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,

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.

As a Little Child

Laying beside my four year old tonight, I basked in the calming holy presence that only seems to exist as a halo around a sleeping child.  I prayed for the Lord to bless and protect my youngest sweet son, I thought of how he was part of my husband and me.  He is his mother and father reborn, holy and pure again, as we once were when we were children.  In some ways, our entire purpose on this Earth is to become like children again; to peel off the cynicism and mendacity that collects after years of living in a fallen world.  And yet as parents, we are also the greatest in the home and the servants of all.  We are the greatest, and the least; the most powerful and the most fallen.  

There are so many paradoxes.  A friend of mine posted about the paradox of the artist who must foster the confidence to exercise the creative process anew each time not knowing whether the outcome will have any value.  Along with the confidence that spurs the creative project, the artist must also have the humility to learn from the art and the many failures that precede success.  

Our family watched a show the other day called, “Knives Out” which was about a very dysfunctional family with a very wealthy man at the head.  The sons and daughters of the wealthy man had become entitled, wasteful, and prideful.  He decided to will his fortune to his housekeeper and nurse, a poor hispanic woman with a family of illegal aliens to support.  The entire movie was fascinating with a star studded cast and many allusions to current events.  The thing that occurred to me is how bad money can be for a family.  It creates unhealthy patterns of enmeshment.  I noticed the same dysfunctional patterns as I read Mary Trump’s book about her family.  The family becomes accustomed to the wealth and then they can’t live without it.  Instead of making a life for themselves on their own terms, the family becomes dependent on the one who controls the money.

We had a disaster happen in our garden this year.  We added some liquid fertilizer to several plants.  Although the liquid was teeming with beneficial nutrients, the concentration was far too high.  It burned the roots and killed several of my most treasured plants.  The concentration of wealth in a family seems to me to have similar consequences.  When wealth is concentrated in a small area, it becomes poisonous.  It is better in a garden for the fertilizer to be distributed fairly evenly throughout all the plants.  Likewise, in a society, when wealth is concentrated into a small segment of the population, it causes problems, not only for those who lack the necessary resources, but to the families of those who have too much.

I couldn’t help but think of the reasoning of the rich man who left his fortune to a stranger to save his family, and wonder what would become of the woman who inherited the money.  Would her family become similarly entitled and dysfunctional?  Would she eventually give the money away to save them?  Would the inheritance become a blessing or a curse for her?  The movie never said.

The problem of the fair distribution of resources has been one of the fundamental quandaries of the past two centuries as we have experimented with different forms of government around the globe.  Communism, socialism, and capitalism along with various combinations have competed for dominance on the world stage.  None of them have managed to solve the problems of fundamental inequalities that arise in our fallen world.  Concentrations of the world’s resources pile up in the homes and families of the privileged and wealthy, while the less fortunate scrape to get by.  Instead of acknowledging our failures as modern mankind to solve these ancient problems, we play the blame game shaming those that advocate for the opposing brand of failed solutions.  It is in this sad state that we approach the coming presidential election in the midst of a national public health crisis the likes of which is unparalleled in my lifetime.  

Carl Jung taught that a society is only as strong as the individuals that comprise it.  He argued that individual integrity and connection with divinity was the only way to save mankind from himself; his own worst enemy.  The state will not save us from ourselves.  Only Christ can redeem fallen man, and he does it one by one, not collectively.  Whatever the results of this election, our societal problems will remain until as individuals, we come unto Him who is Mighty to Save.

But that is a paradox, isn’t it?  There are no collective solutions that will fix our broken; no populist leader who will deliver us to the promised land with a tax cut or a social program.  We as individuals have to work out our salvation one by one.  And so the pandemic has forced many of us into our homes either because of unemployment or remote work.  We have been compelled to spend more time with our little children, seeing ourselves in their innocent eyes; seeing the future of ourselves in their future.  I wonder if that wasn’t part of God’s plan in sending us this particular plague.  Was he trying to tell us to stop running around stimulating the economy and focus on our homes and families; to stop frantically searching for ourselves in the next promotion or the next corporate fad or the next political rally?  To find ourselves in the eyes of the next generation?  To see ourselves in their innocent halo of purity?  To realize that the destination is coming back to the beginning again?

As the world bumps along ever more chaotically into this decade, I struggle to find purpose and meaning.  Some days it feels as though I have expired my supply of spiritual strength and can’t do this another minute.  Other times like today, it makes a kind of paradoxical sense.  I pray that all those who read this will feel a measure of peace; that the spirit of Him who knows all things will bring you comfort in your time of grief.  I pray the Lord of all will have mercy on all of his children who suffer in this moment and give us relief. 

