoes etc. They had gone to the movies & getting out late in the dark, they stepped off a high curb & fell into a huge pile of manure!
DAd loved music & musicals. He had a most mellifluous voice & could whistle like know one you’ve ever heard!  Our home was filled with music of all kinds & our Family Home Evenings with the folks even now always include music.  I would play piano & Dad & I would sing together often. He loved to lead Mitch Miller Christmas songs at the Beneficial Life parties & was way more entertaining than Mitch was. Carolyn remembers Dad coming home, doing a little jig, to whatever music was on at the moment, the change in his pocket jingling to the beat.  Dad was a dancing’ fool & would take all the babies cheek to cheek in what we call “the press” & all the grandkids loved dancing with him. Even the squirmiest -- if they resisted at all they would calm right down because he never let up.  We were all enthralled watching Dad work his magic!!
My favorite memory comes next: When visiting Dad at the hospital last week he whispered to me “talk about the kids.” He had just had a breathing tube taken out of his throat, & couldn’t speak out loud yet. In fact, we never heard him speak audibly again, but I brought him up to date on all the kids . Then he turned over on his side as close as he could get to me & whispered these words: “Sing A song.”  As I turned to close the door to make it more private, I thought of how he used to sing to me when I had new braces & wasn’t smiling much anymore. He would sing to me “I’m in heaven when I see you smile, smile for me, my Diane.” That would make me smile every time.  And now he was whispering to me: “Sing A Song.” So holding his hand with my right hand & wiping tears with my left, I swallowed hard & sang: “I am a child of God,” “Families are Forever,” & “I want to be a friend of yours” -- I got to sing my Daddy to sleep & he smiled! The kids & grandkids will sing the same songs today in honor of Grandpa. And I just know Grandpa is in heaven & he’ll be smiling when they sing too! 
Two great gifts I always had -- 
My sweetheart Mom & Devoted Dad

(I wish I had a picture on the computer of them together but this'll have to do.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Since 1927 -- Tommy Monson on Keepin It Real

Keepin It Real Since 1927

I'm a fan of Thomas S. Monson.  It's taken me a while to really appreciate his style and way of going about things.  At times in the past, I've wrongly thought his talks and teachings were too heavy on the sentimental stories and too light on doctrine.  That was a dense, stupid opinion on my part and couldn't have been further from the truth.  He just has a different style about him that was harder for me to appreciate (I've always been more naturally drawn to the directness and no-nonsense approach of a Dallin Oaks or Russell Ballard).  Anyway, in the years since he was called as President of the LDS Church, Pres. Monson has really "won me over" so to speak.  His whole life's been devoted to a single idea: "Concern for the One" (see Joseph Wirthlin's talk: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/concern-for-the-one?lang=eng). I've been reading some of his biography and I'm amazed at the tirelessness with which he's worked throughout his whole life to bring comfort to those who need it, to "lift up the hands that hang down" and to "strengthen the feeble knees."  He's worked hard to keep it real and to share his realness with others.  His teachings and admonitions to selfless service have brought me closer to Christ.  He says in one of my favorite talks of his, "He who gives money, gives much. He who gives time, gives more. He who gives himself, gives all."  The deepest part of me (the part I consider my spirit, soul, what have you) has always resonated with sentiments like this.  He inspires me to look outside myself, to jump on opportunities to serve and to reach out to others, to show more love. 

Anyway, a few more quotes from a brother I admire and sustain as a prophet:

"The passage of time has not altered the capacity of the Redeemer to change lives."

"Our very business in life is not to get ahead of others... but to get ahead of ourselves."

"The question each of us must answer is ... What shall I do with Jesus? He Himself has provided us the answer: 'Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.'"

"Our task is to become our best selves. One of God's greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final."

"In the private sanctuary of one's own conscience lies that spirit, that determination to cast off the old person and to measure up to the stature of true potential."

"The principles of living greatly include the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and trial with humility."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Man Eugene and Dialogue


Been rereading some of my favorite stuff lately.  I love this one.  Eugene England is a role model of mine and his way of building and finding a living and vibrant faith through questioning, inquiring deeply, and yes even doubting, is one that I can commend to anyone.  Take 10 little minutes to read 3 pages.  You won't be disappointed.  It was written back in 1966 as the first editorial in the Mormon Scholarly-type Journal, Dialogue (of which England was the founding editor).  True to typical England form, it is very well-written yet profoundly humble in tone, super-idealistic in the ideas it sets out, and unfailingly honest.  I offer a solid "amen" and a thumbside chestbump to everything he says here.  Some of my favorite lines (with a little bit of commentary from yours truly -- the quotes are in blue, my editorializing is in plain old black):

Speaking of St. Paul's admonition to "prove all things," meaning test, examine, look at all possibilities: "The Christian apostle [St. Paul] would have us give our searching a meaning, not allow it to serve as an easy posture. He also said, “Hold fast that which is good”: respect certitude as well as doubt; commit yourself to the good you find; give yourself to the possibilities that begin to prove out; live the faith that is given you in your seeking—however deeply you continue to test that faith and examine others."

