Of I and We

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Perhaps you have been chary of letting other people speak for you.  I know that I have.  I tend to bristle when someone announces what “we” are going to do without consulting with the “I”s in the “we.”  I feel much the same when I hear someone declare what “we” think without caring to learn what I and the other components of “we” think. 

Sometimes it is necessary or unavoidable to have someone speak for me.  I think of representative government.  A Congress of 330 million people will either get nothing done, or it will devolve into rule by a dictator who has, as an effective demagogue, arranged for enough of all of us to cede to him their will.  The city states of ancient Greece experienced both failings of genuine democracy—mob rule and dictatorship—and displayed how it never worked for long.

The Romans, inhabiting a city state governed by a king, threw off their king and created a democratic republic that flourished for several hundred years.  They elected Senators to represent them.  The Romans did not like a king who spoke for them without asking, but they thrived under a system of Senators who spoke for them, but only after obtaining the Romans’ permission.  That worked for centuries until the process of gaining permission—elections—became corrupted.  The Senators concurrently became corrupted, unwilling to face blame for making decisions.  The democratic republic was replaced by a government of emperors and Caesars.  Rome afterwards oscillated between civil strife and dictatorship on the way to collapse and invasion.

In the years following 1776 we, as a people of free individuals, united to shake off our king who claimed the privilege of referring to himself as “We” when speaking.  In 1787 “We the People,” through our chosen representatives, also established a democratic republic.  That followed the formation of democratic republics in each State.  Both sides in the debate to ratify the new Constitution emphasized keeping representatives tied closely to the represented.  Skeptics wondered whether that would actually happen or long endure if it did.

Individual people, representatives and represented, are imperfect, as the Founders understood.  We each prize our individuality and the liberty to live it.  We each can also be tempted to exert our will over others.  Consider the occasional neighborhood “WE BELIEVE” yard signs.  Are these an expression of personal faith or a declaration that you and I ought to consider ourselves included in the “WE”?  I wonder about the latter when I see decrees by federal officials, state governors, and local mayors extending government force to the seemingly anodyne slogans ornamenting the signs.  The man who today sits in the oval office, who would not dare to call himself a czar, has appointed a man (previously rejected by a national election) to be the nation’s “Climate Czar.”

We are scheduled to reach 250 years of our democratic republic when the 17-year cicadas next return.  Will they emerge in a nation still governed by “We the People”?  Or might they come out of the ground where the voices of the I’s have been subsumed by other Czars who announce what We think, do, and say?  Creeping political correctness, which has been chastising free speech for decades, telling us what not to say, has lately become enforced by governments, workplaces, media, and schools.  As the prophet Isaiah warned, a man is made “an offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21).

By the way, the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” are derivatives of the Latin title “Caesar.”

Of Firearms and American Democracy

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A commentator on a Washington-D.C. area Spanish-language radio station was declaiming at unusual length against private gun ownership. What caught my attention that morning was his expression of wonder at the deep and widespread interest of people in the United States in owning firearms. He could not understand or explain it. He was lost. The interest in private gun ownership was a new cultural phenomenon to him.

No doubt it was, but he was correct to identify the passion for gun ownership as an element of the cultural life of the United States that is not only deep, but deep-rooted. Those roots go back to the very founding of North America by the first colonists, reinforced by subsequent waves of immigrants. The very first North American colonists had guns, as essential to survival as seeds and shovels. As Germans joined the English, the Scots, and the Dutch in the new land, followed by Irish, Swedes, Italians and others, guns traveled with the pioneers west.

Western European society invented common firearms and spread them among the commoners. By means of firearms the commoners won their new land. With their firearms those commoners also won their freedom from the lords and ladies who could no longer control the armed rabble, particularly in the English colonies, and particularly in the colonies that became the United States. Guns in the United States have been instruments of survival, physical and political.

What the kings and nobles of Europe could not know was that there is something powerfully democratizing in gun possession. Firearms ended the reign of the mounted knight and made it hard for kings and emperors to keep their thrones. No aristocrat in any palace was invulnerable to the meanest peasant armed with musket and ball. Guns have been an historically powerful equalizer and defense against tyranny and pillagers.

