The 9/11 Sacrament Meeting I Wish We Had (Instead of Hammering Women on their Modesty)

By: Mike S
September 14, 2011

This past Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the events of 9/11.  It was an emotional time for many people around the country.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had a wonderful broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” with Tom Brokaw that morning.  Various sporting games and other events had touching memorials throughout the day.  It was a time when tragedy could be used to reflect on goodness, strength in unity, and higher purposes.

After watching the choir broadcast, I went with my family to our Sunday meetings as we do each week.  We had two hours in Primary (where I teach) followed by Sacrament Meeting.  And I was actually looking forward to Sacrament meeting.  We have a number of great people in our ward and I was expecting an inspiring meeting.

  • We have a pair of brothers who both served active duty in the Middle East over the past few years.  One of them is going on a mission this month.  The other one lost his life this past year in the line of duty while trying to protect us.  Hearing about his sacrifice in the context of his brother going on a different type of mission would have been awe-inspiring.
  • We have several other people who serve in the military as well, who could have talked about what the events meant to them.
  • We have ward members who actually worked in the Twin Towers in the past, and who knew people who died there ten years ago.
  • We have eloquent speakers who could have talked about how tragedy can (and did) help us refocus on God, family, and what is truly important.

It could have been an amazing and uplifting meeting.   But it wasn’t.

Instead, we had a series of 4 female speakers: a youth speaker from YW, a young adult speaker, the wife of someone in the bishopric, and the stake YW President.  And the common topic they were assigned: MODESTY.

The youth speaker gave a short talk about one of the YW values.  The young adult speaker actually gave what was by far the best talk of the bunch.  She explained that modesty is about much more than what we wear.  It includes what we talk about on Facebook, the websites we go to, the movies we watch and the music we listen to, our conversations and our thoughts.  It was well-thought out and a great talk.

But then the other two spoke.  They blended in a mass of things that jarred me.  Here are just some of the points they made:

  • Women in gym clothes and swimsuits entice men and could be the first step on men having a problem with pornography.
  • Even though they may not wear garments for 2 decades, little girls should only wear clothes that cover parts of the body that the current version of garments cover.  One of the speakers went through her whole daughter’s wardrobe and got rid of everything that didn’t meet this criteria.
  • Bikinis – Bad.  Need I say more.
  • Girls should do the “head-shoulders-knees-and-toes” in a mirror before they leave home.  They should reach above their head to make sure their shirt doesn’t creep up and show their stomach.  They should touch their shoulders to make sure they are covered.  They should check their knees to make sure things are appropriate there.  And they should touch their toes to again, make sure things don’t ride up or become uncovered.
  • Some women think their dress/skirt is long enough because it comes to their knees, but when they sit down it could come up higher and be revealing to men, so they should check for that by sitting down.
  • A story about two missionaries who had to fight at a baptism about who DIDN’T have to sit next to the girl in what they considered “revealing” clothing because it made them uncomfortable.
  • Even though it might cover “appropriate” areas, tight-fitting clothing should also be avoided because it could arouse someone else.
  • We shouldn’t worry about following fashion trends but should have plain clothing that doesn’t detract from our inner person.
  • Etc.

This went on and on and filled the entire Sacrament meeting – and it had apparently been planned for several months within the ward and stake.  Needless to say, for 9/11 Sunday it had the opposite effect of being inspiring.

So my points:

- There were no comments about men.  I guess this means that we’re being modest.  And if we could just keep those pesky women covered up, we’d be fine.  Is this really what we teach?

- There has been a big push in our stake about missionary work, and our fast the previous week was supposed to include that topic.  If I actually brought one of my neighbors to Sacrament meeting this week, I’d be embarrassed.

- In case anyone thinks this is isolated to my ward, a co-worker told me about a boy telling her daughter that he is glad that he didn’t know her when she was a cheerleader, because those outfits are too immodest and he wouldn’t have been able to like her.  Or any of hundreds of other examples.

