Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Blog for Your Sabbath Day: Spiritual Ownership

"But Daddy...I want it naaaaaoooooooow!" 

The impatient Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a demanding sort of little girl; her impatience was coupled with an insatiable greed. Every bobble that lit her fancy she demanded it right then, right there, and with each passing moment she was made to wait, her temper flared to new heights of frustration. Homer Simpson, a notorious shirker of responsibility, devised a way to get out of a community service project during a work outing: just to get out of picking up roadside trash, he spent 600 dollars on a life sized mannequin and faked his own death (albeit briefly). As Bart pointed out to his father, Homer would have saved money--and time--by actually showing up for work. Nonetheless, so opposed to work Homer always is that the cartoon oaf was willing to roll up his sleeves to get out of lifting a finger. Extreme examples these are, certainly. Between the empty hands of these characters and the object of their desires lays a chasm unfilled with the recipe for success: work, labor, effort. Call it what you will, but neither Homer nor Veruca have any appreciation for the concept of ownership.

Ownership, eh? Now let's mull that over. What constitutes ownership? Is it merely holding the receipt of your purchase, legally possessing the bobble on which you plunked down money. I will, and on that note I will proceed to make my point.

Four years ago when cell phone ownership was exploding, I took a pace behind and refused to follow the mob. It wasn't the adults who fueled my distaste but their kids, my students. Nearly every one of had a cell phone, and not just any cell phone but smart phones. How did these unemployed minors come about owning such sophisticated and expensive device, wherein the data charges for all that texting and internet access was sky high? The only way possible: their parents! But guess what? No sooner could you say gone-in-sixty-seconds these lovable idiots were losing them at the drop of a hat, shattering their screens, dropping them in the sink, toilet or spilling their soda on them. (Not to mention having them confiscated by faculty or stolen by classmates.) T'was an epidemic of clumsiness. But no worries. These devices were replaced soon enough and new devices were at the ready for mutilation or soaking. As for my wife and older daughters, they leapt to smartphone usage and played games on them, accessed their social networks, and sent text messages... As for me, I chose a flip-phone, ala Star Trek communicator. ("Kirk to Enterprise, send a text to the Klingons...") I'm always loathe jumping on popculture bandwagons, as it reminds me of the wasted years of my youth. A phone should be a phone, I figured, and not a computer because I already had a laptop, wireless, broadband--blah, blah, blah. I didn't need to send text messages to buddies ('were r u?') or download Star Wars memes at the drop of a hat.

Jump ahead three years later. As hectic as life became, now that I was an elder's quorum president, having such a phone turned out to be what I truly needed. When a free upgrade came along I took the leap to a my first smart phone and quickly realized I just how an efficiency tool it could be because it organized my personal hobbies, my church calling and it allowed me to hone my diet and exercising to such a degree that I have dropped nearly 15 pounds through use of several dietary and exercise apps. However, if my phone breaks, my mommy and daddy aren't replacing it (I could ask...). Therefore, I treat my phone with great respect and keep it in a nice protective covering. I personalize it for my specific needs and I make certain it is kept updated and avoid any activity that might create opportunities for viruses and hacking. If it's not in my pocket, it's charging in my bedroom, and not laying around like the ever elusive remote, car keys, or that dreaded missing sock. I use the phone to better my existence and it cannot do its job if I simply treat it as a doorstop. True ownership exists not from a purchase but from persistant hard effort in taking great care and maintenance in that object. You know, work.

Elder F. David Stanley, formerly of the Area Seventy remarked at a 1993 April priesthood session of conference, "...The principle of work has been taught from the foundation of the world. It is the bottom line of any forward motion of success." He reflected that for "[more] than 6,000 years ago, Father Adam received the commandment, 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.' Some 2,700 years ago, a Greek poet observed that 'in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it.'” As laid out by the Heavens, hard work is not simply for our survival but is the template of Celestial living. By that idea, there is little room on the Lord's right hand for the Veruca Salts and Homer Simpsons of the world. (Look at me, chiding fictional characters...)

