One-word Resolutions

I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t actually perusing the Online Etymology Dictionary just for fun. I was actually curious about the origins of the word “resolution,” especially as it came to be used to refer to personal commitments made on New Year’s Eve with expiration dates of less than thirty days. My dear friend Google sent me to http://www.etymonline.com, which promptly became one of my favorite nerdy net sites.

Anyhow, I learned that the current usage of “resolution” is of relatively recent origin, dating back to the late 18th or early 19th centuries. What got my attention, however, was the original meaning of the word, which came into use in the late 14th century to mean the “process of reducing things into simpler forms.”

Talk about a word that has gone through some radical reconstructive surgery. It bears no more resemblance to its original meaning than the current Kenny Rogers looks like the Gambler that I grew up with. Simpler forms? Are you kidding me? The process of making resolutions has gotten so complicated that if you search “New Years Resolutions” on Amazon.com, you will get over 20,000 book results (The most recent of which bears a book-length title itself: “New Year’s Resolutions: The Ultimate Guide to Lifestyle Design. Plug yourself into the formula of success so you can get the life you want and have a better future.” I cut and paste the title because I was afraid that re-typing it would give me carpal tunnel syndrome). There are all sorts of “rules” that I am supposed to follow, in terms of specificity, length, number, attainability, accountability, and whether they should be posted next to my bed, on my bathroom mirror, or tattooed to the inside of my eyelids. There is nothing remotely simple about resolutions.

But maybe there should be.

Ultimately, our resolutions come as a result of two things: (1) Reflecting on the year that passed, and realizing we haven’t lived up to our personal expectations; and (2) convincing ourselves that we can measure up, with just a few simple adjustments, starting tomorrow. New Year’s Resolutions are parked at the intersection of Hope and Regret, often up on blocks with the tires stolen. We make them, then break them, then resume our habitual course of conduct until we get a burst of courage at the end of the year. (And, for the record, I’m not sure that anything good can come of making major life decisions while wearing a pointed hat and blowing a kazoo.) We fail, often, because the resolutions become our focus, rather than the underlying issue of who we aren’t but want to be.

So, what if we went all 14th century on our resolutions and tried to reduce them to a simpler form? What if we reduced them to the simplest form: A single word?

If you could pick one word to describe you–you as you want to be, not as you currently think of yourself–what would it be? Do you want to be HEALTHY? SUCCESSFUL? HAPPY? WISE? COURAGEOUS? LOVED? What is the one thing you really want to be? (I don’t suggest trying something like “TALLER.” Self-improvement has its limits). Perhaps better stated, what is the character trait that you believe would be the difference-maker for you?

I think that most of us know what our one thing is, or we at least have some strong suspicions.  We go through life like the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion, certain that if we just had the heart or the nerve nothing would stand in our way. I also happen to believe that each of us already has that character trait for which we pine, even if only in some nascent state, waiting to be drawn from the wings onto center stage. We just need to name it and invite it.

So name it, then. Noodle over what that game-changing attribute is for you, then write it down. One word. Then put it everywhere. On your phone and computer screen saver. Go ahead and tape it to that bathroom mirror or hang it from the rear-view mirror of your car. Write it in permanent marker on your spouse’s forehead. Whatever works for you. But simplify your resolution to one word, and then examine and evaluate your daily conduct against that adjective. One of the great truths learned from neuroscience is that “faking it until you make it” actually works. That which we pretend to be, for good or ill, often becomes the reality, especially when it comes to emotions, attitudes and outlook. While we cannot write “RICH” on a Post-It Note and expect someone to drop off sacks of money on our doorstep, we can reasonably expect that if a lack of confidence is hindering our financial success, then by focusing on the idea of confidence and behaving confidently, we can change that aspect of our character and improve our chances for wealth.

This year, simplify your self improvement. Name your desired character and invite it to take a central role in your life. Focus less on the “to-do” of standard resolutions and more on the “to become” of a one-word resolution. You and I both know how well our detailed resolutions are working. A one-word resolution is unlikely to be any worse.

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Why Born to a Carpenter?

