Sunday, February 22, 2015

I See... Analyzing Apostolic Advice

Recently we had an apostle, Elder Todd D. Christofferson, visit our area of the country and hold a special fireside for couples.  My wife and I braved subfreezing weather to hear what the Lord had to say to us through him.  In all engagements with ordained church leadership, there is always two intertwining streams of consciousness flowing- 1) what is actually said, and 2) what the Savior is trying to teach through Holy Ghost.  In analyzing apostolic advice, The Mormon Third Eye will present his version of what was taught and what was learned.

What was taught: technically, nothing.  The first significant learning experience occurred before he arrived.
What was learned:  I felt an unusual sense of holiness and reverence envelope my life and soul the day before the fireside.  The Holy Ghost was warning me to be prepared for the spiritual feast that would take place the following day.  My wife and I also noticed that adversary was working on us in subtle ways to persuade us to stay home or at least attend with a bad attitude.

What was taught: Husbands and wives need to put God first in their lives to improve their relationship with each other.  When each spouse separately puts God first, they bring something in common into the relationship that allows them to grow in love together.
What was learned:  I need to work on strengthening my testimony, and as I do, my love for my wife will deepen in more meaningful ways that are hard to express in words.

What was taught: The leadership of the church worries about societal trends to put the happiness of adults above the happiness of children in a family.
What was learned: Losing yourself in the service of others is a divine principle of success, and nowhere is it more true than in the dynamics of family relations. Children are suffering in untold ways that will perpetuate failed family relationships through generations because parents vainly spend so much time selfishly seeking personal satisfaction. Parents will find true happiness only by wholly investing their minds and hearts in raising righteous progeny.

What was taught: Women need to spend less time comparing themselves to each other; men need to be better listeners and spend more time doing the same thing.
What was learned: In the polite gender battles stirred by the pressures of church cultural norms, women are buried by trying to do too much, and men are submersed in self-righteous desires to not do enough. Everyone needs to repent. Women need to relax and work on their personal relationships with God; men need to get out of their spiritual recliners and spend more time learning from other model men and women about how live the gospel.

What was taught: Remember  that we are all practicing-none of us is perfect.
What was learned: Am I learning from my mistakes? Do I embrace my failures as opportunities for improvement? God's plan is to take bad things and turn them into good. We can learn from our sins AND sorrows- the Atonement makes this possible.

What was taught: Couples should treat time together as an earned reward for their service.
What was learned: What great advice for LDS couples caught up in serving others at the expense of shortchanging their own marital relationships! Do I treat time spent with my wife as a treat? If not, why not? Does my service in the church ennoble the relationship I have with my wife?

What was taught: What happens when the Spirit takes over our prayers? Instead of merely providing answers to our prayers, he prompts us to ask the right questions so that he can give the right answers- this is how He respects our free agency.
What was learned:  God loves us so perfectly that He wants us to learn via spiritual discovery through asking the right questions.  I need to ponder more in my prayers about what I really should be asking for.

What was taught: “As I watched my wife over the years, I was impressed with how, over time, she was maturing and growing in the gospel.  Later on, however, I realized that she always had a firm testimony of the gospel- I just wasn't listening very well.”
What was learned:  Brethren, we need to be humble, listen better, and learn more often from our wives.  We need to realize that every good thing in our lives flows from the relationship we nurture with our wives.

What was taught: In surveys among active LDS families, less then half- 41%, were praying and reading scriptures together daily as a family, and holding family nights weekly. Leadership is very concerned about this trend among active LDS families and don't know to fix it. He asked the congregation that if they had any ideas/suggestions on how to improve these activities in families, please tell them. We need help.  Meanwhile, please be among the minority to persuade the majority to adopt these practices.
What was learned:  The brethren are frustrated. If daily prayer and scripture study and weekly family home evenings are reliable markers of strong testimonies and families, why do so many active members of the church fail to follow? They know they do not have all the answers and are seeking constructive advice from all worthy sources.  They are practicing the divine principle that valid information and input can come from many sources, but revelation comes from above. Meanwhile, they plead with us to be part of the solution, not the problem.

What was taught: The purpose of counsels, whether they be in ward councils, families, or marriages, is to seek revelation, not consensus.
What was learned: Wives and husbands must humbly seek counsel from each other and the Lord on raising families.  If both are humble and earnest in their search, He will bless them with revelation to guide their families together in righteous paths.


