Sunday, April 24, 2016

Land of Empty Churches?

(This was written summer 2014, but I just now got to pasting the pictures in so I could post this.)

The first thing you notice when you come to the UK, or pretty much to any place in Europe, is that there are so many amazing stone churches and cathedrals, all still standing after hundreds of years.  For example, the picture below shows the Bristol Cathedral, which was founded in 1140 AD.  This church was built over hundreds of years, and has looked about as it does now since the 1500s or so.  Imagine building a church like this before the days of power tools and diamond saws.  When you look at the intricate stone work and the sheer size of the columns and ceiling, it is clear that hundreds of craftsmen must have worked for years to build this.  Was it only another job for them, one by a wealthy customer who was sure to pay, or did they feel that they were building a symbol of their faith, an offering to show their devotion to God?  Surely they must have hoped that their children and grandchildren would come there to worship for generations and would see it as a symbol of their faith.  When I see one of these churches, I can't help but think of the millions of man hours that common people must have devoted to build it, and the wealth that paid for it was the accumulated work of thousands of people who had far less than the poorest among us have now.  They gave to build a church of unimaginable quality, complete with glass windows, intricate stone carving, paintings, stone floor, etc... when they lived in cottages with thatched roofs and dirt floors and perhaps couldn't even afford necessities like food and heating.



It is simply astounding how many of these churches there are.  Just about every little town has a stone church standing at its center, beautiful in its design and craftsmanship.  Below are a few pictures of a church where David Thomas Thorne, Sr., my 5th great grandfather was christened in 1797.  This church is no cathedral but it is still beautifully built and full of fine craftsmanship, all done by hand.  In a larger city like Bristol, many towns have grown together so now there are dozens of churches of varying size.  We could take a half hour walk from our house and see half a dozen all of which were built before our great grandparents were born.



The other thing that is crazy about all of this, is that most of these churches are only barely used now.  In a typical week some are seen by far more tourists than they are by worshipers.  Now would be a good time for an anecdote.  For example maybe I could tell you about the evening service that I went to a few weeks ago at Wells Cathedral, which was attended by fewer than 20 churchgoers, and how my children were the only people in attendance under 35.  That would be great, but I'm an engineer so I prefer solid facts.  The "tear fund" study (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/03_04_07_tearfundchurch.pdf) found that, while more than half of the people in the UK self identify as Christian, only about 10% attend weekly.  If we relax our standards a bit and are satisfied with once a month attendance, then the percentage of churchgoers increases to 15%.  Interestingly, those in the highest social class have a higher prevalence of attending church, 21-22%, but that is a topic for another day.

So what do we make of this country full of empty churches?  What caused the change?  Each day countless thousands of people pass by these monuments on their way to work, or to get groceries, or they sit on their lawns to enjoy the sunshine.  What do they think of their ancestors who gave their lives to build them? Do they think of them as deluded, primitive people who were not too ignorant to know better?

Certainly there have been many ups and downs in the history of religion in the UK.  It is hard not to be skeptical when we hear of Henry VIII's exploits.  And there are other such stories.  For example we visited the ruins of the castle in St. Andrews where Cardinal David Beaton took refuge from the the rising mobs of reformers.  A group of them snuck into the castle disguised as masons and mounted an attack.  When they forced the door to the cardinal's room they found him trying to hide his gold.  He was killed and probably replaced by another.  Some time later St. Andrews castle fell into ruins (see below).






There are also many stories of noble people who gave all to try to help people come closer to God.  In front of the same St. Andrew's castle we saw a marker on the pavement identifying the place where the reformer George Wishart, was burnt at the stake for his part in the reformation.   In front of another church are the initials of Patrick Hamilton who was also burned at the stake for his preaching as a reformer.


It looks like we'll leave here before I ever come to a satisfactory answer regarding what happened to religion in the UK.  But as I walk the streets here, I can't help but wonder sometimes if people are really happier now that they pass their Sunday mornings on the lawn rather than in the church.  Don't they sense that something is missing?  Can any of us be truly happy while believing that life is just a chance of chemistry and biology, that will come to a complete and final end when we take our last breath?  Can any amount of entertainment and joking around with friends fill the void?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Studio C Favorites

I have a confession to make.  I am now officially a Studio-C-aholic.  Completely and utterly a fan, no, more than a fan, an addict.  What amazes me is how many people there are in this wide world that haven't yet discovered Studio C.  You are all really missing out.  In case you've never connected with Studio C, and in honor of Natalie Madsen's visit to Madison last week, I put together a top-10 list of some of my favorite sketches.  If you don't have a stitch in your side by the time you get to #1 then there may be something wrong with you.
#10

#9


#8


#7


#6

Ok, so this one is actually two videos.  The sequel is my favorite but you have to see the original first:



#5

#4
#3

#2


#1


So, if you are still reading at this point, then you may enjoy the following video by this same group, before they made it big :) as Studio C.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

I see you celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage and wish I could celebrate with you, but I can’t