There is one thing missing from the Bible that has intrigued me for years, especially as I have experienced the blessings and trials of parenthood.  That is the lack of any meaningful discussion of Joseph, the husband of Mary and the man chosen by our Father in Heaven to stand as His surrogate in raising His Only Beloved Son.  What manner of man must he have been?

We know so little.  We understand him to have been a kind and just man, based upon his treatment of Mary when he learned of her pregnancy and tried to spare her embarrassment through a private separation.  We witness his humility, demonstrated when he accepted the angelic admonition to remain by Mary’s side and trust that this was the work of God.  We suppose that he died early in the life of our Savior, as he is completely absent from the narratives of Christ’s ministry.

And we know he was a carpenter.carpenters-son-39540-gallery

Of all the professions and trades to be plied by the man entrusted to rear the Son of God, why that of a carpenter?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have been a priest or rabbi, someone with a heightened understanding of scripture who could help guide and instruct the young Jesus as he grew in his understanding of the gospel?  Why, of all things, a worker of wood?

Any answer is pure conjecture, but as I have thought about this in recent days, I have come to believe that there might have been no profession more instructive for Jesus in His formative years.  My own grandfather was a carpenter, so I have at least a passing familiarity with what they do and how the trade may have provided a perfect environment to raise a Redeemer.  I think it may have to do with Christ’s role as the Great Transformer of mankind.

Those who work with wood possess a gift that I don’t share, but I envy.  Like a sculptor, they can look at the raw material of wood and see within it something that is hidden from the rest of us.  Where I might see only a nondescript block of wood, of little value other than to prop open a door or stoke a fire, a gifted carpenter might see a beautiful image of a horse, disguised only by the rough pieces that need to be removed in order to bring out the buried beauty.

Or he might see how that piece of wood, properly shaped and employed, can be put to use with other anonymous pieces to create a strong and magnificent structure, creating something that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.  The temple of Solomon was constructed from such pieces of timber, none of which would be remembered for their individual traits, but when brought together would become the stuff of legend.

In such a manner, Christ the Carpenter is able to transform each of us.  Where we may look into a mirror and see only disappointment, failure, or a depressing ordinariness, Christ sees what we can become.  As we trust ourselves to His hands, He shapes us into something that only He could see before.  Where we would see a lowly fisherman, He saw Peter.  Where we might shake our heads at a stammering old outcast, He would shape the same into Moses.  Perhaps that is why it was so common in the scriptures to have followers of God receive new names upon their interaction with the divine.  He transforms Jacob into Israel, and Saul into Paul.  Because when the transforming power of Christ touches us, we can never be the same.   We become, as Paul reminds us, “new creatures.”

For many of us, He finds the role that we can best play in His great work, something that may seem inconsequential to us, but turns out to be of great worth to someone else.  He finds the purpose to which we are perfectly fit, and by doing so constructs His kingdom .

Christ redeems us by changing us.  From death to life.  From the stains of sin to being white as snow.  From stubborn fools to devoted disciples.  It was in order to make something glorious of each of us that He came to Bethlehem, walked the lands of Galilee, and stretched out in pain in Gethsemane and Golgotha.  His work was to take creatures as lowly as us, and through His grace, have us become joint heirs with Him.

Perhaps that is why, when the Father looked over the expanse of Earth to find the man to raise His Son, He chose to place Him in a carpenter’s hands.

An Even Greater Love

We are all familiar with Christ’s observation, as he foreshadowed His own crucifixion:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Now, I make it a pretty firm rule never to disagree with anything that Jesus said, and I think that what he was telling the disciples that the greatest love He could show them was the sacrifice of His life.  But I do think that there may be an even greater love that we don’t spend enough time contemplating.

During my almost half-century on this planet (I said “almost”), I have seen and experienced my fair share of tragedies.  I have watched good friends and family members forced to carry burdens that they never imagined would be laid on their backs.  But among all of those trials, none is more tragic than the loss of a child.

It is something I have seen far too often, but thankfully have not endured.  I have seen friends lose infants to illness, toddlers to accidents, and teens to drugs.  I have counseled parents who faced the horror of their children taking their own lives.