That democratizing process worked further and faster in America, where courage and a gun could tame a wilderness and provide freedom for the family. Far from the reach of government, and unanswerable for the pretended protection of the manor house, the typical American could take immediate responsibility for himself and his own security and that of his wife and children, backed up by the very real ability to assert that security. No one seems to know the origin of the proverb, “God created men, but Sam Colt made them equal,” but the armed nation builders of the American West understood and believed it.

That is to say that, in the United States at least, people have not needed government, and especially government protection, all that much. Gun ownership has always been at the core of American independence and democracy, essential from the founding up into modern times. It is a symbol of American freedom, but more than that, ownership of firearms is a tangible expression of the independence and self-reliance that are at the core of American citizenship, a culture of freedom sometimes new to people hailing from other parts of the world. It is not accidental that not only the right to keep firearms but the active right to bear them is recognized in our Constitution as fundamental, alongside freedom of expression, free exercise of religion, the protection of private property, trial by jury, and other cornerstones of our liberty.

As the dangerous frontiers of violence encroach again on families beyond the timely protection of law enforcement, that innate American self-reliance is reenergized, and well it should be. The examples of people saved by their guns from robbery, murder, and worse, are legion if little noted by the establishment media reporting from their armed security zones. In the face of increased violent criminal activity—whether from terrorists or thugs—why does it make sense to weaken the defenses of law abiding citizens? Why would the government of a free people impose regulations to expose those who live peacefully to the barbarous cruelty of those who consider a regulation no barrier to preying upon the disarmed? I do not understand it. As an American, I do not understand it at all.

Of Good Leaders and Society’s Safety

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a society in ancient America that was under constant threat and frequent attack from another people who were fierce and far more numerous.  They were also related, which made hostility acute and seemingly ineradicable—save one should eradicate the other.

Like everyone in the western hemisphere their roots were planted by immigration.  These immigrants from the Old World were largely from two interrelated families.  They barely got along while the founding patriarch, Lehi, lived.  When he died, leadership succession threatened bloodshed.  Rather than fight it out, one group, led by a younger son, Nephi, left.  The other group, which over time became larger, was led by the eldest son, Laman.

The two societies could hardly be more different, because their leaders, though brothers, could hardly be more different.  Laman was opposed to emigrating from the Old World.  Lehi was given a prophetic charge to leave.  God told Lehi (who like his contemporary, Jeremiah, was a prophet of Christ) that his city, Jerusalem, was doomed, descending into social disorder and vulnerable to predictable conquest.  Laman doubted the prophecy.  Nephi, supporting his father, was given divine confirmation of the Lord’s warning.

In Lehi’s day the differences were occasionally resolved, but only superficially.  Laman, and those who listened to him, having little faith in his father’s prophecies, only with reluctance cooperated.  Nephi believed.  With that faith, confirmed by his own communion with the Lord, Nephi was instrumental in facilitating the pilgrimage to what the Lord vouchsafed Lehi and his family would be a promised land.

For centuries following Lehi’s death, both sides tried, in their characteristic idioms, to bridge the schism.  The people of Nephi, according to the record, devised “many means to reclaim and restore” the people of Laman “to the knowledge of the truth”.  Their record reports, on the other hand, that the people of Laman “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.” (Jacob 7:24)

Which would prevail?  In terms of reunification, neither succeeded for more than four hundred years.  Measured by prosperity, the people of Nephi flourished.  While the chronicle is brief, it describes a society as advanced as any global contemporary of the fourth century B.C.:

And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war. . . and all preparations for war. (Jarom 1:8)

Compare that with the description of the people of Laman, who fell into degradation:

. . . they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat . . . (Enos 1:20)

By one gauge, the people of Laman exceeded the people of Nephi, “they were exceedingly more numerous”.

