Posts Tagged people

Trust, God, and following the Prophets

From time to time there arise some issue or another where some people dislike or disapprove of something said by someone in Church leadership. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is, who said it, or what side they are arguing, the arguments tend to be the same:

– Bringing out scripture and/or previous statements
– Declaring the other side as apostate/not Christlike/tares
– Bringing out personal (or worse, someone else’s) anecdotes
– Declaring the other side is “trusting in man, not God”
– Declaring your “personal revelation” concerning the matter
– Being incredulous at what the other side “really means”
– Scoffing at how anyone could believe such a thing in the first place

platitudeThere are many, many variations, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. They get very tiring, very quickly, but are easy enough to throw out when you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to have an actual discussion about something. It’s much like the use of platitudes; you use them and show how wise you are, dismissing or affirming something with just a few words.

Now I have to seriously caveat this. I am not saying that a couple of the above items should never be done, just that they should not be used as arguments. For example, sharing scriptures, personal revelation or anecdotes that have helped form what you believe can be done, just not in the manner of “this is why you’re wrong”.

The best any of us can do is “this is why I believe what I believe”. This can be used to help convince someone to think about something differently, to reexamine or adjust what they believe, but ultimately what we believe is only as strong as the foundation we build it on. The only absolutely sure foundation is God. Anything else, anyone else you build upon has the potential to fail, even people, scriptures, or prophets. But what sort of building can you have if you wait to use only perfect materials? This is where trust comes in.

In Primary (the Church instruction for children under 12), we sing a Folk song from the South-Eastern US that gives a simplistic understanding of this (skipping repeated lines):

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood still.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand washed away.

The “rock”, put simply, is God, our only sure foundation. Anything else is “sand” that will wash away when disaster comes. This beautiful, simplistic teaching can prompt us to deeper examination. While the wise man survived the floods with his house still solidly on the rock, no mention is made of the condition of the house. We’d hope that the house, with all the materials that were put into it, emerged completely unscathed, but it is very plausible that there is at least some damage. Some part of the house failed. Will it be replaced with something similar? Will it be remade into something completely different? What if that fails too? What if something bigger, that effects larger portions of the building, fails?

This is where we can have trust. This is where we have faith, knowing that our Rock, God, will not fail, even if every other part of our building falls. From here, we decide what we can build with, where we will place our trust. This is why Christ is also called the “Chief Cornerstone”. He is the first, most important, most solid stone which is firmly upon the foundation of God. We may choose other cornerstones, scriptures, prophets, our own revelations, the words of others, in building. None of these things are perfect, any more than every brick in a wall is perfect. Some flaws may be unseen. Some flaws will make no difference to your use of them. Will those flaws come to cause the whole building to collapse? Though not impossible, it may be very improbable. That determination is yours to make. God will help you find and use what materials you need.

For others you may recommend or warn in their building, but you cannot assume, get angry, or gloat if you are not heeded. You are not the architect and may have little idea what successes or failures they have had in the past. The best option is to show how you have developed your own structure, how you have repaired damage, how you have demolished some parts and replaced them with others. Help others recover when the rains and floods have caused more damage to them than to you. Encourage their honest efforts.

For me, I know where I have placed my trust. I have faith in the Scriptures and in Prophets, fully knowing that they are flawed and can be used in damaging ways. Ultimately, I am firmly anchored to the Rock. I know Jesus is a solid corner stone I can build on. I believe the Church is true. I know it has the Authority given from God. It has been a dependable material for me in the past (even when I have neglected using it), through many storms that continue to shape, mold, and grow it toward whatever end God has for it. I have faith in it being an imperfect but solid and dependable material for me to work with. I have had many of my own experiences and personal revelations that I use to continue building, as well as supports and materials given by others. Could it all be washed away with the next storm? Possible, but not likely. Even if it does, I know I can stay anchored to the Rock and build again.