The loss of a child is out of the natural order of things.  It turns the world on its head.  It is an affront to our sensibilities.  It is an incomparable loss.

And it is something that our Father in Heaven willingly chose to endure.

I can imagine circumstances under which I would give my life for another person.  While I hope never to be put in such a dilemma, I can conceive of circumstances in which I would sacrifice myself, even for a stranger.  What I cannot imagine is sacrificing my own child for the benefit of someone else.

Yet that very sacrifice was the linchpin of our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation.  That plan could not be successful unless His Only Begotten, His most Beloved Son would be sacrificed on our behalf.  The favored Son, He who had done no wrong, would have to die in order to rescue the rest of us–all of whom have willingly disobeyed the Father.

It is impossible to imagine the agony Christ endured in Gethsemane and Golgotha.  Such infinite suffering is mind-boggling.  But what of the suffering Father, who would willingly stand beside His perfect Son and, because of His love for us, take no action when Jesus pleaded:  “Take this cup from me.”  What must it have taken for the Father, as the final step of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, to withdraw his Spirit from His Son, while Christ cried out, “Why has thou forsaken me?”

I cannot bear to see my children suffer.  When they are in pain, I would willingly take that ache on myself to ease their hurt.  But I don’t have that power.  The Father did, and because of the greatest love imaginable, He did not come to the rescue.

Without direct experience, none of us can truly empathize with the loss of a child.  Less so when that child is sacrificed as part of your own plan, for the benefit of others, millions of who deny your existence or curse your name.

Abraham, perhaps, came closest to this understanding, when he was given a test that we would consider unthinkable.  But even Abraham was spared the actual requirement of the blade falling upon Isaac.  There would be no goat caught in the brambles to serve as a substitute sacrifice.  The salvation of Christ would come only after the sacrifice was complete.

I believe that the Father’s sacrifice merits more of our attention and gratitude.  During the silent moments of the sacrament ordinance, His unparalleled love should play a primary role in our remembrance and be a major motivation for our covenant to obey Him.  God so loved the world that He not only sent His Son, but He sacrificed Him.  Such an inconceivable love should give us all hope that in His eyes, we are too wonderful to give up on.  Too loved to lose.

7 Responses Guaranteed to Shoot the Wheels Off of Your Temple Recommend Interview

Temple recommend interviews can be too quick and formulaic.  Here’s some suggested answers to spice up the interview and panic your Stake Presidency member:

“Do you sustain the General Authorities of the Church?”

Sure….Wait, does that include the German guy?

“Do you sustain the local authorities of the Church?”

All except the Ward Employment Specialist.  I think he’s on the take.

“Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?”

We’re just talking about the men, right?

“Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?”

That depends.  Are we all agreed that marijuana is not a “hot drink?”

“Do you keep the Law of Chastity?”

Whoa…hold on second.  That’s a LAW?

“Do you have any problems with pornography?”

No problems at all.  I’ve got broadband and a wicked fast router.

“Is there anything about your relationship with your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?”

Have you been talking to my parole officer?  ‘Cause I’m telling you now, that dude is a liar.

 

Stay

Because sometimes, we forget that we matter.

 

Stay

Darkness everywhere, and nowhere to run…depression

Stay

Hope is a memory, joy a mirage…

Stay

Every voice an accuser, every look brings shame…

Stay

No place in the world that feels like home…

Stay

Your existence a burden you cannot bear…

Stay

 

Stay…

Your eyes are blind.  They cannot see love.

Stay…

Your ears are deaf.  They cannot hear words of mercy.

 

Stay…

Your mouth lies.  It shouts down any hope or happiness.

 

Stay….

Your heart has shielded itself from touch.

 

 

Stay…

Open your eyes.

Unstop your ears.

Quiet your tongue.

Soften your heart.

 

 

Stay…

You are needed more than you know.

Stay…

You are loved more than you can imagine.

 

Stay…

Darkness does not last forever.

 

R.S. Ghio

5 Principles to Guide Us through Grief

A little advice from a guy who is closer to the finish line than the starting gate…

I was eighteen years old before I had to deal the with death of someone close to me. My grandmother died suddenly of a stroke just a few weeks after my high school graduation. I stumbled through that process in shock, and oddly enough, no one made an effort to talk me through the process of loss and grief. I made as much sense of the situation as I could, and it left me sad, confused and frustrated.

