The Endurance, Shackleton & Finding Strength In Tribulation

the-enduranceThe Word

My favorite mission companion, Elder Ieremia, was a soft-spoken, faithful and courageous polynesian from Oahu. We served together in a rough part of the Washington DC area known for it’s high crime and drug rates. One day, Elder Ieremia and I were walking passed a group of about seven or eight young men who were getting high on the stairs of a building’s entrance. The alpha male, sitting in the middle of them, offered up his hand and said “You two want something that’ll make you feel real good?” To this my companion responded, “Na, we’ve got something better.” The young man jumped to his feet – “What ya’ll got?!?!” Without skipping a beat Elder Ieremia held up his scriptures and exclaimed emphatically – “The word!”  I’ve never witnessed such a righteous roast. The guys’ friends all roared “Ohhhhhhhhhh…!!!” while covering their mouths and pointing their fingers at him. I’ll never forget the shocked look on this poor kid’s face; that he just got burned by a “Jesus Boy”.

The Savior taught:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

How often do we seek relief from life’s trials through the temporary, silly or harmful means of the world? Contrast those occasions to how often we seek relief through the lasting and healing means of the Word. Man’s solutions to hardship include escape and dulling life’s pains through artificial means. God’s solution to our hardship is to come to Him and let Him carry our load. Hardship is a necessary part of life. We can’t learn or grow without it. But just because hardship is necessary that doesn’t mean that life has to be hard.

The word “comfort” is derived from Latin and means to support, console and strengthen. Seeking comfort, or strength, isn’t passive. It doesn’t mean removing or dulling our pain like a sort of emotional anesthetic. It requires action, movement, progress, patience, faith and endurance.

The Endurance

One of my favorite stories about finding strength in difficult times is about the Antarctic voyage of the Endurance. The year was 1914. Ernest Shackleton was an explorer who wanted to lead a British expedition across the Antarctic continent – a feat which had never been done before. To advertise help for this mission he allegedly placed an ad in the newspaper which read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Over 5000 people responded to this ad. He and 27 others along with 69 dogs embarked on the adventure aboard a ship appropriated named The Endurance. Before they could reach the shore of Antarctica they got stuck in the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. For months they tried to free themselves from the ice but eventually the ship was crushed and sank. They were stranded on a large, flat sheet of ice (aka floe) and slowly drifted further from land.

After several failed attempts to reach land on foot they set up a long-term camp to wait for the ice to melt so that they could reach land by several rafts they salvaged from The Endurance before it sank. Over this period of time – boredom, hunger, homesickness and cold challenged them daily. Food became so scarce that eventually they had to turn to penguins, seals and their own dogs for survival. Rations grew smaller and smaller to the point that bone broth became a delicacy.

Finally, months later, when the ice pack began to melt and the floe their camp was on was too small to fit on, they put their rafts in the water and attempted to row towards the closest island. The flows were breaking up but with the movement of the sea, the floes would constantly collide with each other which created constant danger for them and their little rafts. For days they tried rowing their way through the crushing ice. They’d constantly have to bale water out of the rafts to keep them from sinking. Once they found a floe big enough for them to fit they’d pile on top to rest but the floes were breaking so fast that they couldn’t stay on them long enough to rest before they had to get back in the water.

After finally escaping the crushing ice, they set sail for Elephant Island. Never before had man placed foot on this pile of ice and pebbles. Here the team set up another long-term camp as Shackleton and a few others embarked on what they saw as their best shot for reaching rescue. Their aim was a whaling station island called South Georgia. Fierce winds and waves, strong currents, some amazing navigational skills and 800 miles later, they finally reached the island.