The moral of the story is this.  The people of Nephi prospered, not only materially and socially, but they also succeeded in holding their enemies at bay, enemies whose hostility was implacable, constant, and fierce, and who were “exceedingly more numerous”.  How so?  The crowning message inscribed in the ancient records of the people of Nephi was that their kings and leaders “were mighty men in the faith of the Lord”.  Thereby the people were led in safety.  That is a vital message for our society, or any society.

Of Inflation and Borrowing

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Inflation is good for borrowers?  Really?  So some say.  The case goes like this:  when the borrower receives his loan for so much, he promises to pay it back with money that would buy so much, but after inflation the money he uses to repay the loan will buy less.  He repays with cheaper money.  The lender gets his money back, but it is worth less than it was when he lent it.  Hold that thought, because that is the weakness in the case.

This inflation “benefit” may work for borrowers who already have loans, with a fixed rate that they can handle.  For all others, however, inflation raises the costs of everything, including borrowing.  How long will lenders be willing to lose value in the loans they make?

Think of it this way.  Does inflation work for people who sell things?  Maybe for their current supply, but their new supply will cost them more, eating into what they earn and raising the cost of what they try to sell to the next potential buyer.  The same reality is true for people who “sell” money, which is what lenders do. 

As we buyers know, inflation does not work well for buyers.  We face ever higher prices for the same things.  The same is true for people who “buy” money, which is what borrowing is.

New borrowers will find interest rates, the price of borrowing, rising with inflation, too.  That could put borrowing out of reach for some, just as it does for buying a house, a car, or work tools.  Businesses that need to roll over their existing loans could find the new loan more expensive, maybe even too expensive.  People who want to refinance their mortgage may find the new rate makes that much less attractive.  Floating rates, like credit card rates, will rise, so the cost of the products charged to the card will not be the only higher costs that card users face.  In short, only some borrowers, a declining some, may benefit from inflation, and only for a time.

Today’s money rests on trust, whether we talk of paper money, coins, or financial accounts.  We sell our time, our goods, our services in exchange for money.  That money is a promise that we can use it in trade with someone else for something of comparable worth.  When we accept money in payment, we in turn are making a loan to someone who has already received our goods, or services, or time.  All we got was a promise, which we trust we can exchange with someone else.  Inflation undermines that trust.  We receive a $100 payment of money which because of inflation may soon buy only what $95 used to buy.

Even governments will face the challenge of higher costs.  Sure, they will be paying back existing government debt with devalued money, but their new borrowings will carry a higher price tag, as will the things that governments buy.  I was going to say, look in the mirror if you want to know who will pay that higher cost of government debt, but if you do, have your children looking with you.

Of Slavery and the Constitution

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Slavery in America was doomed under the Constitution, and the slavocrats knew it.  For more than four score years they had been fighting and steadily losing ground to preserve slavery.  When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, the slavocrats understood that things would not get better for them.  They saw getting out as the only way to continue slavery.

They pushed their states to leave after the election of 1860 not because they disputed the results.  They recognized that Lincoln had been duly elected.  What the slavocrats feared was that under his administration and his support in Congress their ability to preserve slavery would be irreparably eroded and eventually ended.  They sought to exit the Union before that happened.

By necessity, forming a “more perfect union” under the Constitution required compromise to accommodate diverse peoples and experiences.  The miracle of the Founders was to bring all the states in.  Compromise and accommodation are at the heart of a republic. 

There is an art to compromise.  I saw that during the days of the Reagan administration.  President Reagan was a highly principled man, yet he often compromised.  I marveled how, in his compromising, he resisted compromise of principle.  Again and again he advanced his principles while accommodating on details.   

The Founders establishing a Constitution sought to preserve essential principles by which a government of liberty would act.  A key example was the slave trade.  Some vociferously argued for its end.  Slave state representatives argued for the matter to be left to individual states.  The Constitution enshrined the national principle that the slave trade must end.  Placing regulation of trade in general with Congress, the compromise set 1808 for the complete end of the slave trade.

A similarly important example where compromise embraced the principle was the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives.  The number of a state’s representatives was based on population.  Representatives from slave states wanted to count slaves.  Others objected that if your state treats these people as property, then they should not be counted any more than other property.  The principle in the compromise was to recognize the humanity of people held in slavery, but to count a person only as three-fifths for congressional apportionment so long as he was held in slavery, reducing southern congressional representation.

