He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly,
and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?
I AM CHERRY ALIVE
"I am cherry alive," the little girl sang,
"Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe'en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit,
The pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong
When I sing my song,
But I don't tell the grownups; because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up
And forgot what they knew
And they are sure
I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong.
When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold,
I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me,
I will always be new!"
|Friday morning from my apartment|
My high school reunion is coming up at the end of this month. The growing pains of adolescence have stretched far into my adulthood, and checking in with old friends has forced me to revisit where I’ve been and where I’m going. I went to a small school, and got to know many of my classmates fairly well, though I didn’t keep in touch with most of them. Among all these conversations about families and careers is a question that often remains unsaid but is ever-present: “Are you still doing that church stuff?” Some of my dearest friends have stepped away the church. It seems like more and more of the new friends I make are in the “former Mormon” camp. Many of them are sometimes surprised at my continued participation in church. I don’t bring this up to contrast or judge my friend’s choices with my own. To be honest, I could easily see myself making some of the same choices. I only bring it up to help frame this talk and address some questions that I’ve been pondering on: How committed am I to the church? Why do I remain in church? What can I do to strengthen my faith while truthfully examining my doubts? And how can each of us support one another as we strive to live the gospel?
When I was asked to speak this Sunday, I admit I was a bit surprised by the topic
(Titles of Liberty: Fortifying ourselves in today's world), but I am grateful for the
opportunity it gave me to study and learn about how the gospel can be shield and
protector, as well as how I can grow in the strength of my own convictions. Preparing for
this talk has helped me sort through some of the questions I mentioned earlier, and I pray
that it may be a benefit to you as well.
In Alma 46, we read of Amlikiah and his quest to cause dissension in the church and gain power. In face of this opposition, the leader of the Nephite army, Captain Moroni created what we know of as the Title of Liberty. It stood “In memory of  God,  religion, and freedom, and  peace, [in memory of their] wives, and [their] children”. This title of liberty not only served as a battle cry, but as a reminder to the Nephites themselves. Moroni taught that those who upheld the title would have the strength of the Lord. They would be able to enter into sacred covenants, and receive blessings. It served as a symbol of God’s love for us, and the standards he has set to lead us to happiness and eternal salvation. Like the Nephites, we have chosen to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. In keeping the commandments, we can become living titles, and our actions can be reflections of him and his love.
Moroni’s army prayed as they prepared for battle saying, “Surely God shall not
suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be
trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions” They
understood that while the physical enemies they faced were dangerous, a more tragic
downfall would come as a consequence of their own choices. There are many influences in the world, some good, and some bad. But those influences do not force our hand, or cause us to do evil. Those decisions come from us alone.
All of us exercised our agency and chose to come earth to learn and grow. Our
ability to choose is one of the greatest blessings we have received. By choosing to follow
Christ, we free can free ourselves from spiritual captivity. In 2 Corinthians we read that
“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Our nature transforms as we choose to maintain the influence of the spirit freeing, us from sin.
The church serves as a gathering place to serve, teach, and support one another. But like any tribe or family, we are not immune from weakness or division in each others
company. While studying for this talk I stumbled upon a speech by Abraham Lincoln that he delivered when he was my age. During this time period, there was concern the nation would crumble as states divided against each other. Lincoln contrasted the attitude of the time to the atmosphere during the revolutionary war. He states, “…the jealousy, envy, and avarice, incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace, prosperity, and conscious strength, were, for the time, in a great measure smothered and rendered
inactive. …the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to
become the active agents in the advancement of [a] noble cause.”
Over time, those feelings and unity faded white the country was divided by competing interests and values. Today we live in diverse and unique communities surrounded by many faiths, ideologies, and beliefs. If we personally resolve to live by the principles of the gospel, our influence will be felt through our communities and congregations, despite our differences. We will become more united in through our love of God and our fellow-man. As we live the gospel and keep the commandments, we will inadvertently be doing missionary work. Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Our actions will speak louder than any statement we may make. By our fruits, we shall be known.
We have different opportunities and challenges compared to the time of Moroni. One of the most difficult parts of navigating our live is the abundance of choices we have. We have limitless information at our fingertips. Hundreds of sources to help us make decisions. It can be easy to relegate the gospel into one spiritual corner of our lives where it won’t get in the way or be an inconvenience. But I believe that the surest way to make good decisions while being true to ourselves is to strive to be directed by the spirit. We are guided by the spirit when we are quiet and listening and open. It can penetrate a clouded mind, and stays with us as we make good choices. We may have merciful manifestations of the spirit even when we believe we don’t deserve it. When we seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we are able to use our agency righteously.