Modern Pride

My second son Layne is comfortable in the realm of ideas, which makes him fun to teach. This summer he has taken an interest in the periodic table, which I have on a poster in his room. He wasn’t interested in memorizing it or learning what is in it, he wanted to learn how it was made. How did scientists like Mendeleev figure out the classification of elements long before we could see them under an electron microscope? How can we find new elements and what can they do? That is what Layne was interested in.

At first I searched YouTube for videos and they were helpful.  Today he and I sat down with a fascinating book that details the origins of thoughts about the elements.  Pre-modern philosophers and scientists categorized the elements into four groups; fire, water, earth, and sky.  Most of their understanding of these elements was mixed with mythology and religion.  This sometimes led to scientists being persecuted for unorthodox theories and explorations.  The Greeks secularized their science making a less rigid structure and allowing for much progress.  Today, science is totally secular.  This has enabled science to transcend the boundaries of country and culture and resulted in the explosion of knowledge.  Science has exalted mankind’s power over the world.  Because of the power of science, it has had the unfortunate effect of casting a large shadow over all other aspects of humanity.  Mythology, religion, and all those things that unite us culturally are devalued and marginalized in favor of those things we can prove through models, statistics, and peer reviewed experimentation.

Last night at dinner, we discussed the Dunning/Krueger effect.  This effect shows the inverse relationship of confidence with competence; with what we think we know with what we actually know about a subject.  As moderns, we think we understand science.  Science, which has been built upon centuries and millennia of observation and innovation, is merely a YouTube video or a Google search away.  And yet endless varieties of scientific disinformation is also available.  Truth can be found, but it must be fished for in a sea of lies, simplifications, and distortions.  Often a diet of superficial and sometimes false information can delude us into thinking we are wise and know much more than we do.  The Dunning/Krueger effect can create a collective pride in our achievements and our wisdom as though they were not passed down to us from the past; as though we have transcended our ancestors who wallowed in filth and ignorance.  On this shaky tower of false confidence and sense of entitlement, the modern world threatens to fall into chaos.  My fourteen year old son looked into my eyes with a confusion that seemed ancient.  “How can we know what is true and what’s not?” He asked.

There was another fourteen year old boy who asked that same question. He was wondering about the truth about God and what doctrines and philosophies were correct. He prayed to God in a grove of trees in New York with the faith that if anyone lacks wisdom he can ask for divine inspiration, directly from God, and that God would reveal the truth to him. Joseph Smith’s faith was richly rewarded with a torrent of revelations which we have today as the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. As I testified of these things to my son, I asked him if he believed that God would answer his prayers for truth. He said he believed.

As our prophet today speaks of the great restoration of the last days.  I can’t help but wonder at the exponential explosion of scientific understanding that has commenced in the last two hundred years.  I wonder what other areas are ripe for development?  What other truths of human life is God ready to reveal to us if we are able to receive it?  What opposition will we face as we find and reveal those truths to the world?  What part do I play in the restoration of all things?

All I know for sure is that I will search. I will ask the questions. I will dare to be conscious of truth no matter what it reveals. I will teach my children the same and hope that they will also be a part of this glorious restoration. With humility, with an understanding of the limits of mortal understanding, with the hope in a God who is Mighty to Reveal, Mighty to Guide, and Mighty to Save, I face the future with faith. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Come Unto Jesus

Yesterday I was dragged down the rabbit hole of Twitter craziness.  It’s hard in that moment to remember that most Americans are not the twitter mob.  Most of us are too busy working, playing, and living in the real world to waste time arguing with someone about whether Mount Rushmore should be blown up.  Yes, that was a real argument that I engaged in for a few minutes before muting the idiot.

We are two days out from celebrating the Fourth of July.  This year’s celebration will be different.  We won’t be going to any parades or to any fireworks shows.  We might buy a few fireworks to shoot off out of town.  This year, more than any before, I’ve been reflecting on my nation and her tumultuous and violent past.  Born in the fires of revolution and created in the wild and lawless west, this nation has been anything but tame and civilized.  We call ourselves a nation of immigrants, but in reality, we are a nation of refugees.  We, for the most part, are a motley collection of people who have dared hope that a better life is possible.  We left nations where religious, political, and economic oppression were a way of life.  My refugee forefathers and mothers had to hide their bibles, shut their mouths, and conform to social norms or risk being executed for vague crimes like treason, witchcraft, and heresy.  I read yesterday about a priest who was convicted of treason and he was hung by his foot for a day while he was mocked by the crowds.  After this public torture and humiliation, he was executed.  That was in France.  If people didn’t show up to jeer and spit on the victim, they were considered to be guilty too and may be subject to the same treatment.  That was the life my ancestors decided wasn’t for them.

