Sunday, March 19, 2017

In God We Trust


This past week we bought a new (used) car (2015 Nissan Sentra) for Marie to drive which relegates her faithful Toyota Sienna van (with 219,000 miles) to new driver Joel for in-town runs to school and soccer practice, plus maybe a few dates.

When I went to the DMV (no line!) to register and pay taxes on the car I was given three choices for a license plate: Delicate Arch/Life Elevated, Skier/Greatest Snow on Earth, or In God We Trust which became an option just last year. Since we hiked to Delicate Arch last year I guessed right that that would be Marie's choice.

With a temporary plate in the back window, Maire then went to get an emissions test. At the local car shop, the proprietor enthusiastically asked Marie if she was planning to get the new In God We Trust plate. He asked the question in such a way that Marie knew he was assuming that it was the obvious and preferred choice for every good Utahan. Marie politely replied that she was going with the Delicate Arch plate in support of Utah's scenic beauty.

Currently there are 17 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) that offer an In God We Trust license plate. Fourteen years ago when we bought the van we may have been more inclined to consider such a plate, but given the current rise of religious nationalism and religious extremism around the world, Marie and I are united in choosing to not be political with our plates.



Don't get me wrong, I am all for Trusting in God and I think the motto looks good on our coins and currency. What I am not for is folks who promote their individual interpretation of God as the God everyone else should trust and obey. When Joel was a third grade student a The Anglican International School of Jerusalem, he and all of the other students in the elementary school sang the catchy song "Our God is an Awesome God" by Michael W. Smith for the Christmas program. It was a new song for us Emmetts. We liked it. It repeats its only verse over and over:

"Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love
Our God is an awesome God"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq_8OJf2FYg

The students at AISJ were local and international. They were Christians of all denominations plus Jews and Muslims. They could all sing this song knowing that this interpretation of God was broad enough that all could accept it. 

Harder to accept would be a song, a statement, a license plate or a flag that outwardly conveys or inwardly represents a much more narrow view of God. A god who is intolerant of other religions, who turns away the hungry and homeless, who relegates women to a subservient status, who denies the very science around which this world revolves, and who is more inclined to exclude, vilify and legislate against those who see life differently.



In 1992 Iraq added two words to the center of its flag: Allahu Akbar--God is Great. It is a similar sentiment to In God We Trust.



Since its inception as a state, Saudi Arabia's flag has included the shahada (declaration of faith). It states: There is no god but God (Allah in Arabic) and Mohammad is the Messenger of God.



ISIS incorporates the shahada on its flag too. The flag of ISIS obviously represents a very strict and intolerant interpretation of Islam and of God. The flags of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as with the new Utah license plate, are more likely open to various degrees of interpretation about the role of God in society. I'm sure most women of Saudi Arabia would be supportive of a God who thinks it is OK for women to drive.

If when you buy your next car and you get to chose a new license plate, I would hope that if you select the In God We Trust plate you are doing so because your God is an awesome God who reigns with wisdom and love and because His example helps you to also live a life guided by wisdom and love.

Photo source:
http://churchandstate.org.uk/2017/03/its-time-to-start-calling-evangelicals-what-they-are-the-american-taliban/

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Doing What's Right

I started out a Bernie fan. I liked his politics and his scrappy concern for the average American. I voted for him in the primary. If John Kasich had won the Republican primary I may very well have voted for him over Hillary. But Trump won the primary so I happily voted for Hillary to be president. In my opinion, even with her flaws, she was a much preferred choice over Trump.

I know that for many this election was a difficult choice. I understand that there were compelling reasons for some to vote for Trump. A cousin of mine, very much conflicted by her presidential choices, recently related the turmoil and indecisiveness she experienced up until the time she entered the voting booth. There she agonizingly decided to vote for Trump based solely on the fact that she felt Trump's nominees for the Supreme Court would be more in sync with her vision of America than that of a democrat. Fair enough. I too have been known to vote on single issue platforms in the past (I voted for Ralph Nader because I was not fond of either Bush or Gore and because I liked his Middle East platform). Others that I have talked to also used the Supreme Court issue as a deciding factor. I also understand the allure of Trump's promise of more jobs and a better economy. His promise to shake up the political establishment (as Bernie also wanted to do) is also an understandable draw.

