Monday, November 28, 2011

The Character of Men in War Time

My personal experience in war is that it tends to bring out the extremes in a person's character. There are those who use it as an excuse for the worst behavior; they kill for defense of self and others but, having killed once, kill for the thrill, for revenge, for almost any excuse. These men would be involved in whoredom and even rape. They would also be first in line for alcohol and drugs. Others would become like a particular captain who, for one reason or another decided to befriend me. I think he had met me in our church services as I had been called to be a counselor to the LDS unit president, so I conducted our meetings from time to time. There was little structure to our meetings and I had very little to do other than at the meetings themselves as there was no opportunity for home teaching or making visits to other areas of the base, fire bases or out in the bush.

This particular captain had led units of men out in combat, but took the time to succor soldiers who were injured, frightened or who suffered from mental wounds. In one case he took a prisoner who would have been killed by the type of soldier who was less inclined toward mercy. In another case, there was a soldier from Utah who served in a nearby unit and who fell victim to his own inappropriate habits. He took drugs following a period of time in the bush where he had seen action. The drugs, combined with the fear, bloodshed and extreme emotional circumstances caused him to lose control. He took his weapon and begin firing randomly inside the NCO and officers' clubs. I don't believe he killed anyone, but he seriously injured several.

This soldier was lucky enough to have become acquainted with the righteous captain. The captain took the risk of convincing the powers that be to let him take charge of the young soldier. He brought the soldier to church services where I could clearly see that the young man was unstable. The captain worked with him, was kind to, but firm with him and stayed with him until he was sent away. If my memory serves me, the soldier was given a court martial, but sent to Japan to receive treatment for battle fatigue.

Alma, in describing Captain Moroni, describes a man who saw the world from 10,000 feet above the rest of mankind. He fought for principle and never allowed himself to believe that his current circumstances were the only reality. He is described as strong and mighty, which he would have to be to survive and lead. He is also described as a man of perfect understanding who did not delight in bloodshed. He loved freedom and the joy of liberty and could see that the results of losing the war would be captivity and slavery. He was capable of deeply felt thanksgiving, even in the horrors of wartime. He had taken an oath to defend the liberty and welfare of his people, even at the risk of losing his own life.

Alma states, in describing this mighty man, "...If all unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men." While these traits may be seen as gifts from God, the fact is that everyone has the Spirit of Christ and, like Moroni, could have developed their characters to the point that they, like he, could receive such gifts. Instead, most of us tend to think of our current circumstances as reality and don't think in the long term. We suffer disappointment and use that as the excuse for abandoning our faith. We find an opportunity to act on a lustful impulse and take advantage without thinking of the eternal consequence.

Men like Moroni keep an eternal perspective, not only for themselves, but for those in their sphere of influence.

Similarly, the 2000 stripling warriors maintained an eternal perspective. Much credit is given their mothers who taught them, as is proper, but the fact is that many young person who has had the proper teaching and example in the home abandon those teachings when they leave home. A spirit of rebellion can negate the teaching of a righteous parent until circumstances seemingly force them back to the teaching of the home through repentance, usually after they have raised children without the benefit of their faith. Unlike the typical rebellious youth, these men applied their faith by following every command with exactness. They applied the principles of righteousness they learned in the home to their commander. Knowing that Heleman was a righteous leader who would never lead them astray, they were protected by following his directions to the letter. Heleman credits the success of the young soldiers to the fact that they had faith, that their minds were firm and that they put their trust in God.

The war chapters of the Book of Mormon are often used as a metaphor for the battles we face in our lives everyday. That is an appropriate use of these chapters. War, however, like other extreme circumstances we may face reveals our true character. C. S. Lewis says that we must not use extreme circumstances as an excuse for bad behavior. "Dropping the hammer on my toe caused me to swear," for instance. Rather, the extreme circumstance reveals the aspects of our character we have not yet corrected. The rats in the cellar, for instance, are more likely to be revealed when we enter the door abruptly than if we rattle the door handle and enter as usual.

Our focus, then, must be to make of ourselves the men and women whose hearts a pure because we are the children of Christ; his sons and daughters. We do this by constantly reflecting on the blessings of the atonement and calling on God's holy power to change our hearts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Purpose of Guilt

It is interesting that when Alma is giving counsel to his missionary children, he spends a chapter or two on the ones who are doing well, but the bulk of his preaching is for the one who has strayed from the path. It is Corianton who gets four lengthy chapters in the book of Alma. These chapters are not only about his need to repent and the blessings of the Atonement to those who humble themselves, but also some deep doctrine about the events of the resurrection, the role of justice and mercy, the purpose of mortality as a probationary state, spiritual and temporal death and the like. He did not save the deepest doctrine for the righteous sons, but found it appropriate to declare it to the one son who had committed the most egregious sins.

