Of Christmas and Easter

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Christmas, in all its depth, is marvelous.  It gathers together a world, nay, a universe of goodness.  It also attracts that which may not be so good, but in this world that can be said of nearly all good things.  Love, which is the greatest virtue of all, attracts a plethora of counterfeits, some of which are cheapened varieties of love, too many of which undermine love.  Many broken marriages so teach us.

I love Christmas, because I love Easter.  It is from Easter that Christmas derives its profound meaning and joy.  The depth of meaning and joy involved in Easter is unfathomable, yet there is joy in seeking to fathom it.

All goodness and happiness in life and this world are founded upon what Jesus Christ suffered and accomplished in those last few days of His mortal life, His brief experience in the world of the dead, and His resurrecting entrance into eternal life.  The ancient prophet Lehi taught that everything has its opposite.  To his son, Jacob, he said, “there is an opposition in all things,” nothing excepted, “neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11)  Christ plumbed the absolute depths of evil, suffering all of the pain, sorrow, and the effects of evil for all, and then overcame it all.

Consider what it means when Jesus Christ’s perfect love for all the Father’s children meets with His omniscience, His knowledge of everything, before, then, and since.  Consider all your sorrows, and comprehensively combine them with the sorrows of all who ever lived and all who will ever live.  To Christ that whole weight was fully and completely revealed.  Christ considered and knew and experienced.  In so doing, He earned in the balance of justice an infinite supply of mercy that he offers to you and me.

Thereby consider the opposite to the sorrow, a fullness of joy that overwhelms that weight.  No wonder when, shortly after His resurrection that guaranteed the resurrection of all, Christ met with a multitude of disciples who loved Him as much as those who wanted Him crucified hated Him.  Beholding these disciples, Jesus blessed their sick, one by one.  Surround by their children, He said, “And now behold, my joy is full.”  How much would it mean for the Creator of the world, to experience fullness of joy

Filled with that joy, Christ “wept, and the multitude bare record of it”.  Then Jesus “took their little children, one by one, and blessed them . . . And when he had done this he wept again . . . and said unto them:  Behold your little ones.” (3 Nephi 17)

Christmas is a delight, because Easter is a joy, and Christmas points us to it.

I have heard that before the days of Lenin, it was customary for Russians to greet each other on Easter with the words, “Khristos voskres!” To which the reply would be “Voistinu voskres!”  Christ is risen!  Indeed, He is risen!  I understand that many in Russia have resumed that Easter greeting.  There is rejoicing that can lead to a fullness of joy for each of us, everywhere.

Of Vanity and Measureless Worth

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Millions who were recently fully employed today choose to remain off the market.  The unemployment rate, measured by the number seeking work who have not landed a job, is therefore approaching record lows.  Available jobs outnumber those looking for them.  The total of all employed remains fewer than it was two years ago.  Too many have stopped looking.  With generous government benefits for doing nothing, more than a few have concluded, what is the point?

That is bad for the economy, but it is worse for those who have taken a pass at gainful employment.  It is the ancient attitude of personal desuetude.  Solomon, the King of Israel of antiquity, wrote, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)  Has the spiritual wind that brings value to life gone out of people’s sails?  Or have many stopped unfurling their sails?  Giving up on work, are they giving up on living?

Having seen it all, and explored and pondered life, Solomon, the richest and wisest of kings, ruled Israel at its peak in wealth and sway.  Observing “all things that are done under heaven,” he concluded, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.  What profit hath a man of all his labour . . .?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3)  Solomon presented a powerful case.  He described the profound emptiness of the ephemeral existence he perceived.  Generations of people come and go, forgotten.  People’s eyes are not satisfied with seeing nor their ears with hearing.  There is little remembrance of what was done in the past, and what will come will be little recalled by those who come after.  Man’s search for wisdom finds grief and his increase in knowledge increases his sorrow.  “There is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9ff.)

A cursory reading of Solomon’s Biblical book, Ecclesiastes, has led some to regard Solomon’s wisdom as having soured on existence.  A more careful reading reveals an inspired wisdom that reaches beyond the world.  Solomon recognized, and hoped to cause others to recognize, that lasting value is not to be found in the perishable things of mortality.  He declared, “I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” (Ecclesiastes 2:13)  He taught that wisdom was not to be found in a focus on things under heaven, but in the things from heaven, the eternal things.  God gave us the world as the school for us to prepare for heaven.  A focus on the world itself is folly, nothing but dust in the end.  A focus on the eternal, however, can enrich life now and to come.

What are the eternal things?  The scriptures resonate with counsel to make our life bountiful.  In modern times, Jesus Christ offered an exemplary list of things that give us joy and meaning today and endow us for heaven.  “Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:6)

The temporary and transient are provided to be harnessed by us as we secure now and take with us what can be never ending.  What is that?  It is all that can go with us beyond the temporary grave, such as our family relations and the virtues that are developed in a family better than anywhere else.  I recently heard my daughter say that being a mother is the hardest work she has ever done, and she loves it.

