Of Unity and the Tenth Commandment

Photo by Luis Lara on Unsplash

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.

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 Overreaching Concerns and Asset Allegation

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

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 Models and Living

Photo by John Matychuck on Unsplash

My sons and I are modelers.  We love to build models.  We have spent many a pleasant time, creating very pleasant memories, building models together.  I prefer constructing models of buildings, houses, and bridges.  My sons make those, too, but their preference is for vehicles, especially airplanes.

Building models is beautiful and satisfying.  Models and making them stimulate creativity.  Modeling is a bridge between fantasy and reality.  With enough abstraction, you can model just about anything, real or imagined.

Models are not reality, though.  They are a thin representation of elements of reality, on a scale reduced from reality.

Modeling, by intent and purpose, is always a tremendous simplification from actual things, a focus on certain characteristics.  If we want the fullness of reality, we go to reality itself.  You cannot model life, for example, only aspects of it.  Doing so can help with our understanding of a particular aspect, which new idea we can take back to life to see how it fits.

The model itself, though, is not reality.  You cannot live there.  I am reminded of a story from The Twilight Zone.  As I recall, it goes something like this.  A man finds himself trapped inside of a child’s model village.  At first it looks quite real, until examined more closely.  He looks about him, and with increasing anxiety finds that things do not work, discovering an artificiality in all about him.  In despair he discovers how thin a replication of reality the model village is.  He struggles to make sense of it all, until he hears above him the laughing voice of the child who built the model.  He abandons hope as he finds no way out.

Sometimes we build model environments for fish or other pets or creatures to live in.  They never seem to be quite convinced, always trying to get out.  Even the ants in the ant farm work to get beyond the limits of the glass.

In recent months we have all been placed by our governments—especially by our state and local governments—in a model and forced to live there.  We are assured that, according to the models guiding them and us, this will all be for our own good, or at least for the good of someone even when we can see that it is for our direct harm (such as farmers and business owners and their employees, all put out of work).

With each day we see how far from reality these models are.  They are growing increasingly thin in meeting our social, economic, and health needs.  In this model we are separated from family, friends, and neighbors.  Virtual reality turns out to be very little reality at all, highly artificial and daily less satisfying, the virtue going out of it.  Economic buffers like savings erode.  Government relief plans, based on economic models, do not seem to work anywhere near as well as the real economy did.  Educational substitutes are a joke to the students and frustration to their teachers.  Many valuable healthcare treatments are put aside, postponed to some indefinitely promised day, governed by those who control the model in which we are living.

Back to reality, as a cause for rejoicing, which should be embraced and celebrated by all, the horrific models of the future used as justifications for the models imposed upon us by our governors, are turning out to be very thin, indeed wrong.  That is great!  That means that fewer than predicted are dying, fewer are getting sick.  We are thankfully learning each day that the actual numbers used to measure the extent and effect of the flu disease have been and remain a small portion of the overall population.

Policymakers need to make policy based on facts, with a view of and concern for the whole population.  The gap between the models and reality yawns wide.  Time to let us out.

Of Generations and Economic Life

Photo by Lindy Baker on Unsplash

Consider these items, taken from one of the social media platforms that specializes in brief, non-reflective commentary:

  • The older generation has to realize that life is never going back to the way it was, that it is changing. 
  • Life is more important than economics.

Perhaps you have seen similar comments.  They are currently in fashion.  As with most silly fashions, I am tempted to ignore them and count on change to fade the fashion into fashion’s forgetfulness.  They betray such depths of ignorance, however, that I find them too hard to pass by as nothing of interest to see.  In times of panic and hysteria, even social media mobs can foment danger.

Hence, I will try a more reflective social media platform to add a few comments of my own.  I readily confess that I may be part of that “older generation.”

Beginning then with the first item, the generational point, to call it superficial is to ascribe to it too much depth.  It is intellectually vacuous.  I would suggest that the last group of people whom you need to convince that life is change is older people.  Every day they face changes, some they like, some they do not, and few that offer a chance of “going back to the way it was.”  Each new morning brings something lost, a new pain, a departed friend, a concluded experience, or a disappointment.  There are also happy changes, a new acquaintance, something accomplished, a new delightful member of the family, a wonderful discovery, a pleasant work-saving invention, inspiration, valuable experience.  Older generations cope with it all as well as any other.

That is to say, that this is not exclusive to older people.  It is, in fact, the stuff of life for all, from youngest to oldest.  We all must face change.  It is just that older people have experienced more years of life, filled with change.  I stress that there are many changes in which we rejoice, ways to which we would hate to return.  I am happy I made it through my teen years and would never wish to go back.  I am quite certain that my father had no desire to return to the two wars he had to fight.  I am grateful each day for the evolving prosperity that our society has experienced for so many decades, that so much poverty and illness have been overcome.  My grandfather died of an incurable disease that today is easily cured—he missed the discovery of the cure by just a few years.  I never had to fear it.  I still pray for a change that might have saved my mother from the illness that slowly took her to the world of spirits.  Do let us talk about change, but let it not begin with the absurd notion that one generation welcomes it and another does not.

Now to reflect a bit on the second item, that supposes a difference between life and economics.  The writer is apparently unfamiliar with economics, formed entirely from life.  It is a life science, individually and in groups.  It is an effort to understand what living people do with their lives and why, and how to find ways for living people to get more from their lives.  For hundreds of years, the evolving discoveries we call “economics” have guided people and nations to raise billions of people from poverty and fuel human interaction allowing people across the world to cooperate in expanding prosperity.  It was the living reality of economics that first destroyed the old monarchies and in recent years wrecked such anti-economic despotisms as the old Soviet Union.  The lessons learned from economics have been the transforming engine that displays the day and night difference in human welfare and freedom—life and death—between South and North Korea.

