Sunday, November 24, 2013


In the Scriptures the word thanksgiving is a verb, but in the modern English dictionaries its prominent usage is given as a noun, as in Thanksgiving Day.

One’s immediate reaction might be ‘so?’ Well let me tell you ‘so!’ Verbs are words alive with action. Nouns sit there identifying to the user and listener a place, person or thing. Only if we take the time to describe the noun and what it is doing does it gain life and vitality. We give life to nouns by using verbs.

We might ask ourselves, what can we do to bring verve into this Thanksgiving and cause it to come alive by becoming a glorious day of thanks-giving?

As we sit celebrating with feasting and festivity the harvest of the year’s effort, the day will start to come alive as we truly express thankfulness to all who have made the reaping a reality, who daily labor in the fields and bring the harvest to the barn.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won’t we, like Abram and Zimri, actively find a way to share our bounteousness with someone less fortunate?

We definitely show indebtedness to all those ancestors who have toiled and given that this land could bring forth riches and blessings we enjoy today by, our grateful words which we express because of their having been such wise stewards in their eras.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we, like grandpa and grandma, actively find a way to increase and brighten the legacy we are leaving to our posterity?

It is wonderful that we acknowledge the privilege of living in a society where we are free to express the desires of our soul and the frustrations of our temporal-ness.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we, like Washington and Lincoln, actively find a way to assure these fundamental rights for future generations?

It is wonderful to express how grateful we are for the comforts which bring contentedness to our daily walk.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we, like Franklin and Edison, actively find a way to smooth the way for those who walk behind?

We should take time to applaud the countless kindnesses which have been expressed through the deeds and words of those who lovingly surround the table of abundance.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we actively find a way, like Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa, to reciprocate in all ways and at all times, bestowing acts of kindness upon those wonderful ones who daily brighten our lives?

We should thankfully cheer the efforts of those who are trying to turn swords into plow shares, striving to make neighbors and nations just a little more harmonious and make our earthly home more peaceful and serene.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we actively find a way, like Gandhi and Gautama, to publish peace by being more in harmony with our neighbors both at home and abroad?

We should shout the praises of those who have dedicated their lives to lifting the weary and strengthening the weak by making possible a greater quality of health and curing the wounds of the world.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we actively find a way, like Barton and Curry, to make the physical burdens of those whose heads hang low a bit lighter?

We should always be anxious to recognize with grateful hearts He from whom all blessings flow, whose hand is constantly outstretched in love for His children.

But, if we really want to put vitality into our thanks-giving won't we actively find a way, like Moses and Joseph Smith, to put our devotion into action by showing we love Him by willingly keeping his commandments?

Thus we see that verbs give nouns life and vitality and this is how a Day of Thanksgiving is turned into a life of thanks-giving.

If we are really going to make the noun Thanksgiving Day into a verb filled life of thanks-giving, it would be well to put our verbal gratitude into action by taking the next necessary step, becoming a greater example of those things we have expressed we are thankful for.

Hopefully, as unborn generations surround bounteous tables filled with the abundance of the harvest they too will be able to add to their Thanksgiving Day by sincerely expressing gratitude to ancestors who have cared for the earth, contributed to the increase of freedom, been instruments in generating peace and harmony and left an inheritance of greater health and comfort to the world.

But if they really want to put vitality into their thanks-giving…?

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Miller Soliai was born in Samoa and raised in Oakland, California but for those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him he was a delightful cousin.

It will take a little explaining for the world to understand how a bunch of people from the Reno Nevada Institute of Religion could be considered cousins to someone from such a faraway place and such a diverse culture from the usual student population of that area.

It was impossible to be with Miller for even a few minutes without getting caught up in his enthusiasm for life, reciprocating his infectious smile and laughing at his free and humorous views of life.

One day before we knew it we were in the center of planning a trip to Hawaii because Miller had suggested that it would be the most wonderful thing in our lives. We ended up with an interesting mixture of institute students and local adults along with a couple and their family who would be wed at the pool of the Lani Loa Lodge near the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu where Miller had arranged for us to stay. We actually ended up having the details of the trip arranged by a good friend, Roger Ballingham, who had a travel agency.

Anyway, since the Motel bordered the campus of what is now known as BYU Hawaii, we ate our meals in the cafeteria on campus and enjoyed some of the other offerings of the college. As a side note I must add that it was on this trip that I fell in love with macadamia nut ice cream. I digress, back to the main point of all this meandering down memory lane. While Miller was showing us around the campus one day, he wanted us to see the dramatic sculptures of people and places of Samoa which his younger brother had created. As we walked along we kept running into people who were also from Samoa and Miller would introduce them by saying ‘this is my cousin …’

After we had been introduced to about 30 cousins in just a short period of time I had to question the authenticity of the cousin relationship. Miller kindly explain that since Samoa was such a small community of islands, everyone was related in one way or another and rather than try to trace the exact line of relationship it was just easier to refer to each other as cousins or as a brother or sister.

As our brotherhood grew I eventually asked Miller if he would consider making me an adopted cousin. He was delighted and from that time forward he always introduced me as his brother or his cousin.