I've never been at a loss in trying to find good in the LDS Church and what it teaches about God and my relationship to him. I've committed myself wholeheartedly to such.  



"I have tasted the precious fruit of faith in specific things; I have been able, in all my 'proving,' to discover and to continue to hold some things fast as certainties—faith in the divinity of Christ and in the saving powerof his teachings and Atonement, faith in the divine mission of his Church and his modern prophets—and the deep hunger of my soul has been fed as I have given myself to this faith."


I certainly have tried to honestly "prove" and test Christ's teachings as well as the teachings of what I believe to be his Church and have come to a great appreciation and conviction of their truthfulness.  

"We must be willing to consider that anything we believe or base our lives upon may be a partial truth—at best something seen (as Saint Paul also said) “through a glass darkly”—or even may be dead wrong. We must take seriously the jovial words of the distinguished Mormon chemist, Henry Eyring, “In this Church we don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true."



This is a stiff challenge.  It's never comfortable to consider that you may be wrong in your beliefs.  However, I think it's incumbent upon all intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually honest folks to, at least sometimes, examine their deepest convictions from different possible angles and to allow those beliefs to be challenged.  As I've tried to do this (and I don't at all mean to set myself up as some model of spirituality), I've come to a deeper knowledge of what I do and don't believe and I've been able to sift out some of the beliefs that might be culturally conditioned or even self-conditioned.  Like I said, it isn't comfortable, but it is, in the end, fulfilling.


"My faith encourages my curiosity and awe; it thrusts me out into relationship with all the creation. The Christ I have come to know through my Mormon faith affirms the world as good and each of its people as eternally precious; he insists that my words and actions be integrated with each other and relevant to that world—that they not just speak to it but really make the connection. My faith in him encourages me to enter into dialogue."


It's so easy and natural (for me at least) to lead a solitary, self-contained, isolated life -- to just stay in my own little world and not reach out to engage the world in a "dialogue."  The world can be a scary, risky place and it takes faith to step out and become a part of it -- to "really make the connection" with things outside myself whether it be other individuals or God or whatever.  It's a risk I always try to take and my spiritual life has always been the better for it.  


"A dialogue is possible if we can avoid looking upon doubt as a sin—or as a virtue—but can see it as a condition, a condition that can be productive if it leads one to seek and knock and ask and if the doubter is approached with sympathetic listening and thoughtful response or that can be destructive if it is used as an escape from responsibility or the doubter is approached with condemnation."


To me, this is one of the most profound lines of the article.  For so much of my life, I saw doubt as a sin.  I feared it.  I thought it was bad that I had questions and doubts about God, Christ, and the teachings of the scriptures.  I thought it meant that I lacked faith or that I was hopelessly flawed and that God, if he existed, condemned me for it.  I've found out that nothing could be further from the truth.  Great religious men and women throughout history (St. Peter, St. Paul, Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, C.S. Lewis, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and the list goes on and on) struggled with doubt and did so successfully.  Doubt doesn't mean an absence of belief.  As I have been able to honestly acknowledge and wrestle with my own doubts, it has, paradoxically, increased my faith.  I do believe wholeheartedly that God is there, that he answers my prayers, and that Christ is my personal savior but that doesn't mean I don't find myself saying at times, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).  Doubt is indeed "a condition" and it has played a significant role in my personal faith as it has lead me to "seek and knock and ask."  I think most folks, when really pressed, will admit that they struggle with certain aspects of their own belief (whatever that belief is) and I really believe that it's on the other side of honest doubting, seeking, knocking, and asking that we find TRUE faith.  At least that's been my experience.  


"The faith I hold fast impels me to speak and to listen; it impels me to express honestly and fully and as gracefully as possible the convictions that shape my life, to try to demonstrate the things I find as I think and do research and experience the holy. It impels me to listen carefully and always. My faith as a Mormon encourages by specific doctrines my feeling that each man is eternally unique and god-like in potential, that each man deserves a hearing and that we have something important to learn from each man if we can hear him—if he can speak and we can listen well."


This is part of what this blog is about: to serve as a vehicle through which I can at least make feeble attempts to "demonstrate the things I find as I think and do research and experience the holy."  It's an attempt to engage the world around me in a meaningful, vibrant dialogue and to add to it my humble, rudimentary,  hardly coherent ramblings for whatever they're worth.  I certainly don't have all the answers but I am working for em and I find that as I try to write out the crude answers and conclusions I've come to myself, I'm able to better comprehend and understand others' thoughts, feelings, and conclusions.  Self-expression ain't easy.  I've found in my own experience that trying to spit out my own thoughts and feelings is sometimes like giving myself the heimlich maneuver.  Like trying to tell my parents I love them.  It's always been hard for me.  I'm just bad at it and it often comes out so lame that I'm reminded of why I'm so hesitant to do it in the first place!  But I still try to do it and it always does feel good afterward.  If this blog serves no other purpose besides helping a brother express himself better, then I'll call it a success.


