Why (Spare) Me?

A good friend, reflecting upon my multiple scrapes with the Reaper, speculated that the only reason I am still alive is that Heaven doesn’t want me and Hell is afraid I’ll take over the place.  I’m not sure I can argue that point.  But I have found that as I have experienced one near-miss after another, the question that plagues me is less “why me” in terms of my struggles and more “why me” in terms of my survival.

The last twenty-four hours have given me stark reminders of my two closest calls with the Big Sleep.  Yesterday, a friend passed away after an unexplained illness.  I had visited him (or more properly, his wife) in ICU, and he was in much the same situation as I was in 2015:  In a coma, body swollen from fluids, intubated, and tubes running all over the place.  As sick as he was, he wasn’t as sick as I had been (three conditions with a 1% survival each…you statisticians can do the math), and I had even flatlined a couple of times and still came home.  I thought his chances would be pretty good.  They weren’t.

This morning, I noticed that a long stretch of I-20 near my home was closed due to a fatality resulting from a teenager trying to run across the freeway.  It was within a few hundred yards of where I collided with three eighteen wheelers in 2012.  The freeway was closed, camera crews were out, flashing lights everywhere.  It looked very much like the pictures from my accident.  My daughters and I survived that mess, when we had no business doing so.

There have been other serious health scares over the last 5 years, yet on Monday I was walking/running a 5K (a lot more walking than running, but still pretty good for a zombie), and here I am still polluting cyberspace with my blog.  During that same time, I’ve lost a few friends and a father in law, I’ve watched families endure hardships of cancer and other serious health conditions, and I’ve spent some nights hanging out in the waiting room of ICUs, just as others hung out in support of me.  I’ve long since abandoned self-pity and wallowing in my own hardships, and instead look at where I am and wonder why I have been spared.

I don’t know the answer to that.  A friend who was injured in the Vietnam War told me that after he survived a life-threatening wound, he wrote on a card, “The Lord gave me another day.  Why?”  He carries that with him until this day.  I don’t think he has been able to pencil in an anwer yet.

Most people’s reaction to my continued residence above ground have said some version of “The Lord still has a mission for you.”  If that’s the case, I think He must be sorely disappointed.  I think I’ve been considerably less useful after my accident and coma.  A traumatic brain injury I suffered in the wreck has not been debilitating, but it has compromised some things and made me an irritable, grumpy, “get those kids off my lawn” kind of guy.  And the whole Lazarus act has left me with a few nagging health issues.  I’m getting along fine, but I suspect I was more useful before all of that went down.

And the friends I’ve lost?  No false humility here:  They were more likely to do good things than I am.  Better people.  Better servants.  They’d both get picked way before me in a pickup game of celestial softball.  I’m a right fielder on that team:  Limited skills, but if the ball only comes my way every couple of innings, I won’t screw things up too badly.  (Maybe I should stick with this analogy and assume that they were called up to the majors while I’m left scuffling in triple-A).

All of us struggle with finding meaning in life.  I think that struggle is amplified when experiences make our lives seem more fragile.  Such experiences leave whispers in our ears telling us that if we have a purpose, we better find it quickly, because our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed.

I’ve had to reconcile myself to the realization that if there was a Purpose to me being spared (the capital-P kind of Purpose, like the reason Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider), I’m unlikely to know what it is until it gets here, and forcing the issue probably will just frustrate me.  So I focus more on the lower-case purposes for which I might have been spared.  That involves the people right in front of me.  If I can be encouraging or comforting, if I can lighten a load through humor, if i can use my bonus hours by being present for others, that is probably enough for me.  I think a lot of accumulated good can be done by just being a little kinder, a little more available, a little more helpful to the people with whom I am blessed to share mortality.

Either Heaven or Hell is going to have to put up with me eventually.   Until that time, I’ll worry less about why I am here and just try to make my little piece of the planet a bit more pleasant.

As long as everyone stays off my lawn.