One of the real blessings of this relationship with Miller was that we were able to make several more trips to the beautiful Islands of Hawaii with the last of these trips being made with all our children and their mates to celebrate our 50 years of marriage. It was a very special trip since we were able to visit four of the Islands while being escorted by some Hawaiian ‘cousins’, the Kanekoa.

By now I am sure you are wondering what the point of this personal memory account might be. Well, since you are curious, I was struck with this ‘cousin’ relationship thing the other day while I was doing several hours of sealings in the Newport Beach Temple, and how we all live as if on a very small island and with very little effort can find commonality of community and relationship.

In the sessions:

There was a brother who was from Bountiful, Utah, who in just a few minutes I was connected with through common ancestral ties.
There was a sister who is the granddaughter of the family my wife was boarding with when we got married.

There was a sister who is the wife of one of the missionaries who served with us in Colombia.

There was a brother who I knew when I was a teenager going to high school in Garden Grove, California.

In the group there were people who shared common ancestry with those whose ordinances we were performing.

There were fellow ordinance workers in the Temple.

There were people whose lives had been affected by their involvement in the Seminaries and Institutes of the Church Education System.

Anyway, as Miller would remind us, on this tiny island it doesn't take but a few steps to establish common kinship.

I am sure your life and my life would be full of a lot more kindness, happiness and enthusiasm if we could remember that there really are no strangers on this beautiful blue planet, but only cousins!

Hello Cousin!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


For as long as I can remember I have found a certain fascination with the pastime of people watching.

Those rare days when I accompany my wife on a trip to the mall I find myself observing others rather than examining merchandise myself. There are even times when I just sit on a bench and watch humanity wander by.

When out for a drive I much prefer traveling on surface roads rather than freeways. Sometimes I even choose streets where traffic is heavy so that I can witness more interactions between earth’s inhabitants.

In places where great throngs gather I enjoy just hanging around, having no need to actually exchange niceties with anyone, but just enjoying the unique chance to view so many others interacting.

Prior to going through my doctorate program I always thought myself a little strange because I had this preoccupation with the observance of people and their interactions. However, this anxiety was alleviated when I learned that the majority of those I was constantly observing also enjoy watching others.

Even those with diminished curiosity about their neighbors must have observed through their casual glimpses the tremendous variations in people and their reactions to life’s situations.

Because I have discovered that so much of life’s joy and beauty are dependent upon the endless variety which surrounds us, I long ago lost the motivation to try to tell others what paths of life might be best for them to travel, or to persuade them that their likes and dislikes ought to correspond more closely with mine.

However, I have not been able to overcome the part of my nature from which emanates despair when I witness people who are burdened with an uncontrollable amount of negativism and depression, who always find their days partially cloudy rather than mostly sunny, their glasses half empty rather than half full.

Conversely, I am involuntarily cheered as I witness the zestfulness of the lives of those positive Pollyannas who see a silver lining surrounding the darkest of storm clouds and enjoy every nectar filled glass to the last drop
It boggles my mind to see that in spite of the fact that we all know that happiness and joy are superior to life’s alternatives, many continue to take their daily walk wallowing in the bog of discouragement and disappointment.

All obsessed people watchers or dedicated spectators of the actuators of life’s principles soon become aware that one’s economical, educational, vocational and social caste contributes little to the level that will be reached on life’s happiness barometer. We find Tiny Tims living in poverty, Scrooges struggling with continually being out of sorts while surrounded by trappings of their economic successes. We find Gunga Dins contentedly enjoying their menial position in life, while CEO’s continually complain about their weighty lot in life.

No matter what direction we turn during our daily journeys, we observe our fellow beings reacting and interacting to the same stimuli in many divergent ways. We can read words of one scholar who pins these differences to our DNA and another to environment and an endless combination of these influences and others, but ultimately we are left with the realization that the final determination of the attitudes which lead to our misery or happiness lies within the realm of our individual agency. We have the majestic power to reign over our personal radiance (Since I am well aware of the chemical imbalances which plague some peoples lives, this Thought deals only with those who are not challenged with these afflictions).

Sooner or later each of us must come to the realization that life is not lived to its fullest by the expectations of finding a city called Camelot or being born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Happiness will come when we act upon the understanding that the true joy of life is not found in how it might have begun, where we might be headed or where we might reside, but true joy comes when we decide to enjoy the current events of the trip.

Whenever anyone would tell my mother to ‘have a good day,’ she would remark enthusiastically that we should say ‘make it a good day.’ The more I have the privilege of continuing my log of people watched, the more I become convinced that those who stay in the moment of life they are passing through most consistently are those who emit the more powerful vibes of joyfulness.

The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” I pray we will work to make the results of our daily decisions lead us to fewer hours of pacing the floor, moments of wrinkled brows, swallowing bitter pills and guide us toward climbing more mountains, eating more ice cream, walking barefoot through grassy meadow, watching sunsets, laughing more and having eyes brim with tears of joy.

We have the power within to make our life what we choose it to be.

The next time you are out and about, look around and I am sure you will see someone looking at you.
I wonder what they will be seeing and thinking?

