Can’t we all just be friends?

I’ve spent the past month thinking.  Thinking about my life, my family, and the world around us.  I’ve watched the news as they “report” on the presidential candidates. I’ve listened to the accounts surrounding protests in the name of oppression. I’ve read the stories of people who demand change because of an offense.  As this has happened, I’ve grown increasingly unsettled.  I’ve sought (and found) comfort in the words of the prophets found in the scriptures.

As I’ve spent time pondering the Word of God, it became increasingly clear to me that, every day, we are moving further from God and closer to secularism. We are losing (or have already lost) Reverence for the Sacred.

Why are we turning our back on the Sacred? It is because the “love of many [has waxed] cold” (Matthew 24:12).  We, as a society, have forgotten what our society is founded upon. Since the beginning of civilized history, man has been organized into communities.  These  communities have included everything from hunter-gatherers to Empire-builders. The one common theme is a basis of law. Man has for millennia used some sort of religious beliefs as the basis of their foundational laws.


One of the earliest examples of a written law is Hammurabi’s Code written between 1792-1752 BC. In the prologue to the Code, Hammurabi describes himself as an “exalted prince, who feared God” and wrote that he wanted to “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak” (US History). He may not have understood the concept of God the same way I do, but he clearly understood the concept of a Power Higher than himself.

He even included a carving of himself receiving the Code from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice, another indication of his belief in a Power Higher than himself.  These laws didn’t spring forth from the breast of man, they were inspired by a Holy Being.

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Shamesh is seated while Hammurabi stands with his arm raised in reverence.  Photo from www.historians.org

Let’s jump forward to the founding of the United States.  I now quote from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Our Founding Fathers believed the the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them to break away from the rule of Great Britain and to establish a new nation. They even outlined three of the inalienable Rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I like that the Founding Fathers didn’t specify a particular religious faith as they declared their Independence–there was no need, it was enough to acknowledge the Hand of God in the establishment of a free society.

Here then is the Foundation upon a Free Society must be built:

We must have an understanding and acceptance that there is a Power Greater than man.

We must understand that:

  • There is a time in the future when all men will answer for their actions, not to man upon the Earth, but to God in the Heavens.
  • We will have no peace in the land until we bring back the Love of God to the hearts of men.
  • We will have no justice in the land until we return to our laws a foundation of something Greater than ourselves.
  • We will have no mercy in the land until we “ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country” (John F. Kennedy).
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Standing on the Wall

Let us have the courage of Samuel the Lamanite who stood on the walls of Zarahemla and preached repentance and a return to God (Helaman 16). As we do this, we do not have to stoop to the level of our foes and resort to violence, suppression, lies, and hate. Rather, we must proclaim our beliefs through love, respect, and service. I want to share an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address.  In this passage, he was referring to the struggle between Democracy and Communism, but if we look, there is a parallel we can draw to the struggles we see today in our own communities.

So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.  Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah — to “undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free” (Isaiah 58:6).

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor — not a new balance of power, but a new world of law — where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,” a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself (Romans 12:12).

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.  I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the wold, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.  With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.


What can we do…where is my wall on which to stand?

First, we need to obey the 10 Commandments. Regardless of your religious persuasion, these 10 laws are (or should be) universal in the structure of an ordered society.

Second, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We must not forget it’s corollary: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. We no longer live under the Mosaic Law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24).  Rather, we live in a world where we need to turn the other cheek. Like the song says, “kindness begins with me” (Children’s Songbook).  Someone has to take the first step.  Yes, I realize that means we are going to be taking a lot of steps that are answered with harsh words, violent actions, and vindictive men…but if we don’t start now, then who will?

Third, we need to listen to understand. Those around us who are complaining need to be heard.  Listening to the grievances of others doesn’t weaken us, it strengthens us. Remember that a man’s perception is his reality.  When someone believes they have been wronged, that wrong must be addressed. This is compassion and love.

Fourth, we need a day where we stop and Just Breathe. The Sabbath Day is a day given to man to rest from our labors.  It is a day when we go to church and ask for forgiveness, renew sacred covenants, and commune with the holy.  It is a day to visit the fatherless, the widow, the downtrodden–which is difficult to do from a football stadium or the shopping mall.  This process of resting one day out of seven will help us stay attuned to the Spirit and will help us stay close by God.

Fifth, we must “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Everyone has a voice.  Clearly there are those in our communities who have found their voices.  They are spewing forth their twisted, wicked, and vile words.  They are making it increasingly uncomfortable and difficult for the peaceable followers of Christ to share the Word.  But that cannot stop us.  In fact, the louder they get, the more dedicated we must be to witness of truth through our words and our deeds.