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If Thou Wilt

If Thou Wilt

R.S. Ghio

Through lesioned lips the leper cries

If thou wilt, Lord, cleanse these sores

He willed

He healed

The pleading soul was plagued no more.

 

With tearful eyes, the sufferer cries

Spirit groaning from weight of woe

I will

To heal

But how to aid, I do not know.

 

I cannot cool the trial’s flame

No healing touch at my command

To help

To heal

Are powers held in abler Hands.

 

Yet what I have, so much I’ll give

My feeble comfort through journey’s end

My will

Be healed

No miracle.  Just a friend.

The Divine Nature and Role of Women

My Sacrament talk today.

 

The Divine Nature and Role of Women

During my decades as a member of the Church, I have regularly heard complaints from voices both outside and inside the Church to the effect that the Church is essentially a male-oriented, sexist organization in which women are second class citizens.  Perhaps it is the result of the internet, but such voices seem louder and more frequent as time passes.  At the same time, I have heard and witnessed things within the Church that have the unfortunate effect of giving weight to those complaints.  On this day when we honor our mothers, I would like to talk more generally about honoring the divine nature and role of women in the Church.

Some years ago, during  Priesthood opening exercises in this ward, a new elder to the ward stood to address the brethren.  He and his companion had been transferred in that week to replace two sisters who previously had served in the ward.  He announced that now that there were elders in the ward, real missionary work could begin.  There was a smattering of laughter, but not from my pew.

Now, I was quite fond of the sisters who had been serving previous to this elder.  At the same time, my daughter Francesca was serving as a full time missionary in Rome.  In addition, my own experience in the mission field was that the sister missionaries regularly outperformed the elders in terms of hard work, dedication, and obedience.  So following Church that day, I approached this elder to share with him some of my views.  It was a spirited discussion, and there may or may not have been some pushing involved.  I did not know at the time that he was an ex-Marine who could kill me with a paperclip.  I would have considered that information useful.

I share that story so that you will understand that this is an issue that I take very seriously.  I am married to a faithful woman, we have raised five daughters in the Church, and we’ve virtually adopted more than a few more on top of that, and I assure you that none of them are second class citizens in the kingdom of God.   I am proud of their faith.  I am amazed at their courage.  I am humbled by their faithfulness.  Each of them is a better person than I am, and the notion that I am more important in God’s eyes than them because of my gender is absurd and offensive to me.

We speak in the Church of the Three Pillars of Eternity, in reference to the three most important events in the world’s history:  The Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.  It is important, I think, to note the central role that women played in each of those events.

With respect to the Creation, within the very first verses of the scriptures, the divine nature and potential of women is spelled out.  We are told in the 27th verse of the first chapter of Genesis that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”  This establishes, without question, that women, like men, are created in the image of God and share in His divinity.

The divine nature of women always has been a fundamental doctrine of this Church.  At the risk of wading in the deeper end of the doctrinal pool, Elder Erastus Snow taught that “There can be no God except He is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way…There never was a God, and there never will be in all [the] eternities, except they are made of these two component parts:  a man and a woman, the male and the female.”   This remarkable quote suggests, consistent with Genesis, that our Father in Heaven could not hold the position he holds but for the companionship of a faithful woman.  Standing alone, He could not be God.  The implications of such a notion are far-reaching, but for our purposes today, we will leave it at this:  Women and men both are divine, but neither is fully divine without the other.

President Gordon B Hinckley, while serving as a counselor in the First Presidency, pointed out that the very order of creation itself suggests that women are not only made in the image of God, but are in fact the culminating achievement of the Creation.  He said:

“In the sequence of events as set forth in the scripture, God first created the earth, and the earth was without form, and void. He then separated the light from the darkness, and the waters from the land. Then came the creation of vegetation of all kinds…Then followed the creation of animal life in the sea and upon the land.