Why was that the case? I suspect that if Corianton had continued to show a rebellious heart, he would never have received this counsel. The more likely scenario is that the depth of his humility led Alma and the Spirit to give him greater depth because he was truly ready to receive it.

In the final chapter of his counsel to Corianton, Alma sees that there is a need to caution the repentant person against allowing guilt to rule their life, never accepting the full blessings of the Atonement. It seems that people either give too little attention to their sins and failings, or they give too much attention to them.

In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses sees God face to face and is given the vision (shared by a very few prophets such as John, Nephi and Abraham) of the world from its beginning to its conclusion. In Moses 1:10 he makes the observation, " is nothing, which thing I had never supposed." Then a few verses later Satan attempts to tempt him and his response is, "Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?" You are left to wonder at Moses' conclusion. Are we nothing or are we children of God with an expectation of an eternal, celestial inheritance? As Moses correctly observed, we are both.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed this paradox in his most recent General Conference address to the Church. "The great deceiver knows that one of his most effective tools in leading the children of God astray is to appeal to the extremes of the paradox of man." In other words, Satan uses the truth to appeal to our negative natures. In some instances, we find that he appeals to our pride. We are amazing creatures with the abilities of reason, thought, strength, wealth, and experience. We may begin to think that we exceed in some or many of these things over others and become defensive when our abilities or gifts are challenged. President Uchtdorf observes, "To some, he appeals to their prideful tendencies, puffing them up and encouraging them to believe in the fantasy of their own self-importance and invincibility. He tells them they have transcended the ordinary and that because of ability, birthright, or social status, they are set apart from the common measure of all that surrounds them." Falling into that trap we become unaware of, or ignore (sometimes even fear to recognize) the evidences around us that, "man is nothing."

On the other hand, we are aware, sometimes to the extreme, that we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) So short, that we become convinced that we will never measure up to the scorecard of God, so in our depression, we conclude that we might as well continue in our mediocrity, sin and short comings and need not go to the effort and pain of attempting success. In this case, Satan appeals to the opposite extreme. Man is nothing, I am way below other people in my spirituality, physical state, mental abilities, or whatever, so I am less than nothing.

The message of the Savior is that he has descended below all things and has made the redemption applicable to the least of us. That is where we start. He is our foundation. It is necessary to be humble; in fact, in my experience, eventually we are led to be either humbled or humiliated. The choice is ours. The difference is that when we choose to be humiliated, there is no one there to see us through the pain and depression; Satan only takes us lower - we are his. When we choose to be humble, we seek repentance and there is almost immediate assistance from the Spirit. There is also, in my experience, a great battle. The force of Satan's persuasion tries to convince us that we are not worth it, that we are too sinful and that the effort is not worth the price. The Spirit of God, on the other hand, is available to bolster and sustain us as long as we are willing to stick to the basics. Eventually, you win and the effort is worth it. The Celestial Kingdom is not unattainable; it is yours.

In President Uchtdorf's words: "The Lord doesn’t care at all if we spend our days working in marble halls or stable stalls. He knows where we are, no matter how humble our circumstances. He will use—in His own way and for His holy purposes—those who incline their hearts to Him."

Once again, we are invited to place our will on the alter and bend our will to the will of God.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gratitude or Golden Book and the Three Boys

Many years ago the boys and I started the YES program which stands for Youth Excellence Strategy or something like that. Tavan was already out of the house, so he did not participate, but the other three and I would rise early, exercise, read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and memorize a scripture a month. We each had to have our own prayers twice each day, as well. We did this for a year. The reward was that we went to General Conference in Salt Lake City. We stayed in the Little America Hotel, swam in the pool and ate very well. We arose and went to Temple Square at 5:00AM to get into line so we could get into the tabernacle. The boys had our stake presidency sign their YES certificates and took them with us to show Grandma and Grandpa Anderson in Utah. When we attended conference they got the idea to have general authorities sign them, as well. One or two of them had a member of the Tabernacle Choir sign them, but they were especially proud to get Steve Young's autograph. There was a great feeling of love, camaraderie and gratitude as we accomplished something truly worthwhile.

