Monday, September 30, 2013

Wednesday at One O'Clock

A young man, whom I will call Elder M. related this story to me. Upon arriving in a new mission area, Elder M. found that the missionaries had a standing appointment each Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 pm with Brother T., who would take time off work each week to go with the missionaries to visit less active and prospective church members.

One Wednesday afternoon after completing their visits, Brother T. drove Elder M. and his companion back to their apartment. As was customary, they concluded the session with prayer in Brother T.'s car. As he fervently prayed, Brother T. became very emotional.

"Dear Father," prayed Brother T., "I have taken off work every week for 15 years to minister to thy lost sheep." Elder M. was shocked. He had no idea that Brother T'.s standing 1:00 pm appointment with the missionaries had continued over a period of a decade and half.

Brother T's poignant prayer continued. It was clear that he was frustrated. "I have worked and prayed tirelessly for these people, but in all my years of work, I have seen no success." The prayer continued as Brother T. prayed for the souls of those that were lost, as he once had been.

When he finished, Brother T. looked at the missionaries with tears in his eyes. "I am going to have to pray much to know whether to continue working with you each Wednesday," he said before bidding them farewell. Elder M. and his companion didn't know what to think. They prayed for Brother T.

Two days later, Elder M. received a phone call. "Elder M., Wednesday at one o'clock, as usual, right?" rang out Brother T.'s cheery voice.

Elder M. wasn't sure what had changed. But over the six remaining months that Elder M. spent in the area, Brother T. did see success from his labors. He was grateful that he had not given up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retire According to Your Bank Account, Not Your Age

"You guys have a financial planner?" my high schooler asked in surprise. "Well, yeah. He's been our planner since about a decade before you were born," I responded. My son was apparently amazed that we had enough finances to need planning. I said something along the lines of financial planning being necessary if one ever hoped to retire.

A short time later we sat across the desk from our longtime friend. I noticed a piece of paper sandwiched between the wood desktop and its glass covering. I read the title The Rules of Retirement (or something to that effect). There were nine 'rules' in short bold statements. Each was followed by a sentence or two. The whole thing was pretty concise.

As I quickly perused the rules, I realized that most of them weren't directly tied to finances. There was advice to "Retire to something not from something" and admonitions to avoid getting too wrapped up in yourself. After all, service to others has been proven to produce much happier and healthier retirees.

The only direct financial rule I saw read, "Retire according to your bank account not according to your age." This caused me to think back to early in my career when I worked for a government agency. I ended up in a group with a large number of men that were in their 50s. Given the rules at the time, most of them would technically qualify for retirement at age 55 or within a couple of years after hitting that mark. I thought these guys were ancient. Early 50s no longer seems very old to me.

The agency instituted a rule that required everyone within five years of retirement eligibility to attend a retirement planning seminar. As each of my coworkers hit the specified time, I watched them go buoyantly off to learn about how wonderful their upcoming retirement would be. Every last one of them returned looking as if they had been punched in the stomach. Mutterings like, "I'll never be able to afford to retire" were common.

The odd thing about this whole episode was that all of these men were trained accountants. Many of them were CPAs. I couldn't understand how they could have gotten to that point in life without doing any serious retirement planning. They all seemed to think that they could simply retire the moment they hit the minimum qualification and that everything would just work out hunky-dory.

By the time I left government employment, I had migrated from accounting to software development. Several of my coworkers were stunned that I would give up the opportunity to retire in my mid 50s. Having actually done some planning (and a lot of saving) by that time, I bluntly told my friends that regardless of whether I worked for the government, I wouldn't be able to afford to retire in my mid 50s, nor would they be able to do so unless they planned on retiring to Skid Row.

For many years I have planned to heed the rule about retiring according to my bank account rather than my age. Of course, fate can twist the best of plans. Some end up retiring due to neither savings nor age, but due to health problems, family situations, or employability challenges. You plan for the most likely scenario and then deal with reality as it comes.

And reality might not be much fun. Retirement savings are built on the future. As I noted in this post, the U.S. economy's "3-D hurricane of deficit, debt and demography" will likely produce suboptimal investment returns over time, meaning that most of us will work longer and retire later than we'd like. But we will probably be better off than our kids and grandkids, whose futures we immorally insist on mortgaging for the immediate gratification of today's government supplied benefits.

Experts tell us that most Americans aren't really doing any retirement planning. This includes the majority of people in my age bracket, not just the twenty-somethings. They are simply planning on crossing that bridge when they get there, assuming that it will somehow work out. The non-planners might be right. At least for awhile. Until we hit the wall we will continue to insist on generous government subsidies for most of these folks.