            Since the US Supreme Court’s decision last Friday on Obergefell vs. Hodges, I’ve seen the media flooded with images and stories of many of you celebrating the fact that the United States now recognizes your relationships and will extend to them all of the privileges that have been offered to traditionally married couples.  Even more potent, I’ve seen many of you, friends who I know and care about, sharing your feelings and experiences on social media. You look so happy, and I can imagine that I would feel the same in your shoes.  You’ve found love, companionship and romance, all of those things that we dream of in movies, books and pop songs.  So why can’t I celebrate with you? Why do I feel sad instead?  I’ve written down a few ideas, both to help me more fully understand how I feel, and I hope that it might help you to understand where I’m coming from when disagreements arise between us.
            First of all, I should explain the beliefs that have shaped my thinking on this issue.  I believe that we are all  children  of a Heavenly Father and Mother and they sent us here so we could have certain experiences and eventually grow up to become as they are.  Part of that involves each of us finding a second half, so that together we can be like our heavenly parents, God the Father and God the Mother, and create a world where our own children can go and find the experiences they need to grow into their potential.  I believe that the gender that God gave us is a part of our identity, and that just as it is impossible for two men to marry and create children on this planet, it will likewise be impossible for a same gender couple to experience all that God has in store for them.
            So, you see, that even if I were to celebrate with you now, and even if I am touched to see the love that you share with each other and all the good things that you do for your partner and the good that you two do on this planet, I know that someday this life will end and you and your partner will not be able to create your own eternal family.  You would have a very difficult choice.  You could choose to part ways and leave a life full of love and shared experiences behind you and go in search of a companion who could complete you spiritually and physically in the way God intended.  Or I suppose you two could continue together and find joy in helping to raise other people’s children but  not have the eternal union that you most desire.  I can’t make the choice for you, but neither of those options sound very appealing to me, and so I can’t celebrate with you with all my heart, but instead I hurt to see you investing physical and spiritual intimacy in a relationship that cannot last.
            But you say that your love is real and that you have found real happiness and fulfillment in this relationship, and when I read your posts and see your smiling faces on Facebook, I believe you.  How could I tell you that this love that you have found is wrong? That instead of embracing it and enjoying it, that your feelings are misdirected?  How can I tell you that you should limit your relationship to friendship, that you should resist the urge to bring sex into it?  How dare I tell you that I believe that the best option for you is to pursue a life without that kind of love in hopes that someday God will make things all right?
           Well, I’m afraid that I don’t have a very satisfying answer to that question.  I don’t know why God would make you this way, or allow you to develop this attraction.  It doesn’t seem fair that others should be able to marry and find fulfillment for both their emotional and sexual desires, but you should be told that you are doomed to hold yours back for the rest of your life.  No, that isn’t fair at all.
            The best I can offer to you is to remind you that you are not quite as alone as you might think.  I know many great women who in spite of their desires to find love and companionship, and to find someone to be their partner in raising a family, are unable to find a suitable companion, and are alone as their youth (and fertility) slips away.  They too face the prospect of going to the grave with so many needs unmet, desires unsatisfied, all for no lack of effort and apparently through no fault of their own.  I’ve also known many people who have followed the recommended path, married the man or woman of their dreams, built a family together, and yet that relationship has crumbled to the point that they can’t imagine being happy again. They’ve made a commitment to their companion that was supposed to last the rest of their life, or even into the eternities, yet now it seems that their companion has no interest in holding up their end of the bargain.  True, it is likely that things will improve if they stick it out and try to reignite a flame in that relationship.  However, for today they face a bleak future and no resolution seems likely to come before they are laid down in their graves.  Aren't  those experiences at least a little bit like yours?
            Now certainly you would say, that if all of those people could just hold on to hope, could just trust that God is in charge, that He can make even the darkest situation work for their good.  That someday when the test is over everything will be made right and their joy will be perfectly and overwhelmingly whole.  It is remarkable how God can do that. He can take a terrible situation and make it blossom.  We have all seen examples of that.  I think of those Jews in concentration camps and all that they suffered through no fault of their own, in fact, they suffered because they were trying to follow God and love Him.  Their story has become an inspiration to me, and strengthened me to hold on when I face what to me seems like a very dark day.  I wonder how they feel about those experiences now that their bodies have been laid down in graves and their spirits have returned home to God?
            And so, as you march down the street among colorful flags and as you tell me touching stories of the love that you have found, and as you rejoice to know that so many have accepted the choice that you’ve made, you may notice me on the sidelines, quiet and a little somber.  I hope you won’t think that I don’t care, and that I’m not happy for you.  It is just that in my minds eye I can see your march leading you into a thunderstorm.  In my view the path that you’ve chosen cannot take you where you would like to go.  I probably can’t make you see things my way, and there will be many who will join you and will have little interest in listening to my warnings.  They will add to my grief.  Actually, I'm morally obligated to do all that I can to try to encourage them to follow a path that leads to a better end.  Unfortunately, that will probably place you and I at odds at times.  I just hope that this little letter might help you to understand why I don’t grab a flag and join the parade, and why I may even have to ask you to turn down the music so those who are marching with you can hear the thunder in the distance.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers: Examples of Love and Selfless Service

Talk for Sacrament Meeting on Mother's Day: May 10, 2015
Mothers: Examples of Love and Selfless Service

(I usually don't write out talks for church in detail like this, but in this case I didn't want to say anything to a mother that they would take the wrong way so I wrote this out and delivered it almost as written.) 

