Thanks for having me today. I very much appreciate this opportunity and hope I can leave you with something to reflect on today.
Now, I first want to telegraph how this may go this morning by telling a little story. You see, I have something that has happened to me about four or five times over the last six years. And it usually goes like this:
I pull up to a red light and I’m waiting for the light to change.
I’m usually sitting there zoned out listening to some music going, or sports talk radio. Then, out of the corner of my eye I realize the person in the car next to me is trying to get my attention. And they’ve rolled down their window and they are trying to speak to me from their car.
As I lean over and roll down my passenger side window all kinds of things are going through my head. I’m like “What is going on here?” I usually hear something like this:
“My son was just diagnosed with ADHD. He’s in the third grade. My doctor says this and that about the medicine… And I’m wondering what you recommend?”
Then it hits me…. And realize it’s because of this:
My license plate. It’s the wonderful vanity license plate my wife gave me for my birthday a while back. I then have to explain to this poor person that I’m a PHD with ADHD, not an actual doctor who deals in ADHD or can actually help them in any way.
My friends make fun of me because I have all kinds of hobbies. I’m a beekeeper, I’m a drone pilot, adventure scuba diver, song writer, cold case investigator, the list goes on. I also fall asleep as soon as any meeting begins.
Today might go a little bit like an old Seinfeld episode. Where it’s about everything and about nothing all at the same time. But then in the last few minutes of the, it all seems to come together into some form of meaning.
And isn’t that the way our lives go? Many times, our lives seem to go from one random event -- or seemingly random event -- to another.
All the while we are looking back or looking on at what is happening and trying to create some meaning from it. Make sense of our stories.
Writing these remarks today was much like writing the lyrics for a song. Much of the time is spent THINKING about and FEELING what you want to say and why you want to say it. Once you figure out WHY you want to say something, the rest usually writes itself.
While I do play guitar and sing as a musician, I’m mostly a lyricist. A storyteller. When I get creative block, it’s mainly because I don’t know why I want to say something. What is the SO what?
We talk about this in journalism as well. And so, it went in preparing my remarks for today. What do I want to say and why?
But in many ways – even though you try – you REALLY don’t know what your talk is about until you give it. And you really don’t know what your story or life is about it until you’ve lived it.
So, those ideas hopefully will set up and prepare you for the journey I want to take you on today. And the gist of that journey is this:
First, life comprises a series of risks we take within our own mini-narratives, our own stories that we are living.
And secondly, and most thankfully, Heavenly Father’s grand narrative – the Plan of Happiness or Plan of Salvation – provides a path wherein we can confidently and passionately pursue our dreams and goals in our careers, families and the Gospel.
But as happy as that sounds, make no mistake; risk is all around us. We wake each day living and dealing with risk. It might be whether we are going to get hit by a car while crossing the street, or it is maybe if we’ve studied just the right amount to get an A on that test we need to take that day.
Dealing with all this risk -- and the increasing speed at which that risk occurs – creates a lot of angst and anxiety in our minds and hearts. And we can definitely see this in the world around us.
Now shifting the narratives. A narrative is simply a story with a beginning, middle and end. Time passes, there’s conflict, opposition if you will remember that for later, and then at some point where the character reaches a new state of being. We’ve all been to a movie or read a book that we didn’t like. And it’s because you either don’t understand the narrative, or the story is bad because it doesn’t make sense, or it’s not consistent or authentic.
We’re all playing roles in a variety of sub-narratives. As individuals. In our careers. As a husband, father, sister, mother, child, child of God. And all the while risk is a significant component of our narratives.
Life is a drama and we are all playing out our stories.
So, let’s examine a few narratives or stories that involve risk.
An extremely popular narrative that is sweeping the country and the world over the last few months is the Marvel movie “Endgame.” And you thought you were coming to devotional.
The film has grossed about $3 billion dollars to-date. I want to reflect on one of the core storylines of “Endgame” because it reminds me of a story in the scriptures and also raises questions about how willing we are to follow our own narratives and to take risks.
Don’t worry. Spoiler alert is not necessary. At least I don’t think so….
As many of you probably know, about one third of the way through the movie, Iron Man is faced with a difficult decision.
