Category Archives: Scriptures/Scripture Study

Selfless Gifts, Simple Gifts

When I think of Christmas stories of being selfless, I don’t have any personal stories of great import. That may be a good thing. I think of fairly normal things. Like when I was in college and got a bunch of friends together to walk the halls of retirement homes singing Christmas carols and sharing cookies, simply because my family had always done that, and I missed it. Service was just a part of our upbringing.

Or my first Christmas when I lived in Argentina, and the culture was so different — December falls in summer on the other side of the equator, so I had a decision to make. Would I choose to focus as did many North Americans on the fact that there were no Christmas colors (such as red & green), no carols, no decorations, few Christmas trees, no gift giving (since gifts are given two weeks after on Day of the Three Kings, January 6), few Christmas stories, just beer and fireworks? Or would I instead choose to focus on the fact that Argentine culture simply differs from mine, that people celebrate differently than I, that I should go and enjoy the dancing, learn to love polkas and chacareras as much as they, see beyond differences between Papá Noel and Santa Clause to see the similarities their roles represent, and just sit and enjoy the eating and talking and eating and talking ’til the wee hours of the morning? Enjoying cultural differences was just part of my upbringing. So was deciding to love other people as they are. As I made the less fleeting decision, I made their experience my experience, made Argentines my family, made their stories part of my family story. And now I miss those times, actively miss the differences, sorely miss the people.

I think one of the best things I can do at Christmas is to learn to get outside of myself and make the season not about me but rather about the people around me. If it’s about me, the season may be frenzied and unsettling. If it’s about others, I may find my days merry and bright.

My mental and spiritual state can be independent of the culture, the geography or the weather. I can bring my own mental snow, mental flocking, mental glowing white candles. I have learned that a white Christmas isn’t just an ideal; it’s a state of mind.


Other selfless Christmas stories below. Enjoy!

A young boy gives selflessly to another child in need:


John Rhys-Davies retells the story of Luke Chapter 2:


John Rhys-Davies explains the importance of the Christmas story:


Cloverton Hallelujah: Love the chords, and I applaud the holiday lyrics which magically upgrade this gorgeous ballad with Cohen’s discordant words into something we love to sing. Thank you, thank you, Cloverton, for the wonderful music!

Here’s the audio:

Here’s the video with audio muted:

I love the changes in the lyrics, and I find this verse particularly meaningful:

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah


The first gift of Christmas wasn’t from a store. What does love mean to you? Life? Peace? Or hope?

(Or watch/download same video at link.)


From our family to your family — This season and always, may you have many selfless moments and simply find magic in these moments!

-Dave and the MormonPanorama Family


Wandle Your Way Home?

In my last post, we explored three ways in which Mormons are peculiar. For me, these significant three are like finding a treasure after a life-long search. They’re why my ancestors decided to be Mormons, why anyone has decided to be a Mormon, and certainly why I’m a Mormon. To illustrate, I’ll share the story of Wandle Mace, my great-great grandfather.

Wandle Mace, Younger

Wandle Mace, Younger

Wandle (pronounced not like magic “wand” but like “band”, rhyming with “candle” or “handle”) grew up in the early 1800s and was taught to read by reading the scriptures. In his journal, he records that he had memorized the New Testament by the time he was twelve years old. While in his day that was unusual, I know of others of that period who achieved the same goal, so it appears it was more common then than now, and with no TV, more achievable. For example, we know high schoolers today in the Amish/Mennonite communities of Oklahoma and Arkansas who memorize the New Testament before they graduate. Because of his education at his mother’s knee, Wandle knew that the many churches he attended around him did not teach the same things he knew for himself were in the Bible, and for years he searched for a church that taught those same things. He was expelled from some of them for teaching things from the New Testament that conflicted with their teachings, but he held to the things he knew to be true.

Parley P. Pratt

Parley P. Pratt

Eventually, Parley P. Pratt knocked on Wandle’s door, talking about a church that matched in every respect the teachings Wandle had learned as a boy, the three same teachings that Elder Holland described. Wandle explained to Parley that while he was glad finally to find someone who taught the truths found in the New Testament, that fact alone did not give Parley the authority that Jesus Christ held allowing him to teach these truths. Wandle said that, before they were to continue on discussion, he would need to know that they possessed this authority from God.

Three months later, when Wandle’s baby Charles took sick, Wandle and his wife called in the elders to bless and heal Charles. Parley returned, Charles was healed, and Wandle and his family decided in their hearts that this church indeed included the power and authority originally established by Jesus Christ. It was insufficient to teach the proper things; Wandle knew that they had to be taught with proper authority in order to be from God. And Wandle recognized that the holy priesthood, which had been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signaled the return of divine authorization, for which he had been watching and waiting for many years.

