Saturday, June 3, 2017

Gordon B. Hinckley- Chapter 11: Home—the Basis of a Righteous Life

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Guest Post: So, How Do We Save America?

Millennial Choirs America Brett


   A few years ago a video of the opening scene of Newsroom was making the rounds on social media. When asked “why America is the greatest country in the world?” he answers that it isn’t. (link is to clean version) He then goes on to relate how we have lost our former glory in many ways.

   As many you know I sing with the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras. Last year I posted about our patriotic album “To Be American.” For this Independence Day I wanted to re-share a post by the organizations founding conductor Brett Stewart. Professor Stewart tells us what we need to do to save America and return it to its former glory.

So, How Do We Save America?

Originally posted at

     My high school water polo and swim coach was relentless. Notoriously. He was known for either throwing something IN the pool or pulling someone OUT of the pool, always with some variation of fury. More than once my parents received a 6:00 AM-ish unapologetic phone call from him, asking why I wasn’t at practice yet. They made a career of reminding him that I was attending seminary at 5:15 AM in order to make it to practice each morning, and that I would be a little bit late. I’ll never forget the times he tore off his shirt and threw himself in the pool (all in a very dramatic manner) to demonstrate some technique or drill that we were slaughtering (usually out of sheer laziness). He just didn’t tolerate anything but 100%. He garnered the respect of his students because even though he was our parents’ age, he could still play his sport -well. As I watched his temper flare and then the perfect demonstration of how it was supposed to be done, I remember thinking, “You’re insane. And, you rock!” His tactics would never fly today. But two decades ago it delivered results, in many ways.

     Aside from titles and championships, he taught work ethic to thousands of youth. He deliberately made the way difficult so that the prize was earned and deserved. It fostered self-awareness and self-esteem. I haven’t come across a past student of his that doesn’t respect and love that man (even the smart alecs who bore the brunt of his wrath). Most look back at those years with fondness, because a mentor went out of his way to turn entitled, immature youth into young adults with purpose and promise.


     I was not a dedicated piano student. Several days before competitions I scrambled to finish memorizing and polishing my pieces, trying to convince myself that it sounded better than it did, or that I could, with my deplorable lack of preparation, wow the judges with my raw talent. Mom had a way of keeping things real. “Signing up for this competition was a waste of money,” she’d say. “You haven’t practiced and you’ve left it all to the last minute and it sounds awful. There are mistakes all over the place.” By the time we arrived at the competition she would soften her message with something like, “Just concentrate and do your best. Hopefully the judges will look past all the mistakes.” Thanks for the pep talk, Mom!

     I somehow always pulled through with a 3rd place or Honorable Mention win, which I could have falsely interpreted as a reward for my efforts except that I had my mother there to keep things in perspective. “Well, you pulled it off again, Brett. You know, no one plays with as much musicality and passion as you. If you’d practice you’d actually win.” I always knew that my Honorable Mention was due to sheer talent, not hard work, and that if I simply worked hard I would enjoy the greater prize and the satisfaction of having really earned and deserved it.

     Instead of blaming our parents for their tough-love approach and brutal honesty, my siblings now sit around at family gatherings and laugh about these things. We thank God for parents who focused on reality, even when it was painful. We are grateful for the fact that we had to earn our success – that we had to work hard. We attribute our success and our ability to function as responsible parents and citizens and members of our church and community to the fact that we always knew where we stood, and that praise was deserved, not fabricated. Self-esteem was earned, not gifted.


     While teaching high school I came across the article “A Nation of Wimps,” in which Hara Marano, Psychology Today’s Editor at Large, candidly spells out the disastrous effect of parents and mentors coddling youth in today’s society. Even though I have seven children I am a novice parent. A typical response to my children’s complaints is, “You can tell your therapist all about it when you’re an adult, and you’re welcome to blame all of your issues on your mom and me. Now, go clean up the dog poop.” I can’t say that I have the best parenting approach, because I’m sure I don’t. But my concern isn’t centered on the perfect parenting; it is centered on kids being competent and tough enough to function in this great big world without having success handed to them on a silver platter. My concern is that kids will not blame their problems on imperfect parents or mentors, but will have the resolve and tenacity to stop focusing on their problems and reach outside themselves to make a difference in the world. My concern is that kids will understand reality in a world that is increasingly fabricated.


Three truths are widely accepted in the world today:

1. Youth are in a spiritual war. They are being spiritually challenged more than at any other time in the history of the world. Satan and his forces have opened the floodgates. We are in the middle of a cultural revolution and the influences are overwhelming.

