Today I heard Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi speak about the laws and policies in the US, in her own country (Iran), and around the world – and the ways in which they contribute to peace and human rights or promote war. The stark differences in views toward women and children contribute to very different policies.
I had never heard the Iranian perspective on these issues before, and so I found it fascinating to hear her thoughts and how she wished that things would change. I wasn’t aware before of the many men and women in Iran who are trying to establish more equality, democracy, and peace. She said that they realize that improving the situation in Iran is needed, but that it is the responsibility of Iranians alone and has nothing to do with foreign military troops. She said even a threat of a military attack would significantly worsen the efforts for human rights in Iran. [To applause from the audience.]
“We are fully aware that democracy and human rights can only flourish in a sound and peaceful environment.”
“There is no doubt that Saddam Husein was obviously a dictator. But I have a question for you. Was he the only dictator in the world? Unfortunately the world is full of those people. Perhaps the only difference between Saddam and the other dictators is that he sat on a lot of oil.
So the Iranian people understand that the problems in the government will not be solved by foreign military force. Long live the friendship between the people of Iran and the United States!” [Applause]
She talked about the different interpretations of Islam, and her belief that using Islam as a pretext to enforce will upon the people is wrong. She said against the government there is a weight of Islamic intellectuals who believe that they can come up with an interpretation of Islam that promotes peace. She said Islam is open to very different interpretations, and gave as an example the varying status of women across the Islamic world (Saudi Arabia where women can’t even drive vs. Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan where they have had women presidents). She said people in the Middle East are demanding an interpretation of Islam that demonstrates it is compatible with human rights and democracy.
The problem with making friends with older people is that they don’t stay around very long, leaving the broken-hearts behind of those who deeply miss them. The blessing, however, of knowing someone like Ruth Sowards is that her quick wit, profound wisdom, and genuine love has left such a deep impression that it will live on in my life (and the thousands of others who she has touched for the better) continuing to inspire us to be better people regardless of what side of the veil she is on.
I met Ruth Sowards through Colonel Butler, and instantly fell in love with her sense of humor and her eyes that sparkled. In some of the darkest days for me over the last four years, she offered me invaluable wisdom, hope, strength, and laughter which lifted my spirits. She made the dark days brighter, and the sweet moments sweeter. I remember as we were eating diner together one day, she leaned over to me to ask what my goals in life were. I thought for a moment, and told her that my main goal was to have integrity. At first I thought she was going to say something like, “Oh, come on – you have integrity” – but her wisdom and wit was sharp as always. She just wryly smiled, nudged me and said, “Why do you have to be so different from the rest of us?”
Especially as Colonel and her aged in years, he would visit her almost every day until his passing. When I was in the country I was lucky enough to be able to go with him on many of those visits, easily coming to understand why there were so many people that loved Ruth. One woman confidently told me that if I just kept listening to people like Ruth, I would turn out OK. After Colonel’s death, Jeremy and I tried to fill in for him and visit her every day possible, but last week she took a turn for the worse. The instant I found out about her condition and new location I dropped everything on a Friday night and went to go see her.
Tucked in the bed of the nursing home room, she looked like she was in a deep sleep. Her daughter asked if I wanted to hold her hand, and when I touched her gently her eyes weakly opened. At first she looked blankly at me, and I wondered if she would recognize me at all. In a few short moments, however, a bright smile came over her face, and looking at me (with a familiar sparkle in her eyes) she asked her daughter what she was doing hanging around with people like this! With strength she grasped my hand and pulled me close so she could give me a kiss and tell me she loved me. She propped herself up to tell me she loved me more than she ever had and share with me a few more words before she drifted off again into a deep sleep. I came to find out that the local Bishop had also come to visit her a little before I did. As he was getting ready to leave, he held her hand and told her that he was going to be leaving now. As she lay there dying, she stirred long enough to tell him to make sure and call her if he needed anything. So characteristic of Ruth!