With these two compromises, resting on anti-slavery principles, all the states came into the union, accepting a Constitution that would progressively lead to abolition.  As the reality of that became abundantly clear to the leadership of eleven of the states, they tried to renege on the deal and leave.  The slavocrats failed.  Rather than let the Constitution end slavery peacefully, they forced a horrid war that ended it all the sooner, but at the cost of more than 600,000 dead, greater than the total of Americans killed in both World Wars I and II. 

The power of the principles of the Constitution continued its work.  Amidst a Civil War that, in the words of Lincoln, tested “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure,” elections were held.  The voters chose liberty and the nation endured.

The American Founders were sober people, sobered by a long and difficult war of Independence followed by several years of economic and social confusion.  They understood that people were flawed and make mistakes.  They believed that people are also good, who can and do make good decisions.  The Constitution on which they established the United States recognizes and is designed to offset the bad and allow good to succeed, which it more often than not does.  

Tested by myriad difficulties and unparalleled prosperity, the Constitution has worked better than any other system of government on earth.  That is why enemies of freedom hate it and why so many people want to come here to live.

Of Helping God and Helping Fathers

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When I was twelve my parents moved us to an old farm house.  It was basically solid, but it was old.  The house had not been occupied for a decade or more, other than by varieties of wildlife.  It needed a lot of work.  My father moved in about a month before us to begin the restoration, bringing it close to livable when we all moved in.  Still, it was a bit like camping out inside the house for the first several weeks.

Being a fixer-upper brought the house within my parents’ price range, though the $90 a month mortgage was still a strain.  My father did nearly all the restoration work himself. 

The roofers, called in to repair numerous leaks, were particularly interested in the slate shingles.  Once they had taken those off, we never saw them again—roofers or shingles.  Our wonderful neighbors helped us with an emergency roof replacement when the hired roofers left us high but far from dry in the midst of a thunderstorm. 

My father, who had been a public works inspector where we lived before, knew a great deal about ceilings, walls, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, and other very practical things.  He tried to pass some of that knowledge on to me. 

I remember helping my father replace pipes.  He did not need the help.  I am quite sure that I slowed him down.  He had me participate in the work so that I could learn something about plumbing, and maybe even something about working.  I remember many details about plumbing, carpentry, and electricity that my father taught me.  I learned what was between walls.  He taught me many of the little details that you need to observe to make something work right and last long. 

My father did not teach me everything he knows about keeping a house in good repair, but he taught me everything that I know.  He did it by showing me.  He taught me about tools by putting them in my hands.  I experienced what the right tools did and how using them properly made the work easier, made impossible work suddenly doable.

My father often explained the principles behind what we did.  When he helped me move into my new house he noticed that we had a two-car garage, but only one car.  He told me that was a problem.  Why? I asked.  “Because you will fill one side up with stuff.”  He was right.  When we could finally afford a second car, we had a lot of work to do to clear the garage to make room for it.

Our Heavenly Father gave us earthly fathers to teach us much about Him.  As do the fathers of our flesh, the Father of our spirits allows us to learn by helping Him with His work.  He revealed that His work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)  The Father often does this important work by getting us to help Him.  He calls upon us to help our brothers and sisters, His children. 

The Lord does not need our help.  “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:21), He said.  Our Father often does that work by giving us the tools to help one another, teaching us how to use the tools, and then working with us.  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how by example (and to fix our mistakes).  By doing that helping work we become more Christlike.  We learn to love each other as the Father and His Son love us.  We learn to become like Them.  We also learn to teach and love our children, as the Father loves us.

Of Mothers and Sons

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Just a few years ago, which after this last 12 months seems like another era, I witnessed an event at Penn Station that still moves me.  I was seated at a crowded food court.  With time on my hands before my train, I was enjoying a little something that I hoped was gluten-free (a diet prompted by genetics rather than preference).

