Confession

Don’t steady the ark.  It is one of the oldest of admonitions.  There is good reason for not trying to work against God’s will and substitute your judgement for his.  And yet that has been what I have been trying to do for decades.  Judging, admonishing, pleading, and hurting trying to steady the ark.

God has his church, he has called his prophets, it is his job to fix the broken that has poisoned the church culture.  It is his job to do those things.  It isn’t mine.  My job is to come unto Him and live.  My job is to go where he wants me to go.  My covenants that I made with him were not with my bishop or my stake president.  They weren’t with any church leader or member.  My covenants were with Him.  To obey His commandments and follow His direction.  To hear him and listen to Him.

Faith bends.  Faith is the tree in the storm that won’t be moved.  Faith endures through the storms of doubt that batter it.  When the calm follows, the voice of the Lord is clear.  Serve a broken world.  Find where you fit.  Find where you are valued.  Find where the spark of your spirit is welcomed and encouraged.  Surround yourself with people who help you develop into a more Christlike version of you.

Will I serve the homeless?  The refugees?  The elderly?  The women’s shelter?  I don’t know.  I will see where I fit and find my place.  I will roll up my sleeves and serve.  I will listen to the voices that need to be heard.  I will observe God in their faces and in their lives.  I will learn compassion.

The sacking of the capital shook me to my core.  There is no doubt in my mind now that Trump and his supporters are desperate to prop up a racist, classist, and economically oppressive system.  That is what fuels the movement.  That is the motivation behind the hate, suspicion, and fear is a desperation to preserve the privilege of the few, over the voices of the many.  It isn’t so simple as my words suggest.  Most of Trump’s supporters are not powerful or privileged.  The forces at work in the movement of Trumpism are complex and many faceted and everyone is accountable to God for their choices during this period of social and political upheaval.  As for me, I have sinned.

The conservative talking points that used to resonate with me make me feel ashamed now.  They were the thin veneer I used to protect myself from the reality that I have ignored and neglected my duty to hear and understand the voices of those who suffer.  My eyes have turned away from George Floyd and his people who suffer in a broken world that has hurt them and continues to hurt them.  I’ve listened to voices of people who have told me what I wanted to hear and not the ones I needed to hear.

I have lived in Texas for fourteen years and yet I have only two black people I would call friends.  I know so little about their stories it’s embarrassing.  I make excuses.  I’m a busy mom with many responsibilities.  I have fragile mental health and I might not be able to handle the suffering of others.  I make these excuses while trying to fit into a world of white privilege I want the acceptance of. Outwardly I have worshiped Jesus Christ, but inwardly I worshiped an idol of gold.

This is my fault alone.  I have stumbled around with a beam in my eye while trying to cast out the motes in the eyes of others.  I’ve judged unrighteously.  I’ve sinned.  God will judge Trump’s supporters.  In judging them, I hoped to shame them into repentance.  That isn’t the Lord’s way.

At the same time, I cannot worship with them.  I cannot go to the temples and churches where they worship.  My soul is grieved as my illusions have been stripped away and I see the sin that has festered there; the worship of money and power, the craving for the honors of men, the closing of my ears to the suffering.  I have condemned Trump vehemently for the sins that I saw reflected from me in his privileged face.  I cannot surround myself with those who excuse and encourage that sin in me.

My writing may seem confusing and contradictory to some.  How can I condemn Trump supporters while at the same time repent of condemning them?  What I have learned in my suffering and my prayers is that the reason I fought Trumpism so hard, the reason I preached and posted for the last five years was because I was trying to protect myself from the sin of Trumpism that still resided in my own heart; the need to believe that my conservative beliefs are righteous at their core.  Since I have purged the sin, I no longer feel that urge to fix Trump’s supporters.  I’m not one of them anymore.  I don’t have to “cleanse the inner vessel” because after seeing my own sin, confessing it, and forsaking it, I know that I am nothing like those who defiled the capital or those who make excuses for them.  They have their path.  I can stop trying to fix them.  I can stop trying to steady the ark.  I can stop trying to worship with them.  They aren’t my people.

My people are the downtrodden and the lonely.  My people are the abused and the mistreated.  My people are the suffering that don’t fit and don’t belong.  Its time for me to join my people, not in temples with soft chairs and glorious chandeliers, or catered parties, or in fine clothing.  I don’t judge those who have chosen a different path, but they aren’t my people.  My people are in the places of suffering.  God wants me to worship with them.  To pray with them.  To suffer with them.  I didn’t want to before because I was afraid of the darkness.  I didn’t think Christ was enough to help me bare the burdens.  Through suffering, my heart is drawn to Him.  He is enough.  He is mighty to save.

For those who have prayed for me, I thank you for your prayers.  For those whom I have judged, I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  God only knows what is in your heart.  He will judge between me and thee.  I pray that God will make me a better witness.  I lay my sins at his feet.  I promise to put Him at the center of my heart and purge myself of the false gods I have worshiped in the past.

Cave Paintings

Photo by Don Pinnock on Unsplash

The trauma of this year is pretty intense.  A lot of the writing I’ve done on this blog has been about processing “little t traumas” from my past and modeling some thinking strategies that I use in my journaling to keep my past hurts from getting in the way of my present and future opportunities and joy.  Because of the ever present trauma of the pandemic and related disasters in the present, I get overwhelmed when I try to process it.  That makes me feel blocked as a writer and that’s part of the reason why I haven’t posted much recently.  I just can’t process the trauma right now or I won’t be able to function as a mother to my kids and do what I need to do to just survive this moment.

That’s okay.  Getting through the trauma is what is important right now.  The brain compartmentalizes and represses trauma for a reason.  There is a time and place for healthy emotional processing and it usually isn’t in the moment we are going through the trauma.  I have been journaling, but a lot of it is pretty dark.  I read through my last post and it is pretty dark.  I end up feeling worse after I write sometimes and that really isn’t very helpful right now.  What I have found has been very helpful is to zoom in to the present moment, focus on the beauty and joy in small and simple things, and explore my creativity in new ways.