Having looked over all of this, He declared it to be good. He then created man in His own likeness and image. Then as His final creation, the crowning of His glorious work, He created woman. I like to regard Eve as His masterpiece after all that had gone before, the final work before He rested from His labors.

I do not regard her as being in second place to Adam. She was placed at his side as an helpmeet. They were together in the Garden, they were expelled together, and they labored together in the world into which they were driven.”

With respect to the second pillar of eternity, the Fall, Eve played the central role.  Although other Christian denominations denigrate the Mother of All Living for partaking of the forbidden fruit, in the restored gospel we understand her to have made a conscious decision for the good of posterity and the perpetuation of the Plan of Salvation.

Elder Russell M. Nelson said this of Eve: “We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve’s great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise.”

Finally, as to the Atonement, we remember that Christ was prepared for his sacrifice and death by being anointed at the hands of a faithful woman, while the men in the room not only failed to understand the sacred act but expressed their ignorance by denigrating her service.  Days later, was it an accident that the resurrected Christ would first appear to righteous women, before even appearing to his own apostles?  And we would do well to note that while many of those apostles were hesitant to believe in the resurrection, and one openly doubted, there is a complete absence in the scriptures of any evidence of equivocation from the sisters in these scenes.

Given this doctrinal snapshot of the role of women in the key events of the eternities, I would like to address a few things to the men and women who are here today.

First, to my fellow brethren.  President Uchtdorf has said, “I pray that we as priesthood holders—as husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and friends of these choice women—may see them as the Lord sees them, as daughters of God with limitless potential to influence the world for good.”

If the Church is criticized for being degrading to women, too often it may be because of things that have been said by men who believe that Priesthood ordination confers upon them an elevated status in the Church.  Too often in our services, councils and families, this ugly and doctrinally infirm belief creeps its way in to our thinking.  Brethren, need we be reminded that in order to serve in Church leadership, we require ordination to the Priesthood, but the women do not.  For men to attend the temple, we must be ordained to the Priesthood.   Women do not.  To perform ordinances in the temple, we must hold the priesthood.   Women do not.  We must be ordained to the Priesthood to serve as full-time missionaries.  Women do not.   We cannot sit on ward councils without the Priesthood.  Women can.  Certainly the case could be made that if either gender is inherently spiritually infirm, it is us, not them, because we require an additional endowment of authority to serve in capacities where women do not.

In addition, Priesthood holders need to have a more perfect understanding of the call to “preside,” which is not a license for despotism in the Church or in the home.  When we begin to exercise unrighteous dominion (and I would suggest that “dominion,” by its very nature is unrighteous) we are told that there is an immediate cessation of our priesthood authority.  “Amen” to the authority of such a man, is the way Lord expresses this in the Doctrine and Covenants.  The light of our priesthood is immediately extinguished in the very moment we seek to use it to illuminate our own egos at the expense of the daughters of God.

What then are we to make of such scriptural moments as Adam being commanded to “rule” over Eve and his posterity?  President Hinckley helps us with this.  He said:

“I regrettably recognize that some men have used this through centuries of time as justification for abusing and demeaning women. But I am confident also that in so doing they have demeaned themselves and offended the Father of us all, who, I am confident, loves His daughters just as He loves His sons.

I sat with President David O. McKay on one occasion when he talked about that statement in Genesis. His eyes flashed with anger as he spoke of despotic husbands and stated that they would have to make an accounting of their evil actions when they stand to be judged by the Lord. He indicated that the very essence of the spirit of the gospel demands that any governance in the home must be done only in righteousness.

My own interpretation of that sentence is that the husband shall have a governing responsibility to provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield the wife. Any man who belittles or abuses or terrorizes, or who rules in unrighteousness, will deserve and, I believe, receive the reprimand of a just God who is the Eternal Father of both His sons and daughters.”

(Emphasis added).