My point is that we must do something.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”

Edmund Burke

Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor

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240 years ago, 56 men gathered in a room to put the finishing touches on a document they had spent the previous 19 days working on.  These men were’t a rag-tag group of disgruntled whiners who were upset because someone offended them.  They were well-to-do professionals who saw consistent abuses by their government and determined to make it right. And so they penned these words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The Declaration of Independence

Paul Harvey once spoke on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  It is well worth the 10 minutes of your life to hear their resolve.

Life is all about making and following through with commitments. Sometimes these are rather straightforward (I daresay, simple) commitments while other times, these commitments, like those made by the Founding Fathers, are extremely difficult.  Nevertheless, it is through our resolve that we make a difference in life.

What frustrates me is that I continually fall short on keeping my resolve with regards to things I know I need to do: read my scriptures, pray as a family, exercise, write in my journal, etc. I think this is where the concept of “enduring to the end” comes into play.  Heavenly Father knew from the beginning that man would find it difficult to follow through on commitments.  He even came up with a method to help us get back on the wagon when we fell off…repentance! Now, I’m not saying that every time we fail to hold strong to our resolve we commit sin, but I am saying that there are times when failing to stay strong to our commitments is a sin.


Now for the big question…now for the reason for this post…

What is your resolve?  For what are you willing to sign your name and pledge your life, fortune, and sacred honor?

If you do not know, then you need to find out. To go through this life without something to commit to, is to sail the seas with only a mast–no cloth.  Furthermore, our resolve extends to everything we do in this life.  Our commitment defines our character…who we are.  It used to be that when a man shook hands, he gave his word.  Is that true for you?  Is your word something people can believe?

Who Is My Neighbor?

I didn’t intend to travel this road. I read the many articles about Syrian refugees and thought to myself “what a mess” and “send them back.” I didn’t have much of an attitude toward helping them. Then I read a Facebook post by Keli Wright:

Remember all those history lessons about the holocaust, the relocation of Japanese during WWII and the American Indians long before that, retributions against Germans, etc., during the WWs, the long and deadly emigrations in Africa with innocents driven back and forth between rival armies, African Americans right here at home during slavery and Jim Crow (just to name a few)? Remember how you said that YOU would have helped the Jews, the Japanese, the Germans, the Amerindians, the Africans, the African Americans? Do you remember thinking YOU would have stood up for them and not passed judgement or withheld help because of their race or religion? Now’s your chance. We’re living history right now. (posted 17 Nov 15)

This started me thinking about the situation. Here is what I’ve come to. I’ll begin by sharing some history of my own.

In 2000, my family moved to Germany. We lived right near the tri-borders of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium. This meant that we attended Church in Heerlan, The Netherlands. It was an international congregation consisting of primarily Americans, Dutch, and British, although there were multiple other nationalities represented.

While serving in that Ward, I had the opportunity to walk the halls of a refugee camp. I saw first-hand the poverty, filth, and desperation of those refugees. I heard the cries of the children and watched them play in the dirt, seemingly oblivious to their situation. I saw the look in the eyes of parents desperate to help themselves, yet (literally) locked in a place with no option to do so. It was much like visiting a prison.

I knew people who one week came to church, then the next week didn’t come because they had lost their refugee status and were returned to their home country…and killed.

I worshipped the Lord sitting beside people who were members of US State Department defined terrorist organizations…and took the sacrament with them. These people wanted freedom. These people wanted safety. They just had no place to go to find it.

I counseled people who were forced to leave their wife and children behind and flee their country for their lives. And these weren’t all war-torn countries, some of these people fled from “free, democratic” countries that I had previously visited myself.

I was personally approached by the Russian Mafia seeking information about Ukrainian refugees so they could extort the refugees and send funds to the Chechen Rebels allowing them to continue their heinous terrorist campaign in Georgia.

I have driven the roads of Afghanistan and looked into the faces of people who certainly had reason to leave their country. I’ve seen children and mothers trying to survive when everything around them tried to squash that survival. I’ve listened to the story of an LDS Afghan who wanted nothing more than to leave his country…and he couldn’t. He even worked for the US Government as a translator and was unable to navigate the legal system. His story is known by General Authorities in the Church, and he is unable to get to America. He finally had approval to travel to a European country, but, during the medical exam, discovered he had throat cancer…so he was forced to remain in Afghanistan.

I’ve also seen the dead bodies of both good people and bad. I’ve lived through rockets launched by men who wanted to not only see that I die, but wanted to desecrate my dead body.

I’ve walked along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and looked at the face of the enemy. I’ve sat in classified briefings in South Korea only to discover that the briefing I just listened to was now broadcast throughout the North meaning that someone in the room with me was a traitor.

I have some experience with refugees. It doesn’t make me an expert. I don’t claim to understand everything about their situation. But I have worshipped with them, visited their camps, listened to their stories, and, at times, tried to forget that I ever heard their story.

With that setting as a background, let me share some scriptures that have helped shape my response to the current Syrian refugee crisis.