But, unfortunately, they brought many of the toxic attitudes and behaviors with them to their new home.  It was the only life they ever knew, so what else would they do?  It took time before the superstitions of witchcraft were rejected.  It took time before we stopped jailing people for being the wrong religion.  Eventually, we decided that we needed to put our differences aside and make a single nation that could shove off the yoke of tyranny that threatened to follow us from Europe.  Slavery was one of the hardest of the old world habits to reject.  In fact, the damage of that terrible collective sin have followed us ever since.  And now, more than ever before, our national consciousness has been awakened to the reality that not everyone who came here had a choice.  Not everyone had a better life when they reached our shores.  Some of them arrived in chains and lived in abuse and dehumanization.  Some of our brothers and sisters of color still face extraordinary challenges in this country.  

As I see my Twitter feed showing strange juxtaposition of images.  Some of Lincoln, and some of the confederate generals and leaders memorialized in stone.  Some of angry black faces twisted in pain, and some defiant angry white faces holding the stars and bars of the confederacy.  Our old wounds are being exploited by our enemies who see a second civil war as a way to cripple us on the world stage.  China, Russia, Iran, and others want to use the inexperience and hubris of our president to humiliate us.  They want to consume us with self-doubt and shame about our history.

In my own life, Satan has tried to do this same thing.  He wants me to feel captive to my past sins.  He wants me to lose hope and faith in my ability to change, repent, and embrace a better future without the weight of past sins.  He wants me to be ashamed of myself, of my family, and of where I came from.  He doesn’t want me to embrace faith in my Savior’s redeeming power, the hope that my experiences will be turned to my benefit, and the charity that enables me to see all of God’s children as valuable and worthy of love.

The truth is, redemption is possible.  Our nation has faced challenges in the past and we have met them with rational policies to solve those problems.  Our medical professionals, our intelligence professionals, our state department officials, and our political leaders (especially at the state and local level), are for the most part very good and honorable people.  They don’t want to enslave us.  They work hard to give us the tools to solve the serious problems we face.  It is time for us to stop fighting each other and start seeing who the real enemy is.

The enemy is ignorance; the determination of many not to be conscious of the problems we face.  The enemy is disinformation; the careful cultivation of false narratives created by political parties to demonize groups of our citizens for their own benefit.  The enemy is foreign influence campaigns; the spreading of lies about our nation, its founding, its role in blessing the world, and the vital importance of our influence to improve human rights today.  The solution is, as it has always been, to come to Him who is Mighty to Save.

He quiets the voices of extremism. He helps us see others not as enemies, but as brothers and sisters. He reveals the source of the problems we see and the concrete steps we can take to improve the situation within our sphere of influence. He calms our fearful minds and leads us to faith and courageous action. We are not the sins of our fathers. There is forgiveness and redemption as we come unto him.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

Come Unto Jesus

By Orson Pratt Huish

Come unto Jesus, ye heavy laden,

Careworn and fainting, by sin oppressed.

He’ll safely guide you, unto that haven,

Where all who trust Him may rest, may rest.

Come unto Jesus, he’ll ever heed you,

Though in the darkness, you’ve gone astray.

His love will find you, and gently lead you,

From darkest night into day, today.

Come unto Jesus, He’ll surely hear you,

If you in meekness, plead for his love.

Oh know you not that angels are near you,

From brightest mansions above, above?

Come unto Jesus, from every nation,

From every land and isle of the sea.

Unto the high and lowly in station, 

Ever he calls, “Come to me, to me.”

No matter what our past has been, he can turn it to our benefit. There is no person born on this Earth that is beyond his compassion and power to save. If there is racism in us, let us repent. If there is hatred in us, let us repent. If there is pride in us, let us repent. Let it end today. Let it be swallowed up in His marvelous atonement. Satan would have us ashamed of our past, but the Savior would have us glory in the future of our redemption. There is enough and to spare if we come to Him; the well of living water; the one who multiplied the loaves and fishes; the one who made the lame to walk and the blind to see. He can heal us! Let us Come Unto Him.

The Physician and the Entertainer

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Have you ever had a broken air conditioner, a broken dishwasher, a leaky toilet, a major mold removal project that resulted from said toilet, a car repair, a chronic illness, a raging pandemic, an economic collapse, and problems with your family of origin…….all at the same time? If you have, you might understand a little of what my mental state is.

Even so, in this time of great stress and trial, I find myself growing stronger every day. I have hope that the temporary stresses of today will pass and that tomorrow will bring less chaos and drama. My relationships with my husband and children are growing. I was able to go to church yesterday, swathed in a cloth mask and sitting a good distance away from any other families. I was worried that the strange circumstances of the meeting would make my anxiety worse. Sacrament meeting is hard for me even in the best of times, but bound in a mask breathing my own hot breath and unable to sing? I had serious concerns. Fortunately, I had no symptoms of anxiety. I had been assigned the opening prayer, which I forgot of course. After a few whispered reminders, I offered a prayer for the congregation. After the meeting, it was so wonderful to see and talk to a few good friends.