            As I've worked on this talk the past several weeks, I found myself paralyzed and unable to progress because of fear that I would say something that would cause one of you mothers to cry on your special day.  So, I've decided that I'm not going to talk to you current, and future mothers (and by the way, does each of you know that, with a gospel perspective, "current and future mother" includes every woman in the room?).  In any event, sisters, I'm not talking to you and I want to talk instead to the brethren about what they can learn from the women in their lives.  Brethren, I hope I can make you cry today, and shed some guilty tears.  Actually, I'll be happy if i can even keep you awake through the end of my talk.  And sisters, i suppose its ok for you to listen if you promise to only cry happy tears.
            Today I want to encourage you brethren to follow a mother's example of selfless service.  You will probably never find a better example of selfless service than the mother who bore you or the mother who is raising your children.  Every person in this room spent the first several months of their mortal life (about 9 if all went well) safely inside our mother.  Those were long, difficult months for her.  My mom still tells me that I as her favorite because I came two weeks early.  During those 9 months Our mother took us with her everywhere she went, and probably thought of us often, and as the months passed our presence became more and more uncomfortable for her. For many of our mothers, our presence made her unbearably ill for weeks or months, unable to enjoy the foods or activities that she loved.  Most of us were fortunate enough to be born to mothers who continued that pattern of selfless service our whole lives, teaching us, loving us, and whether we recognize it or not, we owe much of what we have become to them.  In what ways could you better follow the example that mothers set of selfless sacrifice?
            The Lord taught that He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt. 20-28)  Our Heavenly Father sent us here so we could learn to follow that example, to learn to focus on ministering to others more than about what we receive.  Isn't that the key to a happy life.  I was thinking recently about how strange it is that once you get past about 8 years old, birthdays are almost always a big disappointment.  Perhaps the reason is because we're truly happier when we are serving others and thinking about others rather than focusing on ourselves.
            In fact, I think that service should be a part of who we are.  When we have an hour free on a weekend and think, what could I do for fun? Isn't the best thing that we could do for our personal happiness be to do something for someone else?
Now, brethren, as I bring up the topic of service, some of your minds may have wandered to houses that need to be rebuilt in Nepal, or those oppressed by poverty in south and central America, but today I want you to instead focus on the service that you can give as a parent.  Remember, whether you are a parent now or not, that in the end we are all here on earth to learn to be perfect parents.  Now in saying that I think we need to be careful; when we speak of parenthood or motherhood, I think we often get an image of a mother holding a newborn baby, or a father reading a book to a toddler before bed at night. However, parenthood is far more than that, and we all have parent-like experiences each day even if we aren't around little children.  Parenthood also includes having the courage to drag that same screaming toddler out of sacrament meeting, or to send him to his room when he's walking the line to see whether you'll care enough to enforce limits.  Parenthood is also having the courage to take away a cell phone or a computer to protect a teenager who is quite sure that they no longer need your protection.  And how many cases are there where we aren't sure what is the right way to discipline our children and we have to be in tune with the spirit and hope that the Lord will let us know if we get off track.
Now, all of those parent-child experiences may be past for many of us or may have not yet come for others.  How painful it can be to have those blessings delayed or over, or apparently never to come for us in this life.  Perhaps it would help just a little bit to realize, that God allowed medicine and nutrition to develop so that we can expect that our lives will last about four times the length of time that our children are here with us.  As hard as it can be to understand and accept, all of the different stages and situations in life are designed for our good, including that 3/4 of our life when there may not be children in our sphere of influence who need our parenting. We all have many opportunities to nurture the parenting talents that we will need in the eternities.  That same nurturing that we have in parenthood can be present in our interactions with people that we work with, with friends, and any time that we take someone by the hand, with love and patience, and help them to be a little better.  There is a woman who I work with who is a great example to this.  When I was just starting out she was always there to answer my questions and critique my first proposal when there was nothing in it for her.  I've tried to follow that example and now her influence is being magnified to the third generation of new assistant professors.  
Elder Callister recently said, "In the life to come, I do not know if titles such as bishop or Relief Society president will survive, but I do know that the titles of husband and wife, father and mother, will continue and be revered, worlds without end. That is one reason it is so important to honor our responsibilities as parents here on earth so we can prepare for those even greater, but similar, responsibilities in the life to come." (Tad R. Callister, Parents, the prime gospel teachers, October 2014 Conference)
            Of all the callings that we can receive, the calling of mother is particularly demanding. I've always been impressed by Nephi and his brother Lehi, in Helaman 5:4, who decide to abandon the judgement seat (imagine walking away from your term as president and the nice accommodations in the white house) to undertake to "preach the word of God, all the remainder of (their) days."  Every mother accepts a similar call to love and serve and worry about her children all the remainder of her days.
            Elder Holland related an exchange with a young mother that helps to highlight how demanding their role is.  "One young mother wrote to me recently that her anxiety tended to come on three fronts. One was that whenever she heard talks on LDS motherhood, she worried because she felt she didn’t measure up or somehow wasn’t going to be equal to the task. Secondly, she felt like the world expected her to teach her children reading, writing, interior design, Latin, calculus, and the Internet—all before the baby said something terribly ordinary, like “goo goo.” Thirdly, she often felt people were sometimes patronizing, almost always without meaning to be, because the advice she got or even the compliments she received seemed to reflect nothing of the mental investment, the spiritual and emotional exertion, the long-night, long-day, stretched-to-the-limit demands that sometimes are required in trying to be and wanting to be the mother God hopes she will be.”
            Why do mothers gladly enter into such a demanding role?  Do they live for the day when we'll finally recognize all that they've done and truly, deeply thank them?  No, we can't repay them for what they've done and perhaps that is the best part of being a Mother.  Service is a blessing in and of itself.  It doesn't matter if accolades come or if your children go on to be famous.  Think back on a time in your life when you've given service or done something good, did you really feel happiest when people finally noticed and thanked you for what you'd done?  Or did you perhaps feel happier as you were serving when you knew that you were giving a wonderful gift to that child (or to another person you were nurturing as a mother), and doing the work that God would do if He were here?
            In saying that, I am just trying to emphasize how noble and selfless the service of mothers is.  We all should and need to do more to help mothers see how great their role is.  Shortly after the passing of his wife, our former prophet President Hinckley said the following.

