Nazis Hated Foerster and How His Writings Can Change Your Life

Nazis during World War II burned his books. They viewed the man and his ideas as a threat to their ideology. They revoked his German citizenship. He was one of them by blood, but he was a subversive because he felt differently in his heart and mind. He was among them, saw their bigoted and nationalistic politics. He vocally opposed them, and was persecuted by them. Friedrich Wilhem Foerster forewarned of the German’s increasing militarism well before others realized what was happening. He was a pacifist before it was trendy. He was a man firm and brave in his principles. He left us some of the greatest writing for self improvement that still apply today.

It’s not very often we are impressed. We have humanity’s collective knowledge at our fingertips, and can order anything we want to our doorsteps like an Emperor of old. It’s hard for us to be impressed anymore.

Then I read the writings of a man whose words resonate just as powerfully today as when he wrote them over 100 years ago. I’m genuinely impressed by the truths he speaks and I’m also impressed at his open defiance in his own life to a regime which was unforgiving to infidels.

In his book Marriage and The Sex Problem he has a whole chapter devoted to asceticism. In this chapter he discusses the benefits of asceticism, and why the world needs men of spiritual example to guide us forward. I agree that we want men, and women, of sound moral principles, and self-discipline as our leaders. We want them to lead families, communities, and our governments.

The Indispensability of the Ascetic Ideal

“The ascetic principle, in particular, is to-day in danger of being undervalued. Asceticism should be regarded, not as a negation of nature nor as an attempt to extirpate natural forces, but as practice in the art of self-discipline.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

Asceticism is not simply about negating or removing, as much as it is about doing with greater purpose and intention. It is about getting to the meat of things with no attention at all for trivial appetizers. Sort of like today’s movement towards minimalism. It’s not just the art of getting rid of but really asking do I really need this? Does it serve a purpose? Question everything.

Asceticism in our day is definitely undervalued. People want lives of excess. We show in our stuff-filled homes and our consumerism that we want lives that are more complicated and piled high with more materialism. We want nicer cars. We want larger homes. We want fancier vacations, and to let people know where we’ve been and how great we are. Before you think I’m a monk in cave. I need to give my disclaimer, that I love all of the above, maybe more than most. I recognize that all of the things I mentioned above have not brought me happiness, and actually sometimes add to my misery.

Over 20 years ago as a nineteen year old kid, I was really rough around the edges. What am I talking about? I still am. I can still see myself in my mind’s eye, sitting on a sand covered mattress (actually like a thin piece of foam), in a third world country in Africa. I was in a place with very little clean water, extreme poverty, and much need all around me. I was a missionary, and I had taken a vow of complete commitment to my God and Savior, to teach their message. Now, if you had seen me in the midst of those conditions you would have thought, that poor soul, what a difficult task. Yet, I remember vividly, in that time period having many miraculous and truly joy-filled moments that words can’t describe and explanations will never do justice. Yet that was a time in my life when I had the least material possessions. I had to live out of a suitcase for two years. There was no dating, and definitely no sex. I was not consuming any media. No television, no newspapers, no internet. No communication with anyone from home other than in handwritten letters, and occasional emails that were printed and given to me. I didn’t even have a cell phone. Yet, I was the happiest I had ever been up to that point.

In that experience, I really understood that the key to happiness is not found in more, more, more (how quickly I forgot). It’s found in service to God and his children. The Ascetic life is really undervalued but it is the key to our happiness.

“Its object should be to show humanity what the human will is capable of performing, to serve as an encouraging example of the conquest of the spirit over the animal self. The contempt which has been poured upon the idea of asceticism in recent times has contributed more than anything else towards effeminacy. Nothing could be more effective in bringing humanity back to the best traditions of manhood than a respect for the spiritual strength and conquest which is symbolised in ascetic lives.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

As technology advances and makes our lives better in some senses, and degenerative in others, we can see that mastering our will is more important than ever. Let me give you a personal example.

I am a highly distracted individual, probably more than most. I think it’s tied to my anxious disposition. Yesterday I logged into my computer to do work, and also to finish a list of about 5 tasks that I had created. I sat at my white desk, staring at my handwritten tasklist in my leather planner. Nothing complicated. I had a few simple tasks, .e.g., I had to contact a few people by phone, write some emails, and study a couple of topics related to problems I was trying to solve for a client. As I logged into my computer to work, I was distracted by my non-important emails, notification alerts, several unwanted phone calls, and internet surfing distractions, to the point that I didn’t finish even the simplest task on my list.

