Of Good Banking and the New Year

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A year in retirement can give you perspective, particularly a year fraught with ample opportunity to do some good amidst challenge, risk, and danger of various flavors.  Such was the year behind us.  Does the year ahead offer any less?

Many such thoughts were brought to mind in a recent conversation with the chief financial officer of a community bank.  As you would guess, we discussed the outlook for banking.  I observed that the condition of the industry reminded me of the dot-com bust of 2000.  While the economy was in decline, hit a second time by the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the banking industry was thankfully in strong financial condition.  The dot-com bust had a securities market and Silicon Valley locus.

As in 2001, so also today, the banking industry is strongly capitalized, liquid with financial resources, well positioned to fund economic recovery.  Fortuitously, that position is matched by a host of potential customers, especially entrepreneurs eager to start up new businesses or expand ones that survived the government-led shutdowns.  Among those entrepreneurs are many people whose businesses closed not from bad business plans, but due to the Great Cessation of 2020.  That is to say, there are people who want to start new businesses who know how to run businesses, if government strictures will let them.

Their problem is one of resources exhausted by trying to keep their businesses floating as the tide went out.  As the tide is coming back in, there is a ready supply of people who would like to have a go with a new boat.  Good bankers have always been in the business of finding and funding good risks. 

Banks grow as their customers and communities grow.  Good banking fosters and facilitates the generation, management, preservation, and application of wealth. 

Bad banking bleeds wealth, which is why failed banks should be allowed to fail, to end the drain on the economy and to make room for the productive work of good banks, new and old.  Good bankers do their work by insightful weighing of opportunities and risks, tailoring terms and conditions to such opportunities and risks.  Bad banking either mistakes opportunities, or it miscalculates or ignores risk, or both.  Which, by the way, is why governments should stay out of the business of banking (other than as prudential supervisors), as the history of government shows an atrocious record of missing opportunities and miscalculating risk, sometimes for the short-term benefit of government’s associates.

The other day I saw a happy video from the chief executive officer of a southwestern bank.  Her timely message was of gratitude to the bank’s customers for constant communication and support.  In return, she offered a reaffirmed invitation apropos to serving in a way tailored to customers’ financial needs.  Reach out to the bank, including its CEO, 24-7 for financial service.  In conclusion, she pledged the bank to “connect you with others in our community who can serve you best.”  Now, that is good banking.

Of Anger and Gratitude

The week before His atoning sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus Christ told His Apostles that a time would come when, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”  Once again, in our day, Jesus Christ has called Apostles to spread His message.  This November, when much that was swirling around the world made it feel like such a time was upon us, Christ’s prophet, Russell M. Nelson, called for people to rise above clamor and cool the global distemper.  He asked that people take the week of Thanksgiving to flood social media, each day, with expressions of gratitude.  Millions responded.

Here is the collection of my expressions of gratitude, employing the label #GiveThanks:

Illumination.  Spent a pleasant afternoon with Christmas lights, preparing for Thanksgiving Night to flip the switch for the Christmas season.  I am grateful for the people who invent these wonderful beauties and for our trading system that makes them available.  Cambodia was this year’s new source of bright LEDs.  

Books.  I have long thought that one of the greatest bargains in the world is a book.  An author spends years, perhaps a lifetime, writing and sharing his thoughts, his research, his experience, his ideas, his wit, and charm, his spiritual insights, and much more.  And we buy it for a few dollars.  I am grateful for those who write, publish, and make books available.

Music.  The Christmas season quickly approaches.  Music is one of the most wonderful and penetrating ways of celebrating Christmas, in all of its aspects, from the sacredness of the birth of Christ, to the many wonderful traditions and fetes of celebration.

I have a theory that all truly great music—simple or complex—is not created but rather discovered by the composer.  Such music is, I envision, part of a body of music already known and celebrated in heaven.  I could be wrong, but some music is so sublime that it seems to me impossible that heaven could not already be aware of it.  It is my thought that “Greensleeves” belongs to such a class of discovered music.  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the folk tune “Shenandoah,” among many others, are part of that divine play list, along with beauties yet to be discovered.  So it seems to me.  I am deeply grateful for those who write, perform, and make music available.

