Finding Hope in Hope

We have many places in the scriptures where we use the word “hope”. It’s one of big threes, faith, hope, and charity. We talk a lot on having faith and on having charity, but very little on the concept of hope.

For example, we can practice charity with ourselves, others, the Church, with God. We have our own varied faith in these things. But where is hope? In our efforts to affirm the things we know are true, do we eschew hope as a sign of weak faith? How do we build hope?

We seem to have a lot of hints throughout the scriptures. Paul makes a line through it form tribulations to the love of God (Romans 5:3-5). Moroni makes it a brief stop from faith to charity (Moroni 10:20). In the Psalms, it’s a pick-me-up when feeling down (Psalm 42:5). It’s an admonition of Paul we brought into one of the base statements of our beliefs (1 Cor 13:7, AoF 13).

At a core definition, hope starts with trust in the future; that we have some expectation and desire for something that will happen. It has a connotation of something good, a light at the end of the tunnel (though it has previously been good or neutral, hence hope against hope)

For me, as cynical and despairing in the basic goodness of humanity as I often am, this has jumped out at me as something I need to improve on. I believe I have faith in God and charity that God has the entire thing well in hand, but have I worked at all in improving my hope?

What do you do to build your own hope?



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My “Good Ship Zion” analogy

To me, the biggest difficulty with analogies like this is the conflation of the Church (aka “The Ship Zion”) and the “Iron Rod” (aka “The Word of God”, aka Jesus Christ).

The Church is like a ferry connected to the Iron Rod, at some unknown distance (or not at all if you so believe). At times, the ferry is close, other times further, but it is still connected and going toward the Tree of Life.

One problem comes in that not everyone can see how far or how well the connection is all the time. We can trust Prophets, the laying of the ferry keel, our own “eyeballing”, and/or whatever answer we get through prayer, but throughout we’ll make judgments as to our comfort with how well and how far from the Iron Rod is appears to us the ferry is at any given time.

Another problem is that the ferry is full of people, some steering, some pushing, some merely riding, some trying to call or use sticks to reach out and help others in, some unintentionally driving people away with those sticks, some even intentionally driving people out and away. Each of us has their own perspective on the water worthiness, condition, direction, and population of the ferry.

But no matter how connected the ferry, it is -not- the Rod. Other ferries have their own connection to the Rod. Individuals can cling to the Rod on their own or even press forward as near as they can to it. They can even have their own ships moving in the right direction, with no knowledge of the Rod.

Our job is to help improve the connection of the ferry to the Rod, improve it’s condition, change or remove those who are diving others out and away (and sometimes the enemy is us), and to invite others to come aboard. The ferry may make it easier for us, but it’s just a conveyance, and it will not suit everyone. If we want more to join us, we should be looking for what can be improved, as it has been improved upon in the past.

Above all that, however, we need to be directing others to the Iron Rod, no matter what the conveyance or lack thereof.

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Keeping the spirit of God throughout the week

One of the many parts of scripture I have worked to make an important lesson in my life is where it talks about people who get together at church to worship each Sunday then go about the rest of the week doing and thinking nothing about God. We don’t really worship in our church. Our meetings aren’t geared that way. We go to church to learn.

Our classes are meant for us to discuss and learn together. Sacrament meeting gives us two ways to learn; our subdued and bare bones Sacrament, inviting our recommitting to God and opening ourselves to learning via the spirit, and listening to instruction (which may or may not be inspirational) in discourses from selected speakers.

What we do not have, not even in our General Conference, is a performance. Performance has its place – we love to see others share their talents and encourage talents to come out – but performance rarely equals worship. Ward choirs are full of people who want to share their talents, small as they may be, to help invite the spirit of God to instruct us in whatever way the spirit can speak to us.

Throughout the week, we’re on our own in trying to invite and open ourselves up to the Spirit. There are some simple things we can do to help us attain that, praying, studying scriptures, listening to inspirational words and music, but the goal is to put ourselves in a position to learn. Continued practice brings an increase in being able to open yourself up at times and places when these are not present. You can begin to see those times of inspiration and clarity when you least expect it.

This is not to say that you’ll “move beyond” the simple steps of prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, and inspirational music; these are a base, not a crutch to be discarded when you’re “more enlightened”.

In all this, it is also vitally important to remember to give thanks. You may be the vehicle for these inspirations, but every part of you, your knowledge, talents, and abilities, have a source in God. When something “clicks” in your mind during prayer or study, do you think to thank God? When you have a flash of inspiration, do you think to say even an informal thanks to God for the help?

