Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taking the bus to Kolob (Comments on The Family Proclamation)

Note:  Hi.  I'm John Barney.  I interrupt my BOM Blog to bring you the following hiatus...

That's me with college friends Laura, Serena, Kelly & Jocelyn next to our newly built church building back in about '95.  I'm the one that ain't pretty.  I've since had to gain a few pounds and start dying my hair gray in order to remain humble.

Today I'm doing a guest post on Jocelyn's blog.  I know Jocelyn from college days at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio back in the mid-90s.  Jocelyn asked me and some others to write a little some'm about The Family Proclamation, which the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published in 1995.  She left it up to each of us to do our own thing.  Here's mine...

Let's get it started....

It's only been in the last 3 years or so that I've started to really know my wife, Emilie.  At my age (45), you might be surprised at that, but considering the lillies of the fiel... er... considering Emilie and I only met a week before I turned 42, I think you'll understand. 

In the LDS subculture, being divorced has somewhat of a negative stigma attached to it, though that's becoming less so, which is actually sad because that probably has a lot to do with the growing number of divorces.  Nevertheless, that stigma is not nearly so stigmatic as being a life-long, single, LDS man of 42.  In the past, when people would ask me about my non-existent wife and kids and grand kids (that's the gray hair's fault) in my life, their reaction at learning of my "menace to society" status was always, "No way!"  This was taken partly complimentary, since I was happy that they saw me as marry-able, and partly devastating because it reinforced the loser self-image that was constantly trying to fight its way into my head. 

When accused of being too picky, I would tell people I had only 2 requirements in choosing a wife.  They'd say, "What are they?"  This was said in a very "expecting something unreasonable and/or funny" tone.  I'd tell them:


I must love her


She must love me


They must happen at the same time

Glad that worked out for me

I can tell you from experience that it is not easy to remain steadfast in the gospel without being yoked to a supportive partner.  Lots and lots of people do it, but it ain't easy.  Enduring to the end was meant to be a team effort.  My testimony was never rocky ("Yo, Adrian!!"), but my enthusiasm lacked enthusiasm every now and again. I used to quote the giant turtle in "Neverending Story":  When Atreyu asked him if he cared about anything, he says, "We don't even care that we don't care."  I went innactive for 7 weeks once (a new record) and lost my calling as youth Sunday School Teacher.  I really felt bad about that one.  Nevertheless, I am still here.  I will always be here, inside the fence.  That's a promise I made to myself and to The Lord a long time ago when things got somewhat challenging.  My Heavenly Father and I would take some long walks together back then, and discuss the matters (like, what was the matters with me?).

A few years back I was asked to give a talk in Stake Conference (in front of a couple thousand people) on the topic "Enduring to the end in a non-traditional family."  There sure are a lot of people that fit into that label.  Singles, divorced, widowed, part member families, part active families, unable to have kids, not to mention (and we often don't) same sex attraction issues.  It's a long list.  People lined up after the meeting to let me know they appreciated me for representing them and giving them a voice.  One of those people was my friend Lynsie, who sat in the audience thinking that I would make a good match for her sister, Emilie.  You just never know The Lord's plan.  I honestly used to think that The Family Proclamation didn't so much apply to me.  Like the photographer in a family, I just wasn't in the picture.  I hate it when truth is only truth for somebody else. What a dumb thing to think. 

There are two doctrines (of many) contained in The Family Proclamation that have given me strength to lean on in order to be able to continue my activity in the Gospel of Jesus Christ when I'd start to feel paralyzed.

One:  Heavenly Father loves me.

I can't deny that there were times during my lonely sojourn that I felt some bitterness toward God.  I felt that I must have missed my opportunity to have a family due to some sin on my part, or maybe just because I was too shy at the wrong moment.  It ticked me off to think there was some point along the way that the person I was to marry was there, but for lack of being able to hear the whispering of the Spirit, missed her because of being somewhere between sin and repentance, especially being privy as I was to some of my happy friends' past dirty laundry.  I tried to not believe this was the case, but those unhealthy and unholy thoughts oozed through the fissures in my mind like lava, boiling my brain into a nasty batch of self-pity soup.