Sunday, November 3, 2013


During the period of history when little note was being given to the birth of The Savior of mankind in a small grotto in Bethlehem, far away Nephi and his brother were laboring in what would one day come to be known as the Americas, striving to prepare two nations of divided cousins for the not too distant future when Jesus the Christ would visit them after his resurrection.

Nephi and his brother had been in the land northward for five years preaching, exhorting and striving to bring their Lamanite cousins to lives of happiness founded on righteousness. Finally, having been rejected to the point that their lives were in danger and they could no longer stay in that land, the two lonely prophets returned to their homes in the land of Zarahemla.

Sorrowfully, they found their homeland in an awful state of wickedness. The righteous were condemned because of their righteousness. The guilty went unpunished in their wickedness because of their wealth and the high offices of government which they held. It seemed that all in the land were committed to get gain and glory in the world that they might have the means to continue in their ways of adultery, stealing and murder. Their ability to choose between good and evil was overpowered with the desire to do all things according to their own philosophies, thereby becoming gods unto themselves.

When Nephi became aware of how deeply his kindred had fallen into wickedness he retired to his garden and exclaimed: “Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father, Nephi, came out of the land of Jerusalem (about 600 years before)…then were people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God and slow to do iniquity…but behold, I am constrained that these are my days.” (The Book of Mormon – Helaman 7:7-9)

It only takes a quick glance at the history of this sorrowing Nephi’s ancestral grandfather to see that the days of old were very much like the days he was presently experiencing. In fact, from my perspective as one who has had the opportunity to spend a great deal of my life reading, studying, and teaching about the eras of the earth’s travails, I have found that only in scant places and for short periods of time have a few of the planet’s inhabitants been wise enough to live after the Lord’s plan of happiness.

Sometimes it is fun to revisit those fantasies of youth when one could discover uncharted lands, storm castles, win fair maiden’s hand; but even a quick perusal of everyman’s life in whatever era quickly brings us back to the reality of the standard of living in those days of yore. Fantasy is quickly replaced by gratefulness for the blessings of this day in which we live. Reality helps me understand that, unlike Nephi, I do not wish to have my days in another era. Reality also helps me to understand that every generation will find sufficient ways to choose to do evil instead of choosing to do good.

To have known the prophet Moses and to have gleaned of his words would have been wonderful; but a forty year diet of sandy manna and greasy quail would have been a heavy price. To have tarried on the shores of Galilee during the days of Jesus the Christ would have allowed one to know the Lord on a different level as we sat on the slope and listened to him teach upon the mount, but to lose the Light of the world to the tomb of Gethsemane would not have been a path I would have wanted to trod.

With joy I exclaim: “I am constrained that these are my days.” The perils of the cycle of the Book of Mormon where prosperity is often all to quickly followed by wickedness, hastily causes me to add: “Am I easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God and slow to do iniquity? -or- Am I desirous that I might continue to do evil and do all things according to the desires of my own heart?”

The Christians of old retreated to the cavities of the mountains in an attempt to escape the constant pursuit of those who would destroy the righteous. For millennium prophets have warned that the real danger is not the loss of mortality, but the loss of Eternal life. We must be aware of those who would destroy the righteous. We likewise must be aware of those influences which would bring down our righteousness. We must seek go to those ‘mountains’ where the words of righteousness will be rekindled and the strength of that spark can grow to become a sustaining fire of hope within us.

Nephi helps us to understand that that restorative mountain cannot be found in times we cannot dwell in or in places found only in dreams, but is to be found and climbed in the here and now and in the place where we currently reside.

As a voice of warning to all people, in all places and at all times, Nephi exhorts us to be aware of the following influences which will bring about destruction to those of all levels of society when they are tempted to move away from the Mountain of the Lord.

First – Being slow to do good and quick to hearken to the evil one.
Second – Setting hearts upon the vain things of the world
Third – Rejecting the petition of the poor and needy while consuming their own lives in gluttony.
Fourth – Not desiring that the Lord God should rule over them and setting at naught his counsels.

Nephi in his prophetic manner was especially strong in warning those who live their lives in relative prosperity. The history of the generations of his nation taught in glaring clarity, the vulnerability towards rejecting the Plan of Happiness, which comes with the self-aggrandizing euphoria of having gained the riches of the earth.

Along with this voice of warning Nephi and his ancient grandfather Nephi also identify those mountains where we can be refreshed and have our strength replenished in order to faithfully continue our climb.

First – Seek the counsel of the Lord.
Second – No longer desire to do evil but to do good continually.
Third – To be learned is good if we hearken unto the counsels of the Lord.
Fourth – Before seeking for riches, seek the kingdom of God.
Fifth – Seek riches only with the intent to do good.

The failure to heed the words of prophets in days of old, which days prophetically foreshadow our own day, brought destruction of lives and loss of happiness to many ancient generations. Hopefully, we can learn from the graphic lessons, turn to the counsel of the Lord and pass the perilous test of living in a day of varying degrees of prosperity, forsaking ourselves to get gain and glory in the world that we might have the means to continue in our ways of adultery, stealing and murder. Thus causing our ability to choose between good and evil, to become overpowered by the desire to do all things according to our own philosophies, thereby becoming gods unto ourselves.