They barely made it ashore but they landed on the opposite side of the island and their raft was in no condition to take them any further. Shackleton and two of the crew had to make it on foot to the other side of the island to reach rescue. It was unexplored, mountainous, rocky and icy terrain. They drove nails from the raft through their shoes so that they could climb the ice. They were in a race for time, not only because of their starving and exposed companions who were depending on them but also because they didn’t have the means to stay warm when the temperature dropped at night. As their march progressed they would climb cliffs only to find out that their was no way down on the other side and so they’d have to climb back down and find another way. Finally, after one of these failed attempts on a high mountain Shackleton pointed out that, due to the dropping temperature, going back down where they came from wasn’t an option so the only option they had was to slide down the mountain and hope that there weren’t any cliffs or sharp rocks at the bottom. After miraculously surviving the slide down, they soon found the station.

The station foreman received a knock at the door. When he opened it he saw three men with long hair, long beards, ragged clothes and filthy faces. When he realized who they were his tears wouldn’t let him speak. Several years had passed since the voyage began. Everyone assumed they were dead.

Our hardships have differing sources including our choices, others’ choices, accidents or natural causes. Regardless of the source, God will provide comfort and strength to endure and overcome those hardships if we will turn to him.

Shackleton discovered the support which God can provide during hardship when he later wrote:

“I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

Attempts to cross South Georgia have been repeated several times since Shackleton’s rescue mission. Each one with the benefits of planning, rest, better equipment and the means for food and warmth. Those who cross the island admit that it would have taken a miracle to survive the trek. I don’t want to spoil the whole story of the Endurance so I’ll stop here.

Gethsemane

While those on the Endurance expedition suffered greatly, there isn’t a greater example of suffering than what the Savior experienced in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for all of our pains and sins. So great was His pain that He bled from every pore. The Savior’s example in the garden teaches important truths about how we can find strength during our suffering:

“Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.” (Matthew 26:38, 40-45)

The Savior ended up asking his disciples several times to stay awake with him but they kept falling asleep. There are several key points I’d like to point out from this scripture:

  1. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask for the help of others when he truly needed it. Are we afraid?
  2. How often is the Savior asking for our help but we are spiritually asleep?
  3. Jesus prayed.

 

When sore trials came upon you,

Did you think to pray?

When your soul was full of sorrow,

Balm of Gilead did you borrow

At the gates of day?

(Did You Think To Pray, Hymn 140)

Despite the failings of Christ’s disciples, strength was provided from the other side.

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22 – 43)

Note how the pains and hardships of the atonement weren’t removed by this heavenly help. Rather, Christ was strengthened; much like the people of Alma who, while in bondage, did not have their burdens removed right away but rather “the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” And this because they “poured out their hearts to him.”

When we find ourselves alone; in a dark, cold place spiritually or emotionally – when we turn to the Word. To God. When our voyage in life is directed heavenly homeward we will receive strength from the other side.

 

The Olive Branch Or The Sword?

great-sealTo commemorate its newly established nationhood, the continental congress adopted a coat of arms known today as the Great Seal. This emblem portrays a bald eagle holding arrows (symbolizing a readiness for war) with one talon and an olive branch (symbolizing peace) in the other. The eagle’s head points towards the olive branch, symbolizing the nation’s preference for peace. The significance of this allegory, while meaningful for a people, also carries an important application for individuals seeking to follow the Savior.

The Savior taught in word and deed the importance of holding the olive branch of love and mercy. During his sermon on the mount, Christ taught: “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”. This teaching came in rebuttal to the philosophy “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”. It’s easy to hate our enemies and retaliate against those who have done us wrong when our predisposition is to react to wrongdoing with the proverbial sword. Mercy is a harder choice than justice.

“May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Thomas S. Monson (Choices)

The parable of the King and the servant reiterates the importance of being merciful. The king, who was rightfully owed a return for a large sum of money, forgave (olive branch) the pleading servant’s debt. Once forgiven, the servant went and imprisoned (sword) one of his debtors when he was unable to pay back his small amount. The principle of receiving the level of judgement that we resort to in life is depicted in the tragic ending of the parable. The king discovers the servant’s lack of mercy and imposes that same level of judgement on him by casting him into prison.