Work.  I have come to appreciate work.  I am grateful for work.  It gets stuff done.  My father was a worker.  He was always working, on the job, at home, at Church.  My sons know how to work and are quick to pitch in.  My older son tells me it’s the key to his success in his career:  he looks for the tough jobs and succeeds with them.  I have seen it, in him and his brother, as the key to success throughout their lives.

I am grateful for the opportunities to work, at home, at Church, and in my career.  I am grateful for those who work and those who gave me the opportunity to work and allowed me to apply inspiration to work smarter.  I have found work to be the key to faith:  you work at what you have faith in, and you get more faith.  It keeps on growing.  It’s worked for me.

By the way, my Dad liked to tell me that lazy people made the world go round, because they found easier ways to do more.

Art.  A multitude of thanks to those, throughout the ages and into the present, who have produced art that has stirred my soul:  mind, spirit, and body.  I think that the artistic sense is part of the divine in each of us, as examples of artwork are coequal with human history.  As with all gifts from God, some nurture their artistic sense and produce inspiring wonders.  I love to see such works as I visit art museums, which can stimulate the “muse” in me more than other museums.

The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., is a favorite.  Having seen others around the world, it is truly world class.  The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, is breathtaking, especially since the remodeling has achieved marvelous things with light.  It takes nothing away from these wondrous museums to admit that I was stunned with my first visit to the Louvre.  The incomparable wealth of artistic beauty into which I was immersed overwhelmed me.  I am grateful for these museums, and for many smaller gems of artistic display that I have visited.  I never feel that there is enough time to take in the experience—good reason to keep going back.

Friendship.  Humans are social animals.  My experience tells me that we all need friends.  I am grateful for my friends, and I thank them for their friendship.  I thank them for welcoming my friendship.  Our friendship enriches life and strengthens us in times of challenge.

One of the great challenges of recent months has been to overcome barriers to friendship, whether physical barriers, psychological barriers, or even political barriers.  I thank my friends for their innovative and extra efforts to rise above those barriers.

I recall the lyrics to the song, “What a Wonderful World:”

“I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do. They’re only saying I love you.”

It is healthy.  I love my friends.  They make me wealthy in what really matters.  Thank you.

Family.  Families are meant to last.  I am grateful that I have been part of a family all my life.  I first learned of love in my family.  The joys of family—such as we experienced in today’s Thanksgiving Day gathering—can make existence in this world of sin all worth it.

Thanks to those who form and keep families, who work hard to preserve and strengthen their families.  I think of not just the family of my wife and me and our children, but a family that reaches in both directions, a family with roots and branches.  My ancestors have not disappeared into nothingness, and I anticipate a posterity that extends forever.  I am strengthened by them all, through Jesus Christ who made families, such as His, to last forever.  Of this I am forever grateful.  It literally means everything.

Of Platitudes and Political Attitudes

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I am naturally optimistic.  So you will understand that I rejoiced to see several of my friendly neighbors, who sometimes disagree with me politically, place signs in their yards supporting positions consistent with the views of free market liberty-loving constitutionalists like myself.  That would appear to bode well for candidates in this election who also tend to trust markets, liberty, and constitutional rights.

I will confess that to some the signs might read like a public creed of platitudes.  Perhaps they are intended to present an impressionist attitude of some kind.  Here are the phrases, written in bumper sticker style.  See what you think.

To begin with, who could argue with the obvious truth that “Black Lives Matter”?  I personally know no one who does not naturally embrace the idea.  I do notice that those who in published media lionize the eponymous organization laying claim to the title reveal little material interest in the lives of black police officers, black small business owners, or unborn black children.  That may be why the lady running for Congress in Baltimore’s 7th Congressional District emphasizes that “all black lives matter.”