My wife and I are working to afford to retire some day in the distant future. We don't expect to receive government benefits. Our years of careful prudence will likely be repaid with "needs testing" that will prevent us from receiving Social Security or other socialized benefits. No matter. We are planning for it. But I expect to work many more years than either of my parents did to achieve this goal.

Our kids are a different story. There's little I can do to turn off the government's debt and deficit spigots. My family's ability to change the nation's demographic future is very limited. We are blessed, but we aren't wealthy. We won't be able to fund our kids' future retirements. They will simply have to deal with the realities faced by their own generation.

Hopefully everything will work out for us. We will simply deal with whatever really happens. But I pray for my kids and their future.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What B.S. Really Means According to One Apostle

While writing my father's biography I revisited a story that Dad used to tell. Many years ago Dad was attending a priesthood leadership meeting where the presiding authority was Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

I wasn't present, so I can only share the story as Dad told it to me. Elder Smith struck Dad as a very serious and austere man. He wondered if the man had any sense of humor at all.

Back in those days the scope of non-official publications aimed at the Latter-Day Saint population was fairly limited. Almost anything published in this genre was quickly gobbled up by interested Latter-Day Saints. Among the publications offered during that period of time were several works by W. Cleon Skousen. I recall seeing these books in our home as well as in many other homes.

As was (and still is) customary at priesthood leadership meetings presided over by a general authority, Elder Smith eventually opened the meeting for a question and answer period. This was a rare opportunity to have gospel and church related questions answered. Joseph Fielding Smith was considered not only a religious authority figure, but also a religious scholar.

During this session, one brother in the congregation asked Elder Smith a question about Cleon Skousen's books. Elder Smith responded, "I know Brother Skousen and I read his books. As is my practice, I make notes in the margins as I read. When I come across something in one of Brother Skousen's books that I believe to be his private interpretation, I write 'B.S.' in the margin..."

Elder Smith appeared to be completely serious as he delivered this line. After a handful of nervous chuckles from the congregation subsided, Elder Smith continued in total deadpan, "...which, of course, stands for 'Brother Skousen.'"

The congregation roared with laughter, but Elder Smith stood at the pulpit stony faced and seemingly unperturbed. Dad then realized that he had misjudged Elder Smith's sense of humor.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Looking Back on My Silent Crisis of Faith

The first anti-Mormon I encountered was a guy on my high school campus handing out legal size flyers, both sides of which were covered with questions about Mormonism. The man truly looked like a drug addict. Most students that took flyers tossed them in the nearby trashcan. Before long, the school's resource officer ushered the guy off campus for violating public policy regarding distribution of materials at a school.

Later that day a couple of students brought copies of the flyers to seminary class. My seminary teacher admonished students to disregard and not even read anything written on the flyers. Most took his advice. But after class I talked with one classmate that had some real concerns about some of the items on the paper. A couple of other students slammed him for even entertaining such questions. I could see that he was frustrated. Was there no room in the religion for honest inquiry?

Since that time, I have known a number of people that have experienced a crisis of faith. Many of them have grappled with doubts based in the church's claims to truth. Many that know me—even my most intimate associates—might be surprised to learn that I too have struggled through a crisis of faith. Although I am a habitual journal keeper, I kept the matter so close that I didn't even write much about it in my journal.

The recent FAIR conference addressed doubt, shaken faith, the ways people leave the church, and even some of the ways that people return to the church. Some of the addresses I found interesting included Michael R. Ash's presentation about his book, Shaken Faith Syndrome; Seth Payne's talk about ministering to those struggling with doubt; and a discussion among four scholars that each had gone through a major faith crisis. At least three of those in the discussion had left the church but had subsequently returned.

I also found Rosalynde Welch's Disenchanted Mormonism presentation quite captivating; although, my own experience significantly differs from hers. Welch paints herself as a faithful Latter-Day Saint that has gone through life with little connection to the spiritual and mystic elements of the religion. She admits that her case might seem odd, given that the church is founded on and emphasizes the modern importance of spiritual events. But she seems to revel in the earthly value of various church practices and sociality.

Welch floats an intriguing idea about belonging. Namely, that individuals already either belong or do not belong to various groups and organizations, whether they know it or not. Their job is to discover where they fit. In this scenario, individual will is somewhat reduced from the modern Western understanding of individuality. I'm not sure where I come down on this idea. It's just a provocative thought.

Although Welch says that she does not discount the doubt->crisis model, she seems to suggest that it is too self-centric. The individual becomes his own god (my words, not hers) rather than humbly accepting "the limits of our intellectual and moral mastery." (Incidentally, Ralph Hancock provides a compelling argument against currently ascendant ultra individualism in this presentation.) Indeed, Don Bradley, who left and then later returned to the church, says in the round table discussion, "I am content now to let God be God and I’ll be Don."