Wandle was not alone. People before him and after had similar experiences regarding authority. If you wish, feel free to view the experiences of Vincenzo di Francesca, which are similar to Wandle’s, in the movie How Rare a Possession—The Book of Mormon. (Length: 63:19.)

I will always be grateful for great people in my life who are willing to teach things they feel down deep, even when it’s difficult, even when people around them disagree with them. Like them, I feel that it is important to stand strong for correct principles, even against tremendous odds, and I am glad to see my adult children all standing tall for what they have learned for themselves to be true. Wandle would be pleased.

Wandle Mace, Older

Wandle Mace, Older

What Makes These Mormons Peculiar?

Peculiar? Is that bad or good? Why should we be a “peculiar” people of all things? (See Deuteronomy 14:2Deuteronomy 26:18Titus 2:141 Peter 2:9.)

Austin Hall, Harvard Law School

Austin Hall

“Why do these Mormons stir up such emotions in people, and why are they not considered Christian by some?” As we approach General Conference next month, authority issues are as relevant today as ever. Interesting questions and answers from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he spoke at Harvard Law School. Answers below.

Returning to my academic roots in New England, I am reminded today of—and stand with—a marvelous congregational cleric who, a century ago, had a little parish in Springfield, Massachusetts, about equidistant from New Haven and Cambridge, which seems appropriate. He said 100 years ago:

Henry Martyn Field

“The loss of respect for religion is the dry rot of social institutions. The idea of God as the Creator and Father of all mankind is to the moral world, what gravitation is in the natural; it holds everything else together and causes it to revolve around a common center. Take this away and any ultimate significance to life falls apart. There is then no such thing as collective humanity, but only separate molecules of men and women drifting in the universe, with no more cohesion and no more meaning than so many grains of sand have meaning for the sea.” [Henry Martyn Field]

Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter (Gesupietrochiave), by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)
Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter (Gesupietrochiave), by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)

We are not considered Christian by some because we are not fourth-century Christians, we are not Nicene Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ. No, when we speak of “restored Christianity”, we speak of the Church as it was in its New Testament purity, not as it became when great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, then we are not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria we do not know. (Actually, we know them, we just don’t follow them.)

Thus, we teach that:

1. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate and distinct beings[, both divine,] with glorified bodies of flesh and bone. As such, we stand with the historical position that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].” [Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Paul F. Achtemeier, ed. (1985), Page 1099]

Studying the New Testament

Studying the New Testament

We take Christ literally at His word—that He “came down from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him that sent [him].” Of His antagonists, Jesus said they have “hated both me and my Father.” These, along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, make clear Jesus’s physical separation from His Father, subordinating Himself to His Father, saying regularly, in one way or another, my Father is greater than I. However, having affirmed the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed “one” in every other conceivable way—in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways I have just said, but They are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter, we differ from traditional creedal Christianity, but we do feel that we agree with the New Testament.

The Open Canon Continues: President Thomas S. Monson

The Open Canon Continues: President Thomas S. Monson

2. Next, we also differ from fourth and fifth century Christianity by declaring that the scriptural canon is not closed, that the heavens are open with revelatory experience, and that God meant what He said when He promised Moses, “My works are without end, and…my words…never cease.” We believe that God loves all His children and that He would never leave them for long without the instrumentality of prophets and apostles, authorized agents of His guidance and direction. The Book of Mormon and other canonized scripture, as well as the role of living oracles, witnesses to the fact that God continues to speak. We agree enthusiastically with the insightful Protestant scholar who inquired, “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? …If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today…about matters that are of significant concern?” [Lee M. McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, rev. ed. (1995), Pages 255-56.]

3. Lastly, for today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called our “most distinguishing feature.”

Peter, James and John Confirm the Keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

Peter, James and John Confirm the Keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it, there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of questions and anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother, John, over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:

How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim:
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?
[Quoted in C. Beaufort Moss,
The Divisions of Christendom: A Retrospect (n.d., “no date”), Page 22.]

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of “who laid hands on him” all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly “the most distinguishing feature” of our faith.

Thank you for your courteous attendance. I will be pleased to devote the remaining time to your questions. I leave my love, my witness, and a personal blessing on every one of you for whatever righteous need you may have, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you? Again, from Elder Holland:

Clearly, acting with divine authority requires more than mere social contract. It cannot be generated by theological training or a commission from the congregation. No, in the authorized work of God, there has to be power greater than that already possessed by the people in the pews or in the streets or in the seminaries—a fact that many honest religious seekers had known and openly acknowledged for generations leading up to the Restoration.

It is true that some few in that day did not want their ministers to claim special sacramental authority, but most people longed for priesthood sanctioned by God and were frustrated as to where they might go to find such.