I realize that not everyone has access to the time and resources needed to create the things I will discuss and demonstrate in these blog posts. (I plan to do several). My intent with these posts is simply to give you some ideas for integrating some regenerative creative projects into your lives that might help you cope with life right now.  Hopefully you can tailor these ideas to your own needs and constraints.

Most of us live our lives immersed in creativity.  We watch T.V. and movies where performers act, sing, and dance.  We walk past sculptures, live, work, and shop in architectural creations.  We listen to songs on the radio or streaming service.  Seldom do we consider that we are capable of actually creating ourselves.  The brave and expressive among us may sing in the shower or as we drive while listening to our favorite songs.  Maybe some may even join a community or church choir.  Some may paint, draw, write or do crafts, but afraid of being judged or criticised, they don’t share their work.  

I’ve come to the conclusion that we have created a society in which we are consumers of art and yet not creators of it.  We have outsourced our creative duties to a selective restricted few who are judged by the free market or those with means to have the kind of expression that is worth amplifying.  The rest of us become the passive recipients of mass produced art that doesn’t really have much soul in it.  This phenomenon leads to a kind of emptiness in our society in which we feel disengaged and uninvested.  This disengagement can fuel mental health problems, lethargy, cynicism, and as we’ve seen with the rise of populism around the world, leave us vulnerable to the flattery and lies of a demagogue.

I have a vision of a society that is saturated with art.  I have a vision of every man, woman, and child having the opportunity to have their own creative expressions heard, seen, and valued. Bob Ross, that cultural icon of painting, inspired millions of people as he shared his talent with all of us.  He was no Picaso.  That didn’t matter.  He could make beautiful paintings and he believed that you could too.  How many lives are more fulfilled because he shared?  Social media, with all its problems, has become the ideal medium for artists to share their work.  Pinterest is a gold mine of artistic inspiration.  Facebook allows artists to share with friends and family, or join groups where artists share tips and tricks.  TicTok has small videos of bite sized inspiration.  

As a mom, I’ve tried to inject some of these artists and their work into my sons’ online diet.  Often art is considered a girl thing, so finding Bobby Duke Arts YouTube channel was a Godsend for teaching my sons that creativity and art are for men and boys too.  Here are some links to my favorite Bobby Duke videos.

https://youtu.be/2iZmLUHiASI Majora’s Mask

https://youtu.be/O5au9HWjKFM Thor’s Axe 

Bobby Duke has teamed up with various other online artists who have created and inspired creative instincts in millions who watch their videos.  With a few inexpensive tools and a lot of guts, you can make some pretty incredible things!  Here are some other videos I have watched with my boys.

https://youtu.be/xC6J4T_hUKg Lightsaber build

https://youtu.be/u2sSSZDZ-SA Wood dress 

https://youtu.be/ALbt17LLH54 Link sculpture

Metalwork, woodwork, stonework are all very appealing to my sons who love working with power tools.  The other day my oldest son decided he didn’t like how the attachment to his Nerf Gun worked.  He decided he could reengineer the attachment to work better.  His dad helped him use the saw to remove the attachment and after he had removed the screws, he had it in pieces and ready to reinvent.  I loved the expression on his face when he proudly showed me his stripped down Nerf part.  Yes, it’s messy.  No, he probably won’t be as successful as he hopes he will be.  Yes, he will learn a lot about taking risks and using his mind and creative power.

It’s human nature to be focused on the outcome.  “What will I make?  Will it be valuable?  Can I sell it?  Will my efforts be worth it?  What if all I make is junk?”  What I have learned as an artist is that when I focus on the process and not the product, I make better art.  I let my heart and soul tell me what medium to use.  Maybe it will be something new.  Maybe it will be something old and familiar.  Maybe I will try to make something original, or maybe I’ll copy someone else’s work.  Maybe I’ll just pull out an adult coloring book if nothing is coming to me.  The product doesn’t really matter.  It’s the process.  Whether people appreciate what I make doesn’t matter. 

One of my most consistent sources of inspiration is ancient cave artists.  Everytime I think I don’t have the right tools to make art or I don’t have enough talent to make something meaningful, I think of those ancient cave painters.  They had poor light, crude materials, a difficult surface, little to no training, and very little leisure time.  Yet they created.  They took the time to express their experiences and they are beautiful.  If they can make art, so can I.  Art is not a zero sum game.  There isn’t a limited amount of talent or ideas in the universe.  God is an endless source of inspiration.  He waits for you to muster the faith in yourself to actually make the effort to express.  Once you do, he will provide you with the tools and opportunities you need.  Focus on producing quantity, not quality.  When you finish a pad of art paper, celebrate!  When you use up your paints or chalks, pat yourself on the back.  Eventually, you will make something that you can’t stop looking at.  You will fall in love with it because it is the concrete representation of God within you; unique, divine, and fascinating.  It won’t be perfect, because art never is.  The flaws will be beautiful too.

After Much Tribulation

It has been almost a month since I have posted here. I hope and pray you are all healthy and have food to eat. I’ve been conflicted about sharing my anxieties with you at this time because it is such a difficult moment for everyone. I would never want to cast burdens upon your shoulders when you are already carrying so much. Still, when we all hold our emotions inside afraid to share, we miss out on the opportunity to comfort one another in trials. We also deprive ourselves of sharing those glorious moments of triumph that happen after much tribulation.

This moment in history is astoundingly significant. Every day the headlines paint the dangerous crises of the pandemic, the mental health consequences of the pandemic, the political convulsions, the economic devastation. Even on the local level, there is no sense of safety. Our ICU capacity is at 94% in Tarrant County. Over forty percent of the beds are Covid patients, almost double the number that there were just weeks ago. There are only 18 remaining ICU beds in the whole county.

And people got together for Thanksgiving. Today is two weeks since Thanksgiving, so people who were exposed over the holiday are now sick enough to possibly need hospitalization. Hospitals are preparing for the inevitable surge of cases. A seventeen year old boy in our county died yesterday from the virus. It is really horrible to hear about elderly people who lived a long and full life and deserved to die with family and friends beside them and a beautiful funeral to honor their memory, die alone and buried with no funeral and no closure for grieving families. It is a whole different layer of horror to see a life snuffed out that was just beginning. Such a death is not just loss of life, but the death of experiences that might have been; relationships that never will be; a hole that cannot be filled. I can’t imagine the shock and despair if I lost one of my sons to this virus. Such a preventable and senseless death! Only a few more months and the pandemic will likely be finished, yet the callous indifference of so many will be remembered.