Over the next 7 days, her grasp got weaker and her words more unrecognizable… As she would sleep, her children would share with me stories about her life that would make me laugh and leave me feeling inspired. Although her physical strength was weaker each day, my recognition of how truly amazing she is got stronger. Her father died when she was young leaving her mom to raise 4 children through the depression years. Her only two brothers also died when she was fairly young, one in a car accident and the other died in World War II. She ended up marrying a great man, and raised her family while running a golf club, boy scout meetings, an investment club for women, and many church relief society activities, just to name a few of causes she was devoted to. As a woman of compassion, anyone was welcome and felt welcome in Ruth’s house – but as a woman of strength (and without pretense) no one was too high and mighty to avoid her firmly correcting them if she felt they were doing something wrong. The investment group she started with other women invested early in a company despite her husband telling her that he was sure it would fail (he called it “the greasy spoon” but we all know it now as McDonalds). She knew and was respected by the most well-known in the area (many of whom she had held when they were babies – maybe making it OK for her to tell them off if they needed it) and she was equally friendly with least well-known in the area. It didn’t matter if you were a leader of a corporation or a little child from next door – she somehow saw the best in you and helped you see it too. And especially important, she absolutely loved her husband and raised wonderful children. How on earth she did what she did in her life is amazing to me – and how lucky I felt to be counted as one of her friends.
That is part of what made it so difficult today at about 8:00pm when she quietly passed away into the next life. Her only sister, who was in a similar condition, joined her only a couple of hours later.
- Ruth’s funeral will be at 3050 Mojave Lane, Provo UT 84604 this Monday, April 21st, at 11:00am (click here for a map). The viewing will be at Berg Mortuary the night before from 6:00pm-8:30pm.
Ruth – you will be deeply missed. This world is a better place because of the laughter and love that you filled our lives with. God be with you ’till we meet again.
For those of you who knew Ruth, do you have any favorite memories, stories, quotes of her that you could share?
Here are some pictures from the funeral.
Someone asked me recently “what do Mormons believe?” My previous blog entry, About Being a Mormon Christian: Facts about Mormons, briefly summarize some of the basic beliefs Mormon’s have (e.g. Facts, Faith, Family, Fruits). Click here to read that entry.
For this entry I wanted to briefly summarize a few things I have learned recently about the consequences of these beliefs – how the beliefs of Mormons translate into different actions.
I have always known that, for the most part, Mormon beliefs seem to produce pretty happy, normal people…
Last weekend, however, I thought about things in a new way as I attended the semi-annual general conference of the Mormon church (which is really called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – “Mormon” is just a nick-name). It is an interesting event where the leaders of the Mormon Church give messages they feel are most pressing topics to address for the 6 months until the next conference. This conference was especially memorable as there was a new president and new first presidency called and sustained (one of whom is a retired Luftansa pilot from Germany). Over 100,000 people attended at the 5 different sessions at the conference center in Salt Lake City, and the meetings are also broadcast via satellite all over the world in almost 80 languages.
In one of the addresses at conference, Bishop David H. Burton was speaking about the story of the good Samaritan in the Bible and asked, in todays world – who is my neighbor? He then shared some statistics about the humanitarian efforts of the Church that I think even most members of the Mormon church didn’t know.
In 2007, the Church responded with support and supplies to those affected by:
- major earthquakes in 5 countries,
- massive fires in 6 countries,
- hunger and famine in 18 countries,
- and flooding and severe storms in 34 countries.
For example, when the firestorms in southern California destroyed 1,500 homes and forced over a million people to evacuate, the Mormon Church responded quickly by providing cleaning kits, blankets, hygiene kits, and food. Over 5,000 Mormon volunteers along with missionaries cleaned, cooked, comforted, and cared for those affected.
Additionally The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sponsored:
- clean water projects in 25 countries, benefiting over 1 million people,
- the mass production of “Atmit” and Ethiopian porridge mixture for those in severe poverty situations,
- production and delivery of tons and tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies around the world,
- more than 60,500 people receiving wheelchairs in 60 nations,
- sponsoring many work training programs, to increase self-reliance,
- over 16,500 health-care professionals in 23 countries were trained in infant neonatal resuscitation,
- a vision treatment program where volunteer ophthalmologists assist medical care providers around the world with training and equipment to treat simple vision problems (assisting about 20,000 people),
- to help eliminate measles, 2.8 million children and youth in 10 countries received immunizations.