Next on the signs is the phrase, “No Human Is Illegal.”  That is surely the case in the United States as long as it remains a nation of law and order.  Things that some people do are illegal, but enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is the concept of individual worth.  The notion that people themselves can be illegal is reserved for socialist governments and monarchies, where large portions of the population can find themselves illegal.  That is a crucial reason why the American founders broke from the monarchy and why applying socialism here terrorizes lovers of liberty.

Third on the signs is the bromide, “Love Is Love.”  Surely it is.  Perhaps it appears because love is the core principle of many religions, such as Christianity, which rests on two commandments (also taught in the Old Testament):  Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.  As Jesus taught, on these rest “all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)  Jesus also taught that with the breakdown of law and order, “the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12)  I am thrilled that churches are being allowed to open again so that they might continue to teach their doctrine of love.

The phrase, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” is given fourth billing on the signs.  That is absolutely true, even if it is violated in many parts of the world.  I am reminded, by my neighbors who have come to the United States from such nations where women’s rights are routinely violated, why I am grateful that my daughters and granddaughters live in a country where their rights are real and protected.

I am grateful that the signs include what is in danger of becoming a meaningless cliché, “Science Is Real.”  Our nation was midwifed by the enlightenment, a rejection of the medieval notion that scientific verities were determined by government or ecclesiastical agencies and votes of councils.  We are all indebted to courageous scientists who stood alone and refused to accept any scientific debate as “final,” who asked more questions that often led to better answers that have made mankind healthier, wealthier, and more flourishing.  May our nation of freedom encourage the continuation of that story.

The penultimate phrase on the signs is the prosaic declaration, “Water Is Life.”  I remember Barry Goldwater, Senator from Arizona, explaining to a skeptical Senate the importance of water rights.  There would appear to be a longtime tug of war in our government agencies about the importance of water management.  As with many important issues, relying upon our federal system of state and national interaction is most likely to give us the best management answers.  National mandates are likely to leave local communities dry.

The final phrase on the signs is the catchall, “Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.”  An unlimited aspiration, mankind has wrestled with it from the earliest times.  As this is to be an ongoing struggle of which we should not tire, the question is how best to proceed?  Our founders asked that question.  They recognized that arbitrary governments were the worst offenders.  The structure of liberty they established has fostered the multitudinous avenues for virtue that have not ceased to make progress in combating injustice.

I cheer such display of worthy attitudes of support for our nation’s growth in liberty.

By the way, there is a website where you may go to purchase these signs, $10 each.  Free enterprise is wonderful.

Of Prophets and Modern Times

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In the eighth century, B.C., kings of Judah looked toward an alliance with Egypt to protect them from the Assyrians.  A prophet of God, Isaiah, warned them that insecurity would come from it.  He reminded the king and his people to trust in God, the source of their defense in their days of strength, spiritual and material.  Under divine inspiration Isaiah prophesied,

“Say ye not a confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither shall ye fear their fear, nor be afraid.  Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  And he shall be for a sanctuary . . .” (Isaiah 8:12-14)

After efforts at alliance proved unreliable, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, eventually followed the Lord’s counsel.  As prophesied (see Isaiah 8:8), the armies of the Assyrian empire overran the land and laid siege to Jerusalem, reaching “even to the neck”, but the city did not fall.

In another part of the world, an ancient military leader in the Western Hemisphere wanted to know where his people were who had been taken captive by an invading army.  He asked the prophet of God, Alma, who inquired of the Lord.  Alma told the general where to find them, whose army then surprised the invaders, “and there was not one soul of them . . . that were taken captive” that was lost (Alma 16:8).

As a child I often mused how marvelous it would be to live in a time when Jesus’ Apostles, who lived so close to the Lord, walked the earth.  What would it be like to hear directly from those who personally knew the Savior?  In my youth I discovered that Apostles, called by Jesus Christ, were on the earth once again.

