Snapshots of Life

Monday, December 10, 2007

If I were Mitt Romney

Last week Mitt Romney gave his long-awaited speech on faith in America, which, despite Romney's insistence to the contrary, was an attempt to allay fears about his Mormonism for Republican primary voters. His speech was directed to all Americans, and all Republican primary voters, but especially to Evangelical Christians. Conservative Evangelicals make up about 30% of the Republican voting block and in some crucial states (like Iowa) they make up more like 40%. Mike Huckabee has been gaining on Mitt's long-held and very strong lead in Iowa for several weeks running. Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, has been running an ad on TV touting himself as a "Christian Leader" to edge out Romney and gain favor with the religious right. Furthermore, poll numbers continue to indicate that Americans have reservations about voting for a Mormon for president. Given all of this, it was essential that Romney speak up.

I thought Mitt's speech was excellent. Pundits and advisors called it "risky" but he did what he needed to do. He spoke genuinely from the heart instead of being "wonkish", as he has been characterized recently. He declared that he believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. He spoke about the travesty occuring in our nation of the slow drift toward state-endorsed atheism. He said that no matter what the political consequences, he would not distance himself from the faith of his fathers! Romney did not address doctrinal differences, which was very wise, that would have opened an irreconcilable quagmire. Instead, he focused on values - values that he shares with Evangelical Christians.

I admit that I have had reservations about Romney. To me he has seemed too apt to political convenience. In the debates he seems to say what the voters want to hear, rather than what is right. Too much tip-toeing. Nevertheless, at town hall meetings when Mitt is alone he is much more articulate and strong. I really do think that Romney is a truly good man, but he hasn't quite developed the ability to connect with people as well as some others. And, I also admit that I have been impressed with Huckabee, who is very eloquent, genuine, and witty. BUT, I am extremely frustrated with recent developments. I am absolutely amazed that in today's world it is okay to discriminate against a Mormon. Frankly, it is despicable that Huckabee is intentionally using his religion to move ahead of Romney - politically brilliant but socially unethical. All of the other candidates are "traditional" Christians and not one of them has played off the misunderstandings and biases of the public by using the religion card for political advantage. How is this acceptable to such a large portion of the American public? The constitution specifically states that there will be no religious test for office! As a nationally syndicated columnist asked yesterday, "Would it be acceptable if the ads were run and the opponent was Joseph Lieberman (a Jew)?" There is not ONE single shred of evidence that being a Mormon or adhering to the doctrines of this brand of faith impairs or even affects the ability of Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Gordon Smith, Mike Crapo, or HARRY REID to do their job - all senators, all Mormons! There is also no evidence that the authorities of the church attempt to intervene in or even influence their decisions. To realize this, one need look no further than the difference between Mr. Reid, the raging liberal Senate majority leader, and Mr. Hatch, a 6-term conservative stalwart.

Given all this prejudice and given the fact that Romney really has nothing to lose at this point, if I were Romney I would have taken the speech just a couple of steps further and made it just a tad bit more "risky" and let the chips fall where they may. It would have included something like this (of course only a snippet of the whole discourse):

I am a man of faith. I was raised in a church-going family and a home of prayer. My ancestors were driven from their homes more than once, their rights trampled, all in the name of religion. They were mobbed and denigrated and raped and killed. I am proud of the faith of my fathers and I will never distance myself from it for political gain. We must be past the days of religious oppression and discrimination. You may call me a Mormon but I belong to the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints! I have studied the Bible from the time I was just a boy. I interrupted college at Stanford University and left behind my family, who at the time were engaged in a presidential campaign, and served God full-time for two years of my life - everyday, teaching and testifying of Jesus Christ and His message. I endured persecution and nearly died in an automobile accident, but I didn't go home, I fought the good fight of Christ. I have since raised my own family in a spirit of faith and served as a lay Christian leader of a huge congregation in the Boston area. I worship each Sunday and gather my family frequently for study, fasting, and prayer. I read the Bible daily and though I fall short I strive to adhere to its principles. I know that Jesus Christ is not only the Savior of the world, but also my personal Savior, and that only in and through His grace will I be saved. There is no religious grouping or denomination that has a monopoly on that solemn declaration! I know that He is the Son of God and that He will come again. We may disagree about technical definitions of what it means to be a "true" Christian, but you show me a man who believes in Christ and loves Him and obeys him and tries to serve Him and I will show you a TRUE Christian! One's identification as a Christian is not determined by others, it is proclaimed by himself. It is not determined by the creeds of men, it is determined by his life. Had I lived at the time of ancient Rome I would have gone to the lions just like you. If I am not qualified to be president of the United States based off specific doctrinal differences that will have no bearing on my ability to perform the duties of that high office, so let it be! But I say to you that the founders of our nation would cringe at such an idea. I say that is religious bigotry.

