Thursday, September 16, 2021

Just One Red Leaf

 


While taking my afternoon walk down our private road towards the mailbox, more of a chance to exercise my replacement knee than to check on the mail; I happen to notice a single red leaf on the ground.  I’m not sure which tree it fell from; this being only the second week in September, it seemed a little premature to have Fall leaves.

The afternoon temperature was right at 90 degrees, about normal for this time of year.  I’d walked enough to notice beads of perspiration had formed on my forehead.  I take my cellphone with me on these walks, just in case I need to call for help getting home in case my knee decides it’s had enough.  I still find it rather amazing that folks can take photographs with their “phone”; so, I snapped a photo of the fallen leaf.

That single red leaf, as my mind worked to explain why I’d taken a picture of it, that single red leaf represents hope.  That’s right, hope.

Looking around at the many trees that line our private road, they all appeared to be dressed in various shades of green indicating that Summer was in full swing.  I was unable to identify the tree which had lost the single red leaf and yet it had to be nearby.

Fall and the resplendent colors we look forward to is close, so close as to make me hopeful.  The air will change from being in the nineties to a more comfortable setting, perhaps a light breeze out of the north to blow lots and lots of leaves about. 

Perhaps my youngest grandson will come visit and he can toss handfuls of leaves into the air, delighting as they fall around him without a care in the world.  We’ll then go into the house and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate to warm up and smile at having lived to see the seasons change.

Two weeks from now we’re having a wood burning stove installed in our living room.  At this moment it’s in the shipping crate sitting on the porch awaiting the scheduled installation.  In biblical terms this would be called faith.  We haven’t seen any cold weather, at least not at this time, and yet we are acting on the hope that cold weather surely follows the first fallen leaf.

During the hottest days of summer, I was splitting large tree chunks down to a usable size that will fit the wood burning stove we purchased.  That kind of labor, effort spent on the expectation of something that had yet to be…that’s the definition of faith.

Hope and faith are essential elements to having joy.  They have nothing to do with how much money you make, whether or not you are living in a fancy home or under a bridge trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from.  If we can have hope in our hearts and minds that good things will happen and then act with faith believing that things will work out, then everything will work out just fine.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Tell the Truth; but, Take Good Notes

 


There was a clever quote by Mark Twain shared on Facebook, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”.  I thought about that for a moment and then decided it was lacking something important, which might annoy folks seeing as I was contradicting one of America’s foremost minds.

Yes, it’s important to tell the truth because once you start telling lies, eventually you’ll forget which lie you told and you’re going to be caught.

But keeping good notes about the truth is important too; especially if you expect to remember details down the road.

To illustrate my point, back when I was a police officer for the City of Houston, I’d write traffic tickets and later appear in court if the driver wished to contest the ticket.

I developed a short code consisting of letters and numbers to jog my memory on details which were associated with each violation.  If the driver ran a red light; but claimed the light was yellow, down in the corner of the traffic ticket I’d put “CY”.

I’d also put how many car lengths from the intersection the driver was when the light turned red prior to driving on through that red light; 1,2,3 and so on… but reserved ½ to indicate that the driver not only ran the red light; but had accelerated rather than tried to stop. This was a simple way to be able to testify to what I’d seen when it came time in traffic court, often months after the ticket had been issued.

One afternoon after having testified about a driver having run a red light by 3 car lengths the judge stopped the prosecutor, looked at me and asked, “Didn’t the driver run the red light by 3 and a half car lengths?”  I couldn’t help but smile as I refrained from outright laughing.

“No, Sir.  She ran the red light by 3 car lengths.”

“Then what’s this 3 and a half you marked down at the bottom of the ticket?”  Judges aren’t supposed to enter evidence like that, not even in traffic court.  It turns out this judge had a law office across the street from one of my favorite intersections for writing red light tickets.  He’d take notes on his own and then compare my testimony to what he’d observed and jotted down on a note pad. 

I suppose he was satisfied that my testimony matched with his own observations; but that didn’t justify him adding to my testimony.

“Your Honor, the 3 indicated how far from the intersection her vehicle was when the light turned red and the ½ noted that she’d put her foot through the accelerator trying to beat the light.”  I’d successfully explained my notation; but then the judge asked another question.

“What’s this letter “B” indicate, Officer Stern?”  I had to pause, momentarily looking into the heavens for help prior to answering.

“Belligerent, Sir.”  I’d pulled it off and thanked my folks silently for having expanded my vocabulary over the years.  The prosecutor nearly fell over as he confined a belly laugh at hearing my off the cuff response. No doubt, this particular traffic violator had been a real…alter that, had been, belligerent.