In Moroni’s time, Amlikiah and his people were an immediate physical threat. In
contrast, some of the biggest challenges to my faith are my own doubts and insecurities. At times, I may be overly permissive and wishy-washy. Other times, I may be too exacting and harsh. It is difficult to uphold any standard if we are on shaky ground, but I believe that through following the example of Christ, our faith can be strengthened. Christ frees us from the bonds of sin. He was sent to “heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18)
In Alma we read a prophesy about Christ and the power of his infinite atonement:
“And he shall go forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind: and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the
sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people" (Alma 7:11-12).
With Christ as mediator, we can have confidence and be fortified in our place in the world. The church will serve as a safe house while we navigate the challenges of life. In a recent conference talk by Elder Anderson, he shares “It is within the sanctuary of the
Church that we protect our faith. Meeting together with others who believe, we pray and
find answers to our prayers; we worship through music, share testimony of the Savior,
serve one another, and feel the Spirit of the Lord… There is always a place for you here."
BALLAD OF THE MORNING STREETS
The magic of the day is the morning
I want to say the day is morning high
and sweet, good
The ballad of the morning streets, sweet
of cool warm weather
high around the early windows grey to blue
and down again amongst the kids and
broken signs, is pure love magic, sweet day
come into me, let me live with you
and dig your blazing.
|This is all so exhausting.|
|Beached somewhere in southern Utah|
"I've always had a major issue with death, from a pretty young age. From about 5 years old on I was very contemplative and started to become constantly filled with nostalgia for the present moment and the feeling that it's always fleeting. And until I handled that I really didn't have a healthy mind and it took a long, long time... I think the human potential is so much farther beyond what we expose ourselves, you know? And I feel like I was just coming up short constantly because of social anxiety... So I wrote... to myself, to convince myself to really act and try to be free"
- Alexander Ebert in an interview with The Talks
|From my walking loop a couple weeks ago|
|So, come on night|
In the early morning, past the shut houses,
past the harbor shut in fog, I walk free and
single. It is summer — that's lucky. The whole
day is mine. At the end of our village I stop
to greet Scroppo's dog, whose chain is wrapped
around a large dusty boulder. His black coat
is gray, from crouching every day in the gravel
of Scroppo's yard — a yard by a scrap-filled pond,
where Scroppo deals in wrecked cars and car parts.
I guess he gets them from crashes on the expressway,
or from abandoned junks he loots by the roadside.
I don't know the name of Scroppo's dog. I remember
him, years ago, as a big fierce-looking pup.
It may have been his first day chained there,
or shortly after, that he first greeted me:
his eyes big nuggets shooting orange sparks, his
red tongue rippling out between clean fangs —
fangs as white as lilies of the valley that bloom
in a leafy border by Scroppo's weathered porch.
It was late May, as now, when with sudden joyful
bark, black fur erect and gleaming, the dog
rushed toward me — but was stopped by his chain,
a chain then bright and new. I would have met
and stroked him, but didn't dare get near him,
in his strangled frenzy — in his unbelief —
that somehting at his throat cut short
his coming, going, leaping, circling, running —
something he couldn't bite through, tripped him:
he could go only so far: to the trash in the weeds
at the end of the driveway, to the edge
of the oily, broken cement in back, where Scroppo's
muddy flatbed truck stands at night.
Now, as I walk toward him, the dog growls,
then cowers back. He is old and fat and dirty,
and his eyes spit equal hate and fear.
He knows exactly how far he can strain
from the rock and the wrapped chain. There's
a trench in a circle in the oily dirt his paws
have dug. Day and weeks and months and years
of summer heat and winter cold have been survived
within the radius of that chain.
Scroppo's dog knows me, and wants to come and
touch. At the same time, his duty to expel
the intruder makes him bare his teeth and
bristle. He pounds his matted tail, he snarls
while cringing, alternately stretched toward me
and springs back. His bark, husky and cracked,
crossing the boundary of the cove.
I've never touched Scroppo's dog, and his
yearning tongue as never licked me. Yet, we
know each other well. Subject to the seasons'
extremems, confined to the limits of our yard,
early fettered by an obscure master in whose
power we bask, bones grow frail while steel
thickens; while rock fattens, passions and
senses pale. Scroppo's dog sniffs dust.
He sleeps a lot. My nose grown blunt, I need
to remember the salty damp of the air's taste
on summer mornings, first snowfall's freshness,
the smoke of burning leaves. Each midday,
when the firehouse whistle blows, a duet
of keen, weird howls is heard, as, at the steep
edge of hopelessness, with muzzle pointed,
earls flat, eyes shut, Scroppo's dog forlornly
yodels in time to the village siren sounding noon.