Would it go over well with the hard-core evangelical leaders? No. Would it speak to the people and be courageous and bold? Yes. And that's what we need in a president.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My thoughts

It has once again been far too long since I have deposited my two cents in the blogging world piggy bank. I guess I have been so busy that I haven't had time to organize worthwhile thoughts around any particular subject. I still haven't, but figured I might as well opine on a few matters anyway.

This fall is the first fall in the history of my life since the age of 3 or 4 that I have not returned to the classroom or lecture hall, save the time I was on my mission. I miss school already. Sure, it's nice to be able to come home and not have any reading to do or papers to write, it's great to have a job that pays decent, and it's nice to have time to actually read what I want to read, but at the same time I miss that kind of learning. There is also a certain amount of safety in school. It is familiar. It is something at which I've done well. Now that I'm out of school I feel more officially "grown up", which opens the door to "the real world" and all that comes with it. I'm still getting used to the fact that I have an office with my name on the door. I have a lease with my name on it. I have an employee IRA. This year I will mark something other than the 'student' box under profession on my taxes. Why is it that sometimes I just don't feel old enough for all this stuff?

If I don't start exercising soon I'm gonna gain 50 lbs. by the end of the year!

Therapy is more than just talking. Healing is most often a process, not an event.

Saturday marks 8 years since I received my mission call to the Italy, Rome mission. That's a day I'll never forget.

I love President Eyring! I want to be as genuine and humble as him.

My creative side is challenged.

I hate when I'm this overdue for a haircut!

The leaves in Sardine Canyon last week were the most amazing colors I've ever seen. I didn't know we had autumn leaves like that in Utah.

Mitt Romney has got to be less stiff and more genuine if he wants to win the primaries, let alone the general election. I'm really impressed by Mike Huckabee - unelectable but nevertheless an eloquent, capable, and good man. I'm beginning to fear more and more that we are going to wake up on the first wednesday of November 2008 to the news of Madame President. I'm not scared that the title will be Madame President, just scared of who the Madame will be!

It's awesome to have my whole family here in Utah, even if it's just for a little bit. I can't get over how fortunate I feel to be in such a fun and supportive and loving family.

That's all...for now.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Today at this time I was to begin moving into a home that I have been waiting on for several months. This is a home that was built by my great-great-grandfather around 1890 in Richmond, Utah. The home has been in the family for nearly 120 years! Ancestors have been born and have died and have worked and played in that house. It was the home where my grandma grew up and since that time has been occupied by several uncles, aunts, and cousins over the years. I have spent many hours out there trying to get things cleaned up and improved. Perhaps I am too cheesy and sentimental but there is just a special connection I feel with that house because of my family. I was getting so excited to make the move, finally unpack my things, settle in, and take on the yardwork! In a way, taking care of the place would be my way of giving back some of what they have given me. But, as fate would have it, yesterday around 12:00 noon misfortune struck.

Needless to say, I won't be moving in anytime soon. We are very hopeful that it can be restored but we aren't sure yet. The original two rooms are salvageable and no one was hurt! I suppose those are things we can be grateful for. What is so interesting to me is that I was supposed to have moved in several times in the last few months but there always seemed to be problems that prevented that. In this awful accident there are many people who have lost more than I in terms of money, sacrifice, and sentiment. I do not want to sound like a poor victim here. Nevertheless, I find it remarkable that even in great loss we are shown the loving, and in this case, preserving hand of God. Though I feel sick about the whole thing, it could have been worse. Accident struck the day before I moved in!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Some lessons about the big city

In this valley the temperatures can go from very warm, even hot, to chilling winter cold. I can't believe that it was 45 degrees today. That is absolutely ridiculous for June 6th!