  
Without anymore ramblings from me, let's get down to the nitty gritty. The full article.  


The Possibility of Dialogue
By Eugene England
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
—Paul the Apostle
The paradoxical words of Paul quoted above are an obvious place to begin to consider the possibilities of dialogue about a Christian religion and its cultural heritage. The words are familiar to our time. “Examine. Test. Prove.” The demand for reevaluation and for proof and the pressure toward thorough going skepticism continue in our universities and mount in our society generally. The voices against dogmatism (especially religious dogmatism) grow in the land. And here is Paul, who brought Christianity to the western world, speaking the same words. “Prove all things”: consider all things; look at all possibilities; examine your inherited prejudices and evaluate again even your cherished beliefs; be open to what might be a new understanding—a new faith.
But, of course, Paul was no mere skeptic. The Christian apostle would have us give our searching a meaning, not allow it to serve as an easy posture. He also said, “Hold fast that which is good”: respect certitude as well as doubt; commit yourself to the good you find; give yourself to the possibilities that begin to prove out; live the faith that is given you in your seeking—however deeply you continue to test
that faith and examine others.
A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma understood this paradox. He knew that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge” but is a willingness to “experiment” in new realms, to give place in our hearts for new words and not cast them out prematurely with our unbelief. He knew what it is to prove and also hold—to be open to seeds of potential meaning and being, continually both to test and to nourish them (because they can only be properly tested if nourished) until the good seeds produce fruit that is “most precious” (see Alma 32:27–42).
Paul’s challenge and Alma’s experiment have been deeply significant to my own experience of the possibilities of life and to my faith in the process of dialogue as a way to discover life’s possibilities. I have tasted the precious fruit of faith in specific things; I have been able, in all my proving, to discover and to continue to hold some things fast as certainties—faith in the divinity of Christ and in the saving power
of his teachings and Atonement, faith in the divine mission of his Church and his modern prophets—and the deep hunger of my soul has been fed as I have given myself to this faith. At the same time, I have sensed the risk of choice, the limitation of commitment to a defined context in this world that is full of richly complex possibilities and allows us only finite vision into their worth. Yet I have found that my very specific faith does not cut me off from this rich complexity; it actually intensifies and informs with meaning my involvement in it.
I am motivated, in my relationship to Christ and my desire to build his kingdom, by both the questing openness and the loving authority exhibited in his life and in his revelations to his prophets. I think and act within a specific context of Mormon faith that defines my life and shapes my soul. I relate to my wife and children and friends and use my time in terms of the counsel of the Church and the heritage of
Mormon experience. But my very grasp on this specific direction, this “iron rod,” turns me out to all people and their experiences in desire for dialogue with them. The very principles I accept as definitive of my life warn me to be continually open to the revelation of new possibilities for my life from both God and man.
My faith encourages my curiosity and awe; it thrusts me out into relationship with all the creation. The Christ I have come to know through my Mormon faith affirms the world as good and each of its people as eternally precious; he insists that my words and actions be integrated with each other and relevant to that world—that they not just speak to it but really make the connection. My faith in him encourages me to enter into dialogue.
Such a dialogue seems to me to depend on some initial commitment to values, to some beliefs that give a person a place from which to speak and a purpose for speaking. It can be engaged in best by those who hold fast that which is good. But such a dialogue depends also on willingness to prove all things. We must be willing to consider that anything we believe or base our lives upon may be a partial truth—at best something seen (as Saint Paul also said) “through a glass darkly”—or even may be dead wrong. We must take seriously the jovial words of the distinguished Mormon chemist, Henry Eyring, “In this Church we don’t have to believe anything that isn’t
true.”
A dialogue is possible if we can avoid looking upon doubt as a sin—or as a virtue—but can see it as a condition, a condition that can be productive if it leads one to seek and knock and ask and if the doubter is approached with sympathetic listening and thoughtful response or that can be destructive if it is used as an escape from responsibility or the doubter is approached with condemnation.
A dialogue is possible if, in trying to describe our findings and convictions, we can be honest with ourselves and each other, if we can use traditional forms and conventions without letting them become lies or idols. We must be witnesses for all that is real to us and no more, recognizing the eternal dignity of truth which gives it claim finally over expediency and even perhaps charity.
But a dialogue can realize its full possibilities only if there is charity, if we can speak with sensitivity to each other’s framework or ability to hear and speak in order to communicate for each other’s welfare, not to justify or exalt ourselves at each other’s expense. We must truly listen to each other, respecting our essential brotherhood and the courage of those who try to speak, however they may differ
from us in professional standing or religious belief or moral vision. We must speak and listen patiently, with good humor, with real expectation, and then our dialogue can serve both truth and charity.
Joseph Smith, one of the prophets to whom I give my faith, has recorded the voice of the Lord urging men to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause … and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28). I am motivated by my belief in that power and agency to test the possibilities that the journal we here begin can be successful in fostering many kinds of valuable dialogue. I am also motivated by partial agreement with Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike that “The church should be a launching pad and not a comfort station.” (It should be both.) And I am motivated by the challenges to intelligent and creative discipleship made again and again by the leaders of the Church.
The faith I hold fast impels me to speak and to listen; it impels me to express honestly and fully and as gracefully as possible the convictions that shape my life, to try to demonstrate the things I find as I think and do research and experience the holy. It impels me to listen carefully and always. My faith as a Mormon encourages by specific doctrines my feeling that each man is eternally unique and god-like in potential, that each man deserves a hearing and that we have something important to learn from each man if we can hear him—if he can speak and we can listen well. Dialogue is possible to those who can. Such a dialogue will not solve all of our intellectual and spiritual problems—and it will not save us; but it can bring us joy and new vision and help us toward that dialogue with our deepest selves and with our God which can save us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bruce C. and Learning From Pain