When presented with the adulteress to be stoned; while in the act of being unjustly arrested; and even during his wrongful execution, Christ held the Olive branch by rescuing and defending the very sinners that we probably would have fought and condemned. While admonishing the early elders of the church to overcome the world, Christ taught: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”. Christ, the eternal judge, whose right it is to fix and wave punishments, chose not to condemn but to liberate and heal. Conversely, we take it upon ourselves to vigilant around with our sword of “justice” by seeking to right the wrongs committed against us and remove the motes from other people’s eyes.

When presented with the heavy or seemingly insignificant scenarios of life, the question can be asked: are we holding an olive branch or a sword…

  • when someone is driving in a manner we disapprove of?
  • when someone close to us says or does something thoughtless or hurtful?
  • when a co-worker, roommate or associate lives by different rules than we do?
  • when we’re communicating a difference of opinion with someone else?
  • when someone else is communicating a difference of opinion with us?
  • when someone isn’t pulling their weight?
  • when someone broke their commitment?
  • when a neighbor is in need of help and we have other things we’d rather do?
  • when an ecclesiastic or secular leader doesn’t meet our expectations?
  • when someone is dressing in a manner that we don’t approve of?
  • when our prejudices seem to be vindicated?
  • when a child is being rambunctious?
  • when we find out our parents aren’t perfect?
  • when someone’s pride shows through?
  • when we see the poor as deserving of their condition?
  • when we covet what the rich have?
  • when we want the youth to experience the hardships that we’ve experienced?
  • when we see the worth of souls as greater within one boundary than another?
  • when someone holds a differing worldview than us?

Are any of these condoning adultery, aggression, dishonesty or any other form of wrongdoing? Of course not. Being merciful towards people doesn’t mean that we reject God’s law in the process. Also, we can’t control the thoughts and actions of other people. All we can control are our own thoughts and actions. Preferring the olive branch over the sword will make our responses to life’s tests become easier to endure and will fill our souls with peace and love.

Christ Has Made Us Free

Light of the World

Two thousand years ago the Jewish people were under the dominion of the Roman empire. Under this condition of bondage, the jews looked forward to the messiah, the anointed one prophesied of anciently who would deliver them from captivity. To them, though, the solution from captivity was political. Focus was probably on Jewish leadership – possibly someone popular, prestigious, militarily powerful or a politician; someone who could gloriously and heroically triumph over the Romans and make them free.

It’s in this setting, when the Jews were looking for their government savior, that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter – un-affluent, unpopular and uncredentialed by society’s standards – entered the scene. The actual Savior, apparent only to a few humble truth-seekers, didn’t fall into the social or political ranks and therefore “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

The tendency that they and many of us suffer from is the inability to discern the unadorned simple truth from the flashy counterfeits that attract our fickle attention. Worldly heroes are a spectacle on the surface. They hold prestigious titles and worldly authority. They’re ambitious, eloquent, powerful, physically polished and mighty. Like fireworks in the sky, we’re mesmerized by their colorful, thunderous flash above us. Christ, on the other hand, descended below all things (D&C 88:6), was a humble, wise, loving, kind, principled peacekeeper who didn’t seek his own glory or honor.

Freedom From Antiquated Rituals

It’s of this man this Redeemer that Paul wrote about to the Jewish and Gentile converts in the Roman province, Galatia:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1).

What type of bondage was Paul referring to? The context of this chapter (and the surrounding chapters) contain Paul’s writings directed primarily at the Judaizers in an attempt to convince them that the Law of Moses was fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. The burden and bondage of this law was lifted and Paul encouraged them to do good with this liberty by serving one another:

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

This liberty and corresponding responsibility are critical if one is to experience life and truth to their fullest. The cultural norms and traditions of our fathers that are passed down (from generation to generation; or from peer to peer; or from academia to pupil; or from the media to consumer; etc) often bind our minds and hearts to a particular way of doing and seeing things and we are therefore unwilling to see the truth (2 Ne 29). As we unshackle our minds and hearts and look to Christ, we will be freed. The greater our capacity of freedom, the greater our capacity to serve and to do good.