People tend to swear quite a bit here. It must be part of the small town culture or something, or maybe it's because I am coming from BYU. I've been around people who swear frequently before and it really doesn't bother me a ton (aside from the f-word and the profane use of the name of God), but generally they have been part of a different crowd. Here, those you would expect would be less likely to swear proudly - swear unabashedly - as if it is essential to salt and pepper your speech with explitives for added emphasis.

I've decided bad traffic exists everywhere, that's just a relative term!

In some places, besides Country Music Television, it is dang cool to be a cowboy, to talk about steel toe boots, Stetsin hats, and wrangler jeans.

I've made grammatical errors all my life. It is "we was" and "I seen". Why didn't anyone tell me this before? You may think, 'Come on, nobody really talks like that.' Oh, yes they do. I'm talking professionals, like nurses and social workers. It's kinda fun, actually.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

My Advice for Mitt

With all the recent news about presidential candidate Mitt Romney there has been a surge in news on the Mormons too. A PBS documentary, 60 Minutes special, and Time Magazine report are three major examples of the additional attention. In my view, in each case the reporting served at best to bring increased exposure to the Church and to Romney, but at worst only furthered general public misunderstanding and prejudice about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Currently, on national polls of likely Republican primary voters Romney is garnering support from between 10-15% of those polled. Some polls indicate that he is slowly rising, but they also show that, in many cases, he comes in behind Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich, neither of whom have announced candidacy for the presidency in '08. Now, this could be good news for Mitt if these candidates don't enter the race, which may be the case. However, even in polls where these men are removed from the mix Romney's numbers stand fairly constant, and still below front runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. It is true that there are still 9 months or so until the first primaries, it is also true that approximately 20% of likely primary voters are still uncertain, and it is true that Romney is doing an excellent job with fundraising. Also, in Iowa and New Hampshire, certainly two of the most important primary states and places where Romney has done considerable campaigning and TV ads, recent polls suggest Romney has a nice lead. Surely there is much to be optimistic about in the Romney camp, but if I were part of the campaign I would be looking at some concerns.

Romney's campaign presents some dilemmas for the typical Republican primary voter who is generally staunchly conservative and certainly more to the right than to the center. His apparent "flip-flopping" for political gain on matters such as abortion have many concerned. I must admit, it bothers me too. Of course, Mitt uses the appropriate political verbage to explain his position. It doesn't bother me so much that he's changed his position, or even that his "previous" position was one I disagree with. I personally think he has always held his current position on the matter. What bothers me is that he has seemingly adjusted positions on very sensitive, strongly-held issues to get votes in Massachusetts races. But, putting that aside the other two major contenders in the Republican field present just as much, if not more trouble to social conservatives. They too, perhaps like most politicians, are guilty of some adjustment for the purpose of votes. In terms of actual practice of faith and family values - not just talking about them - Mitt Romney is unmatched among the top tier Republicans. Furthermore, Romney's record of leadership in business, the Olympics, and state government is undeniably remarkable. His defense of the traditional family in the face of liberal Massachusetts justices and state legislators was impressive to say the least. Romney is a very strong candidate for president of the United States. He is likeable, articulate, strong on leadership and character, armed with innovative ideas, referred to as "handsome", and an outsider of Washington. So, what are the obstacles? Primary voters are not really excited about any of the 3 contenders. Perhaps of any of the candidates Romney should be the one to identify with the voters and pull ahead.

Certainly McCain and Giuliani have the help of name recognition going for them. But I think we all recognize there is more to it than that. Recent polls indicate that up to 35% of Americans would hesitate to vote for a Mormon for president. Herein lies Romney's most formidable challenge - he is a Mormon. Thus far he has generally tried to skirt around, side step, and basically avoid the issue. He continues to use the same response to questions over and over again. It goes something like this, "I think the American people want a man of faith at the head of this country." Now, I'm not suggesting that Romney has downplayed the fact that he has faith but he has certainly been on the defensive about his particular BRAND of faith. The media and public have brought the issue to him. He hasn't shied away from stating that he is a member of the LDS church but he rarely goes beyond that. He is certainly capable of articulate response. For some reason it appears that his team is in denial that it IS a real issue for the voters. Should it be an issue? Probably not, but current reality says it is, especially in a Republican primary full of Evangelicals, some of whom still believe that so-called "Mormonism" (we would say the restored gospel of Jesus Christ) is synonymous with Satanic cultism.