One of the scriptures we memorized was D&C 59:16-21. It was one of the longest and they were proud to have memorized it and recited it for our Thanksgiving celebration that year. It still has a place in my heart when I read it for that reason. In Alma 38, Alma recalls the experience that was the beginning of turning his heart from evil and dedicating his life to serving Christ. In his counsel to his son Shiblon, he cautions that we should recognize that Christ is the only means to light and life. He advises that we should never confuse our successes as being solely from our own efforts, strength or wisdom as all we have and are comes as a gift from God. Pride and gratitude cannot dwell in the same mind and spirit.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, it is always good to reflect on the virtue of gratitude. In the 59th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants we learn that we need not embrace poverty, unless that is our lot in life for the moment. We should remember that the fullness of the earth is ours. We have at our disposal the beasts, the plants of our gardens, the trees and fruits and all things in and under the earth. It is not just to survive, but also to please the eye, gladden the heart and enliven the soul. When we prosper in those things, it pleases God that he has made them available to us so long as we use them with good judgment and not out of greed, or obtain them by dishonest means.

Then he states that " nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things and obey not his commandments." (verse 21) Cicero is quoted as saying, "Gratitude is the mother of virtues." I believe that is completely true. I also believe that pride is the mother of all unrighteousness. Sometimes gratitude and pride are bed fellows. How? When we are thankful for the blessings we have, but don't acknowledge God as the source of those blessings. How many times have you heard a singer, actor or other person who has received fame or notoriety exclaim how very luck they are? Some acknowledge God, but most just chalk it up to luck.

I do not. Based on the understanding of the Atonement I have received over the years, I know from whence my blessings come and the blessings given to my children and their families. I realize I have gifts and that those gifts are magnified when they are used in the context of what God would have me do with them. When my will is subjected to His will, my blessings increase. When I allow my ego to dictate my activity, I fail to acknowledge God or to find His will and I am left to myself. I find it a pitiful state in comparison.

I have deep gratitude for my life, my work, my wife, my children and my children's families, my health, my opportunities to serve in the Church and elsewhere. I am grateful for the scriptures and the men who have suffered to bring them to us. I thank God for the opportunity of living at a time when the inspired words of prophets, seers, revelators and others are so easily and readily available. Most of all I am grateful for my relationship with God and my Savior. I know I need to improve it in many ways, but I truly love them and am filled with awe to know even the particle I am blessed to know. To any who may sometime read this, I am grateful for you and pray that these posts may be some source of motivation and/or inspiration to you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Learn In Thy Youth

In the 37th Chapter of Alma the message of the atonement is once again emphasized. Heleman is apparently still quite young, though old enough to be serving a mission of some sort. Age and youth, I have discovered, are relative. As I was preparing to take the bar exam in Washington, I rented a motel room near the testing center as we were advised not to take the chance of an accident or, as was more likely in my case, that the car would break down. Watching TV that evening, I saw an interview with John Wayne wherein he said that as a young man of 50, he did his best work. At the time, I was surprised that he thought of 50 as being young. A similar thing happened some years later when my father-in-law stated that 50 - 60 was the best time to be alive because you could get so much done.

So when Heleman is advised to remember and learn wisdom in his youth and to learn in his youth to keep the commandments of God, the counsel applies to everyone who still has breath, and who has felt the promptings to stop procrastinating for whatever reason, in my opinion. I am well beyond youth and still have need to heed his counsel.

Once again, we are told to cry unto the Lord for our sustenance, but this time we are counseled to rely on the Lord for direction wherever we may go. Apparently, we are to rely on the promptings of the Spirit in everything including what we do from day to day. We are often counseled to follow our passions in order to become successful. In this scripture, we are counseled to let our thoughts be directed unto the Lord and to "...let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever." (v. 36) Follow our passions, but allow for the Spirit to direct them. You will likely find passions you didn't know were in you.

In other words, verses 36-37 counsel us not to compartmentalize our lives. We work or study or do whatever we need and want to during the day, then get religious at prayer time and when we read our scriptures. Here we are counseled to pray with the intent to ask for and follow direction, then we can expect the Lord to direct us. At night he will protect us.

In all things we are to be grateful and constantly give thanks to God.

In my experience, we do not sit and wait for God to tell us what to do or where to go, but we are constantly open to opportunities to serve, to change direction or to improve. We must be prepared to follow the promptings when moved even if it is seemingly illogical. A life filled with the experiences this brings is a life truly explored and lived. This kind of fullness in life is not only possible, it is promised. We must, however, be prepared for it. The chapter goes on to compare the scriptures to the Liahona. They will be our guide, only if we pick them up and read them with the intent to follow their direction. Imagine looking at the pointers in the Liahona and thinking, "that's interesting," then going a different direction. In Alma's words, "...take care of sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live." It is the only fulfilling life in the end.