Thursday, January 01, 2015

Trek: Mormon Pioneer Reenactment

I grew up in the LDS Church however, doing mini pioneer reenactments which are known as "Trek", came after my time in the Young Men's program.  In fact, the big Church-sponsored sesquicentennial reenactment arrived in Salt Lake City on July 24, 1997 just a few days after I had returned home from my mission.  Trek, grew out of that original 150-year commemoration and celebration.

The Augusta Georgia Stake just carried out a multi-stake Trek involving over 400 participants and over 300 youth from 3 Stakes.  I was excited to participate with my son in both our first Trek experience.  Not having anything to compare it to, I have to say the entire 4-day/3-night event came off as an incredible spiritual highlight for all those involved.  

Pioneer Story:
The LDS Mormon Pioneer "Trek" Reenactment commemorates the great faith and perseverance of the original Mormon pioneers who settled Utah in the mid 1800's.  The LDS Church actually began in Pennsylvania in 1830.  But because of religious persecution, even in the Great Land of Liberty the LDS church body was forced to move from state to state before finding a permanent home.  

The first settlement of the LDS Church was in Kirtland, Ohio.  But after financial difficulties, the church next tried Independence, Missouri.  The Missourians and the Mormons clashed to the point of a conflict breaking out known  as the Mormon War resulting in the State Governor Lilburn Boggs signing an extermination order authorizing the shoot-on-sight murder of any Mormon within the state.  The Mormons were obliged to leave their property and flee to Illinois where they founded the City of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River. 

Nauvoo was a beautiful and prosperous city and at that point the second largest city in the state to Chicago.  However, peace did not last long.  Eventually, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested on trumped-up charges and allowed to be killed while in State custody by a lawless mob with black-painted faces. With not a single shred of protection by the State or the Federal Government, the lawless mobs forced the LDS membership to lock up their homes and shops, place what few possessions  they could in wagons and in the dead of winter, walk away from their city, their homes, their businesses, their orchards, their farms and their temple.

In the Great Land of Religious Liberty that promised its citizens the right to life, religion, and property; the Mormon Saints were forced to leave the United States and settle the barron desserts and mountain valleys of what was at the time Mexican Territory.  The Mormon Pioneers, led by the Lord's prophet Brigham Young, walked 1300 miles to the Salt Lake Valley beginning in the winter of 1846 and finally arriving in The Great Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847.

Trek Impressions:  Unseen Preparation
The first impression I had during Trek was even before the event began.  The amount of preparation that was needed before hand was considerable.  It was not an easy talk to arrange food, water, bathroom, medical and sleeping arrangements for 400 people.  But the spirit of cooperation was wonderful.  Handcarts were constructed, meals were planned and prepared, pioneer-style clothing was sewn and/or otherwise obtained. 

My spiritual feeling on the preparation was that the young men and women who participated saw very little of what went on behind the sences. Like most of the pioneer journals, they left on this date and they arrived on this date with very little difficulty.  I am sure we do not see or appreciate the preparation that occurs on the other side of the veil in our own lives by spirits who love us and are concerned with our safe arrival back to our heavenly destination.

Trek Impressions:  Adversity
There is something universal about being called by God to forsake the world and leave society and be led by God out of the city into the wilderness or desserts to start over.  Abraham was led out of Ur.  Moses left Egypt.  The Brother of Jared left Babel, Lehi fled JerusaIem and Israel returned from Babylon.  God may also call us to endure great adversity, persecution, physical pain and privation, illness, and even pass through a furness of affliction.

A few Mormon Pioneer handcart companies got caught in early winter weather in Wyoming.  The members of these ill-fated companies were later criticized for leaving so late in the season which they had been specifically instructed not to do.   However, one survivor of the Martin amd Willie Company is recorded as saying in response to criticism: 

“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with an absolute knowledge that God lives for we became aquainted with him in our extremities."

“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’” He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there."

Trek Impressions:  Base Camp Heaven
I served as trek Doctor for our group.  I choose to walk the 25-mile route and sleep out with our Trek participants so as to be on-hand for any eventuality.  Of all the youth, only one participant was swmt home before even starting  because of a flu illness she had already had and was hoping was coming to an end.  A very few others at various points developed sore feet or ankles such that we determined that they no longer continue walking.  Several groups put an injured family member on top of their carts and pulled them to the next camp.  In a few other cases a participate was evacuated back to basecamp for closer medical attention.

Base camp was a beautiful Lodge and conference center located at Lake Leitner on Fort Gordon. The Lodge was warm and featured clean bathrooms, fireplace, multiple couches, and a great snack table.  I often referred to Base Camp as "Our Little Trek Heaven".  I visited our heaven several times during the Trek to resupply myself with motrin and ACE bandages.  A few of our Trek participants and adult support staff slept in the Lodge or in RV's nearby.  I had chosen to sleep out with the youth under my own tarp in case a need arose during the night.  

