Thunker’s Weblog


Keep the Change

Robert Wheadon-126x150

“…had been so terrible that none of them ever spoke of it now, but the bitter steel had sheared into their hearts, leaving scars that would not heal,” (Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel.)

I am a big fan of Thomas Wolfe’s novels.  His kneading and molding of the English language is a joy to read.  He paints rural America in the late 19th to early 20th centuries with a full palette of adjectival colors and images.  Some readers find Wolfe’s characters too morose or depressing due to their impoverished conditions.  I find them true to their time and condition, desperately trying to claw their way out of poverty or totally crushed by their conditions.

Much of his fiction portrays characters shackled in poverty, but possessing dazzling personalities of erudition and emotion.  In his novel, “Look Homeward, Angel,” we are introduced to the family clan father, Oliver Gant, who lives his life in the small, rural town of Altamont.  He pursues his trade of being the town’s sculptor of headstones, but without ambition.  His wife, Eliza, possesses a more ambitious acumen.  According to Eliza, Oliver’s business is not successful because people don’t die quick enough.  It’s not a volume business.  In Eliza’s pursuit of wealth, possession of property  and more property is the path to a comfortable, genteel and respectable life.

Oliver is a tortured soul.  He regularly rails and revolts against what he perceives to be the inequities of life.  Getting blindingly drunk, he raves at the cosmos, his wife, and a seemingly deaf, uncommunicative God.  Frustrated in his world of Fate’s chains that bar him from greatness, Gant devolves into the town drunk.  His whiskey-fueled temper is held in fear by his wife and pity by the townsfolk, who support him home when he passes into unconsciousness in the street.

Oliver’s life, in Oliver’s view, is a long series of offenses against him, like a poor hand of cards that is continuously, eternally dealt him.  It’s a game he cannot deal himself out of.  He has been scarred by his life and unable to forgive Fate.  For the reader, Fate in this situation is really consequence.  Oliver’s manner of living has produced many of his woes.  Blaming Fate is much easier, though, and requires much less soul-searching.  To quote a staff journalist in a recent issue of the National Review, “Character is Fate.”

However, character is not something formed in concrete, unchangeable and solid.  We often think of character as being just that:  it’s who I am.  The truth, though, is quite the opposite.  Our traits are malleable, changeable and improvable.  And God, with great purpose and mercy, made it that way.  The change process is called repentance and is one of the most profound gifts we have from Jesus Christ through His atonement.

For those whose hearts search for, reach for, and are “pointing our souls to him,” (Jacob 4:5), repentance is what God has given us to achieve “a change of heart,” (Helaman 15:7).

We focus so much on what we are not, we many times fail to understand what we are becoming.  As followers of Christ, the path is strait and narrow.  It is also long.  In our frenetic daily efforts, we concentrate on immediate results, where God is taking the long view of eternity with us.  He not only sees us as we are, but also as we are becoming.  That is why I consistently ask myself, “Which direction am I facing today?”  Am I making a thoughtful effort to turn towards God today?  If not, why not?

Our process of becoming like Christ is not merely the cessation of sin, but the conversion of the heart.  It is not merely the eradication of the world’s influences, but the replacement of those influences with the bits of heaven we encounter along the path that assist our souls in becoming purer, our intentions more holy and our actions more charitable.

Repentance, motivated by faith in Christ, is the process given us to not merely return to heaven, but it is the process to change us so we are comfortable when we get there.

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Repentance is not easy.  It’s not supposed to be.  Changing our character is a process that can take us to the depths, yet with the promise of raising us to the heights of our soul’s potential.  Don’t be discouraged with daily stumbles.  Like a toddler learning to walk, our daily stumbles and continued efforts will eventually enable us to walk clearly in God’s path.

Garrison Keillor, the American radio story-teller and folklorist, closes his broadcasts with a simple benediction.  When I hear it, I can hear God giving us the same counsel.  He says:  “Be well.  Do good work.  Stay in touch.”  Let’s do that.

 

 

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Faith is What?

Robert Wheadon-126x150

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Let’s talk about something that can’t be seen, but can be shown in our actions.  And I’m not talking about rocketship underpants.  Recently I’ve been pondering the meaning of faith as a point of personal motivation and core of religious belief.  Faith is one of those terms that is bandied about with immense frequency, but rarely with clear application.  I believe this is due to the many ways we put the term, “faith” to use.

Faith can be a church, (the noun) with which we affiliate, or an inner belief, (the verb), which can drive many of our actions. Both usages interplay with each other.  For example, my inner beliefs can motivate my actions within my religious community.  My beliefs drive actions, which in turn allows my actions to manifest my beliefs.  How’s that for circumlocution!

Biblically, we are taught that “faith is the substance (assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 1:11.)

While I agree with that general definition, faith becomes much clearer for me when focused on Jesus Christ.  To merely say I have faith is too ephemeral, empty and even vacuous. To tie my faith to the person of Jesus Christ is a proposition with much more substance and meaning.