Lessons from economics, properly understood and efficiently applied, are what will allow our economy, currently in sharp decline from government policies, to revive as quickly as possible from the Great Cessation.  People want to live their lives and express their humanity by being at work, developing their talents, providing for their families, going to school, traveling, discovering, inventing, engaging in cultural activities, uplifting others, building, planting, healing, and hundreds of millions of other things—add your list to these economic activities.  Economics teaches us how to do these things in ever increasing and satisfying ways, as more people are experiencing today than ever before.  This is life.  Economics is important, because life is important.

A concluding thought, one which I would enjoy discussing with someone of whatever generation.  There are some things that do not change, and there is danger of the highest order in pretending that they do.

Of Introvert Heaven and What to Do with Extroverts

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The Introverts must be taking over the world.  Utterance from official sources is that gatherings—if they must take place at all—should be narrowly restrained.  The new limit is to be 50, tops.  Governors in states from New York to California are ordering these social curbs or yet stricter limitations.

Private sector organizations are closing their doors entirely, some with a mentioned end date, others indefinitely.  Sporting events—professional, amateur, scholastic, even clubs—have been shuttered.  The local rec center has closed its doors.  Movie theaters are locking up, voluntarily or by official order.  New movies are rescheduling their start dates or being offered on-line.  Schools, government and private, are sealed (home schoolers remain unaffected, no reports on what home scholars think of that).  The list grows by the hour.

In short, it all sounds like Introvert Heaven.  Stay home, keep inside, work on the computer, read a book, watch a cable movie, play a video game, take a walk, go for a drive, do a puzzle.  As an introvert myself, I recognize that while I would soon tire of it, the thought of solitary confinement has never held terror for me.

I ask, but what of the Extroverts?  No allowance seems to be made for them.  Being the father of both, I know that the sense of being “cooped up” comes quickly to extroverts, who draw personal energy from human interaction, the bigger the group, the better.  Sustained restrictions on access to people are not easily tolerable.  Social media can be a temporary substitute, but a poor substitute, clearly suboptimal for an extrovert, who craves face-to-face association, the more the merrier.  Suppressed long enough, they will revolt—no hyperbole.

Sporting events, theater, parties and such like were invented by and for extroverts.  Since they may make up half or more of the population (the Internet hosts a mildly interesting debate on the exact proportion), the broad assault on extroverts surely will have societal consequences, ones for which the introverts who seem to be making the rules (or who fancy themselves exempt) manifest little recognition.  Promising that the restrictions are probably for no longer than eight weeks offers little comfort to extroverts.  Neither should introverts who must live with them find therein any comfort.

Of Dead Family Members and Getting to Know Them

Some years ago a radio commentator expressed revulsion toward the popular fascination with genealogy. To make his argument short, he did not see the point. In his view all of those people are dead and gone. What do they matter?

Inasmuch as the comment was made before recent notable advances in research on gene-based hereditary diseases, we can excuse the radioman’s ignorance of how important genealogy can be to tracing the roots of many things that make us ill. At the time, however, I would have liked to relieve his ignorance of other points perhaps even more relevant and important.

In all fairness, I agree with a narrow part of his argument, his objection to the democratization of the old aristocratic practice of using genealogy to prove yourself better than someone else. Such a pitiful exercise in arrogance and pride is pointless. Given how family trees intertwine in just a few generations, there is probably nary a person of western European background who is not a descendent of Charlemagne. The story is similar for people from other parts of the world. And we are all descendants of Noah and Adam, so where are the bragging rights?

It is on his central point where the radioman’s rejection of genealogy falls to the ground. What a woeful and lonely view of man’s condition is embodied in the view that once someone dies he is forever gone! Genealogy, or more broadly speaking, family history, is founded on the belief that the dead in profound respects live on, that they do matter to us. Let me suggest three ways among many, ranked in a generally progressing order of importance.

  • The members of our family who have passed on are in many aspects part of us, beyond the shared DNA. Much in our habits, practices, language, beliefs, and our culture in general has deep roots in those who raised and taught those who raised and taught us. Most of that is probably worth retaining and cherishing, some of it in need of overcoming, but there is a rich heritage there to be discovered. Significant personal meaning can be found in the recognition that the current generation is only the leading edge of something very big that has been going on a long time.
  • As I mentioned, you do not have to do much family history research to discover that we are linked together, more connected than separate. Few genealogists can avoid the powerful realization of being part of the family of man. Our respect for humanity and for each other deepens.
  • Most important, the dead are not gone. They have merely passed from this brief state of mortality, brief for all of us, to the next state on the journey that makes up eternity. Each of us will soon be joining those who once walked where we walk. Family history is the effort to get to know them now, whom we have the privilege of knowing better for a much longer time than mortality has to offer.

Explaining the resurrection to the Sadducees, Jesus Christ reminded them that our Father is God of the living, not of the dead (Mark 12:26, 27). The mission of Jesus Christ is to provide life to all, to carry out the “work and the glory” of God, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

Jesus Christ speaks more than symbolically and beyond His own relationship when He refers to God the Father. The family relationships and ties, so precious to us now, are eternal. That means that they not only are intended to last forever, but they reach across the generations, beyond death—to generations past and future. They can be among those few precious things we take with us to the grave and beyond. That is not a vain wish of every loving husband and wife and father and mother. It is an inheritance from our Divine Father.

We can begin to build and extend and preserve those relationships here and now. Why wait?

(First published January 6, 2013)

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