That is strong language, and justifiably so.  In my view, if any man in the Church expresses a sexist sentiment or says anything to marginalize, minimize or mock the role of women, such a statement is contrary to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and should be given no weight or consideration.  Sisters, Brother Ghio says that you properly may call the person who says such a thing an infidel and a Philistine and, if you are so inclined, you may tell him to put a sock in it.

Sisters, a word with you.  At the risk of mansplaining, please never let anyone make you feel that your position in the gospel of Jesus Christ is compromised by your gender.  It is not.  There is no blessing that will be denied you because of your sex.  President Dieter F. Uctdorf has stated:

“The lives of women in the Church are a powerful witness that spiritual gifts, promises, and blessings of the Lord are given to all those who qualify, “that all may be benefited.”  The doctrines of the restored gospel create a wonderful and “unique feminine identity that encourages women to develop their abilities” as true and literal daughters of God.

***

Because their potential for good is so great and their gifts so diverse, women may find themselves in roles that vary with their circumstances in life. Some women, in fact, must fill many roles simultaneously. For this reason, Latter-day Saint women are encouraged to acquire an education and training that will qualify them both for homemaking and raising a righteous family and for earning a living outside the home if the occasion requires.”

Sisters, the Lord has not limited you, so please do not limit yourselves.

Along these lines, and consistent with President Uchtdorf’s message, I have something to say to the young women here today.  You have opportunities and obligations to do as much as you can to enrich your lives and maximize your talents.  Part of that is obtaining an education.  If you are told to go to college so that you can have the opportunity to meet the right man and get married, you are being given poor counsel.  You should further your education for the purposes of education itself, to make yourself a more complete person, to expand your intellect, deepen your understanding, maximize your talents, and prepare yourself to serve more ably both in and outside your home.  In other words, you should get a degree for exactly the same reasons that men do. If you are fortunate enough to find an eternal companion in the process, so much the better.  But it is a tangential blessing, not the goal

I am blessed to teach institute each week.  When I cannot be there, I usually reach out not to a fellow Priesthood holder, but to Sister Cannon from Grand Prairie First Ward to teach for me.  Why do I do that?  Because Sister Cannon is one of the most well-read people I know, and I suspect that she has forgotten more about the gospel than I will ever learn. I know that when she teaches, the students will be blessed to hear sound doctrine.  The Lord can do amazing things through educated, skilled sisters who lean on no one else for their spiritual strength.  There are countless such women in the Church, and we have an embarrassing abundance of such women in this ward.  To mention any is to neglect far more, but look to such women who are doing so much both inside and outside their homes to bless the lives of God’s children, and follow their lead.

Sisters, you are essential to our salvation.  As put succinctly by President Heber J. Grant, “Without the devotion and absolute testimony of the living God in the hearts of our mothers, this Church would die.”

I am blessed to have had my spiritual life nurtured by honorable and faithful women.  I have a mother who taught me to pray.  A wife who taught me compassion and how to serve.  Countless women who have instructed me in the gospel and have demonstrated to me what it means to live a celestial life in a telestial world.  For their service and example, I am thankful. And to their central role in carrying out the divine work that is the Plan of Salvation, I testify.

Ode to a Mustache

For those of us who just can’t abide looking like a General Authority….

Dedicated to Bobbie Bailey, who appreciates mustaches better than anyone I’ve ever known.

Ode to a Mustache

Oh mustache, my mustache

I’ve known you so long

I’ll write you this poem

Because I can’t write a song

 

I know some folks hate you

But you’ve done them no harm

You’ve just saved food for later

And kept my lip warm

 

When I married my sweetheart

My mustache was there

She’d love me without money

But not without facial hair

 

Though sometimes I’ve shaved you

You never asked why

You knew you’d be back

Because:  Magnum P.I.

 

Oh mustache, my mustache

We go together so well

If there are no mustaches in Heaven

I guess I’ll wear you in Hell

But Not for Thee

But Not for Thee

R.S. Ghio

My path is only dimly lit

My home too far to see

My burden’s weight too great to bear

For me.  But not for Thee

 

My strength alone cannot suffice

To lift my life-worn head

I cannot stand from where I fell

I lie as one who’s dead

 

The hand that reaches out to me

Brought sight unto the blind

The shoulders bore a world of sin

My arms are weak.  Not Thine.

