Most of us are familiar with the fundamental questions of “Where do we come from?” “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” If you’re not familiar with those questions, every Mormon has “two friends” who would like to discuss answers to those questions with you. However, in an attempt to help youth in our congregations ponder those questions and understand the accompanying insights, most of our LDS units put hours of preparation and planning into an experience fondly known as “Trek.”

Last week I embarked on the spiritual Trek pilgrimage to… Wyoming. Yes, the Wyoming of sparse population, unbalanced bovine to people ratio, unrelenting wind, copious amount of sagebrush, and vocabulary that is salty at best, and vulgar at worst. Even more, I went for a spiritual experience. Lest you are thinking that this sounds more like the ramblings of someone who instead visited one of the Wyoming watering holes, I assure you I am sober and have never tasted alcohol in my life.

Accompanied by several hundred men and boys dressed in wide brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, bandanas, and denim-less trousers, we slung our possibles bags over our shoulders to proudly amalgamate for the journey with the hundreds of girls and women who were wearing bonnets, full length dresses, and aprons in pre-assigned family groups. We were assigned campsites, given a handcart to pull, and educated by elderly couple missionaries on the history of the place and the people who passed through. Historically, it was fascinating, but the real treasure was the spiritual insight and experience gained.

I come from pioneer ancestry. My ancestors converted to the LDS Church in Denmark. They crossed the plains in handcarts and wagons. I have grown up hearing the stories of hardships, suffering, and trials that they endured. I’ve known that many starved to death, froze to death, or came very close to both. They traveled in harsh conditions with people from different backgrounds speaking different languages. Yet something about being in the very geographic place that this happened impressed upon my mind and my heart the connection that exists today in my life. My two oldest children who came on Trek also researched and studied ancestors, and their enthusiasm and research strengthened our family identity and brought us closer together as a family.

The science and physical makeup of Trek also bring together different demographics. Not all are multi-generational members of the church from Scandinavian or European countries. In our group we had kids who are not LDS members, new converts, and from African, African American, and Hispanic heritage. Regardless of their background, I watched and felt the spiritual stirring taking place as they appreciated the sacrifices of those made to establish a legacy of faith. I watched them come together to help each other physically, spiritually, and socially, and I realized that the science of getting money, resources, food, planning, and travel to visit such a remote location is well worth the value. Temporally, I’m not sure any of us still comprehend the physical hardships suffered by others. Spiritually though, I hope the faith and strength laid down long ago strengthen my resolve to rescue, remember, and recommit in my own life.

Examples of rescuing, remembering, and recommitting given to me over 150 years ago help me to better understand where I come from, why I am here, and where I am going. Providing this experience has provided me with a greater understanding and resolve to apply these principles in many levels of application in my life, and in the legacy I leave for those who go after me.


Clicked off…

As I walked into church last Sunday, I was hit by the social buzz that accompanies mission farewells. The chapel was filled to about twice the normal capacity with youth in the 16-21 year old demographic, anxious to hear their friend speak, partake in the social gathering, feel validated in missing their regular ward meetings, and hopefully get fed a good meal afterward. They filled in the seats all around my family, and before skirts and slacks even hit the seats, cell phones were out and in full surfing/texting mode. I was mildly amused until the guy next to me dumped half the water tray in my lap as he was unsuccessful in texting with one hand and passing the tray in a level, upright position to me with the other hand. At that point I felt the spiritual disappointment for the lack of appreciation for a sacred symbol that I had looked forward to all week. I felt the disgust with his lack of courtesy in respecting my right to worship. I felt ashamed for his device addiction that didn’t allow him to hear a great meeting or feel a special spirit. And I felt embarrassed to be feeling all of this while I should be focusing on the sacrifice of my Savior and the continued blessings of his gospel in my life.