In the post-apocalyptic world after Thanos has destroyed half of humanity, Iron Man and Pepper have created this beautiful little life for themselves. They have a picturesque cabin on a lake in the mountains, and have a young daughter even. That he just adores.
They’ve sort of accepted the fact that life is not as it once was, that many of their friends are gone. But they’ve managed to put together a pretty good life. In fact, it’s probably better than OK.
And then, Iron Man is faced with a question and an opportunity. Would he RISK IT ALL to go back in the magical time machine to try and fix things to pre-Thanos? But in doing so, the way the time machine works, he is risking EVERYTHING he has at the moment. His little 5-year-old girl even. And that, for me, is really the crux of this film.
Would he risk ALL?
But what if you had to risk it all? Would you?
And that’s the question I have as we think about our own stories and in our own lives. I’m not asking would you sacrifice? Because sacrificing is giving up something now for something better later. I’m asking would you RISK it all for just the possibility of something better later?
I think and would hope the answer is yes. Because that’s what Adam and Eve did – Eve especially – for us in the Garden of Eden. And that’s what we did in our pre-existence in our pre-mortal life deciding to come to earth.
We said, “Yes, we are willing to RISK it ALL for a chance at a better and more meaningful life. We were not fully satisfied with our little life then, the one next to the lake, with the cabin and the pretty sky.
I think that’s pretty crazy risk-taking.
The concept of risk-taking reminds me of a story in the scriptures: The parable of the talents. Most of the time we interpret or “read” this parable as “Don’t hide your talents. Get out there and give your gifts. And grow your gifts.” Just a few Sundays ago we reviewed this story and that’s exactly where the Sunday school teacher took it.
But I think there is a deeper, more implicit meaning. So, let’s review this parable. Now, I have to say it is much like the comedy routine who is on first here because there are so many numbers, but we will give it a try.
There are three servants and one is given five talents and another is given two talents and there is a third guy who gets one talent. And the two individuals with the five and the two MAKE an increase of one hundred percent. They double their money. And the master is happy with them. But then the guy with the one talent, what did he do? He was so afraid he was going to lose the talent that he went and hid it under a tree. And the master is not happy and says, “You could have at least put it in the bank and earned interest.” But THAT guy is in trouble.
Now, let’s think about this a bit more deeply. In order to double your money, you have to take significant risk, don’t you? Investments are all based on risk. The two that went out and made something certainly risked a lot or all. They took a lot more risk than just putting it in the bank. We know some investments and activities are safer than others. And riskier ones pay higher dividends. Some are good and some can be foolish.
But I think it’s fascinating to think that in order to grow we have to take risks. Huge risks. And risks have inherent dangers. Dangers sometimes of complete failure. So, it seems obvious to me that in order to grow in any way, there is some type of REAL risk involved.
2 Nephi 2:10 states: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass.”
It’s the opposition that creates the risk.
Let me repeat. It’s the opposition that creates the risk.
In addition to worry about risk, I think one of the other things that keeps us from living out our narratives is fear, or fear of the unknown future. Which is really fear of the sum total of the risk. In other words, what’s the ending? What’s the outcome?
I am not a movie professor, but I use movies because a lot of us experience things in a commonality.
Back in 2003, my wife and I with our good friends in my department went to see the movie “Big Fish.”
The movie is about the relationship between a father and a son, and the son sort of questioning the “Big Fish”-type stories his father always told. For some reason the movie really hit me, I think, because there was a funeral at the end and then it reminded me of my own father’s funeral. I was crying inconsolably. It was super embarrassing in fact.
Anyway, the father in this movie goes about doing all these amazing things. Taking all kinds of incredible risks. Thus, the “Big Fish” title.
But to me the key to the movie is in an early scene. As a kid, the father had “looked into the eye of the neighborhood witch” and actually saw how he was going to die.
He saw the entire scene and how it was going to play out. And so, because he knows his story and how it’s going to end, he goes throughout his life doing all these amazing things because he KNOWS he can do them. He knows at any one particular moment it is not his time to pass. Therefore, he moves forward without fear, filled with faith, that he will be successful. And he is.
Can we do the same? DO we do the same?
Do you move forward with faith in your narrative that you will succeed, because we know that in the end Christ wins in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man?
