Monday, April 30, 2007

Perceiving Truth

Monday, April 30, 2007, Observation:

The other day Jo Anne took me to our dermatologist for him to look at a sore on my hand that wasn't healing up.  I was happy to go, knowing that whatever he did to me from the neck on down I couldn't feel.  When the problem is from the neck on up -- something that occurs far too often according to Jo Anne -- I get nervous knowing that it is going to hurt.  He looked at my hand and had the nurse prepare a surgical tray to biopsy the affected area.  On the tray was a hypodermic needle with some kind of medication to numb the sore that he was about to remove.  Before he began I assured him I didn't need to have my hand numbed because I couldn't feel anything that he could possibly do to me. He asked me if I was sure, and I told him that I definitely was.  He still wanted to give me the shot because never having been paralyzed he could not conceive of not being able to experience pain.  He agreed not to give me the shot if I would agree not to pretend I was in pain and scream out or use one of my dumb jokes like, "Doc, will I be able to play the piano when you get done with this?"

Well, he took a good sized hunk out of the back of my hand, cauterized it extensively, and all the while I was a good boy and didn't cry out in pretended pain.  He had the nurse bandage it up and I could tell he was relieved that he really hadn't hurt me.  Jo Anne commented that I either had nerves of steel or that I truly was paralyzed and had not been faking it all these years.  Yesterday the lab called and confirmed that it indeed was skin cancer and the doctor through the biopsy had removed it all.  I guess I will have to find some other way to exit mortality and enter the spirit world.

I suppose that all of us can have similar experiences and yet perceive them differently.  My perception of the biopsy procedure and the doctor's perception of the same event were really very different. 

I have read in the past a biography about General Ulysses S. Grant, and am currently reading a book about him and his friend and fellow General, William Tecumseh Sherman.  I am a sucker for Civil War books -- I am fascinated with that period of history.  The first day of the battle of Shiloh the Confederate Army just annihilated the Union troops.  Thousands were killed, wounded, or captured.  Had the sun not eventually gone down, Grant's Union Army would undoubtedly have been destroyed that day.  During the night General Sherman tried to find General Grant and tell him that they must retreat across the river during the nighttime or they would be destroyed the next morning.  He finally found Grant standing under a large tree with his cigar clamped between his teeth and rain dripping off the brim of his hat.  As he came upon Grant and saw the look in his eyes, and determination written all over his face, Sherman intuitively knew he must not tell Grant that they should retreat.  He walked up to him and simply said, "We really took a licking today didn't we?"  Grant replied, "Yes we did, but just wait until tomorrow and we will whip them."  Sure enough, instead of retreating, Grant regrouped his troops and won the battle of Shiloh.  It was the first bright spot in the Civil War for the Union and some historians say that with the South's defeat at Shiloh the ultimate outcome of the Civil War was already decided, although years of fighting were still ahead. 

Both generals had experienced the same Battle of Shiloh that day, but their perceptions of the outcome and projected future strategy based on their perceptions, was very different.  Why was it different?  I wish I had the ultimate answer but I am not arrogant or foolish enough to think I do.  I suspect our perceptions of things however, are profoundly influenced by past experience, our own peculiar psychological makeup, and our faith in Christ and the Plan of Happiness.

After a long and bitter struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites in which countless numbers were killed on both sides, Mormon made the following intriguing comment: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]

All the people had basically experienced the same war but it had affected them differently; many had become hardened while many others were softened by the same experience.  Why?  I think part of the answer can be found in the incident recorded by Matthew of Jesus asking his apostles whom men were saying he was.  They responded that some were saying he was John the Baptist, and others that he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."  [Matthew 16:13-17]    

Many people had experienced Jesus, but only those to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed who he really was had the accurate perception of the truth of the matter.  It is through revelation from the Holy Ghost that we can ultimately discern the truth and purpose of the experiences of life accurately.  "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come..." [Doctrine & Covenants 93:24]

To make what I am saying more relevant, consider substituting the following experiences in Mormon's summary statement of the effect prolonged war had on the Nephites and Lamanites: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of... [ the suffering inflicted on the people from cancer, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, heart problems, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, paralysis, divorce, wayward children, the loss of employment and income, and the unexpected loss of loved ones], many had become hardened... and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]

It seems to me that the thing that makes the difference in being either hardened or softened by life's experiences shared by so many, is faith in Christ, and the revelation of the truth and comforting assurance that comes to us through the Holy Ghost, as well as a sure knowledge as to where we came from, why we are here on earth, and what our ultimate destiny is as sons and daughters of God.

Hopefully, as life inevitably brings to each one of us challenging events and experiences, we will be able to accurately perceive the truth and respond to them appropriately and with faith -- insomuch that they [we] did humble themselves [ourselves] before God, even in the depth of humility."