Over three thousand Americans died from the virus yesterday.  It is the most deaths from a virus in one day ever recorded in American history.  My county medical examiner’s office has now installed refrigerated trucks outside the office to accommodate the accumulation of bodies.  And yet there are people even now who minimize this virus.  They insist that adherence to public health measures is cowardly and submissive and misguided.  They take risks insisting that they alone are affected by their irresponsible choices.  They proudly cut and paste crafty rationalization messages into their Facebook feeds where they sit as a silent witness of their own moral degradation.  They are members of the church, they are contributing members of the community.  They are otherwise decent moral people, and yet there is a rot within.

And the rot expresses in other ways as well.  Two days ago the Texas attorney general Ken Paxton filed suit against Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  His argument is that as Texas voters have an interest in the outcome of the election, they have an interest in making sure that other states do their due diligence to ensure that their presidential election was valid.  He alleges that because these four states made changes to their voting processes shortly before the election, that their election lacks credibility.  He ignores the obvious reality of the pandemic and the massive health risks that would increase with the gathering of massive numbers of Americans to vote indoors as is the typical process.  His argument would have merit if the pandemic was a hoax as many believe it to be.  If swing states had made last minute changes to their voting process a month before the election for no apparent reason, that would appear suspicious.  But to ignore the entire pandemic is disingenuous and dangerous as there are so many Americans who are not taking it seriously as it is.

If that were the end of it, it would be bad enough.  Unfortunately, eighteen other state’s attorneys general have added themselves as plaintiffs to this case.  This is perhaps the most disturbing thing to come out of the last horrible five weeks.  Instead of standing behind our lawful election that was handled with remarkable efficacy in unprecedented circumstances, these seditious Americans have abased themselves to the will of a lawless mob in support of an authoritarian demagogue.  That they have so much popular support, that they have achieved one of the highest places of law enforcement in the nation, that they have rejected law and order to attach themselves to this shameless attempt to overturn the will of the people is appalling.  It is sedition.  It is a rebellion against the core of our constitutional process in slavish devotion to a man who cares nothing for the welfare of the nation as he has demonstrated numerous times throughout his presidency.  

The electors of all the swing states have been certified.  The President’s attempts to persuade state legislatures to disenfranchise their voters and force his will upon the state elections has failed.  Likewise, lawsuits attempting to discredit the results of the election have failed.  I believe Georgia has conducted four recounts, all of which the President has lost.  This suit, which is essentially civil war by court, is the last (hopefully the last) desperate attempt of the President to avoid the consequences of his disastrous leadership decisions.

I assume the Supreme Court will refuse to hear this case.  I understand that five justices must agree that the case warrants a hearing before it will be taken up.  It is highly unlikely that even if Trump’s nominees advocate for him, that two other justices will go along.  Justices Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch are unlikely to even try to side with the President on this as it is so unlikely to succeed.  They would waste valuable reputational capital for no gain other than to please the rabid mob supporting this sedition.

So on the one hand, we have a right-wing authoritarian mob defying public health officials in a deadly pandemic and trying to overturn a lawful election in favor of an incompetent demagogue.  On the other hand, we have a left-wing mob obsessed with identity politics and ambivalent about our founding principles alleging that our entire justice system is based in racial suppression and demanding vast entitlements from the public treasury which is already vastly overdrawn.  Almost half of Americans believe that Joe Biden somehow stole the election from Donald Trump.  It is in these desperate circumstances that we find ourselves.  

How do we come back from this?  I was talking to my oldest son the other night for hours.  At fifteen, his brain has developed considerably in the last year or two.  We have managed to coax his cynical mask of indifference to fall from time to time in which he reveals insights, moral reasoning, and a raw energy that gives me hope that perhaps his generation will lead us away from the abyss.  This conversation, and the anticipation of more like it, have done so much to comfort me and ease my anxiety.

In fifteen years of imperfect parenting, it is miraculous to see the merciful hand of the Lord.  My son.  My beautiful son is growing up and becoming a remarkable, reflective, insightful young man!  I have preached for years with evangelical zeal about our nation and the genius of the constitution, American exceptionalism and our unique place in the world, and the importance of preserving our institutions for future generations.  It has seemed to fall on indifferent ears.  The other night, after discussing a seemingly unrelated line of thinking, he announced, “God really did inspire the constitution.  There is no other way it could have been created.”  This is the first time I have heard him talk about God with some amount of reverence in almost a year.

Looking back on the journey we have taken as a family, the tribulations we have experienced, the many hours in counselor’s offices, the failing grades, the endless stress of political and public health issues, and the exhausting toll of everyday life, I can finally see some sense of purpose in it.  My efforts have made a difference.

Today I dressed my youngest son and then realized that one of his top buttons was missing.  I was supposed to dress him in his Christmas best for the preschool Christmas program, but we were already late and I decided not to change it.  I didn’t forget anything today.  His water bottle, his lunch, his Covid screening paper; I remembered it all, but there was being late, and the button.  My mind ruminated on Christmas gifts I hadn’t bought yet, packages unsent, and how I had been inconsiderate to a friend.  I will never live a perfect life.  There will always be buttons missing, late arrivals, and mistakes made.  I don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.  The Savior will make up the difference.

It’s tempting to think of Him as swooping in on some dramatic global scale to rescue the righteous; but when I ponder on the miracle of my son, the answer to so many heartfelt prayers, and the wonder of watching a human soul take it’s journey into adulthood, I see His face.  He makes me enough.  He rescues my son, forgives me of my parental sins, and redeems us both.  Blessed be the name of the Most High God!

Nations will rise and nations will fall. Power will change hands. Men will corrupt themselves and one another with lies and sedition. The innocent will suffer. But the Savior can turn all these things to good. The wicked will not always profit from their sins. If we remain faithful to Him and hold fast to the truth that is within us, we will not fail and He will never abandon His people.