As you can see, taking good notes helps to jog your memory even when you’re telling the truth; especially when you’re telling the truth.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Healthy vs Asymptomatic

 

Prior to having surgery, the medical folks insisted I fill out a COVID Survey.  Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you’ve had the experimental vaccine or not; each individual is treated as if they have the COVID virus.  This would explain why each question is asked from the standpoint, “Are you currently Symptomatic or Asymptomatic?”

(Image of NAZI Germany Work Permit/Passport courtesy of Shutterfly.com)

Interestingly, there’s an article written by several doctors, What Does Asymptomatic Mean? 

“An asymptomatic infection is one in which a bacteria, virus, fungus, or parasite has invaded the body but has not yet caused any symptoms (like fever or a cough).

Your body may fight off the invader and you may never know it was there. Or, you may develop symptoms of the illness after an asymptomatic phase. Depending on the pathogen, you may be able to spread the germs to others even though you have no symptoms.”

If I’m interpreting the questionnaire/survey correctly, there is a presumption on the part of the medical industry that everyone is either sick and showing symptoms of the COVID virus, or, they have the COVID virus and have yet to display any symptoms; but are to be considered a threat to humanity.

At one time individuals who didn’t feel sick and had no symptoms of being sick were referred to as Healthy. 

According to my grandfather there was an exception to the old rule, at least when it came to observing a woman who appeared to be pregnant.  “It’s never polite to ask if she’s pregnant, as it could become awkward”.  He continued that thought by saying, “The only time it’s permissible to ask”, pausing as he put the rest of the sentence together, “…is if you can see the baby’s head crowning”.  He’d give a wink and a sly grin for having made a joke.

The COVID virus crisis, pandemic or well played political device; call it what you will, has altered the presumption of ‘healthy unless proven otherwise’ into a dark pit where everyone must prove they don’t have COVID, even if the testing for COVID is less than accurate to the point of being flawed. 

Hummm…it dawned on me; the same thing has happened with the ‘presumption of innocent until proven guilty’.  Far too many are willing to apply ‘trial by media’ as they find individuals, “Guilty, he must be guilty because it was on television”, depending how the news media spins a story…but I’m getting off topic, or am I?

We’re being led down the path of Totalitarian Marxist control as corporations and government attempt to install Vaccination Passports to limit movement and actions of individuals, as if this kind of intervention were acceptable under our Constitutional Republican form of government.  “But it’s for the safety of everyone, so you must submit”.

Is this how a healthy society behaves?   I think not.

 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Washing the Car and the Sacrament


Last Sunday I drove my clean and polished 1999 BMW Z-3 Coupe to church.  As I pulled into the parking lot a few raindrops began to fall and it was a close call getting in the back door as buckets of rain fell.

I didn’t think much of it until after church when it was still raining.  Driving from Madisonville back to Buffalo wouldn’t be near as much fun with the roads wet.  I’d have to drive conservatively rather than my normal aggressiveness; letting the car have fun while going through the gears was not an option. 

The last couple of miles to my property are on ‘county roads’.  That means leaving the asphalt pavement and driving on crushed rock or dirt.  If it’s dry then a cloud of dust follows you, covering the lower portion and back end of the car.  If it’s wet the road becomes a slip and slide covering the lower portion and back end with a layer of mud. 

Since it was still raining, all I wanted to do was park the car in front of the house and get inside; spraying off the mud would have to wait.  As it turned out it waited all week.  It was depressing just looking at my pretty green jewel sitting there covered with a film of dirt; but there were plenty of chores around the property that took priority.

One of the on-going tasks is splitting firewood from stacks of tree trunk sections that are behind our storage trailer.  At one time that wouldn’t have been such an ordeal; but after you reach 70 there isn’t much get up and go in this body.  So, after chopping a small bundle of firewood down to size it’s time to cool off, take a nap and try again later. 

The property needed mowing, something I usually break down; doing the front two acres one day followed by the back acre the next.  Feeling spry and wanting it done, I got all three acres mowed.  That back acre needed to be double cut so it’s more like doing two acres. 

Then today we drove down to Huntsville to get our grocery shopping done as we prepare for Independence Day; our kids and grandkids coming up to visit.  I’m glad the property got mowed as it looks so inviting; but that dirty BMW sitting in front of the house wasn’t going to let me off the hook.

The tires and wheels were the worst so it took some heavy-duty chemical spray and a stiff brush to get them clean.  Then the rest of the car got gently rinsed and hand washed with a wet rag.  Lastly the towel down to remove water spotting and bring out the shine.

