Friday, May 28, 2010

Seeing "Through a glass darkly"--Our Mortal Condition (or, we need all the help we can get)

The other day, Shy and Katscratchme were discussing issues with regard to dealing with their spouses. The following article offers some interesting insights for spouses and as well as for other relationships. The Knight and I enjoyed a discussion of the article as we were driving somewhere to do some CSM thing recently. The article appeared in Meridian Magazine within the last month or so. It is definitely food for thought.

Will I Ever Receive His Image in My Countenance?By H. Wallace Goddard

Alma surrendered his civil leadership so that he could minister to the spiritual well-being of the people. He traveled the cities and villages giving the polished message recorded in Alma 5. Though Alma did not have the technology to deliver his speech to all the people at once, he did deliver the same powerful invitation to people all over the land. I think of this as one of the earliest recorded General Conference addresses.

In Alma’s great speech to the people, he suggested that one of the evidences of spiritual re-birth is to have Jesus’ image in our countenances (Alma 5:14). I have been both inspired and burdened by that expectation. I want to radiate like Jesus. I want people to see Him in me. But, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see any hint of His remarkable goodness. I see tired eyes and a profusion of wrinkles.

Since I have a great talent for self-accusation, I have assumed that I am not really spiritually reborn. I may have had powerful spiritual experiences, I may love Him dearly, but my cankered soul has not yet yielded to the mighty change.

New Revelation

I am grateful for the opportunity I have of teaching Institute in the Little Rock area. When it came time for us to study Alma’s great plea for spiritual renewal, I begged God to open my mind and heart so I could understand his meaning. I studied and pondered. I continued to love the chapter but still felt more accused than encouraged by Alma’s description of the changed soul.

It wasn’t until we were in the middle of the lesson on a Wednesday evening in early March in the Relief Society room of the chapel that God gave the answer I had sought. Suddenly God made the connection between Alma’s words and the practical reality.

The Background

The world’s best scholar on marriage is arguably John Gottman. I have read and studied his books. I regularly use his materials in both writing and teaching.

In Relationship Cure (2001), Gottman suggested that many ordinary behaviors are really bids for connection. When I ask Nancy if she would like to go to Home Depot with me, I am not requesting help with loading lumber. I am really telling her that I love to be with her and would be delighted to have her accompany me to one of my favorite places. I am making a bid for connection.

Very often we miss the significance of these invitations. Maybe Nancy asks me if I would like to take a walk with her. If I am in a foul mood, I might respond: “Are you saying that I am a lazy slob, that I need more exercise, and you don’t approve of my reading newsmagazines?”

YIKES! We can be so absorbed in our own thoughts and feelings that we hardly see a partner’s loving intent. We respond to invitation with insult. When we respond to a bid for connection in such a harsh way, Gottman calls it “turning against.”

I might respond to Nancy’s invitation in a gentler, but still self-focused way. I might shrug, sigh, and announce with non-verbals that I really don’t want to go. Gottman calls this “turning away.” I suspect that we do a lot of this with family and friends. They invite us into their lives and we shrug them off.

There is a third alternative. Imagine that, in response to Nancy’s invitation, I say, “I love doing things with you, Dear.” Maybe I jump up and join her in a walk. Yet my warm response does not require that I take the walk. Maybe my back is hurting or I’m in the middle of something pressing. But I can respond to a bid for connection by “turning toward” Nancy. Maybe I say, “I love doing things with you, Dear. I just need to finish this project, but as soon as I’m done, let’s spend some time together.” I can respond to her message of love by offering a message of love. I can turn toward her whole-heartedly and appreciatively. I can embrace her invitation.

As I thought about “turning toward,” it seemed that maybe that is exactly what Alma meant when he asked if we have Jesus’ image in our countenance. I think he means that we welcome their invitation into their lives, and offer grace, goodness, and appreciation in return. Turning toward people may be the sign that Jesus is in our hearts and souls.

Jesus as the Perfect Model

Jesus life was filled with turning toward His confused and troubled siblings. One of my favorite examples is Jesus’ dealings with the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). While Simon and his hard-hearted buddies judged and condemned both Jesus and the woman, Jesus “turned to the woman,” pointed out her generosity of spirit and “said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven” (v. 48).

At least ten times in scripture we are told that, in spite of our wickedness, “his hand is stretched out still.” That is His attitude, His posture, His stance. He is reaching for us—even when He has reason to turn away or turn against us. In Elder Maxwell’s powerful words: “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds [our] recurring wrongs” (“Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King,” Ensign, May 1976, 26).

He is always turning toward us whether we turn toward Him, turn away from Him, or turn against Him. When we, like Him, turn lovingly and redemptively toward our brothers and sisters, then we have His image in our countenance.

The older meaning of the word countenance included far more than our facial expression; it meant our bearing or behavior. Thus God invites us to turn squarely toward the people in our lives, to see them redemptively—as He does, and to stand ready to serve them gladly.