The Time that is Given to Us

Photo by Nikhil Prasad on Unsplash

There are thoughts swirling in my head like fire ants when their mound is stomped on.  I can hardly keep the anxiety at bay for long enough to write.  I pray that I can produce something that might be helpful for my readers during an especially chaotic and trying time for everyone.

My oldest son was put in quarantine.  He is now failing multiple classes because remote school doesn’t work well for him and we are having technical problems.  I am calling and emailing teachers and administrators and that is not in my comfort zone. My youngest son and I are unable to attend or teach preschool while he is in quarantine, so that makes it even harder.  With the case count rising so dramatically, we may not end up going back to school until next year.  Several of my friends and family are either battling with illness or grieving for those who are. I have two good friends from high school whose fathers have passed away. My prayer list is very long.

Good news is, there are many things to be grateful for.  In spite of being exposed to the virus, my son is healthy and has no symptoms of infection. The weather is beautiful, my candidate won the presidential election, the research and treatments for the virus are improving, and a vaccine is coming soon.  There is food in my cupboards and a roof over my head.  I can still speak out and advocate for peace.  I am listening to audiobooks and podcasts and feel my mind growing and expanding like never before.  

Even so, I have deep concerns about the extremism that has taken root in the Republican Party.  The right wing authoritarian wing of the party has taken control.  They are more dangerous than ever.  The President and many of his supporters in the party, even within the Senate, have publicly made allegations of fraud in the election in multiple states.  I have never seen such outlandish claims given such high profile credibility.  Even though their party made gains in down ballot races, many Republicans are adamant that the presidential votes were tampered with.  These claims about the validity of our elections have influenced public opinion greatly within the party.  Seventy percent of the party members believe that the election had widespread voter fraud.  Many millions do not believe Joe Biden won the election, even though experts say the result is clear and most foreign governments have called to congratulate the President-elect.  The Secretary of State Mike Pomeo has even stated on global TV that they are preparing for a second Trump administration.  

This division over the election results will further fuel extremism and polarization.  The destabilization caused by the ongoing pandemic will only make it worse.  Unless we are able to come together on the principles of our founding, the American experiment will fail.  The threat from Donald Trump will continue as the Democrats are tempted to abuse their new power, Donald Trump likely announces his candidacy for a 2024 presidential race, and the cable news networks continue to profit on division.  Donald Trump will claim political persecution as he has in the past.  He will hold the Republican Party hostage with his loyal following that makes up a sizable percentage of the party.  Worn down from years of scandal and compromise, the Republicans will not fight back.  They know that they would lose any power they have left if Trump ran as an independent and split the ticket.  Our only hope lies in a Democratic Party battling with its own authoritarian factions and led by the oldest President America has ever elected.

I have prayed to know what the Lord would have me do.  I have been led to many helpful resources.  One is an audiobook that has helped give me strategies to help de-escalate political discussions and bring down the temperature when arguments get heated.  It is called, How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced relationship strain with the cultural convulsions of current events.  We must reach out to all those at risk of being radicalized so that they know they have a choice.  

To my friends who are confused and afraid, I say, you aren’t alone.  Like Gandalf said in the Lord of the Rings when Frodo despaired.  

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We have the knowledge and skills that we have.  We have the courage and faith that we have.  We must hope that it is enough for what the current circumstances require.  I have sufficient faith to believe that God’s grace will be adequate for us.  It will be difficult and we will be asked to give more than we think we can.  Those of us who strive for peace and refuse to submit to lies and tyranny will not be overcome.  The persecutions we endure will only make our victory that much more meaningful.  We are on the right side.  Compassion and truth will win the day.

The Fruit of the Poisoned Tree; a Political Allegory

Photo by yue su on Unsplash

Once there was a village of poor people.  They were ordinary people, but there was one son among them that was quite clever.  He started growing an orchard with the lofty goal of making the perfect fruit that could be made into anything.  Decades he worked and tested his fruit, each generation of trees produced better fruit until he could produce none better.  He gathered the pits from the fruit of his best tree, and planted a massive orchard.  He and the other villagers carefully grafted and nurtured the trees, and by the time the clever man died, the entire village was full to bursting with fruit from the orchard.  

There was only one flaw with the fruit, which compared with its usefulness, was hardly a flaw at all.  The pit was deadly poison.  The villagers didn’t mind because they just ate and used the flesh of the fruit and buried the pits in a landfill outside of town.  The squirrels and other scavengers that made their homes near the landfill gorged themselves on the pits.  Many animals died, but the ones that survived became immune to the poisoned pits.   They scattered the seeds around the kingdom and scrubby seedlings grew from the pits.  Without proper care and nurturing, the trees that grew from the pits were a nuisance.  The neighboring villages were irritated with the orchard because of the scrubby saplings and they didn’t like it at first, but after a while, they were astonished, because the orchard and the fruit had transformed the town.

The miraculous fruit truly could be made into anything.  The villagers busied themselves day and night harvesting the fruit.  They put up big lamps so that they could take it in shifts to care for the trees of the orchard and harvest the fruits around the clock every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year.  Their children and their children’s children tended the trees and harvested the fruit.

After several decades, the village had created a wide assortment of clothing, including invisibility cloaks, exotic looking furs and capes, colorful and chic shoes. People came from neighboring villages to barter for the fantastic creations.  They made teleportation devices to make trade easier with the outside world. They built beanstalks that reached to the clouds where they built grand houses out of clouds.  The pillows and mattresses in the clouds were so soft and so comfortable, that the villagers, when they weren’t working in the orchard, had perfect nights of sleep, with perfect dreams.  

They shared the secrets of their orchard with neighboring villages.  Those villages grew their own orchards with the magical amazing fruit.  And the landfills bulged with the poisoned pits, and the streams were polluted as the pits rotted in their fetid graveyards, but the villagers just made water filters to clean their water.  They couldn’t be troubled with the pits and the poison.  In fact, they couldn’t really be troubled with caring for the orchard so much anymore.  They were too busy climbing their beanstalks, napping in their perfect beds, and dreaming their perfect dreams.  The fruit and the trees didn’t seem to be so important anymore. They didn’t need the fruit so much because they had already used it to make everything they wanted and needed.

