Of Holidays and Recreation

The holidays are fast upon us. The store displays are relentless clues (even if they rush things a bit). While growing up I looked forward to Hallowe’en, in part for the costume and candy celebration itself, but in no small part as the gateway to a series of rich and usually joyful holidays. October ended with Hallowe’en, and then Thanksgiving was observed a few weeks later. Right after Thanksgiving we were into the Christmas holidays. Quickly after Christmas came New Year, followed in February by Valentine’s Day, and at varying intervals Easter arrived amidst the celebration of Spring and new life.

I have a generous treasury of enchanting memories from those holidays. I recall one magical Hallowe’en as a young boy in a neighborhood full of children. The early evening’s streets and sidewalks were filled with costumed colleagues, all busily canvassing the ready houses, milling about, comparing each other’s sweetened haul, each house ready to greet you with a smile or perhaps an expression of wonder while adding to the bulging bag of treats.

Thanksgiving, perhaps the warmest and kindest of holidays, is rich in tradition, from the family and friends who gather, foods that are prepared, the china and silverware that are used, to the preview of coming cold weather. For me and mine, Thanksgiving has been a busily gentle holiday, crowded with activity and effort, but calm and purposeful. Rambunctious noise seems foreign to the day, even with a morning pick-up football game among Church members included. Thanksgiving speaks a time of Christ-like peace in my memory. If there were exceptions, they are forgotten. A prayer, a toast, and a feast that symbolizes the riches bestowed on us by God. In later years, with my own family (my wife and our children), the evening has witnessed the first lighting of the outdoor Christmas lights. Thanksgiving has brought on the Christmas season at our home.

Christmas for us has always been a season, with many holidays. The Advent holidays lead us inexorably to Christmas Eve. In those weeks there are many celebrations, ours and others, traditional and new. We began a new tradition last year that we anticipate repeating this season. Christmas Day itself has been a time when all ordinary activity seems to stop, a Sabbath of Sabbaths. We take an emotional breather, we contact family members not spending the day with us. We enjoy time together and some time occupied alone. For us, we then let the Christmas festivities wind down of themselves to their conclusion at Epiphany, the day we quietly finish the celebration until we near the end of the new year just begun.

Speaking of which, New Years’ Eves in my life have varied widely in observance. Maybe most memorable are an evening spent with my best friend shooting a basketball at the new hoop above my garage door, and another evening as a missionary in the Canary Islands, reflecting on the arrival of 1980, musing on what the end of the twentieth century would mean two decades later. That evening, those decades appeared to be rushing at me.

Then there are Valentine’s Day and Easter arising in steady succession. Each has its own traditions, each creating its own imprint in life’s recollections.

These have stocked my treasury of marvelous memories. I am rich with them. Yet I have more observances to come. To these I look forward.

Here is what I believe about these riches. I can take them out of the treasury each year and seek to recreate them, to work to experience them all over again. If I do, I have but relived and re-experienced what I already have. I add little new to the treasury. Many people celebrate this way. It seems to me a squandered opportunity and probably dangerous. I doubt that the previous charm can be revived, that the wondrous experience of the past can be recaptured. I fear that the joyful and rich memory might even be harmed by the failed effort. Worse, much can be consumed, much exertion expended, and still frustration and misery—for myself and others—may result in the trying.

I believe that a better approach would be to create new magnificent memories. These can build upon the past and work from valuable traditions. The good of the past can be drawn upon to create something greater. The effort is to make a new experience, not vainly recall to life a treasured memory. Not every holiday experience will produce equal joy and beauty, but if allowed to live for its own sake each will add to the fullness of life and the value of our storehouse of life’s treasures. Each will have the chance to be the most marvelous experience yet.

I am not prepared to concede that the best of my life has been lived or that the finest that I can do is recreate only what has happened before. I fancy to live life on the rise. I see no loss in trying.

Bring on the holidays. I plan to observe them each as never before.

Of Recording Life and Saving Life

Congratulations to Cornell University’s Macaulay Library, “the world’s largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings.” It is an expansive effort to capture and preserve the sounds of life of the entire animal kingdom, an important part of preserving life itself.

It really is wondrous to find the recorded sounds, and in many cases recorded videos, of so many species of animal life. This ongoing effort has been decades in the making, to save—and to make available—the sounds and sights of what has been in the making since before time. The goal is to record it all, the entire encyclopedia of animal life. The task is daunting, and may never be finished, but these busy “recordists” are ever getting more and progressing closer to their unreachable completion. You can wander through what they have done so far here:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/

It reminds me of another effort that I learned about a few years ago to collect and save seeds from every species of plant life. Again, that is another effort that may never be finished but which is ever getting closer and more complete.

