Another Lesson from Screwtape

Another lesson from Screwtape, that articulate devil so bent on tutoring his nephew Wormwood:

…the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.¹

Of course, it’s often easier – though not guaranteed – to be united with people we like and prefer to be around. We tend to naturally gravitate in that direction anyway. It’s much harder to become one with a diverse group of people who reside in different neighborhoods and who have had different life experiences. But that is the beauty of worshiping and serving together in a community of saints. As Terryl and Fiona Givens write:

…our present relationships are both the laboratory in which we labor to perfect ourselves and the source of that enjoyment that will constitute our true heaven.

What we call the virtues are precisely those attributes of character that best suit us to live harmoniously, even joyfully, in society. Kindness only exists when there is someone to whom we show kindness. Patience is only manifest when another calls it forth. So it is with mercy, generosity, and self-control. What we may have thought was our private pathway to salvation, was intended all along as a collaborative enterprise, though we often miss the point. The confusion is understandable, since our current generation’s preference for “spirituality” over “religion” is often a sleight of hand that confuses true discipleship with self-absorption.²  

¹Lewis C.S. The Screwtape Letters. The Macmillan Company. (1959). p. 72-73.

²Givens T. & Givens F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak. (2012). p. 112-3.

Throwback Thursday: Elder Hales on Responding to Accusers

elder-hales-in-an-interview-paast-bioLately, I’ve been impressed by the sermons of Robert D. Hales. From an address entitled Christian Courage in October 2008, he taught the importance of being Christlike in our conversations with others:

This is especially important in our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.

I imagine the same is true when we engage in contentious debates with fellow Latter-day Saints or anyone else for that matter. After all, regardless of the subject matter or the parties involved, the spirit of contention has only one source.

I’ve had more than a few conversations with others who have been critical or dismissive of my beliefs. These interactions have made me think about how I could best respond, and often, I want to do and be better. Here are some additional takeaways from Elder Hales, all direct quotes:

  • Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world.
  • The Savior responded differently in every situation.
  • When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior.
  • “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
  • True disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.
  • As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter.
  • And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.
  • As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication.
  • Without guile, true disciples avoid being unduly judgmental of others’ views.
  • As the Savior demonstrated with Herod, sometimes true disciples must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all.
  • We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ.
  • …to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.

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Oh, that tears would wash it out!

One of the less pleasant experiences in life is to realize you’ve been unkind, cruel, or harsh toward another person. Mistakes are, after all, so much easier to identify in others rather than in ourselves. Sometimes, we’re too quick to point out those mistakes either to the person directly, or to our friends, allies, and family behind the person’s back.

In more honest moments with ourselves, I think we’d find our own performance falling short of the high standard we often set for others. That is why I find this poem, starting with the second verse, so powerful:

2. Jesus said, “Be meek and lowly,”
For ’tis high to be a judge;
If I would be pure and holy,
I must love without a grudge.
It requires a constant labor
All his precepts to obey.
If I truly love my neighbor,
I am in the narrow way.

3. Once I said unto another,
“In thine eye there is a mote;
If thou art a friend, a brother,
Hold, and let me pull it out.”
But I could not see it fairly,
For my sight was very dim.
When I came to search more clearly,
In mine eye there was a beam.

4. If I love my brother dearer,
And his mote I would erase,
Then the light should shine the clearer,
For the eye’s a tender place.
Others I have oft reproved
For an object like a mote;
Now I wish this beam removed;
Oh, that tears would wash it out!

5. Charity and love are healing;
These will give the clearest sight;
When I saw my brother’s failing,
I was not exactly right.
Now I’ll take no further trouble;
Jesus’ love is all my theme;
Little motes are but a bubble
When I think upon the beam.¹

This poem was put to music written by Charles Tillman and is found in the current version of the LDS Hymnbook as #273 Truth Reflects Upon our Senses (some may recognize the tune, as it’s shared with the more familiar Life’s Railway to Heaven, popularized at different times by Johnny Cash and Brad Paisley). I have yet to find a great recording of the hymn itself – so my apologies if you decide to click on this link, which will take you to a very dry, unfeeling version of the song, but at least you get to hear the tune and chord structure written by Tillman, which I think is memorable in its own right.

It may not be a great congregational hymn (it’s certainly not a popular one, at least in the wards I’ve attended), but it contains the striving and yearning of the soul I think all of us have felt as we learn to temper our tongues and our feelings, and learn to fill our hearts with love. For me, this hymn is a great reminder of the second great commandment, which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.


¹Written by Eliza R. Snow. The poem is based on the familiar teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 7:1-5. For the lyrics to Life’s Railway to Heaven, supposedly written by Snow as well, visit here.

The Second Great Commandment

I’ve mentioned our lay clergy before, but this article over at Patheos by George Handley does as good a job as any at describing the need for all within a congregation to support, love, and help one another, especially those whose weaknesses might be most visible to us. Here are two brief excerpts:

Religion is shallow if it only fosters love of strangers, of mythic heroes, or of extraordinary people. The great test of gospel living is to see and hear God in those we know best…


…God’s work only happens through commitment to consecrate our collective weaknesses and make them work to bless the human family.

And a related thought from Thomas Monson, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

For me, these are great reminders of the preeminence the second great commandment should take in our lives. As Jesus taught: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:35-40).