Freedom From Ignorance

After that famous moment at the temple when Christ saved the adulteress from being stoned to death he taught the remaining crowd about the power by which to dispel darkness:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:12, 31-32)

A bystander replied to this invitation to light, truth and freedom with:

We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (v 33)

Apparently, like many today, this inquirer was ignorant to the many levels of bondage with which they and their forefathers were in. Even at the level for which they misinterpreted the Savior’s teaching, up to that point, Abraham’s seed had been in bondage to Egypt (Exodus 1:14), Assyria (2 Kings 15:29), the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:15), and even to themselves (Nehemiah 5). This type of historical ignorance probably contributed to much of this chosen people’s continual cycle of hardship and bondage up to that point.

Freedom From Sin

Christ’s teaching that the truth will make us free has often been used as a reference from those advocating a formal education and while there could be a level of truth to that, the real reason Christ taught this is more substantive and long-lasting. The Savior’s response to Abraham’s seed about what type of freedom He was referring to:

“Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 34-36)

After much disagreement by the crowd and refusal to understand what Christ was talking about, Christ pointed out:

“Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (John 8:43,47)

Inasmuch as we seek temporary solutions to eternal problems we’ll continue to miss the mark. Much like the audience at the temple, if we only wear a temporal lense, we’ll miss the truth right in front of us. We’ll cling to our preconceived way of doing things. As long as our hope lies in the arm of flesh, we’ll continue to fail. Our false hope will perpetuate an existence of misery and pain. BUT no matter our circumstances – poor, disabled, misfortunate, enslaved or imprisoned – we can be even keeled in the hope and assurance that Christ has made us free; free in what eternally matters. We can live in confidence knowing that our greatest freedom, our freedom from sin, is available at all times and no one can take it from us.

Freedom From Other Forms of Bondage

All people are in one form of bondage or another. Whether that bondage is self inflicted like financial debt, addiction, self doubt or any form of sin. Or whether that bondage is beyond one’s ability to easily control like a lack of employment or educational opportunities, physical disabilities, false cultural norms and traditions or being dominated by a governing body (government, business, etc). We ought to try to rid ourselves of our temporal shackles to the extent that we can righteously do so.

The same human weakness that caused the Jews to be unaware of the God amongst them causes many of us, today, to be blinded to the truth. The truth that God is with us, if we’ll look. He’ll unlock our imprisoned hearts, open our misguided minds and unshackle our sin-burdened souls; if we’ll let Him. Those who receive the Great Liberator, though their temporal shackles may still show on the surface, are free. Through His grace they are freed from sin, from anguish and despair. The sting of death is swallowed up in the hope of eternal life. They can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. Forever.

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered… No flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne 2:6-8)

Judging The Baptist By His Cover

John (The Baptist)While in prison for calling out Herod’s illegal marriage to Herodias, John (the Baptist) sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was the Christ prophesied of or if they should look for another. During that same hour Jesus showed them many miracles and told them to report to John what they had seen and heard. After they left, Jesus praised John while rebuking some by asking the remaining crowd:

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? …A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts… [or] A prophet?” (Luke 7:24-26)

In other words, Jesus was challenging their view of John by rhetorically asking them if they were expecting someone fickle who would be tossed to and fro by the winds of societal change, someone of worldly status and elegance or a prophet. Contrasting the first two options against the acceptance of a prophet causes the honest at heart to acknowledge their natural tendency to “look on the outward appearance” (1 Sam 16:7) when judging man and truth.

The “outward appearance” of John was peculiar, which makes Jesus’ remarks especially meaningful. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and were held together by a leather belt. He neither ate bread or wine (Luke 7:33) but his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). John’s delivery was straightforward. He told it how it was. When many Pharisees and Sadducees arrived at the baptisms going on at Jordan, he directly called them a ”generation of vipers” who, unless they repented, would burn as chaff in an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7,12). He was unafraid to tell the uncomfortable truth, despite how “important” or powerful the people he was inconveniencing were. This steadfast loyalty to truth resulted in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.