I can point to a few articles, essays, or talks/addresses that have influenced me so deeply that I keep coming back to them again and again and always learn new things.  This poindexter to the right here rocked my world with this essay when I was 20 years old and struggling like crazy.   I read it again here recently and was struck with how true it is.  Now that I'm "out of the woods" so to speak of what I was struggling with back when, I can see and testify of the "natural relationship between our capacity to be taught by pain on the one hand and our capacity to receive joy on the other."  Since then, I've faced what have seemed to be and indeed were/are even more soul-stretching moments.  Sometimes I've dealt well with them, other times I haven't.  The point is this: We get stretched.  Sometimes it doesn't make one lick of sense and often times it's so much that in the moment we think we can't handle it. But that stretching, if we endure it well and truly look for what we're supposed to learn, only opens our heart up the further for compassion, love, and true, authentic experiences of joy.  I can tell you without reservation that it's been that way for me.  Life can be super tough but it is also, at the risk of sounding trite, super joyful.  Keepin with the theme of this blog, it's really all part of keepin it real.  The "realness" of our trials only enhances the realness of our joy when it comes.  And it does come.

Here's the #1 part of the essay (for me anyway):

***
There are many other kinds of pain associated with learning what God would have us learn here. There are the growing pains that come from learning through our mistakes—for to learn from our own errors requires that we honestly acknowledge them, something that will always be painful for those who strive for competence. It is also painful to become as independent as we must be, learning not to expect others to solve our every problem and meet our every need. It sometimes hurts to be realistic, or to wait when patience is required. But the Savior of the world knew all these kinds of pain, and many others we can never comprehend. “Man of sorrows” was his name. (See Isa. 53:3.) Surely, he was “acquainted with grief.” Only he was capable of absorbing the mental and spiritual anguish inflicted by Gethsemane. As he himself tells us of that pain—how sore we know not, how exquisite we know not, how hard to bear we know not. (See D&C 19:15–19.) Yet when he elsewhere says, “my joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20), we are assured that a fulness of joy for one such as he, must be richer, fuller, again more exquisite than we may ever know in mortality. There must be some natural relationship between our capacity to be taught by pain on the one hand and our capacity to receive joy on the other. That might be worth remembering when our own pain seems sore and exquisite.
***
Anway, read the essay.  It'll be worth your time and certainly give you more to chew on and do more to inspire you than I can.

A Willingness to Learn from Pain
BY BRUCE C. HAFEN

We can learn something worthwhile from our experience with spiritual and psychological suffering—those pains of the heart that may come from a wounded conscience, loneliness, disappointment, or a love that is lost.

Some will remember Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the literate wife of the famous pilot, Charles Lindbergh. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which finally resulted in the child’s death, once captured the attention and sympathy of the American nation. In looking back on her life, Mrs. Lindbergh wrote:

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” (Time, 5 Feb. 1973, p. 35; italics added.) We will all suffer in one way or another, but we need a certain perspective if our suffering is to teach us.

A few years ago our family inherited a dog—a friendly little pup who was all black except for two white paws and a splash of white across his chest. For our three sons, he was to be a real pal. One afternoon I was interrupted at work by a call from home that told a sad story: “Dad! Dad! Our dog is dead!”

“Oh, no!” I said. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

I have seldom seen such looks of gloom as those that met me when I arrived. A motorcycle had come out of nowhere; nobody really knew how it had happened. The rumpled little body was laid to rest in a corner of our backyard in a ceremony that was brief but mournful. I don’t know when I’ve heard so many questions asked all at once about the meaning of the resurrection. But the answers didn’t help—the boys were despondent beyond comfort. As we trudged back to the house, I remembered, but chose not to repeat, what a friend of mine had heard one of his children say on just such an occasion: “Not much of a funeral for such a good dog.”