- Do we really need to keep our little girls out of sundresses (as talked about in the June issue of the Friend)?  Are bikinis really wrong?  Etc.

- Many Muslims use the exact same arguments about keeping women modest to avoid stirring passion in the men, to maintain their purity, etc. that we heard.  They may choose different body parts to cover, but is this really much different? (Maybe this is the tie in to 9/11?)

- Most ironically, ALL 4 OF THE WOMEN SPEAKERS and 99% of the women in the audience would be considered immodest and to be following the standards of the world instead of God according to at least Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith.  In fact, when talking about women modifying the garment to accommodate the fashions of the society around them, President Joseph F. Smith taught (as from my previous post on changing garments):

“Each individual should be provided with the endowment clothing they need. The garments must be clean and white, and of the approved pattern; they must not be altered or mutilated, and are to be worn as intended, down to the wrist and ankles, and around the neck. These requirements are imperative; admission to the Temple will be refused to those who do not comply therewith.”

So we CAN change garments themselves to follow societal trends, but our little girls can’t have their shoulders showing?   Hmmmm.

It’s Sundays like this week that make me wonder if we’ve lost sight of the big picture and are caught up in minutiae.  Is this truly the spiritual nourishment that we gather as Saints to enjoy?  Is this really the best we can come up with?

Anyway.  Back to my original point.

  • I’m thankful for the men and women who fight for our country to protect my right to write things like this.
  • I’m thankful for the people who put themselves in harm’s way to save others’ lives on 9/11/01.
  • I’m thankful for the families and children who sacrificed a father or mother on that day to show that we, as a society, are still good.
  • I’m thankful for reminders that I am so much more than the money I make or the car I drive or the house I have (or the clothes that I wear) – that caring for others is all that truly matters.
  • I thankful that I was able to go to bed that night and be thankful that I was still alive sharing this amazing world with my wonderful wife and my beautiful children, regardless of how they dressed for Church or for sports or for the beach or for school or anything else.

Comments?

——————–

Addendum (NOTE: This is comment #27 which I posted on 9/19.  I’m just moving it here as well for people who might not make it through all the comments):

Just a short follow-up:

I didn’t know it was going to happen until I arrived at Sacrament Meeting, but yesterday WAS the meeting I hoped we would have had on 9/11. It was a “Missionary Farewell”, although we technically don’t have those anymore (which is a topic for a future post in itself – why not have a one-hour meeting devoted to someone who is willing to give two years full-time to the Church?)

Two fine young brothers had a dream of becoming Army Rangers in high school. They trained and prepared. And they both entered the Army. This young man served TWO long tours of duty in Iraq. As he was nearing the end of his 4 year commitment, he thought that maybe he had served others enough. Maybe he shouldn’t go on a mission but to school to “get on with his life”. And it would be hard to argue with that.

But then he found out his brother was killed in Afghanistan. Like many of us thought about when faced with the tragedy of 9/11, this tragedy caused him to reconsider what was REALLY important. And it’s not money or things or anything else we can hold. And at times, there is nowhere to turn but God.

When his time in the military was up, he prepared to serve a mission, and he is going to make a damn fine missionary. He wants to go. He is dedicated. He has his priorities straight. And, at times, his brother will be there along with him, also continuing to serve.

It was one of the best farewells I have seen in a long, long time – and one of the best meetings period. This is how I hoped we memorialized 9/11. Not some argument about the middle east or politics or what wars are “right” or anything else. But a celebration of heroes, of things that turn us to God, of priorities as to what really matters in this world.

And to this fine young man embarking on the next two years – God speed.

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28 Responses to The 9/11 Sacrament Meeting I Wish We Had (Instead of Hammering Women on their Modesty)

  1. jonathan on September 14, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    mike i have always like your series, and i agree with this post. i have a question though – are the soldiers abroad fighting to protect your first amendment rights, or is there fighting unrelated to them? i often hear that our soldiers are fighting to protect our constitutional rights, but it seems now that their mission is far from a domestic threat and more of just a misguided policy..