2. Youth are being raised in a ME society. Today, the “other gods” spoken of in the first of the Ten Commandments are clearly ourselves. We live in a world of selfies. My feelings, my choices, my rights. Society has created the problem. It is now so difficult to get into a good college that otherwise fantastic youth are hyper-focused on their schooling, their grades, and their test scores, to the degree that there is no time or even innate desire to reach out and serve others. While our grandparents were enlisting in the most devastating war the modern world had ever known, our youth are enlisting in themselves and their future. They are marrying and starting families later than ever before. The focus is ME.

3. Youth are entitled. They have less physical demands and more comforts than any other generation in the history of the world. The rigid labors and harsh social/religious climates that existed for thousands of years until the 20th-century advancements are extinct, at least in their comfortable sphere. They have never experienced the literal building of a nation through war and conflict. They have never experienced real, life-altering religious persecution. They have never suffered through a devastating economic depression. And technology is paralyzing youth physically, socially, and spiritually.

     Despite these challenges, it is my personal belief that God has saved his strongest spirits to come to earth in these troubling last days. These youth must be given opportunities to work hard, be pushed, and accomplish something great as a result of their own efforts. And if that accomplishment benefits someone other than themselves, bonus!


     As one of MCO’s founders I work to provide a power-packed combination of the experiences of the mentors described above, founded upon the principles of discipline and hard work, where the reward is the satisfaction of having really earned and deserved something. Even better, it does all of this while exposing youth on a weekly basis to what prophets and apostles have deemed the most powerful conduit to the Lord than perhaps anything except prayer – sacred music. And the result is shared with thousands who come to be spiritually fed and uplifted by singers and instrumentalists who have perfected their craft in order to deliver excellence. While researching repertoire for MCO’s “To Be American” album I came across an old American hymn, “God Save America.” The title haunted me. I thought if “God Bless America” was the American rallying cry of the 20th century, “God Save America” ought to be the clarion call of the 21st. People of all religious, social, racial, and political backgrounds have their own ideas of whether America is suffering, and how. But, as revealed in the studies referenced in “A Nation of Wimps” and elsewhere, one of the most concerning reasons America is suffering is the way we are raising her youth. Obviously God is the only being that can save America, or the world for that matter. But we can assist as we raise America’s youth. As I explained to the youth last year when they recorded “America the Beautiful,” it is the anti-self anthem. If we could teach youth to “more than self their country love, and mercy more than life,” or that all their “success be nobleness, and every gain divine,” or to “confirm [their] soul in self control, [their] liberty in law,” we just might help God save America.

Friday, July 3, 2015

New Testament Readings: Thoughts on Seventies


   To help spread His Gospel Jesus sent missionaries out to share His words and to prepare the way for Him. These Seventy were instructed to go out heal the sick, and preach that the kingdom of God was coming. They were to be among the people and dwell with them. Most Importantly, they were to be representatives of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew He could not be everywhere for “the harvest truly [was] great.” (Luke 10:2) So the Seventy were given His authority and He testified to them, “he that heareth you heareth me.” (Luke 10:16)

New Testament Readings: Thoughts on Earthly and Heavenly Rewards


Christ and the Rich Young Ruler

   Often when Christ spoke, he spoke in metaphors or parables. As part of his teachings the message was often of what needed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Some sacrifices were physical and some spiritual. Likewise, Jesus also explained the rewards for righteousness as physical and spiritual; even sometimes one being a metaphor for the other.

   When a young man of wealth came to Christ and asked what was needed for Eternal Life he was eventually told, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” The account goes on to say that the young man went “away sorrowful.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

New Testament Readings: Thoughts on Parables


   When Christ taught his people he often used Parables; sheep, seeds, debtors, fish, wages. These were items the people things the people he was teaching understood. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes had corrupted the law of Moses to the point that the people no longer were able to understand its true intent and purpose. Jesus used parables to help bring the people back to an understanding to the law and to his Gospel.

New Testament Readings: Thoughts on The Beatitudes


   As many of you know, I am going back to school. I love going to BYU Idaho because part of the courses required to graduate are ecclesiastical. This term I am taking a course on the New Testament and each week, as part of the course, I will be sharing my thought on my readings.

   This week we are studying The Beatitudes from Matthew chapter 5.  When the Savior was teaching during the Sermon on the Mount, he spoke about attitudes we can adopt to be blessed. Each Beatitude is introduced with the phrase, “Blessed are…” The Savior could just say, ‘be poor in spirit.’ He doesn’t though. He outlines each character trait and then shares the blessings to those who adopt them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Thoughts: "Earn This”?


“Earn This.” It is one of the most moving and motivating lines from Saving Private Ryan. If you have not seen this film, there are some major spoilers coming. If the R-Rating turned you away before, it is now available on VidAngel and you choose what material to edit.

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