After that experience, my wife and I resisted for awhile our children’s repeated requests to get another dog. Among the reasons for our reluctance was our desire to spare our children the grief of another event like losing the black puppy. Then we found ourselves asking whether the joy of companionship with a puppy would not more than offset that risk.

I have found in working with others that many of our decisions are influenced more than they should be by our desire to avoid sorrow, distress, frustration, and other kinds of psychic suffering. We understandably prefer almost anything to that kind of pain.

Our culture has become as skillful in the art of neutralizing emotional and spiritual pain as in sedating physical pain. Medicine is, in a sense, symbolic of our age. Unquestionably, medicine is often a blessing; but as all must know by now, the drugs of our time, both the literal and the figurative kinds, also offer escape—not only from pain, but also from responsibility and reality. And thus some people have developed an instinctive inclination to chart their course, both short and long range, by choosing those alternatives that will minimize their exposure to the uncomfortable consequences of taking life as it comes. Avoiding or escaping discomfort becomes almost a guiding purpose of life, as if getting around such pitfalls were the essence of a happy life.

The gospel teaches, however, that the presence of painful experience is an important element in man’s capacity ultimately to experience joy—and not just because it feels so good when the pain stops! I do not encourage the outright seeking of pain; for it, like temptation, will find us soon enough. Nor can I feel good about the martyr who strangely seems to enjoy and prolong the misery of his misfortunes—the type who is willing to suffer in silence as long as he is sure everybody knows about it. My concern is simply with those whose priorities and responses seem carefully designed to avoid or escape from psychic pain, almost at any cost. Let me illustrate.

Consider the pain that comes when your conscience cries out against something you have done or are about to do. There are various ways of responding to that pain. One response tries to outwit the pain by changing one’s basic attitudes toward the actual existence of God and the validity of moral laws, claiming that neither really apply. That change may take some time and effort, but those who have rearranged their view of the universe in just that way have found that somehow the new view makes them more comfortable—because it makes the pain subside. How sad! For this change represents only a temporary period of self-deception. Sooner or later, in this life or the next, they shall again see reality as it is and feel their pain all over again, even to “weeping and wailing.” In like manner, we may find temporary relief from pangs of conscience by inventing some rational explanation why “this time” what we did was not wrong.

Tragically, those who continually manipulate their conception of reality will discover that while they no longer feel pain when violating a commandment, they also no longer feel the kinds of joy they once knew. What they do not realize is that both their pain and their joy are natural responses to things as they are. Since their highest realizations of joy flow from their accurate perceptions of God’s reality and the joy of the Saints, the removal from their mental framework of both God and the Saints automatically removes the joy associated with both.

Of course, it is still possible for such individuals to substitute some form of pleasure, so that one who turns his face from God to avoid facing him may still have his fun. But being deprived of true joy is a terrible price to pay to turn off the pain of deserved guilt. Building an entirely new worldview in one’s mind in order to keep the pain turned off is a formidable task, since the universe that really exists is impossible to change.

Fortunately, there is a better alternative. The pain of a wounded conscience comes to us not just to cause suffering. It is an invitation for us to respond in a way that will ultimately lead to joy. To accept the invitation early, we simply need to stop—in midair if necessary—and turn away from whatever we were going to do. If it is too late for that, the invitation of an aroused conscience can still be accepted by a visit with the bishop and by a few other well-known steps of repentance. This approach will also stop the pain, but it will also leave you true to yourself and to the universe of God’s reality. At the same time, your capacity for joy will be undiminished—it may even be enhanced through newly discovered self-control. Then the next time the pain of conscience comes, it will come as the voice of a friend, to tell you those sensitive, painful kinds of things you would hope a true friend would share.

Consider briefly the kind of pain we encounter in the field of formal learning. There are classes or subjects that sometimes seem like a pain in the neck, or maybe they seem painfully dull to us. In such circumstances, those who do not sense their own responsibility to read and think and understand, simply turn off. They have grown accustomed to just changing the channel if a learning experience doesn’t hold the promise of being “fun.” Far better it would be for them if they would cope with the growing pains of discipline, initiative, and determination to stay with a difficult task until it is mastered, until they earn the joy of true understanding. But all of this may sound “boring”—that ultimate ugliness—to those who believe they have a right to be entertained.

Another kind of emotional pain to which we all seem subject arises from the risks we take in allowing ourselves to love others. There is no suffering quite like that which comes when love is shattered. After years of patient waiting for what seems like the right time, one may open up his or her heart to another, only to find that tender heart bruised or broken when the love is not returned. We therefore bear a grave responsibility for the purity of our motives when some trusting heart has offered us entrance. Anyone who stands on that threshold stands on holy ground, which must not be exploited or defiled. But should a relationship so develop that, even in spite of honesty, caution, and goodness of motive, a parting of the ways still must come, we must not let the pain of that moment make us so resentful or bitter that we become unwilling to risk opening our hearts again. That kind of risk is necessary, because loving simply has its risks. In a sense, there is no love without certain kinds of fear.