Each of these works is a powerful reminder of how much variety the Lord has created for us all, how complex and intricate and diverse life is. It is also one more source of awe for the work of the Lord of Life and the magnificence of God’s creation.

Considering this wondrous variety and the greatness of life in all of its many forms, I do not find it credible to assume that among the galaxies—or even within our own galaxy—this is the only world where life is to be found. Why would God create all the rest of the numberless worlds? The answer is, to do there much of what He is doing here, to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

In a modern-day revelation the Lord confirmed what the Apostle John taught, that Jesus Christ is not only the Creator of this world but of the many worlds (see John 1:1-3). The Lord added, that Christ is also God of people on those many worlds, “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:24) Note from this revelation that God’s eternal work, too, is still going on and will never be finished.

Returning to the Macaulay Library project, there is pleasure and wonder in wandering through the recordings. Below is a link to just one inspiring example, recorded nearly 50 years ago. It saves for us the sound of an ostrich, still in the egg, shortly before it emerges—not into life since it is clearly already alive, an appropriate part of the recorded history of living things—but shortly before it emerges into the open:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/793/struthio-camelus-ostrich-united-states-new-york-william-dilger

You have to be patient and listen through the chatter of the recordists. The wait is worth it, and of course the people doing the work merit remembrance in sound, too, as no less active and valuable members of the society of the living.

Therefore, a concluding thought I would leave you with: it would be a tragedy to lose recordings like these, as much as it is a treasure to have and preserve them. Consider the greater tragedy if rather than recording these sounds the recordists crushed the egg and the life within it. What a loss, a waste, and a sin. What if the recordists recorded such wanton destruction and shared that with the world. We and many others would be disgusted, in fact we would be right to be outraged. Would those same people be outraged when a human life, still encased and protected in his or her mother’s womb, is wantonly destroyed, its life crushed and ended? I do not know if there are any sound or video recordings of such destruction. Would it continue at the rate of millions of destructive acts each year if there were? I wonder.

(First posted January 27, 2013)

Of Wars and Rumors of Wars

The Lord Jesus Christ declared the hearing of wars and rumors of wars to be significant among the signs of the latter days preceding His personal return to the earth in glory, to rule and reign. This from Matthew, in the New Testament:

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars . . . For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. (Matthew 24:6, 7)

This from Mark:

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled . . . For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles . . . (Mark 13:7, 8)

And this from the Lord through a modern prophet:

And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion . . . (Doctrine and Covenants 45:26)

As well as I can recall, I have always thought—from my young childhood—that I was living in the latter days, shortly before the return of the Savior to the earth. I cannot remember a time when I did not suspect that to be true. Perhaps many in many ages have had similar thoughts.

My study of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and the words of the prophets, dead and living, matched against what I have witnessed in my life have confirmed my belief that the day of the return of Jesus Christ, to live and dwell among men as the resurrected Lord, is near. I do not predict precisely how near. It may not happen in my lifetime. The Lord said that the Father has not confided the precise day even to the angels of heaven (Matthew 24:36). But if I do not live to see that day, I do not expect that the Savior’s return will occur long after I die, in which case I hope to come with Him together with many who lived and died faithful to the testimony of Christ.

Until recently I had considered these prophecies of wars and disasters to be a sign of something new. Yet wars of men and convulsions of the earth are found throughout the annals of history. Perhaps the prophecies refer to an increase in frequency and intensity. Maybe that is so. Looking back on the recent twentieth century it is hard to find a year without war raging one place or another, and I cannot identify another century in which so many tens of millions were destroyed at the hands of their brothers and sisters. The Middle Ages and on into the Renaissance, if not many other ages, were also racked with constant conflict and mayhem. Their numerous wars seemed interminable, including a Thirty Years War and even a Hundred Years War.

I have come to suspect that in reading these prophecies I misdirected my focus. For something to be a sign, it must be new or different. What was the Lord saying here that would be different, different enough so that we might notice? Perhaps it was not the wars and physical upheavals themselves, as those have been with us since man and woman left Eden. What is very much new and different about today is our ability to hear of the wars, rumors of wars, and the natural disasters. The evils of men and the destruction of nature may be increasing in frequency—and the case for intensity of human mayhem is not tough to make—but what really is new is our ability to hear of them.