Clarity can be wonderful, huh? And it’s all for free. Just as Christ used His priesthood power freely to bless others without charge and taught everyone to do likewise, today we use His priesthood power freely to bless others. (Avoiding “priestcraft”; see in New Testament Matthew 10:8, Acts 8:9-18 (especially Verse 18)1 Peter 5:2, or in Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 26:29Alma 1:12, Helaman 7:53 Nephi 16:10.) God has designed it so that we use his priesthood only to bless others; for example, I cannot use the priesthood to give myself a blessing.

Through me, my sons also have this authority to bless their own families and to carry on the work of righteousness as God would do himself if He were here counseling and coaching us. I have learned for myself that true strength comes from magnifying the priesthood. Clearly, that makes me peculiar. I also know that everyone has the blessings of this authority available to them.

——– End of Post ——–

Bonus Material:

1. Watch or listen to Elder Holland at Harvard Law School below. Or read.

2. The priesthood of God isn’t for some and not for others — It’s for any of us, for all of us. It applies equally to people of any gender, in any country, of any position in life. For example, watch how Sheri Dew answers the great question: “In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what do women get?”

3. Why is authority important? An 18-year-old learns one reason.
“Sanctify Yourselves”:

(Or same video at link.)

4. Pilots get lost if they don’t follow their instruments.
We get lost if we don’t follow the commandments.
“Mormon Spiritual Vertigo”:

5. Sometimes, answers are long in coming. Sometimes, answers come quickly. Either way, healing happens on His time, and that’s for an important reason.
“He Will Give You Help”:

(Or same video at link.)

——– End of Bonus Material ——–

WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:

  • Photo, “Austin Hall” of Harvard Law School—,_Harvard_University.jpg
  • Article, “Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s Remarks to the Harvard Law School: Mormonism 101”, 20 Mar 2012—www.
  • Photo, “Henry Martyn Field”—
  • Photo, “Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter (Gesupietrochiave), by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)”—
  • Photo, “Studying the New Testament”—www.
  • Photo, “The Open Canon Continues: President Thomas S. Monson”—www.
  • Photo, “Peter, James and John Confirm the Keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery”—www.
  • Photo, “Open Canon: Bible and Book of Mormon”—www.

——– End of WebCredits ——–

Open Canon: Bible and Book of Mormon

Open Canon: Bible and Book of Mormon

What a Canuck on an airplane taught me about God

The plane is incredibly crowded for a late evening flight.  My seat is on the second to last row and I have the isle seat.  Not my first choice, but I don’t mind so much, the guy by the window is taking his first trip via airplane!  He’ll enjoy that seat more than I would.  He has short hair and a scruffy beard and he’s probably somewhere close to my age.  He talks a lot!  I don’t mind that either, I like to meet new people and learn their stories.   It’s February and this guy’s wearing plaid shorts and a t-shirt.  Being from Canada, he’s prepared for his first trip to Florida!  The more he talks the more I like him, he reminds me of my big brother Mike.

A teenage boy settles into the middle seat.  This kid graduated from high school last summer and has spent this winter snowboarding!  I didn’t catch where he is from, but he likes snowboarding and guns. He’s planning to go to welding school in the fall.  He’d like to custom build a snowboard park!

The flight attendants prepare for take-off and my friend by the window excuses himself from the conversation so he can watch the city lights disappear beneath us! I don’t blame him, it’s pretty spectacular to watch.

As our flight progresses, the three of us get to know each other a bit.  We laugh, and share stories of home and places we’ve been.  We are, perhaps, a little loud for such close quarters, but in a jovial way!

Canuck on an airplane

Throughout our conversation, my Canadian friend frequently mentions God and scripture.   He shares with us three of his favorite scriptures from the Bible and the reasons he loves them so much.  He repeatedly uses the phrase, “When I meet My Maker”

“When I meet My Maker, I want to be able to tell Him I’ve done something good with my life.”

“When I meet My Maker,  I want to tell Him that I spent my life helping people for Him.”

“When I meet My Maker, I want  to feel good about what I can tell him I did with my life.”

My friend explained that this coming Autumn he is going to Bible School in Chicago to become a Youth Minister.  He believes that working with children and teenagers will be the most rewarding career for him personally and one he feels would glorify our Heavenly Father.

As I listen, the Holy Spirit brings to my mind The Parable of the Talents.  I recently studied this Parable in my personal scripture study.  My friend was sharing it with me in real time!

(Or same video at link.)

We are, each of us, given different talents, skills, abilities, assignments, and roles.  We are blessed with these gifts to better the world around us, that we might bring glory to our Father in Heaven, who created All.

My Canadian friend is seeking ways to sharpen his gifts, to learn, and grow that he may better serve others.  He has this desire, not to be seen of men, but so that “when [he] meets [Our] Maker”  he can report that he has increased the talents with which he was blessed and he is prepared to return them (and the glory) to Whom they rightfully belong.