One day the wealthiest and cleverest man of the village who had become the mayor teleported to a far away land. The people complained to him about the landfill and the poisoned pits. Wearing his finest clothing, made from the fruit of the tree, riding in a fine carriage, made from the fruit of the tree, he rode out to the landfill which was full of dead animals, poisoned water, and rotting pits. He took a camera, made from the fruit of the tree, and took pictures of the awful scene. For years he talked about what he had seen. Their orchard was poisoning the kingdom.  “You have been  eating the fruit of the poisoned tree,” he warned them.  “You have to clean up the messes you’ve made,” he scolded them. And so the villagers no longer cared for the trees at all.  In fact, they despised the trees and their parents and grandparents who had planted them.  “What good is all this fruit anyway?” they asked contemptuously.  “Its just the fruit of the poisoned tree,” they reasoned.  Instead of growing the fruit, they focused on cleaning the poisoned water and the lands that had been polluted by the rotting pits.  

The children of the villagers began to be angry.  “Why had the village planted all these poisonous trees!”  They railed and they ranted and they screamed at their parents because they were tired of cleaning up the messes.  The mayor tried to calm the children.  He tried to explain that the trees were not poison, just the pits were poisoned, but the children would not listen.  Some of the parents were angry at the children because they didn’t appreciate the trees and the fruit.  They elected a new mayor. 

The new mayor said that the old mayor was wrong.  “There is nothing wrong with the trees or the fruit,” he insisted.  He called the former mayor all kinds of awful names and his supporters cheered.  He invited all his supporters to a big party where he stood in front of them.  “See,” he explained to raucous applause, “This fruit is so great.  It’s the best fruit in the whole world.  There is nothing wrong with it at all.”  The man seemed to swell in size until he swallowed up the whole village, and the surrounding village, and then the whole world.  “See what the fruit can do,” he said as everyone gasped in horror, “and he swallowed the fruit whole.  Nothing seemed to happen to him, except his face seemed to shine with a sinister glow.  The mayor and his supporters didn’t know that it would take a few minutes for the poison to cause symptoms.  Emboldened by his rash act, the villagers imitated their leader.  They stuffed whole pieces of fruit into their mouths as quickly as they could.  Their mouths were stained with the juice of the fruit, and they laughed and cheered at one another as they rejoiced in the fruit and the boldness of their mayor.  

But then a hush fell over the village.  They began feeling the effects of the poison.  Some began vomiting violently.  Fetid pools of vomit began forming around the sick people.  The stench of the poisoned vomit surrounded the party goers like a mushroom cloud.  Others turned a sickly shade of orange and lay on the ground moaning.  Gradually the villagers died a slow and painful death.  Their mayor, so large before, was nowhere to be seen.  Only death could deliver them from their pain.

And the children were angry. They took torches and stormed into the orchard and burned every tree.  They took the fruit that had been stored and created massive ovens. Then they gathered all the fruit that had been so carefully stored, and they incinerated it in the ovens.  They dug up the roots of the trees out of the earth and incinerated them too.  But still the anger of the children could not be sated.  They chanted, “Down with the poisoned trees!” and “Death to the fruit of the poisoned tree!”

The grief of the village was overwhelming as they buried the bodies of their friends and countrymen who had consumed the poisoned pits.  They cleaned up the mess, and life went pretty much back to normal, but without the fruit of the trees, the village began to gradually fall into disrepair.  The beanstalks fell to the ground and the people could no longer climb to their homes with the perfect beds and perfect pillows to dream their perfect dreams.  They instead made huts of mud and what sticks they could find from the trees they had destroyed.  Their teleportation devices stopped teleporting them.  They lost contact with the other villages who still had orchards.  The people remembered how many good things the fruit had done for them, and they were sad that they had burned the trees, but it was too late to undo what was done and much was lost that would never be recovered..  

Song of Simon

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Donald Trump is at Walter Reed hospital with the coronavirus.  It was the October surprise that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  I guess I just assumed that the secret service would protect him from the virus, just like they would protect him from other threats.  The thought that something so small and so preventable could have brought our nation to this place makes me feel despondent.  As I’ve prayed for him and for the country, I have felt so much grief.  

I think living in a state of quasi-outrage has allowed me to keep the grief at bay.  It’s harder to be angry at a man hospitalized with a potentially deadly illness.  Without the protection of adrenaline fueled anger, I am forced to look around me at the devastation.  There is so much hate and so much division and so much sickness and death.  My heart breaks.  I can’t keep the waves of disappointment and despair from flooding over me.

But the Master can and will rescue me.  I will rise out of my depression to fight another day.  I pray for civility.  I pray for compassion.  I pray for decency unfeigned.  I pray for hearts turned to the common welfare and away from temporary pleasures.  I pray for engaged citizens who study the issues and listen to dissenting voices; who seek to persuade rather than force their fellow citizens.  I pray for leaders who humble themselves and obey the oaths they have sworn before God.  

But the people are full of contention and pride.  They will not repent even when the sword of God’s justice hangs over them. Masses of Trump’s supporters have gathered in places like Staten Island to show their loyalty.  Most of them are partially masked or unmasked.   Instead of learning from their leader’s folly, they cast the blame onto his enemies and then wage war against safety and reason.  

The political left seems increasingly hostile to religious people and religion in general.  They still seem unaware of their own role in the creation of Trump.  That role was less obvious than the Republicans’ role, but the rise of populist demagogues is fueled by disaffected people.  The left has done little to show that it is willing to see and hear these disaffected people once Trump is gone.  I pray that Joe Biden, assuming he wins this election, will have the character and skill to build sufficient trust with the right to heal our divisions.  The temptation to get revenge or to abuse power the way Trump has will be great on the left, especially if they win next month in a way that gives them large amounts of power.  The polls are indicating that there is going to be an enormous political shift, not just on the federal level, but also on the state and local level.  Trump’s illness is likely to greatly impact his ability to campaign in the weeks before the election, making a Biden victory nearly certain.  Of course, he could also end up recovering miraculously, fueling a resurrection/miracle narrative that will propel him to another term.  