I really like Mitt, although I haven't decided yet who I will support because I like McCain too. I would like to see him do well, partly because he is a latter-day saint but mostly because he is such a great candidate. Given the immediate scenario that lays before us I have a few suggestions for Mitt, not that he or anyone else closely associated to his camp would ever read this humble blog, just to throw in my two cents.

1. Given that there is an evidenced bias in the American public against Mormons running for president and given that the media is continually raising the issue, and furthermore given that their attempts to discuss and portray the Church in light of Romney's candidacy have been poor, I think Mitt needs to take control of the issue. He needs to be on the offensive about his religion not on the defensive.

2. Romney should address his faith somewhere on his website. I'm not talking about a missionary discussion but rather a brief account of what his faith means to him and his family in general terms, perhaps recounting his involvement in the church as a missionary and lay teacher. Here he should make it clear that the LDS church is in no way promoting his candidacy and that he does not represent the church in any official capacity, just like any of the other candidates and their religious affiliations. There should be a discussion about other politicians serving across the nation who are members of the church and the wide variety of political positions AND ideology they hold - Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, and Gordon Smith in the Senate; Mike Leavitt as Secretary of Health and Human Services and hundreds of others in the executive branch; a dozen or so representatives in the House; a couple of Governors; many federal judges; and countless state and local legislators, mayors, and councilmen/women. Included in this discussion should be references and links to official church statements that express political neutrality and explicitly note that LDS people involved in the political process are not beholden to church leaders or official church positions in their decisions. I recognize this could be sticky and could have the danger of making too big of a deal of things, but I believe people are curious. Far better to hear it from Romney and the Church than from Time Magazine.

3. I really think Romney needs to take the JFK approach and deliver a speech on this subject. JFK gave his speech and even responded to questions from Protestant religious leaders involved in politics. Timing and location of this kind of speech would be very important. It ought to be as high profile as possible to reach out to all Americans but at the same time especially target those with the most concern. Perhaps Romney could make reference to his personal faith in Jesus Christ, and his adherence to the Bible, but his respect for all faith traditions citing the constitution and the 11th Article of Faith. He should be bold in declaring how his faith guides his political life and how it does not. Here you would expect his answer to be very similar to that of all people of faith who serve in public office. Religious bigotry and misunderstanding could be mentioned, JFK as the first Catholic president should be used as an example. Doctrinal differences should never be used as a litmus test for public office. Some of the discussion indicated in suggestion #2 should also be outlined. Basically, the speech needs to relieve some of the curiosity that exists and reassure the American people that there is nothing to be scared of in voting for a Mormon president. Mitt Romney will not be a "puppet" of the President of the Church. He will not try to convert the American people or other nations of the world. I HIGHLY doubt he will even be as open about his faith as President Bush, which is something that I actually like about the president.

4. Finally, while I think Mitt needs to reach out to the religious right, it really kind of bugs me that the Republican party is so beholden to it. I don't think that it is just the Evangelicals who are curious and apprehensive about Romeny's faith so I don't think these suggestions would only serve to gain their support. Numbers I have seen indicate that the religious right makes up about 30% of the Republican voting block, no doubt a considerable chunk. Nevertheless, that leaves 70% of the block to concentrate on. I don't think catering to the religious right will be the key, nor should it be the strategy in this election as it has been in 2000 and particularly 2004. Romeny's team needs to find a way to connect with significant groups within that 70% block. I think he will naturally receive a significant portion of that 30% block anyway because given the candidates there is not any one contender that really appeals to that group. They will be split, which I personally see as a good thing. It is no better for the Republican party to be beholden to the far right than the Democratic party to be beholden to the far left.

I'm certain that the heat is only going to increase for Mitt Romney regarding his religion, particularly if he continues to rise in the polls. Going on the offensive will serve to deflate some of the intrigue of the issue and allow him to focus on his strengths in the campaign.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Wow, you're looking pretty thin up here!"

