Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Axe Amos Found

Note: The following story was written by Carlen Smith. I found it well written and thought provoking, so I'm sharing it here, with his permission.

The following is a work of fiction, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

Some time ago, a young man named Amos was walking across a clearing in the woods behind his father's farm when a glint of sunlight on the ground ahead caught his eye, something sparkling out of the tall grass. Interested, Amos drew near and found an axe, its shining head gleaming in the light of the sun overhead and its handle all but lost in the wild spring growth of the clearing. Parting the green grass curtain, Amos grabbed the handle and picked up the axe. It was heavy. The handle felt rough but sturdy in his hands. Though the axe certainly wasn't new—both handle and head showed clear signs of having been put to good use in the past—the head was free of rust and the edge looked sharp as a sword. It seemed a fine tool, and Amos resolved to take it home and put it to use, happy to hand it over to its rightful owner should anybody come along looking for it.

Over the next few weeks, Amos became quite impressed with the axe. There was already another axe at the farm, a nice new one with a sleek look to it, but Amos found the axe from the woods to be clearly the superior implement. Though heavy, it was perfectly balanced. Though the handle was rough, it offered an unyielding grip, not slipping in his hands even with the strongest swings. In spite of the apparent age of the haft, it showed no signs of breaking. The head, though marred on the sides with scratches from past use, possessed such a keen edge and ideal angles that it made pleasant work of every task, dividing asunder hard knots in dry oak firewood with the same ease with which it bit into the trunks of soft cedars to be felled. The metal was of such a quality that it required little time at the grindstone to maintain its edge. Surely an experienced master of the craft had made this fine axe.

Amos began to look forward to any task which would allow him to put the axe to use. What a skilled violinist feels toward the prized violin at his shoulder, Amos began to feel toward the axe. The tune of his chopping grew ever more beautiful in his ears as he improved his art, whether the simple rhythms of splitting firewood or the crashing chorus of clearing timber for expansions to the farm. When his father needed a new shed built, Amos jumped at the chance to take on a project that would allow him not only to fell trees, but to then notch and link them to sculpt a log construction that would fulfill its expected function while pleasing the eye. The result was a sound structure that left Amos's father quite pleased with his son's work and grateful to have such talent and enthusiasm supporting the farm.

Years passed, and the time came for Amos to leave his father's farm and begin a family of his own. It was only natural that in building a home for his future, Amos should put the old axe to work. Using little more than his axe and the inspiration that seemed to flow whenever he held that proven instrument, Amos brought high trees low and built them up again anew in arrangements of such order and beauty that to call them buildings ignores the magnificence of the fruits of his labors. It's not that the house or the surrounding structures on this new farm were incredibly large or particularly elaborate. It was more a combined effect of exactness of angle, clarity of cut, and overall purity of form that made Amos's farm such a sight to behold. Though made from simple and even common components, Amos's works gave a sense of majesty to his family as they lived out their life in this kingdom of a family farm.

Amos's farm came to be something of a local attraction. It wasn't uncommon for residents of the nearby town to stop by to admire the handsome log cabin where Amos's family lived and to see the logwork barn, shed, and corrals on the property. Even the outhouse made of logs brought compliments, seeming an impressive throne indeed to visitors. Amos would always let his guests hold his axe, feeling for themselves the weight of the axe head and the roughness of the handle. They were always fascinated to experience the actual instrument used in the creation of the farm's edifices.

Eventually, Amos grew old and died, and one of his sons inherited both axe and farm. The axe seemed no worse for wear, even after the passage of decades, but Amos's son decided the axe would probably be improved by replacing the old, rough handle with a smoother and newer one. The balance of head and handle was a bit hampered by this change and the new handle didn't offer the sure grip of the old one, but to Amos's son, who wasn't the axe virtuoso his father had been, this minor change seemed a major improvement to the tool. He left the old handle in a storage shed and moved forward with this better evolution of the axe Amos found. If visitors happened to stop by the farm while he was out chopping firewood, he would proudly show them the axe and explain that it was the very axe his father had used in clearing the land and crafting the impressive buildings of the farm. The new handle on the axe did eventually break as Amos's son was splitting firewood one day, but he quickly replaced the handle with another smooth new one, and all was well.

