Little Epistle: Persuading Your Subconscious

As you know our minds consist of two parts, the conscious mind, and the unconscious. The conscious mind is limited. Research by the Bell telephone company years ago indicated that most people’s short term memory can hold about seven pieces of information. That is why phone numbers were limited to seven digits with a space between the first three and last four. The area codes added later botched that up. It’s harder to look at a ten digit number and then dial it from memory.

The conscious mind and memory are also fallible. I think it was Mark Twain who compared our conscious mind to a wooden bowl. It doesn’t hold very much, and after a while it warps.

But our conscious mind has one priceless ability. We can direct it. Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book Psycho Cybernetics compared the conscious mind to the thermostat on the wall. We can change it at will. But the thermostat really doesn’t warm the house. The furnace does. But you can’t just go whack the side of the furnace to fire it up. You have to coax it with the thermostat. And, as you know the heat in the house doesn’t instantly change it takes some time. Likewise the subconscious, but once you unleash its power, it is far stronger and long lasting than the thoughts and words that flit through our conscious brains.

How do you communicate with and persuade the unconscious mind to do your bidding? With compliments, positive affirmations, even whistling and it also helps to describe the person you aspire to be. Perhaps the most powerful training message you can send is repetitious rehearsal. Psychologist and philosopher William James said this in three magic words, “Act as if.” That doesn’t mean imitate. It means do. If you want to be friendly, do what friendly people do. If you want to be a scholar, do what scholars do. If you want to be rich, don’t spend like a drunken sailor. People who get rich do just the opposite.

Most important, if you want to be a Christian, the path is as simple as two words. Jesus said, “Follow me.”

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.

Tapping into the unseen powers

 

The dangers in this world are real and it is easy to feel frightened.

The young servant of the Prophet Elijah was understandably panicked to wake up and see a bloodthirsty army surrounding him.  But the prophet was unruffled.  “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.  And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master!  how shall we do?  And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

“And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.  And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:15-17)

I think we are often like the young friend of Elisha.  He was not imagining the problems and dangers surrounding them.  And we may not be imagining the problems and dangers we face.  But like the young man we may forget to consider what unseen powers may be near to help us.  .

David was much smaller than Goliath, and we all know how that turned out. But have we thought enough about why? Goliath was fighting with his own brute strength.

David’s war cry was, “The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.” (1st Samuel 17:47)

During the dark days of the Civil war when the Northern armies couldn’t seem to ever win a battle, one of Abraham Lincoln’s aids asked him, “Mr. President is the Lord on our side?”

Lincoln replied, “I am not so concerned if the Lord is on our side as I am that we are on the Lord’s side.”

Good council. Facing life’s challenges We may not have visible armies of angels at our command, but when our cause is just, our motives pure and our desires are only to do good our strength is multiplied many times. If we are on the Lord’s side, we may not win every skirmish but ultimately we will emerge victorious.

Smart Money

Consider this sad story about so-called riches.

It’s about a man who lived among a primitive people.  His house servants watched him get things just by writing notes from his checkbook and giving them to people.  At length greed got the best of the servants.  They killed the man and stole his magic check book so they could get all the wonderful things it could buy.

What a tragedy.  A life traded for things of the world. But we see that all the time. Even more tragic, sometimes it’s our own life.  We ignore or are ignorant of the principles of celestial economics.  We spend time and money on corruptible commodities of earth and ignore the opportunities to invest in eternity.  Who of us would not give an honest tenth of his possessions and a generous donation of his time and money if he could be sure he would get in return a reward so great he couldn’t carry it home?

That is precisely what the Lord promises. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10, 3 Nephi 24:10)

On the other hand, suppose our wildest dreams of acquisition and possession came true, and we owned the whole world?  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Jesus asked. (Mark 8:36)

It should be obvious that the smart money and the smart time would go for the larger and enduring return.  But too often.  We go for the quick reward, conspicuous consumption, something for nothing. These schemes are as popular as they ever were in this world.  Ultimately they are as unprofitable as stealing a checkbook.

Little Epistle, Ecology of Eternity

There is something terribly wrong with the way we are treating the good earth.  From the often leaden and laden skies to the slash and burn farming of irreplaceable hardwood forests, the suffocating oil spills, the mountains of garbage, the toxic wastes this is indeed as the Book of Mormon predicted, “…a day of pollutions.”(Mormon 8:31)  And it isn’t just waste.  Even when we use earth’s resources efficiently we too often use them for destruction not construction.

The problems will not be solved by Greenpeace and animal rights activists.  Their premise of this planet is wrong.  They see it as a spinning space station accidentally evolved and eventually destined to grow cold and die.

In reality the earth is an eternal living creation of God.  It cries out in agony over the misuse and abuse perpetrated upon it. (Moses 7:48)  It will one day be redeemed, purified and celestialized forever.  Eventually he only will be worthy to inhabit it who “hath clean hands and a pure heart who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”       (Psalms 24:1-4)

Clean hands will not be stained with the blood and bodies of needlessly slaughtered living things.  Pure hearts will not use earth’s resources for evil ends.  Those not lifted up in vanity will not gorge themselves with conspicuous consumption while their fellow humans starve and the earth strains to support them in their extravagant tastes.  Those with the integrity to avoid deceitful swearing can be trusted to care for the earth according to the Lord’s commandments.  Only these principles of eternal ecology will ultimately save the earth and its inhabitants.  The best thing we can do for this planet is preach and practice the gospel.

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.