Friday, November 30, 2007

The Optimobile!

I confess a severe lack of understanding of cars in general, though this is progressively changing with my current employment. But during my mission I was clueless. Really. Here's a story:

It was stake conference time, and my companion and I wanted to find a ride from Harrison (In-the-Middle-of-Nowhere, Michigan) to Midland a few counties away, inasmuch as we were allotted precious few miles to drive in our car. So we hit up the greatest stake missionary the world has ever known, Brother Wes Langston, for a ride.

Wes was an 18 year-old Arizona transplant living with his Mom and step-dad in Michigan, awaiting the time he would be able to serve a mission himself. He worked at a greasy fast food place and worked with the missionaries--that was it. (Incidentally, Wes now works next door to me at Pinnacle Security here in Orem.) He was the greatest blessing in the world, always willing to take us wherever we needed to go, like stake conference.

For all of his generosity though, he had one short-coming: his car. It was a 1980's Oldsmobile, brown, hot, and falling apart. We had dubbed it "The Optimobile" because when you rode in it you had to be really optimistic about reaching your destination in safety.

This is an aside: Wes now drives a nice luxury car. I think a BMW. He must do ok there at Pinnacle.

The drive down to Midland was without incident. Conference was wonderful (even though Elder Holland didn't come as he had been originally scheduled to), and afterwards some members provided sack lunches to those driving back to Harrison. We hopped in the Optimobile and began munching our sandwiches when half-way between Midland and Harrison we heard a loud bang! come from under the hood of the car. Smoke began rising from beneath the hood, and knowing at least enough to stop because this was pretty clearly not a good thing, we decided to investigate.

Wes popped the hood and lo! a small flame was burning on the engine block. We knew that we needed to get that thing put out, so we ran to the trunk and grabbed the first thing we saw: Window washer fluid. It was blue--blue liquid is supposed to put fires out, right? It didn't work though, and after reading a warning on the label that said (in not so large print) FLAMMABLE!! we opted to try something else. Thank goodness for those sack lunches! We snatched up two apple juice boxes and let them rip. Suddenly, as the fire died down, it smelled as if someone was baking an apple pie with motor oil.

Wes, not in the best of moods, started to hoof it off to the nearest place with a phone (a Michigan Welcome Center, oddly placed mind you). He called his step-dad, who happened to work for the Clare County Sheriff's Office, and he radioed to a trooper who came and picked us up. And so, we missed a wonderful photo-op when we stepped out of the back of a police cruiser in front of our apartment. Dangit!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thomas Wingfold, Curate

I just finished re-reading another favorite book of mine, titled in the title of this post. For those who may know a little of George MacDonald (the author) this will be a wonderful reminder of his genius, for those not so familiar this may serve as an introduction to one of the greatest preachers of all time (I say "preacher" and not "novelist" or "writer" in the spirit of Jessica's frequent comment that though MacDonald may not be the most compelling story-teller she has ever read, he is a fantastic preacher--this comment I believe was inspired by none other than C.S. Lewis).

This is part of a conversation between a young man who was ill and dying and an old man who is the spiritual tutor of the characters:
"Only, the Lord of Life is with you, and that is real company, even in dying, when no one else can be with you."
"If I could only feel he was with me!"
"You may feel his presence without knowing what it is."

George MacDonald spends pages in his novels in commentary. This particular passage has to do with, well, it's self explanatory:
I suspect that at root the loves of the noble wife, the great-souled mother, and the true sister, are one. Anyhow, they are all but glints on the ruffled waters of humanity of the one changeless enduring Light.

There is in MacDonald's writing this very likable style of writing of his characters as if they are an acquaintance of his. In commenting on the spiritual progress of the protagonist at a particular point in his life, MacDonald wrote:
Perhaps it may be to this period that the following verses which I found among his papers belong: he could not himself tell me. [He then copies one of "Wingfold's" poems.]

Another quote from the Wise Tutor:
To be content is not to be satisfied. No one ought to be satisfied with the imperfect. It is God's will that we should bear, and contentedly--because in hope, looking for the redemption of the body. And we know he has a ready servant who will one day set us free.