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  2. Mike S on September 14, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    Jonathan:

    The point of this post is NOT the mission any particular soldier is fighting to protect – that is political argument past the scope of this discussion (and one on which we will NEVER have agreement). At times in the past, our country has tended towards isolationism. At other times, we have perhaps intervened too frequently or for “non-noble” reasons.

    In any event – throughout the years, many, many men and women have been willing to go to war for me, for my country, and for the rights that we enjoy. People like the young man in my ward who paid with his life. This post and this weekend is dedicated to them – and not to the leaders who decide where they serve.

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  3. jonathan on September 14, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    mike s- i see now when i re read your questions what you mean. i probably shoudlnt have jumped all over the political angle. im just really raw about these wars. cant believe how long they’ve gone on, and how much they’ve cost. to me the ultimate way to support our troops, is not put them in harms way unless abslutely necessary.

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  4. hawkgrrrl on September 14, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    Wow, that is one bad sacrament meeting. I’ve blogged here plenty of times before that modesty is building hedges about the law. Our logic for it is flawed. Our rationale for chastity is on so much better ground. Chastity feels like a spiritual concept. Modesty feels like a how to guide for judging your neighor.

    However, I’m not sure about 9/11 being the topic of sacrament meeting either. We complain about the church being too American and too political. I can only imagine what we would be hearing at church with a 9/11 focus, especially if the right wing email forwards I get from some people are any indication.

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  5. Beth on September 14, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    I was actually asked to speak during Sacrament meeting in our ward this Sunday and the bishop had obviously really considered how to approach this topic. He asked me to speak about how we can protect our families in a spiritual sense and talk about the Gadianton robbers and how we can relate to that today. He specifically said to incorporate 9/11, but to focus on spiritual aspects. I’m a military wife whose husband has deployed a few times and the other speaker was in the Army and has deployed as well. It was very hard for me to give this talk, but I really appreciated the tone that the bishop wanted to set. I would have been pretty steamed to get such terrible modesty talks, especially since I have little daughters. Yuck.

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  6. LuluBelle on September 14, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    Eeek! I would’ve walked out with my daughters behind me. Oops– actually, we would’ve been super humiliated– my daughters age 6 and 11 were both in sleeveless dresses because it was so dang hot outside. Ugh. Completely awful sounding.

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  7. Will on September 14, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Mike,

    First off, I am sorry about my pervious commentary with you – I was rude and inconsiderate. As I mentioned in a thread done by MH, I have been out due to some significant changes in my life. They have provided a whole new perspective, hopefully for the better. I ask for your forgiveness and anyone else that I may have offended. Discussions on modesty, dress, tattoo’s etc – things that I use to worry about, just don’t matter that much anymore. It’s amazing what a traumatic event will do to your perspective. Events like this reinforce the Saviors charge to take the mote out of your own eye.

    With this said and with the 10th year anniversary falling on a Sunday, it would have been a perfect opportunity to focus on the family and remembering the ones that were lost. I really appreciated the tribute by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as this was their primary theme. It included real stories from real members who’s lives, like mine, were changed by uncontrollable events. Fortunately, our sacrament meeting focused on this and used this as a day of remembrance. Thanks Mike

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  8. Dan on September 14, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    my ward’s meeting wasn’t anything special. One sister spoke of her conversion, and we had a high councilor speak of…something. That was a hard one to understand, because he only spoke spanish, had a bad missionary translator, and then it was translated into Chinese. I didn’t catch much of what he said. In any case, I have two points.

    1. My ward sucks on timing. For Mother’s day, they did the Aaronic Priesthood commemoration stuff. For Father’s day, they did some Boy Scouts thing.

    2. I kinda like moving on from that attack. It was horrible and it killed a lot of people in a rather violent, ugly way. But seriously, as a country, we need to move on. Life, certainly, is moving on. When will we?

