Epistle: Memorial Day Thoughts 5.10.17

The Mormon pioneers were driven out of Nauvoo Illinois in 1846 by armed mobs. That exodus began a 23 year gathering by ox drawn wagons, and handcarts. More than 6,000 died and were buried along the way. Yet they came singing. A verse of their favorite song says, “And should we die before our journey’s through, happy day all is well. We then are free from toil and sorrow too. With the just we shall dwell.

“But if our lives are spared again to see the saints their rest obtain, oh how we’ll make this chorus swell. All is well. All is well.”

That is still our declaration.

A number of years ago, my father lay in the home in which he had spent most of his adult life. His wife of 64 years sat quietly near the bed set up for him in the family room where he could catch a little more sunlight. His sons gave him a blessing, and later that night, he struggled into his next life. He did not just slip away. It was hard for him to get the job of dying done. His body still had strength from the years he had labored to support his family and to live his faith. But at length his time came and he passed away.

That night a feeling of accomplishment filled the room and the house. We would miss his counsel, his friendship, and his sense of humor. But he had done what he came to do in this life, and he felt it was time for him to move on.

For those who have lived long and well death is sweet. We as a society often seem unable to accept that fact. Too many times loved ones and health professionals expend heroic efforts and vast sums of money to extend a life even when he or she would prefer to move on. Sometimes the life they extend is a poor excuse of an existence, filled with pain and limited capabilities.

There is even some speculation about eventually extending life indefinitely. This is foolishness. It comes of a wrong paradigm we have on the here and the hereafter. Locked into scientific humanism as our unofficial national philosophy, we are unable or unwilling to look past the veil of death to what might lie beyond. Because of this we have turned death into a horrible non-existence to be postponed and fought off at any price. It becomes a contest in which to live is to win; to die is to lose. This is the wrong metaphor. Death is not defeat. It is a transformation into eternal life.

This view of life and death hurts even more when we see a child struck down by disease; a young soldier killed in battle; a mother taken before she can rear her children, a promising life snuffed out by bad habits and dissipation. These are, of course, sad and even sometimes tragic events. But they are made infinitely more heart rending when we view death as a horrible empty long dark and lonely chasm instead of the door to a better world, which is what it really is.

Death will come to us all soon or late. But it will affect us long before it takes us. How we view life dictates in large measure how we view death. Likewise how we view death influences how we live life. Will we spend our years anxiously avoiding the shadow of the grim reaper, or will we invest our time and energies preparing to enter a more glorious existence when our time comes? Then we will be comforted to know that death here is birth into the hereafter.

Hands that See

HANDS THAT SEE

In that classic movie in 1939, The Wizard of Oz. The plot revolves around things the characters want. The scarecrow wants a brain. The lion wants courage. The tin man wants a heart. Dorothy wants to fly over the rainbow.

I suppose the movie is unforgettable because most of us at some times want something more than we have. When I get that want mood, try to remember true stories like this one.

A number of years ago back in Missouri a night patrolling policeman stopped to check out a suspicious looking scene.  A car was parked on the dark street and a man was working underneath it.  The cop naturally suspected somebody was pilfering parts.  He called the man out from under the car and got one of the bigger surprises of his career I think.  The midnight mechanic was a multi-talented young medical student.  He was fixing his car because like most students he was on a tight budget and didn’t want to pay a garage.  Also he was very handy with his hands, had been since the days he grew up on the farm in southern Utah.  Mechanical work was a refreshing break for him from the mental grind of medical studies.

But why in the dark?  The young medical student explained to the policeman, “Because I’m not handicapped like you and most other people. You have to have light to see things.” I can see with my hands.

The policeman saw the light, so to speak. Got in his car and went to his patrolling shaking his head in amusement.

The medical student/mechanic went back to his fixing his car in the dark. He had learned to see with his hands and fingers since he lost his sight in a childhood accident.

The policeman is one of a long line of people who were amazed at what this man could see and do with his hands.