Elder Christofferson's wife also dispensed timely wisdom. If husbands and wives are supposed to seek unity in marriage, and she is married to an apostle who is offering instruction on healthy, happy marriages, then certainly his wife's counsel is worth considering:

What was taught:  The church fielded focus groups of less-active church members to seek honest input as to why they do not frequently engage in activities- attending church, serving in callings, etc.  They received a lot of frank feedback, but one statistic she found interesting was that almost every less-active member in the focus group had never completely read the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover.
What was learned:  The results are in. We have empirical evidence that the Book of Mormon is truly the keystone of our religion.  It is another Testament of Christ that brings souls unto Christ, and that perhaps answers to the concerns that keep many less-active members away from church activity could be found within its pages.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I See... Serving Two Masters

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matt 6:24).”

The Mormon Third Eye, for the first time in over 390 weekly posts, for the first time in the history of the world, is NOT dispensing wisdom;  it is seeking.... HELP! I'm hoping that MTE fans who have benefited from my tactical and strategic insight and advice over the past seven years can find it in their heart to return the favor and bless me with some desperately needed direction.

Here is my dilemma. I have two masters, two loves, yet I can only serve one.  Which one?

Even superficial MTE readers know that my third love, close behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my wife, is God's university- Brigham Young University- BYU. My allegiance to this institution of higher learning is legion. My blood runs blue, and if something can have a Y logo on it, I have it. Over 50 of MTE posts deal with some aspect of BYU in some way, more than any other topic. In summary, it may be slightly melodramatic but completely accurate to say that “I am BYU; BYU is me.”

Image result for BYU

Hence, I wholly expected that when my dream of working on a college campus came true, it would come true in Provo. However, now I find that life has gifted me the privilege of being vocationally engaged on Centennial Campus at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh. While it's no BYU, it truly is a privilege to work here. Like BYU, they play basketball and football to win, and the Hunt Library, across the street from my office, has been certified as one of the eight wonders of the modern world. I felt the spirit just as strong in the NCSU Institute building last week as I did in my religion classes in the Kimball Tower 30 years ago. I am  proud to be associated with NCSU- and therein lies my problem. My heart is torn and the resulting emotional dissonance is nearly unbearable. Can I share my BYU pride with NCSU? Should I? Can I run with Cougars AND the Wolfpack?
Image result for north carolina state university
I seek your advice and counsel on this deeply troubling topic.  What makes it even more challenging is that my work day is surrounded by the bright red banners of NCSU, the same colors borne by BYU's eternal nemesis to the north, the university occupying real estate in greater Salt Lake City, the “university that shall not be named.”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I See... Going to Church with Harry

Based on latest calculations the Mormon Third Eye during his lifetime has attended approximately 3,000 church meetings with a vast, diverse array of saints across two continents and three coastlines. I've met humankind of all races and ethnic and socio-economic status, and have enjoyed and been edified by most of the these experiences; however, only a few of these meetings remain in memory:
  • Greeting President Kimball in Korea during a mission;
  • Seeing my wife through romantic eyes for the first time in a BYU student ward;
  • and taking my baby daughter out of the chapel between talks in sacrament meeting with her scream piercing the reverent silence with “Daddy! Don't spank me! I'll be good!
However, nothing yet prepared me for the memories made via going to church with Harry.

Recently, my wife treated me to a musical performance headlined by Harry Connick Jr. and his amazingly talented jazz ensemble. At one point during the evening, he sang a tender love ballad with the end of the chorus repeating romantically the phrase “you are one, fine, fine, thing” several times. He then asked everyone in the audience to sing along with him. I watched several husbands and wives instinctively turn to each other and repeat tenderly, “you are one fine, fine, thing.” I wonder how many marriages were strengthened or saved that night.

Towards the end of the evening he asked the audience's permission to “get spiritual for a moment,” and then launched into a rousing but still reverent jazz version of “How Great Thou Art.” He once again asked the audience to sing along with him- “my God, how great thou art!”

At the end of this song, my wife turned to me and whispered cleverly: “We just went to church with Harry!”

I've been to church with Harry. In these latter days saturated with the vulgar beats of Satan that constantly push us to treat much too lightly all the wondrous feelings and emotions that accompany the sacred power of procreation that God has entrusted to us, I highly recommend going to church with Harry. You won't regret it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I See… The Official Middle-aged Mormon Man Blog of Super Bowl 2015!

Breaking News! The Mormon Third Eye has just been designated the official Middle-aged Mormon Man blog of Super Bowl 2015!