As my new friend shares his conviction, I can feel Our Maker’s love for him in my heart.  I feel inspiration and encouragement because of this man’s faith.  I feel love for a stranger to myself, but not a stranger to God.

In this moment, on an airplane to Florida, My Maker is teaching me of the very great love He has for All His Children.  My Maker is teaching me that we are intentionally not created the same, and intentionally not provided the same gifts, and intentionally not given the same assignments and roles in order that God’s purposes may be accomplished.

Thank you, my friend, for helping me to see Our Maker’s plan a little more clearly.  And thank you, for sharing with me your faith and your desire to honor and glorify God with your whole heart.

Heavenly Father and Jesus know me

Mormon Speaks At Ecumenical Event; Chapel Walls Fail To Collapse!

(Please forgive the long post. It’s for a good reason: a local interfaith/multifaith group invited me to speak at an annual ecumenical event for interwoven faiths as part of Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity. For twenty minutes. It was my pleasure to say Yes. Here’ s the result, if you wish to read it. Enjoy!)

Christian Crosses At A Joint Service For The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity

Christian Crosses At A Joint Service For The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity

I’ve attended many ecumenical meetings, but this is the first time I’ve ever spoken at one. As part of my faith tradition as a Mormon, I’m used to closing sacred remarks “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Will it be OK if I do so this evening at the end? (Response: Unanimous and general Yes.)

We are always teaching. What shall we teach? With the 2014 theme of this event being “Has Christ Been Divided?” and the scripture reference of 1 Corinthians Chapter 1: verses 1 through 17, I’d like to quote verses 4 through 7:

4. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
5. That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
6. Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
7. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem

Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem

This past week, Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, Arizona, and vice president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis, toured the Mormon Temple in the nearby city of Gilbert during an open house for the new building. In the recent edition of Jewish News, he teaches us:

In last week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses learning a valuable lesson from his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro tells Moses to appoint judges who will handle the burden of judging the people from morning until night, taking only the most difficult cases for himself. Jewish sages note that Moses learns this valuable lesson from his non-Israelite father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite.

Our tradition asks the question based on this interaction: “Who is wise?” The answer, “One who learns from ALL people” (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4: Mishna 1).

We are always teaching. What do we teach? What do we teach about God? As part of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I have thought of my own powerful moments of communion with God. When I was a child and walked in to see my parents at prayer, I remember the whoosh of feelings of safety and security but mostly of sacredness.

Cairo, Home Interior

Cairo, Home Interior

My favorite memory of the power of a prayerful life is one at work. I knocked on a friend’s office door; normally, he responds quickly with, “Come in!”, and I open the door. Sometimes, I’ll hear water running in the office bathroom as he makes ablution, and I know not to knock at the door for a few minutes after he returns to his office. But this day I was distracted and failed to notice that my knock at the door from without brought no invitation voiced from within. Out of habit, I called him by name, adding the customary honorific suffix, and opened the door. I found my elderly friend kneeling lowly on his prayer rug. It was such a holy moment. I felt that I had entered a bubble – a bubble of spirituality – of spirituality established by my friend, as he created a sacred space for prayer. In a familiar whoosh of feeling, I was aware that I had missed the cues of the sounds at the sink. Having cleansed himself without as he focused on cleansing himself within, he was now talking with his Maker, expressing humility without as he voiced humility within. It was just like walking in on my parents at prayer. After prayers were done, we embraced; I apologized for disturbing a sacred moment. “Oh, I don’t mind. I am just doing my duty,” he said. I replied, “It is the duty of us all.”

When I think of my favorite moments of prayer, I will always see in my mind and in my heart an elderly man from Uzbekistan, with shoes removed from off his feet, kneeling submissively on sacred ground in his office, visible to none but to Him who sees all.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

In Robert M. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men, I recently found this gem:

Children live in a closed world, and young Harry [Ettlinger] assumed life as he knew it had gone on that way forever. He didn’t have any friends who weren’t Jewish, but his parents didn’t either, so that didn’t seem unusual. [In 1930’s Germany, he] saw non-Jews at school and in the parks, and he liked them, but buried deep within those interactions was the knowledge that, for some reason, he was an outsider. He had no idea that the world was entering an economic depression, or that hard times bring recriminations and blame. Privately, Harry’s parents worried not just about the economy, but about the rising tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism. Harry noticed only that perhaps the line between himself and the larger world of [his town of] Karlsruhe was becoming easier to see and harder to cross.