 

Thy voice a universe creates

Thy feet walk upon the sea

Thy power infinite and pure

Is strength enough for me.

An Old Dude Manifesto

I know you folks at the gym were enjoying a giggle at the sweatband on the scrawny middle aged dude who is only there to ride a bike.  I knew it looked goofy when I put it on.  It made my bald spot show.  But, the thing is, I sweat a LOT, and it sometimes drips on my book when I’m on the recumbent bike.  I hate that way more than I worry about how I look.  So I go with what works.

That’s what us older dudes do.

All of my life I’ve had a hard time understanding the eccentric old person.  For the first half of my life (and least I hope it was only half) I’ve worried about trying to encourage other people to respect me and like me.  I figured everyone else starts off the same way.  So what comes over a guy that makes him turn in the skinny jeans and opt for polyester shorts and long white socks?  To wake up with wacky hair, look in the mirror, and decide “I can go with that.”  To basically tell the world to go jump in a lake?

Over the last year, I finally get it.

You see, I know you are proud of your guns and abs.  And I’m honest enough to admit, you look terrific.  My “abs,” to the extent they can be called that, are marked up with a half dozen scars where doctors have taken out organs that are supposed to be pretty useful.  No, I don’t do sit ups.  But I get up…every morning, without all of my original parts.  You do that, and I’ll tip my hat to you then.

And all of those weights you can bench press.  Zowie.  Time was that I was a strong guy, too.  Much stronger than my size.  Then I was run over by an eighteen wheeler.  Fifteen broken bones and a punctured lung.  To paraphrase Yoda, “When crushed you are, so good you will look not.”  Have a truck dropped on you, and then let’s see what you’ve got.

This time last year, you were probably doing what you are doing now.  You were here at the gym, lifting heavy things, flexing for girls, and staring at yourself in the mirror.  This time last year, I was getting over a coma and being dead–twice–and was about to go another round of trying to check the big ticket on an operating table.  I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror after that, too.  I saw a wraith.  So, yeah, the stairs up to the second floor where the bikes are take me a little longer than they should.  But I came back from the freaking DEAD.  Scoreboard.

When do you stop caring what other people think?  When you finally realize that you are playing with house money.  When you wake up to the fact that your days on this blue marble are numbered.  When you’ve faced some big fights that you didn’t pick and are still here in spite of it.  When you finally get it that “happy” trumps “cool,” but only all of the time.  When some of what you thought was important is taken away from you, and you have to find joy with what is left.  When life hits you square in the mouth, and you stand up and say, “Was that all you’ve got?”

My process probably was accelerated by outside events.  But I’m not alone.  That skinny octogenarian in the white t-shirt and the blue-veined legs marching on the treadmill?  Chances are, he’s seen more than you have imagined, endured more than you could handle right now, and he probably has more grit than you can hope for at your age.  He likely has overcome more before breakfast than you will face in the coming year.  And if he looks goofy, deal with it.  He’s comfortable and he doesn’t give a frog’s fat fanny what you think about it.

I’m playing Galaga with bonus lives right now.  So I’ll read what I want to read and listen to the music I want to listen to.  I’ll speak my mind when I feel like it, and if it shocks someone in the room, I’ll be blissfully unconcerned.  I’ll wear what I want to wear.  If I don’t want to go someplace, I’ll tell you that.  And I’ll wear a terrycloth headband so that I don’t sweat on my books.

At the same time, I’ll enjoy all of the other privileges that come with not being twenty anymore.  I’ll love my wife deeply and be completely devoted to her.  She’s getting older, too, and with each year is that much better than some skinny little kid with too much makeup and implants.  I’ll tell people I love them and not worry if it is cool or manly.  I’ll hug the people that matter.  I’ll take pride in my faith, even if others aren’t on board with it.  I’ll stop during a 5K walk and take a picture of a woodpecker.  Because woodpeckers.