Here is another part of a conversation between the young dying man and the Wise Man:
"It does seem hard that a man should be capable of doing things that he is not made capable of undoing again."
"It is indeed a terrible thought! And even the smallest wrong is, perhaps, too awful a thing for created being ever to set right again."
"You mean it takes God to do that?"
"I do."
"I don't see how he could ever set some things right."
"He would not be God if he could not or would not do for his creature what that creature cannot do for himself, and must have done for him or lose his life."
"Then he isn't God, for he can't help me."
"Because you don't see what can be done you say God can do nothing--which is as much as to say there cannot be more within his scope than there is within yours! One thing is clear: that if he saw no more than lies within your ken, he could not be God. The very impossibility you see in the thing points to the region wherein God works."

The young man spoken of above committed a serious crime and his sister was caring for him while he slowly wasted away under the conscience of his guilt. Through conversations he had with others, he had decided to turn himself in to the horror of his sister who knew that he would be hanged and would bring disgrace to their family. With this background I share part of a conversation between the sister and the protagonist, Wingfold, a young preacher:
Wingfold took one step nearer to her. "My calling is to speak the truth," he said; "and I am bound to warn you that you will never be at peace in your own soul until you love your brother aright."
"Love my brother!" Helen almost screamed. "I would die for him."
"Then at least let your pride die for him," said Wingfold.

There, just a few selections, certainly not enough to do justice to the depth of the mind of the man who wrote the book, but an offering nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How We Treat Others

From the ancients, with very little commentary, I offer a few thoughts:

But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another (Mosiah 2:15).

And what you hate, do not do to anyone (Tobit 4:15).

This same principle put another way by our Master:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

But then at the end of His ministry, He could draw on the example of His own actions and say:

As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:9-12).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Great Divorce

C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce convinces me that we really do deal in a lot of shallow water here on earth.

I reread this book this past week, and, wow! Isn't it amazing how something that you thought was really incredible about six years ago can be even more so now? The interplay of the themes of agency (he calls it "freedom") and Time (usually capitalized by Lewis, thus giving it proper name status) as fits our eternal identity is fascinating and thought provoking to say the least.

But there it is: the book illustrates a number of individuals who refuse salvation because of one thing or another that they want to hold onto more than to receive the love of God. Perhaps most illustrative is the man with the lizard about his neck, who in a moment decides to let the Angelic being kill the lizard and immediately begins to grown into something akin to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ--and the lizard becomes a divine stallion. Upon viewing this most shocking of transformations, Lewis asks his Teacher (the wise nineteenth century Scottish author/preacher George MacDonald, about whom I'm certain to have more to say later) the meaning of this. MacDonald responds, "Nothing, not even what is best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

Just as a brief excerpt from the book, I offer those words. For more, go read it, and see what kind of soul searching occurs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Or in Other Words...

As a Freshman at BYU, in fact it was my first term there, I took a Book of Mormon class from a young graduate student named Dan Belnap. In a lot of ways, that class changed me and my direction in life. Brother Belnap took an ancient understanding approach to the Book of Mormon, and one of the things he taught us had to do with 1 Nephi 8. I read this chapter of "the most correct of any book on earth" this morning, and thought again of what he taught us.

Among the things Brother Belnap taught was the idea that the rod of iron that Lehi saw in his dream was not a railing, like a stair railing, but a scepter or a rod of power (i.e. the rod of a king or Moses' rod). He helped us to understand that to someone in the ancient world, a rod represented kingship, power, and ruler-ship. In other words, the Word of God leads to these things.

Though the nuances of a rod work well in this regard, 1 Nephi 8:19-20 are abundantly clear on what kind of rod this is: "it extended along the bank of the river" and "a strait and narrow path . . . came along by the rod of iron." So it is, that even though Lehi and Nephi and other ancients may have caught more from this symbolism than a modern reader may (and thanks be to Brother Belnap for pointing this out), nevertheless, the rod is indeed a kind of a railing.

Now, a few other observations about this wonderful chapter, which will mostly have to do with the great and spacious building.

The first thought that struck me today while reading about the building is that Lehi seems to be totally unaware of its existence until he sees those who "after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed" (v 25). They are aware of this building, but Lehi is not. His focus heretofore has been on the joy the fruit filled him with and his anxiety to share this with his family.