After several years, Amos's son decided to move away from the farm, and he in turn left the axe and farm to one of his own sons, just as his father had passed them on to him. Amos's grandson was happy to take on this proud heritage and honored that such a noble birthright had come to him. He was always eager to show visitors around the place—improved now by the addition of electric lighting and modern plumbing, of course. Log cabins were becoming ever more a thing of the past as years rolled on, so the notoriety of Amos's farm steadily grew. Fewer and fewer log cabins remained in the area, and Amos's farm came to be known as the very pinnacle of a now dead art. When visitors came, Amos's grandson would be sure to show them Amos's axe, careful to preserve the tradition. The axe didn't get any actual use anymore, but Amos's grandson always kept it readily available for visitors to see.

When Amos's grandson grew old, he willed the farm and all its contents, axe included, to his own son, the fourth generation to possess this heirloom land. Amos's great grandson had his own modern home in the nearby town and decided that this big old farm was no place for an accountant and his wife to live, especially with no kids of their own to run around the farm, but we was glad to take over the role of steward of the property. Historically minded visitors to the state continued to make pilgrimages to this log shrine, and Amos's great grandson obliged them with brief weekend tours, pleased that the world continued to recognize the significance of this legacy in logs—and equally pleased that he was able to make some money from tour admissions. Sure, in the past his forefathers had shown people around the place with no fees involved, but with the number of tourists coming around these days, an admission price was certainly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary. He had a parking lot put in on the property, replacing an old corral, and he brought in a couple of elaborately detailed rugs to cover the bare dirt floors of the cabin. These additions made for a more convenient and visually appealing tour of the farm.

Amos's great grandson always saved the axe for the last bit of the tour, relishing the moment when he could show visitors the very axe that had built all this marvelous work. The axe was now kept in a glass display case in the main room of the old log cabin, and for extra safety, he had replaced the sharp-edged head of the axe with a dull old axe head he found in a shed on the property; in case anybody should remove the glass case and actually touch the axe, it simply wouldn't do to have them accidentally cutting themselves on the edge of the axe and then landing him in the middle of a lawsuit. Amos's great grandson reasoned that the handle, at least, was the original (not knowing any better himself), so it was no great deception to replace the axe head on this antiquated tool. Tourists certainly didn't know any better, and they always came away with a sense of profound awe after seeing this venerable relic. How great to see not only the great farm itself, but also the very instrument of its creation, original head and handle still intact after all these years! Tourists ate it up, and Amos's great grandson made a fair amount of money from these weekend tours. He often thought hopefully of even selling the property altogether someday—maybe the state would buy the property and turn it into a state monument or something.

Amos's great grandson decided what these tours were missing was a gift shop. He resolved to clear out all the old junk in the logwork storage shed near the parking lot and convert the space into a little shop. He'd sell postcards with pictures of the cabin or of Amos's axe. There would be little toy log building sets—kids would love those! There would be T-shirts and keychains, framed pictures of the property—maybe he could even pay somebody to put together a nice film about the history of Amos's farm and sell that as well, a feel-good family feature, full of nostalgia and old-fashioned charm. The first thing, though, was to get rid of all the useless old clutter in the shed. He cleared out the shed and left its worthless contents in a pile near the parking lot. He'd come back with a truck and haul the stuff off to the dump when he got the chance.

One day, a young man named Jeremiah was there for the tour at Amos's farm. He was new to the nearby town, and this was already his third time taking the tour. He was just so fascinated by this marvelous old farm and the grand and simple life it represented! The log structures were so sturdy and elegant! The genuine effort and artistry that went into the creation of it all, and then the sense of satisfaction that Amos's family must have felt to live in this beautiful homestead Amos had made himself! Jeremiah felt a real longing for that old way of life, so different from the workings of modern society.

As Jeremiah made his way back to the parking lot after the tour, he noticed an old axe haft sticking out of a pile of farm tools and assorted odds and ends from a bygone era. He walked closer and saw also a battered old axe head lying on a torn burlap bag and reflecting sunlight up at him. He drew the rough handle from the antiquated rubble and then picked up the heavy axe head, warm to his touch from the sun shining overhead. They looked like a good fit for each other, and though they clearly weren't new, they seemed to be in good shape. As he admired this abandoned axe, Amos's great grandson came walking over to the nearby storage shed, carrying a cash register. Jeremiah called out to him and asked if this pile of old things was meant to be thrown away. When Amos's great grandson replied that this was indeed the case, Jeremiah asked if he might take the parts of this old axe with him. Amos's great grandson told him he could take whatever he wanted from the pile, as it was all of no use anymore here at Amos's farm.

Jeremiah took the old axe head and handle and left Amos's farm. He reassembled the axe and eventually came to be quite skilled in its use. In time, he began to build a log homestead of his own on a nice spot of land not far from Amos's old farm.

