Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Prejudice and Pride

I was once in a meeting where a man bore a sweet testimony of what he had learned the Sunday before from a 16 year old girl. Her message, simple yet profound, touched him and as he related it to us we were also touched. He ended by explaining that when the Spirit is with you, a person can learn from even a small child. The next week I happened to be in another meeting with this same man and was surprised to hear him critically report on a talk he had heard by a well known BYU religion professor. He ended his report by saying, “I didn’t learn one thing from him.” What was obvious as he reported the talk was that he had a personal bias against people who write books and go outside their ward to speak to others on religious topics.
It saddened me to think that this man had let a personal bias keep him from learning. It also made me wonder what prejudices I have that separate me from the Spirit and keep me from growing. Paul taught the Corinthians that all members of God’s Church are one body and that to each of the individuals within the body God has given specific gifts which are to be shared. He compared this to a physical body saying that the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Each part of the body has a different function but all are vital. Paul then went on to explain that “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
What Paul is explaining is that some, like the professor, have been given the gift not only of knowledge but of time to study and to in turn share what is learned. Others may not have four or five hours a day to study the scriptures, but they have the gift to listen and learn from the one who does have time. The person who listens also has other gifts, such as the gift of compassion and the ability to size up a situation and know exactly what to do to assist someone in need. The person in need may have musical talent that inspires the professor in his studies. What Paul is explaining is that we all need each other. We all bless each other. And if we discount any person’s gift we hurt ourselves.
As I pondered on how I let feelings toward others get in the way of my learning from them, I realized that any prejudice or bias is a form of pride. As President Ezra Taft Benson once explained, “The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” (“Beware of Pride”, Ensign, May 1989, p.4).
It is easy to see how looking down on others is a form of pride. If someone had discounted the message of the 16 year old girl from the onset of her talk simply because she was only 16 and couldn’t possibly know anything, that is easily recognized as pride. But there is another side to the coin of pride. As President Benson explained, “Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. (See 2 Ne. 9:42.) There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous” (“Beware of Pride”, Ensign, May 1989, p.4. Emphasis added).
As I pondered this more, I realized that Paul gives the solution to all of my prejudice and bias problems. After explaining the importance of spiritual gifts he says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And what is that way? The path of charity. Charity is the antidote to pride. If instead of criticizing, we love, that love allows us to learn and grow from whatever situation we are in or whomever we are learning from. Indeed, charity never fails.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Many years ago Stephen Robinson wrote the parable of the bicycle. Everyone in the Church at one time or many times has heard the story of the little girl who diligently saves her pennies to buy a bicycle and how her loving father lets her pick out a bicycle, pay her few dollars, then makes up the large deficit to buy the bike. It is a popular story to retell in talks and Home Evenings and Sunday lessons. But too often as we listen to the parable we think it applies to judgement day. At the great day of judgement Jesus Christ will step forward to save us–to make up for all we lack. But the Savior doesn’t wait until life is over to help us.
Nephi understood this concept. That’s why when his father asked him to go back for the plates, he simply answered, “I will go and do.” It wasn’t that Nephi felt he had all the
strength and skill and knowledge it would take to obtain the plates. Nephi agreed to go without hesitation because he knew that Jesus Christ had all the strength, skill and knowledge he would need. And so he went. But that is not all Nephi understood. Nephi knew that the grace of God
doesn’t always float down from heaven like rain and drench us in power the moment we first ask for it or the second we are in need. Nephi understood how the enabling power of God works.
Nephi made the long trip back to Jerusalem with nagging, murmuring brothers. But he didn’t let their complaining deter him. After they arrived in Jerusalem, Laman asked Laban for the plates and Laban refused. Nephi didn’t let that deter him. Next the brothers went back to the home they had left behind and gathered up their gold and silver and tried to buy the plates from Laban. Greedily, Laban took their gold and silver, but refused to give them the plates and to hide his robbery, he sent men to kill Nephi and his brothers.
About this time one would think that Nephi would be doubting whether the “Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). I’m sure the kvetchers Laman and Lemuel repeated those words in an attempt to make Nephi eat them. But still Nephi wasn’t deterred. He knew God would help in His own way and in His own time. And so he said to his brothers, “Wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us.”
One wonders how Nephi dared pose such a question to the complaining brothers. So far all of reality is on their side. “Wherefore could they doubt?” Well for starters, they had tried to be obedient twice and for their efforts they had been ridiculed, robbed and almost murdered. You can hear Laman and Lemuel respond to Nephi, “Yea, He is able to deliver us, but will he?”
This is the question faith poses for each one of us. We’ve read the scriptures. We know He is able, but do we trust that He will? Too often we rationalize that His saving power is reserved for the day of judgement or is only for prophets and other people.
Nephi understood that faith must be tried and tested, that lessons need to be learned, but that God always helps us. So despite the hardship, despite the difficulty, he persisted and went back into Jerusalem to get the plates fully aware that it he was not doing it himself but that he was empowered by the Lord. He didn’t feel inadequate because he knew he wasn’t the one doing it.
There is much we can learn from Nephi. So often we find ourselves feeling inadequate. We are tempted to turn down callings, or to refuse opportunities to speak in meetings, or to go about our days depressed and berating ourselves because we are incapable and make so many mistakes. The truth is we are inadequate and incapable and we will make mistakes. But Jesus Christ has promised to make up for our inadequacies. His saving power is not reserved for judgement day. His saving power is offered every day. If we persist. If we trust. He will help us do whatever we need to do no matter how overwhelming the task may seem.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stravinsky and Me