Three decades later, I have weathered many more losses. Accidents, illnesses, and suicide have claimed family, friends, clients and students. No loss is remotely easy, but thirty years of experience in grieving and supporting those who suffer in their own grief have taught me a few things that help me to endure dark trials. In particular, there are five principles that, prayerfully applied, can guide us through the pain of mourning.

1. God is Real
I can think of no more stark reality than the finality of death. The resurrection is a wonderful doctrine, but when we lose someone we love, it tests our faith in Christ and His victory over death in a way that nothing else can. Without Christ, there is no hope of being reunited with our families. We cannot have hope in a vacuum. We have to hope in something.

Therefore, choose to believe. Trust that there is more to our existence than the here and now. Choose to believe that there is a then and there to which your love one has moved, and that the darkness of death has been overcome by the light of Christ.

2. God Loves us
Because God loves us, we can enjoy the assurance that He is not arbitrary in dealing with us. He does not reach out and take our fathers, mothers, or children in order to “test” us like lab mice. He takes no pleasure in our pain. He wants us to be happy, despite the hardships that come with mortality. Therefore, there is a way through this.

3. God “Gets” It
One of the greatest messages of the Bible and the Book of Mormon is the doctrine that Christ suffered for all of our pains–whether caused by sin, stupidity, the evil of others, or the mere experience of mortality– precisely so that He would understand our hurt. His perfect understanding of our broken hearts is essential to His ability to mend them, and thus, in a way beyond our understanding, he chose to experience all that anyone could be called upon to endure. When we cry out in anguish, we are heard by One who knows better than anyone else what we are going through and whose perfect grace can make us whole.

4. God Has a Plan
I will admit that I have a problem with some of the platitudes we hear or share when we lose a loved one. I remember when my father died in a work accident, more than one person talked to me about the Lord “needing” my father for a mission on the other side of the veil. Really? With billions of people having died, including no small number of prophets, apostles and other spiritual luminaries, God can’t manage to get things done over there without killing my dad?

I think what these well-intentioned sentiments reflect is the hope that God is still in control of things and, from an eternal perspective, will turn all things to our good. To borrow from Buddhist teachings, we want to know that a lotus flower actually can bloom from the mud in which we currently are mired.

It can. Our decision to believe in God includes the decision to believe that He is not an absent manager. He has a plan for us, and it is a plan of happiness. We are not meant to spend our loves moving from tragedy to tragedy, living at the whim of a random, impersonal universe. Our Father is on top of things.

5. No Matter How Hard We Try, We Will Not Understand Today’s Tragedies
The problem with our faith in God’s plan is that we do not know its details, and we will not fully understand our losses while in mortality. We do not have the knowledge or perspective to be able to see into God’s heart as He sees into ours. I cannot think of any death I have witnessed where my reaction was, “Well, that made perfect sense!” I wish none of them ever had happened, and I cannot help but think that I would be happier if all those I have loved were still here with me.

But that isn’t the way mortality works. Our earthly journey includes necessary detours through the valley of the shadow of death, and nothing there seems to make any sense at all. But if we believe in the reality of a loving, omniscient Father in Heaven, who has a plan for our joy and happiness, then we trust that the plan will work. In the Stygian darkness of sorrow and mourning. We reach for his hand and let Him lead us to safety. We might never see clearly through our sorrows, so we surrender our vision to Him.

We choose to believe, to trust and to be healed.

Light and Life

For some dear friends in a dark hour…

Light and Life

When close-knit hearts are torn apart
No gentle words suffice
To ease the pain, nor help explain
Why warmth’s been turned to ice

You cannot think, a weight this great,
To carry it alone
To understand reach for the Hand
That called your loved one home

Our mortal view, forever skewed
Can never understand
In darkest hour our only power
Is drawn from the Master’s hand

Our pain so deep, it’s He who weeps
And waits behind the veil
He’s paid the cost for every loss
To know, and then to heal

The Prince of Peace is not a thief
Each loss will be restored
From darkness light, from stillness life
In tears we trust the Lord.

