Many Sparrows

Thoughts on Latter-Day Saint faith in the twenty-first century.

But I love some of his writing:

The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Isaiah 14:7

I've been reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon over and over again for most of my life, and while there are definitely parts of Isaiah's words that I just don't understand at all, there are also parts and passages that resonate with me, and many passages that give a bright and hopeful view of what life with God will be like:

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:9

So even if I don't understand all the things Isaiah said about Calno and Carchemish and other wars in Jerusalem, I can still find joy in the spirit of his words, and the poetry.

Recently our Bishop challenged us to listen to the talks from April General Conference before October General Conference.

For a brief moment I thought “Hey, I'm already done!”

About six months ago I decided to clean up my act a bit. Spend less time listening to pointless podcasts, watching worthless shows, and the like. So I replaced some of my podcasts with General Conference. I replaced some Netflix favorites with reading the Ensign.

During that time I read the entire April General Conference on Gospel Library, and I listened to it via my favorite podcast app. (Yes of course they make General Conference available as a podcast!) And I found that I got different things out of it when I experienced it in different ways. Listening to a talk, you get the speaker's emotion and cadence, the emphases they put on various words. Reading the talk you get a slower, more timeless experience, where you can stop and ponder passages simply. You can spend time making notes and linking various passages to other scriptures. Both ways are good, and using one doesn't negate the other.

But back to the Bishop's challenge. I could have said “I've already read and listened to the entire thing!” Instead I said “Hey, we get to listen to it again!”

So our family is listening to a talk a night. We should be done with April conference by the middle of this week, a few days before October Conference.

And I've learned new things this time as well. There isn't a point where we are done learning the gospel. One of the things that I noticed during this latest pass through the conference:

First, the words of Christ can help us “increase [our] spiritual capacity to receive revelation” (Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2018, 96) quoted by Elder Takashi Wada Of the Seventy

Even if I've already read the New Testament cover to cover, even if I've read the Book of Mormon multiple times, even if I can quote a talk by heart, the words of Christ and His prophets can still open my mind and increase my capacity to receive personalized revelation.

I recently came across this passage:

“If we like luxuries or even necessities more than we like obedience, we will miss the blessings which he would like to give us.” Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 212

I really love the simplicity of the message. It's not “what do you think you should do?” It's “what do you like?” And at the same time it's a fairly deep question of faith. Do we trust God enough to obey him, even when it doesn't make sense? Even when it looks like we're out on a limb, where the necessities are in jeopardy?

But the other half is also gentle and clear. Our Father in Heaven likes to give us blessings. He's a Father, a perfect one, so he wants to give us nice stuff, like any father! But since He's perfect, he doesn't spoil us. He gives us blessings when we're obedient and therefore ready to handle those blessings.

So this is my question for me. What do I like? Do I like Netflix more than Gospel Library? Do I like sleep more than prayer? Do I like alone time more than service?

Note: I originally wrote this in 2016 on my main blog. I'm re-posting it here because it fits the theme of this site, and it feels relevant to the world today.

In church we teach our kids a simple song that has taken on much more significance for me as I've grown older. It's very short:

Jesus said love ev'ryone; Treat them kindly, too. When your heart is filled with love, Others will love you. — Moiselle Renstrom 1889-1956

What I love about this song is that it's not at all vague about how you should treat people. Let's try a few questions. For example, should I love people who have different political views?

Jesus said love ev'ryone;

But surely not people who think things that I think are good are bad, or people who think that things I think are bad are good! ev'ryone;

Okay but what about...


Okay, I should love ev', everyone. But, that can mean, like, “tough love”, right? Like, “love the sinner hate the sin”, right? Scare 'em straight.

treat them kindly, too.

ah, okay, true. No scaring people straight. Just love everyone and treat them kindly. Like, actually kindly.

But, I mean, that can't actually work, right? the world will just stomp me into the ground.

When your  heart is filled with love Others will love you.

...Naaaaaaah, it can't be that simple.

Winning friends begins with friendliness. —Dale Carnegie

Wait, what are you doing here, Dale Carnegie?

