Monday, April 19, 2010

It feels right!

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes a unique point about human love. It isn't hard to find oneself in the throes of romantic or obsessive affection that seems to get brighter, purer, more selfless and self-justified as time passes. This feeling is how it feels--it's an emotion, as Lewis describes, near to God in likeness, but not necessarily in approach, or proximity. Love, as an emotion, is a divine feeling, and all divine feelings reflect their source--the Lord. However, a rapturous feeling does not always draw one closer to him.

Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tend to sound as if it were the will of God himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done "for love's sake" is thereby lawful and even meritorious... [Human loves] may thus attempt to "become gods"...

Now it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best natural condition...A faithful and genuinely self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God.

We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves... but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.

Lewis reinterates often in his book that he does believe in the divinity of the feelings we feel--that they are a gift from the Lord, and that they deserve validation. However, the mere act of feeling them does not supercede the duties we have to draw closer to the Lord and avoid anything that would obstruct that goal---anything that would become a god unto itself (i.e. "I took on a mistress because we're so in love," or "I disregarded my trusted loved ones and ran away with my boyfriend because it feels so right!")

Maybe the first step in avoiding that trap is to arrest one's momentum. Passionate emotions are like spirited horses that bolt suddenly and run away with you. The scriptures don't say 'bridle your passions' for nothing. Enjoy the feelings, but put on that bridle and pull.  You're driving the chariot.  You are not the horses.

Another fitting metaphor: you've just fallen through the ice on a frozen lake. Now what? According to an expert in The Survivor's Club by Ben Sherwood, the cold doesn't kill as quickly as we think. It's the reflexive breathing shock and hyperventilation that cause us to sink quickly. So the first thing you must do is get your breathing under control. If you can steady your breathing within the first minute of falling in, you have ten minutes of muscle mobility in order to attempt a swim or pull yourself to safety. However, if you succumb to the hyperventilation, you sink.

So take a moment, after that shocking plunge, to control your breathing and regain spiritual clarity. Let no runaway emotion, however 'alike to godliness,' send you bulleting away from truth, duty, and the incomparable love of Christ. A person who really loves you will share those thrilling heavenly feelings and, by obedience to the Lord's laws, bring you closer to him.

"Nearness by likeness"... will not of itself produce "nearness of approach." Meanwhile, however, the likeness is a splendour.

--C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

Some of you may recognize this as the '2.0' version of a DVD Christmas card I handed out a few years ago. I loved the material but wanted to improve it, so here it is. This version is no longer holiday-specific. I hope you enjoy it--and share!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Three Little Pigs

My seven-year-old and I had a very enlightening discussion this morning about The Three Little Pigs. We've talked about it before, particularly the fact that the newer versions are so different from the traditional fairy tale. In the original, each of the first two pigs is pursued by the Big Bad Wolf, and after destroying its home, "He ate him up." Unable to blow down the house of the third pig, he determined to sneak down the chimney. The third pig started a pot of boiling water in the fireplace, waited for the wolf to fall in, "ate him for supper, and lived happily ever after."

The modern, more humane version has taken the danger out of the equation. The first distraught pig runs to the safety of the second pig's home. They two run to the brick house of the third pig, and in some of the more current adaptations, the wolf doesn't even attempt to come down the chimney but gives up and goes away.
So this was the topic of discussion this morning. We talked about the ramifications of civilizing a children's story in such a way. Were there any? Yes! This story was meant to be a lesson to its young readers. With the element of danger removed, so went the necessary, rational fear of it--the intended moral quality of the story.

