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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I See… The Lord’s Get Rich Eventually Plan

D&C 78:19: “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even a hundred fold, yea, more. “

Be thankful for all things. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  As an orthodox Mormon, I believe in the literal nature and quality of scriptural promises such as this one. It works and I have the facts to prove it.

Fact #1:  I started becoming truly thankful for all things on my mission 3+ decades ago.

Fact #2: At that time, my net worth was approximately $2,000- money I had saved for mission expenses.

Fact #3: Due to privacy concerns, I won’t throw out specific numbers here, but let’s just say that my current net worth is beyond 100 times over the original $2,000 investment in myself. 

Could I have been just as successful without gratitude? Quite possibly. But then I would have not been “made glorious” through acknowledging the hand of the Lord in all things,

Furthermore, if you add in the value of celestial glories and eternal increase that could be mine if I honor my marriage covenants, the payoff amount definite correlates correctly to the “yea, more” promise at the end!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I See… Feeding Five Thousand

We live in an age of miracles.  When we study the Savior’s life in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, it is tempting to turn our faith over to the prison of history; that miracles belong in the past. Most intriguing of all the miracles he wrought was feeding five thousand beleivers who had followed him out to the barren desert place of Bethsaida to sit at his feet and drink in the wisdom of his teachings. He sensed the masses were quickly arriving at that point of diminishing intellectual returns where hunger distracts and overwhelms naturally cognitive abilities to concentrate on the message. After his disciplines scrounged up only five loaves of bread and two fishes, the Savior divided the masses up into groups of 50. Then the miracle occurred. After praying over the food, he had it distributed to the 100 groups of 50, and everyone was filled.

 That was then; this is now.  Last Thursday morning I joined 25 other students and staff at North Carolina State University to pack food bags for starving children in impoverished countries. Stop Hunger Now!, an non-profit organization dedicated to fighting hunger worldwide, had large donations of basic, healthy grains that sustain life and health; corn, rice, soy beans, and more.  The event coordinator, following a divine pattern first exercised by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, broke us up into teams of five; some teams would fill the bags with grains and vitamin packets, and other teams would weigh, seal, and box the bags for eventual shipment throughout the world.

Then the modern-day miracle occurred. In one hour we assembled 5,000 meals. Just like the Savior, we fed five thousand. We live in an age of miracles.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I See... an Obligatory Thanksgiving

Near the end of November about this time every year ever since the Mormon Third Eye first penetrated the blogosphere with its incisive brand of social commentary, it has fulfilled an obligation to faithfully post content somewhat related to the Thanksgiving holiday; you can read them here, here, here, and here.  This year, however, you’re going to see something different. I am intentionally not going to bow to tradition or social pressure and continue my uninterrupted record of seven years of posts about Thanksgiving. Why?  Because the MTE doesn’t believe in offering obligatory thanks.  Of all the holidays we celebrate throughout out the year, Thanksgiving is the only one that expressly honors one of the most noble elements of the human spiritual, emotional, and moral condition- gratitude.  True gratitude flows from the heart, not from manufactured demands to return thanks for thanks or meet holiday requirements.  It should be an expression of love and devotion to a God who vicariously blesses our lives now and in the eternities through the actions of others.  Serious MTE posts have always included outward expressions of an inner commitment to emulate the Savior, and He never modeled divine principles of human relations under pressure of social stigma.

So, while I truly am always grateful for this time of year and the opportunities it affords me to humbly reflect on the many people who have blessed my life with their patience, understanding, and charity, I will not ruminate further on this topic at this moment. I’d like to save it for another time and place where there is no risk for it to be misinterpreted or misappreciated as mere obeisance to celebratory convention. As Elder Uchtdorf so boldly taught in April General Conference, we should view gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation.

Perhaps even independent of Thanksgiving? 

Dang! Did I just share a message about gratitude on Thanksgiving? Sorry about that…

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I See… the Mormon Third Eye’s Top Ten October General Conference Spiritual Sound Bites!

(Third Eye Network- TEN) The Mormon Third Eye today released (below) it’s top ten list of October General Conference spiritual sound bites. For more information on what a spiritual sound bite is, and lists from previous conference sessions, look here, here, and here. For other TEN press releases, look here, here, and here,

 “The process of evaluating and ranking spiritual sound bites from General Conference talks has become more agonizing and heartbreaking than ever before!” exclaimed Richard Tait, who leads the MTE editorial staff every six months as they sift through hundreds of pages of inspired gospel messages to identify the most precious nuggets. “This fall 44 pronouncements from 30 different speakers made the final cut. Every line was a gem.” Mr. Tait refused to reveal the complex algorithmic formula used to select winners, saying only that pondering and inspiration played a large part. 

1. “We need not walk by the shores of Galilee or among the Judean hills to walk where Jesus walked. All of us can walk the path He walked when, with His words ringing in our ears, His Spirit filling our hearts, and His teachings guiding our lives, we choose to follow Him as we journey through mortality. His example lights the way. Said He, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” President Monson

2. “Being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us.” Elder Uchtdorf

3. “The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish. There will be family members and friends who will need your help. Now is the time to adjust your own spiritual oxygen mask so that you are prepared to help others who are seeking the truth.” Elder Anderson

4. “One of the most meaningful things we can do as parents is teach our children the power of prayer, not just the routine of prayer.” Elder Callister

5. “We heed prophetic word even when it may seem unreasonable, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect, or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right.” Sister McConkie

6. “Decisions of character are made by remembering the right order of the first and second great commandments.” Elder Robbins

7. “As you dedicate time every day, personally and with your family, to the study of God’s word, peace will prevail in your life. That peace won’t come from the outside world. It will come from within your home, from within your family, from within your own heart.” Elder Scott

8. “Our local Church leaders, like seasoned river guides, have been tutored by life’s experiences; have been trained and mentored by apostles and prophets and other officers of the Church; and, most important, have been tutored by the Lord Himself.” Elder Ballard

9. “The most important event in time and eternity is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He who accomplished the Atonement has given us the ordinance of the sacrament to help us not only remember but also claim the blessings of this supreme act of grace. Elder Hamula

10. “But no matter how large the organization of the Church becomes or how many millions of members join our ranks, no matter how many continents and countries our missionaries enter or how many different languages we speak, the true success of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be measured by the spiritual strength of its individual members. We need the strength of conviction that is found in the heart of every loyal disciple of Christ.” Elder Packer

11. “Our wounded souls can be healed and renewed not only because the bread and water remind us of the Savior’s sacrifice of His flesh and blood but because the emblems also remind us that He will always be our “bread of life”12 and “living water.” Sister Esplin

12. “But our eagerness to declare this message is not merely the result of a sense of spiritual duty. Rather, our desire to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with you is a reflection of how important these truths are to us.” Elder Bednar

13. “As the world continues to watch us, let us be certain that our example will sustain and support the plan the Lord has designed for His children here in mortality. The greatest teaching of all must be done by righteous example.” Elder Perry.