Come Follow Me

mike walking

I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.

For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.

As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.

That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.

Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.

I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”

As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”

It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could.  People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.

Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.

She’s Not Fanatical

One of my writing friends and I had a great conversation yesterday, and among our many topics, children and parents and families came up. What’s the best way to raise chidren? Is divorce something that the parties involved ever completely recover from? We didn’t resolve all of the issues under discussion, but we did pretty much nail this one: The most important factor in raising responsible, mentally healthy children is L-O-V-E. Naturally, we talked about our own darling offspring, but we also talked about our own parents.

Today I’m missing my parents and yet feeling their influence at the same time. If that doesn’t make sense, read on, and maybe it will. This morning I’ve been thinking of a conversation that took place about 25 years ago between my father and another man:

“Is she the sister that’s a Mormon?” he asked my father.

Glancing in my direction (I hope with a smile), he replied, “Yep. That’s her.”

They were silent for a few moments and then my father added, “But she’s not fanatical about it.” Bless his heart!

That man knew his children well, and he respected all of our ideas and opinions although they were often different from his. Knowing that the four of us were endowed with different temperaments and tendencies, he and my mother allowed us to develop without too much interference. That’s not to say that we didn’t get a nudge or push in the right direction sometimes, but I don’t recall any of us ever being told that our ideas were stupid, off-the-mark, ill-formed, silly, or strange.

Back to the Mormon thing, sometimes I really really really miss my father because he was so non-judgmental. If I’d wanted to become a Buddhist or Hindu, he might have raised an eyebrow, but then again, he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t do that. He knew that even though I loved to learn and explore and investigate, I’d probably never stray from the doctrines of Christianity.

And he was right. I’m a Christian, a follower of Christ, and I’m a Mormon. Why am I telling you this, especially since just about everyone who reads my blog already knows it? I’m telling you this because I’m beginning to feel like the “Mormon thing” might be making some of my friends uncomfortable around me lately, especially since Romney is likely to be the Republican nominee for President.

There’s no need to feel weird about me, Folks. As my open-minded father said, I’m not fanatical. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the teachings of the LDS religion, especially since they’re pretty much the same ones that my parents taught me, things like being kind, honest, and hardworking. At the same time, I’m not so zealous that I’m going to get all preachy and start pontificating on the perils of not seeing things my way.

All of the Mormons that I know adhere to 13 Articles of Faith, the 11th one being, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege. Let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

So friends, there’s no need to feel uncomfortable about talking about Romney or Joseph Smith or polygamy around me. I’m at peace with the choices I’ve made in the religion department. Just don’t ask me to go out drinking with you or blow smoke in my face.

Insight from Dr. Peck

One of the many things I admire about t he writings of Dr. Scott Peck is that they make me think. His words make me look at things in a way I’d never considered before. While I could go in any number of directions with this, I’m zeroing in on some insight he had when in conversation with a Christian couple.

In town for a speaking engagement, Dr. Peck was staying in the home of this couple, and upon his arrival, the two of them began giving him the low-down on many of their friends and acquaintances who would be in his audience. I guess their feeling was that if he knew a little something about these people, Dr. Peck would know how to best address them.

As the conversation progressed, however, he began to feel uncomfortable with all of the information he was being inundated with. He was told about who was had been having an affair with whom, who was divorced, and other such juicy tidbits.

“Wait a minute,” Dr. Peck thought. “Aren’t these people supposed to be Christians?”

He became upset, irked, irritated, and finally angry. One of the basic commandments is “Thou shalt not steal,” and yet these two people were breaking that very basic commandment. No, they weren’t stealing money or merchandise, but rather the reputation and good name of their “friends.”

How can someone who calls himself a Christian do this? How can a genuine follower of Christ not know that rumor mongering, gossiping (even if it’s true), and backbiting are unacceptable and inappropriate? Aren’t they just as guilty as someone who’s committing adultery or taking the Lord’s name in vain?

Speaking of the latter, Dr. Peck discerned that the couple was doing that too. When you say, “I’m a Christian,” and then behave and speak in uncharitable ways, then you’re taking His name in vain. Like Dr. Peck, I can easily see that the commandment means a lot more than avoiding vulgarisms and profanity.

Memories of Scott Peck’s insight surfaced last night as I recalled a conversation with my former mother-in-law. She told me about a couple who had been Mormons but were now members of another Christian religion. Apparently the duo was on a talk show laughing and talking about the Mormons and how misguided they are. They even went so far as to ridicule sacred temple ordinances and symbolism.