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To mourn with those who mourn

I’ve had a few experiences with people mourning lately, as well as a discussion on how someone believes that part of mourning is coming to agree with their views. This can be a very delicate topic, as mourning involves already being in some sort of inner pain. This is not anything about how to mourn or how to come out of mourning. This is also not for those who are in deep depression, who may need professional help to come back out into the world they inhabited before. This is about the scriptural instruction to “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9)

You see, we seem to have some odd ideas as to what it means to mourn with someone. Some try platitudes. A platitude is anything that is given as a truism designed to “make it all better”, putting forth very little effort in hopes that the person will just stop mourning.

“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“They’re in a better place now”
“At least it was quick”
“It’ll be over soon”
“At least you won’t have to deal with any more (or in the foreseeable future)”

With the LDS view of the afterlife (having families be together forever and marriage eternal), we’ve added our own uniquely painful and ineffective versions to the list.

“You’ll have a chance in the next life”
“They’ve just gone ahead to prepare for you”
“Now they can run and play”
“You’ll get them back in the next life”
“Just keep praying”

Do NOT, under any circumstances, no matter how well intentioned, let these phrases or anything like unto it pass your lips to someone who is mourning. Work to have these never even come to mind. They are not helpful to someone who is mourning and can even make it deeper, driving them away from you instead of drawing you closer together.

It makes no difference on your believing it is true or if they believe it is true, these are still just empty platitudes. A father who has lost his child may know of a surety that his child is whole and alive with God, but that does not negate his need for mourning. A woman may feel she is passed the age where she would have a chance to have a husband and children, know that the Plan of God includes her marrying and having children, but still mourn for her loss. A person who has been living with sin can know the love and forgiveness of Christ and still mourn what they had lost from that sin. A platitude may help you feel better around someone else’s mourning, but they are empty, stinging words to that person’s soul.

Actions to try and bring someone out of their mourning can be just as problematic, but in a different way. (I’ll note again that deep depression should be handled professionally). While those who “mourn . . . shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), this does not mean that you need to “just cheer them up” or “get them out” or “put a smile on their face”. While these may help once mourning is abated for a time, no scripture says “cheer up those who mourn”.

We mourn not when we’re in a brief down or when we’re feeling just a bit low; we mourn when we are feeling pain deep down to our souls. These are deep wounds, the kind that if they were physical would be cuts through and into the bone. These kind of wounds do not need little bandages or mild pain killers, but need stitching or holding together until time can make it closer to whole. There is no “just walk it off” for mourning, no “it’s not that bad” for wounds so deep, no “just look up” for damage so deep. There will be scars, pain, and no immediate fix.

Mourning takes time to heal, and will never heal completely. The best, The Best help to someone who is mourning is to mourn with them. Simply be with them. Be there when they reach out to you, but more importantly be there before they feel they need to. Quiet which may or may not be broken by expressions of that pain are not the enemy; they are part of the healing process. Let yourself feel some of the pain they are feeling, even if it triggers your own mourning. Let them take comfort in your presence. Nothing more is needed. You may get something out of the experience, like appreciation for a pain you may never have experienced, but you may get nothing at all. You are not there to “fix” or to “cheer”. You are there to mourn with those who mourn.

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Political ideals – Immigration

We have been told to make Zion wherever we are, but Zion cannot be found where people, where families, do not feel safe.

My ancestors, almost as far as 400 years ago, came to this continent as illegal immigrants. No, there weren’t codified laws as such, but the land wasn’t just theirs for the taking. Why should I deny this land to anyone else?

I want to address some of the objections I’ve seen.
– “They’re leaving families behind”
In doing family history work, I’ve seen many, many families that were separated for a time, some for their entire life) because of the need to go where the work is, to find a way to help the family survive. Some took jobs on the railroad, being gone for weeks or months at a time. Some widowers placed their children in orphanages to establish themselves in a job so they could afford being able to take care of them. Some went ahead in new territory to establish themselves and make a place their families could live with less hardship. These were the choices these people made for the circumstances in their own lives.
I sometimes wonder how others are judging my own choices in how I try to build my family and home, and try to remember that they’re not in a position to judge, just as I cannot adequately judge how they are managing their homes. Despite times when I have seen people actively working to try and abuse the generosity of institutions and people around them, I still have to believe that people in general are doing their best with what they have. I hope others can show me the same charity of judgment.
In addition to this, our Government (the United States) isn’t doing a good job of keeping families together when they to immigrate together. The system separates by age and gender, effectively making everyone, even those with families, into single, childless, orphans. If we need a system to work people through the process of sending them out of the Country, then it needs to treat families as whole groups no matter what their size or makeup. Treat them as people, not widgets.

