Sunday, January 22, 2012

Newt vs. Mitt

I jokingly remarked to my DH (Darling Husband) yesterday that the first names of the potential Republican candidates for POTUS, made me wish for names that sounded more “presidential.”

“Mitt”? Sounds mostly like baseball equipment. “Newt”? Sounds mostly like a salamander. Who takes a leader with a clownish name seriously?  

You, of course, may or may not remember the shallow, inane, and laughable “he looks Presidential” standard invented by the media in the past twenty years . . . . Unfortunately, it’s still, more than ever, all about appearances and sound bites.

Yesterday, a voter in South Carolina was explaining why he voted for Newt. It had everything to do with being glib and not much to do with being good or doing what’s best for the country. He voted for Newt because he could be counted on in every future “toe-to-toe” debate with Obama to “win” the debate. However, how that translates into being an effective leader in the country and in the world, I don’t know.

It seems that the prevailing sentiment against Mitt may be largely due to his lack of “stage presence.” He seems viscerally uncomfortable with the way politics is done these days – requiring him to play popularity games and to regurgitate empty slogans and sound bites while “looking Presidential.” He seems nearly sick to death of it all. I cannot bear to watch the news clips of him and his family. To me it looks like it’s killing them all.

A great many people apparently have a hard time feeling a “connect” with Mitt. Of course, the anti-Mitt “cult of Mormonism” propaganda causes otherwise decent people to feel uneasy about him. Nevertheless, in our over-riding culture of entertainment, we seem to focus too much on “style” and symbolism. We like the style and the symbolism of the triumphant debate winner. We don’t value as highly the substance of a person’s moral character or his propensity for following time-honored guiding principles. Indeed, some people feel extremely uncomfortable and incredulous around someone who tries really hard to do the right thing all the time: “Is he for real???? Nobody’s that good!”
So. Bottom line: I feel sad that so many Americans size up our political candidates using a measuring stick of shallow, inane, and often laughable criteria. And, of course, I fear for our country because of the tremendous power of the news media to shape our views and attitudes. Those who control the news media, control what we see and hear. Thereby, the media controls what we think and feel. And what we think and feel controls what we do.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making Better Resolutions

Yesterday in Relief Society, our lesson was Chapter One, “Living What We Believe,” from the new Teachings of Presidents of the Church manual. [If you don’t have a copy of this new book, the complete text is available online at] On page one, we learn that George Albert Smith, at age 34, made a list of 11 ideals to live by, which he called his “personal creed.” The manual referred to them as “resolutions” – perhaps they used that word to inspire members of the Church in their personal New Year’s resolutions. Interestingly, the kinds of ideals on President Smith’s list are to be noted not only for what they included, but also for what they did NOT include:

George Albert’s list did NOT include going on a diet to lose 20 pounds (or any other weight goal).

George Albert’s list did NOT include exercising more to get physically fit (or any other physiological goal).

George Albert’s list did NOT include anything that would not really matter in the Eternities.

His list, in short, was a description of how he would follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in his daily actions throughout his life, being kind, gentle, and a blessing to all. While his goals certainly could be termed “lofty,” there was no spirit of “loftiness” – no pride nor arrogance or self-importance – to be found in any of the eleven ideals. Each of us would do well to adopt his creed as our own.

Obviously, personal creeds and New Year’s resolutions are not the same thing. I recently read some advice that could be applied to New Year’s resolutions. In Chapter 19 of Dallin Oaks’ new book, Life’s Lessons Learned, his advice about goal setting is useful if we want to make better resolutions:

“I believe in setting goals, especially the right kind of goals. I have learned that some goals can be an impetus for progress, but others can be little more than a source of frustration. … The ultimate goal for personal effort is to put the Lord first in our lives and to keep His commandments. Attaining that goal requires personal effort and does not depend on others. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His commandments and His will for us prepare us to deal with life’s opportunities and circumstances….”

As I read that, I thought to myself, what would happen if I made just one New Year’s resolution for 2012, that in all things, I would “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”? The question I would ask myself in each situation would be what would the Lord have me do? The promise that follows seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is that “all these things shall be added unto you.” The “all things” Christ was referring to (see Matthew 6:24-34) were the temporal concerns of his disciples for food and clothing and other “Gentile” desires. He assured his disciples that Heavenly Father knew what they needed and would do a better job of supplying those needs than they could do by “taking thought.” (For us, “taking thought,” refers to obsessing over things beyond our control.)

My last year’s list of New Year’s Resolutions comprised 12 things I wanted to accomplish or improve on during 2011. All of these goals were good goals that required personal effort and did not depend on others. While most of these goals did see a little action, not one of them was successfully “completed.” In most cases, I had been too optimistic about my own strength and time available.

Nevertheless, I think I shall keep last year’s list because it expresses good desires. However, I think I may be more successful at actually improving if my motivation for working on any particular item on the list is to do God’s will.

I like the simplicity of what Elder Oaks said: “The ultimate goal for personal effort is to put the Lord first in our lives and to keep His commandments. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His commandments and His will for us prepare us to deal with life’s opportunities and circumstances.”

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year Dawns

The tumult and the shouting dies,

The captains and the kings depart.

Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet:

Lest we forget. Lest we forget. 

The above verse from the Hymn, “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old,” came to my mind as I was contemplating this first day in the new year.

Last night there was a great “tumult” going on as fireworks were exploding around us because the neighbors were “bringing in the New Year” rather loudly.  It didn’t completely wake me; but it was surprising how much noise there actually was.

In sweet contrast, the morning dawned peacefully enough. Nothing, not even the clock radio, disturbed the peace.  

When we left for Church just before 9 a.m., the day was crisp and cold (but not bitterly cold), and the sun and the blue sky were cheerful.  It seemed to be a symbolically optimistic beginning for our new year. And, being the Sabbath day, it seemed to be a glimpse of that Millenial Dawn we look forward to.

I thought about how the “captains” and the “kings” of this world are destined to “depart” when the King of Kings returns. All of the worldliness around us will also depart. All “tumult” and “shouting” will cease for a thousand years.

At that Millenial Dawn, the only possession worth having will be a humble and a contrite heart. We will need to have sacrificed all of the worldliness, tumult, and shouting from our lives and that dwells in our hearts and minds. It is an “ancient” sacrifice because all people in all times will have had to make this same sacrifice in order to “abide the day of His coming” (3 Nephi 24:2).

Lord God of Hosts, be with us in this new year, lest we forget….