Nothing in the entire history of the world can compare with the very recent ability of mankind, anywhere and everywhere, to hear of what is happening anywhere at any time on the planet. That is especially true of “rumors.” Internet communications, and the many evolving formats of social media, make the spreading of rumor—always known to travel on wings—electrifyingly quick and amazingly ubiquitous. Every day we do hear of wars and rumors of wars and the whole world in commotion. It is hard to avoid.

As the dashed expectations held by many at the time of the Savior’s mortal ministry blinded them to the reality of the fulfillment of prophecy, holding too tightly to one’s opinion of how prophecy might be fulfilled is a risky business. The Lord expects us, however, to think about it, else why would He make the prophecies and repeat them? I offer these thoughts for pondering, even while we observe the mighty work of God unfold in our own lifetime, as He told the prophets it would.

What have you heard today?

Of Naked Ladies and the House of Israel

Some call them Naked Ladies. Others invoke the adjectives Resurrection, Surprise, or Magic. A more formal name seems to be Amaryllis Belladonna. They are lily-like flowers (but distantly related to lilies), with large, trumpet-like blossoms. They certainly look like lilies to me, no offense intended to the botanists.

I first noticed these mystery flowers when they appeared one summer in my backyard. I do not know how they got there. This summer there are several of them, each summer a few more. They are beautiful. But even more, I find them a wonder. Unless you were careful to notice their abundant but brief and non-flowering leaves at the beginning of the growing season, you would have little expectation that in the hottest and driest time of the summer you were to be blessed by an eruption of beauty in your yard.

These flowers bloom on tall stalks that break through the dry ground without any leaves or other trace of the plant at all. It took me a season or two to connect their abundant leafy growth in early spring with the blossoms of later summer. From that spring verdure the plants gather and store in their bulbs the strength that lies dormant for many weeks after the leaves have all died away.

The tall, slender stems of late July and August, with their lovely pink blossoms but no foliage of any kind, I must suppose give the flowers their name, Naked Ladies. The variety of other names testify that these flowering bulbs suggest many things to many people. If you did not know that they were there, hiding in the ground, you would have a surprise when the stalks rocket up in a matter of days to bloom in abundance. From a plant that seemed to have died off with the spring, the resurrection of blossoms arises at a time when the most intense heat of the summer dries out many other flora. From barren ground, with no apparent preparation or support, the blossoms appear like magic.

I can embrace all of these images and their accompanying names, to which I would add another—at least another metaphor if not another name. They remind me of the house of Israel.

Long ago Israel thrived in the land called Canaan. Twelve Tribes, descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, named Israel by the Lord Jehovah, put down deep roots and flourished between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and into surrounding territories. As the people stayed faithful to God, kept His commandments and ordinances, Israel grew and prospered.

As with the plant I have in mind, Israel’s time of flourishing was relatively brief. Before the end of the eighth century, B.C., Ten of the Twelve Tribes had fallen away from the faith of God into the paganism of their neighbors. Their lands were conquered and the people carried away captive and out of the further knowledge of history. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin alone remained, the Jews of today. In time they, too, were driven from their homeland and scattered all over the world.

For thousands of years the house of Israel has remained in captivity and Diaspora. All but the Jews have remained unnoticed, and the Jews have been subjected to waves of persecution that has risen and ebbed but not wholly ceased.

Yet Israel has lived, strength acquired long ago awaiting the season of sprouting and blossoming, as foretold by numerous prophets, ancient and modern. Through Moses, the Lord declared to Israel,

That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all nations, whither the Lord thy God has scattered thee. (Deuteronomy 30:3)

Through the prophet Ezekiel,

For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. (Ezekiel 20:40, 41)

When Jesus Christ visited His believers in America, shortly following His resurrection, teaching them about the house of Israel He promised, “I will gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfill the covenant which the Father made unto all the people of the house of Israel.” (3 Nephi 16)

In our day, modern prophets of Jesus Christ have declared the approaching fulfillment of the covenant:

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes . . . (Articles of Faith 10)

Those surprise flowers each year remind me of the Lord’s promises to the house of Israel, as today we are witnessing those slender stalks arise unexpectedly from barren lands, just beginning to bloom. It is wondrous and beautiful. A work of God.

Of the Meaning of Life and the Purpose of Love

Does life have meaning? If so, what is that meaning? The answer, to be valid, must discover meaning for lives lived 70 years and longer as well as those lived for 70 minutes or fewer. That is to say, that it must reveal meaning for all members of the family of Adam and Eve. I have to admit that I cannot fathom an answer that life offers meaning only for some people but not for others, that the others are just stage props for those fortunate humans for whom life really matters.

