Monday, May 28, 2007

The Least of These

Monday, May 28, 2007, Observation:

I am in my 16th consecutive year of teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in our ward.  The poor members of the ward who have lived in its boundaries as long as I have, I am sure, will be exalted in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom for having endured so much punishment for so long at my hands.  The fact is they haven't needed me as a teacher but I certainly have had a great need to teach.  Wonderful bishops over the past 16 years have recognized this need I have, and out of love and kindness have permitted me to press forward with this choice assignment.

Physically I can do very little -- let's be honest, I can't do anything except breathe, eat, and drink -- but thankfully I can still think and talk and hopefully contribute in a positive way to others' lives through home teaching, writing, teaching, speaking, and giving patriarchal blessings.  I especially enjoy the opportunity of preparing a lesson from the Scriptures each week.  It keeps my brain working and alive and hopefully growing as I constantly search for new ideas and insights.  The day after I teach a lesson I immediately delete it from my computer.  I don't want to be tempted to ever teach the same lesson twice.  When I teach the same book of scripture I taught four years ago, if I cannot find new insights and eternal principles embedded in those Scriptures then I know, or will know, it's time to give up teaching and start watching American Idol reruns on TV.

I believe one of the things I enjoy most is discovering a new truth or principle in Scriptures I have read countless times.  I had such an experience this week.  We have been studying this year, as you know, the life of the Savior as contained in the four Gospels.  I have always been impressed with the healing miracles performed by Jesus -- probably because of my own situation.  I am sure we are only given the tip of the iceberg in the Gospels regarding the number of people Jesus actually blessed and healed in one way or another.  The thought that came to me this week as I have been reading the Gospels is that never, when asked for help, did Jesus ever offer money as a solution to the problem.  He always gave of himself in a very personal, powerful and hands-on way.  To me there was a lesson of life in this thought. 

I know it is not a very profound or earthshaking insight -- I am sure many others have noticed this -- but I think the Savior is trying to teach us all something through his example of serving and blessing others.  I am not saying that we should not give money to bless others through fast offering, the perpetual education fund, humanitarian outreach programs, and etc. I guess what I am saying is that if giving money is our only effort in blessing those in need we have overlooked an essential ingredient in our quest to become true disciples of Christ.

In Matthew 25 the Lord teaches how he will separate the sheep from the goats -- his true disciples from his pretended disciples -- at the Judgment Day. "Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand [his sheep], Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25:34-36]

Of course his listeners wanted to know when they had performed these acts of service and love for Him.  His answer reflects his own ministry in mortality as well as the challenge he gives to all who would strive to become like Him: "...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40]

Of course it takes money to buy meat, drink, and clothing, and making sure there is an abundance of these kinds of things to bless the lives of those in need throughout the world.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the generosity of its members, is able to alleviate much suffering in the world.  But visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming the stranger, and giving of ourselves to the "least of these [our] brethren" seems to be what Jesus is asking us to do in a very personal and hands-on manner, even as he did.

I suppose a legitimate question is who are the "least of these my brethren?"  I believe there are many categories or levels of "the least" amongst us, but as I have grown older I am beginning to believe that "the least of the least of our brothers and sisters" are those who suffer from brain damage or mental impairment of some kind.  The purest and most Christ-like service to others I can imagine is the way we treat the mentally impaired. 

Two of my heroes are Kay and Gloria Groom.  We have lived in the same ward together for over 30 years now.  Kay and Gloria had two normal children born to them and then their last daughter was born with severe Down Syndrome.  They have loved their daughter and been a great blessing to her these many years, but they went the second mile to bring into their home another girl with Down Syndrome to be a companion to their daughter and to bless her life as well.  These girls are approaching 40 years of age now and I don't think it has ever been especially "convenient" for Kay and Gloria to have shouldered this responsibility for so many years.  Going on vacations, spending leisurely and luxurious days on a cruise or at a time share, I don't think for the most part, have been a part of their lifestyle.  I don't believe they have ever felt burdened down by this responsibility however, and in an eternal sense are certainly two of those "sheep" who ultimately will be ushered into the presence of the Savior, and on his right hand.  Surely as they have administered to the needs of these girls they have been doing it to the Savior himself.

I know of so many others who have given their lives in service and love to those who are mentally impaired.  Oh, giving money to support foundations and research is so important, but will never measure up to giving of oneself in hands-on service to someone who is incapable of even thanking us for what is being done.