My description may sound as if Welch is arguing for an uncritical approach to faith. I think that is not the case. Her presentation paints a more complex picture than that. It's worth reading and thinking about. At any rate, her presentation helped me better understand fellow worshipers that do not experience the spiritual as I do.

Several presenters asserted that too much rigidity in one's views of the church, its history, its people, and its doctrines lies at the root of most faith crisis situations. Even the most scholarly individual has some inflexible views that are founded in partial truths and faulty assumptions. When presented with evidence (or even supposed evidence) that seems to directly challenge views that underlie critical foundations, a faith crisis can result. (Note that presenting challenging information is fairly easy, while delving into a proper answer is often very complex.)

Many that experience such a crisis deal with it silently, as I did. They may be unaware that others have already grappled with and have expertly answered many of their questions. (See, for example.) Since a significant part of their identity and position in life is tied to the church, many are reticent to expose their doubts to others. They may (with some justification) fear that they will be treated in alienating rather than loving ways. Other church (and even family) members may naturally react with revulsion in an effort to inoculate themselves against the faltering faith of the doubter.

While my experience includes some common elements of shaken faith, I eventually came to understand that my doubts were secondary to my real crisis.

I had over a period of several years explored my personal political philosophy. During this period, I assumed alliances with some groups that seemed to share some of my understanding. As I did so, I uncritically adopted other views espoused by these groups, as if this was required of one with my political identity. (Faulty reasoning: if I agree with group X about A, and group X believes B, I must also believe B.)

As I increasingly became involved in debating this constellation of political views, I developed very un-Christ-like sentiments toward some with opposing views. The more I did this, the more I experienced seemingly imperceptible changes in my private religious practices. My prayers became less fervent and more rote. Personal scripture study suffered. Efforts to repent became less frequent and less sincere. Those with whom I disagreed became objects rather than children of God. (See 1 John 4:20.)

Although I was still doing all of the outward things that good and worthy members of the church do, fulfilling my callings, serving others, etc., I had allowed some significant chinks in my armor to go unaddressed. About this time I was exposed to some historical information that didn't fit with my (fairly well studied) view of church history. This even came from friendly, relatively orthodox sources.

I was weak, so doubts were more easily sowed. The more I mused on these doubts the more I felt like I was just going through the motions of church membership with a kind of internal emptiness. But my concerns felt very real and very significant.

I can't really say why this happened, but one day I experienced a moment of reflective clarity. I realized that I had become more certain about my politics than about my religion. I had been defending political ideas that I didn't really believe. Maybe politics was even becoming my religion.

Somehow I was able to step back and look at what was happening to me. I didn't like what I saw. I considered what I really knew deep within and what was really important to me. There were some bedrock matters that I could not deny that made my doubts pale into insignificance.

In a flash, I divorced myself from political debate. (I'm not suggesting that this would be the right step for anybody else.) I began re-examining my religious faith and my political views, giving the former preeminence over the latter. My relationship with God and with others began to improve at that moment. That was only the beginning. Over time my religious understanding has gained new stability while my political views have evolved significantly.

Although answers to my religious doubts did not immediately appear, I felt the Spirit prompting me to be still and patient. Over time I found answers to some concerns. I am still waiting for others. But that doesn't bother me at all. I have become reconnected to God in a way that puts these matters into perspective.

Like Janet Eyring said in the linked round table discussion, scripture study and the sacrament have become richer experiences for me because "you see your own self, you know you’re fallen. You know your flawed self in scriptures that you didn't see when you were younger." She is saying that you better understand how much you need Christ. Although they're not in the current version of the LDS Hymnal, I experience the hymns Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and Amazing Grace with personally poignant insight that was previously lacking.

Seth Payne's ideas about reaching out to those struggling with a crisis of faith are valuable. Unfortunately this kind of internal strife may not be readily apparent to us, just as my struggles were likely invisible to others. This kind of care and ministering requires spiritual discernment that is rarely experienced unless diligently sought.

The validity of Rosalynde Welch's postulation on belonging might be questionable, but it has been made powerfully clear to me that I am where I belong. And I'm happy; much happier than when I was excessively focusing on real and imagined flaws.

I am not the last seemingly stalwart church member that calls his own basis of faith into question. I pray for those that are dealing with or that will deal with this kind of thing because I know that, as the hymn says, "Dear are the sheep that have wandered Out in the desert to pine."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Should a Child be His Parent's Biographer?