After sitting down on a couch in the Lodge, I remember how difficult it was to pull myself off to go back to camp to sleep out in the freezing cold.  I assume my feelings were akin to what heaven will feel like.  Many Near Death Experiences express similar feelings. When it comes to those pioneers who died crossing the plains coming to Utah, I suppose being taken to heaven is not unlike being taken to our Trek Base Camp. The few participants who slept at base camp still participated in all the games and activities without having to walk in pain or sleep out in the cold. This aspect of Trek reminds me of the last verse in "Come Come Ye Saints":

"And should we die before our journeys through, happy day, all is right.  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!"

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's All About Me?

Bro. Boyd Baggett spoke at a BYU-Idaho devotional warning about our prevelant and pervasive "it's only about me" attitude.  We tell ourselves, "the customer is always right" and we are the costumer. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches instead that those who lose their life in the service of God and service of others will find their life.  Self-centeredness drives away love and friendship.  When Lucifer offered to perform the atonement saying "surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" it was apparant that Satan was only concerned his own honor and not our welfare.

Satan proposed a plan denying us our agency to choose by having us come to Earth with no rules.  Satan claimed if there are no rules "whatever a man did was no sin" then not one of us would be lost.  But the Book of Mormon teaches us that if there is no law, there is no wickedness, no righteousness, no punishment and no ultimately no reward.

Medicine has seen a manifestation of this "its all about me" phenomenon.  We hear in the media healthcare advertisements about "patient-centered care" and hospital systems have been paying millions of dollars trying to increase patient satisfaction.  A study done at UC-Davis showed that increasing patient satisfaction results in increased resource utilization, costs, admissions, morbidity and mortality.

The same "all about me" attitude can be seen in religion.  False religion and priestcraft that is "grace-centered" instead of "repentance-centered" is built around telling the people only what they want to hear and not necessarily what they need to hear.

I love the true gospel of Jesus Christ that is repentance-centered and that inspires me to improve every day and gives me numerous opportunities to serve others and be dedicated to the a cause higher than myself.

Monday, December 15, 2014

LDS Temple: Symbol of Freedom, Family, and Virtue

Many people in this world hope for world peace in for an end to poverty. However we disagree about the best way to go about this.  Tragically, some of our disagreements about bringing peace often bring differing sides into conflict. Some groups think education alone is the answer.  other organizations are dedicated to speading ideas of socialism or environmentalism. The LDS church on the other hand focuses on spreading the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." 
- Pres. Ezra Taft Benson

But what is LDS understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Some Christians spread the message of grace without repentance.  These preachers spread the popular falsehood that individuals somehow can find happiness in wickedness without repentance.  The true Gospel of Christ teaches that we must first receive the power to repent through Christ and then receive forgiveness after we have repented from and forsaken our sins.

The answer to poverty and suffering in this world and preserving constitutional government is not education alone, or income redistribution or even environmentalism.  Although there are merits in each of these causes.  The only hope we have at preserving freedom and creating a world of peace and prosperity is a return to virtue. 

Freedom, traditional family values, charity, chastity, and sobriety are the ideals that the LDS Church and the LDS Temple represent.  Why can't just anyone enter an Latter-Day Saint Temple after it has been dedicated?  Because, to merit enterance to a temple, an individual must first be living up to the standard of inward purity and sanctification that God has established with regard to His Holy House found in 1 Cor 5:11.  In the Lord's Temple, patrons make covenants to live lives of purity and virtue.  It doesn't make sense to enter the Temple when an individual is not serious about keeping the covenants of self-restraint that are given in the temple.

The secret to world peace and properity is a return to virtue.  Immorality before and outside of marriage results in illegitimacy and broken families which contributes to poverty.  Chemical dependence leads to greater mental and physical illness, decreased productivity and greater poverty.  Just like Rome, Western governments are instituting socialism and ursurping the responsibility of the Church, which is welfare and virtue (James 1:27).  Today, few western churches provide much welfare nor teach much virtue.  And just like Rome we may well see our own nations fractured as a morally and economically bankrupt empire is torn apart from within. 

Nevertheless, I am thankful for being blessed to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The LDS Church and the LDS Temple and the LDS members are standing for he cause of Jesus Christ.  We stand for Constitutional Government.  In fact, Joseph Smith taught again and again that the US Constitution was given by God.  For the LDS, the US Constitution is akin to scripture and part of our religion.  (Shame on Mitt Romney for never communicating this). The LDS stand for traditional family values, and for a return to virtue.  We invite all to stand with us.  Who is on the Lord's side who?  Like Moses, we have drawn our line in the sand and now is the time for us to show where we stand.

The LDS church his little stone cut out of the mountain without hands that is rolling fourth and growing bigger and gaining momentum until it will strike the great image described in Daniel 2.  That stone,  which is the kingdom of God already on the earth will become a great mountain (or temple), and the principles and covenants of the temple will fill the whole Earth.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Unity of the Faith: Parable of the Baseball Game

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by Jesus Christ via a prophet and 12 Apostles just like Bible times.  Christ tells us in modern scripture: "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."(D&C 1:38).   While the LDS prophet speaks the mind, will, and word of God, LDS leaders to do not claim to be infallible.  

The Lord uses imperfect men to lead His church. The same modern scripture that declares that the LDS Prophet speaks on behalf of God also talks about their weaknesses: "And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known" (D&C 1:25).  We are assured that our leaders will never lead us astray, but that doesn't mean they are perfect and don't ever make mistakes.