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  9. Ray on September 14, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    In the ward I attended, the first talk was about how accepting and loving ourselves despite our weaknesses is part of accepting the Atonement, and the second talk was about serving those we are not naturally inclined to serve.

    I then spoke on the verse in Alma 5 that talks about making a mock of others. I used 9/11 as the launching pad for my talk – by focusing on how easy it is to make a mock of those we don’t understand and by whom we feel threatened.

    In this context, “making a mock” doesn’t mean just “making fun of”. “Mock” as a noun means “an imitation; counterfeit; fake” – so I focused on how we treat those we don’t see and accept as “fully human” in some way. I mentioned the terrorists of 9/11 – and the other “modern day lepers, Samaritans, publicans and sinners” who live around us. I mentioned anyone who is different than we are in a way that we deem significant and important. (For example, in some wards, that might be a gay Democrat with long hair who wears a polo shirt to church.) I mentioned that ignoring or shunning people makes a mock of them just as effectively as actively belittling them.

    I asked the people in the congregation to think seriously about those of whom they “make a mock” – and consciously look for ways to change that result, truly love them and treat them like full, loved sons and daughters of God.

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  10. Joshua Whelpley on September 14, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    Will,

    I do not know what has happened in your life. I hope things are ok for you. I must say I do like this softer side of you. I can’t speak for others but the change is quite noticeable.

    On the topic, I don’t know why sacrament meeting has to suck. It is so rare to feel spiritually uplifted anymore. Ignoring 9/11 is just sillly. Yes, we don’t need to dwell on the attacks, but we should have all learned something from it.

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  11. Daniel on September 14, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    Ray:

    We could use a few less-judgmental people in our ward. Southern Utah. Just sayin’.

    Mike:

    I think this issue gets to the larger issue of self-awareness. That the topic of 9/11 needs to be discussed in America doesn’t have to be a top-down directive. Aware leaders could actively find ways to memorialize the event in some ways. Talks like the ones you witnessed, or the ones I witnessed (serving in the Church), are incredibly ignorant of the larger world. Most of America was, in some way or another, paying homage to the lives that were lost that day. That’s not a political message, but rather an issue that gets to the core of our humanity.

    Had I had the chance to talk, I would have veered steeply off course of whatever “topic” was assigned to me and discussed something related – probably Christ’s message of non-violence. Sure it would have ruffled some feathers (as it probably does by merely mentioning it here), but Sacrament meeting talks aren’t always supposed to be dull, lifeless and capable of producing only more “chosen people status” updates.

    As our week demonstrated, though, Mormons aren’t a terribly aware group of people… unless it’s something that gets around to confirming our chosen status as the coolest, hippest, modestest, truthiest bunch in the world.

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  12. Daniel on September 14, 2011 at 8:51 PM

    P.S. Will: I wholeheartedly agree with how much others enjoy the mellower you. Wow.

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  13. Ron Madson on September 14, 2011 at 10:15 PM

    Mike S,
    I have been drawn to your posts during the last month or so, and have found myself in considerable agreement with what you write/post. As to your being put off by the “modesty” meeting I get it. However, I wonder what a 9/11 sacrament meeting would ideally be like for you? Here is an address that I prepared (but would never be given in church): http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/speaking-truth-to-power-911

    If you would take the time to read it, I wonder if you would have reacted to such a message? Or perhaps two posts ago, when I wrote about “Honoring our Dead: The day After” (Memorial Day) in the same web site? I value your opinion on many issues, but curious as to your take on issues of conflict/ war and peace?

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  14. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    #4 hawkgrrrl: I’m not sure about 9/11 being the topic of sacrament meeting either.

    I agree and wouldn’t talk specifically about “9/11″. But I do think it would have been a great time to do like the Choir did and use it as a springboard to talk about sacrifices people make for each other, the goodness of people, and the refocusing on what is really important in life that can occur.

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  15. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 5:54 AM

    Beth and Ray:

    I wish I could have been in either of your wards. You both sound like you gave interesting and uplifting talks.