Through the power of modern communication, they recently spoke to all who would listen, as they do every six months (and as often as possible in between).  Here are some of the things that a few of them most recently said:

“Each of us has a divine potential because each is a child of God.  The question for each of us, regardless of race, is the same. Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life?  Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other?”—Russell M. Nelson

“I bless you with an increased desire and ability to obey the laws of God. I promise that as you do, you will be showered with blessings, including greater courage, increased personal revelation, sweeter harmony in your homes, and joy even amid uncertainty.”—Russell M. Nelson

“The Lord’s teachings are for eternity and for all of God’s children.  As followers of Christ we must forgo the anger and hatred with which political choices are debated or denounced in many settings.  We move toward loving our adversaries when we avoid anger and hostility toward those with whom we disagree.”—Dallin H. Oaks

“We must notice the tribulation of others and try to help. That will be especially hard when we are being sorely tested ourselves. But we will discover as we lift another’s burden, even a little, that our backs are strengthened and we sense a light in the darkness.”—Henry B. Eyring

These are but a few nuggets chipped from the vein in the goldmine.  They are reminders that God the Father remains so mindful of us as to place living Apostles and prophets among us today as He did anciently.  I first learned that in my youth.  I have learned it again every day since.

Of Careers and Stepping Away

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Asked to give up successful careers, they all did.  Decades ago one was a world renowned heart surgeon.  Today he is president of a worldwide church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with some 16 million members.  His name is Russell M. Nelson.  At 96 years he is still vigorous, going about the world doing good.

One of his colleagues had been a Justice on the Utah Supreme Court.  Dallin H. Oaks stepped away from that post and his legal career when asked to assist in leadership of the Church, which he has now done for 36 years.

His colleague, Henry B. Eyring, has a Ph.D. and MBA in business administration from Harvard.  He left the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business to serve for six years as a college president.  Since 1980, he has been involved in spiritual education at all levels of the Church, with the exception of 7 years to help manage the Church’s physical operations.

The youngest of these three men is now 87.  All three gave up their successful careers to devote their full attention to religious matters, for decades.  None expected to be Church leaders.  They never applied for those responsibilities.  None of them retired from their jobs.  They were asked, and they stepped away in the prime of their professions.  They had faith that the Lord had something even more important for them to do.  They were invited to serve in what they would in an instant tell you was a more pressing calling.

These three are members of what is known as the First Presidency, the highest council of the Church.  They were called to their current positions after first serving as members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.

Their colleagues on the Council of the Twelve have similar stories.  None planned to be leaders in the Church.  Some had careers in the automotive, real estate, investment, health care, airline, and banking industries.  Others came from occupations in education, on college faculties and as college presidents.  Another was president of a chemical company, another in manufacturing, yet another a heart surgeon specializing in cardiac transplants.  One of these had a career in international relations, in and out of government.  And one was an accountant and auditor—nothing meant by mentioning this profession last.

Departure from a vibrant career is not expected of everyone.  For all but a few, our chances may be no more than doing the marvelous good each day that our jobs may offer, as well as helping our families, neighbors, and communities.  The daily potential is endless, and the joys of job and service taken together can be great.  

Still, there is inspiration in the dedication of those who were asked to give up their careers and did so.  They are giving their all—retaining the preeminence of service to family, which may not be surrendered—to the opportunities to bless others whom the Lord puts before them.  Wonderfully, the Lord also, each day, puts before us opportunities to bless.  Through our work and our service we strengthen our communities, as the Lord would have it.

Of Overreaching Concerns and Asset Allegation

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What’s in a word?  That is an old question.  Often what is in the word may not be what the author intended.  The result can be humorous, and sometimes insightful.

Before retiring from the American Bankers Association, I became acquainted with a couple of examples where perhaps the wrong word presented an insightful meaning.  Listening to a seminar broadcast I heard the speaker explain the “overreaching concern” of his particular program.  Since the beginning of the Great Cessation and related lockdowns, I have heard many overreaching concerns expressed.  Perhaps we may learn from them.

On another occasion, in reference to money management, I became acquainted similarly by insightful accident with the term “asset allegation.”  I think that many a loan officer or bank examiner has had to come to terms with cases of asset allegation.

