Monday, October 3, 2016

Tumultuous Times

As we look forward – mostly with nausea – to the coming November election, what I know of history tells me one thing: Whatever happens, that too will pass.

Do we live, goes the question, in tumultuous times?

Indeed we do.

One question we fail to ask, however, is when did those “tumultuous times” begin? I’m prepared to say they began a lot earlier than most of us think.

There’s a passage from William Manchester’s “The Death of A President, November 1963,” that comes to mind:

A certain amount of distortion was inevitable. Erratic individuals are eager to credit the incredible. A century after Lincoln’s death his assassination is still being laid at the door of a member of his Cabinet, and years after [President John F.] Kennedy’s death there would be those who would reject any information which did not fit their preconceived theories about the crime. These people did not want facts; they merely wanted to feed their own ravaged emotions. But that Friday stable persons were being misled, too.

Among the misled and the misleaders in this case, Manchester points out, was the Associated Press, who “flatly declared,” Manchester said, that Kennedy had been shot “in the front of his head,” surely fodder – though incorrect – that fed many of the conspiracy theories surrounding the president’s death ever since.

Manchester writes further in the foreword to his book: “Research, of course, is no substitute for wisdom. The sum of a million facts is not the truth. I had to immerse myself in this subject until I knew more about it than anyone else. Only then could I move on to the critical stage: the comparison of witnesses’ statements.

Are we, the stable persons, being misled. And if so, by whom?

Misled, I have to say yes. Sometimes on purpose. Mostly on accident, as the rush of facts comes at us so quickly even the experts, from journalists to politicians to philosophers to whomever, cannot fathom them all. Little time do any of us have to immerse ourselves in any subject at any length, as Manchester did to understand and then convey the events surrounding the assassination of Kennedy. Yet time and again pressure demands that we move on to the critical stage, the comparison of witnesses’ statements, without that foundation of wisdom.

Where to obtain that wisdom?

My bretheren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth no; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James Chapter 1)

James talks of resisting temptation, the “trying of our faith,” leading to patience. Then, he advises, once patience has done her “perfect work,” may one ask of God for wisdom, asking only in faith, nothing wavering – because those who waver are unstable.

Part of me wonders if the word “temptation” doesn’t carry a double meaning in these verses, as we can be tempted spiritually, but also secularly, to believe this voice or that voice, to hew more to that line or to another. Man should rather, James says, rejoice in hearing diverse opinions, as long as those opinions lead to patience – not tolerance not acceptance, not capitulation or loss of principle – in understanding the views of others. And once the secular arguments reach the point where a person has studied them and needs further assistance may the wisdom sought be asked of God.

And once the wisdom is obtained, one may not waver from it as the secular arguments call not for mutual understanding, but for conciliation, for one side to give in to the other. One side must win at the expense of the other, our minds think, else there is no victory.

We have left behind the ambiguity of faith for the false promise of surety.

“Faith never demands an answer to every question, but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, ‘I don’t know everything, but I know enough to continue on the path of discipleship,’” says Elder Neil L. Andersen, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When we dare to move forward, not knowing everything but having faith in humanity, in God, that we will be able to work things out, that is a good thing. A good enough thing to help us through tumultuous times.

Gandalf had faith. Frodo had faith. Neither one could see the end. Neither Frodo, the simple hobbit tasked with a mission that fell to him by chance, neither Gandalf, guardian of one of the elves’ rings of power, wise in both knowledge and wisdom. Both had faith – and faith alone – to rely on.

But not only faith.

They had works – for as James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

Works are the troubles of the double-minded men James speaks of. God may move mountains for us, the old saw goes, but we should not be surprised if he hands us a shovel. If God were to, with a wink and a nod, grant our desires, faith would be in vain. Wisdom would not arrive on the heels of patience. Works would not work blisters into our hands and feet, leaving the facts – the useless facts – our only surcease.

And facts we can find to fit any mode of thinking.

“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details,” Albert Einstein said.

We have here the path to find the thoughts of God, as we fight on through time, tumultuous or not.

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