            "And so Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before.
            "Notwithstanding this preeminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused. And yet some few of the greatest characters of scripture have been women of integrity, accomplishment, and faith.
            "We have Esther, Naomi, and Ruth of the Old Testament. We have Sariah of the Book of Mormon. We have Mary, the very mother of the Redeemer of the world. ...

            "Crossing through His life we have Mary and Martha, and Mary of Magdala. She it was who came to the tomb that first Easter morning. And to her, a woman, He first appeared as the resurrected Lord. Why is it that even though Jesus placed woman in a position of preeminence, so many men who profess His name fail to do so?" (Hinckley October 2004, "The Women in our Lives")

            Brethren, is there anything in your actions towards the woman that surround you that is not in harmony with the savior's teachings? Have you been sufficiently grateful for all that they do?  Have you valued their opinions, gifts and contributions as the Lord does?  If you consider those questions carefully enough you will find ways in which you have fallen short.  I invite you to repent, to ask the Lord for forgiveness, and to strive to do better going forward.
            I can't pass up this opportunity to express just a tiny part of the gratitude that I feel for my mother.  I was her third child of five, third of three all 18 months apart, so she struggled through the craziness that many young mothers experience, and the crusty looks from people in the supermarket, whispering to each other that people shouldn't be allowed to have so many kids.  At that moment we were all probably proving them right by begging for candy and one of the three was probably having some sort of meltdown.  My dad was in the bishopric and then a bishop for half of my growing up years, and while he participated actively with the family when he was there, we were often all gone in different directions.  As a result, scripture study was difficult.  During those difficult years, my mother remembers hearing a talk at a Relief Society conference where the speaker quoted Marion G. Romney and then asked, "Do you want more peace in your home? Do you want harmony among your fighting children?  Then read the scriptures together."  Those and other teachings inspired her to keep trying and she was the driving force behind our family scripture study.
            To this day my mom still has a strong influence on me.  No matter how little I accomplish or how much I may mess up in this or that, any time I see my mom she makes me feel like I am the most handsome, most successful, most important person in the whole world.  I don't know how her friends don't get sick of her bragging about her kids all the time, but it means a lot to me to have a mother that cares that much about me.  Brethren, what do you need to do to be more like my mother?  Sisters, remember that my remarks are for the brethren, not for you.  I'd better not catch any of you feeling inadequate as you compare yourselves to my mother.
            The other mother who has had a profound influence on my life is my wife, Melissa. Unfortunately, there isn't enough time left in the meeting for me to even begin to tell you about her great qualities.  Instead I'll tell you about her faults… (joke).
            Now sisters, in speaking of my mother and in just mentioning my wonderful wife, I'm sure you've found ample ammunition that you could use to shoot yourselves down, because really, who could measure up to them?  But I hope you will instead focus on what your good qualities are and how you could strengthen them.  The tribute that someone would give to you today would be different from what I have just said about two of the women in my life, but your individual mix of talents and gifts are just as valuable to God.  I hope the Holy Ghost will carry that message to your heart. God values your unique talents and gifts.
I want to echo Elder Holland's praise for you mothers.  He said, Quote, "...may I say to mothers collectively, in the name of the Lord, you are magnificent. You are doing terrifically well. The very fact that you have been given such a responsibility is everlasting evidence of the trust your Father in Heaven has in you. " (Because she is a mother, Holland, April 1997)
Picture in your minds that group of children up here singing to us.  How sad we would be if they were all the same.  We love that because they are all so different, some wigglers, some brightly smiling, others hiding behind the podium (that would have been me, by the way), and on and on. Our Heavenly Father loves each of us for what we add to His family, in the same way that we love those children.
            Each of you has varied talents and varied challenges and opportunities.  We all have the tendency to tear ourselves down for our weaknesses (or to find fault with others and focus on their weaknesses).  When I worked at Sandia Lab, the company paid thousands of dollars for our entire group to take a training course to help us be more effective at our work.  This training company's key innovation, was to teach us that we would be more successful if we focus on magnifying our strengths, rather than harping on our weaknesses.  Does that teaching resonate with the gospel?  The gospel teaches us that we should work on our weaknesses, but we have the atonement to help with that.  We've been commanded to live in "thanksgiving daily" and rejoice in our opportunities to do good each day with the talents that we've been given. Don't we hide our talents under a bushel when we focus too much on our weaknesses to let our good qualities shine forth?
            Sister Beck recently shared the following plea for you women.  (Julie B. Beck, “Mother Heart”, April 2004)  Oh, that every girl and woman would have a testimony of her potential for eternal motherhood as she keeps her earthly covenants. “Each is a beloved … daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine … destiny” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”).
            Now I can let the brethren lapse into sleep while I direct a few words at you, mothers.  The care you give as mothers takes all that you can give and will last the rest of your life.  Remember Nephi and Lehi, who I mentioned earlier who gave up their lives of comfort to teach the Gospel all the remainder of their days?  In Helaman 10:3-5 we read what became of Nephi.
3 And it came to pass as he was thus pondering--being much cast down because of the wickedness of the people of the Nephites, their secret works of darkness, and their murderings, and their plunderings, and all manner of iniquities--and it came to pass as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