What I'm addressing is not the grand acquisition of all the toys and appliances we can conceivably buy and fill our shelves and pockets with. My emphasis is the care given to those possessions we have spent so hard to achieve. If we work and scrape to purchase our transportation, homes, televisions, laptops, cell phones, Blue-Ray, Wi-Fi, Broadband, Direct-TV, breadmakers...what else can we possibly own that requires our efforts to maintain? This bit of advice from Deiter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency might answer the question and possibly raise more:
"Declaring our testimony of the gospel is good, but being a living example of the restored gospel is better. Wishing to be more faithful to our covenants is good; actually being faithful to sacred covenants—including living a virtuous life, paying our tithes and offerings, keeping the Word of Wisdom, and serving those in need—is much better. Announcing that we will dedicate more time for family prayer, scripture study, and wholesome family activities is good; but actually doing all these things steadily will bring heavenly blessings to our lives.”
You can possess a testimony of the restored gospel like a three hundred dollar 5th Generation iPod. You can be proud of it and be thankful to have it. But to claim ownership of it, to keep it with you at all times, to never have it slip through your fingers, requires a great deal of...what did Elder Uchtdorf call it...? Being, paying, keeping and serving.

Now that you are in possession of a testimony, congratulations. You are of the conviction, at least traveling with enough forward momentum, to participate in the act of baptism and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I take for granted that you have desired a change in your life. You want an improvement in your outlook, an increase in your fortunes, and by embracing tenents of Christ's teachings, with the caveat that these are founded on the principles of a restoration, you will ascend to greatness. Nonetheless, now that you've followed through into baptism, how will membership in this church give you an increase in your fortunes for the eternities?

Good question.  F. David Stanley would have asked on a more personal note, "Are you spending too much time desiring what you want to be instead of establishing a course of discipline and working hard on what you are going to be?" To this he offer the following: 
"The frightening disappearance of work as a part of our basic ethic is alarming. We constantly hear the statements, 'It’s too hard,' 'Give me something easier,' 'I want it now,' 'I can’t wait that long' coming from our young people. The ugly disease of 'nothing to do' is growing in epidemic proportions among us. It undermines the basic fabric of our nations. The prophet Ezekiel clearly defined iniquity as an 'abundance of idleness.' We are what we are as a people because our ancestors were not afraid of honest, hard work. Our forefathers understood the necessity of it; sheer survival demanded it. A common ingredient among all successful people is an understanding of what constitutes paying the price of success. Basic in that formula of paying the price is an inner gift of determination that 'I’ll do whatever it takes.' That means, 'I’ll work hard, with integrity, to achieve my goal.' Hard work is a blessing of God. It involves going after it 'with all your heart, might, mind and strength.' That alone is the difference between the average and the excellent."

And this, might I add, is the difference between us and the Celestial kingdom. Living as a participant in the restored gospel takes complete action on our part, a diligence in standing over it, watching it, nurturing it, and protecting it. As Elder Stanley observes, "Great athletes are hard workers. Points, rebounds, assists, tackles, goals,and home runs are all the result of long hours of painstaking practice and hard work. The bulk of that practice will always be on your own, away from the coach. Victory is brought to pass by one’s personal diligence and commitment to hard work. The view of a champion, and the glory that surrounds him, must never be overshadowed by the long process of becoming one."

The long process? (Right then I had the fleeting thought of Homer Simpson as a member of the church, hiding in the janitor's closet as "Bishop Lovejoy" comes looking at him with a calling.) Those who show up to church each Sunday with hearts not into it, shirk the work needed to sustain the influence that the gospel can have on their human natures. As Elder Stanley illustrated: "While serving as a mission president, many times missionaries would say to me, 'But President, I want baptisms now.' My answer was then and always will be, 'You must work hard, be diligent, be humble, and exercise your prayers of faith.'"

Work hard, eh? Exercise, eh? Well, yes. Take ownership of your spirituality, more specifically your testimony. If you have your own knowledge of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ but you fail to offer up daily prayers to your Father in heaven, or you pass off the occasional fast offering check in lieu of a full tithe, or never study your scriptures except for the verse or two you volunteer to read during Sunday school--you might claim to have a testimony that Joseph Smith is a prophet and the Book of Mormon is revealed scripture, but you can only possess those emotions, not own them outright. Ownership will be a fleeting thing in the months or years to come when home teachers come knocking on your door wondering where you've been all these years. Your response for them will be, "Don't worry. I know I need to be at church, but I have a testimony."

Now if you can just remember where the heck you last left it.

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