Epistle: Aw Shucks or Thank You

When I was a boy growing up in our little town, of Payson Utah, the social code was quite forgiving about many things. Grammatical mistakes were ignored if even noticed. Economic prosperity was not the most important criterion for social acceptance. Athletic prowess was admired, but not worshiped. We even accepted people who were smarter than we were, of whom there were many.

But we had one article of faith maybe even a commandment. “Thou shalt not brag about thyself.” To do so was to be labeled, “Stuck up.” A social outcast, a leper. So even if we got a compliment we tried to play it down. Various versions of, “Shucks, that wern’t nothin.”

Some of us including me may still be saying this sometimes. We may think this is being humble. Maybe it is, but that response also carries some other messages. It may be a modest insult to the person who complimented us. Suggesting that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

It may send the message that we want the person to lay the kind words on a little thicker, something like, “No. seriously you were great.”

Ironically, it may sound like we didn’t appreciate the kind words they just gave us.

We might even convince our admirer that he or she was wrong. It really was nothing. That would be a downer.

Years ago The Three D’s, a singing group I was part of was playing a hotel in Las Vegas.

I went to see a dramatic production that was playing in the hotel. I enjoyed it. Later I happened to see the male lead in the show walking toward me in the hotel corridor. He was pretty well known as a successful Hollywood actor, and I was a little reluctant to speak to him. But I did, and told him how I admired his performance.

I expected a condescending wave as he went by. Instead he stopped in tracks, and graciously thanked me. I left feeling he had complemented me, as indeed he had.

Groveling is not necessarily humility. It may in fact imply ingratitude to our creator that we are disrespecting one of his children he made in his own image. That one is our self.

I’m convinced that the best response to a sincere compliment is an equally sincere thank you.

So if you think these words of mine are wise, I thank you. If you don’t, Ah shucks, twern’t nothin’.

Little Epistle: Bringing Forth Treasures

Bringing Forth Treasures

My friend Martin and I were looking out our kitchen window across Utah Valley to the blue silhouette of the mountains around the mining town of Eureka. The town is named after the sound a prospector makes when he hits pay dirt. And as the old saying has it, “There’s gold in them thar hills.” Even richer are the deposits of silver and lead. Martin said this melody by my friend Dick Davis to the 23rd Psalm.

I said, “Martin, I see where you’re coming from. But maybe we’d better help the other folks follow the trail you just traveled.
Martin and I have been together so long it doesn’t take much to get us on the same wave length.

The mountains around Eureka reminded him of a mining magnate famous around here. His name was Jesse Knight, and he discovered and developed a vein of silver, lead, and some gold that was for a while as rich in silver as the Comstock Lode in Nevada or the seams of gold in the Sierra Nevadas of California. Yet glittering and rich as the ore was, it still required them to dig out two tons of rock to extract fewer than two ounces of the treasure. Seems like a lot of rock for a little ore. But that’s a good ratio for mining.

And it’s not that much different from some other treasures we might seek in this life. How many whacks and taps of the hammer on chisel did it take for Michelangelo to create his magnificent statues from a hunk of rock? How many brush strokes to create Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper? How many edits and rewrites to produce Leo Tolstoy’s book War and Peace? How many rehearsals to present Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

How much preparation to create life’s precious moments? My friend Frank Santiago’s son Brian swished through a shot from mid court at the last second that gave his high school the state basketball championship. Frank’s friends said, “Your kid has a beautiful natural long shot.”
Frank told me, “Yeah natural. Over the past four years I’ve stood under the basket and shagged that ball back to him every morning until he hit 600 shots.” You can do the math, but even at five days a week, I get a total of 624,000 makes. That doesn’t count misses. That’s how you become a natural shooter.

Most of us won’t be world renowned artists, scholars or athletes. But how about the most important treasure we can acquire in this life?
That’s what Martin was referring to, and the story goes like this. Years ago a man from a small town in southern Utah made it big as a professional actor. On a visit to his home town, he offered to do readings for a gathering of old friends and neighbors. They enjoyed his polished renditions. He closed his program with a beautiful reading of the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd.

Then he asked his former bishop, who had served those folks for decades if he would come up and read the psalm.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” the beloved old minister began. No dramatic or interpretive skills, but a heart and soul worthy of the psalmist’s pen.

As he finished there was no applause, but a reverent silence, and some tears coursing down cheeks.
The actor stood and pronounced, “Bishop, I know the 23rd Psalm, but you know the shepherd.”

A lifetime of work casting away the distractions, temptations, and sins of the world had brought forth in this man a spirit of pure gold.

We are all miners and processors. The raw material of life presents itself to us every day. It piles up like the mountainous tailings out of a mine. Our job is to find the gems, extract them, shine them up and use them to beautify our lives and bless the lives of others.

Then, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

And thus may it be with all of us.

The Power of Commitment

The ferocious energy of exploding atoms can level the landscape or light the cities. A pulsating neutron star emits thousands of times more energy than our sun every second. The universe is burning energy at rates we cannot calculate as it hurtles out in every direction. The Lord created and controls this measureless power plant through his priesthood.

With such resources at his command no wonder the visiting angels asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:14) The answer is no.