"And the moral of this story is..." work hard, sacrifice yourself for a greater good, prepare for and protect yourself from life's hazards. If you waste the day in laziness and recreation, behaving as though nothing bad will ever happen to you, you will find yourself exposed to the bad and woefully underprepared to handle it. Do not be lulled to sleep by sunny days and flower beds. Make use of those good conditions. Build a lasting foundation for tough times ahead, and you won't have to be afraid.
Now, I certainly don't credit the alteration of a single fairy tale with the destruction of America's moral fabric, but it is a fitting microcosm. Let's see what the modernized Three Little Pigs produces in comparison.
"I have hastily thrown up a batch of straw for my house and spent the rest of the summer frivolously. A wolf showed up--a thing which I never expected! No matter, my brother has a house down the road. He'll take care of me." Repeat this process again, and we have both slothful pigs safe within the walls of their diligent brother's brick house. The wolf, not as big and bad as they thought, shrugs his shoulders and trots away to greener pastures. And the pigs throw a party.
There's another book out now called The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. In it, three cute, furry wolf pups are trying to go about their day while a mean pig keeps trying to destroy their homes. No matter how strong the building material of choice, he keeps tearing it down with various tools of destruction. In the end, the wolves construct a house of flowers. The scent so intoxicates the pig that he gives up trying to hurt them and joins them. It's most likely meant to be adorable and nothing more. Is it innocuouus, or a stamp of moral relativity impressed on young minds? Perhaps it's entertainment at the expense of enlightenment. Kind of like the unwise pigs in the age-old nursery story. Maybe even that would be a generous and forgiving assessment.

The ramifications of such an education are apparent.
"It won't be that bad. Someone will show up and take care of me." Here is a news photo captioned "Thousands still wait to be evacuated from the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, September 2, 2oo5, 5 days after Hurricane Katrina" (Reuters, David J. Phillip/Pool).

"I'm not in danger (There is no wolf, or the wolf isn't after me.)" In 1977, fire broke out at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky. A show was beginning in the Cabaret Room, crowded over capacity with 1,300 guests. Initially, leading staff advised patrons not to be concerned. The show went on as conditions worsened, until a newly-hired busboy named Walter Bailey interrupted and gave evacuation instructions. Only some of the spectators evacuated. Soon after, fire burst into the room so quickly that those still inside had no time to escape. 165 people perished, and 200 others were injured.

In her book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, Amanda Ripley hypothesizes that the failure to conceive beforehand that disaster could strike lengthens one's response time when the real thing happens. Many of these people may not have been able to believe that such a thing would occur to them. They were mentally unprepared to react quickly and rationally, and they hadn't constructed a game plan in advance. They were first lulled into security and then 'stunned in the headlights.'
The two slothful pigs may have come up with many other worthy excuses for failing to be prepared, and their cautionary tale is not for physical matters alone. We have inside information about the Big Bad Wolf, granted to us by the Lord Himself:

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
And others he will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth, all is well--and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none--and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nep. 28:20-22)

When Christ returns to the earth, he very well intends to take us by surprise.

If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I shall come upon thee. (Rev. 3:3)
...take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
For as a snare it shall come on all those that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34-36)

There is genius in many of the moral tales of old. They're fun--about interacting animals, mythical beings, royalty, and forces of nature. They're simple enough for the smallest of understandings. They impart solid, rich truth that binds firmly in the mind. And elements of them are legitimately threatening because the real enemy is legitimately threatening, and from youth, the people of earth should be made to understand it.

If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear. --D&C 38:30

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ezra Taft Benson, "Prepare for the Days of Tribulation"

Ezra Taft Benson was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration and the thirteenth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Below are some enlightening excerpts from his talk Prepare for the Days of Tribulation, given in the fall of 1980. There are also some great photographs of President Benson during the Eisenhower years.

An almost forgotten means of economic self-reliance is the home production of food. We are too accustomed to going to stores and purchasing what we need. By producing some of our food we reduce, to a great extent, the impact of inflation on our money. More importantly, we learn how to produce our own food and involve all family members in a beneficial project. No more timely counsel, I feel, has been given by President Kimball than his repeated emphasis to grow our own gardens. Here is one sample of his emphasis over the past seven years:

“We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard.” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 124).

We encourage you to be more self-reliant so that, as the Lord has declared, “notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, … the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (D&C 78:14). The Lord wants us to be independent and self-reliant because these will be days of tribulation. He has warned and forewarned us of the eventuality.

President Brigham Young said, “If you are without bread, how much wisdom can you boast, and of what real utility are your talents, if you cannot procure for yourselves and save against a day of scarcity those substances designed to sustain your natural lives?” (In Journal of Discourses, 8:68.)