Monday, April 23, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

April 23, 2007, Observation:

Last Thursday evening (April 19, 2007) Jo Anne and I had the privilege and opportunity of speaking at the interfaith Chapel at Chapman University in Orange, California, to a group of faculty and students. Being on a college campus so soon after the Virginia Tech Massacre brought into our minds and hearts most vividly the great tragedy that had occurred in the lives of those young students and some of their professors.  We were all still sobered and saddened by what happened at Virginia Tech.  Being with these students at Chapman University, we could feel their enthusiasm for life and hopes for the future, as well as sense their great potential, which made what had happened earlier in the week at Virginia Tech all the more heart rendering.  That evening at Chapman University, our hearts and prayers went out to the families and friends of those whose young lives were cut short by this senseless act of violence.

I suppose that for many years to come, people will be asking the question why something like this ever had to happen.  I have been thinking about this question a great deal this week, and probably don't have any better answer than anybody else, I am sure.  However, let me share with you some thoughts that have come into my mind as I have pondered "why."

Years ago, a wonderful English teacher, in trying to teach me how to write, making a thesis statement and then supporting and defending it in each succeeding paragraph, gave me the following statement as an example of a thesis statement: "The history of the world is a bath of blood."  It was plain for me then to see how by using that statement as a thesis for an essay, I could easily marshal evidence from history that would substantiate and defend that statement as being very true.

At times I think we may believe we are the only people that have ever experienced terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, senseless murders, and those of us who are older, many major wars where literally millions of people have been killed.  Of course, all we need to do is look at the history of this world to realize that from the time Cain killed Abel "the history of the world truly has been a bath of blood."  Instead of just focusing on what happened at Virginia Tech, perhaps a question that would put all of mankind's experience on this earth from the beginning of time into perspective, is why has "the history of the world been a bath of blood?"

I am no psychologist or philosopher, and I don't believe they have the answer anyway, because the ultimate answer comes from the Scriptures and is spiritual in nature.  As I have pondered the question of man's inhumanity to man from literally the beginning of time, I have concluded that King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon went to the heart and root of the problem better than anyone else ever has. 

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."  [Mosiah 3:19]

I believe King Benjamin selected his words very carefully in speaking to his people.  The natural man is, and has always been, an enemy to God from the very beginning.  The natural man, void of the Spirit, can enter a state the Scriptures describe as "past feeling", and which I call a state of "spiritual paralysis".  One who is physically paralyzed cannot feel those parts of his body that are paralyzed, and one who is "spiritually paralyzed" cannot feel the still small voice of the Spirit and in that state can do unthinkably horrible things.  Nazi Germany became "spiritually paralyzed" as did the Nephites and Lamanites in Book of Mormon times as well as countless other civilizations and people from the beginning of time.

King Benjamin however, gives us the key to overcoming the "natural man."  He says that if we will but "yield" to the "enticings" of the Holy Spirit we can put off the natural man.  The word "yield" means "to give up and cease resistance or contention."  Some synonyms are, surrender, submit, and capitulate.  "Enticings" or entice means "to attract artfully or adroitly or by arousing hope or desire."  A synonym is the word "lure".  Isn't it interesting that skilled fishermen know how to use a "lure" to artfully attract a fish to bite?  Then they are able to work the fish until it "yields" or surrenders.  The Holy Spirit will not beat us over the head or use any kind of force, but will constantly entice us to yield -- to surrender our pride, arrogance, vanity and lustful desires.  As we are willing to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit we can put off the "natural man" and become saints through the atonement of Jesus Christ, possessing the qualities of little children, being: submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love.

I doubt that CNN or politicians will jump on this as the solution to tragedies like the Virginia Tech Massacre, bloodshed and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hatred and murder between Israelis and Palestinians, etc., but truthfully "putting off the natural man" is the only solution to these kinds of problems.  Will this ever happen?  Sad to say it won't until the Prince of Peace ushers in his millennial reign.  In the meantime, I believe we will continue to see escalating terror, senseless murders, and the nightly news filled with stories of man's inhumanity to man.  Those of our generation will come to know only too well the truthfulness that "The history of the world is a bath of blood," because the "natural man" is an enemy to God.

I don't think the Virginia Tech Massacre has anything to do with who has or hasn't guns, or an adequate security system, but it has everything to do with "the natural man" and "spiritual paralysis."  Until individuals all over the world are willing to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and become like little children we, as a world population, will be at a constant state of war.

Am I overly simplistic and idealistic?  I am sure I am, but I know in my heart the truthfulness of King Benjamin's words as being the only solution to the wickedness and violence in which we live.





Friday, April 13, 2007

Admiral Lord Nelson

April 13, 2007, Observation:

This week I just finished reading a most interesting book entitled, Nelson's Trafalgar, written by Roy Adkins.  Years ago Jo Anne and I were in London and visited Trafalgar Square. In Trafalgar Square we saw the country's memorial to the most inspiring leader the British Navy ever had. Nelson's column, erected in 1840, stands 170ft high and is crowned with a statue of Nelson on the top. 