But sometimes things seem too hard for us. We may feel overwhelmed, stressed out, overburdened and even helpless as we face the tasks before us.

The answer to our weakness is to tap into the inexhaustible power of the Lord. He has promised us we are welcome to do so. The energy outlets are waiting for us. But it is up to us to plug into them. That plugging in process involves commitment.

Once we truly commit to the Lord to do his will at all costs we throw the switches that send his power surging to us. He, of course, does not immediately empower us with his omnipotence for we are still weak vessels and might misuse unlimited power. You don’t let babies and children fly jet planes.

Neither would it be wise for us to have the power to remove all resistance from our way. Then how would we grow? So God who is omniscient as well as omnipotent wisely meters the power to us sufficient for our needs and our ability to use it. As we grow in self-control and as our requirements expand he increases the amount of power entrusted to us.

But we must keep our commitments and honor our covenants, or like a faulty electrical connection we will decrease our ability to receive the power of the Lord.

Sweet Land of Lunacy

Note: The humor I refer to here is not the slashing sarcasm that we endure too often today. It is the smiling, chuckling, sometimes knee slapping jokes and stories we used to pass around.

“The bloody flag is raised. These savage soldiers. They come right into our arms to cut the throats of your sons…. Let us march that their impure blood should water our fields.” These gory lyrics are from a translation of the French revolution marching song La Marseillaise which later became their national anthem.

“Stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.” That is from the American Revolution marching song.
Not to oversimplify. There are many reasons why the American Revolution worked and the French version did not, but I can’t help but think the American funny bone was a useful appendage in the process. The founding fathers and mothers were serious about their work to be sure, but they also had a sense of humor about their predicament. When a snooty British Doctor Richard Shuckburgh called their rag tag militias “nothing but a bunch of Yankee Doodles,” they turned the insult into a
comedy song. They marched to it and in the end the joke was on the British.

The American sense of humor is as deep as any characteristic we possess.
It sometimes gets us into trouble, but it often gives us insights and strength to deal with our difficulties.

Even in our darkest hours Uncle Sam seems to have a twinkle in his eye and a twitch at the corners of his mouth. Speaking of Sam, is it odd that a cartoon personification of a rawboned Yankee has become as venerable as our American eagle? Can you imagine France’s Napoleon, Germany’s Hitler, Russia’s Stalin being represented by a funny paper character? Couldn’t happen.

Americans have usually carried a solid and active sense of humor as part of their arsenal of tools and weapons against demagoguery chicanery, and our own national foolishness. Yankee Doodle was the first, but not the last time we marched to the beat of a comic verse. In the Civil War the most notable song, of course was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. But the inspiration for that dignified hymn to freedom sprang from Julia Ward Howe’s hearing the Union troops singing “John Brown’s body lies a moldering in the grave,” and probably its companion lyric, “We’ll hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree.”

On the other side of the line the Southerners were singing “There’s buckwheat cakes and injun batter, makes you fat or a little fatter. Look away look away, look away Dixie land.” And “The Georgia militia eating goober peas” (peanuts).
In the dark days of slavery black people chuckled to themselves as they sang about “the blue tailed fly” which eventually did in Ol’ Massa.
The vital supplies of World War Two often carried a comic face scribbled on the carton and a friendly message that “Killroy was here.” What that means nobody knows, but it could bring a small smile in the midst of the grimness of war.

How indebted are we to our sense of humor? The man who saved us from self-destruction, one of our two greatest presidents gave us his perspective. After intoning one of the immortal speeches of history, the Gettysburg Address Lincoln was in a deep and characteristically morose mood. He felt personally the weight of the dead buried at the cemetery he had just helped to dedicate. On his way home someone told him a joke. He laughed. Blue nosed critics jumped all over him for such unseemly behavior following so solemn an occasion. Lincoln said, “They do not realize under the burdens I carry if I could not laugh I would die.”

We marched through France in World War one singing, “Mademoiselle from Armentiers hasn’t been kissed for forty years, hinky dinky parlez vous.” We weathered W.W. II singing how you “got to accentuate the positive.”

We hunkered down in the great depression saying to ourselves among other things. “What is a depression? A depression is a dent. A dent is a hole. A hole is nothing. And if you think I’m going to get worried about nothing you’re crazy.”

One of our best known writers Mark Twain was a humorist. He left us pearls of wisdom such as these. “It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve quit at least a thousand times.” And, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Mark Twain left us this clue to our national character and strength. Twain said, “No dictator is really down until he can be made fun of.” True it is the one thing tyrants cannot abide is to have their dignity ruffled. Ruffling puffed up dignity and puncturing the pompous have always been one of the rights we claim as Americans.

But the biggest American joke is this one. Europeans of the late 18th century thought it was hilarious. They scoffed and chuckled over this American lunacy. It was buffoonery and tomfoolery. They weren’t buying any of it. Even today, even in America there are people who think this is a ridiculous idea. It is in fact the greatest joke and the greatest idea in this sweet land of lunacy. The joke is this. Common people, run of the mill just plain folks are smart enough to manage their own lives and to operate their government. It is, as any elitist aristocrat or officious bureaucrat knows, a loony idea. But for almost two and a half centuries now the joke has been on them. May it ever be so.