My mind keeps returning to The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.  We elected Jack, cruel and dictatorial, drawing people in with his promises of power and then enslaving them.  We have neglected the fire of liberty and the Master who gave it to us to guard.  We were supposed to guard the fire.  Now we are watching the death of Piggy, our rationality and intellect.  Ralph, symbolizing the last vestiges of civilization and democracy, is alone and exposed.

But there will be no rescue from the British Navy.  If we are to be saved, we will have to save ourselves.  We need to humble ourselves and turn to our values again.  Instead of holding the flag and the bible as props in a self inflicted culture war, we must put down our weapons and do some introspection.  What has brought us to this place?  How can we fix broken things for our children and our grandchildren?  They deserve better.

Those of us who love the constitution and seek to preserve it need to come together.  We need to build bridges of trust between the factions of our political body if we are to be saved.  That requires us all to humble ourselves.  Even those of us who are the disciples of Christ need to realize that all of God’s children of all faiths are valuable to him, and that we have much to learn from every culture on the planet.  Cultural and religious myopia blinds us to what God would have us learn and the bonds he would have us create.

It has been seven months since my son’s preschool closed.  He starts this week.  Hopefully I  will be able to write more frequently than I have lately now that he will be in school again.  I hope all of you are healthy and safe.  If not, I pray you will return to full health soon.  May the comforting power of Christ rest upon all of us at this chaotic moment!  

I Love You

Current events have me tied in knots.  The looming election, the fires, the hurricanes, the pandemic, the economic uncertainty, and the endless tangle of controversial issues that seem to multiply by the day, swirl in my mind creating chaos and lack of focus.  Perhaps many of you are feeling the same.  I have pondered and prayed to know what to do and how best to help my nation in her hour of need.  I feel as inadequate as the widow surely did as she dropped her penny at the temple in the Savior’s time.  Still, the Savior recognized it as her sacrifice of everything she had.  So I give to you, everything I have.  Just a blog post, a small penny that I pray God may multiply as he did the loaves and fishes that it may sustain and comfort you, my friends.  I usually post only to a select group of trusted friends, but today I enlarge that group to include everyone on my Facebook friend list. I ask you to please be kind and respectful as I’ve put myself at your mercy.

I grew up in rural Idaho to devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I was baptised two weeks after my eighth birthday.  I attended seminary.  I went to church every week with my family.  I went to Ricks College and took religion classes.  Later, I attended institute.  My parents have served in many callings in the church over the years.  Their parents were perhaps a little less faithful, but not by much.  My grandpa swore quite a bit and there was a time when he didn’t go to church, I’ve been told.  My grandma and grandpa on the other side of my family fell out of church activity later in life because of health problems primarily.  Still, I’ve always considered myself and my family to be very “churchy.”  In spite of that, I don’t feel a lot of love in my family.  

My family of origin is fractured and estranged.  My parents have rejected me and my sister on a very basic level and although it isn’t all that surprising if you know them well, it does lead to all kinds of questions.  If the church is true, why didn’t my parents learn to love me unconditionally?  Isn’t that what a community of disciples of Christ are supposed to teach one another?  If we have the ordinances of salvation and we have the priesthood, but we don’t have charity, what good do they do us?  Isn’t it all just sounding brass?

Then I think of how rare charity seems to be.  Is it reasonable to expect people to have it?  Is it reasonable even to expect leaders in the church, community, and nation to have it?  Isn’t that a high bar?  The thing about charity is that it’s contagious.  If someone taps into the pure love of Christ, it becomes a wellspring of love that feeds many.  Those who are fed are able to give it to others.  It has to start somewhere though. The lack of charity is catastrophic to civilization.  It is the lifeblood of healthy human interaction. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect others to have it, but when we see a systematic decrease of charity in our society, we are right to be concerned.

How is charity developed?  Biologically, parenthood gives us an advantage in the growth of charity.  It is easier to love our children unconditionally because we are biologically predisposed to do it.  Society also fosters and demands a level of care for our children.  That further invests us in their wellbeing.  As I’ve observed my parenting of my children as they get older, I’ve noticed that as they become more independent I have to be more proactive in my charity.  They are less likely as they get older to ask for things, or if they do, they often ask for them in indirect and problematic ways.  Basically, it takes a little more effort to foster charity with an older child.  I imagine that as my children get more independent, they may grow away from me as I have with my parents.  It may be even more difficult to keep that charity alive.

So what happens, as has happened with my parents, when the parents decide that the child is not worthy of love anymore?  They no longer foster that charity that seeks to understand, repent, and love unconditionally?  In their defense, such charity is painful, especially when the object of your love is in pain or inflicts pain on you intentionally or not.  On the reverse side, what of the parent who continues to love unconditionally even when it is extremely painful and troublesome?  What if that parent engages in painful and difficult self-reflection and repentance to heal wounds and correct mistakes made however seemingly small?  Is that love not stronger than the cords of death?  Isn’t that love the powerful kind that will seal and connect the generations together, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers throughout all time and eternity?  The entire plan of salvation is based in this love.  

Basically, charity is ideally fostered and developed in the family and then out of abundance it flows to others.  Those who are loved can love others more easily both within their family and without.  I wonder sometimes if we lose sight of the importance of charity.  It is, quite literally, the foundation of our entire civilization.  What could be more vital than to encourage this virtue?  What could possibly dissuade us from spreading this pure love of Christ to everyone?  Do we care too much about our own image, our own prospects of failure?  Perhaps rather than referring to “we” I should say more directly, “me.”  Do I care so much about how others see me and the prospects of failure that I discount the more important virtues I possess that are badly needed even if they are not valued as they should be?

So how do I fit in a world that is increasingly uninterested in developing charity?  A world that seems evermore cynical and combative?  As I considered my interactions with others at my son’s school, the passing of other cars on the road, the give and take that must happen in society every day to make it all work; and I thought, civility is everything.  The willingness to hold a door, to forgive a mistake, to offer a smile of encouragement or a word of praise; these things make it all work.  They are the small and simple things that bring to pass that which is great.