Just when one thinks the hype and hysteria surrounding the Super Bowl has achieved astronomic heights, mankind announces another obtuse good or service that seeks to ride this remarkable advertising wave. The MTE is certain that centuries from now, when cultural anthropologists sort through the records of our age, they will detect only a slight relationship between the sport of football and the Super Bowl.

The MTE, always seeking to be current, popular, and relevant, has superficially decided to take it’s place in the front seat of the bandwagon and claim it’s own specious association with the most important event in the universe  today.  I list the following bits of evidence to support my hypothesis that the Mormon Third Eye should, in fact, be the official middle-aged Mormon Man blog of the Super Bowl:
  • I have written extensively on Super Bowl topics, here, here, here, and here;
  • I always capitalize “Super Bowl;” it must be important;
  • My old ward missionary companion, Ed Mulitalo, played in a Super Bowl;
  • I like soup, especially homemade soup, and I especially like to consume it from bowls;
  • I am a Super Bowler- I always score well in our Wii family bowling tournaments, and in fact had to bowl magnificently to graduate from BYU;
  • I have never actually sat down and watched a Super Bowl, but I know many who have, and besides, that doesn’t seem to be a requirement for becoming Super Bowl-associated merchandise.

So, there you have it.  As the new official middle-aged Mormon Man blog of Super Bowl, I expect readership of my blog to skyrocket, particularly right before, during, and after the game.  If it doesn’t, I’ll quickly drop my endorsement of the event and associate myself with an activity more appropriate for the tone and spirit of the MTE- perhaps the official middle-aged Mormon Man blog of April 2015 General Conference?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I See… A Kung Fu Testimony

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father- That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”

Doctrine and Covenants 76-22-24.  The glorious appearance of God the Father and his son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. When I memorized these verses 39 years ago in Seminary, I had my first true, recognizable brush with deity. The spirit stirred my soul, and via the Holy Ghost I learned that God was real and that he loved me.

Until recently I thought that basic witnesses like this were all there was to a testimony.  Then the Mormon Third Eye discovered… Kung Fu Testimonies!

The concept of a Kung Fu testimony originated in the counsel of a wise young member of my church family (which you can read more about here), a rabid reader of the Mormon Third Eye, and Kung Fu aficionado:

“After being taught some of the most basic movements, it was explained to me that the masters often used these very same movements but they do so in ways that are incomprehensible to someone who has not achieved their level of experience. 

“I think of the relationship between Master and Apprentice, of Mentor and Student, across numberless applications of physical, mental, and spiritual endeavors. There is one aspect of the training that almost always holds true: The competent Master never provides clear answers. The Master provides the path, the questions, the puzzles that provide the opportunities required for the Apprentice to learn the principals themselves through experience. 

Why then do we expect the same from God? Why then, from the greatest of Mentors, do we demand simple answers, clearly defined statements of complex spiritual learning that requires years of experience at the Master’s side?”

Now I’ve been given the privilege of teaching early morning Seminary.  At the end of a lesson on D&C 76, I bore my testimony of the Savior to students by repeating the same verses written in the tablets of my heart 39 years earlier. However, in that intervening 39 years, I’ve endured countless rounds of sins and sorrows, of changes and challenges, all of which was experience needed to grow closer to the Savior and rely on his grace for redemption, peace, and joy.  The words haven’t changed, but the spiritual wisdom that accompanies them has increased exponentially. I don’t claim to be a Master, but I am no longer an Apprentice.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

I See… What Kids Want

(The Mormon Third Eye, perennially a popular promoter of responsible journalism, issues the following warning for young parent readers-  this post is for you. For you empty nesters, I’m sorry- it’s too late.)

What do kids want? What do they really want? Who knows? Decades ago, when I was a young na├»ve father, I adopted a very scientific approach. I quickly learned that even my own young rugrats either didn’t know what they wanted, or strategically but subconsciously may have decided to deny me this knowledge, in order to maintain a selfish aura of mystery about their own childhood.  To defeat this, I observed them carefully open presents during birthday and Christmas celebrations. There were old parents’ tales about children loving to play with the boxes more than the toys that came in them.  So one year I brought home a slew of big empty boxes for the kids to play with in the unfinished basementorium beneath our house.  I had my proof.  I knew what kids wanted. They enjoyed numberless hours in space ships and pirate ships imagined out of those boxes.