One day during the summer after fifth grade, a brown package arrived in the mail with my name neatly typed on a white label without a return address. Mother handed the package to me and asked if I knew what it was. I had no idea. I’d never before received a package in the mail addressed just to me and excitedly opened the flat, square package to discover a record in a black jacket with fiery red flashes across the cover.
“Did you send for this?” Mother asked.
When I told her no she searched the wrapping paper for a note or any clue as to who had sent it. Finding nothing, Mother shrugged, and I took my prize into the house to the record player. I’d heard the story of that record player many times. It seems that shortly after mom and dad were married they had won a radio/record player console. It was mother’s pride and joy–a piece of furniture she has kept all these years. But despite the care she took dusting and polishing it, I only remember her playing music on it maybe two or three times in my life. Mother always said she loved music, but for some reason she never took the time to turn it on. One of the compartments held the few records she and Dad owned which consisted of some big band, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, and Frank Sinatra albums. I loved music and had played those records over and over. I spent hours listening while imagining that inside that brown console thumb size people actually performed every time I started a record.
Alone in the family room, I carefully opened the jacket and pulled the brand new, shiny black record out. That was the first I read the jacket. Printed in large letters on top of the fiery streaks were the words “Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite/Rite of Spring.” I’d never heard of such a thing. Bursting with curiosity and anticipation, I lowered the record onto the spindle, “The Firebird Suite” side up, lifted the arm and placed the needle on the spinning record.
Soft, dark tones filled the room, their ominous sounds startling me. What was this? It wasn’t music. Music made you sway and dance. These sounds made you cower and weep. I stopped the record, turned it over, and put the arm down on the “Rite of Spring.”
A single wind instrument began, joined by another, and then more. I’d never heard anything like that before. Not as menacing, the music had an unearthly quality that made me think of gnomes, dwarfs, fairies and witches. And while it didn’t make me sway it definitely made me want to dance. I kept listening as the music took on a militant quality broken by swirling motion that evolved into a busy sound of majestic anticipation. Mom and Dad’s records were always so predictable. Once you’d heard the first three or four phrases, you’d heard the whole song. But this music was one surprise after another. The sounds melted into my muscles and I began to move stomping, twirling, leaping, tip-toeing, whatever the music told me to do, I did until I dropped to the floor breathless. About that time the frenzy of the Shrovetide Fair began and I closed my eyes to watch the fairies do the dancing.
On and on it went–much longer than “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or anything else among the console’s records. The music grew loud and as ominous as “The Firebird Suite” but I was so enthralled that this time I liked it. I waited and sure enough bird like sounds broke into the heavy feeling flying in just when my heart thought it couldn’t take any more.
I didn’t like all of it. Some parts were frightening. Some too compelling. But when the record stopped spinning, I was spinning with delight. My head couldn’t stop thinking about the amazing music–how my body seemed one with it when I danced. Lifted out of the world, I’d gone someplace else without leaving the family room. I didn’t know where I’d gone, but I wanted to go back and explore to learn more about the magical place I’d just been.
After that day the big bands weren’t as big and Bing Crosby had lost some of his charm. Again and again I returned to the “Rite of Spring” and every time something new stirred in me. Every time it was just as magical. It was awhile before I was introduced to other friends such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Debussy, but upon meeting each one my love for music expanded deeper into my soul.
To this day I have no clue as to who sent me that record. But whoever my anonymous mentor was, he or she changed my life. She didn’t give me just a record. She gave me a whole new world. A world I still escape to when I need solace, comfort, or just a little rest

Monday, November 12, 2007


As Thanksgiving approaches we all turn our thoughts to what we are thankful for. We make lists. We think thoughts of gratitude. We sometimes have Thanksgiving rituals where we share with each other what we are grateful for. But a great exercise this Thanksgiving would be to be grateful for something someone else has to be grateful for.
It is often easy to mourn with those that mourn. When someone has an accident or is ill, we do all we can to comfort and support. We take in meals. We give money. We tend children and take people to the doctor. We replace damaged goods. We do whatever is needed to help those who are in need.
But sometimes it is more difficult to rejoice with those that rejoice. When the neighbor gets a new car, are we grateful or jealous? When a friend get a great new job are we excited or envious? When blessings come into the lives of those around us, do we say a prayer of thanks or ask God, “Why not me?”
It is easy to be grateful for what we have. It is not so easy to be grateful for what others have. This Thanksgiving season, try giving thanks not only for your own blessings but the blessings of others and see what happens.