    I think a problem in the LDS Church is that there is a “captive” audience of people who feel obligated to go – no matter how terrible the topics or discussions. In some other faiths, where you have to make people “want” to attend on any given Sunday, the pastors/leaders seem to put some thought into making the talks appropriate and interesting.

    I don’t think we go to Church to be entertained, but we can certainly do better than we do.

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  16. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 5:56 AM

    Will:

    Welcome back. I’m truly sorry for whatever has gone on in your life and hope that things work out ok. And I do notice a very different tone to your comments. Thank you for coming by and offering your insight.

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  17. Geoff - A on September 15, 2011 at 6:18 AM

    Ron 13. Agree totally with your post. I would add for the understanding of Americans, how would you feel if a Mexican attacked a Chinese city and China then invaded the US and 10 years later were refusing to leave because the extreme christians could not be trusted. Similar to the other victims of 9/11 whose dead number between 200,000 and a million (they are not counted)
    How the church leaders and the western nations responded to 9/11 is a real moral issue. I wouldn’t like a Sac meeting on 9/11(unless done with ballance and not pro war/revenge). Was surprised last time in California and attended a dance festival for youth to find 30% of the time spent on celebrating the heroes and other pro war, and how great is America stuff. A sac meeting with this tone could have been just as bad as one on modesty.
    Modesty is part of the conservative culture that comes with the church, and has nothing to do with morality or the gospel and should not be taught in church.

    Mike S We have our sac meetings first. Did not realise it was acceptable to have any sac meeting last even bad ones.

    Like your perspective on life.

    Thanks

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  18. Paul on September 15, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Mike: “It’s Sundays like this week that make me wonder if we’ve lost sight of the big picture and are caught up in minutiae.”

    Me, too.

    We did not have talks around 9/11 either. Ironically, we had a member of the general YW presidency in our ward (she was here doing training on Saturday and attended our ward before heading back west later in the day), and she spoke. She did not, thankfully, speak about modesty. She did speak broadly about virtue, tied her comments in wonderfully with the other speakers, who had different topics. No mention of 9/11, which was fine with me.

    I was bishop ten years ago when bishops were invited to speak in their own wards the Sunday following the attack. At that time, my brother-in-law and my brother were also serving as bishops. We compared notes later and found that all three of us had spoken about the Lord’s plan of happiness and redemption.

    I would not have minded mention of the anniversary, though I did not miss it.

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  19. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    #11 Daniel: As our week demonstrated, though, Mormons aren’t a terribly aware group of people… unless it’s something that gets around to confirming our chosen status as the coolest, hippest, modestest, truthiest bunch in the world.

    Even Stephen Colbert agrees that we are cool and hip. Whether you like him or not, this is one of the funniest videos I have seen about Mormons in a while. And it’s actually supportive.

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  20. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    #13 Ron:

    I read your post and actually agree with much of it. I am more of a pacifist at heart and think far too much has been wasted on conflict.

    That being said, the practical part of me doesn’t ever see this happening in the LDS Church. Prophets and apostles have talked about their wartime experiences over the years in conferences. Large sections of the Book of Mormon are devoted to what is essentially military strategy. The book even starts with justification for Nephi killing someone to steal some of his property, because Nephi’s family needed it “more”. Joseph Smith used to ride around on his horse in his military uniform and a cigar in his mouth, and started a battalion.

    So, I think military and fighting is too ingrained in the LDS Church and culture to ever change. My own personal feelings on this have much more to do with Buddhist philosophy, but that is far beyond the scope of this post.

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  21. Mike S on September 15, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    #17 Geoff:

    I also agree that we shouldn’t dwell on 9/11 (ie. the details, revenge, etc.) But at the same time, I think looking at the good that came out of it for many people is important.

    We do this all the time. We don’t celebrate Easter to talk about the grisly details of Christ’s death, but to see what we can learn from it for our current lives. At Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s birth and try to reflect and perhaps be a bit more giving.