– “They should stay where they are and find work there”
We keep forgetting that we’re not just one Country; we’re a collection of States. When I graduated college, I wanted to move from Utah to Washington, where the jobs in my field would be. Should I have stayed where I was? Possibly, but the work that I was trained to do, the work that I wanted to do, wasn’t really there. How would it feel if you moved to another place and the reaction was “we don’t want your kind here”? Would you want them to welcome you to their community, to enjoy the unique contributions you bring, or would you prefer they keep you in isolation so you don’t “contaminate” their culture? If your response is “we’re all Americans, American culture is the same everywhere”, then you need to do more travelling and really look at the differences region to region.
If you think that illegal immigrants are taking your jobs, then you need to look harder at what jobs you’re willing to do. I’m a fan of Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) on this; there is lots of work out there if you change your ideas of what you “deserve”. Yes, this is coming from someone who isn’t physically able to go out and dig ditches all day, but that’s why it was important for me to get an education; so I wouldn’t have to. If you are willing to use what you have (and to build up what you want) there are plenty of opportunities around.

– “Those people are just lazy and wanting to milk the system”
This is a cross between plain racism and classism. If you ever classify “those people” or any specific group as being all the same, you need to take a good look at the groups you are a part of but may never have seem it being unfairly labeled. “Mormons are polygamists” – “Women are too emotional” – “I’m glad for the charter school, cause it doesn’t have so many Mexicans” – “Gun owners are dangerous hicks” Some of these generalizations sting more than others. Some hurt deeply, even if they weren’t meant to do so. They are not all the same in effect, but they should all be removed from use, in deed, word, and thought. This is not censorship, this is warning you of the poison that it is to your own soul. If you make these kinds of judgments, expect pushback. I may not even be nice about it, because this kind of thinking is dangerous and hurtful not only to others, but to you. If I push back, it’s because I want you to be better.
As I mentioned, I do know those who “milk the system”. For one reason or another they believe they deserve what they can get. For them, no one “deserves” anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, a relationship, living expenses, whatever, it needs work or it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been glad for the help I’ve been given, and I know that at any time that help cold not be available to me, so I will keep working to find ways to make life work without help. Hopefully, I’ll then be more able to help others in need. Now, while there are some who take advantage, it is a very, very small percentage of those who actually need the help. We should not punish everyone for the crimes of the few; we should punish the few for their own transgressions.

– “We just don’t have the room/resources”
We’re a rich country. We lead rich lives full of luxuries of which many in other countries could not even dream. But no matter how much we have, we never think we’re rich. Do you have a home, food, clothing? You’re doing a lot better than a lot of the world, especially those who tend to be immigrants. We are so wasteful with our resources, food, water, “luxuries”, that it would only take a little improvement to make room for someone else.
Ok, let’s say you’re -not- rich. Does that mean you’re exempt from giving help? To put it Biblically, “God Forbid.” Christ didn’t give caveats to the boon of helping the poor. No matter how little you have, there are those with less. And, if your only “more” is being a citizen, why refuse that gift to someone else?

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. There are people in need, and our response should not be putting up a wall so we don’t have to see them, nor should it be shoving them into a machine as if they were not human beings.

Those of us who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) should be better than that. Far better.

Official Church Statement

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The reason we should not have “White Pride”

Occasionally I do see posts from friends (and I do consider them friends) with something glib about not having a “White Pride” parade or meme, just as there seems to be for every other group. This is usually a point made by those in the United States, by those who emphatically do not believe in ranking one race above another. Those who use it in the same vein as white supremacists, if they are my friends at all, should completely reexamine their ideas on what race is and how their “purity” does not make them better than anyone else.