Despite John’s style and lack of outward appeal, Jesus affirmed John’s mission by teaching that he was “much more than a prophet”, that he was the one prophesied of who would prepare the way for Jesus and that “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:26-28). Could a mortal receive better praise than this? The man, whose mission it was to prepare the way for and baptize Christ, was not crafted in the art of eloquence or adorned with fine apparel and worldly prestige and titles. He was a simple man who faithfully, courageously and honestly spoke the truth–undaunted by worldly opinions. Even Christ, the very Savior of mankind, was prophesied of by Isaiah that He would have “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Contrast John (and Christ) to the appeasers who water down the teachings of the gospel out of a fear of the reproach of men. They would exchange their honor for temporary appeasement. Because they fear man more than God their luke-warmness will cause God to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). While John’s firmness caused him to temporarily lose his head, some people’s fear will cause them to eternally lose their souls.

Sometime last year, a visitor came to church. His outward appearance left much to be desired. He wasn’t clean shaven. His hair was a mess. His ragged clothes made me think he was homeless. When given the opportunity to speak over the pulpit and during sunday school, he spoke long and with a stutter. I remember it getting to a point where a few of us would smirk at each other whenever he spoke. Upon reflection, later that day, I recalled the things that this visitor had said and I noticed something profound- his words testified plainly and truthfully about the gospel of Christ. He was humble, yet bold. He taught scripture and applied their principles in meaningful ways. “So who was this visitor?”- I thought. A gospel-savvy hobo? An angel sent to test us? I don’t know and I don’t know if it matters. God saw my reaction to the unadorned truth. I failed. I ignored the truth due to the lack of outward appeal of the messenger.

An underlying purpose of modern marketing and public relations is to increase the appeal (or “packaging”) of people, products and messages. While there is nothing inherently bad about this objective, it can be detrimental when we allow the outward appearance to blind us of the inner core. If we were alive two millennia ago would we have rejected the gospel because of its packaging, or lack thereof? The answer to that rests in our manner of judgement now. Does outward appearance with its polished packaging, its worldly titles, prestige and eloquence influence our perception of truth? Does the source of a message alter our willingness to believe it? If academia or the media tell us what we should believe, do we unquestioningly believe? If celebrities tell us what to believe, do we believe? Do cultural norms or the traditions of our fathers influence our perception of truth? Does one’s title or “authority” blind us from the unadorned truth? Let’s not forget that “the way, the truth and the life” was rejected by the religious and political authorities of His time. Influenced by those authorities, “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Isaiah’s council, “…fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings” (Isaiah 51:7) ought to guide the way we judge and deliver truth- for are our souls worth the approval of man?

Who’s “The Good Guy”?

Glasses Perspective

Have you ever been watching a movie and asked yourself, “So who’s the good guy? Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” Many stories portrayed in the past have made it clear who the storyteller wants you to be rooting for. They gave the princess the beautifully colored dress with the intent of “pure love” and gave the witch a dark gown, hard features with the intent for power. They gave John Wayne the white hat and white horse while his nemesis wore black. The war movie shows your side as the noble heroes and the enemy as ruthless heathens. Good side, bad side, so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Recently, there’s been a trend in storytelling which doesn’t make it clear who “the good guys” and “the bad guys” are. Stories such as Breaking Bad, Wicked and Maleficent are giving a new twist to storytelling and its reception is gaining popularity. Perhaps it’s because people find it refreshing to experience a story that is more realistic and therefore more relatable. After all, everyone is fallible and capable of both good and bad. Maybe it’s a good thing if we quit viewing man as a symbol of morality. Doing so might be teaching us to put our trust in the arm of flesh. What happens when our foundation is man, and man fails? Also, perhaps portraying the why behind a character’s evil teaches us to not judge too quickly or too harshly in real life.

Even though this particular lens which storytellers have us gaze through has its benefits, it also has its risks. To people who don’t have a solid foundation of values and principles- they might experience this type of story and come to the conclusion that morals are relative. After so much exposure to these types of points of view some might reject the truth vs error point-of-view for a gray one. To others, it could eventually normalize and even justify evil in their minds.