A dozen steps away was a man behind a counter selling ice-cream snacks.  With shuffling steps a gaunt, old, grey panhandler approached.  His hand pulled something from the pocket of his ill-fitting battered trousers.  I could see that it was some change, which he was counting as he shambled toward the counter.  There was a look of desire in his eyes, which took on a saddened cast as he paused, counted again, and turned away, just a few feet from the ice-cream counter.  His sum of pocket change was short.

I was not the only one watching.  At another end of the counter was a mother, enjoying ice-cream with her two teen-age boys.  A quick word from the mother to the older and taller son sent him on his way.  A couple of minutes and a brief conversation later the boy returned, escorting the old man.  In short order the man left again, with joy on his face and a tall, full ice-cream cone in his hand that just a few minutes before did not hold enough change.

That was it.  That was the end of the story.  Or was it?  A small expense became a rich lesson from mother to son.  The mother could have done nothing, or she might have called out to the disappointed man.  She sent her son and gave him a personal experience in kindness that the boy may long remember into manhood.

The service was not requested.  It was spontaneously offered.  The gift, the effort, the quick initiative, was a small event converted into a teaching moment by a mother drawing from ready wells of charity.  I feel confident that the mother did not know that I was a witness, as her attention was on both sons and on a man who could have a moment of disappointment, reinforcing his penury, converted into a bright memory of happiness.  Which was sweeter for him, the ice-cream or the friendly attention?  I suspect that the mother and her sons gained a happiness, too, sensing how their simple act of humanity toward a fellow child of God connected them all in a moment of goodness.

This was charity.  I do not refer to the price of the ice-cream but to what made it a gift.  The scriptures define this charity as the pure love of Christ, which can well up from our hearts in precisely the method and moment when it is needed.  There was nothing premeditated in the event.  It was just a mother from her fountain of love, blessing a luckless man, a son and his brother, and at least one witness who will hope to remain vigilant for when such opportunities cross my path.

Surely there are greater acts of love than this.  Yet millions of such small personal kindnesses are a contagious mortar that builds a community.  I am grateful for mothers who feel to teach that to their sons.

Of Easter and the Constitution

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One morning in Tennessee, almost 160 years ago, many thousand U.S. soldiers were quietly enjoying breakfast on a beautiful spring Sabbath, thinking of little more than passing a quiet Palm Sunday and sometime soon thereafter continuing the destruction of the rebel army in nearby Corinth, Mississippi. That was, until the rebels came calling and rudely interrupted breakfast.

By the end of the battle the next day the rebels were in full retreat, but over 13,000 Union soldiers were dead, wounded, or missing, and nearly 11,000 rebels had met the same fate. Shiloh turned out to be a major victory for the United States Army, opening up nearly the whole western part of the rebel confederacy to reunification. The import of the victory was missed by much of the population of the loyal states, however, whose senses reeled from a bill of losses of husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers never seen before in the life of the Republic.  General U.S. Grant, whose coolness under pressure made the victory possible, was mercilessly criticized in the press.

The nation little understood that the casualties of Shiloh would be only the first of many tens of thousands more who would suffer from civil war in the land of Washington and Jefferson before 1862 would be over. Then there would be 1863, 1864, and 1865 to follow, running the tally of destruction ever higher.  In 1865, near the end of the war, Abraham Lincoln summed up in his marvelous second inaugural address—for a term of office that would last the rest of his life, less than 6 weeks—“Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. . . . Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding.”

All Americans today benefit from that profound victory and the others that brought an end to the rebellion and that upheld the Constitution. It was a strange and new thing for the world that the words on a piece of paper, written by men of an earlier generation, could create a system of government and affect so many lives. It was the lives of those who fought to sustain the Constitution that gave it that life, men who insisted on living by those words and organizing a free society within the protections of its provisions.

The same is true today, as with each generation:  we are called upon to uphold that Constitution, those words on a piece of paper, and hand it on down, as strong as ever, to our children. Those men who died at Shiloh cannot do our work for us today. Neither can the men who fought and died in Europe and the South Pacific and on many other places of battle.  Just as important as those who died to preserve the Constitution are those who have lived to maintain the Constitution. They, however, could do no more than pass that freedom under constitutional law to us. We have it today. What will we do with it?