Two:  It's His Plan.  I accepted His Plan.  His plan is that I come to earth and obtain a huge physical body, and gain the earthly experience I personally need to progress toward perfection and Eternal Life.  And, it is also true that my wife Emilie needs to gain the experience that she personally needs to progress toward perfection.  Since Em and I were always meant to always be together, always, who the crap am I to say when our meeting should have taken place?????  Who am I?????

Jean Valjean knows who he is - From Les Miserables.

Ooooh, I'm driving my life away, looking for a sunny day...
-Eddie Rabbit, 1980

After graduating from Miami University in 1996 at the ripe old age of 29, and working here and there for a couple of years, it became necessary to move home and help my Dad take care of my Mom.  I landed a desperation job driving a city bus.  It was supposed to be a temporary job, but I stayed. 

Now, one doesn't need a BA Degree in History and Psychology from Miami University to become a bus driver, so it was difficult not to constantly question my life, especially when I struggled to pay my outrageous student loan payments.  BYU and UVU students who rode my bus would often try to encourage me to go to school so that I could get a real career.  They were trying to be encouraging.  They were being dumb.

The "I'm a loser" thoughts often used their CDL -Class B licenses to drive through my brain as I carried folks to & fro.  Refer with me once again to the 2nd doctrine above... "...gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection...and Eternal Life."  Can I progress toward Eternal Life in a bus?  You betchya!

Em's and mine's first date was actually on the bus.  She rode with me on my last northbound trip one night, and then came to my house to watch a movie.  In fact, one of our songs is that one by Norah Jones that says, "Come away with me on a bus."  Did I mention that Em lived in Cedar City, Ut at that time (200 miles south)?  Did I mention that her car had been totalled the day before she was to travel to her parents' house for Thanksgiving?  Did I mention that she rented a car to go, but then there was a big snow storm in the mountain pass between Cedar City and her parents' house?   So, Em drove the 200 miles up to where I live in Spanish Fork to ride with her sister Lynsie, and they left a day later than planned.  That's the day we went for our bus ride.  

I honestly don't know how to express, in a blog post or in any medium, the strength of my conviction that Heavenly Father loves me, that Jesus Christ died for me, that Jesus Christ now lives.  I'm grateful to know of my own Divine Nature and Destiny, as well as my wife's Divine Nature and Destiny.  I'm grateful that our two Destinies are sealed for Eternity.  I'm not really a loser; never was one, the Proclamation says so.  But, and this is a big but, Emilie is the proof that I needed in order to know for sure.  Sad, but true. 

This is me not falling for Emilie.  Taken at Cedar Breaks NM, Utah -by my brudder-in-law  Parker Grimes
In conclusion:

Em's & mine's date to Kolob Canyon (part of Zion National Park).
His plan doesn't necessarily match my plan
When I planned my life out as a young feller, I was quite sure of the following: 
  1. I would go on an LDS mission to Japan at age 19 (I went to Kentucky at age 20)
  2. I would go to BYU from age 21-25 (I went to Miami of Ohio from age 25-29)
  3. I would marry in the Temple at age 23 and have 5 or 6 kids (Married at 43; she has 3 kids)
  4. I would work for IBM, or someplace like that, and make over $50,000/year (Nope)
When things didn't work out like I planned, it was all I could do to maintain hope for family happiness until I was 41.  At that point I really and truly gave it up.  No kidding.  I gave up.  A year later I met Emilie and everything changed.  The Family Proclamation is alive and well and hanging on my wall. 

This is me & my family. The oldest got married in June. They are (L to R): Sydnie, Weston, Ashley, McKay, Emilie & yours truly.  This was also taken by Em's brudder Parker.  He's the guy I was telling you about that's never in the picture.
And so...

