18 May 2014

Hardly a mote in the sunbeam

I traveled to Washington D.C. this past week for business, and it was a wonderful experience.

The last time I spent any significant time in Washington was as a ten year-old safety patrol participant on a jam-packed 5 day trip. I remember seeing various sights, most of them briefly, but the capital didn't have the impact on me then that it had this last week.

Much of my time there was in meetings, but each day I was able to experience something unique to the city, whether it was the monuments on the National Mall, some of the Smithsonian institutions, or the U.S. Capitol Building.

It's not just the physical element that impresses me, but what they represent, in some instances the pinnacle of human achievement.

We know that, due to our frailties, we are "less than the dust of the earth." Why? Because the dust responds to God's commands, and we do not (Helaman 12:7-8). We alone employ our will to our own ends, often in defiance of God's law.

This is a two-edged sword. At times, our defiance results in unspeakable evil, ugliness, and brutality. Sometimes it leads to mediocrity which, while not malicious, falls far short of our potential.

Sometimes however, we achieve greatness. I saw some of that this week. Magnificent buildings, extraordinary artwork, monuments commemorating the great sacrifices made by millions of our countrymen, and incredible technological advancements enabling flight and space exploration. I couldn't help but be inspired and uplifted.

A key element of my faith is the idea that each of us can progress eternally, eventually becoming like God and Jesus Christ. At the same time that I recognize how far I am from that objective, I know that God intends greater things for me. It helps me to remain humble, even when I appreciate some of man's greatest accomplishments, among them the creation of our country.

A Mormon scholar named Truman Madsen said something interesting on the subject, and I'll end my post with it:

When man measures himself against the infinity of the cosmos he is almost nothing, "hardly a mote in the sunbeam." But when he measures himself against Christ, who overmasters all of these worlds and world systems, and realizes his kinship to Christ, all diminutives become superlatives. The more man comprehends the vastness of the universe, the more he recognizes his own dignity and worth. The cosmos is God's temple. But man is his offspring--a living temple, given dominion over the rest.

10 May 2014

Motherhood & The Atonement

Sunday worship services of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bear similarities to other faiths. Our first meeting is a group meeting, for all ages, where the sacrament (Lord's Supper) is given to the congregation and gospel messages are shared. Among the difference between our service and others is that the gospel messages are delivered by lay members of the congregation. Even when the message is given by the bishop (comparable to a pastor) he is not a paid member of the clergy. This unique aspect of our services provides for interesting and often inspiring messages from sometimes unexpected sources.

Often a short talk is given by a member of the Church between the ages of 12 and 18, followed by two adult members. In my responsibility as a counselor to our bishop, I periodically have the responsibility of choosing members to speak, which is the case in the month of May.

I decided to assign myself as speaker for Mother's Day, which may be a selfish choice, as I wanted the chance to talk about something that is really important- the connection between motherhood and the atonement of Jesus Christ.

As I have been preparing for this topic, I have thought a lot about this relationship. I can't think of a routine occurrence that has this same resonance, though I realize that calling motherhood routine may get me in trouble. What I mean is that something that happens many millions of times every year provides us with a stark example of Christ's work on our behalf.

During pregnancy and childbirth, a woman is subject to pain and sickness, sometimes severe. The scriptures refer to Christ's travails, a term often used to describe pregnancy and labor. At the point of a child's birth, a woman is extremely vulnerable. Although mortality during childbirth is a fraction of what it once was, the occasional tragic death of a new mother reminds us of the risks involved in this act.

Having witnessed the birth of my three children, I can testify that I have felt the Spirit of God speak to my mind and heart that these events were pleasing to God. My appreciation and respect for my wife grew tremendously, and continues to do so as our children grow and develop.

The sacrifice of Christ for our sins, in which he did pay the ultimate price to allow us to be born again, is hard to compare to anything, but of all the selfless acts that the average person may participate in, the birth and rearing of children comes closest. To sacrifice your life for another, as happens in war or other extreme and relatively rare occasions, is noble and great, but most of us will not face that. All of us had mothers, know mothers, and some are and will become mothers. We have been blessed with a vivid example of God's love and it is motherhood.

My hope is to be able to explore this connection with my fellow worshippers tomorrow. Hopefully I will be able to do so! If you are inclined to listen my talk and the others that will be shared, our meeting is at the LDS church building at 10600 SW 24th Ave in Gainesville at 9 AM. All are welcome.

In the meantime, you might enjoy this web page on Motherhood, prepared by my Church.

Happy Mother's Day!

04 May 2014


I was glad to see my son come home with an assignment to study the symbolism of one of our national emblems. It has made me think about the power of symbols, and about our appetite, or lack of appetite for them.

We seem impatient these days. We are busy, often over-scheduled, and so we want our entertainment, our politics, and even our religion to get right to the point. I think this avoidance of symbolism and nuance is a missed opportunity.

Today I attended the dedication service for the Ft. Lauderdale, FL temple. It was broadcast across the state, allowing many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to participate. One of the customs during a temple ceremony is the "Hosanna Shout." This is a symbolic thing, and finds its origins in the customs of the children of Israel during important events, like the Feast of the Tabernacles. When Christ entered Jerusalem preceding the crucifiction, he was met with shouts of "Hosanna!"

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism gives some explantation:

The Hosanna Shout is whole-souled, given to the full limit of one's strength. The congregation stands and in unison shouts the words "Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to God and the Lamb. Amen, Amen, and Amen," repeating them three times. This is usually accompanied by the rhythmic waving of white handkerchiefs with uplifted hands. The epithet "Lamb" relates to the condescension and Atonement of Jesus Christ.

It wouldn't seem like this kind of exercise has much place in our modern lives, but as we participated in this today, I felt the power in this symbol of faith and devotion. Symbols, rites, and practices like this take us from our normal frame of reference. They force us to consider our relationship to God. They promote humility. These overt acts demonstrate our willingness to obey the will of God.

I'm grateful for these links to ancient tradition. Our modern life benefits from the connection. I know that I do.