At the time of our visit to Trafalgar Square we knew nothing of Admiral Lord Nelson or the Battle of Trafalgar. Although my curiosity was piqued then regarding Lord Nelson, I did nothing about it until several weeks ago when Jo Anne and I were in Costco.  The minute we get into Costco I head for the tables that have the books on them, and lo and behold there was a paperback copy of Nelson's Trafalgar.  I convinced Jo Anne I needed it badly and she humored me by letting me buy it.

Reading this book has been a sobering, but at the same time, an inspiring experience.  The author has quoted extensively from the journals of the captains and seamen; there were 17,000 British sailors who fought in this bloody and horrific sea battle -- the last major sea battle fought by wooden ships with sails.  The blood and carnage is a bit difficult to read about, but at the same time it heightens one's appreciation of sea life and war in the early 1800s and the courage of those involved.  I will share with you two significant things I have learned from Admiral Lord Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar that have impressed themselves upon my mind and heart.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on October 21, 1805, off the coast of Spain near the large Spanish city of Cadiz, and at a point near the coast called Trafalgar.  Napoleon had his French army poised on the coast of France ready to cross the English Channel and invade England.  He couldn't do this however, unless he knew that he had destroyed the British Navy and could cross the Channel unmolested.  The French and Spanish were allies and had a vast combined fleet of French and Spanish warships that was much larger than anything that Great Britain could put together at the time.  France and Spain had the ships and the manpower but they didn't have Admiral Lord Nelson. 

The British Navy had been blockading the harbor at Cadiz for months, but finally the combined French and Spanish fleet was able to escape which led to the showdown at Trafalgar.  The leaders of the British Empire knew that if the British fleet was defeated by the French and Spanish that a French invasion would be inevitable. Admiral Lord Nelson, the Admiral of the British fleet, was given the assignment by his government and King to destroy the French and Spanish Armada.  Nelson was a brilliant tactician and had gained vast knowledge of how to successfully conduct a sea battle between wooden ships with sails.  He had been wounded in a previous engagement, losing one of his arms and an eye, and never again experienced robust health.  Much of his life was spent at sea where he had also suffered from scurvy and other diseases incident to sea life in those days. He was only 5'4" tall but seemed so much bigger in the eyes of those he led.

The first thing that has impressed me about Admiral Lord Nelson was his style of leadership.  After the British fleet had defeated and destroyed most of the combined French and Spanish fleet, the Admiral of the combined fleet, a Frenchman, said that the British won the Battle of Trafalgar because the captain of every British ship was a Lord Nelson.  This was true!  Lord Nelson had trained his captains to be very independent and self sufficient.  As they went into the battle against the combined fleet his order was for his captains not to look to him or the flagship Victory to tell them what to do in the heat of battle.  They knew he had trained them how to fight the battle once it began, and they were to be creative and use common sense as the battle unfolded.  Thankfully for Great Britain this is what they did, because early on in the battle, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded and died.  Most of the captains did not know he had perished until the battle was over and the combined fleet was conquered.  On the other hand, the French and Spanish captains looked to their leader and flagship for direction as to what to do once the battle commenced.  There was so much confusion, noise, death and destruction once the battle began, it was impossible to communicate from ship to ship and the British captains gained control quickly. 

Never threatened by those about him, but wanting to create great leaders that could "win the battle" without him micromanaging them, Lord Nelson was a great and effective teacher and leader of men.  This seems to me to be such a significant principle of leadership. Moses tried to teach this principle to his successor, Joshua, when Joshua was but a young man. 
"And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him [Moses], and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp...and the spirit rested upon them... and they prophesied in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!"  [Numbers 11:25-29] [emphasis added] I believe any successful organization that endures the test of time must have this style of leadership -- the Church certainly does.  

As I have read this book I have also been impressed with the word and concept of "duty."  Just before the English engaged the combined fleet, Nelson signaled from the flagship Victory the one and only message his captains and seamen would receive from him before and during the battle -"England expects that every man will do his duty."  When this message was received it had an electrifying effect among the men on the ships.  Seemingly, the desire in the heart of most of the British sailors that day was to do his duty come what may.  Severely wounded men and officers remained at their posts doing their duty until victory had been gained and their beloved England saved. In fact, Nelson's final famous words (as related by Victory's Surgeon, William Beatty, who was with Nelson when he died) were "Thank God I have done my duty." According to Beatty, he repeated these words several times until he became unable to speak.  To do their "duty" seems to have been at the heart of all that was important to Admiral Lord Nelson and his men.  Doing their duty, they saved England from Napoleon's armies and ultimate domination of the Western world as we now know it by the Dictator-Emperor. Nelson's style of leadership and devotion to duty could be the foundation upon which any successful life or organization is built.