Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Tragic Death of a Teenager

I took a break from work to get a some fresh air on Friday. Outside, I noticed on the sidewalk a folded paper. For some reason I felt like I should pick it up. It was a program for a funeral service.

The funeral was for a teenage boy, Jack Denton Reese, held that day, April 27. He was only 17, just a month younger than our youngest daughter. He died a week ago today.

I wonder how that program got from Ogden to Salt Lake City and into my hands. Was it purely by chance?

I do not know the details, but after looking up his obituary online, it appeared from other links that Jack was bullied at school for being gay, and that he committed suicide.

I did not know Jack or his family, but I am deeply saddened by what appears to be the tragic end of a short life. I don't understand his life and I don't judge him. How could I? What do I know about what led him to the day of his death?

Judgment is always based on pride which is founded on misunderstanding which ultimately can lead to violence, even tragedy.

The longer you live and the more trials, hardships and difficulties you have, the less you feel inclined to judge, and the more you feel compassion, acceptance and love, even for people you don't know. 

I don't know what it is like to be gay. I know what it is like to be bullied, though. I know what it is like to feel as if you don't fit in. I know what it is like to be in high school, on the edge of the social circle. I know what it is like to be depressed. I know, even today, what it is like to be overwhelmed.

In what little I know about you, Jack, you were a great young man. Did you drop that program in the street for me to see?

God bless you, Jack, and may He give you rest from all your trials and sorrows.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

You Never Forget Your Great Teachers

Last night, my wife asked me to pick up a few things for dinner just before I got off the bus from work. I stopped at Macey's in Spanish Fork and there ran into one of my college professors, Steven C. Walker. I took English 376, Modern British Literature, from him during the fall semester of my senior year at BYU. That was in 1982.

It was one of the best and most memorable classes I ever took in college. So, of course, I remember Dr. Walker.

What makes a great teacher?

There is a quote attributed to John Wesley:
I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.
While I am unsure Wesley said that, that is exactly what Dr. Walker did, on a regular basis. Actually, maybe it was the other way around. Maybe he set the class on fire and then watched us burn.

It was more like an intellectual riot. I don't care how shy you were, he drew you out. You got involved. You got scorched. As William E. Berrett said of a boyhood teacher:
We could have warmed our hands by the fire of his faith.
You couldn't wait to come back and throw yourself back onto the fire.

It wasn't just his teaching style that engaged you: He was genuinely interested in you as a student, as a person. One little, struggling krill in an ocean of students and unmet potential. He cared.

He still cares. We had a wonderful if short conversation. I mentioned how I still remember him teaching W. B. Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and that "bee-loud glade." It was his passion, his involvement in the words, the words dripping with honey and meaning, words that, 29 years later, I can't erase from my soul.

I wrote a paper in that class on another of Yeats' poems, "Sailing to Byzantium." 
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress...
That paper was in a portfolio that I used to apply for my first writing job. I got that job. I am still writing, nearly every day. In fact, the job I have now came as a result of my writing several books on the technology that I am using.

So thank you, Dr. Walker. You have been one of the singing masters of my soul. You've had a lasting impact on my life. And, after nearly five decades of teaching, I am sure, thousands of others.

You just can't forget your greatest teachers. They lend you a piece of themselves and it never leaves you. Dr. Walker, please keep on singing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Encounter with a Homeless Man

Last week, when I was in downtown Salt Lake about to enter the building where I work, a homeless man approached me and, in a pleading voice, said that he was very hungry. I was happy to help him get something to eat, and we went into a nearby restaurant.

I was dressed in my suit and he was dressed warmly, but his clothes were shabby and dirty, his face weather beaten, case-hardened. Almost immediately one of the staff asked us to leave. Also, a couple sitting next to us abruptly left the restaurant. I was allowed to buy him something to go, but he was not allowed to sit down and eat.  It was a difficult experience.

I know that many people are afraid of the homeless. I am too. I have been threatened several times by homeless men myself, and I am very careful to not get myself into dangerous situations now. My experience this week was not dangerous, but it was eye opening.

(By the way, I would not recommend that you do what I did unless you feel capable of protecting yourself. In other words, do you know how to run, fast? I've had to do it.)

This man—Andy was his name—has lost his dignity and self-respect. And who can help him? There are shelters. There are agencies. I am not sure why he is not getting the help he needs from them, but usually the thing that keeps them from getting help is drugs and alcohol. (And that's why I only give food or things, not money.)

I cannot judge how Andy got himself to where he is now. I used to judge, but I don't anymore. I don't let myself judge.
It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance. —Thomas Sowell
I know I am ignorant of Andy's life experience, and I have learned that we need help from others, no matter our state. My life is run mostly by opinion, and as life goes on, you learn to be more careful about giving out your opinion as fact.

Some people are very independent, strong and capable. Some say they don't need help from anybody, not even God. But in my view, we all need help. I need it. Andy needs it. Everyone needs it. No matter how proud you are, and how self-sufficient you think you are, you can't give yourself open heart surgery. You need help from others.

Things arise, monstrosities arise, that keep us from getting the help we need.

Habits. Addictions. Pride. Defensiveness. Hanging onto our weaknesses out of fear of exposing our weaknesses. Ignorance, not because the knowledge we need is not available to us, but because we are too emotionally feeble to seek it. A mind trapped in its own contrivance.

I know a few things I could do to help Andy, but I can't do everything for him. No one can. In my experience, our Heavenly Father, our all-wise parent, chooses to not do things for us when we can do them for ourselves and most often waits until we ask for His help before He acts. Sometimes we receive His grace without asking, without any forethought, but for the most part, it is—
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. —Matthew 7:7
But sometimes we are so lost, me and Andy. We don't know what to ask or how to ask it. And we don't ask often enough, or we don't have faith to receive. We need help. We all need help.

Where does Andy come down on this? I don't know. All I can say is that I feel very sad for him, sad for how he must feel, sad for how he is treated and regarded and ignored and shunned. I think about him every day. I don't fully know what to do about this right now, but I know I am limited by none other than me.

In my best moments, I know Who to ask, and how to ask Him. He is always there. Always. Of that I am certain.

I have work to do. Work alone cannot save me, but it is essential if I want to help others.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Behold the Man: A Biblical Narrative of the Last Days of Jesus Christ

The Passion of Christ is the story of the greatest tragedy and triumph in history. I have never found anything to compare with it.

This book began over two decades ago as a study of events surrounding the last week of the mortal life of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament. I began then to put together in my own mind the puzzle of the accounts of the Passion of Christ as told in the gospel accounts of the King James Version of the New Testament.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each provide unique details about the events leading to Jesus’ death. My goal in compiling this book was to: (1) identify the unique details from each of the gospels relating to the Passion; (2) to unify the material; and (3) to present it in an easy-to-read, narrative or story format.

The source for this book is the King James Version (1611) of the New Testament. While the book is completely based on scripture, I have updated the punctuation and paragraphing, altered some capitalization and pronouns, and added single and double quotation marks where appropriate. I have also added conjunctive or transitional words, without setting them off with brackets, and have deleted only an occasional word to help the flow of the narrative.

If you have a Kindle reader, you can borrow the book here for free if you are an Amazon Prime member. You can also temporarily download the PDF here.