He was a high school wrestler, played a little guitar and musical saw for recreation, raised a fine family and contributed to his church and community.  His BYU graduating class of 1936 honored him as its most successful student.  He was featured in a verse of a song by Janice Kapp Perry titled “The Test.”  He has blessed the lives of thousands through his long career.

But this remarkable man saw with more than his hands.  He saw with his mind, and heart. With these he gained his insights into life and how to live it to the fullest despite, or perhaps because of challenges.  We are privileged to have known this good man could see without sight, Dr. Iliff Jeffery.

Little Epistle: Infinity

Epistle: Infinity      May 2, 2017              

I once read about isolated societies where their mathematical skills had no use for squiggly lines dividing this, carrying that, and leaving remainders. All these people cared was; this pole is longer than that pole, so chop it off or your house will be crooked. My basket has more eggs than in it than yours has bananas, so make them the same, and then we’ll trade. I thought, “Mathematically those are my people.”

Much later I caught a glimpse of the beauty and poetry of mathematics. I’m still a Dr. Seuss reader in a mathematical Shakespearean sonnet world, but I can catch enough to marvel at what else is in there.

For example, Jesus/Jehovah promises to those who accept him, “…all that my father hath shall be given unto him.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:38) Non math types like me would tend to jump to the conclusion that this is a strong metaphor of how the Lord will share his glory with us. Mathematicians would insist, and rightly so that the scripture says give all, not share with.

But to take the phrase literally the first time the Lord met a true believer, he would give him everything he had. This would leave the Lord with nothing. That makes no sense.

But later I read about George Cantor, a German mathematician who between 1874 and 1884 developed a system for dealing with infinity. In a finite world if I have a hundred gold coins and give you 50, that cuts my supply be half. But with an infinite supply that never happens. “Half” of infinity is still infinity. “Half” is as big as a “whole” in fact you can divide an infinite treasure among an infinite number or people and each one will have the same amount which happens to be—you guessed it, infinite.

Whoops, I just blew that circuit in my little brain. And that is just the beginning. You can also compare and measure infinities, add, subtract and multiply or divide them, arrange them in power sets and subsets, and other mathematical functions as you would finite numbers.

Maybe that’s also the way you can feed 5,000 people with a few of loaves and fishes and  create worlds without number.

Even though I can’t do the math yet, I can catch a little reflected light from the vision. As a parent I know the first baby soaks up all your love. But miraculously the second born has to share the lap, but not the love. The love supply increases to meet the demand. Our love grew with every baby, and now is exploding with the grandchildren. I believe that the love within the human heart is potentially infinite.

How this all integrates into God’s master plan is beyond my finite brain capacity. I cut myself some slack since the Lord seems willing to do so.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Infinitely beautiful truth. I can’t do the math, but I can believe. And I do.

Little Epistle: Where Time Touches Eternity

“The present is the point at which time touches eternity,” wrote C.S. Lewis.  Older people tend to dwell in the past.  They forget Will Rogers down home wisdom, “Things ain’t like they used to be… and they never was.”  Younger people sometimes fixate on the future.  What’s wrong with that?  Planning ahead is a good thing isn’t it?  Yes, but it isn’t the best thing for obtaining eternal exaltation.  Better than planning for the future is doing in the present.  The past is frozen in time.  The future is a wispy vision.  It is only the present we can take hold of and direct.  President Kimball’s famous desk plaque dictum said “Do it.”  It didn’t say plan it.  Plans and preparations are important, of course.  But only as they help us make the maximum use of future present moments.

General George McClellan was a superb tactician, a peerless planner an inspirational commander of the Union armies in the Civil War.  He had only one fatal flaw.  He almost never got around to fighting the battles he planned.  He would have died of old age in Washington getting ready to prepare to commence to begin to start to get going.  It wasn’t until Ulysses S. Grant took over and began to seize the moments that the Union won the war.

J. Golden Kimball liked to tell of the man who wanted a certain maiden’s hand in marriage so badly that he prayed night and day it would come to pass.  Unfortunately while he was praying somebody else asked her and she married him.

The road to the sub-telestial kingdom is paved with planning that never animated itself to action.  Old King Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get wisdom.”  Somebody with even more wisdom than Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get going.”