About this time, you might be wondering what this has to do with taking the Sacrament…

When we first bought this beautiful jewel of a car it was polished to the ‘9s’.  It was as near perfect as a car could be, both in performance and looks.  Time has required a renewal of its paint job; but once that was accomplished the beauty of near perfection returned.

Isn’t that similar to the act of being baptized?  You start out nearly perfect, without sin or blemish and as you go about life you start to notice dings and blemishes that shouldn’t be there.  Upon entering the waters of baptism those dings and blemishes are removed leaving you shiny and bright before the Lord.

But…then you have to get out in the world, earn a living, mix it up with others and the next thing you know there are dings or blemishes that need work.

That’s where attending Sacrament Meeting comes in.  As this ordinance is performed you enter into a covenant with the Lord to repent, to get back to being the kind of individual He expects you to become.  Just as with baptism, you come out shiny and bright, ready to continue doing your best.

That neat looking car in front of my house reminded me of this simple thought.  We get covered in dust and mud all the time while on our way home.  The ‘home’ I’m talking about is returning to our Father in heaven.

We park ourselves on the sofa, too tired to do much else followed by a night’s sleep and off we go again.  Then on Sunday we have a chance to go through the ‘car wash’, figuratively speaking, and renew our efforts to become more Christlike. 

So glad I took the time to wash my car this afternoon, gave me a chance to renew my spiritual self as these thoughts entered my heart and mind.  Hope to see you at church…

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Discount Tire Phone Call

 

I’m not sure I’m ready for all the technological advancements in our day.  This morning I wanted to look up the phone number for the Discount Tire store down in Huntsville, Texas.  That’s where we’d bought our tires last time and they’d treated us well.  Using Google Maps on my cellphone I typed in Discount Tire Huntsville, knowing that as soon as it came up it would show how to get there along with their phone number and hours of operation.

Sure enough, the location came up along with a note reminding me that I’d been to that location two years ago.  I then called the number and a fellow named Johnathan answered and greeted me, “Hello, Mr. Stern, what can we do for you this morning?”  Apparently, my phone number also let him know that we owned a red 2017 Hyundai Sonata and that we’d purchased four Michelin tires back in January two years previously.

I was impressed; all that information came up as soon as my phone number appeared.  I asked how many miles were on the car when we’d purchased those tires and he had the answer as I explained how many miles were on the vehicle now.

“Looks like you’re in for a refund of $41.00 per tire then.  That should help as you purchase those new ones.”  He then reserved four new tires out of the inventory which showed he had nine in that size.  “We look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning around 9:30am.”

No, I’m not sure I’m ready for all this new technology…

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Love your enemies; No, I didn’t stutter

 


I’m pretty sure this talk was assigned for the purpose of having me, Brother Stern, take yet another step toward becoming a better disciple of Jesus Christ.  When the assignment came in from President Bumbaugh to tie our ‘Third Sunday Talks’ in with Dallin H. Oaks’ talk,  Love Your Enemies,  my thoughts were something like, “Oh, great, this should be fun”, thinking in my sarcasm mode. 

Then I remembered the opening scene from, Fiddler on the Roof, where the rabbi’s son asked if there was “a proper blessing for the Czar.”

The rabbi responded, “A blessing for the czar?”  He pondered awhile, then pronounced: “Of course: May God bless and keep the czar — far away from us.” Amen!”

Interestingly, this was used in Colbert I. King’s Washington Post op-ed piece, “Should you pray for the president?,” as he discussed the current struggle in faith communities over whether to pray for President Trump and his appointees as they have routinely done for others in positions of trust. Mr. King concluded that, “it would be in our country’s best interest for all of us to pray that this president gets the appropriate help he needs”. 

I, on the other hand, was thinking how it fit easily with Joe Biden and Kamal Harris.  You can see the importance of Elder Oaks’ cautionary words, bear in mind, his talk was given a month prior to the much-contested elections.  The Lord’s admonition applies evenly to all, regardless of political leanings. 

While sitting in the last Fast and Testimony meeting wondering how to best accomplish putting my thoughts together a curious idea surfaced.

Some of you will have doubts about my sanity as I share a line from the movie, Cool Hand Luke, when the prison warden stood, holding a sap slapper in hand, addressed Luke after he’d been apprehended for attempting yet another escape.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate”, his slow southern drawl dancing into the air followed by, “You have to get your mind right”.  Luke was then punished by having to dig a huge hole all day only to have to refill that hole as his energies were taxed to the limit. 

What has this got to do with Elder Oaks’ talk, Love Your Enemies?  He mentioned the political climate and how it was affecting members; but in reality, Elder Oaks was talking to me, saying, “Brother Stern, You have to get your mind right”.