I will find joy in a breath.

I will explore the universe by holding my sweetheart’s hand.

I will play the back nine with a joy that I was too scared to embrace during the first 9 holes.

And, even though it is likely in vain, I will urge you to live a fuller life now, before it is too late.

The Third Death and the Atonement

As a missionary, explaining how the Atonement worked to investigators (the three that I taught in two years) was deceptively easy.  Following the discussions of the Atonement found in the Book of Mormon, we would explain that the Atonement is the means of overcoming two deaths:  physical death and spiritual death.  Physical death is a separation of the spirit and the body, and through the resurrection, Christ brings those two together again, never to be divided.  Spiritual death is the separation of us from God, which Christ overcame through His suffering, bringing us together again, never to be divided.

The concepts of physical and spiritual death, and how the Atonement defeats both of them, is scripturally and doctrinally sound.  The reality of these aspects of the Atonement sits at the heart of what we believe as Latter-day Saints.  But I believe that the conversation shouldn’t end there when we discuss the saving power of the Atonement.  There is a third death from which Christ redeems us.

The third death is despair.  It may be defined as the separation of our hearts from hope.

I have known something of this third death.  Despair has a destructive capacity unlike anything else I have experienced.  It consumes us from the inside and so poisons our minds that we actually seek our own destruction.  I have attended more funerals for suicides than I thought I ever would (I anticipated something like “zero”).  I have talked with one of despair’s victims in the very moment he considered taking his own life.  I desperately invoked the power of hope, endeavoring with no small degree of panic to inject some dim light into the darkness.

We learn in the seventh chapter of Alma that one of principle reasons that the Plan of Salvation required Jehovah to descend to mortality as Jesus was so  that He could experience the sufferings that all of us feel as part of our own mortal sojourns.  Alma explained that the Spirit “knoweth all things,” meaning that the Spirit can observe, understand, and sympathize with our plight, but Christ actually experienced all things “according to the flesh,” meaning that He knows perfectly our trials and therefore can perfectly empathize and perfectly succor us.

“Succor” is a fancy Latin-type word that means “the lifesaver thrown to someone drowning in despair.”  The Savior demonstrated repeatedly during His ministry that He has power over the storms in our lives.  Calming the tempest and walking on troubled waters are impressive miracles, but their utility is limited.  The real miracle is His ability to calm the tortured tempests of our souls, and to teach us to walk calmly when all around us is madness.

The scriptures are replete with references to the Savior’s ability to overcome the third death.  The first two words announcing the coming of the Christ child, as spoken to the shepherds, were “Fear not.”  Christ was seen in vision by Isaiah as the Prince of Peace.  He promised peace and comfort to his followers.  He said the the Holy Ghost would come as a Comforter, and that He, Christ, would be another Comforter.  Paul referred to our Father in Heaven as the God of all Comfort.

Enduring mortality well requires striving, and our adversary understands that.  He knows that if he can get us to give up, he will win.  Thus he spreads the gospel of despair.  He exploits every addiction, every heartache, every personal disappointment.  He seeks to drive wedges into every crack in our dreams and aspirations, hammering at them relentlessly until he has created a chasm between us and the hope promised through the Atonement.

As with the other two deaths, we cannot overcome the third without the intervention of Christ’s grace.  Fortunately, the promise of such grace is undimmed.  Every time Satan whispers in one ear “You can’t,” the Savior whispers in the other, “But WE can.”  When we are taunted with “You aren’t good enough,” our elder brother answers, “With my help, you are.”  To the nefarious threat of “There is no way out of the darkness,” the Redeemer responds, “I am the Way.  I am the Light.”