Between the axe at Amos's farm—the one you can see on a weekend tour of the place, with its safe, dull head and smooth handle and its nice glass case and little gold nameplate reading "Amos's Axe" and its lineage of careful caretakers—and the axe now in Jeremiah's possession—the axe composed of both the head and haft found in the clearing in the woods so long ago, the axe being used again now by a stranger off in the wilderness to bring high trees low and build them up again anew in arrangements of order and beauty—which of these would Amos love if he were to return?

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Voice of the People

And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying, O have mercy and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified. For we believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God who created Heaven and Earth and all things, who shall come down among the children of men.
—Mosiah 2:1, RE

There's been much talk lately equating the voice of the people with majority rule. Here are two other viewpoints I believe are worthy of consideration:

The Matter of Majority
by Adrian Larsen

Response to Proposal for Majority Rule
by Kevin Gillman

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Statement of Principles, Update 2

By Jeff Savage and Adrian Larsen

Hello Friends,

Well, we’re two weeks into this grand experiment and it’s time for another update. Here are a few items we’d like to share:

  1. As we mentioned in our last update, some folks reported feeling rushed to get their submissions in. So, it seemed appropriate to add an additional week to the submission period and to the refining period. The new dates are listed in the timeline portion here.
  2. There are nearly 250 people registered in the ComeServe forum, working on 37 submitted principles. Dialogue has been respectful and productive. Some very good work is being accomplished in the spirit of meekly laboring together to please the Lord.
  3. We’re looking forward to the next steps in the process—as well as some changes to our original proposal. We’ll explain more below. 

We Already Have Mutual Agreement

As we’ve sought to move forward with the Lord’s requirement that we write a statement of principles to be adopted by mutual agreement, we’ve encountered a number of widely varied opinions about how to proceed. Though the various ideas do not all agree with each other and take many, separate approaches, they all have one item in common. Each presumes a certain end point at which they will be done. And the end points are widely varied as well.

In other words, it seems we have yet to agree on what the goal is. 

The Lord, as we know, expressed it this way: 
But I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people, for if you cannot do so you will be unable to accomplish other works that I will require at your hands.
This idea of adopting by mutual agreement has proved challenging. Various proposed definitions of “mutual agreement” have been offered. Some feel the notion that we can ALL agree is too challenging, or perhaps even impossible. Other end points have been proposed.

And mutual agreement of us all is a daunting challenge, to be sure. But the good news is that the Lord isn’t asking anything of us we can’t do. Fact is, we’ve already done it.

Each of us who accepted the covenant, stood and said Yes before God and angels, signifying our acceptance—our mutual acceptance—of the principles outlined in the covenant. It was a light thing, really. All of us read, believed, and accepted the Lord’s words, and did so willingly and joyfully, without murmuring.

That success paves the way for us to complete our first homework assignment as new covenant holders. The Lord has asked us to demonstrate our understanding of the covenant we have all accepted by enumerating and writing the principles it contains. It’s sort of a “now that you’ve accepted the covenant, please explain to me, and to future believers, exactly what you have accepted.” 

That’s it. Easy-peasy! We’ve already accepted the principles, and all that remains is that someone write them up faithfully, we look them over and agree they match the covenant, and we add them to our scriptures as sort of a cliff-notes guide for ourselves and future believers.

This doesn’t need to be a hard thing. In fact, it’s the sort of thing that we could accomplish in a few days if we all decided to do so.


And this brings us to the real issue. Our hearts. 

The disagreements really aren’t about the principles themselves. We all pretty much agree on them, and the various proposed documents all have much in common. Sure, we all may word them a little bit differently, but the foundation is the same for us all. 

No, the differences center on everything else BUT the principles—questions of process, procedures, people, past efforts and proposals. And many good points are being made. In the end, it seems the principles aren’t the issue; we’re hung up on process.

If our hearts are right, then a variety of processes could succeed. Whether the document is written by one person, a committee, all of us, or in some other way, if we focus on the principles rather than the process, we will be much closer to reaching agreement.

The more we can focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us, the easier it will be to come together. Chances are that any one of us pretty much agrees with any other one of us on the items included in the covenant, stated in clear, basic language. Discussing and expressing those things helps identify the common ground upon which we can all stand together.

A Hard Thing

One of the oft-repeated arguments against what we’ve proposed is that mutual agreement is too hard, too lofty a goal, and not realistic for a hardened and fallen people like us, still attempting to come out of Babylon. And it IS a lofty goal, to be sure. 