No matter how we find inspiration, our goal is a progression. We want to not only learn more, but to better learn how to learn. We want to take every lesson from every source to bring ourselves to being more like God, forever increasing. It is in this that we not only worship and learn on Sunday, but throughout our lives, making ourselves a continual beacon of worship and praise of God.

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Politics shaped by religion – Immigration

I’m breaking my rule by posting about something that’s come up in the recent news. I’ve written about immigration before, but with recent events, I feel that I need to write more. A couple of times I’ve tried writing about our foreign policy, but they never seemed to come together enough to post. Anyway, the need feels just too strong.

The US immigration policy is a terrible morass, and for some reason the people seem to think it isn’t strong enough. Xenophobia, being afraid of people who we don’t see as “us”, is settled in deeply, and the policies we’ve had toward immigrants reflect that. I wish the most recent moves were surprising. Unfortunately, it’s just another step in the direction we’ve been heading for some time. It’s not just the fear that “those people are taking our jobs” but also the fear that we may have terrorist attacks against us.

This ties in to our horrible foreign policy, making ourselves into the “policeman of the world”, destabilizing, threatening, and invading countries we believe have either slighted us or interfere with “our business interests”. This is a whole other post unto itself, but the point is that we feel we can do whatever we’d like in the world but are afraid that we’ll get hurt. When we do get hurt, our retaliation is far, far more disproportionate. If we get hurt by the thousand (which is incredibly rare), we retaliate by bombing and displacing by the million. This isn’t being a peacemaker, but a schoolyard bully.

Despite being a nation of immigrants, we’ve never really liked having immigrants. The longer we (or our ancestors) have been in this country, the more we feel like the first laborers in the vineyard who started work at the beginning of the day (from the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matt 20:1-15). We get jealous of the people who seem to have just come in and are getting the same pay.

The US currently admits a million immigrants, legally, each year. It seems like a lot, but compared to the number of citizens (319 million), it barely a drip of a faucet, not a fire hose on full blast. While the numbers are higher than any other nation, as a percentage of the population, we’re only 11th in admitting immigrants.

For illegal immigrants, we have about 11 million. About half of these are border crossings from Mexico, at a rate of about half a million a year. For all of the Presidents’ talk of a wall, we’ve been working on walls and mass deportations for the entirety of the 21st century. The increases in border security and in deportations haven’t made of much a dent in this. Border security has high costs compared to other methods, and is rather easily circumvented.

A better option would be to begin more prosecution of employers who hire illegal immigrants, but there we hit a bit of a snag – we use them for a lot of jobs that we don’t want to pay a good wage. Just like the sweatshops we deride overseas, paying people pennies for repetitive, difficult, or even dangerous work, we’d rather keep these people faceless and nameless, only caring that we get our food, clothes, etc easily and cheaply.

These two forces, xenophobia and use of the faceless, are what drives our attitude toward immigrants. These attitudes transcend political leanings and parties, ages and income levels.

As a people, we need to do better. We should be doing more in helping the refugees we helped create. We should create protections for the people we use. We should be using our riches, our strength, our determination to succeed to help those around us, not squeeze tighter, afraid we’ll lose what we have. We should be sharing what has made this Nation great (and it has always been great, even when we don’t agree, have missteps, or are wandering in the wrong direction). Most of all, we should share our gratitude for the many blessings we have received, even those things we (mistakenly) think God had no hand in, that we achieved by our own “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, and work to make life better for everyone, not just “us”.

These are our brothers and sisters. We can do better than this. We can -be- better than this.

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Politics shaped by religion – Gun Control

A few months ago I had the opportunity to try and put into words some of my political beliefs and how those beliefs had been shaped by my religion. I’ve never registered for any political party, though I do occasionally wonder if I could try getting into politics to try and help make the world a better place. I usually come to the conclusion that I’m not articulate enough in being able to either express or defend my views, nor am I strongly enough in the camp of any political party that I would have any hope of succeeding in elections, so politics is not likely to happen for me. But I do feel occasionally that I need to get my opinions on these things out somewhere, even to my limited audience, to help me better clarify these things in my own mind.

My beliefs may or may not align with yours, my Country, or my Church, but they are mine and mine alone. I speak for no one but myself and am not an example of “the standard” of any group. I’m glad for discussions on these things, but know that they are not likely to shift my beliefs by much in any direction.