It’s easy to see in my example that technology, although a blessing, in many ways can also be a curse to our sense of discipline and productivity. Self-discipline, or discipline over the body, mind and spirit is what Foerster refers to. He wrote this over 100 years ago and so there is a little bit of the stereotypical gender vocabulary of his time, but the message applies to both men and women. A real man, or a real woman is one who can exert and display self discipline in life.

Asceticism is not to be confused with some type of extremism or self torture for the sake of torture. It is about controlling our bodies, appetites, and selfish desires for the betterment of our own lives and the lives of those around us. Think of practitioners of asceticism as Olympic athletes who train and prepare years for an event which might only last a few seconds or minutes in the future. They practice self-discipline in mind and body with the end result of showing us what humans are capable of doing through hard work and self-control. They give us a model, something to aspire to, but also subconsciously something new to believe in.

In that same sense, Foerester is helping us to understand we need to be Olympic models of virtuous principles to inspire ourselves and others around us. We tend to model others behaviors, primarily those around us, but how admirable is the man or woman who despite being in the world can model the behavior of virtue they want to emulate.

“Neither should the occasional excesses of individuals, or even the degenerate condition of whole epochs, prevent us from appreciating the educational value of the ascetic principle and the inspiration and encouragement which come from contemplating the lives of the great saints.”

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 61.

I’m an optimist through and through. I think as a whole, civilization is getting better all the time. This is by far the best time to be alive in humanity’s history. Let me explain. There are more opportunities for upward mobility than ever before. You don’t have to be someones peasant in a feudal society. You can get an education and improve your skills. You also have more free time than ever before due to technological innovation. You are not spending all of your day tilling land by hand or washing clothes with your bare knuckles (although I acknowledge that both still happen). You have more leisure time than ever before to use as you please. We can indulge in every show and form of entertainment we want. In the past the best shows and theater were enjoyed only by the wealthy. Today anyone can watch anything in Bollywood, Hollywood, and in between. You can stream shows, movies, documentaries, and amateur videos from anywhere in the world. There is more entertainment at your fingertips than you can possibly watch in two lifetimes!

Now with all of the excess of time and ease of life come the excesses of immorality. It is better in some ways than the past, but worst in other ways. You are less likely to be raped today than say a thousand years ago, but there is a proliferation of pornography. You are less likely to be killed in a murderous act, but there is an increase in hateful speech because everyone has a loudspeaker on social media. You are less likely to die than ever before from polio, smallpox, measles, or malaria. Granted we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but that being said it is still better to be alive now than one hundred or one thousand years ago. We have modern medicines, painkillers, and communication technology to find vaccines, ease your suffering, and let you know of updates and how and where coronavirus is spreading. Could you imagine this same pandemic a few hundred years ago? The devastation would have been much worse.

Despite all of the negativities of previous periods and our current,the principles of asceticism can help improve our lives. They are timeless and never go out of fashion. Eternal truths have no style. Man might bring them in and out of vogue, but they are in reality eternal. No beginning and no end. The truth is the same today, as it was yesterday, and as it will be until the end of time.

In the last few centuries mankind has increasingly occupied itself with the question of external freedom, and the personalities of the saints have largely passed into oblivion; but they will again come into the forefront of our consciousness when the most important of all the problems of freedom has again become a central question: “How shall I become free from myself?” This question may from time to time be drowned through the clash of outward interests, but just as the great pyramid of Cheops always majestically reappears, even if it be temporarily veiled by the sandstorms of the desert, so, too, this great question of inner freedom will ever again raise its head above the dust and storm of daily existence, leading man back from all external things to the great problems of his own nature.

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 64.

I am constantly in a battle with myself. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care so much about how I am perceived by others, but I care about how I perceive myself. Most days I get along fine with myself. But there are also days where I can’t live another minute with the man in the mirror. I’m disappointed by my weaknesses. Did I really need to eat that pizza? Why didn’t I go for a run first thing in the morning like I planned? Why can’t I do the things I need to get done in the time frame I plan on getting them done? My battles are probably similar to yours. We battle with our own lack of self discipline, our own lack of personal integrity, and accountability more than anything else. The answer doesn’t lie outwardly. It’s not going to be solved by new running shoes, or an app to help you meditate. It all begins internally.