In 1775 the English playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan introduced us to Mrs. Malaprop, who delightfully uses words in unintended ways, at least unintended by whoever created the words.  His play, “The Rivals,” is a classic of English comedy.  In one example, Mrs. Malaprop, trying to convince her niece to give up on a young man of interest, expresses the wish that Lydia, the niece, would “illiterate him” from her memory.  In recent days, I think that we have all come across efforts by some to “illiterate” events from our historical memory.  Much to her happiness, Lydia ignored the advice.

Mrs. Malaprop, quite displeased with Lydia’s response, cautions her niece not to “extirpate” herself from the matter, explaining to the young girl that Malaprop has “proof controvertible” for her case.  Again, in recent days many have indeed been called upon to “extirpate” themselves or their ideas, prodded by noisy voices offering much “proof controvertible.”

In conversation, discussing what she considers proper education, Mrs. Malaprop recommends boarding school, where the student could obtain “a supercilious knowledge in accounts”.  I may admit that considering the CECL financial accounting rule, I have been tempted to wonder to what degree “a supercilious knowledge in accounts” might have had a role in its development.

I would also wonder, as I compare the variety of approaches across the globe to the current virus, whether some policymakers were subjected to Mrs. Malaprop’s advice that youth be “instructed in geometry” that they “might know something of the contagious countries”.

As a final reference, of many wonderful examples in the play, I would call upon Mrs. Malaprop’s advice that proper education of Lydia might lead the dear niece to “reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.”  I have heard and read many things in recent days by many people and mused whether the time would arrive when these people would come to reprehend the true meaning of what they were saying.

In my days of Civil War reenacting I became familiar with the Union song, “Grafted Into the Army.”  Composed by Henry Clay Work, it pretends to be written in the words of a widow, immigrant to the United States, lamenting her son Jimmy being “grafted” into the army.  Military jargon can be difficult enough for those not in the army, even more so for someone arrived in a new society.  Jimmy’s mother does express pride in her son “Dressed up in his unicorn.”  Intended to provide lighthearted moments in a dark time, the song also tells of the widow mother complaining at “the captain’s fore-quarters” about her son being too young.  Many sons were too young, and too many did not return.  Mixed in the mirth is the sad message that Jimmy’s “brothers fell / Way down in Alabarmy.”

An anecdote from dining at a restaurant:  I had occasion to visit the restroom.  The following instruction, printed in large letters, was displayed prominently over the sink:  Employees must wash hands.  I waited there some minutes, pondering the appearance lately of many strange requirements, but at last I gained the courage to break the rule and washed my hands myself.

Of Family Reunions and Families Forever

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Every couple of years our family gets together for a reunion.  To maximize the association of cousins—and to some degree to test patience—we all pile into a single house.  It has to be a big house, to accommodate the families of our five children and my wife and me.  Our population breached 20 several years ago.

Finding a rental house large enough to accommodate us is not easy.  It usually involves, along with “big,” such criteria as spacious kitchens, with twice the number of stoves, ovens, and refrigerators.  Large dining areas are needed so that we can enjoy the sociality of eating together.  Also essential for us is a spacious place where we all gather for devotionals, entertainment, singing, and games.  And, of course, there must be lots of sleeping places.

Fortunately, houses that have all these features offer a lot more, including rec facilities, porches with a peacefully grand view, game rooms, barbecues, occasionally a pool, and always a pool table.  To my pleasant surprise, while nearly all have offered movie theaters, these have been generally little used.  As we hoped, the cousins, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters prefer to spend time with one another—including as much time with Grandma and Grandpa as we could wish.

My daughter sent me a beautiful e-mail a few days ago.  She and her family had been watching a video about Temples, like the one where she and her husband had been married.  She wrote about one of her boys, I will call him “Jackson” for anonymity.  Jackson was much impressed by the Temples and remarked, “Wow, these are the best family reunion houses, ever.”