Being that it seems obvious that we are worried about risk, and fear of failure and of an unknown future, let’s shift a little and talk about lifelines.
Because those seem like they would come in really handy at this point.
This image here is of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, which rises nearly 3,000 feet from base to summit. And it goes without saying, El Capitan is a popular destination for rock climbers.
Now, there are a variety of different types of rock climbing. You don’t just climb the rock – it has to be more complicated than that. There are some types where you are allowed to use aids to help you climb. You can use ropes and ladders and things to help you shimmy up and around. Then there is “free climbing,” where you just climb the rock, totally unaided, but you can use safety measures, like a rope, so you have a safety line. So, if you lose your grip you are saved from falling to your death.
Now, there are many different routes to get to the top of El Cap. And it was around 1960 that the first team of people figured out how to make it to the top. They took months to do it.
Now did I mention that since 1905 more than 30 deaths have been reported of people climbing El Capitan?
Then, in June of 2017, the basically unbelievable happened. Climber Alex Honnold climbed El Cap with no aids or safety equipment at all. Nothing. The entire 3,300 feet he just had some chalk. It is called “free solo” and he did it in just under four hours. The climb, and events leading up to it are shown in the Academy-Awarding winning documentary, “Free Solo.”
I happened to stumble onto it a couple months ago and watched it. Maybe some of you have seen it. I was watching and I just could hardly keep myself from flailing about in our bed. My wife finally told me to STOP!
But as I was watching the movie I kept thinking, what is that like? What does that FEEL like, climbing free solo with nothing thousands of feet in the air?
Well – and this is the point of this long-winded anecdote – I want to say that we do know what it feels like. Because that’s what we are all doing every moment of our lives.
We are here on earth, and in many ways, clinging to a rock 2,500 feet up risking our eternal souls for something more meaningful in the long run.
2nd Nephi 9:21 states:
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.”
Is fear a pain? I say yes.
Is anxiety a pain? I say yes.
So, I suppose one of the main points of my remarks today is that we can do a better job of applying the Atonement to all the righteous risks associated with our everyday lives.
That we should move forward and not have the anxiety and fear of the risk involved in our personal journeys. Because the infinite Atonement is not only infinite in its reach, but it’s infinite in its application to the worries associated with everyday life. The righteous risk and the fear and emotional pain of potential failure in all areas of our lives.
But even better, we can have the confidence to climb that ever-expanding and higher wall with the freedom of not having OUR OWN cumbersome ropes and safety harnesses. We don’t have to do it all by ourselves. And so, we have a totally different experience. Just like climbing El Cap with all the ropes and harnesses is different from how Alex Honnold experienced it climbing free solo.
Life is meant to be lived. We are meant to take risks. Granted, not foolish or sinful ones. But I argue that risk is an inherent condition of the fallen world we live in. And that’s the whole purpose of the Atonement. To save us from the fallen state, where risk rules.
In fact, I might argue that Satan’s plan was the safe plan with no risk involved at all. Without agency there is no risk, no potential for failure.
So, as we stand at the base of our own El Cap, or if we are halfway up…hanging by our fingernails. We should remember that A) the end is already known. It’s a given. Christ and the Atonement win and succeed. Heavenly Father will bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, and so there’s no need to be fearful about the ending of our own story – if we follow in Christ’s footsteps – if we follow the path the Lord has outlined up El Capitan! Not some route you see the world taking.
And B) just like the parable of the talents, in taking risks, I’ll call them “righteous risks," the Atonement is there to always rescue us again.
But I think it goes beyond that. It goes to this idea that when we are climbing 2,000 feet in the air on a flat wall with no places to hold, that we don’t just rely on our own strength, that we, knowing that the Atonement is there, we can be FREE to climb, and work through our stories with freedom and joy. And not feel like we are doing everything on our own.
It’s called a state of flow. Where you are just enjoying life. And every once in a while, we can – like Alex Honnold did – look out onto the expanse of Yosemite Valley and enjoy the view. That we can look out and appreciate what we are doing and where we are at in our lives.
In other words, we are free to ENJOY THE RIDE.
Now, while we are on the subject of the Atonement I want to relate another experience and a bit of a metaphor.