One of love’s fears stems from the continuing possibility that one we love, whether sweetheart, father, child, or sister, may not return after saying good-bye to us one day. Such fear is the constant companion of the wives of soldiers—or even the parents of teenagers just old enough to drive. I will confess that such fear—such pain—comes over me at times, because I have not held back in giving my heart to those special ones who are in my home. I know that leaves me vulnerable, but it is a risk I am willing to take; its pain is far offset by the abundant joy of love.

There are similar risks in deciding to marry, deciding to bear children—you never know what burdens you may be called upon to bear as a result of those irrevocable commitments. I have seen those who bear such burdens—the wife who becomes chronically ill, the malformed child, the duty to care for helpless in-laws; these are the risks of love. But love is worth them all. Love is indeed refined and deepened by them, if our love is pure.

There are many other kinds of pain associated with learning what God would have us learn here. There are the growing pains that come from learning through our mistakes—for to learn from our own errors requires that we honestly acknowledge them, something that will always be painful for those who strive for competence. It is also painful to become as independent as we must be, learning not to expect others to solve our every problem and meet our every need. It sometimes hurts to be realistic, or to wait when patience is required. But the Savior of the world knew all these kinds of pain, and many others we can never comprehend. “Man of sorrows” was his name. (See Isa. 53:3.) Surely, he was “acquainted with grief.” Only he was capable of absorbing the mental and spiritual anguish inflicted by Gethsemane. As he himself tells us of that pain—how sore we know not, how exquisite we know not, how hard to bear we know not. (See D&C 19:15–19.) Yet when he elsewhere says, “my joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20), we are assured that a fulness of joy for one such as he, must be richer, fuller, again more exquisite than we may ever know in mortality. There must be some natural relationship between our capacity to be taught by pain on the one hand and our capacity to receive joy on the other. That might be worth remembering when our own pain seems sore and exquisite. (See Alma 36:21.)

There is one other kind of pain of the heart that is familiar to most of us. We call it homesickness. If you feel a little homesick when you are away from home, that is probably a good sign—both about your home and your priorities. Of course, a serious, long-lasting case is probably not healthy for young adults who are gradually being weaned and prepared to build homes of their own. But I mention the idea of homesickness for a larger purpose.

I was once present in a student ward sacrament meeting where a member of a temple presidency was talking thoughtfully about temple work. Just before his talk the choir had sung “O My Father.” (Hymns, no. 139). I was a stake president at the time, and as he was about to finish, I received a message inviting me to say a few words before the meeting closed. I began reflecting about the temple, asking myself what it really meant to me. I found myself thinking of it in these terms: the temple—a symbol that we are not of this world; a place where earth and heaven meet; a place where homesick children think of home.

The singing of that beloved song had stimulated my memory to recall, for some reason, an evening in the home of a warm, bright, and sensitive woman in faraway Germany. As missionaries, we had gone to her home for a peaceful few minutes of refreshment and conversation with her family following their baptism. Because she spoke fluent English, she had added a couple of Tabernacle Choir records to her collection during her investigation of the Church. The records were playing in the background as we sat together and talked about our blessings. When the choir began to sing a beautiful, moving arrangement of “O My Father,” we stopped visiting and sat back to listen to the hymn. When it was over, we were all a little misty eyed. Then she told us in quiet, reverent tones that listening to this song had been a major turning point in her prayerful evaluation of the restored gospel. She told us about the German word sehnsucht, a poignant, meaningful word that has no exact equivalent in English. I suppose the closest translation would be “a longing for home,” but the German word has elements of both longing and searching. She told us that during most of her life she had felt a strange longing for home—a sehnsucht—that had often made her melancholy, at times a little lonely, but she could never identify that for which she longed. She told us that she had been impressed with the occasional references to such a feeling in the writings of some great European authors, who thought it might have something to do with an innate, almost subconscious human yearning somehow to make contact with the essence of nature and meaning in a universal, cosmic sense. The first time she had heard this song, she then knew what her longing was, and where it came from. “Yet ofttimes a secret something Whispered, ‘You’re a stranger here,’ And I felt that I had wandered From a more exalted sphere. … But until the key of knowledge Was restored, I knew not why.” Then, “When I leave this frail existence … Father, Mother, may I meet you …” As she described it, I too felt the longing for home, and I too knew where it came from. (Hymns, no. 139.)

Both that experience and that feeling are sacred enough to me that I hesitate to talk about them too frequently. But I felt impressed to talk about them in that meeting in order to explain more fully why the temple means what it does to me.

After relating this story, I felt impressed to share an agonizing experience I had had that same after noon interviewing a young couple from our stake who had wanted to be married in the temple but who had put themselves into a position where they were not worthy to enter that holy place. As I tried to describe how those two people felt about wanting, in a sense, to go “home” but not being able to go there, I found myself thinking about my own longing for home. The almost overpowering thought came to me—what if I were unworthy? What if I could never return? What if, after having to turn away my head in shame from that eternal home, I were once again to hear the song “Father, mother, may I meet you …”? I really don’t think I could stand it. I would spend eternity trying to find some way of shutting off the pain of a longing that could not be fulfilled.