Maybe Jackson spoke more than he knew, for he was completely correct.  The Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entirely focused on families, with the explicit intention of uniting families forever.  Such Temples are, in every sense, family reunion houses.  Marriages there are performed not just for this life, but for time and all eternity.  Our Heavenly Father intended that family association be eternal and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make it so.  I personally believe that Jackson was inspired.  As the scripture says, “little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.” (Alma 32:23)

The Temple where my wife and I were married, just outside of Washington, D.C., has been closed for some two years for renovation.  It will be reopened soon, preceding which there will be a public open house.  I invite you to come inside and see it and experience the feelings that inspired my young grandson to declare that it is one “of the best family reunion houses, ever.”

Of Children and Lockdowns

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In the heavy lockdown state in which I reside, the early stages of shutdown closed the outdoor playgrounds.  They closed the outdoor basketball courts.  To drive the point home that children were not welcome, the rims and nets were removed from the backboards—the worry must have been that some child might think of defying the governor’s orders.  I noticed at the time that golf courses remained open and were actively used, but I did not hear that many children frequented the fairways or the greens.

We all can agree that the lockdowns and closures of the Great Cessation are not pleasant.  There is a general wish that they would not have to happen.  There is a variety of views about how necessary this all has been.  I have not, though, heard anyone deny that children have been hurt the most.

Consider this partial catalog of harm to the children among us:

Education was abruptly interrupted.  Schools were closed.

  • In my major suburban county, government efforts to provide “virtual education” were repeatedly tried and failed and eventually abandoned.  The virtue remained elusive.
  • Education that requires group participation, such as music and arts, became unavailable.
  • Field trips were canceled. 
  • All school clubs’ and extracurricular activities—educationally valuable and greatly desired by children—ceased.
  • Personal belongings were quarantined in school lockers for months.
  • Public libraries were closed.
  • For the fall, the local governments repeatedly tried and failed, and eventually abandoned, efforts to reopen schools.  Children will be offered second class education at best.  That may work, to a limited degree, for well motivated children with consistent parental supervision.  Expect much less success for all the rest.

Social and recreational interaction was interrupted.

  • School sports were stopped, including practices, training, games, and facilities.  For many, that can include a whole year of skill development, performing, and advancement, a potential disaster for youth counting on a final year to demonstrate skills to help with college admissions.
  • School sponsored social events, such as dances, proms, plays, and other recreations were dropped.
  • School organized or sponsored service activities have been canceled.
  • Children were ordered to stay at home.  Enjoyment of friendships and development of camaraderie among peers were interrupted.  Usual exchanges with friends and neighbors, and the normal creative interactions, have been stifled.
  • The personal exposure to a variety of views and interests and backgrounds became limited.
  • Summer camps were closed and seasonal outings were taken off the table.
  • Recreational facilities were closed, including parks, sports venues, and pools.
  • Movie theaters and other entertainment offerings, such as concerts and spectator sports, became unavailable for warding off youthful ennui. 
  • Visits to extended family members declined.

Opportunities for character development have been curbed.

  • Churches were closed, including worship services, participation in sacred sacraments, associating in youth groups and instruction, joining in varieties of spiritual development activities, and involvement in service to the needy.
  • Similarly, the activities of service organizations are curbed, limiting youth participation and volunteer experiences.
  • Summer job opportunities became fewer, whether for wages or as summer internships.

Children’s health has been put at risk.

  • Regular doctor visits were for a time banned, and then later merely discouraged.
  • Routine treatments for chronic ailments were missed.
  • Vaccinations and other traditional child medical treatments have been skipped.
  • Dental visits were put off, as have been visits to the optometrist.
  • Medical attention has not been sought except for what was considered serious ailments or until they became serious ailments.
  • “Elective” procedures have been put off.

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?  As mentioned in this litany of childhood harm, local authorities ordered children to remain at home, but what kind of homes?  Not all children have the safe, comfortable, well provisioned and lovely homes we would wish or that officials envisioned.  Many habitations, rather than a haven and venue for learning, are without parental supervision, are dirty, uncomfortable, and unsafe, exposed to crime, drugs, and gang activity.  Children have looked to schools and other facilities, now closed to them by the lockdown, as places of refuge.  Lockdown policies can quarantine children into zones of hazard.