We live in a time of anger and hatred in political relationships and policies. We felt it this summer when some went beyond peaceful protests and engaged in destructive behavior. We feel it in some current campaigns for public offices. Unfortunately, some of this has even spilled over into political statements and unkind references in our Church meetings.

{…}

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).

 

{…}

What revolutionary teachings for personal and political relationships! But that is still what our Savior commands. In the Book of Mormon we read, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29).

 

Loving our enemies and our adversaries is not easy. “Most of us have not reached that stage of … love and forgiveness,” President Gordon B. Hinckley observed, adding, “It requires a self-discipline almost greater than we are capable of.”  But it must be essential, for it is part of the Savior’s two great commandments to “love the Lord thy God” and to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). And it must be possible, for He also taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7).”

 

I found myself at odds with the Lord’s commandment to Love Thy Neighbor, even those we don’t agree with.  I was encouraged to ponder the message found in James, chapter 3, basically the entire chapter; but more particularly as I read, starting in verse 8, which identified my shortcomings in greater detail. 

“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

 

Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

 

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

At this point is where I borrowed a sobering thought from Dicken’s, <a href="a_christmas_carol__abridged___1_.pdf (weebly.com)"> A Christmas Carol </a>.  

Ebenezer Scrooge had been shown his own failings by the Ghosts who’d visited him. He then is found, pleading as it were, to make things right.

 

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge.”  I remember adding an extended pause between each thought as he continued…

 

“But if the courses be departed from… the ends will change”, (unsure if that was a period or a question mark in the manner of his speaking) ... “Say it is thus with what you show me!”   (Once again, in my mind I wasn’t sure if that was an exclamation mark or a question mark with emphasis.)   

 

In case you need that translated…Dickens understood the ability to Repent along with the promise that anyone, regardless of how long they’ve traveled in the wrong direction…anyone can alter their path and be forgiven by the Lord.

 

During that same Fast and Testimony meeting Sister Dean of the Madisonville Branch shared her definition of Peace as being in harmony with God.  Oh, how we could all use that feeling of Peace and of being in harmony with God.

 

I was looking in the mirror and didn’t like what I was seeing.  I’d bristled at having to give a talk on a subject which I had yet to master, in my heart and mind, not really willing to follow the Lord’s commandment, Love your enemies.  Pride was getting in the way; isn’t that at the heart of our inability to follow the commandments of the Lord?

 

To become better disciples, we must do things the Lord’s way, turning our will over to Him.

 

Elder Oaks continued,

 

“The Savior’s teaching not to “contend with anger” is a good first step. The devil is the father of contention, and it is he who tempts men to contend with anger. He promotes enmity and hateful relationships among individuals and within groups. President Thomas S. Monson taught that anger is “Satan’s tool,” for “to be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice.”  Anger is the way to division and enmity. We move toward loving our adversaries when we avoid anger and hostility toward those with whom we disagree. It also helps if we are even willing to learn from them.”

 

How are we to take the next step toward becoming better disciples, being slow to change from our ways to being one in heart and mind with the Lord?

 

“The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “it is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind.”

 

President Howard W. Hunter taught: “The world in which we live would benefit greatly if men and women everywhere would exercise the pure love of Christ, which is kind, meek, and lowly. It is without envy or pride. … It seeks nothing in return. … It has no place for bigotry, hatred, or violence. … It encourages diverse people to live together in Christian love regardless of religious belief, race, nationality, financial standing, education, or culture.”

 

And President Russell M. Nelson has urged us to “expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family.”

Okay, I get it; but what about folks in positions of power forcing me to pay taxes, using my money to fund abortions, open our borders to anyone to include those intent on destroying our culture and nation?  What about that?  Am I supposed to love these folks too?

I got hammered again as Elder Oaks explained:

“An essential part of loving our enemies is to render unto Caesar by keeping the laws of our various countries. Though Jesus’s teachings were revolutionary, He did not teach revolution or lawbreaking. He taught a better way. Modern revelation teaches the same:

“Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.

“Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:21–22).”

 

Apparently, once I’ve paid my taxes according to the laws as set forth, how that money is spent no longer falls under my responsibility.  Those in government take over and will have to explain to the Lord how they completed their stewardships.  We can do our best to put individuals of integrity and character in positions of power and then trust in the Lord who knows the beginning from the end.

 

I’ll touch on a little bit more of Elder Oaks’ talk before tying this up.

 

At one extreme, some seem to have forgotten that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That is the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws. And there have been injustices. In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances. In a persuasive personal essay, the Reverend Theresa A. Dear of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reminded us that “racism thrives on hatred, oppression, collusion, passivity, indifference and silence.”  As citizens and as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.