I hope that we can all follow the tremendous examples of service that the women in our midst have set for us.  I hope that we can make service a part of our lives, and next time we're on the TV or internet looking for entertainment that we might ask, would I be happier if I spent these moments serving someone in my family?
Testimony, close

So, that's it, but there's one nice quote that I didn't fit in:

“Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother.” (familysearch.org)

And I've always liked this song about how important a Mother's work is.

She is not the picture on a magazine,
she's the woman just behind you, in the checkout stand.
She is not a highly honored diplomat
Held responsible to lead the world to peace
But what she does is every bit as serious
Amidst the turmoil everywhere that will never cease
She has hands that wipe the tears away
And she has a voice that makes everything O.K.
And no woman from the papers or T.V. could ever hope to be
As indispensable as she
It breaks my heart every time I see her wonder
If she means anything in this world that pulls her under…
She may not be known for giving millions
To charities and auctions on the news
But I believe she's given more than anyone
In all the times she's ever had to choose
To give up sleep to rock her children every night
And give her heart to always hold their dreams so tight
And the best that you or I could ever hope to be
Is as wonderful as she



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sacrifice

Sacrifice
Sacrament Meeting Talk, September 21, 2014
Based on "Sacrifice" by Dallin H. Oaks, April 2012 General Conference.

Introduction:
What do you think is the greatest thing to ever happen in your life? Please reflect for a minute.  Was it the day you were married, or the day your first child was born?  Or maybe the day you finally got an iphone, or when the 7th book in the Harry Potter series was released?  Now expand that out to think of the greatest thing ever to happen in human history.  The day the US gained its freedom? The day slavery ended in the US? Or maybe when WWII ended? What about the discovery of antibiotics? Or the invention of chocolate?
All of those things were great, but there is a right answer to this question.  Elder McConkie said that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the “most transcendent of all events from creation’s dawn to the endless ages of eternity."  Let me translate that to plain English.  In other words, the greatest event ever to happen on this Earth was when somebody gave up something that they dearly loved for another.  A sacrifice was the greatest thing to ever happen.