This reminds me of a beautiful quote from Ezra Taft Benson.

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.
The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

Asceticism is a focus on improving the internal by ridding ourselves of the external distraction. It is a way to get rid of the superficial and shiny objects in our lives that deviate us from our true course. I’ve noticed in the last few years a greater societal interest in self-awareness, mindfulness, and leading an intentional, or purposeful life. They are all good things, but there is usually an external solution sought after even in these. For example, pay for my retreat and we will “solve” your (insert problem). Buy our app and we will help you meditate, sleep, and be more productive. The answer already lies within you. The solution is not in purchasing anything or having an external tool. We must learn to discipline or minds and bodies not through externals but though internal self control.

In the midst of our apparently healthy and productive development of economical and technical energy who cannot perceive on every hand the symptoms of hidden disease? Consider, for example, the increasing brutality with which we pursue an aimless and meaningless struggle for life, the disintegration of will-power through the ever-increasing multiplication of the demands upon it, the disturbance of nervous equilibrium as a result of the creation of artificial needs, and the stimulus of more and more urgent claims, the deadening of spiritual power caused by the breathless pace of our machine-like system of life, in which all the inner needs of man are reckoned as no more than sand in the bearings! One day we shall come to ourselves and ask: What is the object of all this perpetual strain, all this restless activity; what is the ultimate aim of this soul-destroying haste and competition? Is it so important that men should travel more and more rapidly from St. Petersburg to Paris, or that one nation should outdo another in the manufacture of the best motor-cars? All deeper life, all sacred peace and solemnity, all humanity’s higher goods, all quiet love, are sacrificed to the insatiable demands of our ever-increasing material needs. Every section of society is compelled to join in this acceleration of life and this restless multiplication of needs. Is it absolutely indispensable that the cultivation of the earth and the technical mastery of nature should be accompanied by this destruction of the deeper life of humanity?

Marriage & The Sex Problem, Dr. F.W. Foerster, pg 74.

This last quote gets to the point. What is the benefit of all of the technological advancements, and the ability to live longer and get from point A to point B faster, if it we are more miserable and destroying our souls?

This reminds me of Jesus Christ’s words in Mark chapter 8, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

We are running around in circles. There are days where I fly through a 12 hour work day, then to my kids sports in the evening, then sometimes to night time meetings, only to be back at my desk the next morning. Everything in my life becomes a blur. I hardly see my wife and kids and then ask myself what I am doing all of this for? Are all of the advancements worth the expense of sacrificing a simple and meaningful life?

The reality is that the more I do this, the less happy I am, and the more distant I am from my family, neighbors, and God. Only when I pray, read from spiritual texts in seeking truth, serve others, and practice stillness, do I find peace.

Jesus served multitudes during his ministry. He also would have periods of isolation where he would go off to the mountains to pray. He was always seeking guidance through prayer and fasting in order to commune with his father. It would’ve been easier for lesser men to get caught up in the fame from the multitudes, do tours, and get busier and busier. Jesus shunned the fame and found pleasure in a life of simplicity and modesty. He wasn’t a ruler of men, or owner of properties. He was a lowly carpenter who through sacrificing his life for others showed us what real asceticism looks like. It is not a scarcity mentality it is a mentality of great abundance, love and focusing on what is most important.

May we all learn from the words of Friedrich Wilhem Foerster written for us over 100 years ago. They are words of profound wisdom and timelessness. They are from a man who could identify trouble brewing in his nation’s morality long before most. He knew what was important in life and could see past the smoke and mirrors. A life of simplicity, practicing virtues and principles that are true and eternal, and that will stand the test of time. He believed in asceticism and practiced it himself, leaving us an example and legacy of a veritable ascetic to follow.

Gratitude In Isolation With 5 Young Kids

As I read the headlines about the Coronavirus death toll in New York and all over the world, I say a silent prayer. Language can’t describe, and others can’t comprehend the agony of loved ones left in a wake of despair and grief. So many words not said, and so many lights dimmed too soon. It is a challenging time for our relatively young species, and we are all being tested in many ways. It contrast, it is beautiful to see many people rising to the challenge as they become the heroes they never knew they were.