R.S. Ghio

A Morning Prayer

Lord, help me find
The lesson hidden
In the textbook called “Today.”

Help me understand
What I can learn
About how to be like You

If today my course
Is Patience.
Give me obstacles.

If today my course
Is Forgiveness
Show me my enemy.

If today my course
Is Kindness
Show me another’s need

If today my course
Is Love
Give me an opportunity to hate

If today my course
Is Strength
Show me my weakness

Help me to see
The lessons I need
To know and have Your heart.

I Believe in Christ…So Come What May

Every now and again, a line from a hymn will strike me even though I have heard it a thousand times before.  This is a fairly rare occurrence, probably because we usually sing our music so slowly that by the time you get to the end of a phrase, the beginning of that phrase is difficult to remember.  It’s hard to get much out of music if you are playing your 45s at 33 speed (for those of you too young to understand that analogy, there used to be these things called “records”….)

But today was one of those days.  I wasn’t singing along this morning, because my iPad was locked up on an update, and I have refused Hymnalto use a hymnal since my wife found a booger on one back in 2010.  So I was listening for a change, while the congregation was singing “I Believe in Christ.”  For a bit, I was distracted, because the meeting already was running 15 minutes over, and for some reason we were going to sing all four verses.  (Actually, that song has eight verses, carefully disguised as four, because ain’t nobody got time for an eight-verse hymn.  We don’t, for example, sing all of the verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” unless a speaker didn’t show up or the teachers forgot to bring the sacrament bread).

Anywhoo, the chances of me skipping Sunday School were looking pretty good regardless, so I wasn’t feeling too anxious about the long meeting.  I just sat back and listened to the congregation sing.  And in the middle of the hymn, one line actually stood up and demanded my attention:  “I believe in Christ/So come what may.”

I’m not exactly sure why this line lodged itself in my head.  I think it has something to do with the fact that, in order to write for this and my other blog, I read a fair number of news reports about Mormonism, many of which are as unfair as they are critical.  On top of that, my blog posts themselves sometimes expose me to more direct criticism.  Just this morning an angry former member of the Church who had “finally found Christ” (his words) demonstrated his superior spirituality by repeatedly calling me a “liar” and telling me to stop writing “crap” to defend Mormons.  For the record, I don’t tell any lies in my posts, but that second criticism is sufficiently subjective that I probably can’t deny it.  In any event, the fact is that I get a pretty steady diet of criticism of my faith.

ChristusAs I have said before, one’s faith in Christ is, ultimately, a choice.  The case for or against the divinity of Christ will not be closed in this life, and therefore at some point we choose either to believe that He (upper case “H”) was the Son of God or he (lower case “h”) was delusional or a fraud.  Whichever choice we make comes with consequences, and we can hardly claim to have made any choice at all if we have to reevaluate our position every time we face a new consequence.

Having chosen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the literal Son of God, that He atoned for the sins of the world, and was resurrected from the dead is not without consequences.  The same is true with the decision to believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and was directed through revelation to translate the Book of Mormon and restore the same church that Christ established when He was on the earth.   What are those consequences?  What was the “come what may” to which Elder McConkie referred in the hymn he wrote?  I can think of a few:

There is the uncertainty in times of trouble, when you feel perhaps no one, not even Christ, hears your anguished cries.

There is the frustration of being mocked by arrogant critics who insist that no rational person would believe as you do.

There are the nagging doubts caused by questions that you cannot answer and might not be able to answer during this life.

There is the difficulty of abandoning the less savory aspects of your character in order to harmonize more closely to the example of your Master.

There are the feelings of self denial as you sacrifice things you want now in the hopes of receiving something better much farther down the road.

There is the loss of family or friends who cannot abide your faith, or with whom you cannot safely abide while sustaining and nurturing your commitment to Christ.

Choosing to embrace and exercise faith is not an inconsequential decision.  If one’s faith is sincere, it means changing what you think, how you feel, and the way that you see the world.   It means adopting not just a world view, but a universal of view of the origins and meaning of life and the nature and purpose of the afterlife.  It can, and should, change everything.