Huh? I don’t know who these people are, and I don’t know their motives. I do know, however, that they’re about as far away as people can get from being Christians. Have they asked WWJD? Are they trying to promote a book? Get on a lecture circuit? Garner publicity? Destroy the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Or maybe they just wanted a day in the sun, a brief the moment of being in the spotlight.

Whatever their agenda, nothing they or any other mortal can do will stop the growth of the LDS church. Ultimately, the only people they’re really hurting are themselves and their reputations as Christians and trustworthy individuals. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

I’m wondering what their current congregation is feeling about now. I’m betting that they’re feeling a bit anxious wondering if they are going to be the next target.

Melissa’s Question

A week or so ago Melissa packed up her stuff to leave the adjunct faculty office where we’d been working and then asked, “So Jayne, I’ve been wondering. How do you feel about all these things people are saying about your religion?”

I must have looked at her with a quizzical look because then she said, “You know what I’m talking about: the Broadway play, Romney running for president, and that television show about the Mormons with all those wives. Seems like every time you turn around, someone is saying something negative about the Mormons.”

Ah yes, I knew exactly what Melissa was talking about. It’s just that I’m kind of, sort of used to it. Melissa is an educated, open minded person who believes, as I do, that people should be allowed to worship who, when, where and how they feel like it. Neither of us would deliberately attack or make disparaging remarks about other people’s religions, and we don’t understand all the Mormon bashing. Hmmm. Let me correct that. We refer to ourselves as LDS (Latter-day Saints) and not Mormons, mainly because we don’t worship Mormon. Gee whiz. No.

I can’t remember what I told Melissa, but I’m telling you that yes and no, it bothers me and it doesn’t bother me. No one likes to hear her religion, children, fashion, decorating style, etc. criticized, but at the same time it doesn’t make me angry. It makes me sad.

If you criticize one of my children or grandchildren, I’ll probably think you have a few loose screws or that you really know him or her. Then again, I might get really angry. It depends on who says it, what’s said, my mood, and so forth. If you criticize my decorating style and remark that it’s a bit eclectic, I’ll bid you adieu with a gentle reminder that “to each, her own.” If you criticize my religion,  I won’t get angry. Promise.

I’ll feel sad. Then I’ll wonder how anyone could doubt the truthfulness of a church known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. I might add that in line with what our name implies as Christians, we do our dead level best to love and serve others, even when they vilify us unmercifully. I must also add that we, as followers of Christ, never berate or belittle other religions Indeed, the 11th Article of Faith states that “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

About the sad feeling, I might also be puzzled at why you (in a general sense) feel the need to be critical and I can only conclude that you haven’t checked us out for yourself. That said, why not do it at Mormon.org? We have no secrets. We welcome you to follow the Savior’s admonition to “Come unto me.” We don’t care how much money you have or haven’t, the color of your skin, your past, or your occupation. We believe that we’re all brothers and sisters of the same Creator.

 Let’s talk about the three things Melissa mentioned:

The Broadway play entitled The Book of Mormon. Naïve me, I downloaded the music from iTunes only to discover that that it wasn’t something I wanted to listen to, much less see (the musical). I was psyched up to listen to it on one of my daily walk/jogs, and then I heard the F word. And then I heard it again. Then I heard even worse language. Why do intelligent, educated, gifted people have to resort to such vulgar vocabulary? Surely, there are some slang, cool, or hip words or expressions they can employ to get audiences and praise.

I ended up deleting all but one of the songs. I kept “Hello” because I think it’s probably like many missionary experiences. I don’t even want the selections on my iPhone whether I’m listening to them or not. As someone said, if you want to be entertained for an evening, see the play. If you want to feel peace and joy for a lifetime, read the book.

By the way, I think the play has a happy ending in that some of the people of Africa are converted and later become missionaries themselves. Some of my friends say, “Well, no wonder your church is growing so much. Look at all the missionaries.” I can only ask, “Doesn’t your church have missionaries too?” Sure,there are differences. Our missionaries don’t receive a salary, and they only serve a limited amount of time, depending on their age and gender.

Some people look at television shows about people who purport to be LDS, and yet they practice polygamy. The LDS church has not practiced polygamy since the late 1800’s when it was forbidden by the law of the land. “That’s disgusting!” people say. If you’re one of those people, how do you reconcile your feelings when looking at the lives of Jacob, David, or Solomon? Don’t even bother telling me that things were different back in the day. Please.