As the sacrament concluded, my five year old daughter came to sit on my lap, and gently asked if she could play with my phone. We live in an age that playing who can put your hand over your siblings hand game, drawing in a coloring book, or tracing your hand on the back of the program have been surpassed by free downloads of all kinds. Horse puzzles, interesting kids games (including bible themed), and many others now have an amazing effect on keeping my squirming children quiet for the duration of the meeting. Step 1, make sure the phone is muted, step 2, sit back and focus on whatever un-kid related activity you want to for the meeting. It’s that simple. Except for the fact that uncomfortable thoughts hit in those times, and one hit me.

“I am conditioning the exact behavior that I am condemning,” I thought. “I’m taking the easy road, letting an electronic device entertain her, depriving her of learning reverence, paying attention, occasionally navigating the weird, the boring, or possibly the inspiring discourse given.” I grew up without a phone in meetings, but still have to fight the urge to check a sports ticker, or venture beyond my Gospel Library app on my phone. However, allowing my kids to learn that behavior from a young age leaves little hope for them and conditions them to use sacred time for entertainment time. It reflects poorly on my stewardship as a father.

This reflection activity has led me in a careful self-analysis of my teaching, particularly during worship services. While it may be harder to go back to squirming, occasional boredom, or even apathy, I may also get back to helping my children to learn from a gospel that teaches endurance, perseverance, and work to learn mentality. Not easy, but I hope worth it.

Faith and Character- Scott

Faith and character are intimately related. Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used. Your exercise of faith in true principles builds character; fortified character expends your capacity to exercise more faith. As a result, your capacity and confidence to conquer the trials of life is enhanced. The more your character is fortified, the more enabled you are to benefit from exercising the power of faith. You will discover how faith and character interact to strengthen one another. Character is woven patiently from threads of applied principle, doctrine, and obedience.

We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day. Righteous character is a precious manifestation of what you are becoming. Righteous character is more valuable than any material object you own, any knowledge you have gained through study, or any goals you have attained no matter how well lauded by mankind. In the next life your righteous character will be evaluated to assess how well you used the privilege of mortality.

-Richard G. Scott

Church Ball

In the 1980’s, a young shooting guard from North Carolina was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. At the beginning of every game, he would pull his team together, and shout the question to them “What time is it?” Their response was always “Game time.” The admonition from Brother Jordan continues to reverberate throughout LDS churches every year, as some coaches are called, and others are chosen to lead the masses of church ball.

Having recently received the clarion call to play once again this year, I reflected upon the categories of players who proudly don (more accurately painfully squeeze into) the colors of their respective wards and march like the sons of Helaman forward to conquer foes from other ward units. I’ve tried to enjoy my “retired” status from church ball the past couple of years. My high council calling came with the assignment of stake sports and activities, which I soon found entailed speaking with those who had been assessed technical fouls. This loud, proud, and seldom remorseful group validated the pleading message my sprained ankles, bruised thighs, and floor burned knees had been begging for some time, that it was time to stop.

Due to prohibited participation from high school coaches I was a latecomer to the church ball scene. Brimming with good will and athletic fitness carefully honed through BYU intermural championships, I entered the church ball realm later in life, lacking the proper expectations of those I would be interacting with. Lest others naively venture into church ball, please let me share the categories of those you can expect to see.