As I contemplate on the many stories I read, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my young, beautiful, bright, children, and my kind and loving wife. I thought it would be difficult to be in isolation all day, every day, with five young kids, and no ability for them to leave to play with friends. It has truly been a special experience, as I’m usually gone at work for many hours, and rarely see them during the day. I get to enjoy my time with them in a way I don’t normally get to. There are many discussions had where I teach, uplift, but most importantly I listen. Surprisingly as we discuss the severity of what is happening all around us, each child, even my youngest, understands and recognizes how fortunate we are.

If we are able to live and breathe for another day, it is a blessing. If we can see the sun and the faces of those we love, it is a blessing. If we can hear the sounds of nature, and the voices of those close to us, it is a blessing. Even if we are alone, but recognize that with God, we are never alone, it is a blessing.

As tough as it is around the world right now we have much to be thankful for. When I was nineteen and serving as a missionary in Africa I lost a close friend to a senseless murder. Even in that time of pain and darkness, I still recognized there was still much to be thankful for including the time I had with my deceased friend.

In everything we go through, we can decide how we react. As Viktor Frankl taught in Man’s Search For Meaning, between stimuli and reaction there is always a space. In that space we can choose how we react. We can choose to be bitter and spiteful, or we can choose to be grateful and hopeful. In a world with enough pain, suffering and anguish for many lifetimes, I choose the latter.

Can a Corona Crisis Clear a Path to Christ?

Is it possible that a severe biological disaster of worldwide proportions is what it takes for our global population to remember God? Or at the very least, is this a forceful reminder for mankind to be less self-centered, and an opportunity to serve the weakest among us, our elderly and our infirm? Recently, I read a Wall Street Journal article which asked if this crisis would lead to the next Great Awakening. In the article Mr. Robert Nicholson brought out some historical context which helped me understand that religious ups and downs are nothing new.

He writes, “three-quarters of a century has dimmed the memory of that gruesome conflict and its terrible consequences: tens of millions killed, great cities bombed to rubble, Europe and Asia stricken by hunger and poverty. Those who survived the war had to grapple with the kinds of profound questions that only arise in the aftermath of calamity. Gazing at the ruins from his window at Cambridge University, British historian Herbert Butterfield chose to make sense of it by turning to the Hebrew Bible.”

“The power of the Old Testament teaching on history—perhaps the point at which the ancient Jews were most original, breaking away from the religious thought of the other peoples around them—lay precisely in the region of truths which sprang from a reflection on catastrophe and cataclysm,” Butterfield wrote in “Christianity and History” (1949). “It is almost impossible properly to appreciate the higher developments in the historical reflection of the Old Testament except in another age which has experienced (or has found itself confronted with) colossal cataclysm.”

“Americans, chastened by the horrors of war, turned to faith in search of truth and meaning. In the late 1940s, Gallup surveys showed more than three-quarters of Americans were members of a house of worship, compared with about half today. Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Some would later call this a Third Great Awakening.”

The concept that calamities can bring people to faith and houses of worship is an interesting topic to ponder. In looking at several charts, I found that faith and attendance in religious houses of worship increased in America after World War II. I also found that since the fifties the numbers have declined with the exception of protestant groups. As Mr. Nicholson stated so eloquently the horrors of such a traumatic event like war brought people to the throne of God searching for why. Since that time we have not had a great sacrifice of our own personal lives, at least not to that degree or magnitude. Have things become too easy, and have we become too comfortable?

Was it the fear or a search for meaning in the war that brought those in the 1940s seeking? Or was it the realization of the fragility of their mortality? While researching this I came across several recent Pew Research Center articles, and Gallup research articles with eye opening charts.

This first one, ties in well with our question about the Corona calamity. Countries with the shortest lifespan have the highest religious service attendance. We can extrapolate a lot of theories about why that is, but in my mind it is the correlation between the comfort of our lives and our lack of need for God’s help. This makes it harder to remember God, Christ, or any Deity. Nations with higher life expectancies tend to be nations with higher incomes per capita, as well as higher standards of living in general. We tend to think when all is well, why do I need God? I have my health and my wealth, what else could I need? But in times of distress we come back on our knees seeking help and answers. Before anyone says I am overgeneralizing, please note that I am simply examining my own personal experiences with God, and thousands of years of written scripture. The Bible as well as the Book of Mormon are prime examples of civilizations that go through a pride/humility, remembering/forgetting cycle with God. The Israelites turned to and remembered God mostly in times of pestilence, famine, and destruction from their enemies. Not always, but mostly.