About Romney, whether he’ll be our next president is hard to tell. I’m no prognosticator. All I know is that whoever is elected to that high office will be there because that’s who God wants to be there at that time. I picked up that way of thinking from Billy Graham who’s been puzzled and almost heartsick at the election of some leaders.

I could go on and on and on and on but I won’t. I’ll end by inviting you to check us out at www.mormon.org if you want the whole story. You’ll find tons of information as well as profiles of members from all over the world. Mine is there, right along with those of folks from Canada, Africa, and France.

Braden’s Big Weekend

With every goodbye, there’s the promise of another hello. Of course, it’s also true that with each hello, there’s the shadow of goodbye. I don’t want to think about that right now though. I want to concentrate on the promise part. It was hard saying farewell to my children and grandchildren in the church parking lot in Rincon, GA earlier today, but knowing that I’ll see them again soon makes the time apart a little more doable

Carrie, Braden, Elizabeth, and Emma

With every goodbye, there’s the promise of another hello. Of course, it’s also true that with each hello, there’s the shadow of goodbye. I don’t want to think about that right now though. I want to concentrate on the promise part. It was hard saying farewell to my children and grandchildren in the church parking lot in Rincon, GA earlier today, but knowing that I’ll see them again soon makes the time apart a little more doable.

And my goodness, the memories are so special. I know that’s an overworked word, probably trite too, but it’s the best one I can think of to describe my recollections. For starters, at church today Emma probably told me she loved me five or six times and gave me at least that many kisses. She also sweetly asked me, “Why can’t you stop crying?” and then looked at me with great concern. I told her I was happy. She doesn’t understand about hearts being so full that a person’s emotions spill out …but she’s learning.

Then there was little Braden who turned 8 nearly two weeks ago. His father baptized him yesterday, and family and friends from as far away as California came to witness the event and be a part of his special day. Mrs. Crolley and I think it was the sweetest, most spiritual baptismal service we’ve ever attended. Brooke and Emma, Braden’s sisters, said the opening and closing prayers, and I especially loved it when Brooke asked that Braden always be guided to “choose the right.” Amanda, my daughter-in-law, played the piano while Paul minded their darling Olivia. At the moment, I’m recalling how Braden sat swinging his legs while looking up at his dad and doing his best to answer Rich’s questions.

After the service, a crowd gathered at Carrie and Rich’s home for a fun celebration. Braden’s had chosen a Mexican theme, so from the music to the Chicken Enchilada Casserole, his parents granted his wish. Four jumbo sized crockpots simmered with the yummy casseroles, and we had chips and mucho Mexican rice as sides. My niece Katherine helped with the kitchen duty, and without her sweet assistance, the Masedas might have been cleaning up until midnight! A giant piñata filled with candy topped off the evening’s fun, and although all the kids had a chance to whack it, Braden was the one who was successful in knocking it down to reveal the sugary treats.

Did I mention that my daughter and her mother-in-law, Linda, made huge colorful flowers out of tissue? I loved them! They hung from the back porch and sprang from the shrubs in the back yard. Tables were set up in the backyard, and it was cool to see my son and his father seated together at one of them dining and talking with the other men.  Linda also made three delicious strawberry pies, and since I had a challenge deciding between pie and cake, I had both…so did several others. I watched Otis and Fred, Rich’s father, chow down on a sample of each as they discussed golf, golf, and more golf.

This morning, I was in heaven. It’s been a while since I had the good fortune to be with all of my children and grandchildren at the same time in church. It’s not that I’m envious of people who have that experience every week. It’s just that, well, I miss it. It was awesome to watch Olivia stare at the strangers (to her) in the congregation and to see Emma share her My Pretty Pony with her. Olivia had never seen a purple horse with pink hair. Before Colton moved to my row, I watched his tiny fingers rub Linda’s neck. Sweet sweet sweet. Carrie bore her testimony and so did little Brooke and her grandfather Fred.

Rich’s parents will be in Rincon until Tuesday when they fly back to Atlanta.  Everyone else has scattered to their respective homes in GA and SC.  I’ll get to see them all again soon, but in the meantime, I’m thinking of Braden’s big weekend and how his decision brought us all together for a few brief shining hours.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Many people spend their days on the proverbial road to Damascus waiting for some traumatic event to change their hearts. They want the heavens to part for them and show them the way, the truth, and the light. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit on the address itself, but then, this is my take on it.