When a neighbor needs help with a home repair, I can turn toward that neighbor and that need. When a friend seems burdened, I can turn squarely toward him and open my arms. When a fellow saint is not living up to my ideal of gospel standards, I can avoid turning against with scolding and lectures or turning away with an attitude of judgment, and instead turn toward that child of God with love and encouragement. When someone irritates or offends me, I can turn toward that person with acceptance and forgiveness.

That is what He would do. That is what He would have me do to radiate more of what He is.

An Irony and Trap Along the Way

As we read about turning toward others, we may instinctively think of others’ failures to do that for us. We may wish that our parents, spouses, bosses, co-workers, and friends had His image in their countenances! Yet Alma did not ask whether the people around us have experienced the mighty change; he asked whether we had. In His ministry, Jesus—our model--was gracious and redemptive with both those who were gracious and those who were not. He asks that we turn toward others regardless of whether they turn toward us, turn away from us, or turn against us.

In family relations, this is a terribly important idea. I often hear people tell me that they have tried everything to get their spouses engaged and involved in their marriages. I readily grant that some spouses are remote and inflexible. I have also observed that many of us really haven’t tried everything. We have tried the thing that we think should work and we have done it over and over again in spite of its demonstrated ineffectiveness. We get frustrated and we blame the failure on recalcitrant spouses.

For example, I can get mad at my beloved Nancy for being so engaged in Relief Society work that I feel neglected. But getting mad at her is not an effective way of pulling her into my life. If I can adopt the mind of Christ, I know that I should approach her humbly, kindly, and lovingly: “Sweetheart, when you get so involved in Relief Society, I feel left out. I miss you. I get lonely. I would like to do more things with you.”

Rather than conclude that our spouses are hopelessly dull when they do not respond to our bids for connection, we can refine, clarify, and sweeten our invitations. In other words, we can repent. Repenting ourselves is always better than condemning our spouses. It is also more consistent with Jesus’ commands.

At the same time, we can work to be more sensitive to our spouses’ bids for connection. They may be inviting us into our lives in ways we fail to recognize. We can pray for Heaven to give us discerning eyes so that we see and appreciate our spouses’ invitations.

Turning Toward

When my dear wife invites me to take a walk, I plan to jump up and take her hand. And when Jesus reaches towards me with enlightenment, an invitation, or any opportunity to more deeply connect, I plan to fully turn toward Him instead of mentally sighing and turning toward a book, a TV program, or a hobby.

Someday I hope to develop His image in my countenance. I now know how.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Do you remember Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein”— he was the mad scientist who shouted, “It’s alive!!!” when his cobbled together “monster” rose up and walked?

Gene Wilder’s crazy facial expression came to my mind as I read a recent headline which announced that a group of scientists had “created life.” […Well, … sort of … in a manner of speaking … (just don’t look too closely at the experiment!) … at least they didn’t kill it ....]

Actually, the truth is they merely tinkered with the DNA of a simple bacterium. They took out a chunk of DNA and then substituted some “synthesized” DNA. The synthesized DNA was made of "biological components" which the cell recognized as equivalent to its original DNA, so the bacterium continued to self-replicate.

Other scientists have pointed out that, while this experiment is interesting, it doesn’t even come close to “creating life.” Scientists haven’t a clue about how to make a living cell.

Just thought you’d like to know.
“Part A and Part B”
The Federal Government thinks I’m going to turn 65 this year so they sent me a Medicare Card showing my coverage, “Part A and Part B.”
They also sent a tiny booklet to explain what I should understand by “Part A and Part B,” and at the same time they warned me that a much larger and more confusing book with endless “small print” will arrive before my fateful 65th. Nice.
They also sent me a notice telling me that my future Medicare coverage has been cut. Drastically. And if I want to know what that means exactly, I should mail them a postcard requesting the list of cuts.
Once again it appears that needing a doctor, either now or in the future, is not in my own best interests….

LOST Again
In today’s Deseret News, columnist Scott Pierce (TV critic), shared his reaction to the last LOST episode. His headline read: Last ‘LOST’ turned out to be lazy writing. He went on to say:

The producers of "Lost" kept telling us that their main goal was to make viewers feel like they hadn't wasted the time they invested watching the show over the past six years.
There are some viewers who feel like their investment paid off. And others who, to one degree or another, feel ripped off. Count yours truly among the latter group….

Don't get me wrong. The end itself — in which we saw all of the main characters happily dead and headed toward something great (heaven?) — was fine, in a weepy sort of way.
But when the good feelings started to wear off, we were faced with the reality that we had been snookered….

Within the "Lost" universe, there was no attempt to make any of it make sense. A lot of it came down to — well, … magic.

That's simply not good storytelling.