Or so I thought. Just a few weeks ago, I was commiserating with a close personal friend of mine, who like myself, was an empty nester with her kids grown and gone. We talked about the glory days when our children were playing in boxes and in neighborhood basketball leagues. She had raised a normal Mormon nondescript family with her husband whom she loved most of the time. Her family and marriage were definitely not perfect; they had had their share of ups and downs, but they tried hard with the light they were given, and harbored normal hopes that the mistakes they did make did not make it into their permanent parenting record and unfairly penalize the futures of their children.

Then she showed me an email her and her husband had received from their grown married son. Here’s the juicy part: “I'm grateful for the sacrifices that you have both made so that I might live the life that I do. It was great to never have to worry about your testimonies or your relationship with each other growing up. I think those were perhaps the greatest gifts I've been given.”

What do kids want? The example of love and testimonies? Young moms and dads, you still have time. Think about it. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I See… Flash Reunions

There are very few things more electrifying than a well-organized and executed flash mob. The  arranged spontaneity of 50 or so apparently innocent bystanders breaking out in choreographed dance and song lifts my heart and soul to new heights of happiness. Although I have never personally been caught in the cagey clutches of flash mob on location, I still remember the magic of my first viewed flash mob on youtube. While regular-looking people milled aimlessly about in an ornately cavernous train station somewhere in Europe, scurrying for the 5:00 pm Express, a stealth disco beat started lilting out of the station PA system.  Then, before you had a chance to cognitively process what should be happening next, the human dominoes started to fall and synchronized arms and legs were swinging to pulsating music filling the hall. Everyone was mesmerized by the effect, including two buzillion youtube viewers. I was one of them. 

The Mormon Third Eye sees one puny flaw in the typical flash mob scenario- it’s not truly spontaneous- it is merely arranged to appear that way.  What if… what if… you could be a part of a real “flash” experience? One where participants just naturally flowed together, with little or no preplanning or practice? Is it even possible?

The Mormon Third Eye says “yes!” and has the evidence to prove it.  For the past 4-5 years or so, my extended family has been inexorably transitioning through mid-life joys and sorrows; parents are passing on, sons and daughters are getting married and leaving and returning on missions, etc… This stage of extended family life requires all of us to be in one place at the same time.  Various brothers and sisters have decided quite spontaneously and efficiently to piggy back family reunions before or after seminal family events.  After a few ad-hoc reunions associated with funerals and weddings, it appears that we have got the lack of planning down to a science. The only advance coordination is knowing when each family arrives in town and ensuring that we stay at the same hotel- the rest we leave up to chance and last-minute collaboration.  

Inevitably there are long, late-night lively games and discussions and perhaps a meal or two together, with the dinner location decided no more than 15 minutes in advance. One minute we are hanging around temple doors with reverent anticipation, waiting for a fresh new bride and groom to appear-  the next minute we are all sequestered in a single hotel room suite, running separate, competing discussions on quilting, missionary sons, BYU football, and de-cluttering homes, all while nieces and nephews are simultaneously talking smack over a game of “Suspend.”  The only requirement is that we spend time together. 

Why? Because this is how we roll- Tait family “flash reunions.” They are much more inspirational and satisfying than the most tightly choreographed flash mob.  I highly recommend it. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

I See… an Open Letter to my Family

This is an open letter to my family. Feel free to peek in and read along.

We have never lived near family. From the day I left for the Korea Pusan mission over three decades ago I never lived more than a few weeks at a time with those who raised me or who were raised with me. A product of the BYU marriage factory, my wife and I headed for Maryland seeking fame and fortune and a family of our own. All we found was our own tiny family of four; we have spent the rest of our days out here, always at least a long day’s drive away from grown brothers and sisters and their own burgeoning family tribes. Likening the scriptures unto ourselves, I identified somewhat with Book of Mormon Jacob: “the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness.”

To survive in this lonesome world on the East coast, we were forced to adopt ward families- communities of saints with shared beliefs and values, all who ably performed as stand-in brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandkids, cousins and grandparents. Just as all of us are adopted into the house of Israel, local ward members have been adopted into the house of Tait. As we grew in the gospel and served in the church, we adopted many individuals and families as our own.   In particular, when I served as a bishop, I developed a fatherly love for many of the youth and young families it was my privilege to serve. (You can learn more about that here.) Through the miracle of social media, as a proud “church dad” I can track the joys and sorrows, the opportunities and challenges, and the accomplishments and setbacks of my adopted children as they raise their own families and move forward in their professions and relationships. I revel in their progress and successes, and mourn with them in their variety of trials.