Last night, our family had a very nice long discussion about religion and church. Our son confided some of his feelings and concerns. It was a beautiful day. It wasn’t a perfect Father’s Day. In some ways it was a very painful day. But if I’ve learned anything in the past three months, it is that pain and beauty can live together.

The family discussion lead to a dramatic dream last night that helped shed some light on the tremendous progress I have made since I started therapy two years ago. I am a much stronger person and I take much better care of myself now than I used to. Because of that, I have been a better instrument in the hands of my Savior to bless his children.

The relationship with the self is the key to everything.  The Savior taught that what comes out of a person’s mouth comes from the abundance of the heart; whether that is good or evil.  If a person hasn’t come to terms with their pain, reflected on their own sins and repented, and come in humility before God and submitted themselves as a little child to his will, how can that person connect with others?  How can that person have true empathy?  How can I understand another person if I don’t understand myself?  How can I forgive another person if I can’t forgive myself?  It all comes down to the heart of the self.  

And the only way to develop a healthy heart is to feed it and love it.  The only way to emotional maturity is to nurture and protect the inner child.  If the self is neglected, there is not an abundance of the heart, but a cavernous hole.  Like the silly man in the parable we are running around trying to remove motes from the eyes of others while a beam is sticking out of our own.  We are keyboard warriors ready to cancel and shame all the motes we see while stubbornly unconscious of the beam that is causing us so much pain.  Self-reflection and self-compassion is the key to a fruitful life.

And yet, I was taught to focus not on myself, but on others. It was considered selfish and sinful to be self centered. I was taught to be conscious of others and make them happy. That was my responsibility. Of course, that was nice for them…..but for me, not so much. I felt like a clown with a mask of cheeriness running around avoiding anyone who was suffering who couldn’t be fixed with a little distraction and entertainment. Drop off a meal, give a hug, check off a box, and run to the next responsibility while trying to stuff down feelings of resentment and depression. I may have made things pleasant for some for a while, but at the cost of my own soul.

Understand, I am not saying that what I was taught was evil. There is a difference between evil and empty. There is a difference between a person who acts happy and a person who is happy. It was only when I started investing in myself, understanding myself, and having compassion for myself that I began to make real and meaningful connections with others. My depression isn’t gone. There is still a ways to go before I reach that point. Still, I’m making steady progress toward self-esteem. Already I feel an abundance of heart. I can love my enemies, bless them that curse me, do good to them that hate me, and pray for those who despitefully use me and persecute me with an understanding of who the real enemy is. The enemies aren’t my brothers and sisters on this Earth. They aren’t responsible for all the chaos and pain in this world. They, along with me, are the victims of it. There is only one way to conquer Satan and that is with the constant help of my Savior.

And increasingly I am coming to him to know what to do next. Instead of the complicated calculations of how my choices will make someone else feel, I turn my calculations to the Savior. What would he do? What would he want me to do? Even if it makes someone incredibly uncomfortable, that’s okay as long as He wants me to do it. The Savior made a lot of people very uncomfortable because of his willingness to exist. It wasn’t his mission to make people feel good today, it was to save them. He was the physician, not the entertainer.

Everyone loves a good entertainer. We don’t go to the doctor to feel good today. Often there is the setting of bones, the taking of yucky medications, the reminders of healthy behaviors we have neglected, or even the revelation of a devastating diagnosis. It’s a lot more pleasant to go to the movies than to the doctor’s office. I’ve covenanted to take the name of the Savior upon me and take up his cross. What does that mean? It means that I am to do as He did. I am to choose to exist, to speak, to minister, and to love. That also means that I will make people uncomfortable sometimes. Am I greater than He? Am I smarter or more righteous than He was that I can somehow avoid the same outcome He had? No.

My inner critic insists, “You aren’t Jesus Christ.  You aren’t a doctor.  Who do you think you are to put yourself above others this way?”  To that critic I say, it wasn’t me who wrote the terms of the covenant.  He wants me to pretend to be Him no matter how imperfectly I do it.  He said, “Take upon you the name of Christ and keep his commandments.” Should the apprentice never take up the tools because he is unable to do as his master is able to do?  I am the apprentice and he has commanded me to take up the tools.  If I listen to you, who then is my master?  Am I not putting myself above the master I have covenanted to serve if I heed you?  So I say to my inner critic, “Get thee behind me Satan, for thou savorest not the things of God.”

And so I walk my broken and crooked path to Him who is Mighty to Save. If a narrow path means a lonely path then perhaps I am not so far off the mark. I can’t say that it has been a straight path, but perhaps it is a strait path.