As social media disrobes us all, it is more difficult to have charity.  How can I love a Trump supporter, an anti-vaxxer, a climate denier, an elite snob, a MSM watching sheep, a liberal, a Trump hater?  How can we love those we really know?  How can we extend the hand of fellowship to those whose beliefs we find abhorrent and dangerous?  I don’t have the answers to these questions except to say that our modern world is inviting us to have more love, more compassion, and more civility.  If we don’t accept this invitation to develop more, I fear we will lose even that which we have.  If we continue on a path of trying to force others to be something they aren’t or do what they don’t want to do rather than use understanding and persuasion we will pay the price.

The good news is, that the light of charity shines even brighter in dark times.  When love is needed most, it is appreciated most.  Jesus Christ stands ever willing and able to give us that love that will save us.  It takes humility, it takes repentance, it takes faith and hope, but it is there.

To those Trump supporters who feel marginalized and out of step with a politically correct world of shifting values, I love you.  To the closetted Democrat member of my church who cringes when the conversation shifts to how evil Hillary Clinton is, I love you.  To those who have heaps of degrees and honors of men who look down on others who have been less fortunate, I love you.  To those who have hatred and malice in their hearts and desire to burn and destroy and subject others, I love you.  To those who feel they don’t fit and don’t belong and will never be accepted for who they are, I love you.  To those who have rejected, hurt, and judged me, I love you. To those who sin, no matter what your sins are, I love you.  I don’t love you perfectly.  I don’t love you always.  I’m not perfect either, but I promise you, I will love you like I love my own children.  I will never give up on you.  When I get cynical and discouraged, when I become weary in well-doing, when I indulge in self-pity or pride, I promise to repent and partake again of that living water that the Savior provides in endless supply.  Our world needs charity.  More than we need votes.  More than we need truthful and trusted news sources.  More than we need healthcare and education.  More than we need guns.  More than we need the right supreme court justices. More than we need solutions for climate change. We need charity.

I am grateful to my Savior who sustains me when I am unable to go on.  He loves me when I am unlovable and forgives my fallen weakness.  When my soul cries out, he is there to comfort me.  Blessed be the name of the Master I serve.  In Him will I place my trust forever.  His love will never fail.

Power Unseen

May Our Eyes Behold Your Return in Mercy to Zion By Ephraim Moses Lilien – Milwaukee Jewish Artist’s Laboratory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22895265

I was looking at photos of my life a year ago.  In some ways the images of primary children, MCO rehearsals, first day of school poses, and date nights at the restaurant seem like they are from another planet.  A year ago, a sense of normal was only broken when I read news reports of a chaotic president and a tumultuous Democratic primary nomination process.  I could set the news aside and imagine that the world was going to be okay.  Now the anxiety I only had premonitions of a year ago, is a daily dystopian reality.  Our nation is populated with socially distanced and masked people who radiate the fear and uncertainty of an unprecedented national disaster in which the only way America seems to be first, is in the number of infections and deaths from the awful virus that has stolen so much from us.  The social, emotional, educational, and spiritual disruption that this virus has caused is impossible to comprehend at the moment.  We will be studying the phenomenon for decades to come.

I have fallen into a slump recently as I try to endure a strange and difficult period of transition between summer break and the beginning of school.  All of the anxiety and stress of the start of school, with few of the usual benefits has slowly dragged my emotional and physical health down.  Headaches, low-grade fevers, muscle aches, and a cloud of despair has burdened my soul.  Ben had to take a day off of work Friday as we processed through the difficult burdens we are under and planned how we will cope with challenges of the next few weeks.

If only there were fewer questions and more answers; more certainty and less fear; more trust and understanding, and less cynicism and hate.  That is not the reality of this moment.  It feels like the tremors of last year’s troubles have erupted into the volcanoes of today’s trials.  Add to all that, the divisive rhetoric of campaign season, and we have a recipe for even more unrest and trouble in the future.  The election in November is already being discredited by the president who sees a good chance that he might lose to Joe Biden who is doing a pretty good job of creating a coalition of moderate voters.  Donald Trump has no intention of leaving office.  He has lusted for the untethered power of tyrants abroad, he knows that without the protection of his office and the loyalists he has installed in the justice department under his control, he will at last face the consequences of his choices.  That is something a narcissist can never allow to happen.  One does not need prophetic ability to see the obvious.  If he is reelected, he will continue corrupting the federal government to his benefit, thereby endangering everyone who has tried to prevent him thus far.  If he is defeated by Joe Biden and refuses to accept the results of the election and leave office, he and his supporters are likely to revolt.

So, our current trials will likely pale in comparison to the catastrophic events that will take place at the end of the year.  With the pandemic still raging, an election with uncertain results, an executive unwilling to cede power, and an electorate hopelessly divided and unable to trust those in authority, we will look back at August with fondness wishing we could go back to the sultry days of the summer when we could delude ourselves into thinking that this election would solve our problems.  But perhaps it is my anxiety causing me to catastrophize.  Best to stay in the here and now.  

I’m still in counseling. Remote counseling which, like online school, is not nearly as effective, but I’m still profoundly thankful for the help I am getting. I’m managing my depression. I’m still trying to gain confidence and feel peace. I’m still loving and nurturing my boys and my dog. I’ve been developing my artistic skills. When I step back and look at the burdens I am carrying, I am doing remarkably well.

When storms of darkness and uncertainty swell around me, I can still feel the peace of my Savior.  He is like the calm in the eye of the storm in which one can rest in spite of the dangers around.  He is the assurance that there is a world beyond this one in which evil has no refuge and scheming men have no power.  This world can exist, even if it is only in my heart and mind.  The unseen Zion that exists only in the hope of humble followers of Christ is more real than we can possibly imagine.  The faith, hope, and charity that work miracles in the lives of each disciple are not to be seen in the news reports of the day.  Jesus Christ is not powerless.  He lives, and we will see His hand revealed in time.  We will someday know that in the darkness, He was working His design to take the horrors of Satan and the vilest evil and turn it to good.