I hope you are listening. Some of you have since experienced difficulties and sorrows that may have sowed the seeds of doubt in God’s love for you, especially as it is expressed through the gospel of Jesus Christ- including the commandments and the doctrines of the LDS church. You may have been led to make decisions that would traditionally disappoint and/or trouble a loving father.  Perhaps you have expressed serious doubts about doctrines and beliefs your church dad raised you in and are wrestling with your testimonies; others may have turned their spiritual backs on the church and left the fold altogether, finding this to be the only path to resolve the emotional torture of spiritual dissonance that haunts your souls.

Know that the size, source, and direction of your doubts and decisions will never damage how much I will always love you as a cherished member of my church family, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a member of my church family anymore. I will always love and respect you for who you are- a beloved son or daughter of an omnipresent Heavenly Father, a divine creation with a divine destiny. Although I may not personally understand, appreciate, or approve of paths you have chosen, my whole heart, might, mind, and strength is always open to embrace you in a spirit of love and fellowship. I will always be available to tenderly and truly listen to your questions and concerns, and help you find answers and solutions, regardless of how long it takes.

Why? Because that’s what church dads do.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I See… A Family Christmas

Everyone agrees that Christmas is a time for families, but do we know why? What makes this season a great reason for families to spend time together? What is the significance? The Mormon Third Eye sees all. It knows.

We just concluded a great Christmas season with our own family. The kids came home from college and together we reinforced some old family traditions and created some new ones. You can read more about past Christmases here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. No one should be alone during this time of the year, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes this possible for those who choose to believe.  While all of us would prefer to spend the holidays with our families, budgets and circumstances rarely permit this privilege every December.  We all have brothers and sisters, sons or daughters, parents or grandparents, or even spouses who are serving missions, serving in the military, or perhaps merely surviving on tight budgets that keep us apart.  The world would have us think that time away from our earthly families during Christmas is time wasted. But those of us with knowledge of and faith in the Plan of Salvation find comfort in nurturing testimonies of a divine family; a Heavenly Father and Mother who raised us in a pre-earth state to come here and learn from the wonders of mortal life.  Whether we are auspiciously alone on a battlefield, a missionary apartment, a dorm room, or even in a crowded mall of distant strangers, there will always be heavenly parents looking after us during Christmas. This fact, in fact, is the reason for spreading news of the season; that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ, the immortal son of God, who came to earth that we might come to know our divine heritage and who we really are.

And when we know, we are never alone… even on Christmas- a time for families- eternal families. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I See... For Whom I Sing

It opened like many past Christmases. Like the umpteenth other Decembers before it, I was launching the holiday season participating in a makeshift choir joyfully singing the sacred strains of Handel’s immortal offering to the Savior- “for unto us a child is born!” “the voice of him crying in the wilderness!” “Hallelujah!”  I instinctively searched for the same familiar strokes of spiritual comfort that had warmed my soul on cold December evenings for decades, and naturally rediscovered all the hopes and dreams for life, death, and resurrection that Handel’s Messiah meant to revive. Yet something was lacking; a piece of the Messiah puzzle initially unknowable yet unsettling.  Something was not right; something was missing. 

It took me an embarrassingly long time to isolate what had disturbed my traditionally trouble-free Messiah memories. As I glanced across the rows of meshed members crowded in the pews below me absorbed in the miracle of music, it dawned on me that I was utterly alone. In a sea of joyful saints, everyone was a stranger.

We had spent the past 18 years serving and loving and raising our family in the same ward. I had served in several positions at various levels that forced me to learn and grow and love with others, and the yearly December Messiah sing-a-long at the stake center was a treasured  time to reconnect- a church family reunion. Last summer, however, we pulled up Maryland roots that had been so carefully fed by our local church family and settled again in North Carolina. I was excited to learn that my new stake nurtured a similar tradition, and embraced the opportunity to continue seasonal worship of the Savior through an old song in a new land.

My unexpected panic prompted me to critically examine my own Messiah motives.  I had always felt closer to God pouring my heart out to him through the scriptures set to Handel’s notes; was it wrong to also enjoy the camaraderie of my well-worn church family and their appreciation of my talents? I determined somewhat sadly that some part of me had been performing for my friends.  Who would I sing for now?

This momentary cleansing of my conscience turned my heart towards the Savior. I would sing for him: he who saved my soul from sin and sorrow and set the ultimate example for loving all despite their weaknesses, frailties, and failures by loving me.

And suddenly, I was no longer alone.