The Words of the Stewart Family
The Kingdom of God Within
We recently saw news media attention given to the passing of Congressman Jerry Solomon. Representatives from our state and federal government, including the governor, attended the services. I thought it interesting that one TV reporter interviewed a WWII veteran who was outside the church airing a complaint of sorts. The veteran complained that despite Mr. Solomonís fame and record of leadership, he thought the numbers of people attending the wake and funeral services was not impressive. To paraphrase this unhappy mourner of the congressmanís passing, "Why isnít the community represented here?" he asked. "I see government representatives, but I donít see the everyday people who knew Jerry, the people whom he represented. Where are they?"
The reporter then went on to comment that when the church event concluded, about fifty cars comprised the funeral procession to the burial place for this longtime member of Congress. I was struck by this because the last two funerals I attended both had processions that rivaled or exceeded that of the Congressman, that of young Andrew Byrne this past summer, and that of my father in these last few weeks. These two funerals of so-called common people, were given extraordinary attention by the community for similar and spiritual reasons. By coincidence, or perhaps not, both the Byrne family and the Denn family are descended from Irish ancestors of County Kilkenny, Ireland. I want now to use the life and passing of my dad, William Denn, as a way of illustrating some of these spiritual principles.
I continue to digest the experience of my Dadís Ascension to Heaven. I marvel at the love and spiritual ecstasy I, and others, experienced during and after my fatherís passing. In my search to understand and explain the grace that Dad and family members experienced at this time, and in my search for a message to give this morning, I decided to share some of my thoughts about what is spiritually distinctive about these events.
One thought that occurs to me is a sense that my father, in spite of humble origins and status in life, had a point of view that I would describe as extremely subjective. I am using this term now as Divine Principle uses it, suggesting a state of mind that initiates and influences others around him. One of the definitions of the word subjective given by the Encarta encyclopedia defines the word subjective as: "Proceeding from or taking place within a personís mind such as to be unaffected by the external world."
This definition describes my dad well. Dad would not allow himself to think he was an insignificant person simply because he was not wealthy or educated. Like the American humorist Will Rogers, a man my father admired and whose full name -- William Penn Rogers sounds a bit like William Denn -- Dadís humble beginnings did not prevent him from developing a homespun philosophy that served him well. I wonít spend much time describing my dadís difficult childhood as I have already done that for you previously.
A simple but accurate way of describing Dad's philosophy might be to call it honest-to-goodness responsibility in the service of God, Nation and Family. He himself served each of these entities in his sincere service to his church, his wartime military contribution to his country, and his lifelong dedication to his family and friends.
I grew up hearing Dad making pronouncements like: "Make sure youíre more of a giver than you are a taker" (teaching us socially responsible behavior); "Donít follow the crowd; lead them. The crowd will usually lead you the wrong way" (teaching us about moral leadership); and "The boss is not always right, but heís always the boss" (teaching us the value of respect to proper authority).
Dad always had a colorful way of explaining these principles, using examples and jokes that emphasized his point, often packaging his wisdom in the metaphors of the construction worksite or military life. I nicknamed Dad "the Rooster," a title that became popular with several members of our family, because his communication style was akin to a rooster crowing, that is, he always appeared like he intended to rule the family barnyard, which in fact he did. For those of you who are fond of Oriental astrology, it may be interesting to note that he was born under the Chinese astrological sign of the rooster. Dadís simple take-a-stand brand of self confidence pervaded all his words and actions. This man, now gone to heaven, is salt-of-the-earth honesty and integrity.
My dad would not allow himself to think he was a suffering person simply because, as a result of an injury, he experienced illness that continued the last forty years of his life. I will always remember his homey way of emphasizing the positive: "Smile and the world smiles with you." He frequently reminded us of this by his word and deed.
My memory of him -- comforting unhappy younger siblings by bouncing them on his knee while singing the Davy Crockett song -- persists to this day. He has been a model I have sought to imitate with my children, regardless of time of day or night or circumstance.
I believe my dad understood one of lifeís critical principles, one that eludes many rich, famous and more educated people. That principle is that we are as we think. If we think we are miserable, weak and poor, then we will indeed be miserable, weak and poor. But if we dare to think that we are noble, happy and prosperous people, then it becomes possible to feel that those conditions are our circumstances. My father heroically demonstrated that we can be a happy, loving and grateful people even when our circumstances are difficult and challenging, as his certainly were.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. My dad didnít invent this principle; he just sincerely practiced it. Like Paul, defying the constraints of his prison cell by announcing from it that he was most fortunate of men for having known the Christ. Like an Edison, defying diagnosis by his childhood teachers that he was mentally retarded, by loving learning and discovery and making scientific history in the process. We are as we think.
The enduring lesson I have learned from my dadís example is that the Kingdom of God is within us and obtainable for those who think rightly.
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