While it is important to continue to study, to search, and to explore in order to enrich, nurture and deepen your faith, that does not mean that every time we encounter some new theory, new “fact,” or new idea, we reexamine our decision to believe.  To do so would mean that our testimonies would be forever tentative.  They would never take us anywhere, and instead we would just continue circling the board, hoping that if we land on Boardwalk, the atheists haven’t built a hotel there that is going to clean out our spiritual banks.

For those of you too young to understand that analogy, there used to be this game…

 

 

 

Reporting on Mormonism: Here We Go Again

I sometimes think it must actually cause reporters physical pain to approach stories about the LDS Church objectively.  For the life of me, I can’t come up with any other reason that causes reporting on Mormonism to be so slanted.

Today’s example is a June 23 article in the Washington Post entitled “Founder of Mormon women’s movement excommunicated by all-male church council.”

The gist of the story is that the big bad Mormon men are silencing women’s voices and kicking out feminists by the dozens.  I can live with someone having and expressing that opinion.  But that’s exactly what it is:  An opinion dressed up as news reporting.

After framing this as a traditional civil rights issue by noting that Kate Kelly is a “human rights attorney” (strictly speaking, so am I), the author summarizes her story as follows: “Experts on Mormon history say Kelly, 33, who was convicted on the charge of apostasy for her public organizing with Ordain Women, is part of a wave of some of the highest-profile excommunications in decades.”  What is this “wave” of excommunications about which the reader should be so concerned?  Well, we finally discover in the last paragraph that the wave is barely a ripple:  The article cites one other person (who doesn’t get more ink in the story because he is a man and therefore doesn’t fit the whole persecution theme) who has been called before a disciplinary council but regarding whom no decision has been made.  In other words, it is a wave of one.

Farther along in the article, we get this remarkable sentence:  “Flake and regular Mormons agreed that the excommunication would likely chill public conversations around the topic of women’s ordination in Mormonism, a faith group that many Americans still associate with the word “cult.”  The Flake referred to is a historian who focuses on issues regarding the LDS Church and women (and, as near as I can tell from her biography, is LDS herself).   Who are the “regular Mormons” the author is talking about?  Once again, it is a party of one.  Aside from one other “historian,” she quotes one blogger sympathetic to Ordain Women who is critical of the decision to excommunicate Kelly.  Naturally, from that one voice we can conclude that 15 million other Mormons agree that this is going to “chill conversations.”  The scores of blogs I have read by LDS women who have no problem at all with Kelly’s excommunication?   Ignored completely.  Apparently Google doesn’t operate on an equal-opportunity basis at the Post.  (For what it is worth, I find it curious that the blogger who is quoted complains that he is being “silenced” as well.  So silenced that he gave an interview to the Washington Post.)

The second part of that sentence is more absurd.  Why the ubiquitous reference to Mormonism being a cult?  First, the statement is absolutely incorrect.  If one bothers to click on the link the author provides, the result is a Pew study following the Mitt Romney campaign regarding attitudes towards Mormons.  Among the many results of that study was a word-association question that demonstrated that 5% of the respondents said that they associate Mormons with the word “cult.”  The Post author generously describes this 5% as “many” Americans.  Interestingly, according to a Fox News poll, eight percent of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive.  So what this really tells us is that between 5 and 8 percent of Americans are complete knuckleheads.

The reference to Mormonism as a cult is merely a way to signal to the reader what he or she should conclude from the rest of the article:  That Mormons are a bunch of misogynist cult members keeping their women-folk barefoot and pregnant.  It’s a stereotype, and an unfair one at that.  But it demonstrates that this isn’t just a news story.  It’s a story with a purpose, and that purpose is to persuade the reader that there is something nefarious going on in Salt Lake City.

I really do try to take articles like these with a grain of Utah’s best salt, but there is only so much manipulation you can stomach.  The press desperately wants the Kelly excommunication to be a huge story that they can leverage to expose Mormonism as whatever-it-is-that-non-Mormons-think-we-are.  I get that.  But when you put an article like this under the light of scrutiny, you have to who it is that is running the scam.