A new location to call home means a new person to cut my hair. It is more difficult now to go to Sister and get a very good haircut without a fee (although I like to offer a small donation). Without this luxury I am forced to pay 15 bucks for an in-and-out-of-the-chair-in-five-minutes lousy job. Of course, we go through the small talk and the concluding sales pitch for a number of shampoos and gels that "insert vitamins into your hair follicles for a more healthy head of hair." Pardon my cynical skepticism, but come on now! Perhaps I am just bitter because, in her effort to sell me her products, this very tactful cosmotologist made the comment that stands as the title of this post! Is it really that bad? Am I balding? I think I am headed for a self-image crisis! :)

Monday, April 23, 2007

I never would have imagined

Who would have thought, on that fall night more than 6 years ago, that one day I would find myself in a temple in Switzerland together with the family that had just let us into their home to teach the gospel? I still can hardly believe it! It was such a great time!

To write about the whole week would mean a very long post that most of you would not be interested in reading, so I will spare you the boredom. The surprise was pulled of excellently! I arrived early in the day on Monday and awaited the arrival of the Zarrelli family later that evening. When they arrived I was waiting in the lobby of the hostel, which is owned and operated by the church for members traveling to the temple. First, the youngest son, Sandro, walked through the door, his face one of pure astoundment. I embraced him in a huge hug just as Pasquale, the father of the family, stepped through the door. He grinned as wide as eternity and simply said, "I knew you would come". A big hug and an Italian kiss (firmly grabbing your head on both sides and kissing both cheeks) followed. "How are you", I asked. "I couldn't be better", he said.

Next came Maria. Father and son told me that she was out walking around a bit to gaze at the temple. She was so awestruck by it all. I walked out the door into the darkness of the evening and saw her figure walking toward the hostel. I called out, "Is there a Maria Zarrelli around here?" I heard her gasp and then opened my arms as she ran toward me. She burst into tears and cried on my shoulder for several minutes. "I knew you would be here. I knew you would come!"

The following day was the special occasion. As we opened the large doors to enter the temple, Maria was once again overcome with emotion as the realization touched her heart that the long awaited day had finally come. You must excuse my faithlessness but I'm always somewhat anxious when I witness someone go through the temple for the first time, unsure of how they will respond to the very symbolic and unique experience of the temple. They were absolutely comfortable. Maria said to me in the Celestial room, "I've known all this before". Indeed.

The sealing that followed was absolutely beautiful. I had never seen a sealing of a couple that had been previously married, in this case for many years. There is something extra special about it because of their maturity and already existing foundation of love. The sealer's words were some of the most profound and insightful that I had every heard in a sealing ceremony. The Spirit was very powerful. Finally, the moment came when Sandro was invited into the room. This was also a new experience, as I had never witnessed the sealing of a live child to his parents. Much of the reason the family was finally there was because of this young man. They have been too poor to make the long trip to the temple up until now. The youth have gone several times and Sandro has been able to go. Upon his return from their last trip, he said to his parents, "won't you please take us to the temple to be sealed for my 18th birthday?" The Spirit was palpable as Sandro kneeled at the altar and placed his hand upon those of his parents. The sealer began the prayer and Sandro began to weep. His shoulders shook and tears poured down his cheeks as the sealer pronouned, "time and all eternity". I've never seen Pasquale cry but tears streamed down his cheeks too. So powerful!

I've never spent so much time in the temple in such a short period of time in all my life. We literally did hundreds and hundreds of baptisms, about 10 endowment sessions, and dozens of initiatory names. The Zarrellis had prepared tons of names from their own family lines to receive the sacred ordinances. It was remarkable how much these members accomplish during these trips, and how much they relish in serving in the house of the Lord. Are we so willing?

And so it is that the miracle continues. On that October night the prayers of a yearning missionary and the prayers of a searching family were answered by the same Father. He has been there through everything. Now they are an eternal family, they have opened the door for hundreds of relatives to receive the same blessings, they serve faithfully in the church, Sandro is preparing to serve a mission where he will share his joy and testimony with many more, and they are happy! I never would have imagined!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ci vediamo al tempio!