For these and many other reasons (mostly bad in my opinion) Trump won. OK. That's how democracy works. Now that he is in power I would hope that those reluctant Trump supporters (and even his most ardent supporters) choose not to give our president a free pass on every policy change and executive order he issues. You can still hope for a shift in the Supreme Court or an improved economy, but Trump's election should not validate actions that violate basic Christian principles and values.

From my perspective as a Mormon/Christian, here are some current issues that Trump is in the process of acting on that should be vigorously opposed. We should all be encouraging him to do what is right.



1. Refugees. Last year the LDS Church rolled out a great new program (https://www.lds.org/refugees?lang=eng) focused on helping refugees around the world. This call to service was inspiring. It has motivated many Mormons to reach out. Peoples of all denominations have responded in similar ways. To now close the doors to peoples from lands torn asunder, in part by US policies and US bombs, is shameful. To forbid helpless families from entry makes no sense. Strict vetting processes are already in place. The fear of terrorism should not diminish the weightier matter of welcoming those in need.

Earlier today a Midwestern friend of mine posted on Facebook a comment about a friend of his who is a newly arrived Syrian refugee in the US who is now uncertain of what his status in the country will be. My friend then wrote: "And I too wonder what that means for him. And what it says about us. And though I'm not a very religious man, I did wonder what actually would Jesus do, and so I googled it. Matthew 4:24 "So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those affected with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytic, and he healed them." Which is weird because I thought for sure he would have been like; listen, you've got to look out for yourselves and your families first and put Galilee before all other countries."

When jokingly accused of cherry picking just one scripture to justify his point, this friend then posted a list of 14 other bible verses (which I'm sure he googled) teaching us to welcome strangers. It was intended for church hospitality committees but it equally applies to America's response to refugees (https://www.evangelismcoach.org/2013/14-bible-verses-on-welcoming-the-stranger/).
  • Deuteronomy 10: 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
  • Leviticus 19:34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
  • Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
  • Matthew 25:40 Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.
  • Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
  • Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
  • Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
  • Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
  • 3 John 1:5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.
  • Luke 10:27 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
  • Hebrews 13: 1 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  • Colossians 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
  • Matthew 25: 35 I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
  • Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
President Trump should take these scriptures to heart. We should help him to see the light.


2. Immigration. During the height of the illegal immigration debate in America, a group of concerned citizens in Utah worked together in writing what is known as the Utah Compact. I think it is a good model for the federal government. I am all for protecting our border and enforcing immigration laws, but I am also for compassion towards working, law-abiding immigrants already in the country and especially for the dreamers--who were brought to the United States as young children and are here because of their parents' decisions.

Here is the response of the LDS Church:

Church Supports Principles of Utah Compact on Immigration

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement of support today following the announcement of the Utah Compact, a document backed by a broad spectrum of community leaders:
As a worldwide church dealing with many complex issues across the globe, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promotes broad, foundational principles that have worldwide application. The Church regards the declaration of the Utah Compact as a responsible approach to the urgent challenge of immigration reform.  It is consistent with important principles for which we stand:
  • We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors.  The Savior taught that the meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.
  • We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families.   Families are meant to be together.  Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.
  • We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders.  All persons subject to a nation’s laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them. 
  • Public officials should create and administer laws that reflect the best of our aspirations as a just and caring society.   Such laws will properly balance love for neighbors, family cohesion, and the observance of just and enforceable laws."
In my opinion, building a wall would be a waste of tax-payers money. Breaking up families, some of whom are citizens and others not, would be cruel. Sending back willing workers who work at less-desirable jobs would impede our economic growth.


3.  Israel/Palestine

Trump's call to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his tacit support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank denies Palestinians rights to East Jerusalem and to ancestral and long inhabited lands that Israel continues to expropriate and build upon. The land of Israel/Palestine will never know peace if the United States does not support the justifiable rights of both peoples to continue to live in the land. For more of my feelings on the matter please refer to this blog post: http://beitemmett.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-israelipalestinian-conflict-my-view.html

Mormons have ample reason not to take sides on this issue.

In a speech to BYU students in 1979, LDS Apostle Howard W. Hunter in a talk entitled "All Are Alike Unto God," said: "Both Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have a love and interest in each. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order."  

We should demand that the US be a fair broker in this conflict which means not exacerbating the conflict by unnecessarily moving the US Embassy to a contested city. 