For example, over 54,000 Church members volunteered to help, working with the World Health Organization, to eliminate measles (a killer of almost a million children each year). A Church member in Nigeria wrote: “I called our labor the ‘rescue of the innocent.’ We went house-to-house and village hall to village hall. A woman told us she had lost three children to measles. She told her story with such grace and passion that there was not a dry eye in the house, mine included.” Our volunteer observed, “The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things that you do for others remain as your legacy.” And especially the legacy of your faith in something greater than you.
As another example, the Church is still in their fourth-year of helping those devastated by a tsunami in Indonesia and southern Asia. Funding was provided to help build 902 homes, with 3 community centers, 24 village water systems, 15 schools, and 3 medical centers. In Ethiopia, the Church drilled wells and constructed storage tanks for helping give access to clean water. Communities organized a water committee and dug the trenches needed to pipe the water from the storage tanks to each village. In some cases this was a distance of over 3 miles (5 km).
In total The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members responded to 170 major events—nearly one every two days for the entire year. Bishop Burton said, “It was a busy year with many opportunities to serve.”
Another story I found interesting was shared by Elder Henry Eyring. He was in the office of President Hinckley, then president of the Church, when President Hinckley was asked to take a phone call. He said there was a brief phone conversation and then they returned to their conversation. But President Hinckley took a moment to explain. He said that the call was from the president of the United States, who was flying over Utah in Air Force One on his way to Washington. The president of the United States had called to thank President Hinckley for what Church members had done in the aftermath of a hurricane. The president of the United States had said that it was a miracle that the Mormon Church was able to get so many people, so quickly, working together so well. He praised the Mormon church by saying that they knew how to do things.
The way in which the Church is prepared to help people in need is impressive to most people but, more important than any praise from a leader or dignitary, it is most important to those who are in need and to those who are blessed to be able to be the ones helping.
And one thing that I think impressed me the most was that all of it is done with no strings attached. There is not even any proselyting attached to any humanitarian effort, and often the Church will provide the resources – but work through a local organization to make sure that impact is put before worrying about who gets credit. There is a big emphasis on making sure service and aid is given at the right times of need, but also given with the right motivation (not for any praise, but simply out of love).
Something equally interesting to me was attending a conference the day following conference hosted by the LDS International Society. I quickly became aware that it was not just the central Church organization doing things to make this world a better place, but many ordinary members take upon themselves to start NGOs or join humanitarian efforts which really have made a difference for millions and millions of people around the world. For example, this picture is of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus (left) with Warner Woodworth. The Bangladesh-based pioneer of micro-credit finance calls young Latter-day Saint volunteers the ‘Mormon Peace Corps’. I would share more examples of ordinary members who have made a big difference, but fear this blog entry is getting too long already. Perhaps I will add a few of them as a comment later.
So why? Why does the Church and so many of its members do all of this?
One reason might be because of how Joseph Smith articulated what it means to be a Christian. He taught that “love is one of the chief characteristics of Diety, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 174).
On another occasion Joseph Smith said something else I liked, “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, yet deals justice to his neighbors and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the smooth-faced hypocrite. I do not want you to think that I’m very righteous… There was one good man, and his name was Jesus” (Documentary History of the Church, 5:401). [For more Joseph Smith quotes, click here.]
So what do Mormons believe? In short, they believe in trying their best to be more like Jesus – to be better Christians. I think everyone sees their own imperfections, but if people are really trying to live like Jesus taught (which is no easy task), then that desire provides limitless opportunities for imperfect people to see how they are needed in helping to make the world a better place.
Hope you don’t mind if I share some good news with you. I was very pleasantly surprised by it!
I recently got the reviews back from a paper submission we had made to an academic conference. The paper is a synthesis of some of my work in Finland (titled “Experiencing an International Virtual Team”) and the program planner for the International Division said that ours was: “perhaps the best proposal submitted to our division. Thanks for the submission. Virtual international collaboration is not only a must technological reach but a global responsibility.”
I thought that was a great compliment, and it was fun to share with the great Ph.D. students who worked with me on it. Three out of the five reviewers gave it 100%!
One reviewer said: “STRENGTHS of the Proposal: 1. Good references to appropriate literature. 2. A wonderful paper! 3. Very well-written. 4. A strong contribution to the research and theory on international communication; this will be a trend in research for the present and future!”
OK – enough of that for now. With the negative feedback that often comes from different papers or projects, it is especially nice to hear and share good news, celebrating the moment of its arrival.