I would also posit that in order for life to have meaning for man, then man’s existence cannot end with the end of mortality, that life must have an eternal character for there to be meaning to it. Temporary meaning is no meaning in the end. If there is an end, then in the end what does it matter?

I will add that, if there is eternal existence, that whispers to me a strong intuition of the existence of God, the existence of a being who has it all figured out, who has used eternity well. I do not offer this point as a proof at this moment, but rather as a likelihood. There are other proofs that I know and could offer for the existence of God, for God has not hidden Himself from His children who want to know Him. He sent us here to find out which of His children really want to know Him: that is one of the purposes of this life, closely related to the central purpose of life. The process of coming to know God is an individual work that necessitates the personal development of what is also God’s defining characteristic. That development involves the process of living in this life on earth.

That is to say that one way of describing the central purpose and meaning of life is this: for each individual to develop an ever greater capacity to love. That may sound sentimental and trite, but it is nonetheless true. Good fiction draws its vitality from important themes of reality. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series climaxes with the discovery that the most powerful “magic” in the world is love, belittled and scorned by the arch villain of the series even as he is destroyed by its strength.

Love, particularly the love of God, is the central theme of scripture. The scriptures taken altogether are an unfolding exposition of God’s love operating among His children and either embraced or rejected by them. The scriptures describe the deepest and most complete form of love as charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47), the greatest of all the gifts of God (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

Elsewhere the scriptures name “eternal life” as “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). This is not a contradiction, as eternal life and charity are coincidental. To possess one is to possess the other. Consider these passages of scripture together. The first is how God describes His work, what He does, which must therefore be very closely related to His meaning, His purpose:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

The second is how the ancient Israelite prophet Lehi described man’s purpose to his family:

men are that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25)

This means that immortality, eternal life, and joy are all connected. Jesus taught that they are united in the personal development of the divine trait of love. During the Savior’s preaching in Jerusalem in the last week of His mortality, the legalistic Pharisees sought to trip the Savior up with a question that to them must have been a real poser, undoubtedly a favorite debate topic:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Conceptually this is just another way to introduce our topic about the meaning of life, for surely the commandments of God and the meaning of life are closely related, God’s commandments designed to lead His children through a life of meaning and fulfillment. The answer of Christ, who before His birth had given the commandments to the prophets, silenced for a time His tempters; at least, no rejoinder is mentioned in the record, perhaps because Jesus was referencing what He had given in the laws He revealed to Moses (see Deuteronomy 6:4,5, and Leviticus 19:18).

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)

All the rest of the gospel is elaboration of these two commandments. That is the purpose of life, to develop charity, the pure love of Christ, the complete soul-filled love of God, which manifests itself in loving our neighbors as ourselves. How do we do that? As Jesus said, that is the purpose of the law and the prophets. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

As the ancient American prophet Mormon taught,

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:48)

Mormon’s people nearly all rejected his counsel and descended into a hatred that devoured their civilization in pointless dissolution.

Life has meaning because it has choices with real consequences. We feel and see and live them everyday. Amidst the easy-to-see evils of the world, there are plenty who choose to do good, to love their fellows and increase in their love of God. There are and have been those who live life to its fullest, growing in the greatest of all gifts and the mightiest of all powers by being true followers of Jesus Christ, increasing in the love by which they become like Him and by which they will know Him.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7,8)

Let us love, that when at last we see God, as we all will, we will recognize Him, because we will have become like Him in the most meaningful way.

Of Men and Women

I hope and have every confidence that at some future day my posterity and yours will look upon the popular efforts of our popular culture, working mightily to smooth out the differences between men and women, and conclude, “Huh?” The differences are real, profound, and obvious.

You have to work very hard to convince young children that men and women, boys and girls, are pretty much the same. The differences are to them an unremarkable truth. And so they remain, despite efforts to pretend they are otherwise. And so, I believe, the differences between man and woman will persist, with unhappiness and poverty the rewards for efforts to obliterate them.

Not that it has not been tried before. It has always come to grief. One story comes from the French Revolution. A leader of the National Assembly proclaimed that the new government had almost completely eliminated all differences between the sexes, when a voice from the back softly retorted, “Vive la différence!”

I, too, embrace the differences and am glad of them. Having been married more than three decades I can testify from long experiment that the many differences between husband and wife, man and woman, have played a central role in our happiness. Even as a youth I often mused upon how my life had been enriched by the influence of women. That was not a new discovery for mankind even if it was for me. Benjamin Disraeli said as much in the 1800s: “There is no mortification however keen, no misery however desperate, which the spirit of woman cannot in some degree lighten or alleviate.” (Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby, p.311) I am not aware of any exception to that maxim.