Doctrine of sacrifice; what does The Lord require?
Sacrifice is a part of the Lord's plan.  Just as Christ sacrificed for us, we should emulate him and offer our own sacrifices.
Some have sacrificed everything
Some people have sacrificed everything, as Christ did.  When we visited the Colosseum in Rome, we saw a cross there on the floor of the colosseum, placed in honor of the Christians who were fed to wild animals and murdered in other ways near that place.  In those days believers in Christ truly had to give up everything.
Another example was the Willie & Martin Handcart companies.  They suffered for weeks of cold and hunger.  So many of them lost loved ones.  One of the most touching stories is of a couple (Sarah Franks and George Padley) who were engaged to be married.  Several other couples were married on the ship from England, but they wanted to wait until they reached zion, perhaps to be sealed.  They spoke frequently of the family they would have in Zion and were the company's love birds.  But along the way George fell ill and died due to illness and hunger and never made it to the valley.
All who crossed the plains sacrificed, even if they did not give their lives.  Sarah Rich told of her feelings as she was left alone when her husband was called away on a mission.  "This truly was a trying time for me as well as for my husband; but duty called... and knowing that we were obeying the will of The Lord, we felt to sacrifice our own feelings in order to help establish the work... of helping to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth." (emphasis added).  I like that phrase "sacrifice our own feelings."
To learn to love The Lord we need to sacrifice for Him.
Fortunately, most of us are not asked to give our lives.  Elder Oaks said, "Many Christians have voluntarily given sacrifices motivated by faith in Christ and the desire to serve Him. Some have chosen to devote their entire adult lives to the service of the Master. This noble group includes those in the religious orders of the Catholic Church and those who have given lifelong service as Christian missionaries in various Protestant faiths. Their examples are challenging and inspiring, but most believers in Christ are neither expected nor able to devote their entire lives to religious service." In other words, it is supposed to be like this.  We are not expected to join a convent and spend every moment in prayer.  The Lord wants you to enjoy your life and raise your family and in the midst of that happy experience, to also sacrifice by learning to put Him first while not running faster than you have strength.
I think that it is important to think about this for a moment now, especially for those of you (and I won't mention which gender this tends to be) who will hear this talk and beat yourselves up because you can't sew all of your children's clothes from scratch, and have home baked bread ready for your children when they leave for school each day, and keep every square inch of your house sparkly clean, and make the scrap book to document each important event in your children's lives, and carve an ice sculpture to decorate the tables at the ward party, and so on and so on...  But more seriously, there are many good and important things that are asked of you and you have many family responsibilities both temporal and spiritual, home/visiting teaching, callings, community service, scouts, YM/YW activities, primary lessons, work, etc...  We all should regret that we can't do more to serve The Lord, but we need to remember that those sacrifices should be a part of our lives, not replace our lives.
So what does The Lord expect of us normal people?
Elder Oaks said, "For most followers of Christ, our sacrifices involve what we can do on a day-to-day basis in our ordinary personal lives."  Many of the sacrifices that we make come about because our church has no paid clergy.  We each are called to lead and serve and carry the load of numerous church meetings, programs and activities.  If you think about it, yes our prophet and general authorities and church headquarters do a lot, but most of the work that keeps God's kingdom moving forward on the Earth is done by us!
That is a great part of the Lord's plan, but the price is that Bishops may spend all day Sunday at the church, and many other days during the week, Stake presidencies may rarely have a Sunday or a Thursday night at home, Relief society presidencies may see all of their time evaporate as they care for those in need or resolve problems, Elders quorum presidents are regularly called to scramble to organize the brethren for service, and so on...
One sacrifice in which we are all involved is home and visiting teaching.
To some of us this can be difficult - to give of our time to visit another when we have many things to do, or things that we would prefer to do.  Do you have to miss football games, or time to develop your hobbies, or time with friends or family in order to home teach?
At the same time, there are undoubtedly others here who feel that it is no sacrifice at all to home teach.  They enjoy the chance to visit and uplift others or to reach out to those who have strayed.  Are those people crazy?  Do they have some weird personality quirk that makes them like strange things, just like some people like to burn themselves with the hot sauce every time they go to a Mexican restaurant?  Or could it be that sacrifice brings blessings and no matter what sacrifice we give we will eventually see that it is a blessing if we can see with spiritual eyes?  Or, to return to our hot sauce analogy, is it that hot sauce really is an important part of life and the whole world is missing out on something truly great.  What joy they could have if they would only devote the time it takes to acquire a taste for it.
Is it really a sacrifice?
In researching for this talk I found that I had been asked to give a talk on this subject about 12 years ago.  In that talk I focused on all of the blessings that one can get when you sacrifice.  For example, in Matt. 19:29 The Lord promised: "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."  Imagine that, a hundred times.  Next time you feel down at having to give up the house of your dreams, go count a hundred others that you would take as your reward in Heaven!  President Hinckley said, “It is not a sacrifice to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is never a sacrifice when you get back more than you give.  It is an investment,…a greater investment than any…It’s dividends are eternal and everlasting.”  (Teachings, 567-68, quoted in Ensign, May 2001, pg 64—Carol B. Thomas.)
But, when the moment comes that we are called to make a sacrifice it will be mostly pain and uncertainty. It will be hard to hold on to that shadow of faith that everything will work out.  The sacrifices we will be called to make will tear at our heart strings and, although we might feel the Lord's approval instantly, it may take many, many years before the expected blessings arrive.  We may not ever see them in this life.  That is when our faith will be tried!  At those moments hopefully we can hold on to the Lord’s promise that he will reward us hundredfold!

Christ’s Sacrifice
As I've prepared this talk, I've been struck by the thought that maybe the greatest thing to ever happen was not that somebody got a blessing, although blessings always accompany sacrifice.  The greatest thing ever to happen was that The Lord was willing to give all to sacrifice for us.  Likewise we must be willing to sacrifice even when the blessings are slow to come.
I wonder what Christ's sacrifice was like?  Elder Bateman has described Christ's sacrifice NOT as taking on a large, faceless, nameless mass of sin, but an event where Christ was faced with a long line of people.  We don't know how long it took, and our minds can't understand how God can fit an eternity in the space of a few hours, but I can only imagine how long that would have taken.  At one point perhaps I came through that line and Christ looked over my sins, and the pain that they caused and took on suffering for the consequences all of my sins.  I wonder how heavy the load was that he carried just for me?  And then after me another person, and then another, and on and on millions, billions, maybe almost a trillion times.  He had the power to surrender his life, to die and have the suffering end, but he chose not to.  He chose to continue to drink from that bitter cup until it was empty.  Sacrifice is an important part of the gospel plan and we should each expect to make sacrifices like this, to follow in the Savior's footsteps.