The LDS Church has been recently addressing difficult issues from its past regarding polygamy and priesthood.  There is nothing new here. LDS leaders are continually asked about these issues.  When the revelation on priesthood was received in 1978, Elder McConkie said at the time "Forget what I or Brigham Young or anyone else has said which is contrary to the current light and knowledge we have now received. We spoke without understanding." Elder McConkie frankly admitted and apologized for his mistake. While the priesthood prohibition was a temporary necessity, the reasons Elder  McConkie gave to defend the policy were admittedly mistaken. 

In spite of the weakness of our leaders, it is a shame when any LDS member loses faith and abandons the Church, their covenants, and their faith over these issues.   The LDS Prophet is like the pitcher on a baseball team.  All the Church membership make up the rest of the team.  Just because the pitcher throws a few balls or even a wild pitch, doesn't mean we should throw down our glove, storm off the field, and abandon the team over it.  Even in spite of a few wild pitches and a handful of balls mixed with strikes, the pitcher can still be throwing a perfect game.  And so it is with our LDS leaders. Also, we should remember that it is not our job to be calling balls and strikes but to play our position.

Another example of what I am talking about is found in the Old Testament.  Israel was wondering in the desert and needed water. Moses was commanded to strike the rock.  Moses struck the rock twice, which was a mistake. But in spite of Moses' weakness, the water still flowed.  We have covenanted and God expects us to sustain our leaders even in their weakness.  And, like Moses, we can have faith, hope and an assurance that notwithstanding the weakness of our leaders, the water will still flow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Faith: Desire to Know and Obey the Will of God

I work in emergency medicine and often interact with families dealing with end-of-life issues.  Sometimes a patient will come to the hospital in the process of dying.  The process of dying may be delayed temporarily by use of a mechanical ventillator and other medicines and technologies.  Sometimes family members of the dying patient may be reluctant to allow the natural process of dying to finish its course and withdraw care because they see it as giving up and exhibiting a lack of faith.  In a few cases family members have expeessed a well-meaning but misunderstood definition of faith by telling me that "if I can just believe enough, God will heal them".

One way Satan has erroded faith in the world is to change the definition of words. Even the definition of faith has been altered.  While the truth of God sits squarely in the middle, Satan seeks to divert us to one extreme or the other.

When it comes to the modern misunderstanding of faith, this essential concept has taken on two extreme and incorrect characterizations. The first mischaracterization of faith is "blind obedience".  According to this  extreme, the believer may ask questions but shouldn't expect any satisfying answers. The faithful are completely submissive and dependent on church authority. In a way, this kind of faith is more of a spiritual Ophelia Complex (see Hamlet). 

The second extreme, faith is ill-defined as our strength of will. If we just believe in or desire something hard enough then our desire and strength of will can make it happen.  The tendency of mankind to stray to the extremes was also taught by Aristotle in his concept of the "Golden Mean."

The true definition of faith has nothing to do with being blind or satisfying our own will.  The true definition of faith is a desire to know and be obedient to God's will even if we do not yet understand the reasons.  Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge but it "the substace of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."

Reason follows revelation and believing is seeing.  Both an atheist and a creationist can look at the beauty of creation and the calibration of the Universe and come to different conclusions about who is responsible.  The atheist's opinions will never change until they experience God for themselves.  Only after a person has had a personal experience with God, will they then be able to see and interpret the data in a new light.  They will interpret the world through the lens of a testimony of the reality of the existence of God.  Faith does not cast out reason. But with a knowlege of God, higher reasons and a higher reality appear.

True faith has nothing to do with the strength of our belief in ourselves or the force of our own will.  Our will, no matter how strong, cannot change the will or truth of God or coerces God to act according to our desires.  Instead, true faith is humility to subordinate and accept Gods will whatever it is. 

Furthermore, true faith is the desire and motivation to know and do the will of God even when we may not be given the reason at first.  God can reveal His will even before revealing the exact reason why.  Knowing Gods will before the reason This tests whether we love Him or not. In the pre-mortal existence, we lived with God and the reasons for everything were continually before us. Reason obliged many to believe. In this life, the will of God is revealed before the reason to seperate out the fair-weather fans from those truely love God and His truth.

The key to faith is to obey even when our knowlege of that principle or commandment is not perfect.  That is, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, he was commanded to offer sacrifice even before knowing why he was commanded to do it.  When Adam was asked why he offered sacrifice, Adam gave one of the greatest expressions of faith, "I know not save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 5:6).   Adam didn't require a reason before he obeyed.  Adam's faith was not blind either. It was enough to know that offering sacrifice was the will of God.  After the trial of Adam's faith, the reason was revealed.  Jesus Christ taught the same principle of faith and obedience: "if any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it is of God or I speak of myself" (John 7:27).  

Recognizing that there is a God, even a desire to know the will of God changes everything about how we see and interpret the world around us.  People of faith do not ignore the data and the facts or deny reason.  Instead, believers interpret facts according to God's reasons, according to our knowlege of the will of God, and according to the potential eternal life and exaltation of all of God's children.