Rom 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Have a Laugh

One day many years ago my husband came home from work growling like the proverbial bear and ornery as a napless two-year-old. My response was to stay clear of him. Carefully I prepared dinner making sure I didn’t cross his path. But my girls were wiser.
Breana was 12 at the time and she and the other girls were setting the table. I didn’t pay much attention to what they were doing until dinner was ready and I went to call Carl to eat. As I passed the table I noticed that Breana had placed a cereal bowl on her dad’s plate that was overflowing with sugar.
Gingerly, I told Carl dinner was ready and then waited to see what was going on. The girls busied themselves around the kitchen trying to look like they weren’t waiting, smirks of suppressed laughter on their faces.
Finally Carl came in, walked to his spot at the table, saw the bowl, and gruffly asked, “What’s this for?”
Breana, sobered now as she wondered how he would take it, said meekly, “We thought if you ate that you’d be a little sweeter.”
Carl broke out laughing. The girls giggled until tears trickled out their eyes and we all enjoyed a pleasant dinner. In an instant all the negative tension was dispelled.
When used correctly, humor is a powerful tool. That day the girls reminded me that I should use it more. If we are just a little creative, it is amazing the good that can be accomplished with humor.
When the kids were growing up, we had a family rule. You can argue and fight all you want–as long as you sing it. The girls didn’t always remember, but when they did it was amazing. I’d suddenly hear an operatic soprano down the hall singing, “You wore my shirt and you didn’t wash it!” And then all over the house laughter. Other times, they’d start to argue and instead of coming in with negative reprimands myself, I’d just say, “Sing it! Sing it!” They’d try, but it always ended up that the humor erased the argument. We discovered that you can’t be angry and sing. It’s impossible!
It’s an old saying, but so true, laughter is medicine–medicine for the soul.

Prov 16:20
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Especially for David

The word enthusiasm comes into English from the Greek word entheos which means “inspired or possessed by a god.” Literally entheos is derived from the prefix en- meaning in and the word theos meaning God. In the 1600s the word as applied to the Puritans took on a negative connotation of excessive zeal. Today the word has a positive meaning of fervor and zeal.
The word enthusiasm never appears in the scriptures. However, the synonym zeal is used by some of the scriptural writers. Mormon tells us of the people of Ammon–the converted Lamanites–who were “distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). When I read about the people of Ammon, I am struck by how happy they were. Enthusiasm and joy always go together. Living the gospel wasn’t a chore for them. They delighted in it. They were possessed by God and knew He would care for them. All they had to do was enthusiastically and joyfully serve Him.
When the Lord wants to encourage us to be enthusiastic He tells us to give Him all our heart, might, mind, and strength (see D&C 59:5). I think that’s pretty much all of me! It may seem strange that by giving our love, our material goods, our thoughts, and our abilities to the Lord we will be happy. But I know it works because I’ve experienced it. The days of my life when I’ve been able to give all of myself have been the most joyful. When I am enthusiastic about the gospel, when I give myself to God, His love fills me and I am happy.

“I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour” (Eccl 2:10).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Give Thanks

When my daughter Kirsha was three years old, I left her with a friend for a few hours while I went to a doctor appointment. When I picked her up, I noticed a bite mark on her hand that had obviously been made by my friend’s three year old. When my friend saw me looking at the teeth marks she said, “I’m sorry. Robby is into biting and I don’t know how to stop him. What do you do?”
I told her that when my children bit someone I'd flip their lips with my index finger–just one quick flip that stings.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” she exclaimed, “I’m afraid I’d traumatize him.”
I didn’t think much more about it until that night when I pulled Kirsha’s shirt off and discovered 17 still well defined bite marks covering her back and arms. Shocked I thought about my friend’s words. Bite marks still visible six hours later were painfully inflicted. Surely Kirsha cried out. The irony was obvious. Her decision not to traumatize her son meant trauma for my daughter.
I learned a lot from that lesson. As a parent it is sometimes necessary to traumatize. And sometimes a loving God traumatizes us, to humble us, to teach us, to change the direction we are going and put us back on course.
Imagine you had cancer. It is growing, but has not yet spread. Your doctor tells you that an operation to remove the cancer will save your life, but then he says, “An operation will be very traumatic and cause you a lot of pain. It might also have serious complications. I don’t want to hurt you, so I won't perform the operation.”
No one wants a doctor like that. No one wants a God like that. When we feel the pains of life, we need to trust that God knows what He is doing and instead of getting angry and turning away from Him, our proper response should be, “Thank you.”

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” D&C 59:11