As summed up by a recent opinion piece from the American Institute for Economic Research, “Shockingly, it now appears that suicide rates among the young are on the increase, which is concerning since suicide is the leading cause of death for those under the age of 25.” (“CDC Has Become Centers for the Destruction of Childhood,” June 25, 2020)

What do we offer the children in place of what has been closed to them?

Children are the age group least vulnerable to the virus, the fewest to contract it, the quickest to heal, with by far the lowest mortality rate, and the tiniest record for contagion.  They have been covered in masks and fed on a daily feast of fear.  The irony is that the age group least affected by the virus is the group most deeply harmed by the lockdowns—against which they can do little to protect themselves.

Of Life and Creativity

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Our Heavenly Father gave us life, and He intends for us to be creative with it.  In so doing we find joy.  God wants us to have joy.  Facilitating our joy is what He does with His life.  It is His creativity.  In the process He gains a fulness of joy.

Let me illustrate from ancient scripture.  When Jesus Christ, shortly after His resurrection, visited His disciples in the ancient Americas, He bid the multitude to kneel.  Then Jesus knelt, and He prayed to God the Father for them.  This is from their record of that prayer:  “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”  (3 Nephi 17:17)  How would you feel if you heard Jesus Christ pray to Heavenly Father for you?  Could you find words to express your joy?  Neither could these disciples.

How did Jesus feel?  The account relates, Jesus said, “And now behold, my joy is full.”  What does it take to fill the capacity for joy of the Creator and Savior of the world?

Some days later, meeting with those whom Jesus had chosen to lead the ancient church in the Americas, the Savior promised them that because of their faithful service their “joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father” (3 Nephi 28:10).

This was in keeping with what the Lord revealed through the prophet Lehi, some 600 years before, “men are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25).

How does it happen?  Consider the difference between life and non-life, the difference between animate creatures and inanimate objects.  The distinctions are many, but for this discussion I would focus on the fact that those that have life are movers, actors.  They act upon the inanimate things around them.  I recall once complaining in frustration about my computer, when I was reminded that computers are stupid; they can only do what they are told to do.  Even the much vaunted “artificial intelligence” of computer programs is for all its sophistication still artificial; there is an artist behind it.

Every thing in the universe moves only as it is forced to.  The children of God are different.  In giving us life God gave to each of us the power to move, to initiate action, to create.  We can give (an endless power if used properly, whereas taking is always limited and has an end).

God created the earth (among an infinity of other works).  He organized the chaotic elements around Him and made something marvelously beautiful.  God “saw every thing that he had made” and He saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  And then He gave it to us.  He did so that we might have something to work with as we learned to create.  God did not build the farms and the cities.  He left those for us, allowing us to participate in creation, and experience the joy of creation.

His creation is our example.  It is creation with a purpose, it is organizing the resources around us for greater joy.  The most meaningful form of creation is creation-giving, creating what we then pass on to others.  If you consider the commandments of God, they all have as their purpose to enhance our ability to create and then bless others with our creations, to receive more from God and each other that we might create more and share more, and in the process that we might learn so that we might go on creating forever.  Sin is what limits our creativity.

What we create and keep to ourselves has a way of becoming unsatisfying.  It has an end in us, and in that end the joy is lost; it might just as well have not been created at all.  When we give, when we create-give—and in return receive and give—this creation moves forward.  When the creation and the joy are passed on, as they are passed on, they have no end.  The creative work lasts forever and becomes more.  Man, by engaging in such creation experiences joy and creates joy.  That is what our Father sent us here to learn to do.  By so doing, we learn to become like Him, creatively joyful in turn.  We gain more life, we become more lively, until the Lord gives us all that He has, eternal life.

Of Religion and Liberty

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In recent days the Supreme Court of the United States, in two related decisions, gave a welcome reaffirmation of the constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion.  The cases involved practical application of the principle First Amendment right.  One case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, involved the Obamacare Act and contraceptive insurance coverage.  The other, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, concerned religious schools and their employment policies.  Both cases were decided by strong 7-2 votes. 