In September [1938], twelve-year-old Harry and his two brothers took the train seventeen miles to Bruchsal to visit their grandparents for the last time… Opa Oppenheimer[, Harry’s grandpa,] showed them, one last time, a few select pieces from his collection of prints… His art collection contained almost two thousand prints, primarily ex libris bookplates and works by minor German Impressionists working in the late 1890s and early 1900s. One of the best was a print, made by a local artist, of the self-portrait by Rembrandt that hung in the Karlsruhe museum. The painting was a jewel of the museum’s collection… Harry had never seen it, despite living four blocks away from it his whole life. In 1933, the museum had barred entry to Jews.

A week later, on September 24, 1938, Harry Ettlinger celebrated his bar mitzvah in Karlsruhe’s magnificent Kronenstrasse Synagogue… On October 9, 1938, they arrived in New York harbor. Exactly one month later, on November 9, [was] Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass… The Jewish men of Karlsruhe, including Opa Oppenheimer, were rounded up and put in the nearby Dachau internment camp. The magnificent hundred-year-old Kronenstrasse Synagogue…was burned to the ground. Harry Ettlinger was the last boy ever to have his bar mitzvah ceremony in the old synagogue of Karlsruhe.

Three generations of a Jewish family light a menorah during Hanukkah

Three generations of a Jewish family light a menorah during Hanukkah

But this story isn’t about Kronenstrasse Synagogue, the internment camp at Dachau, or even the Holocaust against the Jews… For when Private Harry Ettlinger, U.S. Army, finally returned to Karlsruhe, it wasn’t to search for his lost relatives or the remains of his community; it was to determine the fate of another aspect of his heritage stripped away by the Nazi regime: his grandfather’s beloved art collection. In the process he would discover, buried six hundred feet underground, something he had always known about but never expected to see: the Rembrandt of Karlsruhe. (Ibid, Pages 7-13.)

We are always teaching.

I was asked to share with you this evening the story of my own interfaith journey. I used to think that the work of interweaving faiths was about crossing lines, such as the lines that Harry Ettlinger saw between himself and the larger world of Karlsruhe. After years, I learned that I was wrong. Very wrong. I noticed that focusing on lines encourages designations of WE vs. THEY. So I started thinking instead about circles. Years earlier, when I was about eight years old, in our weekly family home evening, my mom had us memorize the poem Outwitted, by Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

So I began to move beyond the Here or There of lines, or even the In or Out of circles, and instead tried to focus less on who was In and who was Out and to focus more on expanding my circle to include another. Despite a person’s flaws, for me the challenge became to see the good in them, to see what good I could find to help me be good, to help me be better.

For example, I lived in South America for a couple of years as I served a Mormon mission among the people of Argentina. I had been there just a few months, when I was straightening up the bookshelf in my room, picked up some pamphlets, and saw something flutter to the floor. I stooped to pick it up and found that it was a U.S. stamp. On it was the image of Thomas Jefferson. And I burst into tears. My immediate reaction was, “I’m starting to lose it‼” But then I started to realize why I had burst into tears. This stamp was from my homeland. It had been months since I had seen anything from home. And this was Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence in just seventeen days, who wrote the words, “All men are created equal,” who wrote, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,” which Ben Franklin changed to, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” I think that everyone should spend a couple of years after high school in a foreign country; it can deepen one’s feelings of patriotism, even without them knowing it. It certainly did mine.

Gauchos a caballo (1900), Ángel Della Valle (“Gauchos on horseback”)

Gauchos a caballo (1900), Ángel Della Valle (“Gauchos on horseback”)

Then, as I lived among the people of Argentina, I learned to love them. I learned traditional Argentine folk songs from our local Mormon bishop, who played a wicked Latin guitar, and we’d sing with gusto like gauchos around a campfire. I learned the National Anthem and sang it with gusto at every parade and holiday. It surprised everyone around me, but my heart just wanted to join in, and not just sing, but to know the words and why they were meaningful. In spite of the day of the stamp, I began to wonder what I was going to do when I returned home and no longer could buy delicious Mantecol candy bars or drink amargo, a bitter, BITTER soft drink that I had grown to love.

At that point, I discarded the idea of circles in my interwoven faith work. I loved the people of Argentina not because they were all Mormons—They weren’t! I found that my core feelings of being an American remained at my center and indeed were strengthened. I loved extending my circle as far as it could go, only to learn that, really, I could extend it yet a little further. But the circle analogy didn’t seem to work anymore; it just didn’t seem expressive enough for what I felt. I had lived in Argentina for not yet a year, and I realized that I no longer felt like an outsider extending my circle. I was Argentine. I was American. Americans were my people, and Argentines were my people. I had developed a dual citizenship of the heart. Just as I had moved beyond the We/They of lines, I had moved beyond the concept of designating circles. I had learned that what was important for me was to develop feelings down deep. I would be happy in the United States my entire life. I now would be happy in Argentina my entire life, “perhaps until the day I die.” I had succeeded in making their lives my life.