The tickets have been purchased! Two weeks from yesterday I will be on my way to Switzerland (the land of my heritage, by the way) to witness the sealing of one of my favorite families in all the world. This is going to be the coolest surprise I have ever participated in! They have no idea that I'm coming, although Maria (the mother) said goodbye to me yesterday on the phone by saying, "We'll be waiting for you!" I told them that I just did not think I would be able to make it, but how can you let down faith like that?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The still, small voice with increased volume

Sometimes God speaks quietly, almost imperceptibly to the cluttered and busy mind, and sometimes He speaks loudly! Today was such a day. Whereas I once was blind, now I see. A long awaited answer has come with clarity and resolve.

Be still, my soul the Lord is on thy side.
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul thy best thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Thank You Father!

Monday, March 12, 2007

"How Great Shall Be Your Joy"

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life,...and if ye abide in my covenant, shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

In my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful and profound words in all of scripture. I received news today that the Zarrelli family from Naples, Italy will at long last make the trip to Switzerland to the nearest temple. There they will receive their endowment and be sealed as an eternal family. Aside from enduring to the end and receiving eternal life, this is the consummate desire of every missionary for his/her investigators. It is an answer to many prayers!

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

I do not suggest that I brought any souls, particularly the souls of this family, to Him. The whole process was pure miracle. They were prepared and the Spirit bore powerful witness to their humble hearts. However, I was able to be an instrument in His hands to teach this beautiful family the principles of the gospel. I'll never forget that. Now they are going to the temple. My joy is already overflowing, I can't imagine what it will be like with them in the kingdom of our Father. You have no idea how tempted I am to book a flight! Who cares about the money - this is once in eternity!

Monday, March 05, 2007

The End Result

I decided to post this since most people weren't able to hear it. Thanks for everyone's help and suggestions, it's a hard topic to cover in 7 minutes. I'm sure there is a better way to post this but I don't know how. To those who are on.

Increasing in Wisdom and Stature, and in Favor with God and Man
Talk given in Stake Priesthood Leadership Meeting, March 4, 2007

I am sincerely humbled to stand before you to carry out this assignment this morning. I take it very seriously and consider it a sacred task, as so many of us have come seeking to be inspired and uplifted. The topic I have been given is: Finding balance in our lives. I have earnestly sought the guidance and direction of the Spirit as I have prepared these remarks and similarly seek it now. I pray that the message shared today will be His personalized message to each individual heart.

I ask the question, what is a balanced life? Perhaps we can compare our life to a masterpiece played by a great orchestra. The sections of this orchestra are family, work, church, education, social activity, recreation, and so forth. Each section contributes to the cumulative sound of an inspiring symphony. The instruments are the various activities, responsibilities, privileges, and tasks of each of those sections. We are the musicians at every chair, playing every instrument. Surely, at times one section will play more quickly and loudly than others. The demands of family may need more attention than recreation, or school more than social activity. Sometimes there will be solos of one section or one instrument with diminished attention to all other parts, such as during full-time missionary service. We all know that at other times there is a demand for every section and every instrument to play a part in swelling the strains. Though the masterpiece to be played is unique to each of us we have a musical score to guide us – it is more perceived than it is scripted, though surely our foreordained mission is the foundational melody. We exercise our agency in “wisdom and in order” according to the circumstances of life, the principles of the gospel, and the direction of the Spirit. We look to God our Eternal Father to be our conductor. When we fail to follow the score, are poorly practiced, or ignore the guidance of the conductor, our life becomes something a kin to the sound of a junior high concert. In this light, balance becomes much more about harmony among the various parts of our life than equality or symmetry.

The fruits of a balanced life are peace and serenity. When we have harmony and balance in our lives we are far less likely to be overwhelmed and overcome by stress, fatigue, depression, temptation, and discouragement. Furthermore, balance invites the Spirit of the Lord into our lives. Pres. James E. Faust has said, “It is much easier for those who have a righteous balance to yield ‘to the enticings of the Holy Spirit’…and become someone much more enlightened.” Of course, as we learn day by day to better understand how the Spirit speaks to us and then follow its quiet promptings we will be much more likely to have appropriate balance in our lives, thus demonstrating a wonderful trajectory of progression.