The legendary French aviation pioneer and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.” —Dale Carnegie, emphasis mine

And you brought a friend? Okay, if a primary song, Dale Carnegie and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry all agree, I guess I can give it a shot.

So this is how I try to deal with people. I'm not perfect at it, of course I'm not. But I'm happier now than I was when I was trying to keep the world at arm's length through cynicism and sarcasm.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 18:20

One of the main features of life as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is gathering with your fellow church members. This isn't exclusive to our faith, of course; most faiths gather together on a regular basis.

There are many good reasons for this. Spiritually, there's the reason given in the quote from the Bible above. When we gather Christ has promised to send His spirit to be with us. Additionally, when we gather we get to know each other better, and we can build lifelong bonds, find help when we need it, and also help others in their need.

Intellectually, I agree with and understand all of this. There's just one little problem.

I'm more introvert than extrovert, and there are weeks where Sunday morning just isn't a “be with people” time for me. It's not that I fear the people in my congregation (or “ward” in the parlance of our Church); far from it. I've lived in this ward for almost ten years; I know, trust, and love these people. It's not them, it's me. When I'm feeling a need for alone time being with anyone is a problem.

But I still go to church.

Over the years I've gone through all sorts of phases, and I've learned all sorts of ways to handle my own introversion.

Ironically, one of the most powerful ones was turning my focus out away from myself to the others in the ward. As one of the modern apostles said:

...we do have our own sins and shortcomings to resolve; that’s why we’re there. But we might be more successful in such contrition if we are mindful of the other broken hearts and sorrowing spirits that surround us. Seated not far away are some who may have wept—outwardly or inwardly—through the entire sacramental hymn and the prayers of those priests. Might we silently take note of that and offer our little crust of comfort and our tiny cup of compassion—might we dedicate it to them?

— Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Behold the Lamb of God emphasis added

When I come to church I need to focus less on myself and more on those around me. My wife is far better at this than I am. More than once she has stood up in the middle of a meeting to go put her arm around someone who needed love in that moment. The signs she sees are opaque to me, but I'm trying to learn.

I know this seems counter intuitive: overcome my introvert tendencies by focusing on other people, but so far it's the only thing that has worked.

I've been thinking about a metaphor for gospel living, which in this case I'm using in the sense of “making things like gospel study a part of daily life.” There's a common problem that people have with creating a spiritual aspect of their life, and it goes something like this:

  1. I see people who really have their lives together.Who are deeply spiritual. I want to be like them!
  2. When hard times come, I try harder to be deeply spiritual.
  3. My immediate problems aren't immediately solved.
  4. I decide I'm not good enough and despair a little bit. I tried being good for three whole days and it didn't change everything!
  5. Repeat.

Intellectually, of course, I know that real change takes time, that thinking I can suddenly be problem-free is folly.

So I've been thinking about a better way to understand how the acquisition of spirituality helps a person. I think it works more like building a sea wall, hence the title. Here's what I mean:

The purpose of a sea wall is to protect the ships in the harbor. The wall has to be strong enough and high enough to prevent large waves from making it into the harbor. But you have to start the construction of the wall deep under the water. When you first start laying the foundations of the sea wall it provides almost no protection at all. But you can't start building it at the top, that's not how construction works. So for the first little while after you start building your sea wall you still have to deal with the storms, seemingly unprotected.

After a while the sea wall is big enough that it starts providing some protection against big rollers. The large, deep waves break against the sea wall, even though it's still entirely underwater. While your spiritual progress is still mostly invisible, you are starting to internally see the benefits.

As the sea wall begins to appear above the waves it becomes obvious to anyone why it helps. Many waves still rise above it and crash over it, but it's clear that it's tempering their fury.

Eventually the sea wall is high enough to block just about everything. But even now all is not done. The sea wall still requires maintenance and frequent repairs to continue to provide the protection for which it was built.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father... Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29,31 KJV

This is Christ talking to his followers, and I love the imagery here. If God notices the fall of a single sparrow, he definitely knows what's going on with each of us. I also love the very gentle humor in this verse. Being measured in sparrows is unexpected, and feels affectionate. Christ knows and loves and values us. Any time I'm feeling down I can remember that I'm not worthless, I'm worth many sparrows!

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