My advice for those of you getting close to, or having already passed, your give up point: 
  • Your Heavenly Father loves you.
  • It's His plan.  You accepted it.  You need whatever experience you need to progress toward perfection and obtain Eternal Life.
Closing hymn...

The wheels on the bus go round and round, unless you get a flat; it happens;
The driver on the bus says, "shut the heck up," or at least thinks it;
And that's how the bus took me to Kolob.

Thanks for stopping by...
Peace be with you.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sin can cause heartburn (2 Nephi 16)

In 2 Nephi 16 (compare Isaiah 6) Isaiah records a vision he had of the throne of God.  As far as the Isaiah chapters go, this is one of my personal favorites.  This is mostly because it's a cool, visual story, with angels and hot coals and stuff.  According to verse 1 where it says that this happened the same year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw this vision around the year 740 B.C.

What I really like about this chapter is its depiction of repentance and forgiveness.  If you'd like to read it for yourself, it ain't very long.  I'll probably only quote a couple 9 verses of it here. 

I identify with Isaiah's feeling of unworthiness, and his declaration that he is not clean enough to be in The Lord's presence.  I'm pretty sure I've done far more dumb stuff than Isaiah ever did.  He probably did his Home Teaching every month.

So, here we go...

2 Nephi 16: 1-7
1.  In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also The Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

2.  Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

3.  And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is The Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.

4.  And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

5.  Then said I: Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen The King, The Lord of Hosts.

6.  Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;

7.  And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
8.  Also I heard the voice of The Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me.

9.  And He said: Go and tell this people -Hear ye indeed, but they understood not; and see ye indeed, but they perceived not.

Hey, wanna get dazzled?  See the Japanese writing above where it says Golden Curry?  That's a phonetic alphabet used for foreign words called katakana, and it says go-ru-da-n ka-re.  Sound it out and you'll understand it.

Now, I don't much care for spicy foods.  I don't dig the unquenchable fire in my mouth, nor the heartburn soon after.  But I can't imagine eating a hot coal...

This being more metaphorical than literal, I'll try to get back on the subject...

So, here we have God calling for a messenger to teach Israel that they're not getting it.  Isaiah has the desire, but doesn't feel worthy.  He declares to The Lord that he has unclean lips.  The Lord's angel takes a hot coal off of the altar with tongs and places it on Isaiah's lips to purge his sin and make him clean.  Let's talk about some general steps of repentance...

Repentance:  Acknowledge your mistake, and that it was a sin.

Repentance:  Feel sorrow for your sin.

Repentance:  Be humble, sincere and contrite.

Repentance:  Ask for forgiveness

Repentance:  Make the changes necessary.

"A live coal, which he had taken with tongs from off the altar."
I need to go back and interject something here, even though I sent this post to the presses days ago.  I forgot to mention something about the altar in Isaiah's vision.  In The Church's temples there are altars.  These altars signify the covenants that we make in the temple.  A covenant is a binding promise between ourselves and our Heavenly Father.  An example of one such covenant is obedience.  We promise to be obedient to The Lord's commandments.  A covenant is a two-way promise.  For His part, The Lord promises us blessings in return for our obedience.  We may fail to keep our part of the covenant, but He will never, no never, no never forsake His end of the deal.  Part of repentance is turning away from whatever sin it is, and making a covenant to not repeat that sin.  Many's the time that I have had to repeat that same repentance process over the same dumb thing, over and over.  One of the greatest, most wonderfullest things about our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, is that their capacity for love and forgiveness has no end.  The apostle Paul experienced this first hand when he had to repent of some very serious sins.  He was forgiven.  Then Paul says to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 3: 14-19
14.  For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15.  Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

16.  That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.

17.  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

18.  May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

19.  And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Repentance:  Have faith in Jesus Christ.

Even to Paul, the love of Christ "passeth knowledge", or is beyond his ability to comprehend.  Keep that in mind if you keep making the same mistakes over and over, like I have, and try not to beat yourself up too bad.  Just keep swimming.