How do we achieve a balanced life? Elder M. Russell Ballard gives meaningful counsel to members of the church, particularly leaders in the church, stating, “The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others in their quest for eternal life.” It seems to me that the management of our time and the prioritizing of our many options and activities are two particularly important skills in achieving a balanced life, remembering always that it is “not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27). Elder Neal A. Maxwell declared, “Our management of our time tells us so much about the management of ourselves.”

The strategies, programs, and techniques of prioritizing and time management are countless. Most can be useful and beneficial when chosen to meet our individual circumstances and personal styles. But, by way of testimony I offer this one truth. The Savior taught, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your rememberance…” (John 14:26). I have found in my very limited experience that the times when I have felt most balanced, I have been praying for guidance in exercising good judgment and asking the Lord to point out the areas of my life that are in most need of attention. Here I urge caution because the Lord surely answers those prayers, but always such experiences are tutorial and bring needed harmony to life.

Jesus was a perfect example to follow of one who lived a balanced life. Luke records, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52). Here we gain a wonderful insight into the life of the Savior as He grew. He was perfectly balanced intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.

Certainly no one ever lived that was wiser than Jesus of Nazareth, for He is also Lord of the Universe. No one has understood the world and man as He did. No one has known the truth and doctrine and taught it so beautifully and profoundly than did Jesus, even as a young boy, so that “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” (Luke 2:47). But we know that “he received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace.” (D&C 93:13). Though our progression on this stairway of graces leading to a fullness is much slower than that of Jesus’, we nevertheless are beckoned to follow the same pattern – to “continue from grace to grace” in knowledge and wisdom.

The scriptures tell us very little about the physical stature of the Lord but we know He was likely a carpenter, hard working and physically strong. From holy writ we do learn a great deal about His stature as a man, or His character. He withstood every temptation (Luke 4). He willingly forgave those who trespassed against Him personally (Luke 23:34). He focused on His mission and faced it with courage, for He “set [His] face like a flint” against His smiters and “hid not [His] face from shame and spitting.” (Isa. 50:6-7). Indeed, He partook of the most bitter of all cups in the most unselfish act in the history of time and all eternity (D&C 19). Will we relinquish our own will and face our own Gethsemane with similar stature?

The word of God leaves little doubt that Christ was loved and favored of the Father. Nephi records that God “loveth those who would have him to be their God.” (1 Ne. 17:40). Jesus often “withdrew himself into the wilderness” or into a mountain to pray and commune with His Father (Luke 5:16; 6:12). He did good on the Sabbath (Luke 6:9) and found himself as frequently as possible in the temple (Luke 19:47). He humbly acknowledged that “there is none good but one, that is God” (Matt. 19:17). In the constant service of His fellow being He was always in the service of His God. For His perfect love and unyielding devotion the Father spoke through the veil of Heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). Just as surely as God spoke those words to His only begotten, He will whisper them to his faithful saints that love Him and keep His commandments.

Nowhere in all eternity is there one who compares to Jesus in love and compassion to his fellow man. His immeasurable mercy was not only seen in raising the dead, and giving sight to the blind, but also in touching the leper and teaching the Samaritan. Though He was thronged by the multitudes, He healed individuals. To the outcast man with a legion of devils – homeless, naked, and alone – He not only cast out the evil spirits, but asked, “What is thy name?” (Luke 8:30). He mingled and ate with publicans, sinners, and Samaritans and even with murmuring Pharisees. He wept for His friends (Jn. 11:35). Above all, He laid down His life that all might live. He suffered that He might succor. He faced a crowd of contempt calling for His crucifixion, but even still drops of blood were spilt for them too. Nevertheless, the crowd of the meek and humble recognize Him as their Messiah saying, “Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord…Hosanna in the highest.” (Mark 11:9-10). Can we not also be like Jesus – compassionate and meek in building relationships with our friends, family, and associates – and thus find favor with our fellowmen?

Elder Maxwell was wont to say, “The perfect adoration is emulation”, a profound invitation to follow the pattern of the Master. In our imperfection and weakness He truly is “the way, the truth, and the light” that leads to a balanced life!