The sacrifices that really count will not be easy.
We might each be willing to sacrifice our lives to save a child who has wandered in front of a speeding car, or to do some other great deed.  But it could be that the sacrifice that is asked of us will be far less glamorous and far more lasting.
It could be to leave a villain's punishment to The Lord and forgive. A story was told in conference a few years ago of some teenagers who were out having a good time and threw a turkey out the window of their car.  That turkey went into the windshield of an oncoming car and the woman driving suffered terrible injuries requiring plastic surgery, therapy and months of suffering and pain.  When it came time for the trial she chose to forgive the boys who had harmed her, knowing that they didn't mean for things to come out as they did.
        Or your sacrifice could be to suffer long with a parent or family member who is ill.
        Your sacrifice might be to give up dreams of family, friends, or marriage, or career to remain faithful to The Lord.  Elder Oaks told of one such example:
        "Many years ago this conference heard of a young man who found the restored gospel while he was studying in the United States. As this man was about to return to his native land, President Gordon B. Hinckley asked him what would happen to him when he returned home as a Christian. “My family will be disappointed,” the young man answered. “They may cast me out and regard me as dead. As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”  “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?” President Hinckley asked.  Tearfully the young man answered, “It’s true, isn’t it?” When that was affirmed, he replied, “Then what else matters?” That is the spirit of sacrifice among many of our new members.""
        To all of the young men or those who will later be young men, you have been asked to sacrifice a tenth of the first years of your life to serve The Lord.  Those of us who have served missions have thought that time more of a blessing than a sacrifice, but it is NO small thing to give up two years in the prime of your life to work in the Lord's service.
        Elder Hales said, "In the temple we are prepared to and promise to live the law of consecration. Able young men begin to live this law by seeking a mission call--giving a tithing of the first years of their lives in the full-time service of the Lord. That sacrifice strengthens them to go forward to the highest covenant in life-- to be sealed in the temple and begin an eternal family." (Stand Strong in Holy Places, Hales, Apr. 2013)  What better way to prepare to be a father, mother, husband or wife than to learn to sacrifice for The Lord and for others?
        Another thing that some of us are called to sacrifice is some of our independence so we can submit to the teachings of the church on a difficult topic (for example gay marriage or women and the priesthood).  These things may conflict with our personal or political views.  Usually we will come to see the Lord's perspective in time, but many of us may have doubts that will go unanswered until the next life.
        The call to sacrifice might also come when someone is mean to us, or when we are asked to love and serve someone we don't particularly like.  One challenge here is that if we do our duty well and truly love that person, then our actions will be out of genuine caring for that person, not as some noble sacrifice for God.  The world may laugh at us and ask why we should be kind to someone who deserves a piece of our mind, or how we can stand being a friend to that person, or they may even think that we get along with them only because we are rotten inside as well.
        A sister recently shared a powerful testimony of sacrifice in the Ensign.  While on her mission to Argentina she felt that her life was just how it should be.  College was going great and she looked forward to going home, graduating, marrying and all that would come in her life.  But then everything fell apart when she became ill and was sent home early, diagnosed with an uncurable heart disorder.  She said, "I thought about my future and wondered, “Why me? Why did this have to happen?” I felt that my desires and plans had been good, and I didn’t understand why I had to undergo a trial that changed those plans.
        Weeks turned to months, months turned to years, and her health remained poor.  But her faith saw her through.  She said, "Through the years, however, I began to see that while this was not the future I had anticipated, it was exactly the life God had planned for me." She related her experience to a stone quarry near the Kirtland temple.  She said, "Today when people visit the stone quarry, they can see the Kirtland Temple in all its glory just down the road. The early Saints did not have that privilege. Their sacrifice and work were done without the end result, the finished temple, in sight. They likely could not envision that this temple would be the first of hundreds that would fill the earth and bring eternal blessings to God’s children all over the world. They saw only the tools in their hands and the thousands of pounds of rock that needed to be removed. Yet their faith was strong, and they [pressed forward]" (Faith in God’s Plan for Me, Ensign, July 2014)
        So I have just listed example after example of difficult sacrifices.  This is really starting to be a downer of a talk, isn't it?  But I wanted to emphasize today that you WILL be called on to make heart wrenching, difficult, painful sacrifices.  Are you prepared to follow Christ's example and offer a sacrifice even when it seems that there is no way this could work out for good?  The trick is, that as hard as it may seem there truly are great blessings awaiting us if we continue faithful.  To the pioneers it might have seemed like just suffering, just day after day of hunger and loss, but what they did has become a symbol to us and inspired millions to be a little better.  And so it is with every sacrifice.

Conclusion:
Someone (Doug Walker, "Faith") once wrote a song about a little girl named Faith whose most prized possession in all the world was a string of shiny plastic pearls.  She loved to wear them and loved how rich and important she felt playing dress ups or going out in those shiny pearls.  Of all of her toys, these were what she treasured most.  One night at bedtime her father came to her and asked her, "Will you give me your pearls?"  "No, no, not my pearls," Faith said, "how about my teddy instead."  But her father assured her that he loved her and that it was ok and he tucked her in to bed.  A lot of time passed and though Faith loved her Father she couldn't give up her favorite thing in this whole world.  Then one night Faith came to her father and said through her tears, "Daddy these are for you."  'As she let go of her little treasure, he was crying too.  And as he took, those worn plastic pearls, he placed around her neck a beautiful strand of genuine pearls that he had saved just for his sweet Faith.'  The song ends with the following line: "With all the world may have in store, He waits with so much more.  Your Father loves you so it is ok to give up what you hold with Faith.
It says in Matt 16:24-25 "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
Have you been working to save your life? Do the sacrifices that you are asked to make seem too hard to bear?  Could it be that you are holding back a sacrifice that The Lord has asked of you?  Could you find it within yourself to make the offering that He is asking of you and trust that The Lord will repay you bounteously?
I hope that we can all have the faith to mimic the Lord's sacrifice.  When hard times come I hope we will remember that he also faced very difficult times, yet he chose to go forward and give up everything for us and that was the greatest thing ever to happen.  I know that his plan is the only path to happiness, and even though I don't understand everything, I try to trust him.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Should I really 'let it go?'