On a number of occasions my band, which is called Joshua Creek (when I say “band” I feel like I am 17), has been asked to play in the prison at the point of the mountain. Actually, it’s prisons with an “s.” We’ve done it about five times. Various security levels. Men’s prison. Women’s prison. And we do sort of a Sunday fireside-type of thing. So, the first time we did this was about 10 years ago.
Just going there and being inside a prison is a powerfully reflective experience. After getting a background check a few months prior, then you actually go, you go through several levels of locked doors being opened – and then shut – CLANG – behind you. When you get all the way into the chapel in a maximum-security prison, you are really feeling LOCKED in. It’s a feeling that you don’t experience very often. So, the first time we did this was at the women’s prison. We had our guitars and some PA gear and we were taken to this little chapel inside the prison.
Now, as you can imagine, it was not a bright and shiny new chapel. It was sort of like a 1970s LDS-style chapel. The wooden pews and pulpit had that honey-yellow hue to them.
Well, we got set up and ready to play. And then all the prisoners came in.
The women walked in and sat down. What I discovered was that yes, some of these women looked like they’d had a HARD life, sort of a meth-addict look. But the other half of the women looked like they could have been my sister, my mother, my wife, my grandmother. They were all there. And so here we are in this older chapel and they were wearing – ready for this – dingy white overalls. These not-so-clean, but white, overall jumpsuits. And what was striking about this image, was I had only one thing to compare it to, and that is the chapel in the temple, where we are all dressed in WHITE, WHITE. The contrast was striking to me. Because it was sort of white, but at the same time it was NOT WHITE AT ALL. It just sort of hit me that spiritually, we are all in this state. We try really hard, but it’s Christ that takes it the rest of the way to pure, pure white.
And so, we started playing our songs and they just starting crying here and there. And they were passing a roll of toilet paper around to dry their eyes.
When we finished playing, it just so happened that the branch president was finishing his tenure there at the prison after a number of years and either he or his counselors presented the women with a gift. I don’t remember. The gift was this painting of the Savior for the chapel wall.
Then someone spoke of the crimson robe the Savior wears in this painting, which represents His blood and sacrifice. How we can become clean. And so, it was left hanging on the chapel wall. We packed up our gear and left.
Then about a year later we were invited by the new branch president to come sing again. I think it was around Christmas time. And so, we went through that whole process again. Locked away inside this dingy old chapel. And then women prisoners came in.
But things were totally different this time. Yes, we were in the same old chapel and they were wearing jump suits, but they were brand new. They looked “cleaner” and fresher. A lot more like the women in my life. But the jump suits weren’t even white this time. They were in these brand new maroonish-crimson jump suits that reminded me of the color of the robe in this painting of the Savior.
That experience as a whole was a striking display symbolically of the power of the Atonement physically and spiritually that I think about often. That we are all prisoners in a sense and that we are made free and clean through the symbolically crimson Atonement of Jesus Christ.
But not only just free, but free to climb our own El Caps, to find our way in this lone and dreary world, without worry and anxiety, all the while enjoying the amazing views life has to offer. As long as we are following the path up El Cap that the Lord has outlined. That we are following Him.
As I mentioned at the start today, when I set out to write these remarks, I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but I discovered my message by moving forward with faith, and you would do the same. You will discover your message, your story, as you move forward with faith.
As today’s talk sort of came together I realized there was a Joshua Creek song we wrote with our good friend from Michigan, Jim Oliver, that pretty much sums up what I’ve been trying to pull together. The guys are out of town today, so we couldn’t come sing it for you live, so I decided to put together a little lyric video of the song. I’ll sit while we listen.
Joshua Creek: Let Go-Let God
I pray that through Christ’s ever-infinite Atonement, we will all let go and let God take all the worry and fear about risk in our personal narratives, and, that by following his path, we can find our way up our own unique El Caps, all the while enjoying the spectacular view as we climb higher and higher to return to our heavenly home. And that when we do fall, no matter how far or how hard, we know that forgiveness is right where we fell.
The scripture reads, “Men are that they might have joy!” Not, “Men are that they might have worry.”
So please…enjoy the ride.
I bear testimony that God lives, Jesus is the Christ and this is the restored gospel.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.