This variety is eternal, built into human nature from the very beginning:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27)

This was no accident of nature. Together man and woman, male and female, are the image of God.

My children have always noticed the difference and profited from it. When they phone, they rarely ask for “Dad.” If Dad answers, they will sweetly and briefly chat and then ask, “Is Mom there?” With Mom they will then talk for a long while, hours sometimes.

On the other hand, while growing up, when they wanted permission to do this or that, more often than not, they went to Dad. To guard against this clever maneuver, my wife and I early made a pact that we would not openly disagree regarding the denial or approval of a child’s request and would seek to consult to get a parental consensus if a matter of consequence were involved. That worked well, but the children still knew where to go first to make their pitch.

The paradigm was similar when it came to bugs, vermin, and fixing broken things, unclogging drains, moving the rubbish—all jobs usually given to Dad and faced with trepidation when Dad was not available. As the boys got older, these jobs increasingly found their way to them, too. The flip side was that all illnesses and injuries were brought to the attention of Doctor Mom. They still are, no matter how far away the child may be.

These patterns have been successful for peace and harmony in the home. Life would be harder if my wife and I struggled against the differences that gave us distinct skills, insights, and abilities, related to being a woman and being a man. One of the greatest blessings of marriage has been to enlist an undying union with the owner of a wealthy supply of talents not easily possessed by the other.

My conversation with friends and colleagues have shown this pattern to be too common to be attributable merely to differences of personality. The differences between man and woman are real and enriching. I thank my God for making man and woman in His image, together.

Vive la différence!

Of Old Time Religion and What’s Good Enough for Me

Is there a revival or camp meeting song more popular than “Old Time Religion”? Maybe, but few, and few serve so well to stir up so quickly good feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Try getting the song out of your head after singing or even listening to it for a while—not an easy task. It is bouncing around in my head even as I write.

Like a good campfire song, it lends itself easily to new verses improvised on the spot by each singer in turn. Because of that, I do not know that there is an official set of lyrics.

All of the variations you might hear or sing begin with—

Now give me that old time religion.
Give me that old time religion.
Give me that old time religion.
It’s good enough for me.

That lead verse sets the pattern. After it come verses like the following:

Makes me love everybody.
Makes me love everybody.
Makes me love everybody.
It’s good enough for me.

I particularly like that thought, because the religion of Jesus Christ is designed to change us so that we do love everybody. The greatest gift of God is charity, the pure love of Christ. If a religion is unable to bring about that change in people, then it is not the religion taught by the Savior.

Here is another verse that I like:

It was good for the Hebrew children.
It was good for the Hebrew children.
It was good for the Hebrew children.
It’s good enough for me.

Some modern religions seem to have forgotten the Hebrew children. You cannot have the true “old time religion” without including them. As Moses and the other Old Testament prophets taught, the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the religion of Jesus Christ. It was Christ—referred to as the Messiah and as Jehovah in the Hebrew scriptures—who as the God of the Old Testament gave the Hebrews their religion, the religion of direct revelation from God that brought them out of Egypt, and it was good enough to bring them prosperity whenever they followed it.

Of course, the old time religion of God is even older than the Hebrew children, since it was the religion taught by God to Adam and his descendants, observed by Noah and his family on the Ark. There were other old time religions, but they were not good for anybody, with no power to save in heaven or on earth.

And when the Hebrew children forsook the old time religion and instead embraced the pagan religions of their neighbors, the Lord could not protect them. Many rediscovered God’s old time religion once they were in exile in Babylon. That lies behind another stirring verse:

It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It was good for the prophet Daniel.
It’s good enough for me.

It was good for all of God’s prophets and taught by them. That included the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles and prophets of the church Jesus established during His mortal ministry. This verse captures that spirit:

It was good for Paul and Silas.
It was good for Paul and Silas.
It was good for Paul and Silas.
It’s good enough for me.

That old time religion, of Apostles and prophets who spoke directly with God, and through whom the Father continued to speak regularly to His children, had power to save. As the song continues,

It will take us all to heaven.
It will take us all to heaven.
It will take us all to heaven.
It’s good enough for me.

I am very grateful that God’s old time religion of prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ is on the earth once again, just as it was anciently. I will add my own verse:

It will help us follow Jesus.
It will help us follow Jesus.
It will help us follow Jesus.
And that’s good enough for me.