True disciples of Christ ultimately will have lived lives described by the Savior when he said: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25: 35 -36] Thankfully, opportunities to perform this kind of service present themselves to us each day of our lives if we are perceptive enough to see them and then are willing to respond to them.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Observation:

I have had a little sinus infection for about a week which thankfully has now been cleared up.  During that time my head has felt about the size of a lead basketball.  It has been hard to think creatively, read, or even work much on the computer so I have watched more TV than normal.  Through this I have become more painfully aware than I usually am of the lack of "civility" that exists amongst us -- or that at least is portrayed to us through television programming.

According to the dictionary, "civility" is: "a : civilized conduct; especially : courtesy, politeness, b : a polite act or expression."  Most of what I see in the media is the direct opposite of "civility" as defined above.  President Hinckley has spoken out frequently regarding the lack of "civility" in our society.  "... The lack of it [civility] is seen in the endless barrage of faultfinding and criticism spewed forth by media columnists and commentators. Lack of civility is often the cause of death and injury on the highway. It is the smirk of arrogance worn by many who think themselves superior in intellect, in riches, in station in life. Oh, how we need to cultivate a greater measure of civility in our society. ("Codes and Covenants," BYU 1994-95 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, October 18, 1994, p. 38.)

My dad came from another era.  He was not formally educated and worked as a miner and at related jobs for Kennecott Copper Corp. Nevada Mines Division for over 40 years of his life.  However, he innately understood what it meant to be "civil" -- polite, courteous, having "good manners" which reflected "good breeding."  He wore work clothes every day and carried a lunch bucket, but on Sunday he put on a beautiful blue suit -- the only one he owned -- a spotless white shirt, a beautiful tie, and shiny black shoes.  He knew that going to Church was special and this was his way of showing respect for the Lord, and without knowing it, his "civility."  He always spoke reverently and almost in a worshipful manner, of Church leaders, and others that had accomplished great things in their lives and were worthy of respect.  Because of him and his example, to this day, I find it extremely difficult to call any released church leader I have known or worked with by their first name; for some reason it just doesn't feel right.

The way we dress, the way we speak, our courtesy and politeness to others, all reflect our "good breeding" or lack thereof.  I suppose I am more offended by crude language than by almost any other thing.  It is so mindless, so little and low, and so unthinking.  In an earlier age, great men used great words, even in insulting those they may not have liked.  I love these great insults given by Winston Churchill to some he didn't especially care for: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."  And then in speaking of another acquaintance he described him as: "A modest little person, with much to be modest about."  Apparently he and the playwright George Bernard Shaw did not always see eye to eye and history records this exchange between the two: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." -- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill -- "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."-- Winston Churchill, in response --

As I read history it is apparent that all great civilizations that have fallen had lost their civility at some previous time, and because of it were ripe for destruction.  One cannot study what happened in Nazi Germany for example, without becoming painfully aware that all civility was eventually lost -- politeness, respect, courtesy, and then any form of human kindness which resulted in millions of people being needlessly slaughtered.

It would be kind of nice to be able to turn on the TV without instantly being offended by something.  I don't find that happening very often and even in a good baseball game the commercials leave so much to be desired.  If what the media is giving us is what the majority of Americans really want, it is most disturbing to me.

There are many great examples of civility from history.  For example, on one occasion, General Robert E. Lee was asked for his opinion of a military colleague.  Lee replied very openly and generously, after which the questioner said in effect, "Well, he doesn't speak so highly of you."  General Lee replied: "Sir, you have asked me for my opinion of him not his opinion of me."  (See Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give the Experience, [1979], 78-79) 

I believe civility is a mark of our character.  I believe great men with great character treat others with civility.  Churchill and Neville Chamberlain never ever agreed about Nazi Germany's threat to Great Britain before the outbreak of World War II.  They were bitterly opposed to one another regarding this and many other issues.  Churchill had once described Chamberlain as looking at foreign affairs through a "municipal drain pipe."  However, at the time of Chamberlain's death Churchill said of him, "In one of the supreme crises of the world [our colleague was] contradicted by events."  He went on to praise Chamberlain by saying: "The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions... With this shield,... we march always in the ranks of honor."  (Quoted in Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly [1987], 23)

Think of it, Churchill had the civility to describe one of the greatest blunders in history as having been made by a man who simply was "contradicted by events."  I have always loved and admired Churchill for that kind, considerate, civil, comment.  I doubt there is a leader in the world today that "civil."

Hopefully, in the midst of such a lack of civility, we and our families will continue to be polite, courteous, respectful, and treat others with the kindness great men and women have always treated others.