Readers will look to other forums and formats for the specifics of these interesting decisions.  I raise them as noteworthy inasmuch as governments in the last few months have acted unkindly toward religion and its exercise, much to the harm of people and the  jeopardy of their other rights protected in the First Amendment.

Not only is freedom of religion and the exercise thereof found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, it is the first freedom mentioned.  Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom peaceably to assemble, and the right to petition the government follow next, in that order.  This is not necessarily a ranking of importance of these five freedoms.  All are essential, but I would suggest that the latter four are strengthened by freedom of religion and will be put at risk without a vigorous regard for that freedom.

This is not hypothetical.  As an experiment to deal with the unknown effects of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) many state governments (and the federal government to a lesser degree) engaged in an abrupt and progressive impairment of the constitutional rights of nearly all within their jurisdiction.  Of the five freedoms of the First Amendment, governments applied or tolerated the harshest limitations on religion and its practice.  Churches were closed, its members forbidden to meet together, even in small groups.  Administrations of religious rites considered sacred were blocked, even in application to the dying as well as the living.

In my congregation, in my church, we gather, we fellowship with one another, we sing together, we pray together, we teach each other, we provide service to one another, we follow the pattern of what Jesus Christ did and calls upon us to do in the practice of becoming kinder, more loving people.  Government restrictions have made that very hard to do, and are unable to replace it with anything.

One of the leaders of the church, David A. Bednar, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lately said this in remarks on the importance of religious practice:

Latter-day Saints are hardly alone in this need to gather. . . Our Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical friends gather for mass, baptisms, confirmations, sermons, and myriad other religious purposes.  Our Jewish friends gather for worship in their synagogues.  Our Muslim friends gather in their mosques.  Our friends in the Buddhist, Sikh, and other faith traditions likewise have sacred places to gather and worship together. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.

In the United States and elsewhere, in this experiment into which we were rapidly immersed, people “throughout the free world,” as David Bednar reminded, “learned firsthand what it means for government to directly prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

Science, including the science of self government, requires us to learn from our experiments.  What have we seen in the social laboratory within which we have been living?  While freedom of religion has been curtailed, other liberties have eroded.  Freedom of speech has been restricted; people have become very careful about speaking their minds, avoiding certain words, even limiting their associations with neighbors, and they do not like it.  Communication even on social media has been censored. 

Press freedom is no longer robust.  Media broadcasters are careful to avoid use of newly minted proscriptions of this or that phrase or word, with correspondents and announcers disappearing from their jobs almost overnight for violation of some new taboo.  People have become increasingly mistrustful of “the news.”

Many assemblies are prohibited.  Where allowed, numerical limits have been imposed on how many people can assemble in the same place.  More nettlesome, as is the usual case with the violation of rights, restrictions are applied and enforced unevenly, some favored and others not.

Governments, especially local governments, turn deaf ears to constituents raising concerns with the application of restrictions.  Arrangements for schools run by local governments are in confusion. 

Overall, people feel isolated, alone, helpless, and, for too many, hopeless.  They look for and find temporary relief in acts of rebellion, minor or otherwise.

This is where freedom of religion can be seen as important to the other freedoms.  Churches have often in western societies been a counterweight to government tyranny, which is why the governments of Europe tried for centuries to control them.  As the Red Army imposed its Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe, persecution and control of religion were a priority. 

The first amendment prohibits government control of religion, specifically to preserve freedom of the churches, which in America has also worked to accommodate variety of religious practice.  All of the churches, together, need the first amendment to thrive, as do their members.  No other human organizations are as organized, enduring, and meaningful to people.  Without vigorous, free religions, people are left alone to defend their other rights, with alternative organizations that at best are anemic by comparison.

In the words of David Bednar, “With goodwill and a little creativity, ways can almost always be found to fulfill both society’s needs and the imperative to protect religious freedom. . . . Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.”

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