Thanks to my friend Joan Ella, I now have the perfect way to introduce something I’ve been thinking about off and on all week. She tagged me and some of my 6-year-old classmates from a Sunday school class “back in the day.” Even without the tags, I easily recognized just about everyone and for the last hour or so I’ve been thinking about those days at FBC of Camden. I LOVED going to church there. My friend Patty had a beautiful voice, and she often sang solos in the worship service. The rest of us sang “Jesus Loves Me” and paid close attention to the Bible stories that our teachers taught us.

Still, we were kids, and we didn’t really know that much. We just liked being there and hearing the stories and singing the songs. I’m older now, and I have a different outlook, a bigger picture. It’s taken decades to gain the knowledge and faith that I have now. I still like listening to stories and singing hymns, and line upon line, precept upon precept, I have gained a greater understanding of life’s mysteries.

Here’s an example of how ignorant I was about the time the above picture was made. I remember sitting with my maternal grandmother in the annex of that beautiful church one Sunday morning. Mr. Monty was preaching fire and brimstone that day, and reminders that the end was nigh were scaring this poor child to death. I glanced up at my grandmother’s pretty profile, and she seemed calm, seemingly unaware that we might never even get to open our Christmas presents. As we walked out of the church, she evidently noticed my pale-faced anxiety because she grabbed my hand and asked what was wrong.

“Didn’t you hear what he said? The world’s going to come to an end soon, very soon, and unless we stop sinning, we’re going to go, well, you know, to that other place.”

“That other place?” she asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Not heaven,” I said, probably trembling. I couldn’t say the H word aloud, not even to a caring grandmother.

To my surprise, she seemed to be stifling a smile. “Come on, Honey. Let’s go have some dinner. Nothing’s going to happen to us today.” If she said it, I believed it. Her name was Mary John…gotta love that!

Fast forward a few decades. Last Sunday I heard a powerful message by President Uchtdorf at the Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. His talk was about Saul’s transformative experience on the road to Damascus, and there was something about his words that struck me as so true. He said that many people spend their days on the proverbial road to Damascus waiting for some traumatic event to change their hearts. They want the heavens to part for them and show them the way, the truth, and the light. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit on the address itself, but then, this is my take on it.

For most of us, this isn’t how it happens. Instead, bit by bit, little by little, we catch a little more of the vision. We grasp a little more of the truth. As President Uchtdorf said, truth comes in the form of a puzzle, one piece at a time, and each piece enables us to see a little more clearly. That Sunday with my grandmother wasn’t a transformative experience. It was just a tiny piece of the puzzle. Many others have been added since then.

I now know that God loves all of His children and wants us to be happy. Maybe that’s why I like the children’s hymn that says, “Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.” I don’t listen to fire and brimstone sermons anymore. I listen to ones that promise blessings for making good choices.

Yes and No

I’ve been pondering about why some people seem to delight in making disparaging remarks about other people’s religion, including mine, and wondering why in the name of heaven they do that. As my sweet mama would have said, it’s uncalled for. Does it bother me? Yes and no

There’s nothing like a brisk walk in the chilly, invigorating fall air to stimulate some deep thinking. For sure, not all of my thoughts were deep (Where did she get that cool jacket? What size turkey should I buy for Thanksgiving? I need to vacuum my car.), but some were.

I was thinking of how some people seem to delight in making disparaging remarks about other people’s religion, including mine, and wondering why in the name of heaven they do that. As my sweet mama would have said, it’s uncalled for. Does it bother me? Yes and no.

Yes because no one wants to be insulted, and when one’s religious views are mocked, it’s hurtful. I’m not sure whether it’s because the person (me) identifies with the religion so much that attacking it seems like a personal affront or what.  But here’s the real reason for yes. It’s upsetting because “sweet is the peace the gospel brings,” and I’d like for everyone to feel that same sense of serenity and calm. So yes.

But no too. No because whether people join me in my belief that God is our Eternal Father and that Christ is His Son and the Savior of the world doesn’t change the truthfulness of it. I LOVE the writings of C.S. Lewis, and I’m copying something right out of Mere Christianity. “Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all of your reasoning power comes….When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.” Gotta love that!

So yes and no. I was thinking yesterday of a verse in John that I recently discovered. Christ has just asked the twelve if they will go away, and Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Exactly. Where else is there? Who else? What else?