  1. Sweaters. Veritably bursting with liters of liquid, these guys need only the slightest physical activity to open the floodgates within their sweat glands. A climate controlled gym, shiny hardwood floors, and plenty of absorbing jerseys provides the optimum outlet for these irrigative individuals. An unsuspecting encounter boxing out or rebounding with one of these men provides a second baptism by immersion, yet devoid of covenants or blessings. Sight and smell are most important senses in identification, yet avoid touch at all cost.
  2. Good Soldiers. Feeling compelled to do their duty, these stalwarts come from the same pool as scout leaders and elders quorum presidencies. These good brethren will selflessly take any assignment, whether it be a Friends of Scouting drive, moving a piano, or chaperoning a Klondike Derby. Some of these guys have some tremendous upside developed from the fine motor skills resulting from capture the flag games, or avoiding angry dogs on fast offering routes. Don’t underestimate the athleticism of the good soldier.
  3. Dream Chasers. Perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. An angry smoldering rage has been building from deep within them for years since they were cut from the _______ (insert Jr. High, High School, etc.) team. The fury has been fed through years of combined activities when 20 points were scored against miamaids, complete dominance over third world children in the mission field, or acrobatic dunks were achieved in the driveway on the 8 foot adjustable basket. They are out to prove to the world of what they could have been, and firmly believe they’re never too late to the greatness game.
  4. Recaptured glory. Be wary of this group because unlike the dream chasers, this group has some skill. They made a team at some point, and tasted the sweet glory of victory. It may have been a city, region, or state championship, and the thrill of that has made other pursuits seem quite mundane. Many of these have forgone academic ambitions, career developments, or other forms of civic engagement while coasting on the coattails of their high school glory. They are easily spotted, as they will show up in faded letterman jackets, way to tight high school jerseys, and the especially dangerous class ring. Another giveaway will be the pregame music from a foregone era that propelled them to greatness, Vince Neil or Axel Rose being among the most popular.
  5. Fountain of Youth-ers. This group uses church ball as a measuring stick of their vitality. They enjoy the exercise, and figure as long as they can get up and down the court with the brethren (especially the priests and prospective elders), they are full life and vigor. These sinewy and wiry warriors can run all day, and can be detected by the odor of kale, tofu, and seeds upon them. Don’t let them get going on their testimonies of Melaluca oils or Noni juice.
  6. Innocent Assumers– Familiar with family search, the music of David Archuleta, and Jimmer, this group anticipates all church sponsored activities to be virtuous, lovely, and of good report. They come to deepen friendships with eager priesthood brethren who are so nice on Sundays. Make sure if you’re driving the key, one of these wide eyed flowers doesn’t get in your way! They are not trying to take a charge or block your shot, just finding the area of most dense population and not have to yell to communicate.
  7. Competition Hunters. Due to the fact that most animals are in hibernation and unable to be hunted at this time of year, the competition hunters come down from their tree stands and sniping lairs. Camping and four wheeling can’t be done, so these camo-covered heroes come looking for prey. Be very careful with your vernacular when in their company. Terms like “shoot,” “run,” and “hit it” may have unintended consequences.
  8. Desperate Leaders. With very vague ties to priesthood responsibilities, expectations to field a full team keep dedicated leaders up at night. If unable to “delegate” the responsibility of playing, good leaders will suit up to avoid the chastisement that comes from the high council at the next stake meeting. Be most aware of the velocity of your passes with these men. With welfare needs to worry about, perplexities regarding lost scout paperwork, and middle of the night “concerns” from ward members to balance, the leaders attention span is short. A crisp pass can be expected to knock off glasses or bloody a nose if thrown at these distracted dignitaries.
  9. Timid Inactive Explorers. Putting on a white shirt and tie, and venturing out into a gospel class with returned missionaries and polished priesthood holders is beyond their bravery. These good men are a bit unsure, but exploring the waters of acceptance. A gym without ties and collars seems safe enough. Bad habits are overlooked as the exultation of another warm body to give the out of shape brethren a breathing break is exciting. This population are most popular and can benefit greatly if not scared by previously mentioned populations. Look closely, and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of a hidden tat. There are usually great spirits and great people beneath these exteriors, by far the best part of church ball.
  10. Pride of the Ward. This is the royal army marching forth to conquer on life’s great battle field. Other wards are viewed as competitors for the 11am schedule, use of the kitchen on activity nights, and leavers of smelly diapers in restrooms. Unable to punish them in other ways, the honor of the ward can be settled on the basketball court. Now the foe’s advancing, that valiant host assails, these men never falter, their courage never fails. These are the men of a royal army, beware of basketball battle with them. Weapons of choice include elbows, knees, hips, and biting.