Since Frozen appeared in theaters thousands of kids all over the world have emerged from the theater beaming and doing their best to imitate Idina Menzel’s voice singing “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs: “no right no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!”  If you look at the crowd leaving one of those theaters you may have seen me singing along with them, much to the embarrassment of my wife and kids.

Can you blame me?  Who wouldn’t love that entertaining, and in many ways inspiring story?  One of the highlights of the movie is when Elsa runs from the castle into the mountains and sings "Let it Go" as she lets her ice powers have full sway for the first time.  It gives me goose bumps just thinking about that amazing crystal ice castle just rising out of the ground as she sings that the world cannot hold her back anymore.

 "Let it Go" from Disney's Frozen
As enthralling as that scene was, I found myself asking, what is the message here?  Perhaps there isn't one and it was just a catchy tune and Disney's magical animation.  Certainly some of the messages that have risen to great popularity aren't logical, or inspiring, factually correct, or in some other way meaningful to humanity.  Case in point, "Call Me Maybe," possibly the most annoying song ever written.

But in the case of "Frozen" I think that there must be more.  Perhaps the reason this is nagging at me is because those same words could also teach a potentially destructive lesson.  So, should I really "let it go?"  And if so, what do I "let go" of?  Now if I had magical powers over ice then this would be easy.  I'd let them go this very instant and build some amazing castles and a couple of snow monsters to guard it.  You'd find me downhill skiing all year long.  Unfortunately, I’ve tried and tried and no ice powers seem to be emerging, so perhaps this doesn't apply to me?  Do I have hidden powers to build something amazing if only I would break free of the constraints that are holding me back?

Since this line of thinking wasn't getting me anywhere, I decided to try asking the opposite question.  What should I be sure not to let go of?  What would it be like to live in a world where we all let everything go of every constraint that we didn't like.  Would this be a world that we would want to live in.  I’m surprised that nobody on youtube has taken hold of this idea to make satire on “Let it Go.”  Let me give you 13-year-olds out there some ideas in case you want to be famous.  Just cue up the music to “Let it Go” with the camera trained on a somber, nervous looking boy in a restaurant.  He’s feeling restrained, held back by the social norms that bind him.  Then the music reaches him and he has an idea.  He lets his burden go in a moment of sweet release.  We hear a deafening ripping noise as the restaurant erupts in his flatulence.  The fever spreads and the restaurant's guests head to the street dancing and trailing flames.  You can imagine how this could escalate.  Before long we have the crowd smashing the store windows to take the things they want.  Those windows can't hold them back anymore!  Let's leave that scene before it gets any worse.  But we certainly there are a lot of things that we certainly should not let go.  "No rules" doesn’t always make life better.  I think that we would all do well to consider this with regard to many of the traditional values that everyone seems to be letting go of these days.  We should consider very carefully whether we are really making the world a better place, or just making it stinky?

So, now I'm back to the other question.  What do I need to let go of?  How do I live up to my hidden potential and make my ice castle begin to rise out of the snow?  What have I been holding back that needs to come out and shine before the world?

I can't think of anything relating to myself, but I can think of a few examples in others.  For example, my daughter has the most infectious smile and the funniest personality you can imagine.  She loves to laugh and even my weak jokes can get her going, and the infection quickly spreads to everyone around. But like many of us at her age, when she goes out in public or when strangers are around, she is quiet and serious.  Why does she hold back that bright smile?  Imagine the happiness she could spread if she would just let that go.  She could cause a castle of glittering smiles to rise all around her.

All of us must have something that we need to let go.  Many of us are too shy.  Some of us have talents that we haven’t discovered because we are afraid of failure.  I wonder how many amazing singing voices there are out there that have never been developed?  I'm sure that mine is not one of them so it will certainly remain hidden, thank you very much.  But could there be a bunch of Idina Menzels out there that have gone undetected because they didn’t have the courage to stand out?  Or how many kids have you known that have missed out on a lot of fun at dances because they were worried about what others might think?

Or maybe somewhere there is a kid who’s English teachers convinced him that he was a horrible writer, and that he’d never write anything that anyone would ever want to read.  And maybe that kid just wrote an essay about a movie that made him think, and perhaps someone even enjoyed it or thought differently about something because of it.  It definitely wouldn't be a shimmering castle rising out of the snow, but maybe it would be a start.

If you're dying to see the video again you can get it here:
http://youtu.be/moSFlvxnbgk

and if you haven't seen it already, check out the amazing Lexi Walker singing with Alex Boye:
http://youtu.be/DAJYk1jOhzk

as well as the Piano Guys' rendition:
http://youtu.be/6Dakd7EIgBE