In fact, it is everything.  Faith in Jesus Christ is what heals the wounds of our hearts.  Faith in Jesus Christ leads us to turn from error and turn towards Him.  Faith in Jesus Christ allows divine grace to save us.

Faith in Jesus Christ also requires some effort.  The apostle Paul recorded in Romans 10:13-14:                                                                                                                                                                 “13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.                                     14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard…?”

Joseph Smith, in the Lectures on Faith, wrote:

“2 Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.

3 First, The idea that he actually exists.

4 Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.

5 Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Lectures on Faith, #3.)

The language here is of relationship.  It is learning who Jesus Christ is and what He does and how His actions impact each of us.  If we don’t know anything of Jesus, how can we possibly place our faith in His grace and goodness?

And faith requires us to make an effort.  In Matthew 11:28-30, the Savior taught:

“28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Notice the very first words?  We are required to come to Him. We must make the effort to learn of Jesus and re-direction ourselves towards Him.  In verse 29, the invitation to action continues.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…”

In the book, “The Crucible of Doubt,” Teryl and Fiona Givens discuss how many desire the path of faith to be walked for them.  The Givens write: “Christ invites us to assume the yoke, but we would rather ride in the cart,” The Crucible of Doubt, pg 62.)  Faith is not acquired or strengthened through a Laz-e-boy lounger approach.

It is often said that faith is a word of action.  Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, has the same requirement.  And the wonderful thing with developing faith in the Savior is that it doesn’t matter if we feel a strong confidence with God, possess an abstract association with deity, or merely think we might want to see what this faith thing is all about.  The Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, encourages all to make the effort.  He said:

“27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words,” (Alma 32:27.)

Lastly, where should this effort be directed?  A couple of thoughts include:

  1. Read about Jesus, take in his teachings and thoughts.  In other words, read the scriptures. Read the Four Gospels, read 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, read Doctrine & Covenants, sections 19, 76, 88, or 138.  The apostle John wrote:

“39 ¶Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me,” (John 5:39.)

2. Devote some quality time to prayer and thought.  Matthew wrote:

“22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” (Matthew 21:22.)

Try it!  Our efforts are done with the goal of turning our hearts towards God, of learning about His son, and then making the effort to try and live our lives as Jesus did.

Sound fun?  It is.

 



Pay Attention
February 9, 2017, 12:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Robert Wheadon-126x150

“It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to,” (C.S. Lewis, “Made For Heaven,” pg 15.)

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In my last post I wrote about intentions, of shining versus crowing as we live our mortal lives.  I continue to find scriptural evidence that what our Heavenly Father really desires is our hearts, intents and desires to align with His.  In this life He gives us every opportunity, over and over again, to stretch our souls towards Him.

This heavenly parental endeavor is never peremptory, never coerced, and never forced upon us.  In a very individual way, God presents choices, decisions, and most of all, people in our paths.

He does this to help us turn, like a sunflower to the sun, to Him.

If you’ll notice, I’m not emphasizing actions here.  I’m not degrading righteous acts, either, but prioritizing them.  Look at Matthew 7:12-13:

“21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’

23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'”

This is the NRSV version, which is a little easier to read.

Jesus teaches his disciples that before the good works, before the righteous deeds, before we start tallying our noble acts, knowing what God would have us do seems to be a higher priority.

And there is the question.  How do we discover what God would have us do?  We do have the Ten Commandments as a foundation.  Yet, focusing on the foundation, while important, doesn’t seem to be enough.  The Savior seems to be teaching there is more we can do beyond blind, rote obedience.  We also have the scriptures, and spiritual leaders.

The best means we have is prayer.  Real prayer.  The kind of prayer where we achingly ask and attune our spirits to listen.  I like the image Robert Frost presents.

A TIME TO TALK – Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road                                                                                              And slows his horse to a meaning walk,                                                                                                    I don’t stand still and look around                                                                                                              On all the hills I haven’t hoed,                                                                                                                      And shout from where I am, ‘What is it?’                                                                                                  No, not as there is a time to talk.                                                                                                                 I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,                                                                                                        Blade-end up and five-feet tall,                                                                                                                   And plod:  I go up to the stone wall                                                                                                              For a friendly visit.

Most of the time we shout out our prayers in a great rush of thanking and asking, petitioning and pleading, without ever taking the time for the most vital portion of prayerful communion: listening.  I bet there are so many things our Heavenly Father would like to tell us.  With our hurried, “Amens,” I fear we slam the door and break off the conversation.  And we miss learning what God’s will is for us.  For each of us individually.

Remember the counsel the Savior gave after his parables?  Sprinkled throughout Matthew, Mark and Luke come the words, “And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mark 4:9).  Parables were used by the Savior, so those hearers who spiritually listened, would learn the will of Heavenly Father.

In the movie, Sister Act 2, there is a song called, “Pay Attention.”  It begins:

“If you wanna be somebody,                                                                                                                             If you wanna go somewhere,                                                                                                                        You better wake up and pay attention.”

Can I get an Amen with that?  Let’s listen more and pay attention.