I suppose I will remember for a long time both the words and the feeling expressed by the young man who said the closing prayer in that sacrament meeting: “Please help us, Father. We want to come home.”

My present sense of the sehnsucht, as poignant and piercing as it sometimes is, has become the source of my deepest possible motivation, constantly reminding me that everything here is temporary but the gospel. That kind of pain, that kind of homesickness, is a feeling I never want to lose. For if I lose it, through my rationalizing, my behavior, or my treating lightly the things of God, I know when that great and dreadful day comes when all our knees will bow together, that very pain will return with full-blown and everlasting intensity.

So I am willing to remain vulnerable to those painful realities that inevitably come with facing the truth about myself, with learning, with growing, with loving, and with trying to be faithful. Pain of that kind helps me remember that I am in contact with life as it was meant to be experienced, thus preparing me more fully for that appointed reunion with those who sent me here—when, at last, my joy may be full.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Saul Goode waxes religious.

In Nazareth, the narrow road,
That tires the feet and steals the breath,
Passes the place where once abode
The Carpenter of Nazareth.

And up and down the dusty way
The village folk would often wend;
And on the bench, beside Him, lay
Their broken things for Him to mend.

The maiden with the doll she broke,
The woman with the broken chair,
The man with broken plough, or yoke,
Said, "Can you mend it, Carpenter?"

And each received the thing he sought,
In yoke, or plough, or chair, or doll;
The broken thing which each had brought
Returned again a perfect whole.

So, up the hill the long years through,
With heavy step and wistful eye,
The burdened souls their way pursue,
Uttering each the plaintive cry:

"O Carpenter of Nazareth,
This heart, that's broken past repair,
This life, that's shattered nigh to death,
Oh, can You mend them, Carpenter?"

And by His kind and ready hand,
His own sweet life is woven through
Our broken lives, until they stand
A New Creation - "all things new."

"The shattered [substance] of [the] heart,
Desire, ambition, hope, and faith,
Mould Thou into the perfect part,
O, Carpenter of Nazareth!
 --George Blair

Easter was a bit ago but I'm still on the kick.  My mind lately has been filled with thoughts on this carpenter of Nazareth.  Even though I should be studying for tests, finishing papers, and reviewing all those key judicial decisions, I find myself here again on the blog, trying to pound out some of those thoughts.  Guess I've never been all that studious anyway so, ya know, what the heck.

Sometimes I find myself to be quite distant from the man I worship and consider to be the Savior of the world.  Far too often for my liking, my frustrations, disappointments, flaws, and shortcomings get the better of me.  I get frustrated with myself and my situation and believe that it's all upon me to fix myself and the situation I'm in.  To be completely honest, I forget Jesus Christ.  I may be praying every morning and night, reading his scriptures, and trying to be like him, but even so I am in effect forgetting him and the role he has played in my life up to this point.  If I let it, my mind becomes a dense forest of tangled, circular thoughts, confusing feelings, and frustrated ambitions.  In a mind such as this, there's no room for Christ.  The Apostle Paul said, "the carnal mind is enmity against God."  Now, I don't just quote this scripture because the Apostle had a killer name (harhar).  The point is, how can one's mind and heart be centered on Christ when instead it is so caught up in urgent, frustrated, and endless thinking about how to solve all the temporal, earthly, "carnal" problems of life?  Too often I take the approach of "if it is to be, it's up to me" way too literally.  The fact is I probably take too much initiative.  By stubbornly taking the bit in my teeth and plowing ahead full bore in effort to make things happen, I am effectively not "letting" Christ in, not letting him direct, not allowing him to make of me what he will.  It's all up to me and shoot if I'm not gonna GET THINGS DONE.  

What a thoroughly bone-headed assumption right?  I've been learning this the hard way lately.  At the end of the day, the question is, where do I wanna put my trust?  

Question: Where do I want to put my trust?

Option A:
Sincere, passionate, driven, YET stubborn, imperfect, and limited-in-knowledge Paul.


Option B:
Chose not to trust in anything -- especially things I can't see or empirically prove (can be an attractive option for sure -- especially in today's skeptical, even cynical world).

or Option C:
 Trust the One who I truly believe died for me -- the One who you can list his qualities without any "yet," as in Option A.  He who knows me better than myself, knows my needs, my desires, my strengths, my weaknesses, and the whole dang shebang.

It's a no-brainer of course.  Sometimes I'm just so caught up in my own little world that my little mind becomes such a barrier between myself and the world outside that I lose focus on what's really important.  I end up kinda subconsciously putting my trust in Paul rather than in God.  Certainly a mistake, but an honest, sincere one nonetheless.  And boy am I glad the Man Upstairs is always more than willing to cut a cat some slack.