His plan is a plan of happiness; but we only get there through a path of sorrow. We must know the suffering to savor the joy. The pride of the world is crumbling, and in its ruin, we will find the rock of our salvation. We will build again on that sure foundation. We will learn from the failures of the past as we begin again.

Dumbledore and the Power to Hold Back

Photo by Sean Thomas on Unsplash

Layne is an insatiable reader.  He reads so much and so fast, that we are spending large amounts of money trying to keep him supplied with reading material.  As we try to get a library card, we convinced him to read the Harry Potter series.  We already have the books, and even though he has watched the movies, they are still worth a read.  He has grudgingly obliged.  I have spent many hours in the past week reading the books aloud to him.  His brothers often listen in, and it has been a fun pass-time as we endure the dead of Texas summer heat.

I have lost count of the number of times I have read the Harry Potter books.  I have read them aloud to classes and students and my own children.  I have cried and laughed through the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione with children who likely now have children of their own.  This reading has drawn my attention to Dumbledore.  As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser but definitely more omniscient about the Harry Potter story, I find myself gravitating toward the all-knowing, all-powerful, master of magic that is the headmaster of Hogwarts.  Did he know Harry would save the Sorcerer’s Stone?  Is that why he left the school just as Quirrell was to attempt to steal it?  Did he know that he would have to leave to allow Voldemort to think that he had a chance to succeed and that Harry would be there to prevent catastrophe at great risk to his own life and considerable damage to his health?  Did he know about the chamber of secrets and the basilisk that roamed the castle?  Did he know about Ginny and the diary?  Did he allow Harry to confront the Basilisk alone even though there was almost no chance he could triumph?

Did he know of the innocence of Sirius Black?  Did he deduce that it wasn’t Black but Pettigrew who was guilty of betraying the Potters to Voldemort?  Did he know when he instructed Hermione to use the time turner that they would have to face countless dementors and a rabid werewolf?  There is a good chance that the answer to these questions and countless others is yes.  It is no wonder that Dumbledore allows Harry to destroy his office in a fit of rage at the end of the Order of the Phoenix.  Dumbledore knows that Harry has suffered, in part, because Dumbledore has been pulling the strings in the background.  He has chosen to act, and not to act, for his own purposes.  He has used Harry and his friends to act, knowing enough about their temperament, character, motivations, and skill, to burden them with impossible tasks and dangers.  As Hermione said, “If Dumbledore knew, he was being extremely reckless!”

In order to judge Dumbledore, I have to understand him.  I don’t, so I withhold judgement.  Some online fans of the series have excoriated Dumbledore as a master manipulator of questionable motives.  That is one way to look at him.  I can’t help but see parallels between Dumbledore and the Master I serve.  At risk of seeming blasphemous, I will make a comparison of the fictional gay headmaster of a wizarding school and the Savior of mankind.  Prepare to be offended.

Dumbledore is extraordinarily powerful, and yet he seldom uses his awesome powers.  Through the entire series, he seldom uses his magic to interfere at Hogwarts.  He allows student misbehavior including bullying and rule breaking.  He doesn’t seem to care when he finds Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised with his invisibility cloak.  In fact, he sent him the cloak likely expecting that Harry would use it and find the mirror!  Peeves the Poltergiest roams chaotically, Snape abuses Neville Longbottom regularly, and incompetent or inexperienced teachers like Quirrell, Lockhart, and Hagrid are commonplace.  He could take action to change or stop these things for the health and safety of the students, but he doesn’t.  Why?

I suspect he holds back for the same reason God often doesn’t act as often as we want him to.  He is all powerful, but God understands that there is perfection in imperfection.  Only as we allow imperfect things, can we allow perfection to develop.  It’s a strange paradox.  It seems that the powerful ought to use their power to shape the world according to their own design, but it can be a tremendous act of humility to have the power to do something, and choose not to use that power; to allow the world to create its own design.   The humility that says, “I don’t know best.  I don’t want to mess up what needs to happen by forcing my will upon the world.  I will allow people to act and not use my power to effect the outcome.”  To make that choice is to accept the consequences of not acting.  The reality that comes to pass may not be perfection.  It may cause suffering to the innocent.  A boy neglected and abused by his aunt and uncle, an innocent man tortured by evil dementors in a prison for years, and other injustices and traumas.  To not act is an action.  To hold power back has consequences.  To be given great power and influence means that our mistakes, both to act and to hold back, will be “huger,” as Dumbledore so memorably points out.  

When I’m not reading Harry Potter to my kids, I have been processing some of my recent trauma.  By trauma, I am talking about small “t” trauma.  I haven’t witnessed any deaths or been the target of a violent crime.  Thankfully.  The small “t” trauma has been the political, social, and family upheaval of the last seven months.  I’ve found my mind wandering into painful places only to jump away like a hand from a hot stove.  Those concentrated emotions need to be processed and felt as much as I want to avoid and suppress them.

So I spent several hours this morning journaling and processing the situation with my parents. I got to a place where the pain is less distracting and overwhelming. Like nursing a sore muscle or an overstretched ligament, gentle attention can soothe and dissipate the pain. It’s okay to know what I know, don’t know what I don’t know, and live with the reality of my choices to act and not act. God will judge me. I am accountable to him alone and not those who judge without understanding. That is both a relief, and an awe inspiring duty.

I found this very informative study about the effects of family estrangement. I haven’t read the whole thing, and it might be quite triggering for some, but if you are struggling with the loss of family members in your life due to estrangement, it might give you some insight. It’s called, Hidden Voices; Family Estrangement in Adulthood.

Whatever your circumstances are, my friend, I hope the chaos and trauma of this moment is made a little better by reading what I have to say. I hope that the spirit of our Savior will rest upon you and those you love. I pray that, as my Lord seems to me to stay his hand, that eventually I will see the genius of his design. It may be that he is allowing us to face extraordinary challenges because he has faith in us and our ability to overcome. I know that in the shadow of his wisdom, I am as clueless as a newborn baby. Like a child, I will trust in Him who is Mighty to Save. Like Harry trusted Dumbledore, I will follow the plan no matter what the cost or sacrifice. I trust that someday, I will look back and see the wisdom and the love that I can’t see in this moment. That is faith.