Several other charts below also show a clear distinction of church attendance/religious affiliation based on age. It is clear by looking at this data that house of worship attendance is down in all age groups. It also makes sense that the older you are, the more you are confronted with your own mortality, the more you think about the next life and what that means. I use to joke with my mom that she was so religious because she was closer to seeing God than I was. Now as I’m older and have kids of my own, I can attest to that reality. When you’re young you’re hardly thinking about consequences and your future. At least I wasn’t.

Catholics' Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide
U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
Catholics' Church Attendance Resumes Downward Slide
U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
Bar graph. 29% of millennials have no religious affiliation, more than any other generation.

As young people are now confronted with their own mortality, and the possible loss of parents and grandparents, does that lead to an increase in faith or even just spirituality? It’s too soon to tell, but in other research I’ve looked at there was a clear increase in church attendance after events like WWII. That increase was not just in the older, but actually and primarily in younger adults. In fact there were periods after the the second world war where house of worship attendance was just as high for younger adults as it was for the older.

Another point to make is that we see slight increases in attendance during recessions in general. I have a theory that the harder the trial, the more likely we are to have our own personal great awakenings. That can be different for everyone. For some it can be a return to or finding Christ for the first time. For others it can be an awareness of a higher power or the seeking of that power through prayer and meditation, or just a greater spirituality.

I’m not sure how this all plays out in the end from a spiritual and religious standpoint. As a Christian, and someone who recognizes his own personal weaknesses, I at least hope for an increase in my faith, and an increase in my love for my neighbors and fellowmen. Times of trial are opportunities for change. It is my prayer that in the end this leads to us looking outward and upward.

Can fear be a good thing?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.” – Gandhi

“Fear is an illusion.” – Everyone on the internet

I like quotes. I like pithy quotes. The pithier the better. I like the aforementioned quotes. Fear is an illusion. That is the title of every TED talk and every entrepreneur’s book. I still like the quote. These quotes are great reminders of what fear really is. It’s this abstract thing in our heads. Try saying that to someone in the middle of a panic attack. Let me give you some of my actual panic attack responses, “shut up, you’re making it worse”, “you’re not helping me at all”, and my favorite, “I think I’m dying, I am like literally dying”. My wife can attest to them all.

Anxiety

I’m an anxious person by nature. Let me paint a picture. I’m six years old, sitting on a plane that’s at the gate. I’m praying to God that we don’t all go down in a blaze of fire while sweating profusely. The plane hasn’t even taxied out of the gate yet. We haven’t even moved an inch. The plane eventually takes off, and my little six year old heart beat is beating like the Energizer bunny being chased by an eagle. Did I mention my dad was a commercial airline pilot, and my mom worked in the travel industry all her life? So I’m flying all the time. Always on a plane since I was a few months old. You would think at some point, on the umteenth flight, the fear would’ve left. Here I am now in full blown middle-aged adulthood, and Mr. “I meditate and visualize everyday”, and yet still can’t keep his childhood fears in check. I can be sitting in a casual meeting and all of a sudden I get an abnormally high rush of adrenaline. My initial thought is always to get up and run out of the room, not a good look. I’ve gotten to the point where I can mentally talk myself back to some semblance of normalcy. It’s kind of embarrassing. Which brings me to the next point.

Fear of Embarrassment

In several articles I’ve read that the fear of public speaking is one of the worst fears. I’ve never looked into this in detail but I would imagine the underlying fear isn’t just a fear of public speaking. I think the real fear when it involves other people is usually just the fear of looking like a fool and being embarrassed. A fear of saying or doing something in front of others that will embarrass you. I think that this fear of embarrassment also ties into a fear of failing, or a fear of starting a long held dream. We are worried what others will say or think if things don’t work out. We will be so embarrassed. That reminds me of another pithy quote. This is from Eleanor Roosevelt. She once said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think that applies perfectly to embarrassment, or even harmful guilt and shame. No one can make you feel anything. We do it to ourselves. Want to know a cool thing about that quote that has helped me for years? You can use it for almost anything.

Just change for the word “inferior” with any other word like this:

No one can make you feel embarrassed without your consent.