Solomon urged a rearrangement of our priorities from an attraction to what would become inevitable vanity under heaven, to the use of what the Creator has given us to prepare for living in heaven.  “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”  This is what Solomon called, “the conclusion of the whole matter . . .” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13)

The gift from Jesus Christ is to guide, preserve, magnify, and hold to every good thing which, if we will accept His gift, “without compulsory means . . . shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:46)

Of Christmas and More than an Infant

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This Christmas many people will sing and speak praises of a baby born in Bethlehem 2021 years ago.  Unfortunately, too many people never get past that story of the “Babe of Bethlehem.”  It is sweet, it is joyful, but it is not enough. 

The birth of Jesus, the Son of God, was miraculous.  Unlike the birth of anyone else, his birth was prophesied over thousands of years, with prophecies fulfilled in every particular, and prophecies that are continuing and accelerating in their fulfillment today.  What does that mean for us?  It means that this is all part of a very big deal.  It is what the prophet Alma said “is of more importance than” all (Alma 7:7).

We love to sing Christmas carols.  The words of carols, however, can at times challenge the vocabulary of little children.  In my younger years of singing “The First Noel” I was certain that the word “certain” in the second line was a verb, not an adjective.  “The first Noel the angel did say/ Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay. . . ”  In my young mind “certain” described what and why the angel was speaking to the shepherds.  The angel appeared in order to certain the shepherds.

Today I am not so sure that I was wrong in hearing a verb.  The angel wanted those shepherds to know, to understand, to be certain of what they saw, and thereby to become witnesses of something extremely important.  The angel explained what was happening, what it meant, where it was happening, how to recognize the marvel, and then the shepherds quickly went to see for themselves, personally.  Immediately afterward they shared with others what they knew.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . . . For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. . . . And they came with haste, and found . . . the babe lying in a manger.  And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:8-17, emphasis added)

Following His resurrection, Jesus was careful to make His disciples certain of His resurrection so that they might witness to others of what they knew, enabling others at first to believe and then come to know for themselves by the testimony of the Holy Ghost.

The Father and the Son want us to know so that we might understand—actually, so that we might not misunderstand.  They appeared to Joseph Smith, such that Joseph’s knowledge was, from the first, certain.  He then could testify, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me . . .” (Joseph Smith History 1:25)

I have gained my own witness that Joseph’s certainty was true.  I, too, have been certained by the power of the Holy Ghost.  I know for sure that God is real and that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Savior of the world.  God has given certain witness to Joseph Smith and the prophets since then, including the prophet today, Russell M. Nelson.  Many have believed and had belief confirmed into certainty by the assurance of the Holy Ghost.

The words to the carol, “What Child Is This?” are a soul-deep meditation on why the birth of this Baby is so important.  The musings lead to an answer found in what this Child would later do

I fear that many modern renditions of the carol miss—or perhaps even avoid—the point. Among the dozen or so recordings of that carol in my possession, I discovered to my surprise that all but maybe four leave out the second of three verses written by William C. Dix, the one that holds a central place explaining why this birth was important.  Some repeat, again and again, the true declaration that this Child is “Christ the King.” Recognition of that reality is essential, but how far does it get you?  Even Herod believed and feared that prophecy, a belief that goaded him to destroy all the babes of Bethlehem that his soldiers could find.

Why did Christ the King find it necessary to lower Himself to be born among men?  That is the central question, the answer to which converts our attitude toward Christ from reverence for a Divine Monarch into deeply felt love born of joy and boundless gratitude.  The second verse, too often skipped, explains what is at the heart of Christmas.  Here are the words.

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you.

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The babe, the Son of Mary.

This little Child would be pierced by nails and spear when He was older but no less innocent.  Why would He submit to that?  Why would the King submit to that?

Among the beautiful carols of Christmas there is one that surely seems odd and out of place. The haunting melody is in significant measure responsible for its lasting popularity, but the words are anything but joyful for a joyful celebration. Rather than recount the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, the song expresses the inconsolable sorrow of a mother of Bethlehem mourning the cruel murder of her little child. Popularly known as “The Coventry Carol,” it includes these words:

O sisters, too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day;

This poor Youngling for whom we sing,

By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day;

His men of might, in his own sight,

All children young, to slay.

The song helps retell when jealous King Herod, fearful of even rumors of potential rivals for his throne, ordered the slaughter of all the children in Bethlehem of two years old and younger. Herod had been advised by the wise men of the birth of the future King of the Jews, in fulfillment of prophecy.  Herod missed his mark, for Jesus was no longer there. Joseph, warned by an angel, had taken his little family away to Egypt.