4. The Environment

Trump's budget cuts, pipeline approval and continued hostility towards government workers and agencies involved with reducing the impact of climate change are indicative of a lack of concern for the environment. Last week while visiting Death Valley I wondered if Donald Trump had ever visited a National Park or climbed a mountain. 

In a revelation to Joseph Smith. The Lord said:

Doctrine and Covenants 104:
13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.

To me this means that if we are to be wise stewards over the earth we should try to find cleaner sources of energy (don't cut funding for these endeavors), we should acknowledge the human component of climate change, and we should respect indigenous ties and stewardship over ancestral lands (Bear's Ears, Standing Rock).

I conclude with these lyrics from the hymnal in hopes that many will stand up (call, write, protest) for that which is good and that which is right.
  1. Do what is right; the day-dawn is breaking,
    Hailing a future of freedom and light.
    Angels above us are silent notes taking
    Of ev'ry action; then do what is right!
  2. (Chorus)
    Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
    Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
    And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
    God will protect you; then do what is right!
  3. Do what is right; the shackles are falling.
    Chains of the bondsmen no longer are bright;
    Lightened by hope, soon they'll cease to be galling.
    Truth goeth onward; then do what is right!
  4. Do what is right; be faithful and fearless.
    Onward, press onward, the goal is in sight.
    Eyes that are wet now, ere long will be tearless.
    Blessings await you in doing what's right!
     Text: Anon., The Psalms of Life, Boston, 1857
    Music: George Kaillmark, 1781-1835

Monday, January 16, 2017

Death Valley and Las Vegas

For the Martin Luther King holiday we ventured forth to Las Vegas where both boys played with their Utah Storm soccer teams in the Las Vegas Cup Tournament. Will had a practice and a game on Friday and two games on Saturday. Joel played one game each day on Friday, Saturday and Monday. The boys played well and had fun but their teams did not advance to the play offs. Sunday we explored Death Valley. This was a first visit for all of us. Driving there we had our worship service of listening to conference talks and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sirius satellite radio, the BYU channel.

Friday morning practice in the rain and with new warm ups to wear.

Friday the 13th and a full moon.

Friday night lights for Will. #25. The three night games were very cold.



Friday night lights for Joel (center of photo). #13 is his lucky number, because he was born on a Friday the 13th with a full moon.


At 9:00 sharp the lights went out on half of the fields, mid kick and with 5 minutes left to play in the game.

Saturday afternoon games at Heritage Park in Henderson. Will is at the end of the rainbow in green cleats.




 Joel, far left.



Meg! (FYI: meg is the soccer term for kicking a ball through someone's legs. The name is short for nutmeg). The boys are always trying to meg their dad. They think they are so cool when I am standing unaware and they kick a ball through my legs.


Sunday morning in the sunshine we headed west out of Las Vegas on highway 160 and then the very rural road that followed the Old Spanish Trail to Tecopa California. As we climbed a hill and rounded a curve on the Old Spanish Trail I hoped for a pull out with a good view back to the snow capped mountains and forward to Death Valley. There was no such view from the road, BUT there was a short rocky road climbing up to a hill top that afforded us just such a view. The minute I saw the side road and thought oh good, Marie burst into laughter realizing that she knew exactly what I was planning to do--which is not something she would do.

Looking east towards the snow capped Spring Mountains.

Looking west towards the snow capped Panamint Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains beyond Death Valley.

Rest stop in Shoshone California--home of Death Valley High School. I did not realize that the Shoshone Indians extended this far southwest.




From Shoshone we descended into the southern end of Death Valley where we then followed Badwater road north to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

 Descending into Death Valley


The ranger told us that in the 1860s some Mormons happened through here.



Badwater


 Joel's Snapchat measurements had us further below sea level.







 (photo courtesy of Joel)


 Lemonade bottle football.

Water! Water! (at 72 degrees we were actually doing fine. At 130 degrees in July it would be a different story)


 Sea Level sign-- mid photo.

 Water (salty=bad water) from last week's rains--which closed some of the roads in the park due to rock slides.

The colors (reds, browns, whites, yellows, oranges, greens and purples) and patterns of the rocky and bare Amargosa Range on the east side of the valley were spectacular. Photos do not do it justice.


Salt crystals and salt flats.


 Golden Canyon






Still lots of park to be explored another time.


Back to Vegas via US 95 for Sunday dinner with my Cousin Betsey and her family.