 

At the other extreme, a minority of participants and supporters of these protests and the illegal acts that followed them seem to have forgotten that the protests protected by the Constitution are peaceful protests. Protesters have no right to destroy, deface, or steal property or to undermine the government’s legitimate police powers. The Constitution and laws contain no invitation to revolution or anarchy. All of us—police, protesters, supporters, and spectators—should understand the limits of our rights and the importance of our duties to stay within the boundaries of existing law. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”  Redress of grievances by mobs is redress by illegal means. That is anarchy, a condition that has no effective governance and no formal police, which undermines rather than protects individual rights.”

 

{…}

 

Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism. As I have lived for many years in different places in this nation, the Lord has taught me that it is possible to obey and seek to improve our nation’s laws and also to love our adversaries and our enemies. While not easy, it is possible with the help of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He gave this command to love, and He promises His help as we seek to obey it. I testify that we are loved and will be helped by our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ…”

 

It is my prayer that through repentance, doing our best to have our lives in accordance with the commandments of the Lord, we find that Peace which comes from being in harmony with God.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Working on the Engine

 

This morning there was a photograph of an airline mechanic standing on top of a ladder while putting what looked like Duct Tape around the front of the jet engine.  The likelihood of Duct Tape being used for that particular function is minimal at best; but it might have caused a mild panic for passengers looking on.

Back in the early 1970s, while on my way back to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina (it might have been Ft. Gordon, Georgia, to complete Military Police School), I was awaiting a delayed flight out of IAH in Houston.  The delay had something to do with one of the four jet engines as I watched the mechanic standing on a huge ladder as he went over the schematic printed on the engine cover which was propped open.  His finger followed the diagram to a certain point whereupon he’d turn his head and try to follow the information offered by running his finger across the jet engine.  He did this several times; each time a scowl crossed his face as he grimaced in dissatisfaction.

He had my attention.

While talking into a portable radio, he again ran his finger along the schematic diagram while listening to the instructions being offered.  He repeated the ritual of feeling his way across the jet engine which didn’t match up with the diagram; his finger stopped as if there was a hole preventing it from moving further.  He put the jet engine cover down, similar to slamming the hood on a car in anger, and fastened the screws that held it in place; not having done anything other than shake his head in disgust.

My attention to his every action was intense as I followed his getting off the ladder and his using the stairs that led up to the passenger jetway.  After getting his attention, blocking his forward progress by standing in such a way as to make it impossible for him to ignore me, I asked if the plane was okay to fly. 

His answer did not put me at ease.  “Oh, these newer planes fly just as well on three engines as they do on all four.”  He probably thought that was a clever comeback line as he walked away, thinking that he’d have a good laugh once he reached the employee’s break-room.

I, on the other hand, was about to fly across the county in an airplane that had been delayed for about an hour and a half.  From what I could tell, nothing had been done to correct whatever had been the cause of the delay.  Aside from that, the odds of meeting up with my connecting flight were slim. 

About the only positive mark was that all the seats in Coach were filled and they had to put me in First Class.  One of the perks of being in First Class…speaking as a young Private in the Army who had never flown First Class…they served alcoholic beverages at no charge from the moment the doors closed until the airplane reached its final approach into Atlanta.  I got ‘properly snockered’; I believe that’s the appropriate term.  I figured if the plane was going to crash, I was going to be smashed before anyone else. 

Amazingly, the flight across country caught a terrific Jet Stream which pushed the arrival time making it possible for me to catch my connecting flight.  I hurried across the airport and was happy to see the connecting flight had also been delayed due to mechanical issues.  Running through the airport with a heavy buzz was a new experience; plowed would be a more accurate description, I was plowed.

They boarded everyone onto the plane while a team of mechanics dressed in overalls continued with their repairs.  I managed to engage one of them in conversation and found that something wasn’t working with the air conditioning system.  I told him about needing to get back to base to avoid being late and not to worry about the air conditioning.  He explained that the air conditioning and passengers being able to breathe were all part of the same system. 

Looked like we might have to wait for repairs; I was going to be late reporting back in, about two hours late.  I took a bus back to base around ten o’clock; it was raining, just perfect.

The Duty Sergeant listened to my lame excuse for being late, observed my alcohol induced state of readiness along with my sincere attempt to sober up.  He determined the situation really was out of my hands as I stood before him with my travel bag and paperwork.  Instead of writing me up he assigned me to work a guard post the remainder of the night. 

As I stood guard that night it might have been nice to have a roll of Duct Tape, something to hold me up till sunrise.