"Let every man who has a garden spot, garden it; every man who owns a farm, farm it.” (President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 26.)

Too often we bask in our comfortable complacency and rationalize that the ravages of war, economic disaster, famine, and earthquake cannot happen here. Those who believe this are either not acquainted with the revelations of the Lord, or they do not believe them. Those who smugly think these calamities will not happen, that they somehow will be set aside because of the righteousness of the Saints, are deceived and will rue the day they harbored such a delusion.

The Lord has warned and forewarned us against a day of great tribulation and given us counsel, through His servants, on how we can be prepared for these difficult times. Have we heeded His counsel?

Be faithful, my brothers and sisters, to this counsel and you will be blessed—yes, the most blessed people in all the earth. You are good people. I know that. But all of us need to be better than we are. Let us be in a position so we are able to not only feed ourselves through the home production and storage, but others as well.

May God bless us to be prepared for the days which lie ahead, which may be the most severe yet. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Spring! Thoughts on planting.

Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.

-- Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1787)

I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.

-- George Washington, Response to newspaper criticisms of his presidency, as quoted in The Alumni Register of the University of Pennsylvania (1925), p.473

I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural.

--Thomas Jefferson

The first farmer was the first man. All historic nobility rests on the possession and use of land.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.

–-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Jay (Aug. 23, 1785)

Ye rigid Ploughman! bear in mind
Your labor is for future hours.
Advance! spare not! nor look behind!
Plough deep and straight with all your powers!

--Richard Hengist Horne, The Plow

Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.

--Douglas Jerrold, A Land of Plenty

Adam, well may we labour, still to dress
This garden, still to tend plant, herb, and flower.

--John Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. IX, 1.20

[In the Millennial reign of Christ] …they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.

They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.


Do not lose contact with the soil.

--Spencer W. Kimball, The True Way of Life and Salvation, Ensign, May 1978, 4

A Testimony of the Book of Mormon

I posted Elder Holland's full talk in an October posting. Here is a revision with very moving reenactment footage.

I'm sensitive to any actor who plays either Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ. Maybe it's because they're two people so dear to my heart and two who are not easily replicated. But I think the actor portraying Joseph in this video is the best likeness I've ever seen.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This Is The Christ

I made this video a little over a year ago, and it's my Easter greeting to you.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Jesus, Not Only of Calvary

I promised myself I would get back to this blog, and I am immediately going to do so. I'm happy to report I now have my very own copy of The Complete Signature Classics of C.S. Lewis. I also checked out his book The Four Loves from the library, so I'm immersed in C.S. Lewis. What a great place to be! Feel free to leave your comments.

Here's something for anyone who has ever wondered, "How can I manage some communion with heaven in the midst of all this noise?"

Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life, in itself is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions.

--The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis, introduction

I suppose this falls under the addage, "We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits having a human experience." Our model is the Savior not only as a divine being, but as the Divine enduring the natural, mundane, loud and intrusive aspects of earth life. The scriptures are full of references to his patience, temperance, endurance, forgiveness, integrity and fortitude in the face of opposition--this because he was a divine being operating in a crass physical world. Once again, he understands our predicament: life is confusing and noisy and forever banging on the doors of our souls. Every account of his earthly ministry teaches us how to handle it.

Sometimes 'handling it' means making time for quiet reflection (Matt. 14:23). Sometimes it means inviting children into our arms even after we're past exhaustion (Matt. 19:13-14). The answer could be a stern rebuke to unacceptable evil (John 2:14-16), tireless patience for the downtrodden (Matt. 4:23-24), giving or receiving chastisement (Matt. 14:29-31, Matt. 26:38-41), or frankly forgiving (Luke 23:34).

The Savior himself felt frustration, loneliness, bodily hunger and thirst, and crippling heartbreak. These things of themselves are not flaws, only feelings. And he showed by his behavior how to come through it all spiritually unscathed and ultimately healed from all wounds and cleaned of all the sins of an untoward generation (D&C 88:74-75).

As Robert Frost coined, in this existence, there is "no way out but through" (A Servant to Servants, 1914.) Christ went through. His unbreakable line we feel after and follow to emerge with him victorious.

(Painting: He Lives, by Simon Dewey)