22 February 2019

Charity that Goes Where Your Heart Is

I love liberty, including the liberty to see my money go into causes that I choose to support.

Alida Brown is a wonderful person. We didn't agree on much politically, but I don't question her kindness and generosity. I know she cared about me and my family and was mindful of time that was needed together when she and I worked some long hours on county health council needs. I remember that she had taken a single mother and child in need into her home for many months, helping them access opportunities. Alida is a great woman and I never would want to dissuade her or those like her from performing the wonderful service they render.

I remember some work that we were doing on a Saturday morning at the office. Our talk wandered onto the political and I recall vaguely that our ideological differences were laid bare. She struggled to understand how some libertarian-leaning person such as myself, who are so often cast of drug-addled, "anything-goes" ne'er-do-wells, would be involved in concrete, research-based, publicly-funded community health initiatives. I was certainly an anomaly in the council group, which seemed exclusively peopled by those looking to use the resources of big government to fulfill one (hopefully) altruistic goal or another.  Good folks all, but often of a different "bent" than I am.

I shared my thoughts on liberty, which is simply the ability to chart one's own course beyond the coercion of one's neighbors, especially as expressed through government. I wanted to do what I wished without being compelled by a codified dictum like tax law. I was helping her to work to improve health in our county because it helped feed my family and the work was compatible with my skill-set. Although I understood that taxes collected from everyone paid for our work, I didn't like that aspect of it.  If our work was wanted and needed, couldn't the necessary money be raised from charitable people instead of from money first taxed by the government and then legislated to a politicized cause?  I never could rectify how I should feel that taxes were better than voluntary donations.

I am always happy to see local initiatives funded by private foundations, especially ones that reflect the sensibilities of those being served. I will avoid speaking poorly of those working for the betterment of people, families, and communities - they are good people.  However, I often find myself at crossed-purposes with such folk when their help becomes "loaded" with ideology and political correctness.  Studies show that Americans are the most generous people when measured by their charitable donations and I am personally thrilled when such donations are spent in ways approved by the original donors - the work being done that reflects their heart-felt desires.  For instance, I am happy to give to organizations like LDS Humanitarian Aid and Heifer International that (hopefully) avoid large administrative overhead and provide for basic needs and education to those in the world who need it most.  I am not special, but I am glad my donations can provide help that is special to those who receive it!

I hope many of you feel the need to be charitable and don't just count the taxes you pay as your only contribution to the lives of others. Let your own heart be the guide by being charitable with the resources and time that you control!

21 February 2019

Dealing with God's Fierce Anger

As I move slowly through the Book of Mormon, I have reached Helaman 13, which is the first part of a prophecy from the prophet Samuel, a Lamanite.  This is a tough chapter, as it brings to light what could be considered by many to be some of God's more unsavory attributes. As I shared what I was reading with my wife, for example, she was expressing her own concerns that I was becoming critical to prevalent attitudes about God and what I was seeing as the projection of a kinder, gentler, somewhat ineffective God that can readily be ignored or simply dismissed. The God that Samuel speaks of here would likely be described in modern terms as harsh, demanding, and even hateful and vengeful when unheeded.  It is not surprising that many people choose to reject God because:
  • they see steadily declining evidence of God's influence on people; or
  • they only see God as a fictional character in some ancient morality story from a cruel age; or
  • they find their own modern virtues and ways to be superior to God's.
We live in a society that decries anger in any form. I have become angry at times, especially under stressful circumstances, and I am regularly castigated for it and declared a "bad man". Lost forever is the reason I became angry in the first place - which is often very justified! Modern moralists say that a good person can never display anger, yet I read these statements from Samuel:
And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.

Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction. Helaman 13:9-10 (emphasis added)
The subsequent record affirms that this prophesied destruction did indeed come and the entire Nephite nation was exterminated just a bit more than 400 years later.  The quote above is put in the first person -  God himself says in his own words that he will cause the sword and the famine and the pestilence and all of this comes from "my fierce anger".  This entire chapter goes into some detail about this Godly anger and how it will manifest as the people choose not to repent. What we see in Helaman 13 is quite consistent with the God of the biblical Old Testament - a God that is passionate about developing certain attributes in his children and is perfectly willing to use seemingly "harsh" means to accomplish this.

It is no wonder that a culture such as ours that abhors even the appearance of anger would seek to recast their God as one devoid of negative emotion. Vaunted spokesmen for a variety of ideologies are hard at work redefining truth and virtue, as Samuel predicted:
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. Helaman 13:27-28
I find few statements that more clearly explain the prevalent preaching and adorning of the cultural leaders of our times!

The modern ideal of the doting dad that never punishes bad behavior and never raises his voice will find no analogue in the Judeo-Christian God of holy writ!  In my study, I see a God that blesses the obedient and repentant while eventually and openly punishing the disobedient and wicked after multiple warnings and ample time to comply.

In the midst of the hard predictions and promises of future destruction in Samuel's words, there is the constant call for the people to change their ways and repent so that punishment can still be changed to blessing:
But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not. Helaman 13:11
We currently enjoy a time when there is an opportunity to repent and yet so many choose to read this lull as a lack of interest or existence from God. It is trendy these days to castigate those who preach better behavior, drawing upon a growing pile of contrived rationalizations, many rooted in the fact that no divine punishment has come so far. Samuel goes on to predict the consequences of such behavior and choosing not to change while the opportunity was available:
But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head. Helaman 13:38
I know that, for many, the things that Samuel recorded in this chapter of the Book of Mormon seem unkind and unflattering. We like to believe that we have built a world where such things as anger or punishment have been banished as evil. I will say that only when we are firmly on the path of righteousness should we expect to avoid God's "fierce anger" and court his loving nature. The way to turn away God's coming wrath and enjoy his blessings is to repent and change for the better. So, when a parent or other authority gets angry with you, instead of chastising them for their "unacceptable" behavior or haughtily ignoring them, perhaps you should look within yourself to make changes that will turn away such wrath. Parents and God often have a great deal in common and, in Deity's case, are working for your ultimate good - you would do well to listen and comply.