I choose -- and I'm finding more and more that at least in my case it's gotta be a conscious, daily choice -- to place my faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I've gotten this far with him and his Gospel as my guide and in doing so I've learned and experienced some absolutely wonderful things.  Mmhmm.  As trite as it may sound, I'm stickin with Jesus.

I leave you -- all 3 of you who read this humble blog -- with the words of my man Ron Block, guitar and banjo player for my girl Alison Krauss, who is always keepin it real and who penned these lines:

But if I trust the One who died for me
Who shed His blood to set me free
If I live my life to trust in You
Your grace will see me through.

I'd rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees.
--From "The Palm of Your Hand"

And the only thing better than a Ron Block tune is a Ron Block tune sung by my girl Alison (just grabbed a video off youtube):

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rz07bR9vs4&feature=related

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This time, I'm the one who's keepin it real.


A pep talk I just gave to my bad self. Everyone struggles now and then. This has just been one of those times for me. At any rate, I thought it was pretty dang alright and thought I'd share. Here comes:

You know what, man? You're alright. No matter how many mistakes you've made, and no matter how many times you bite the dust, you're doing your best, you're givin it hell, and you're on your way to wherever you're goin. You don't know where that is, but you're headed there, brother. That's all part of the excitement. You don't need to see ten steps ahead -- "One step enough for me." As my man Mr. Bobby Frost said, "Let the night be too dark for me to see into the future. Let what will be, be." I proudly stand with Bobby. Trust in myself and in the Man Upstairs has got me this far. It'll take me the rest of the way.

I thought it was pretty good.

Stuff happens in life and often times I'm at a loss for why. I'm so bull-headed sometimes that I assume stuff has GOT TO the way I think it should or the way I have envisioned. If I've learned anything, it's that this is rarely the case. Someone who loves me once told me that it's in those hard times that we have a choice: we can either be affected, or we can be effective. I think that means we more or less can wallow in the mire, lick our wounds, and get lost in self-pity, or we can get back up and keep on keepin on. Keepin it real. "Life's a garden -- dig it." I've got my spade in hand baby!

Some musings from your friendly neighborhood armchair philosopher.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I don't care if he looks like a vampire. Fareed's solid.


I originally posted this blab on facebook as a status update but, seeing as I haven't been bloggin, I figured it was long enough to parlay into a blog post. As found on my facebook:

***
A little Paulitickin -- more fanatical ravings from your favorite Mesa AZ Pinko Commy ;) :
I think Mitt Romney is one stand up brother. I think he could end up doing some good for the country if elected Pres. However, one of my biggest complaints about him is his foreign policy. He continually makes comments reminiscent of G.W. Bush advocating unilateralism, force, and interventionism (see the video as well as a bunch of others on youtube). Goin around flexing our muscles in everyone's faces isn't going to fix anything.

I've got no problem recognizing and being okay with the fact that we are one of the world's super-powers and have a moral obligation to be very engaged in global issues and conflict. However I'm far more partial to Obama's "soft power" approach -- recognizing that certain things we've done in the past have greatly diminished our moral authority in the world and also that, as Zakaria puts it, "the age of America's singular dominance, its unipolarity, has ended." This isn't on account of some "decline of America" but rather due to "the rise of everyone else." I think Zakaria's right -- the world has changed.

Continuing to act as if we're the world's only hope -- even if we are -- isn't gonna get us anywhere with the rest of the world.

It seems to me that in an increasingly globalized society, we've got to engage the world in a more diplomatic, less-hard-nosed way. That isn't to say that we've gotta be sissies -- we've just gotta realize the reality of the global situation and our changing role in it and be willing to adjust.

Whether we like it or not, if the world is a basketball team, the U.S. is seen by the other players as the egotistical star who is continually taking a go-it-alone, me-me-me, ball-hogging approach to the game, and dictating to all the others exactly what they need to do or else. Obama and the State Dept. under Hillary Clinton have gone a long way in trying to change this. I like it -- I think it's a big step in the right direction. And needless to say, I'm concerned about what seems to be Mitt's almost diametrically opposed stance.

Zakaria argues (and in my mind quite convincingly in light of the facts -- again, watch the video):

"Mitt, . . . chest-thumping triumphalism won't help you secure America's interests or ideals in a world populated by powerful new players. You can call this new century whatever you like, but it won't change reality."

Foreign policy is a big deal in my mind and it's been pretty overshadowed by all the economic talk. And perhaps rightly so -- the current state of the economy certainly is a huge deal. I like Fareed's take though and I think Mitt and the people of the United States ourselves would be pretty wise to at least consider it.

You don't have to agree with me -- I'm just another armchair politician. But check the video. At the very least, Fareed oughta make you think :).
***

Fareed Zakaria is definitely keepin it real. He's one of the few talking heads I turn to for thoughtful analysis of political stuff. He da man.

link to said video (cuz I don't know how to upload to my blog): http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/05/zakaria-its-a-new-world-mitt/?hpt=hp_t2