And the feel-good moments at the end don't make up for six seasons of stringing viewers along without ever providing any real answers or any real closure.
At best, it was an attempt to give viewers a nice ending despite the fact that there was never any real plan.

At worst, it was a cynical attempt to hide that lack of a plan — and camouflage all the bad writing — with a warm and fuzzy glow.

I know some of you loved it. And I, too, enjoyed watching the warm and fuzzy ending. But I am still glad I didn’t waste six seasons of my time on it (as I said in my last posting).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Time Not LOST

I confess to sometimes reading the end of a suspenseful novel when I’m only part-way through it. That way, I know where the novel is ultimately headed, and I can stop guessing as the plot twists this way and that, and I can enjoy how the author constructed the novel with subtle clues hidden amongst the ambiguous details. I really hate surprise endings anyway. They usually make me feel irritated with the author— as though I have been tricked, and that the author is mocking me.

Sometimes a quick peek at the last chapter also lets me know that I don’t need to waste one more minute reading that particular book: Hooray! I can spend my precious time elsewhere! Some books, of course, are such that by the second chapter, I know that I need not read any further and I don’t care a fig about how the book ends!

I often use the same approach with a TV series. I was an avid fan of ER during its first couple of seasons. But when ER stopped being a medical show and became a soap opera about the sordid love affairs of the doctors and nurses, I stopped watching. However, I did come back to watch the episode about the death of Dr. Green. By that time, the cast had almost completely changed except for Dr. Green. I did not return to watch the final episode of the series.

I’m sure you have guessed where this is heading:


I saw only the first few episodes or so of the first season of LOST. It looked promising. But then things transpired on the island that were, well, preposterous. Actually, that there were any survivors at all after the crash was preposterous. I wanted to suspend my disbelief, but I was not entirely successful. From the premise being preposterous, things went rapidly down hill from there. I don’t even remember what it was that turned me away and I quit watching. Knowing my intolerance for outlandish impossibilities, it could have been any number of things.

However, when I heard that the final episode of LOST was going to be broadcast, I thought I might watch just to see how the story ends. The fate of the crash victims needed some closure in my mind. And I was sure that there would be discussions amongst friends and family about it. I didn’t want to be entirely out of the loop.

So, I watched the retrospective and the final episode. The retrospective, while not quite a summary, did let me know that I had made a very wise choice when I stopped watching early on. I would have had no patience with most of it. I can groan “give me a break” only so many times …. That the script writers themselves were LOST is most obvious.

So. The end of it…. I suppose it meant that they had really died as they should have from the crash. What followed, on the island, was some kind of limbo or purgatory experience, until they were “ready” to move on to the afterlife. Supposedly, they redeemed themselves through their various choices and actions while on the island.

Good enough. I am glad that I skipped to the last chapter. The middle chapters would have made me cranky. I am glad of the time not LOST in watching it in its entirety.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Marvin Payne on Mother's Day

Mother’s Day—And All the Moms Who Stayed Home
By Marvin Payne

Mother’s Day should be a surprise. That way, you’d have a lot more mothers out to sacrament meeting. As it is, you only have the mothers who are either really brave, emotionally resilient, or overly confident. The rest are at home, watching re-runs of devotionals on BYU TV or drowning their feelings of utter inadequacy in diet Coke with lemon.

And they miss the prize, too, which is always a comfort. I don’t mean the prize is a comfort—missing it is a comfort. Because the prize is either a plant, which is one more living thing that will require her care or die, or it’s chocolate, which, of course, will provide one more shove down the slippery slope of guilt. (One of the blessings of being a mother is that, by definition, you have children, and the children will eat all the chocolate before you get any. Of course, then you have to deal with the guilt of having a Sunday with children who are full of chocolate rather than homemade nine-grain bread ((prepared on Saturday)).)

And of course these mothers miss whatever really good things might have happened at sacrament meeting, like, well, the sacrament. But they also miss Nathan Webb, the youth speaker, who actually required his shuddering mother to stand up in the fifth row and listen to his talk. And that was pretty entertaining. (Also, I, who assigned Nathan to speak, must admit, pretty moving, on account of he didn’t talk about her perfections so much as her values. Which is why she is still among us in mortality.) Also they miss Bob Wilcox telling us how Anna Jarvis, who spent a quarter of a century and all her inheritance promoting the establishment of an official Mother’s Day in America, was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace during a protest against the commercialization of the holiday, dying that same year having never married or born children. But hey, the consolation is that I was born that year to carry the torch of protest all the way into the new millennium.

(Why do the commercializers even try? Our little four-year-old gave her mom a homemade drawing of, I don’t know, maybe a paramecium, with a rubber band around it and “from Addie and Daddy” on the card. Hallmark, eat your heart out. You’ll never beat that.