No one can make you ashamed without your consent.

No one can make you sad without your consent.

Fear of embarrassment or the way others perceive us is usually the root of any fear of interacting with others. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to just let go in many cases, not all. It’s just too exhausting to put up a facade and to be everything to everyone, or worry how people view me.

This is a problem I’ve seen described in scriptures. The circumstance is usually someone disobeys God because they fear more what others will think of them (don’t want to be embarrassed), as opposed to God’s consequences. In Latter Day Saint scripture, known as the Doctrine & Covenants, there is a verse that reads, “For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God.” Believe it or not, those few words compiled in that verse have gotten me over a number of fears, and over the worrying of what others will think of me. But as I already explained, sometimes, I still get embarrassed. Learn to do what is important to your own values regardless of what others think. You don’t want to compromise your values to fit in with others. You’ll regret it.

It’s Okay to Feel Fear.

It’s okay to feel fear. It’s built into our DNA. It’s our mechanism for sensing and avoiding danger. According to Wikipedia, citing this article, Fear and anxiety: Evolutionary, cognitive, and clinical perspectives, “Fear is closely related to the emotion anxiety, which occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable.” It also states that “The fear response serves survival by engendering appropriate behavioral responses, so it has been preserved throughout evolution.”

Fear has its place. It engenders appropriate behavioral responses. Could you imagine if you had no physical fears? You’d be dead in a day. No emotional fears? You might ruin every relationship. No financial fear, you might go bankrupt quickly.

Look, I get it. In our current culture if you feel fear or let it influence you, you perceived as weak. I get it. It doesn’t look great to say fear is okay. It doesn’t sound like a great inspirational book or an Instagram post. But the reality is fear is a part of our mind and bodies. It’s part of our evolution and natural selection. That fear has allowed our species to outlive and outwit far physically stronger species. That fear even helped your ancestors outlive the more adventurous guy who got sliced up like chicken nuggets by a hungry bear.

From what I can tell, it seems like what we really have a problem with is people limiting their lives because of unwarranted or low probability fears. We might even scoff at someone who has let their fears impede their everyday life. The reality is that we all have fears. Even the bravest among us, and some of us are really good at overcoming our fears.

I would say that most highly successful people I know are regular everyday people who battle the same fears as you and I. They just don’t let those fears consume them, or get in the way of action. Look, I still love the no fear quotes. They sound great. The reality though is that you can’t live life without some fear. It’s okay to acknowledge when you’re afraid and when fear has a hold of you. Then you find a way, little by little, or maybe all at once, to get over that roadblock, that nagging fear.

Fear gets a bad rap. But it’s not all that bad. It has its place. Next time someone tells you that it’s all in your head and you need to get over it, let them know that it’s okay to feel fear. Remember the only reason you’re even here on this earth today is because your ancient ancestor listened to their instincts, trusted their internal feeling of fear, and avoided being a tiger appetizer.

The Beauty of Diversity

My mother is black. My father is white. My mother is a from a small caribbean island. My father is from Switzerland. I was baptized Catholic as an infant, raised as a devout Latter Day Saint (Mormon), in a Jewish neighborhood, while I went to Catholic school. It was an interesting childhood to say the least. I love diversity in all its forms. There is a beauty to this melting pot we call the human race.

Homogeneity is a bore. Believe me, I’ve lived in some very homogenous places and it is tough to endure. Homogeneity of appearance, speech, religion, and thought is not a good thing. It encourages fear and hatred of anything or anyone that is different.

Diversity of Race.

I love the variation of skin colors and faces in the world. I love the fact that no two people are exactly the same. What’s even better is that our world is becoming even smaller day by day, providing more opportunities to interact with each other. Sure we are all on lockdown for the next few months. This too shall pass. In the history of our human experience this will be a minor setback. Eventually we’ll get back to traveling to see each other, and we will continue the blending of cultures, languages, and our differing experiences.

What makes cultures like America so great is that it is a hodgepodge of people from all over the world. The vast majority of Americans are not native to this land. We all came from somewhere else, except for the Native Americans of course. That is heartbreaking story to discuss for another day. Our country is one big social and racial experiment. Sure it’s been turbulent, slavery, social injustice, prejudice, and continued discrimination. That being said, things are getting better all the time. Is it perfect? Of course not. But the times they are changing. Little by little.