In the New Testament, Christ is teaching the people on the Mount of Beatitudes and tells them this: “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:40-44) In these simple 5 sentences, Christ changed essentially everything the world knew about interpersonal relationships. Allow me to interpret these verses.

If any man will sue thee…and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” This is fairly straightforward. We are to give more than we are asked to give—even when that person takes legal recourse to take from us. Even if we don’t want to give it away. Even if we are forced to give it away.

Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” This was a tough pill for the Jewish people to swallow. At the time, Roman soldiers could, at any time, grab a civilian and make him carry his gear for 1 mile. People hated that law. Christ taught that if you were compelled to march a mile with the Army, go two miles instead of just one.

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.” Again, I think this is fairly clear—if someone asks for something from us, we are to give it to them. This is both things that they intend to return (that’s the borrow of thee part) and things they don’t necessarily intend to return (that’s the first part). Notice this sentence doesn’t say “but only if you want to” or “only if you don’t need whatever they ask for.”

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” And here is the kicker. No longer are we supposed to hate our enemies, but rather, we are to love them! Even more so, we are to do good things to those people who hate us. We are to pray for those people who use us. We are to pray for those people who persecute us!

How often have I prayed for the Muslim world? Or more specifically, how often have I prayed for the Radical Islamists hell-bent on killing me, my family, and my country? As of this morning—never.

Maybe that is the problem. Maybe that is why the Radical Islamists continue to spread like a cancerous sore—because not enough people are doing the right thing to stop them.

Now I turn to the Book of Mormon. The Nephites “did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty. But as many as there were who did not enter into a covenant, and who did still continue to have those secret murders in their hearts, yea, as many as were found breathing out threatenings against their brethren were condemned and punished according to the law.” (3 Nephi 5:4-5). The Nephites wanted to end their wars, so they caused the Gospel to be preached to their enemy. I wonder what would happen if we stood up and proclaimed ourselves as Christians? What would happen if we, like Captain Moroni, would boldly announce to the world our values? Would the whole world suddenly realized that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to Eternal Life? Probably not. Would violence and hostility end? Probably not. But it is the right thing to do. I’m not suggesting that we imprison all Muslims in order to convert them. I am, however, suggesting that the power of example may have more influence than we realize.

Jesus once taught that we should love our neighbor as ourself, to which a heckler asked “and who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29). The reply came in the form of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:30-34).

What is amazing about this parable is that the first two men to pass by the nearly dead man was a priest and a Levite. They both had a sacred, religious charge to help the wounded, sick, and afflicted. The man who choose to help though, was a Samaritan. Samaritans were the lowest of people—the Jews would walk for days just avoid stepping on Syrian territory. No one respected the Samaritans and no one thought they had any good in them. Jesus taught that it wasn’t the priests and Levites, who showed the world by their position that they were men of God, that were doing right; it was the Samaritan, who showed the world by his actions, that he was choosing the right. Therefore, if we are to be called neighbor by our Savior, we must show the world by our actions that we are doing right.

Now, with all this said, the words and actions of Captain Moroni come to my mind. Captain Moroni “was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood. Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives” (Alma 48:13-14, emphasis added). So what does this teach me? It teaches me that while on the one hand I am to pray for my enemy, on the other hand, I am to defend my family against my enemy…even to the loss of blood. Theirs or mine. I think that is important. I must be willing to not only kill my enemy, but to be killed by my enemy in defending Truth.

And let’s not forget the example of the Savior himself. So many people talk about the love and compassion the Savior showed…and that is all true. Many of those same people don’t remember the Savior in the Temple. “And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” (John 2:13-16)

When Christ found the moneychangers in the Temple, he left the Temple and he made a scourge. In other words, he braided a small whip. Then he went back to the Temple and drove the money changers out. He flipped the tables they were working at. He was angry. He was not out of control—he was completely in control as he demonstrated righteous anger.

So where does that leave me now?

The Syrian refugees are my neighbor. I have an obligation to help them—to share of my abundance with them. The Prophet has asked me to help these refugees.

I do not know for sure what the next step is for me, but I do believe I have an obligation and duty to assist. Today I took the first step and contacted Catholic Charities in St Louis to see if they were working with the Syrian refugees and offer my assistance.

To those who say I am blind, I refer you back to my experiences I outlined in the beginning of this writing. I’m not ignorant of what I’ve seen or experienced. I’m also not ignorant of the love the Savior showed for the people of the earth. There is a balance that must be found. My journey now is to find that balance and show charity and compassion as often as possible while protecting and defending my family, my community, my country, and my religion at all times. If I am to be “called His people,” then I must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…and…mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:8-9 emphasis added). It is only after I internalize these principles that I “may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9).

See also:

LDS Church Response to Syrian Refugee Crisis

Samaritan’s Purse

International Institute, St Louis

For Syrian Refugee Building a Life in St. Louis, Backlash is Crushing

6 ways to fight ISIS and Build Stronger Families