Truth is not gray but people are. Nobody is perfect. Everyone, including those historical figures your history teacher spoke of with reverence and awe, has sinned. And yes, in order for there to be a sin there must be a law—a universal law which governs all mankind according to truth and justice. Truth and morality are not ambiguous. People are.

We need to be able to separate the person from the act. The phrase “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” is a reminder and indication that people naturally struggle separating the two. Those who are finely tuned into the law at the expense of the person tend to drag the sinner down to the same level that they despise the sin. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Jesus they referenced the law as justification for their condemnation—a condemnation with no compassion for the sinner.

In recent history, perhaps strongly correlated to the advancement of secular humanism, there has been another distortion influencing people’s inability to separate sin from sinner. This has been taking shape in the enticing form of the tolerance movement. Probably most people advocating tolerance are well meaning. They tend to be caring people with a desire for accepting others. Often, though, their desire for compassion comes at the expense of acknowledging right from wrong. Those who are finely tuned into the person at the expense of the law tend to elevate the sin to the level of the person.

Imagine if Jesus had told the adulteress: “I don’t condemn you. I accept you for what you are. Go, and have fun.” He didn’t say that because, unlike most of us, He is able to love the sinner and not the sin. What he really told her was: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” This showed that He was finely tuned into both law and love for person—neither at the expense of the other.Tolerance Sinner and SinAnother pitfall that some people fall into while observing ambiguous characters is the temptation to let understanding the why to excuse the what. It does us well to understand why people have done the things that they’ve done but on more than one occasion, after expressing my disapproval for a violation of justice, someone would respond: “Well you do understand WHY they did it, don’t you?” as if to justify the act. To this I respond: “I understand why someone would steal a Corvette because I want a Corvette. But that doesn’t make it right.” Sometimes people get blinded by the why at the expense of the what. Worthy ends do not justify immoral means.

The need people feel to pick sides—to root for their guy or their team or fill in the blank with whichever arm of flesh you choose—is probably due to a combination of our tribal nature and the fact that our cultural upbringing was full of stories conditioning us to believe that for every conflict there is a good guy who is 100% in the right and a bad guy who is 100% in the wrong.

It’s hard for most people to look at a conflict involving multiple people and objectively acknowledge the faults and justifications that each side requires. Instead, we quickly pick a side. We ignore the positions of the alternatives. If our guy said it, it must be true. If another side did it, it must be wrong. Symptoms of this mentality manifest themselves in the form of party-spirit, unrelenting loyalty to one’s local sports team, nationalistic egotism, and blind zeal for public figures.

If I was brought up believing that a certain historical character was nigh unto God and then I stumble upon some major flaws about that person’s deeds and character, what am I to do? Should I ignore what I’ve just learned? Is it better to rationalize what they’ve done? Should I swing to the other extreme and revile them as if the bad they’ve done erased all the good? Or shouldn’t we see man as man—weak and fallible, yet capable of much good? How would the world judge your history if they had complete knowledge of all of your doings? Would it be fair for them to label you a villain and condemn you to hell because of the wrongs you’ve committed along the way? Or would a liar’s history be justly portrayed if their un-repented misdeeds were swept under a rug?

I suggest that a reset might be in order. I suggest taking all of our heroes and villains and giving them a clean slate. Acknowledge that not one of them (with the exception of the Savior) is all good or all bad. Observe man through the lens of compassion and choices through the lens of eternal law. Pick the side of truth instead of the side of flesh.

I once met a Marine veteran whom I believe doesn’t need to ask the ignorant question: “Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” He has had experiences both horrific and miraculous. He fought in Fallujah where he watched his friends die in his arms. Through a special experience he came to experience God’s love and healing. He eventually lived all over the Middle East gaining an education, learning many languages and falling in love with all peoples. He would often be asked, by people expecting him to take a side, “Are you pro-Israel or pro-Palestine?” His response:

“I’m pro-Child of God.”