I bear testimony of a kind Father of perfect love and understanding. He is a God of mercy and of miracles. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I love the priesthood of God and testify of its power in my life and the life of those I love. God grant that we may increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man, as we strive to live a balanced life!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Practical v. Doctrinal

Some topics for talks in church are easy. Some are hard. Give me a doctrinal topic anyday. You have near limitless information available for sources, not to mention personal testimony and experience with the doctrine to be addressed. Give me a practical topic and see me ponder and stew with no sense of what to do! Certainly, practice is influenced by doctrine, but for some reason it's harder to talk about. There are often many different ways and many good ways to apply doctrine and achieve practical goals. It becomes very challenging to offer something that will be of benefit, rather than a 7-minute workshop talk that shares the same scriptures and quotes we always hear for a given practical discussion. Besides, I feel somewhat unqualified to address a practical topic that I have yet to figure out. The topic: How to find balance in our lives. The setting: Stake priesthood leadership meeting. Any ideas??

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To jump into the fire!

Today I experienced a great internal debate. Will I go to institute class ( for those unfamiliar - a church sponsored religious education course at the university level) or will I watch the State of the Union address? You see, political blood runs through my veins. I don't think my ultimate decision was a reflection of my priorities because I love the institute class, but the state of the union is only an annual event afterall! I was particularly interested in the speech tonight because it was the first time President Bush addressed a congress controlled by Democrats. The whole process is just so fascinating to me! The hype, the ritual, the procedure, the exchanges, the commentary, and of course the speech itself. I believe it is no secret that I am a proud Republican, so what I say I say with an obvious bias. However, I thought President Bush gave a compelling speech. We can probably all agree that "W" is not a great orator. He does not have the mastery of speech of say, Tony Blair or Bill Clinton (much as I cringe to admit it). Tonight though, President Bush showed the American people why we elected him to the highest office in the land two times. Certainly Bush has not been the greatest leader in the history of this country but for all the vilification and vitriol that is spewed out toward him, he is a strong, sincere, reasonable, and compassionate man. He was extremely gracious to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - who by the way has not always been very gracious to him. He presented solutions and demonstrated resolve to tackle difficult issues facing the nation. He also laid out - I think in the most frank and articulate way yet - the absolute necessity to succeed in Iraq! In my opinion the Democratic response by rookie Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) was underlayed with more of the hate that has been common from some in that camp. You could see it in his eyes and the tension in his jaw. He called the President "wreckless". One can say a lot of things about how this whole situation in Iraq has played out, but that is a stinging and serious accusation. This comes from a man who during a White House reception refused to shake the President's hand or answer a question from the Commander in Chief about how the Senator's son was doing (currently serving in Iraq).

Anyway, my intention was not to offer political commentary on the speech in this blog so I will get to my point. The point is that I just love this stuff. I don't know why. No one in my family has been involved in politics. Sure, my parents and grandparents have always been voters but they've never been the type to follow things really closely. In fact, most everyone in my house sighs and rolls their eyes when I insist on watching speeches or they find me watching C-SPAN. How can one not be fascinated by it all? Just thinking about what it might be like to be in the House Chamber tonight got me excited. Contemplating the 2008 presidential playing field now coming into view is already intriguing me. I can't wait for the drama, the tension, the excitement, and the results!

I have always thought about being involved in politics by running for some office. Despite these occasional day dreams and my fascination with the political players and processes, a few things stand in my way. First and foremost is the near requirement to be arrogant and self-congratulatory to run. I'm not suggesting that I'm not that, but I don't want to be that and I hope I'm not ever that. All the manuevering, the shmoozing, the pretenses, and the ruthlessness really turns me off to real participation. I wonder if I would actually have the character to resist the extraordinary vortex of selfishness and pride that so easily grabs many of the powerful and the well-known. Secondly, I just do not have the personal confidence and elephant thick skin (don't elephants have thick skin??) that are essential to survival in the political jungle. I'm not sure I could even withstand the attacks and criticisms that come in local races. Maybe someday I will find the courage or the reason to jump into the fire, but for now I will be a fascinated and hopefully informed bystander!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Can you say Hallelujah!

The final car payment has been made! The burden of debt, even though it wasn't extraordinary, has been lifted. What a great feeling that is! Not only will there be no debt, but I will be just a tad bit richer every month. Woohoo!