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Archive for January, 2014

Shortly before I began USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus AFB in Columbus, MS, that base experienced one of the greatest tragedies in the history of that pilot training squadron: a four-ship collision between four T-38 jet trainers performing formation maneuvers.  Of the six men onboard the four aircraft, five were killed instantly.  Only one man, a student pilot, managed to eject. 

After ejection, his parachute was supposed to open automatically.  It did not. 

He pulled the D-ring to manually deploy the chute.  Although the chute deployed, it became tangled in its own lines.  The parachute didn’t fully inflate.  It formed what is termed a “Mae West”.  (If you don’t understand the reference, let’s just say that Mae West was a rather buxom movie star in the early era of talking motion pictures.)  In other words, the chute wasn’t going to slow the pilot’s descent enough to save his life. 

As USAF aviators, we were trained that, in this situation, we were to use the hook knife in our G-suit to cut up to four of our parachute lines in an attempt to untangle a parachute.  The student pilot did so.  One at a time, he cut the maximum of four parachute cords.  However, this didn’t solve the problem.  The chute didn’t inflate and he was still dropping toward a fatal collision with the ground. 

He tugged and pulled at the remaining parachute lines, trying desperately to untangle the chute.  Still, he had no luck. 

But he continued to fight. 

He looked down at the ground and thought to himself, “Those trees are getting really big.”  He knew he had mere seconds remaining. 

He tugged and kicked with all his might. 

The chute inflated.  He swung once as the parachute slowed his fall. 

Then he hit the ground. 

The trees he had seen were actually bushes. 

If he had not continued to fight until the very last second, if he had given up, he would not have survived. 

After today’s broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word,” the associate musical director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Ryan Murphy, suddenly paused rehearsing to tell us a story.  I don’t remember why he did it, but the story itself really stuck with me.  He reminded us that President David O. McKay was often quoted as saying, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”  [General Conference, April, 1935, repeated in April, 1964.]  (Although many people assume that the quote originated with the prophet, President McKay was actually quoting James Edward McCulloh’s “Home: The Savior of Civilization” [1924, The Southern Co-operative League].)  Brother Murphy then told us that, about two weeks after that famous conference address, President McKay was speaking at a meeting for seminary teachers.  He was asked, “What constitutes ‘failure in the home’?”  The prophet immediately replied, “Failure in the home only occurs when the parents give up.”  I can’t find a source for this quote, but President Harold B. Lee (who was President McKay’s first counselor) said something very similar (and I have the source for that): “Remember, paraphrasing what President McKay said, ‘No success will compensate for failure in the home.’ Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up.”  [Ensign, February, 1972]

Well, that gives me hope.  You see, when it comes to my family, I am as stubborn as they come. 

I will never give up. 

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This is worth a look:  http://vimeo.com/52231459

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My family is having cheese enchiladas for dinner tonight.  I love cheese enchiladas!

But I’m not going to have any.

You see, I’m on a diet.  I’m trying to lose weight.  I’ve lost 50 lbs. already, but I still have a long way to go.

So tonight, I will watch as my family eats them.  I will smell them.  I will desire them.  I may even lust after them.  And if I eye those cheese enchiladas too closely, my wife, because she loves me, will remind me that I can’t have them.

And I will have to content myself with eating food that is approved for my diet—basically the same thing I eat every night.  And that’s good food, but it’s not cheese enchiladas.

You see, my dear wife loves me.  She’s not going to tell me it’s OK for me to have tasty, Mexican, cheesy goodness that will “add to the luxury of my waistline.”  She’s not going to say, “Go ahead, Dave.  Have some cheese enchiladas, because you should do what makes you happy.”

Cheese enchiladas are not conducive to my ultimate happiness.  And indulging in them now would bring me pleasure for the moment, but it would not make me happy.  In fact, indulging would send me back down the path of transforming myself into a human beach ball.

No, a beach ball is light and airy and fun.

Make that a human medicine ball.  You remember medicine balls, don’t you?  Those huge, heavy, slightly soft, leathery things we used to have to throw at each other in gym class?  No fun.  Personally, I think it is entirely possible, even highly likely, that medicine balls were invented by sadistic PE teachers who hated non-athletic kids (like me).

Now, don’t get me wrong: Nobody is forcing me to be on my diet.  Those who truly love me are encouraging me to eat healthy, but I chose this.  I know what is required for the diet, and I know the consequences of indulging in that which is forbidden.