    That’s all I’d like to hear. And certainly NOT a talk hammering the women in my ward (on 9/11 or really any day).

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  22. Ron Madson on September 15, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    Goeff A, thanks for weighing in and I concur that how we respond to 9/11 and issues of war is a profoundly moral issue that church leaders should not evade..nor should we.

    Mike S, Interesting observations as to our war culture. I just read a couple of book regarding the 1938 Missouri wars. We had a very bad case of OT war vocabulary (thanks Sidney) and we brought upon ourselves the loss of zion by seeking revenge/retaliation (we were the first to use the word “extermination”). Also check out the Church DVD “Let not Your Heart Be Troubled” given to LDS military. Essentially Elder Packer, Robert Oaks and Lance Wickham tell us that as soldiers we need not be troubled by the justness or immorality of a war because the sin is on the head of our leaders—our duty to is simply to obey our government. The words used in parts hauntingly sound like Pope Urban II’ s War Indulgence edict where he, as many Popes did, sprinkled holy war on the christian crusaders telling them their sins were forgiven for killing muslims.

    As to modesty. Funny how we bristle at the treatment of women by the Taliban and muslim fundamentalist. Though not to the same degree (or even close) such desire to control “others” and their appearance is a sign of a very immature faith community.

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  23. Ron Madson on September 15, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    whoops I meant above the “1838″ Missouri Wars and not “1938.”

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  24. Elwood Johnson on September 17, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    We have to move away from the judging the outward appearences and be concerned with what’s inside.

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  25. [...] Mike S has been able to draw a lot of traffic with his If I Were In Charge series, and even on a 9/11 memorial post, he manages to make incisive comments about the status quo of the church’s teachings to young [...]

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  26. [...] it so hard to take care of our own needs instead of always cheering for others? Part of it is the constant “modesty” lessons with their subtext that young women should frame their sense of self based on how they appear to [...]

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  27. Mike S on September 19, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Just a short follow-up:

    I didn’t know it was going to happen until I arrived at Sacrament Meeting, but yesterday WAS the meeting I hoped we would have had on 9/11. It was a “Missionary Farewell”, although we technically don’t have those anymore (which is a topic for a future post in itself – why not have a one-hour meeting devoted to someone who is willing to give two years full-time to the Church?)

    Two fine young brothers had a dream of becoming Army Rangers in high school. They trained and prepared. And they both entered the Army. This young man served TWO long tours of duty in Iraq. As he was nearing the end of his 4 year commitment, he thought that maybe he had served others enough. Maybe he shouldn’t go on a mission but to school to “get on with his life”. And it would be hard to argue with that.

    But then he found out his brother was killed in Afghanistan. Like many of us thought about when faced with the tragedy of 9/11, this tragedy caused him to reconsider what was REALLY important. And it’s not money or things or anything else we can hold. And at times, there is nowhere to turn but God.

    When his time in the military was up, he prepared to serve a mission, and he is going to make a damn fine missionary. He wants to go. He is dedicated. He has his priorities straight. And, at times, his brother will be there along with him, also continuing to serve.

    It was one of the best farewells I have seen in a long, long time – and one of the best meetings period. This is how I hoped we memorialized 9/11. Not some argument about the middle east or politics or what wars are “right” or anything else. But a celebration of heroes, of things that turn us to God, of priorities as to what really matters in this world.

    And to this fine young man embarking on the next two years – God speed.

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  28. Jon on September 19, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    D&C 98:16-17

    Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me.

    Serving a mission does way more to keep America safe than “serving” in the military. Christ said so himself. I’m glad he will choose to serve God and hope the best for him and those he will serve.

    This is how I hoped we memorialized 9/11. Not some argument about the middle east or politics or what wars are “right” or anything else.

    Why would choose to ignore the words of Christ with this event when it a reflection of the scriptures have warned us about. In other words, why would we want to rest the scriptures?

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