I wanted to talk briefly about how we got to where we are in defining who is “white” and who is not. This differentiation has only ever been used to describe those who are “better than” some other group, the delineation rarely being that of skin color. For example, in the early United States, Irish and Italians were considered “non-white”. Groups without a shared country of origin, like Mormons and frontiersmen, were considered “non-white”. It made it easier to discount these groups as “God ordained inferior”, so the same rights would not apply. Over the generations it became harder to discern who was “white” and who was not. Losing the accents of previous generations native countries meant the only things left to use as an indicator was the lightness of their skin. Even then it wasn’t reliable, as someone with light or pale skin could have at least one dark-skinned parent. These people could “pass” for white, but had dire (sometimes lethal) consequences if they were found out.

Today, “white pride” is almost completely used by white supremacists. They don’t just want to have pride in their heritage, but in the “purity” of it. All others are “unclean” and should be eliminated or used as the “pure” see fit.

If you’re feeling the need to have “pride”, start by getting to know your own history. Where did your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents come from? Learn about those cultures and embrace them as part of who you are. Turns out you’re 11/16 British, 1/4 Scottish, and 1/16 Moroccan? Great! You can rock a kilt, bow tie, and fez all at once. Enjoy the different cultures that came together to make you.

If you’re only going to go as far as “American” because your tenth-great-grandfather came here from some other country, then allow that your tenth-great-grandfather was just as American as the immigrants who are currently here, striving to be part of the culture you most hold dear, to also have “pride” in being American. And don’t limit anyone on what rates as “American” aside from wanting to be a part of this country. American customs and attitudes very widely within each State, not to mention between States and geographic areas.

You want a parade and fireworks for American Pride? Turns out we have one, a big one, every year on the fourth day of the seventh month.

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On depression and suicide

A little over a year ago now, I was seriously thinking of suicide. It was well beyond any bout of depression or panic attack I’d ever felt before. There was no perceived misdeed or responsibility I was trying to escape. I was working with my doctor to change medications, as depression medicines tend to lose effectiveness the longer you are on them. I ended up deep, deep in a panic state, barely able to move and shaking uncontrollably, my mind unable to focus on anything but how I could make that panic feeling stop. I also knew, amidst all this, that I had to be sure whatever I did would actually kill me. No cutting, no car wrecks. Pills were too hit and miss. It’s partially due to that need for surety that I managed to get through it at all.

That and my wife.

No, I don’t mean that thoughts of my family and what would happen to them had saved me. As I said, I couldn’t make myself even think about anything but the pain and panic, praying that it would just end. I mean that even though she was struggling to care for three small children and has always had as one of her major fears that I would die, she made sure I was not alone. She did her best to help get what aid we could get, helping me through it, even though an end didn’t seem in sight. Through a combination of support, counseling, and medication, we made it through.

As a society, if we talk about suicide at all, we treat it as if it’s one monolithic thing. We don’t want to talk about it, we know it’s there, and so we don’t like to put any more thought into it than we have to. From my experience, suicide comes from one of two sources.

The first is like this episode I had, where there may not be particular reason, just an overriding need. This tends to need medication to help, with counseling to watch to make sure the medication is doing what it should without creating side effects it shouldn’t. Suicide here tends to leave more questions than answers, as people wonder what they could have done, what burden they could have helped lift, what they might have said without thinking. The problem is that there is very little they could have done. There is no “choose to think positive” or “just snap out of it” that would help. The person was sick, and needed medical help. They may have had shades of this illness before, or it may have been the first time, but it is still an illness. Unfortunately, it’s an illness we don’t like to think about (or sometimes even believe), so we’ve let go the resources we have for treatment. There is no support for getting a debilitating disease that requires weeks or months away from work and life to try and get in control.

The other is from a build up of problems where it feels like the world and everyone you care about would be better off without you there. This type needs more counseling than medication, working through the problems to help remove or mitigate the issues weighing life down. Unfortunately, support for this is just as poor. Some believe that you just need to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “not take the cowards way out” without even thinking about the reasons that might be involved.