But the Lord is known for requiring hard things. Recall this “impossible” task assigned in the Book of Mormon:
Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness. And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. 
Laman and Lemuel murmured and claimed the task was impossible. They spoke out of fear—justified fear, to be sure—but fear nonetheless. Nephi, on the other hand, did not murmur, and acted in faith:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 1:10 RE) 
The Lord would not ask for mutual agreement if it were not possible. He surely has prepared a way for us to accomplish this thing which He has commanded. Let us act in faith, trusting the Lord. Whether it’s getting the plates, building a ship, or entering and possessing the promised land of Canaan, scripture demonstrates the futility in murmuring and the necessity of acting in faith to accomplish the Lord’s assignment. 

When you stop and think about it, these mighty accomplishments were much more difficult than the task we now face, for two reasons. First, they were not “light things” by any stretch of the imagination. And second, they were things the people had never done before. 

And that’s where we have the advantage. The Lord has been exceedingly kind and merciful with us, because He has given us an assignment we HAVE already accomplished before. Fact is, we ALREADY HAVE mutual agreement. We simply need to recognize it and go with it.

Doubtful Hearts

Verily I say, Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness, for the power is in them wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good, they shall in no way lose their reward, but he that does not anything until he is commanded, and receives a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keeps it with slothfullness, the same is damned. (D&C 44:6, RE)
Have we received this commandment with doubtful hearts? Have we kept it with slothfulness?  Are we damned (halted in our progress) because our hearts insist on holding onto every possible objection to performing this simple task? The issue really isn’t about what process to use. The issue is our hearts. Until our hearts become right, changing the process won’t get us any closer to completion. 

Have we not all agreed already? Have we not already partaken of the same fruit from the same tree, and so we are friends and neighbors? Can we not drop our arguments and agree on the covenant? Food for thought (pun intended).

Changes in the Process

Based on the above thoughts, and encouraged by the good work being done in the forum, we’d like to offer a couple of suggestions, as follows:

  1. Connect to the Covenant: It may be very helpful to tie each principle to the covenant in a logical, easily explained way—thus connecting it to the one thing upon which we all agree. If we can do that, the product will be an embodiment of the covenant principles, and will be much more likely to be widely accepted. If the principle doesn’t tie in to the covenant in a reasonably explained way, it may be more difficult to get wide acceptance of that principle.
  2. Non-Binding Vote: When we reach the end of this current process and put the principles up for acceptance, we propose this will NOT be the end of the process. Rather, it will be a wonderful, informative way to “take the temperature” and see where we all stand. It will help us see which principles are widely accepted and well expressed, and which have issues. It will also help identify what those issues are, so the principles can be further refined or dropped, as is appropriate. Clearly, there will not be mutual agreement in one step. 
  3. Final Acceptance: At this point, we will have to decide as a body of believers what the next step is. We have heard about several proposed processes to help us (the body) finish our assignment, which will be available soon on guideandstandard.blogspot.com. After an initial vote, do we make adjustments and vote again to see if a wider acceptance can be achieved? Do we stop and consider our position—and our failure to yet reach mutual agreement? Will it be a time for personal introspection and prayer? Will we go to the Lord as a group, acknowledging the work is yet unfinished and, and seek His help? Will we redouble our efforts to come together? It is not our place to make this decision, but we wanted to get the word out that there are several groups thinking deeply about this topic. 

More is Coming

In the Answer and Covenant, the Lord has made incredible promises to us about things to come, including the following:

…recovering the scriptures does not conclude the work to be accomplished by those who will be my people: it is but a beginning.  
When the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is brought forth, then will you know and understand how great things were lost to you.  
There will yet be records restored from all the tribes that will be gathered again into one… 
Do my works and you will know my doctrine; for you will uncover hidden mysteries by obedience to these things that can be uncovered in no other way. This is the way I will restore knowledge to my people.  
In me you will find peace and through me will come Zion, a place of peace and safety.  
I will visit my house, which the remnant of my people shall build, and I will dwell therein, to be among you, and no one will need to say, Know ye the Lord, for you all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 

We hope for, and expect, great things to come, including more scripture, a temple, a holy city, and the Lord’s presence. But these greater things depend on our completion of this first assignment the Lord has given us as His covenant people. 
But I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people, for if you cannot do so you will be unable to accomplish other works that I will require at your hands. 
There remains great work yet to be done.

As important discussions continue about process and procedure, we hope these thoughts will provide some encouragement and confidence that we can all, as a body of believers, come together as one in our covenant beliefs. We believe this first group effort will inform the process and provide important insight to help in future decisions about how to proceed. And we believe the Lord will guide us as we acknowledge His requirement and our need.