Our Heavenly Father’s Plan is a Plan of Happiness.  It is the means by which we defeat death, sin, and despair.  It is the blueprint for joy here and now.  As we invite Christ to take a more prominent place in our lives, His very presence drives out despair.  We are redeemed from fear and hopelessness.  We are restored to the companionship of hope, and as with the other two aspects of the Atonement, that reconciliation can be forever.

I Believe

I recently had a discussion with young man wrestling his way through some testimony issues.  As we talked through some of his questions and frustrations, one of the things he mentioned was experiencing feelings of inadequacy during fast and testimony meetings when one person after another stood before the congregation and ticked off all of the things they “knew.”  “I know Joseph Smith was a prophet.”  “I know that Christ lives.”  “I know the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”  This sincere young man felt that either he wasn’t getting the spiritual confirmations everyone else is getting, or these members are overstating the strength of their testimonies.

As I thought about this, I realized that he has a point.  I cannot remember the last time I heard someone couch their testimony in terms of what they “believe,” as opposed to what they “know.”  For me, much of my testimony is based upon beliefs, not iron-clad knowledge.  Like most people, I have not enjoyed dramatic spiritual manifestations that would justify bold announcements of what I know.  But I tend to state my testimony in the same “I know” terms.

Perhaps it is just a matter of social convention.  When primary children are being taught how to give their testimonies, we tend to teach them to use “know speak” instead of “believe speak.”  So we have three-year old Sunbeams testifying that they know the Book of Mormon is true, even though they can’t read the front cover of the book, and knowing that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet when they might not be able to pick him out of a police lineup.  We learn early on to use that language, and we stick with it.

It might also be a pride thing.  If ten people before me have announced what they know, do I look like my testimony is lacking if I say that I believe?  Are people going to think that I’m hedging my bets?

There is scriptural authority for using either term.  Alma speaks of testing our beliefs with the metaphor of planting a seed.  When we act upon our beliefs and see positive results, in Alma’s view, we have a knowledge of truth, because we have seen its results.  From that standpoint, many of us really do “know.”  We’ve seen the positive effect on our lives from living the commandments, and having put gospel to a test we “know” that it is true.

On the other hand, we have the testimony of Peter, who was asked by the Savior in the sixth chapter of John whether the Twelve would leave him as did many other disciples.  Peter answered with “We believe and are sure that thou art the Christ.”  This is a slightly nuanced approach.  It says that even though there may be things in the gospel that are unsettling to us, our belief is sufficiently strong to make us “sure” that the gospel message is true.  It reminds me of Nephi saying that he doesn’t know all things, but he does know enough to persist on the gospel path.

I think that the virtue of belief needs some rehabilitating in the Church.  The truth of it is that when we speak of knowledge with reference to our testimonies, we typically are referring to our level of confidence in what we believe.  We believe so strongly, we feel comfortable labeling our convictions as knowledge.  We believe, and are sure.  It may be more helpful to those new in the faith or momentarily struggling in their testimonies, to hear that we remain faithful because of what we believe.

The wonderful hymn, “I Believe in Christ,” is a powerful example of a moving testimony based upon belief.  As an apostle, a special witness of Christ, Elder Bruce R. McConkie certainly would have been justified in using “know speak.”  I am quite sure that his testimony was far more developed than anything I can hope to enjoy in the near future.  But the repeated expression of “I Believe” not only is poetic, it is also honest and hopeful. And the strength of the testimony suffers nothing by being expressed in terms of belief.

I don’t believe in “rules” for testimonies, as do some people in the Church.  Bearing a testimony is not a performance, nor does it need to confirm with rigid requirements as to content.  So if someone wants to talk about what they “know,” I assume that they are using the word in the Alma “seed” sense and not the Joseph Smith “grove” sense, and I am fine with that.  And if someone tells me what they believe, I welcome them into the fellowship of those of us who have found that belief is sufficient to weather the storms that cross our paths.

And for those who don’t know that they’ll ever know, I suggest that–for now–you give belief a chance.