As Ronald Reagan taught in his 1967 inaugural address as Governor of California,

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

We must not let it become extinct. It is under challenge from enemies without, who hate the liberty and worth of the individual enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and it is endangered by those within the nation—some in very high places of power and responsibility— who see the Constitution as a barrier in the way of their plans to replace individual rights, value, initiative, and worth with the ages old system where the government and the governors run the lives of the people and decide who wins, who loses, who gets what, and how much.

Our forebears fought a revolution and crafted a new system in the New World to get away from that rule by the few. The lesson we need to learn anew, is that it is the job of the many individuals who make up each generation to win that freedom again, because there will always be those eager to impose their will on others and use and direct and take the resources that they themselves did not earn, who will want to have their way with other people’s money and other people’s lives.

No one’s sacrifice is the same as anyone else’s. Read no unfairness in that, because to sacrifice is to absorb unfairness. We cannot avoid the call to sacrifice.  Not even Christ, the greatest of all, could.

As we celebrate Easter we should remember the sacrifices of the Savior, by which He absorbed all unfairness. His sacrifices made Easter possible, by which all that is wrong is overcome and ultimate freedom bought for each person born into this world. We are privileged by Christ to be given the chance to join in that effort to preserve and extend the blessings of freedom to our families, our friends, and to people we do not know and may never meet.

At Gethsemane, then Golgotha, and from the Garden Tomb, Christ has created the framework that makes freedom possible. He inspired the founders who built a nation of liberty as the beacon to all mankind that it has been for almost 250 years. As our Easter worship, let us take up the last call given by Abraham Lincoln to the nation as the Constitution was reaffirmed in struggle, who recognized the great value of America for the world:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Of Easter and the Triumph of Life

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Spring might have appeared early this year, and Easter late, and that is fine with me. Sometimes Easter arrives while winter still lingers, but this year Easter’s message of life and renewal will be fully broadcast in the flowers and trees. I think I love the bright azaleas and tulips best.

Let their message of perennial life be matched in our hearts, as renewal and rebirth come to our souls through the power of Jesus Christ to make all things new and to make death a temporary pause. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing would matter, for death would prevail as the final statement to each and all. Since Christ overcame death and rose from the dead to eternal life mortality is converted into the exception to the normal existence of life. Mortality is to be endured, and more than endured, used to prepare for our eternal existence after we have all died and then risen from the grave to immortality.

To be sure, our mortality is intense and at times all that we can bear, for which reason it is mercifully short, the very oldest of us living not long past a mere century. If life is so important, does it make any sense for it to be so brief? If each of us is so filled with love, does it seem right that our love ends so quickly? With each human so richly endowed with creativity, can it be that all of our creations corrode and fade away to nothing? Why did my mother’s memory leave before she did, and is our memory of her doomed to the same fate to be lost eventually forever?

The answer of death is yes, all is vain, all will be lost. Christ’s victory over death means that the answer is no, and that all good things are redeemed and preserved forever, and not just preserved, rejuvenated to live and grow without end.

Which is to say that the continuation of life is reasonable, as it is true. The joy of Easter is that its story is real, that through the resurrection of Christ life and all of its riches are to be everlasting, as they should be.

No fact of antiquity is more certain than Christ’s resurrection, no event of the ancient years has left us with more evidence. To the testimonies of those who walked and talked and ate with the resurrected Christ, as preserved in at least five separate records gathered centuries later into the Bible, the Savior has brought to light the witnesses of His visit to His followers in ancient America shortly after His resurrection in Jerusalem. Over the course of three days Jesus Christ taught, healed, and prayed with those who had long been waiting for His appearance, as prophesied by their prophets for six hundred years. More than two thousand of them, one by one, touched the wounds in His hands, feet, and side,

and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety (3 Nephi 11:15)

that this was “Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10).