For as long as I can remember I’ve felt that the differences in our racial and ethnic backgrounds are what make this country so strong and innovative. We’re not a feudal nation, we are a meritocracy, where it really doesn’t matter the color of your skin, or where you come from. As long as you’ve got something the market wants or needs, there is an opportunity.

Diversity of Religion.

I love the Bible. I love the Quran. I love the Book of Mormon. I love the Vedas. I love the Talmud. There are many other modern and ancient texts that I love as well, too many to write. The point is I love all people of faith, and I am genuinely fascinated by how people practice their faith. I even love the faithless, because although they might not understand or know it, they too have a faith in something, beit science, technology, or even the unknown.

Is it just coincidence that people have an innate sense of something higher or greater? It’s in our DNA. It’s something that we were given from before we came to this earth. This longing to believe in something more. We are something more than just an evolved organism spinning extremely fast on a rock hurtling through nothingness.

I think the fact that we all have these various beliefs, even though we are separated by time and place, point to deity, and is a testament to me that we are all one. We are all the children of a loving Creator and our minor differences are insignificant.

Diversity of Ideas.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit with someone I don’t know very well and hear their life’s story. I love to hear their ideas, their background, their experiences. The way they string thoughts and sentences together, and the lens through which they view the world. Everyone has ideas and they are worth learning.

No one has a monopoly on all of the ideas that are out there and there is something to be learned from everyone. We can learn how to succeed, how to fail, what to do, and what not to do. We can learn from the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the wise and the foolish. We can learn from the faithful and the non-believers, from the loving and the hateful, from the prideful and the humble.

It’s a beautiful thing to be surrounded by people that don’t think like you and to learn from them. It is human nature to want to hang out and be friends with those who agree with your worldview. It makes for a peaceful and uncontentious life. We don’t need to contend with those who see things differently. There is no need to resort to tribalism. We should extend an olive branch of understanding and seek to see from their view of the world. If we are seekers of truth we need to seek it in all its forms, and accept it from whoever it may come from. We must also be willing to accept that we are often wrong.

We live in a beautiful world of many different races, beliefs, and ideas. May we accept these differences and the people they come from. Not only do they make the world a better and more interesting place, but they help us to become more loving and compassionate beings.

Faith and Remembrance

In the trying times that our world is under it is common and healthy to ask for a why. What is the purpose and what is the meaning to all of the fear, and suffering we are witnessing and some of us experiencing? We anguish at those we love who are worried and we see the news of hopelessness as many have lost jobs and are trying to figure out their next steps.

No one on this earth has a true grasp of the why. That is for our Creator to know and for us to maneuver through with faith. If we had a deep knowledge and fundamental understanding of the why it would impede our ability to place faith in him who is our Father.

In the same way that my young children put all of their trust and faith in me because they recognize subconsciously what they don’t know, and I am a source of wisdom and understanding, so it is with our Heavenly Father to us. But as children get older, usually in their teenage years, they come to the realization that they know everything about life and don’t need an old man’s wisdom. In fact they believe they know more than their Father.

Our Heavenly Father reminds who has all knowledge and power. It is important for us to remember. Remembrance is a part of faith. Remember the times when we felt the hand of the Divine intervening in our lives. Through this remembrance we can build our faith. Sometimes we forget God in the hustle and bustle of our daily grind.

God has a way of slowing things down and helping us to remember. He does it many ways but sometimes he can do it to everyone all at once and remind us who is in control, and in who we need to place our faith.

Simeon Stylites

A man lived on top of a pillar for 37 years. You read that right. He lived 50 feet in the air on top of a 10 foot square pillar. Not only did he live there, he was exposed to the elements. He was exposed to the winter and summer near Aleppo, in what is now modern day Syria. Thirty six degree Fahrenheit average lows in the winter and 98 degree average highs in the summer. Sometimes it snows and sometimes it’s over 100 degrees in the summer. Rain or shine, he stayed on his pillar.

He was born Simeon around the year 390 A.D. in Sis, found in modern day Turkey. The picture above is what is left of the pillar he stood on. After a bombing by Russian military forces in 2016 during the ongoing Syrian war the pillar has been destroyed.