Repentance:  If you make another mistake...

At least, that's the lesson I get out of this chapter.  There is another mention, of course, of the scattering of Israel and how a "remnant shall return".  My guess is, we'll hear that a few more times before 2 Ne 25.

One more thing...

Angels are nearly always depicted in art and literature as having wings.  Chapters like this are the reason for that, I suppose.  The Church teaches things differently.  Angels are either spirits who are living in God's presence waiting their turn to be born, or spirits who have already gone through mortality and have returned to His presence, or resurrected beings who have already gone through mortality.  Having said written that, I think it's fine if people choose to envision winged messengers as angels.  I love this picture, which I'll end with.

The scriptures tell us that we can come and buy milk and honey without price, but the forgiveness that comes from true repentance cost our Savior dearly.  I love that an angel was sent to comfort Jesus in Gethsemane in answer to His prayer.  I think that Carl Bloch failed to realize that even this angel depended on The Savior for his salvation.

Peace be with you...

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath (2 Nephi 15)

My project of blogging the entire BOM is going pretty slow.  These Isaiah chapters are very difficult for me.  Add a busy summer to that, and, violin, I'm only up to 2 Nephi 15 after almost 11 months of effort.  To the countless millions who read these fascinating and vitally important blog posts I apologize for my feet dragging.

So, here's 2 Nephi 15, which corresponds to Isaiah 5...

1.  And then will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved, touching his vineyard.  My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill.

2.  And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

3.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.

4.  What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?  Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes it brought forth wild grapes.

What the heck's Isaiah talking about; what does all this mean?  Well, I'll interpret for you, and then I'll share with you the trick to my brilliance so that you, too, can amaze your friends...

The vineyard is The House of Israel. 
The grapes are the men of Judah.

And now here's the secret of my success:

2 Nephi 15: 7

7.  For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, and behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

Ok, so sometimes it helps to read ahead.  Anywayz, The Lord did what He could for the house of Israel, but they went wild anywayz.  I really love verse 4:

4.  What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?

Because The Lord's efforts for His people yielded no repentance from them, they were scattered.  This may bring to your mind an image of an angry Father kicking his kids out of the house.  I don't see it that way.  I see it more like The Prodigal Son parable from the New Testament.  It was the son's choice to leave, and the circumstances (starvation) that brought him back to his father's house were the natural consequences of bad decisions.

2 Nephi 15: 12-13

12.  ...but they regard not the work of The Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands.

13.  Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

This time I'll do it without a net.  

"They have no knowledge" means no revelation from God, "their honorable men are famished" means their spiritual leaders are not worthy to receive the revelation and inspiration to lead them, and "their multitude dried up with thirst" means that the people are not receiving the life-giving nourishment of the living waters of Jesus Christ.  Well, that's my thought on it anywayz.

The rest of this chapter continues on with prophecies of the scattering of the house of Israel, a much repeated and important topic with Isaiah.  2 more verses and then my closing arguments...

2 Nephi 15: 24

24.  Therefore, as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, their root shall be rottenness, and their blossoms shall go up as dust; because they have cast away the law of The Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

So there you have the real sin:  Casting away the Law of Moses (commandments), and despising the word of God.  The danger in this is not only the consequences to ourselves (spiritual starvation), but also the danger to our posterity.  The "root" is that from whence we came, and the "blossoms" are our own children and descendants. Did I just use whence and are our in the same sentence?  Cool.

But there's good news, the best news

Prodigal Son Returns, -Rembrandt
Part of the following verse is repeated several times in these Isaiah chapters, and is one of my faves...

2 Nephi 15: 25
25.  ...For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.
Talking about The Lord's anger sounds a little strange to us.  "God is love", right?  I think the word anger in this context means justice, or the fact that disobedience brings consequences.  So, in other words...

No matter what sins we may be guilty of committing, Jesus Christ always stands, with pierced hands open, ready to welcome us home.

Peace be with you.