A couple of years ago, Addie’s brother John, sitting on a Mother’s Day panel in primary, revealed that, “I love my mother because she helps me when I clean the house.” He’s a little sharper-eyed now, though, as suggested by what he about wrote her this year:

“…She helps me when I am sick and she finishes my chores for me. My mom makes the best lemon poppy-seed cake, cinnamon rolls, and popcorn.” ((To this I can attest—it’s popped, not in a bag, but in a pan with coconut oil—yumm!)) “She looks the prettiest when she goes to the Temple or out on a date. She loves to eat lemon bars and chocolate.” ((She joyfully attends sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day. We also have many plants.)) )

One of the fixtures of the day is bad poetry. I will quote here a stanza of Mother’s Day verse without attributing it to any individual poet, because it came last week in an email from the Relief Society, who didn’t attribute it to any individual poet.

I see you working hard for me
And wonder what it means:
Whether I will do the same
And give up my own dreams.

I didn’t actually keep this in the inbox where my wife might happen to read it. I didn’t think it would inspire her.

I can’t lay my hand on it right now, but my old pal Carol Lynn Pearson wrote a poem once about how when a mother bird returns to the nest with worms for her babies, she also brings with her shining bits of sky. The closet ornithologist in me wonders, suddenly, how a mother bird might presume to teach her babies to fly if she, herself, didn’t know how. Or how she could testify that dreams may come true if hers hadn’t. (Hmm, I wonder if any branch of ornithology specializes in bird dreams?)

I had a friend, Mike Palmer, who has long since rejoined his departed mother, whom he loved. On Mother’s Day in 1974 he quoted for me a couple of lines from a poem he’d heard. It wasn’t in sacrament meeting. I remember his grin as he spoke from memory the words, “Huge as Asia, siesmic with laughter, gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand…”

Here’s the whole piece. It’s called “To My Mother.”

Most near, most dear, most loved, and most far,
Under the window where I often found her
Sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
Irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
The lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her,—
She is a procession no one can follow after
But be like a little dog following a brass band.

She will not glance up at the bomber or condescend
To drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar,
But lean on the mahogany table like a mountain
Whom only faith can move, and so I send
O all my faith and all my love to tell her
That she will move from mourning into morning.

This was written by George Granville Barker, who must be acknowledged here as the original owner, and therefore copyright holder, of these words. He was not LDS (not by a long shot, apparently), and died before email.

…Or maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I think the moms are all scared because, heck, I would be. I mean, all the stuff we praise them for is what we might praise the Savior for if there were a “Savior’s Day.” Wait, there is one. Fifty-two, in fact. Hmm. Would He stay home? Well, of course He’s not inadequate. But then, He doesn’t have to cook and clean and… Well, except for broiling fish on the seashore… and then, oh yeah, five thousand—big meal. And washing disciples’ feet, and being the only name on the temple cleansing sign-up. And, okay, we’re there—going deeper into the valley of death than any labor-torn mom and giving birth to all creation.

Maybe what bugged me about the Relief Society verse was that I pictured Mom saying to the sticky-faced kid, “Your dreams instead of mine.” Well, it feels different if you picture Mom suffering in a dark orchard and saying to her Father, “Thy will, not mine be done.”

I guess what makes the difference is what the abandoned dreams are. Beauty? I can imagine the Savior wanting to be beautiful out of reverence for His Father, in whose express image He was made. Education? I can imagine the Savior wanting to learn all He could about the beauty and wonder of the world, to tear at the veil that covered his memory of having made it all. Art? I can imagine the Savior wanting to sound good as He sang the hymn with His disciples on the eve of His atonement.

Beauty again: Helen had a face that launched a thousand ships. Christ has a face that launched a trillion lives. I once asked my Sunday School class of fourteen-year-olds who in the ward they thought had “His image in their countenances.” I expected them to say folks like Merle Broadbent, who, along with radiating measurable light, is just plain beautiful. Well, they went along with Merle, but they were downright eager about Mike Huish, the bishopric guy over the youth. Mike, bless his glorious heart, was not, as a senior in high school, voted “most likely to be mistaken for Tom Selleck.” I was moved by their innocent fervor, and added a beautiful face to my list of inspirations.

Back to the email stanza. It wouldn’t have mattered to the Savior Who’s dream He was serving, because His dream and His Father’s dream were one dream. And this is how it was meant to come true:

“…by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”

Wait, I thought that was for the guys.

Yes, but who does it mostly sound like, your dad or your mom?

Oh. I get it.

THE MOMS WHO STAYED HOME BUT SUBSEQUENTLY READ BACKSTAGE GRAFFITI: All right, then. Mister sticky-faced six-year-old, I’m your mom. I will not abandon my dream for yours. I will surrender my will to Heavenly Father’s dream and cling to it for all I’m worth (which, according to Him, is a lot), and my joy in that dream will ignite your eyes and His dream will become yours.

And we’ll eat the chocolate gleefully together.