Christianity was growing rapidly in Simeon’s lifetime and was becoming openly accepted by rulers and leaders. Simeon, at a young age was so moved by reading the Beatitudes that it sparked his lifelong quest for truth. This small event in his life is an extraordinary example of the power of scripture. The word of God in written form has the power to change the trajectory of lives in sometimes rather spectacular ways. Who would’ve thought that a young boy influenced by the beatitudes would go on to influence the world in such a profound way? This is very similar to the experience of Joseph Smith, the latter day prophet, after reading a passage in the book of James.

Simeon tried to join a monastery in Egypt but was rejected because of the extremeness of his asceticism. That is really saying something about Simeon’s level of devotion to his cause if Monk’s were thinking he was taking things too far. He later fasted during the entire period of lent, nearly died, and because of this immortal feat became a fairly popular guy. He fled the fame for isolation and prayer to God and had followers that wouldn’t leave him alone. He eventually retreated to a pillar in an old city but when followers still came to him, he retreated to an even higher pillar about 50 feet high. Atop the pillar Simeon would pray and give sermons to the crowds that came to hear from him. These followers included Roman emperors and other leaders that sought his counsel. So revered to believers in Christ that Simeon today is venerated as a Saint in the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church.

I’m not one to judge and I believe there is truth to be had from everyone. I like to learn from other people and I genuinely want to know their perspectives. Where they come from? How they were raised? Why they think the way they do? Why they do the things they do? It is no different with Simeon Stylites. By the way, stylites is derived from the ecclesiastical Greek term for pillar, hence the appellation.

When I first heard of Simeon’s story my first impression was how is this even possible? After further research my thoughts shifted to this is an impressive man with complete control of his mind and body. As I read further I wanted to understand the why. After more reading I’ve come to the conclusion that his reason was tied to his search for God, truth, and meaning. This was Simeon’s quest for learning and divine guidance. He shunned the throngs of followers not because he was mean. He was seeking for God and truth and not fame or money. He wanted to hear the inspiration of the divine or as modern Christians know, the influence of the Holy Ghost. I’m sure some were attracted to him because of his extreme asceticism and the novelty of what he was doing. That is human nature. There were probably others who wanted to be close to learn from him. He had many imitators. So many that people were imitating him for centuries. Yes, for hundreds of years there were stylites. Yet through the fame Simeon found truth in isolation and in constant prayer and meditation.

What is the lesson to be learned from Simeon? What is the application to our modern day? After all, this is why we read and study. It is for learning, yes, but more importantly to change our behavior and for application. For me there are several great lessons to learn from Simeon.

First, the human spirit is something that we don’t really understand. Simeon proves that there is no limit to what the mind and body can overcome and achieve when they are working towards a goal.

Second, it is incredible to see a Christian who can be in the world yet also be so separate from it in his living and devotion. Again, is this the approach that I would take? No, but that doesn’t matter, and I have a different world view, different experiences, and different beliefs. Also I believe periods of isolation are healthy, but then I also enjoy periods of being surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors. I am a social being for sure. Before anyone confuses or misinterprets what I am writing, Simeon did perform daily sermons from his pillar and he also converted many Arabs to Christianity. He was also a social, loving person.

In a day where I hear people bemoaning the Coronavirus isolation, and having to be inside all day, I wonder how Simeon would view our modern culture and our application of Christianity. I imagine that he would first recognize that we are weak in many ways and highly distracted by fleeting materialism. Could we look at his example and extract some of the devotional habits to apply into our lives? Could we be more willing to pray and meditate and focus less on the external and more on the internal?

Could we overcome our worldly habits and lust for sex, food, and comforts? I certainly don’t think that I could have the devotion, fortitude and discipline of a Simeon, not by any means am I even close. But I would like to be more disciplined in my devotion. So in my life, I think I can fast more. Fast earnestly and try not to focus so much on my hunger, but on my prayers for others and for those suffering in this pandemic.

I can dim my lustful and materialistic thoughts, and focus my thoughts on serving my fellow brothers and sisters in their time of need. I could do as Simeon and focus on studying and teaching those around me what I know. Most importantly I could deepen my devotion to God and his children by seeking ways to inspire and uplift others.

If you think about it, all of his followers looked up to Simeon. They looked up to his example in a figurative way, but even emperors had to physically look up to him. He was a light set on a hill that brought more people closer to Jesus Christ by just living on pillar. May we all reach upward and lift others eyes upward as well.