Among those who take it upon themselves to second guess God there are those who would question why God would save His Son, while allowing all those other children in Bethlehem to be slain. Again, these critics miss the mark. They get it wrong by failing to consider the whole picture.

God the Father did not spare His Son from the slaying of the children at Bethlehem. The unfair and cruel carnage begun in David’s city was finished on Calvary. Jesus’ life was spared only momentarily so that it could be offered as the last sacrifice for all. That seemingly doleful song points us to the full meaning of Christmas as part of a story that winds through Bethlehem and leads through sorrow in Gethsemane to death on Calvary.

Importantly, the story continues on from there to a glorious resurrection morning on the third day. Christ was born to save us, in spite of the evils of the world that He most of all could not escape, a salvation that extends especially to the children of Bethlehem and to all the little children of the world.

I conceive of a day, a moment, when those very men who pounded the nails into the Savior’s hands and feet come personally to realize, come face-to-face with what they have done.  What depth of grief that this knowledge will cause to the hearts of those men—when they become certain of the meaning of those moments in that day—I can imagine in only the smallest degree.  They will be the only men, among the billions who have trod the earth, who with hammers in their fists drove nails into the hands and feet of the Creator and their Savior.  What will that certainty mean to them?

Perhaps the Savior’s plea from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) will be the beginning of some healing solace when they do know what they personally did.  I suspect that this is not the limit of the mercy that the Savior will extend to these, His brothers, who were so close to the Son of God in this horrible way.

Then I am drawn to consider, how will we feel when our day comes, and it surely will, when we stand face-to-face and see those wounds in His hands and feet?  How will we feel when we come to understand perfectly, as we will, that our own, personal sins made those wounds necessary, that because of what we knowingly have done there was no other way, that we helped to make those nails unavoidable?  More, how will we feel, looking in the Savior’s eyes, when we fully understand that depending on our repentance the suffering that we personally caused was entirely and eternally worth it, or in absence of our repentance for us for naught?  At that moment our joy and our love or our grief and pain will be without measure.

Let us decide now, for we may, to let our loving hearts enthrone Him.  May we decide now, today, that we, when brought into the personal presence of the Savior, will be like the ancient Nephites, who did “bow down at his feet . . . and worship him; and . . . kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Nephi 17:10)

Of Sincerity and Talking with God

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In the 1700s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, referring to times of personal stress, wrote, “I turned with my request to my Invisible Friend.  I was received so kindly, that I gladly came again.”  Speaking with God is simple.  It may not always be easy.  A basic requisite is sincerity.  When we share with our Heavenly Father a sincere message from the heart, He is eager to listen. 

That is also a basic criterion for us to hear God.  Our Heavenly Father is eager to speak with us when we are sincerely listening.  That means sincerely wanting to know what our Father wants us to know, and being sincerely willing to do what He asks us to do. 

This is prayer and revelation.  Such prayers are answered, and our lives can be made happier.

Can that happen now?  Can I speak with God and get a personal answer?  Yes.  The Lord has given us a prophet today, Russell M. Nelson, who reminded us, as prophets have often taught, that the “privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.” 

The Lord has never desired that His prophet be the only one to receive revelation.  When Moses led the children of Israel through the desert, he replied to a complaint about someone in the camp receiving revelation, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29).  Our Father does not want us to wander in the dark, not knowing how to cope with life’s problems.

We are all in the process of dying.  That is why this existence is called “mortality.”  But until we reach the end of that process, we are also in the process of living.  Our Father likes to help us to live well, so that when we die we will be able to live with Him eternally.  He will show us how if we sincerely want to know.

When I was a child, I wondered what it would be like to live in the day when Apostles of Jesus Christ walked the earth.  Some years later I came to know that I was living in those days, that once again Jesus Christ has called Apostles, from ordinary professions, to follow Him in teaching the Father’s children how to live with joy. 

One of these Apostles of Christ is David Bednar.  He recently spoke with a young man whose wife, just a few months before, died from cancer.  The man asked, “What can we do to understand God’s will for us in our personal life?”  With great tenderness Apostle Bednar addressed the question.  He said that he knew that the man’s departed wife was “a righteous woman, and no righteous man, no righteous woman passes before his or her time.” 

Turning to the question of God’s will for this young widower, he recounted a similar conversation with a young girl at a funeral for an older brother.  She had asked, why would God let this happen?  This Apostle of Christ candidly said to her, “I don’t know, but I know God knows, and because I know God knows, I’m O.K. not knowing right now.”  So, he invited this son of God to listen to the revelations from the Lord and, while yet in this life, press on to do what his loving Father inspires him do. 

The gift of personal revelation continues available to this young man.  It is available to each of us, too, as we sincerely seek it.

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 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

Photo by Eilis Garvey on Unsplash

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 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.

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