We are always teaching. What should we teach? I suggest that we take a cue from my Muslim friend and teach about duty. We should teach about our duty to God. Anyone involved in the Boy Scouts of America, youth or adult, uses the Scout Oath to teach others “to do my duty to God and my country.” Part of our duty to God is to listen to Him, to see as God sees, to think as God thinks, to act as He would, to be a tool in His hands. The prophet Isaiah taught us:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia

I learned yet again to go beyond lines and circles, learning yet again the importance of feeling things down deep, when I hurried to help Felipe, whose wife and family had just died in a plane crash. I helped Arturo, his brother, as we stood and waited for hours in the heat, watching as officials opened each body bag they had carried from the helicopters to the basketball arena used as a temporary morgue, until, in the last helicopter trip of the day, the bags opened to familiar faces, and we were able to identify the bodies of their loved ones. Felipe wasn’t a Latter-day Saint; he was Catholic. I was from the United States, and he was from Colombia. He was athletic and an avid soccer player; my wife is the sportsman in our family. Despite our differences, Felipe and I bonded. Despite his being suicidal at the time, despite all the turmoil in his life that made him crawl into a shell and shut out the world, he would allow me in. This surprised me as much as it surprised his extended family, but in his darkest moments, they would come running to me repeatedly: “Come, Davy. Come quick. Felipe needs you again.” I’d hasten once more to his side—we’d sit, sometimes talk. He liked looking at pictures of my kids. But I felt that our hearts were in constant conversation, even in silence, and I could feel him taking strength from me, and I gave freely, for I knew that I had strength to spare. By connecting with those around him, with people for whom he cared deeply, he quickly learned to develop his own sources of strength.

Panorama Of Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia

Panorama Of Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia

Felipe asked me to be with him as he entered sacred ground, as he and Arturo returned to his apartment for the first time after the deaths of his wife and children. I was there when he entered the bedroom that he had shared with his wife, Amparo. Felipe just sat on the bed, and it was as if the energy just left him; he seemed like a beaten man, forsaken and alone. I looked over at the bedroom’s TV; on it, I saw a ceramic object and a stuffed toy, a plush lion cub, “Simba”, from “The Lion King.” A thought hit me to pick up the little Simba and to give it to Felipe to cuddle, which I did. Felipe pulled the toy to his barrel chest, doubled over as he sat on the edge of the bed, and just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My first thought was, “Oh, Dave, you blew it.” But immediately on its heels came the assurance that, no, this was exactly what Felipe needed. We stayed quiet a few minutes and let time pass; eventually, he approached me and said, “Thank you, Davy.  That was perfect.” I’ll never know what that little Simba meant to Felipe and Amparo, nor do I need to know; maybe its only meaning was simply something to cuddle for the moment. Regardless, I followed an impulse when it occurred to me, and it appears it was the right thing to do. I had no need at the moment to be a tool in God’s hands, but Felipe was hurting, and God knew he was hurting and needed to heal some very deep wounds. And God trusted me to listen and to know without trying what Felipe was feeling down deep. It’s my feeling that on that day, I did my duty to God.

Interfaith experiences can even occur among people of the same faith. When I lived in another state, my congregation leaders assigned me as a home teacher (a volunteer shepherd) to a family with five young children. Jason and I had nothing in common, and our belief systems were vastly different, even though we were both LDS. For example, he held a cultural belief in the little people, such as leprechauns and fairies, and several of his tattoos bore an Irish Celtic theme, whereas my Celtic roots are Welsh, and the little people are not part of my reality. Despite his severe substance abuse concerns, this young father and I bonded easily, to the amazement of everyone in our congregation, including ourselves. I’d been visiting him for about a year, and he was working very hard to stay clean—he had recently developed a deeper desire to conquer his addictions, to really lick it this time. On one visit, we had just sat down to talk with Jason and his wife, when he interrupted, “How do you do it, Dave? How do you get us to feel these things?” After that, we opened our hearts to each other like never before, and our souls were knit together like David and Jonathan of old. It was as if we could read each other’s minds. Each time, we would plan our next visit, a week away or more often a month away, depending on what he felt he needed for support. Sometimes, in the dead of night, when the pull of drugs was strong and he was weak and needed to talk, he would just call me out of the blue and say, “Please come, Dave. I need your help. I need to stay clean.” These were some of my favorite moments. We’d sit on the stoop of his small house in the darkness, and we’d have the most amazing discussions filled with light. As we talked of truths at night (“Sweet Is the Work,” end of Verse 1), I remember many times thinking, “There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather be than right here, right now, on this stoop, talking with this man.” I could feel him taking courage from me, and I gave freely, for I knew that I had courage to spare. But I simply could not go to see him often enough, and I looked forward to each visit with all my heart. Eventually, he moved away, then I moved, and always I will miss our conversations.