I’m very grateful I had my wife and resources to help, including a job that had the flexibility to work with me during that time. I worry for those who do not have these resources and mourn with those who have been left behind through this. No amount of platitudes will help. It’s hard. It hurts. If it (or anything else) has triggered your own feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide, get help in any way you can. There is no right way in getting help for this. Grasp onto whatever slim reed you can manage, be it family, friend, coworker, or even a stranger on a help line. You don’t have to do this alone.

In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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Genealogy, the ultimate “Missed Connections” board

Since much of the family history/genealogy work for my forebears has been done (and continues to be done) by my parents, much of my concentration has been on finding cousins, the other descendants of my ancestors. It’s been interesting to see how their lives have developed, even if it’s just through the glimpses left in the records left behind. There’s the widow left by a rail road worker cousin who marries his brother, also a rail worker. The couples who had just a few or many children who saw either all children live and grow or saw all their children go into early graves. The cousin whose wife died, leaving him with two small children he had to leave in an orphanage until he could reclaim them again. There are just so many stories, and we, too often, barely get a one sentence summary.

I’ve particularly been gratified at finding the cousins whose lines have ended. These are those who never married or never had any children. There’s no one to remember them. I wish I’d posted about it nearer Memorial Day, but I wonder how many of those who died in the past wars are simply forgotten?

In any case, the most difficult part I find in this research isn’t the heartbreaking stories, but in finding cousins that have just recently died. You finally get down to people that you could conceivably talk to and get firsthand information from, and they’ve already passed on. Most of the time you don’t even know who their next-of-kin are. So here’s my “Missed connection”:

To my 6th cousins, once removed, children of Inez Pellett-Cavin-Rounds-Bevroot-Linley. I know your mother passed 25 years ago, but I’m hoping to make a connection to learn what you know of your family. Do you know anything about your father or where in Central America he came from? Hope I can find some way to connect with you soon.

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Of course, now that I check again, one of them died just 6 months ago. Blast it all.

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Nephites are always fit and muscular

I get emails from LDS casting from time to time (in the vain hopes that anglo me could be useful in some depiction or other) and a recent request was sent out for men to portray characters in the Book of Mormon for some film or other they are producing. The description for almost everyone? “Fit and muscular”

Alma the Younger: Middle Aged to 65ish; Fit and muscular; Grizzled yet compassionate
Korihor: about 20-40 years old; very charismatic; fit and muscular; handsome
Nephihah: about 30-50 years old; Chief Judge; fit and muscular
Giddonah: High Priest; fit and muscular
Captain Moroni: about 20-40 years old; like Superman-very heroic; fit and muscular
Pahoran: about late 40’s; Large, fit and muscular; Bearded
Nephi (from 3rd Nephi): about 20-40 years old; faithful; fit and muscular; young with a dignified handsomeness

Now, this isn’t a complaint that I don’t fit into the mold of “fit and muscular”, but this did get me thinking. How is it, in all the depictions we have of the people in Book of Mormon times, that every one of them is a bodybuilder? Yes, I understand that Nephi describes himself as being large in stature, and everyone spent more time working outdoors, but is it really accurate to have everyone look like they never let their gym membership expire? I know of a number of people who do a lot of physical labor for their jobs that wouldn’t qualify as fit and muscular. Maybe it’s a bit like comic books. All superheroes have bulging muscles (or if female, ample bosoms) as a sort of “pinnacle of human-ness”. Maybe it makes it a good thing there aren’t more women depicted in the Book of Mormon.

I think it comes down to part of why I’m uncomfortable with re-creations of scriptural stories. You’re getting caught up in how something looked or what mannerisms someone might have had that you ignore the messages that are trying to be expressed in scripture. Not to mention the alternative lessons that can be learned from the same scriptural accounts. Do we lose something by making it all so extremely literal? Do we make Nephi, Ammon, and all the people in the Book of Mormon more than human by making them all “fit and muscular”?

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