Gun Control

The 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution reads simply, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The interpretation of this has been a matter of quite a bit of debate over the centuries since it was written. I don’t believe there is any strong position of the Church on this. Not many people discuss “militias”, as the connotation is crazy people grouping together to wait for society to fall apart or the government to come and force them to do something they don’t want. I’m actually just fine with people having a hobby of training to be soldiers and preparing for the worst. People have all sorts of strange hobbies. The only problem I’d have is when they start to use their training to impose their ideals on others or use those guns to actually break the law. If they are built on hate or prejudice against a particular people, then their own weight will bring them down.

For guns themselves I don’t believe we need much regulation at all. The only place I’d put regulations are in banning automatic weapons, autonomous weapons, and explosives. For all the various shootings, the attempts at any other regulations seem to be poor attempts at being seen to do something to stop such things happening. The rhetoric on both sides of the issue, unrestricted freedom to carry any kind of gun anywhere and removing all guns from everyone, seem to be rooted in trying to make sure “they” don’t hurt “us”. We may not be able to articulate who “they” are, but we are going to use guns to stop “them”. This is building nothing but fear and division, and will accomplish nothing but making our problems worse.

They problem is that “they” are part of “us”. The shooters, the victims, the hobbyists, the bystanders, the gun makers, the gun sellers, are all part of “us”. Every time something happens we quickly try to place people into a group that is part of “them”, but they are always “us”, our neighbors, our friends, our family. This is probably the core of all my political and religious views – what can we do to help “us” be better? Not looking at what we can do to make “them” be better, like taking away all guns or proudly carrying loaded guns to discourage “them” from wanting to shoot someone, but helping people to learn and grow and not want to shoot others (or themselves).

I’m not a hunter and am quite glad I don’t need to be to feed my family. I see guns as a potentially dangerous tool that should be used and cared for properly just like any other tool I might have in my home. I believe anyone who handles a gun should be trained on how to care for and use it properly, but I do not believe we should force anyone to take such care. I believe we can keep ourselves mindful of the dangers without needing laws to enforce compliance to good usage and care. Additional attention to and making available help for mental health issues would be of much greater effect in reducing death and pain from shooting than any gun control or open carry demonstration could ever have.

But that would be looking at “us”.

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An example of how to treat refugees from the Book of Mormon

As my health permits, I am one of the teachers for a class of 10 year olds each Sunday. We tend to have only 3-4 students, all boys, almost all with some sort of disability that makes it difficult for them to sit and learn. I can sympathize with them, as my own uniqueness makes it difficult to either sit still or pay attention to things around me. Anyway, last weeks lesson was on the people in the Book of Mormon called the “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”. It’s a mouthful of a name, but the people wanted a name that reflected their commitment to the gospel and their forefathers who came out of Jerusalem several hundred years earlier.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehis were Lamanites who had converted to Christ and wanted to disavow themselves of all of the violence and sin that had previously been a part of their culture. They went so far as to bury their weapons of war. When the Lamanites came to kill them, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis simply bowed down and let themselves be slaughtered. (In this instance, the attackers stopped the slaughter and were also converted, more joining the Anti-Nephi-Lehis than were killed.) To stop further potential massacres, the Nephites offered the land of Jershon, well within the borders of the Nephite lands, and vowed to protect these people with their armies.

This got me to wondering. Would this be a possible way to help at least a portion of the many refugees we have created in the world? Could we find a place somewhere in our vast country to put these people and let them build a community of their own? If they would be willing to be subject to the State and National laws, why could we not give them a place where they could govern and build themselves up? I’m not saying they would need to convert to some form of Christianity, as it should be the Spirit that guides them, not compulsion by support. I am also not saying there wouldn’t be many, many logistical and political issues that would need to be dealt with, as there will be many.

What I’m asking is, what would it take to give up a small portion of our vast lands and resources to help some hundred thousand people escape from a war torn land, a place where they face starvation, death, and many other privations through no fault of their own? I know it goes against the very American idea that the people should just buckle down and fix the place where they are, but that is nearly impossible when your children are starving and there are no safe places to work, much less start a business, if there were any money to do so.

What do you think? Can we take this example of charity in the Book of Mormon and apply it to our own times?

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Different ways to mourn — remembering my dad

My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.

My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.

He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.

Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.

My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.

That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.

My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.

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