Note, after tasting the fruit, he did not see the building, he looked for his family. There is something in that. So why is it that those who later partook and were ashamed did see the building? Maybe they were aware of it while they were on the path, or maybe it was lurking high above the tree, gazing down at those partaking. It appears to be a rather conspicuous place, full of those who mock the righteous. But again, I find it very significant that Lehi does not see it until others do. He did not care for the pride of the world, and certainly did not care what the world thought of him (as is clear from his sudden preaching in Jerusalem in 1 Nephi 1:18-19).

Another thing that struck me about the building was this: "And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost" (v 28) and also "And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads" (v 32).

This is really significant. V 28 makes it clear that those who have tasted the fruit and then are ashamed because of those in the building, do not join the crowds in the building, but they wander off and are lost. And in v 32 it seems that the majority of those who do not make it to the tree also do not join the crowds who seem to really be enjoying themselves reveling in the pleasures of the world, but they drown or are lost. There are those who enter into the building, but none of them are those who have tasted the fruit.

What might this suggest to us? Once you have tasted the fruit, the joy, of the love of God, you cannot join the ignorant crowds of the world, because you already know the contrasting joy of obedience. Therefore, you will find no pleasure in the things of the world, but you will be miserable, and you will become lost.

I think that the defining characteristic of the crowds in the building is ignorance. They do not know better, though they may see that these people are having marvelous experiences tasting this fruit, they have no idea what it is like, otherwise they would not be mocking.

And for my final thought concerning 1 Nephi 8: Lehi does see those who taste the fruit and remain. And there is a defining characteristic in these individuals as well. It comes in two simple words, a verb and an adverb, that describe what happens to these individuals as they approach the tree. Here is the verse:

But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree (v 30).

Those two profound words are so simple, and yet speak so much. As those who are truly penitent and humble arrive at the Tree of Life, they recognize the love of God for what it really is: The Son of God. And they do what all true followers of Christ do when the moment of communion arrives: they fall down...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Theological Arrows of Gamaliel

Actually, I just wanted to come up with something that "TAG" could be an acronym for. I have indeed been tagged and will now proceed to list seven things that as a (roughly) late-teen I would have never thought that I would be interested in and/or do:

By the way, thanks to Jess for inspiring me in this list.

1. Attend and graduate from Brigham Young University

2. Touch a cat, let alone own two

3. Keep up on politics

4. Be married at 22 and have two children before my 26th birthday

5. Cheer for and follow (rather closely mind you) the Utah Jazz

6. Get interested in cars and work as a sales consultant on a car lot

7. Own rental property (but not any more, thank heavens!)

So there it is. If you would have told me any of these things awaited me in the coming tens years of life when I was 17, I would have balked, and I mean seriously balked. Nevertheless, thus we see that life never happens exactly as you would have thought.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Now, I just heard this on the radio on my way to work, but I am absolutely thrilled about it. It demonstrates a more realistic take on all things historical within the Church.

I am referring to the new publication of the Book of Mormon by Doubleday. Word is that in the introduction there is a slight change in the line (I'm going from memory here, not having a copy of the Book of Mormon in front of me), "All were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." Apparently the new publication reads, "All were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Ah, what a beautiful thing. It is so wonderful when we actually take the book at its word and don't add things that were never claimed, i.e. there is no claim whatsoever that the Nephites/Lamanites/Mulekites were the only inhabitants of the Western hemisphere. In fact, from the descriptions of geography in the book (like in, if my memory suits me, Alma 22 where we learn about the length and breadth of the land) we see that the Nephites inhabited a rather small area.

So anyway, I'm excited about this. We are becoming ever more realistic and our faith can be rooted in what it ought to be--the witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Here is a conversation I had with Joshua, exactly as it occurred:

Me: Hey there, what's your name?
Josh: I'm Joshua Huntington Holdaway.
Me: What's your profession?
Josh: My profession is commander.
Me: What are you a commander of?
Josh: I'm the commander of a king.
Me: Wow, how did you get that position?
Josh: Because I like to kill the bad guys.

And then he walked off to his room...