Those are the ancient witnesses and evidences. They are to be treasured. These were not ancient experiences to the people who lived them and testified of them. They were just as current and real as anything we experience today. As Christ explained to the Sadducees, God is the God of the living, of life (see Matthew 22:32). We need not rely on the ancient witnesses alone. Christ has called contemporary prophets and Apostles living with us and among us in our day, just as He did during His mortal ministry. Their witness is the same as Peter, James, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, and others who knew with a certainty that Christ rose from the dead as the God of life. In this mortal life death so often seems to prevail that we all need reminders from those who know of the triumph of life.

You can hear their modern words. They report the same message that the Savior has shared with mankind throughout history, but God knows that we each have a need to hear it in our own day.

With confidence, as you enjoy the buds and blossoms of spring, take in their proclamation of life made possible by Christ’s victory over death, by which all that is good is saved.

Of Unity and the Tenth Commandment

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It may be a commonplace to comment on popular culture’s war on the Ten Commandments, but it merits the effort. At best they are treated in Hollywood and other secular Zions of pop culture as the Ten Old Fashioned Ideas. Undeniably, Moses was after all just another one of those old white men, whom many with public microphones wish would fade from the contemporary scene (as long as they keep paying the bills).

Yet there seems to linger in the hearts and minds of most people in America who are not cultural trend setters an enduring if vague respect for Ten Commandment concepts such as the preeminence of God, the duties to parents, abhorrence of murder, the value of marriage covenants, the evils of theft, and that telling the truth is still better than lying. These are basic concepts that even children have little trouble understanding.

I must confess, however, that as a child I had difficulty understanding the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17). “Covet” is not a word much found in a child’s vocabulary, or in anyone else’s for that matter. It required explaining to me. Then it was not overly hard to take in as an idea. I did wonder, though, why it had an exalted place with the other nine commandments. The gravity of theft, murder, sacrilege, lying, not going to Church on Sunday, and even dishonoring parents I could sense as a child, but why make such a big deal about coveting? Very bad things happen from breaking those other commandments. Sure, coveting, as explained to me, led to other sins, such as stealing, murder, lying and the rest, but where was the great evil in the thing itself? You could go to jail for breaking some of the other Ten Commandments, and you certainly were on the high road to hell if you did. Coveting might make you feel unhappy or dislike someone who had something you wanted—not good, but was it really so bad?

I have come to learn, with time and experience, that the answer is, Yes, it is very bad. The Ten Commandments address, first, our relationship with God; second, our relationship with family; and finally our relationship with our neighbors and in the communities where we live. Coveting is a powerful corrosive acid in community relationships. It dissolves kindness and respect and love for our fellows, leaving an envy that has hate at its root.

Indulged in, coveting insidiously works to separate us from those who have what we might want. One need not act on the coveting, one need not steal, lie, cheat, commit adultery, or engage in other offenses for the wedge of coveting to work its evil within society. Neighbors become cold, businessmen and workers become self-centered, helping hands become harder to find, envy and jealousy increasingly push compassion and cooperation aside. The poor hate any richer than they, and those who are better off lose their pity and concern for those whom they might otherwise be quick to help and encourage.

I am not one who looks to our political leaders to be moral leaders, but I do look to them to be virtuous. Morality must be a fundamental qualification for those to whom we give authority to make, execute, and judge the laws if we want our laws and their administration to be based upon virtue. We do not and should not derive our morality from these people, but we should expect them to act morally in the exercise of the duties and powers that they derive from the people whom they govern.

It is more than irresponsible, then, that coveting is in fact advocated for the nation to embrace as a defining element of economic policy. This national call to covet is dangerous to our community. Look again at how the evil was described on Mount Sinai:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)

All sharing in the tax burden is a necessary element of self-government. Self-government does not work without all the individual selves in society pitching in fairly.  What Congress enacts as national policy should be carried by those who compose the nation.

By the way, I am not aware of any religion that condones coveting.  But even if the fear of God does not make you slow to covet, objective love for the nation as a whole and the integrity of the society should cause you to recoil from a political platform based upon feeding the fires of envy.

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