In 2 Samuel, Chapter 13, we read of Amnon, the eldest son and heir of David, King of Israel.  Amnon lusted after his half-sister, Tamar.  He desired her so much that he became ill, because a sexual relationship with a half-sister was forbidden.  In other words, he wanted her so much, in spite of the fact that he could not have her, that he fell into a deep depression.  To put it simply, Amnon coveted something he could not have.

Jonadab, Amnon’s cousin, enquired as to why Prince Amnon was so miserable.  When Amnon informed Jonadab that he was in love with his half-sister, Jonadab devised a plan whereby Amnon could be alone with Tamar.  And when Amnon got Tamar alone, he tried to seduce her, and failing that, he raped his sister.

There is much more to this story, of course: how Amnon, after he got what he wanted, threw Tamar out; how Absalom (her brother) took Tamar in, but used the rape as an excuse to murder his brother; how a morally bankrupt King David failed to punish Amnon for his heinous act; how Tamar’s mortal life was utterly destroyed.   I don’t want to downplay any of that, but I want to focus for a moment on Amnon and his enablers.

You would think that no one in his or her right mind would condone or even sympathize with Amnon’s obsession, and yet we have at least three men who enabled Amnon’s aberrant behavior or used it for their own purposes.

Perhaps Jonadab didn’t think Amnon would force Tamar; perhaps he only intended for Amnon to have a chance to declare his “love” for Tamar.  (I don’t believe that for a second, but let’s give Jonadab the benefit of the doubt.)  Jonadab had to know that no good could come of such a thing.  So why did he do it?  At the very least, Jonadab hoped to curry favor with the royal heir.

Absalom told Tamar to keep the matter quiet.  He wasn’t concealing Tamar’s disgrace to protect Tamar: news of the rape was going to come out anyway.  If Absalom had pressed the King for justice, surely David would’ve had to act.  However, Absalom tried to de-emphasize the crime, at least in public.  Absalom planned to murder Amnon and get revenge for Tamar, but he wanted to draw suspicion away from himself.  With Amnon out of the way (dead, not imprisoned or simply out-of-favor), Absalom would have a shot at the throne.  And Absalom had regal ambitions.

And King David, Tamar’s father?  He was angry, but he loved Amnon and didn’t punish him.  (Didn’t David love Tamar?)  After David’s own sin of adultery with Bathsheba and David’s murder of Uriah, the King had no moral authority anyway.  Now when Absalom killed Amnon, David acted.  Boy, howdy, did he act!  He was so angry with Absalom that he didn’t talk to his son for three years.  That showed ol’ Absalom!  The poor guy had to live in exile!  And after the three years, David brought Absalom back.  It took him a bit (and a little manipulation by Joab), but eventually, Absalom was right where he wanted to be: back in town and in line for the throne.

And Tamar simply drops out of the story.  Once again, the victim is no more than a footnote.  Why do we always forget the victim?

Focusing back on Amnon, the big question (at least in my mind) is, why in the world did those three men—Jonadab, Absalom, and David—condone and/or enable Amnon’s perversion?  Did they think it would somehow make Amnon happy to indulge in his forbidden lustful fantasy?  Did they say to themselves, “I choose not to indulge in such behavior, but who am I to judge?”  Did they imagine that God put those thoughts into Amnon’s heart, that Amnon couldn’t help himself, that Amnon shouldn’t have to suppress this urge, that it was beyond his ability to repent?  How could anyone who really cared about Amnon (or Tamar—lets’ not forget the victim here) not want Amnon to find his way back?

Jonadab didn’t care.  Absalom used the rape of his own sister for his own selfish ends.  David “loved” his son so much that he tacitly condoned the brutal violation of his own daughter.

Why have self-control and repentance become such socially unacceptable concepts in our society?  Do we show love to the sinner by condoning or ignoring the sin?  To the woman taken in adultery, Jesus said, “Go thy way and sin no more.”  Even the Master told her to stop indulging in that which was forbidden.

Self-control and repentance are the path to true happiness—self-control and repentance and the recognition that God is there, guiding us, gently urging us down the only path that will lead to true happiness.

None of us is perfect.  I’m certainly not.  I spent years becoming the magnificent specimen of human medicine ballery that I am today.  I didn’t set out to become a huge, rotund, implement of physical education torture, but my choices and/or my genes (maybe I was born this way) have led to this.  Now I have to choose to be healthy or eat cheese enchiladas.

And I’m not going to blame or resent the people who love me and remind me of what I have to do to be healthy.

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