Accra Ghana LDS Temple Grounds

Accra Ghana LDS Temple Grounds

We are always teaching. What do we teach? What do we teach about God? We teach that, as important as actions are, the feelings behind our actions are even more important. We teach that there is no We/They; we teach that there is no reason to expand our circle, because mankind is our circle. We teach the need to stand in holy places, to spend time there, to spend some quality time there on our knees, not just during this Week of Prayer but always, for Christian unity and for global unity. We teach that God doesn’t need just one of us, he needs all of us, and that if we work together as individual wires of communication with God, that interwoven together, we become a cable, and with cables, we may all build a bridge. And we teach that life is too short merely to go through the motions but that we must feel these things in our hearts. Each of us must feel these things down deep.

In closing, I’d like to share another of Edward Markham’s poems, this one entitled Anchored To The Infinite:

The builder who first bridged Niagra’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,
Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite
Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;
Till at the last across the chasm swung
The cable then the mighty bridge in air!

So may we send our little timid thought
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands—
Send out our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the Infinite!

We are always teaching. What shall we teach?

I say these things in the sacred name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thank you for your time tonight.

(By the way, the sponsoring organization was the local Mennonite Fellowship congregation, with additional support from the Bloomington, Indiana Unit of Church Women United. My earliest years were in Eastern Ohio in the middle of Amish and Mennonite country. We spent long hours at friends’ homes with no electricity, and my pre-school was a local Mennonite Bible School. Consequently, at this Week of Prayer event, many congregation members looked so dang familiar, even though we had just met. I felt very at home, they made us feel very welcome, and I’m glad I hung around until the last dog was hung for the warm conversations afterwards.  It was just plain fun making new friends of people from all sorts of backgrounds and faiths.)

Experts say that parents modeling how to practice faith is important, but that influence can be blunted if either parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their children

Experts say that parents modeling how to practice faith is important, but that influence can be blunted if either parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their children

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Bonus Materials:

1. “Faith in the family: How belief passes from one generation to the next”, Article by Matthew Brown, Deseret News, Thu 26 Dec 2013

2. I Choose To Be Pure: Teens Of Diverse Faiths Speak Out On Purity And Chastity

(Or same video at link.)

3. Mormonism: A Christ-centered, Global Faith

(Or same video at link.)

4. Come With Us: Video for youth (see Moroni 10:32)

(Or same video at link.)

5. Mormon Myths and Reality

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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:

  • Photo, “Christian Crosses At A Joint Service For The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity”—
  • Photo, “Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem”—carta-jerusalem. com/biblical-sites/old-city-jerusalem/
  • Photo, “Cairo, Home Interior”—Personal collection
  • Photo, “Three generations of a Jewish family light a menorah”—www.
  • Painting, “Gauchos a caballo” (1900), Ángel Della Valle (“Gauchos on horseback”)—,_c._1900.jpg
  • Photo, “Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia”—www.
  • Photo, “Panorama Of Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales, Colombia”—www.
  • Photo, “Accra Ghana LDS Temple Grounds”—www.
  • Photo, “Experts say that parents modeling how to practice faith is important, but that influence can be blunted if either parent doesn’t have a close relationship with their children”—www. (NOTE: This image is not in the online version but only in the print version, Page P7.)
  • Photo, “Interwoven Faiths”—www. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is an independent, open and transparent membership organization that strives to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America by contributing to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large. ISNA is committed to freedom, to eradicating prejudice and to creating a society where Muslims can live peacefully and prosper alongside other Americans from all walks of life and diverse traditions and faith. Everyone is helpful, warm and gracious, and Dave loves visiting there.

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Interwoven Faiths

Interwoven Faiths

Focus On Study vs. Focus On Others? Our Family’s Answer.

Reader Question:
My pastor made a point in his sermon last week of stating that church should be about one thing only, deepening a personal relationship with Jesus Christ of the Bible. Not even making friends or strengthening family or marriage relationships, just to learn about Jesus, that’s it, by studying the Bible, verse by verse. He said to do anything else puts the focus on us and our needs, not His. I think this is a real line in the sand. And instead of socializing with other believers outside of church, we should go into our room, shut the door, read the Bible and pray to Jesus, the one and only God. Not just the one and only God “for us”, the only one anywhere. What are your thoughts on this?

Family Answer:
Thanks for your question. Sincere, honest questions are always a good thing.

To gather an answer to your question, we talked to our adult kids. We also asked our local missionaries, because we knew they could help us. The answer from our local elders was the same as from our family: Part of a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ is trying to become like Him, to act like Him, to treat others as He did. Christ “went about doing good” and so should we. Christ served others all His life by being among them and commanded us to become like Him and follow His example: “Feed my lambs.” We believe that serving others as Christ would serve them deepens our understanding of Christ in real life application, not just in theory. By reading and studying the scriptures, you will find that Christ wants us to love and serve one another.

If you and I were to ask Christ directly, we think that He would say that the focus IS on us and our needs. What Paul calls “the heavenly gift” is the great Atonement worked on our behalf by the Savior. The ultimate aim of that gift is to bring us, the spirit sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father, back into His presence. To qualify for that, we must learn to be like the Savior; patient, obedient, kind, generous, and so forth. Studying Jesus’ life and works will help us understand what we must do, but practicing Christlike attributes in families, at church and elsewhere, will help us to become like Him. Thus, the most effective way to live the life of a Christian is not to shut ourselves away from others but to live and serve among our brothers and sisters here on earth.

We hope this answers your question and helps you understand us better and how to become more like Christ.

And let us know how we may help you further! If you find that you have any questions about religious issues that you’ve been wondering about or that you haven’t been able to get good answers to, feel free to continue on discussion with us. It turns out that there are a lot of people with questions, and most of them have given up on churches as a source of answers. In our family, it is our experience that answers are out there, that God wants us to have them, and that they tend to be answers we like and have learned to appreciate. Working together with Heavenly Father allows anyone to find certainty in uncertain times.

-Dave and the MormonPanorama Family

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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:

  • Photo, ocean-lighthouse—www.
  • Address, “Ask the Missionaries! They Can Help You!”, Elder Russell M. Nelson, LDS General Conference, Oct 2012—www
  • Photo, ocean-no-man-is-an-island—www.

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Scriptures, Sacred Feelings, and Other Small and Simple Things

There’s an expression that some people are “closed books”. It indicates someone who cannot be easily understood, someone unfathomable or puzzling, while others are “open books”. One may feel this way about a book of sacred writings. Some people I know feel that holy books are closed to them. Other friends feel that a book of God has things that speak specifically to them.

As a youth long ago, I learned to love the scriptures. To me, they are open books. In Seventh Grade, I remember starting to see specific verses as if they were a good friend. Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon any time, anywhere in the world:

(Or same video at link.)

One’s feelings are key to an open book. If I love an author, it’s usually because I love the way the writer uses words, how I feel about how she or he expresses thoughts in writing. Some authors I like because they express thoughts similar to mine, while I love others, having expressed thoughts so distinct from mine, due to the way they open my mind to new things. What’s essential is less the words of sacred authors and more how their meaning resonates both to my mind and to my heart. God combines intellect and inspiration to tailor something personal to me, that nourishes my spirit, food that I need to feed my soul on a daily basis. Watch how he taught the Children of Israel this lesson:

(Or same video at link.)

I particularly love how I have come to see the scriptures as a proactive attempt on God’s part to be less puzzling, and I understand that openness to spiritual feelings is an important part of that. These spiritual feelings come in whispers to my soul. Did not our heart burn within us, …while he opened to us the scriptures? Heavenly Father speaks directly to his children through the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. One of life’s true paradoxes is that through these whispered feelings and thoughts, he does wonderful works through us.  By small and simple things, God brings to pass great things. “…by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” 

As a boy, Joseph Smith learned from his parents to trust the scriptures. He learned to read by them, studied them, and struggled to understand them better. When reading James 1:5-6, he learned to ask important questions with confidence that God would reveal to him the answers. By following those answers, Joseph was able to help his family find certainty in uncertain times.

The epitome of the power of the small and the simple is expressed by the essence of this Christmas season—By a babe long ago in a manger in Bethlehem. Watch how we may use his scriptures to make small and simple changes to our actions in order to bring more peace into the world.

(Or same video at link.)

Christ wants all of us to feel safe and secure, even when we have pains and troubles, big or small. I have learned for myself that he has given us the scriptures to guide us away from ideas that lead us to mistakes and regrets and towards peace and happiness, both for us and for those near and dear to us. From our family to yours, may you have the happiest and holiest of holidays.

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Bonus Material:

1. Watch how a teenage competition through a maze is used as an analogy to show how the scriptures help us get through life. (Length: 10:02.)

2. Watch how this teacher encourages young men to search the scriptures. (Length: 1:41.)

——– End of Bonus Material ——– WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:

  • Photo, family scripture study—www.
  • Video, “Words with Friends”—www.
  • Video, “Daily Bread: Pattern”—www.
  • Illustration, Joseph searching scriptures—www.
  • Photo, snowflake ornament—www.
  • Video, “The Maze”—www.
  • Video, “Searching the Scriptures”—www.
  • Photo, lights in snow on Temple Square—www.

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