A few years ago after my dad passed away, I wrote a series of blog posts about him. The posts were not really planned. I just dashed off what came into my head at the time. At the request of family members, I put the posts together in a PDF document and shared it with family members.

I never felt that the document was well received. My mom said that I had some facts wrong. A number of times I pressed her for help in remedying any factual errors, but she would always change the subject. Eventually I came to sense that Mom didn't really have issues with my facts; just with my tone, tempo, and treatment.

This is to be expected. After all, even the best biography is strongly colored by the biographer's personal view. And that view is bound to differ in significant ways from the views of others that knew the subject well.

Other family members provided little feedback on my document. Most of them probably never bothered to read it. I'm not sure I can blame them. One of my cousins spent years putting together a book about my grandparents. My several attempts to read it have always ended in an evaporation of interest.

Still, I have long thought about writing a more detailed biography of my father. He was a unique man with an interesting life story. Earlier this year I told of several events from Dad's life at a family gathering. Some family members encouraged me to write them down. Most of these episodes are recorded in my personal journal, but I have (understandably, I hope) not made that publicly available.

Dad refused to record a personal history during his life. He claimed that all such works he had seen were entirely too self serving and unbalanced. I'm not sure whether he lacked confidence in his ability to overcome this common error. But he certainly saw no value in writing a history.

My father told me more than once that most people's histories should be embodied in what is personally experienced by those with whom they have contact. The personal history thus becomes a diffused thing that necessarily dies out with the passing of those individual memories. Dad noted that most of our ancestors had, like most people that have lived on this earth, passed into anonymity. He saw no reason that he should be so arrogant as to think that his story somehow merited more attention than theirs. "No one will care about it after two generations anyway," he said.

Still, I felt compelled to write Dad's biography. I undertook the task a few months ago. I finished the 60+ page text over the weekend. I asked my wife, who is an avid reader, to proofread the document. "A fool" I told her, "is his own proofreader." She helped me ferret out some errors and fix formatting. But she didn't provide a lot of feedback on the content.

Is it balanced? Did I forget anything important? Does it have offensive passages? "It's fine," my wife assured me. Perhaps the best feedback I got was when I walked into the office while she was reading and saw her wiping tears from her eyes. At least some sections of the work are poignant enough to elicit such a response.

I have included a few photos. But I want to add more photos before I complete the work and send it out to family members. Most of the pictures are in Mom's possession. It will take some time to go through volumes of photos and determine which ones to scan and include.

Although I am happy to have completed the initial draft of the text, I must admit that I am somewhat reticent to share it with family members. As noted above, each family member has his own view that necessarily differs from mine. The work also contains personal information about people that are still living. Some of this could be rather sensitive, such as how Dad dealt with my brother's failing marriage. Will some want me to redact such information? Would Dad's story be sufficiently complete without it?

In response to these concerns, my wife suggests that each family member is free to write his own biography or to record his own memories of Dad. True. But I don't wish to unnecessarily cause familial disharmony. In fact, my goal is to help others remember and appreciate Dad.

Some have claimed that children tend to make very poor biographers for their parents because of the complex relationship that tends to exist between parent and child. This may be true and I may be unable to escape this curse. But frankly, I am likely the only one that would ever undertake writing Dad's biography. It's either this or nothing. And in my opinion, the biography I have written is better than nothing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Football Season Returns: Spare Me!

Gaaaa! It's that time of year again! I was starkly reminded of this fact last Saturday when I was out with one of my sons. He happened to be wearing a bright red Utah Utes T-shirt. Now, this boy happens to know nothing about University of Utah athletics. The shirt is an artifact of a successful bargain hunt.

My magnificent wife has done yeoman's work over the years making sure that our family has regular portrait photos taken. During their formative years each child has portraits taken near his or her annual birthday. This makes for a good family history record.

Family portraits are a bit different than individual photo sessions. My wife carefully plans what each family member is to wear to ensure a visually pleasing collage. Sometimes we're casual; sometimes formal.

Last year my wife planned for our final family portrait before shipping sons off on missions. One son that is currently serving a mission was studying nuclear physiology at the U of U. Why the U of U? It's the only university in Utah that has a nuclear reactor. He considered out of state universities but opted to stay in Utah.

Our aspiring nuclear physicist enjoyed his time at the U, but he cared not one whit about U of U sports. "Could somebody explain to me again how the university's sports program improves my education?" he would ask.

One fine day my wonderful wife was perusing the clearance offerings in a store. It seems that she cannot pass a rack or a shelf labeled "Clearance" without stopping to look for deals. Suddenly the answer to her dilemma about the wardrobe for the family's upcoming photo session presented itself in the form of Utah Utes T-shirts for only $4 each. The bright red background with the bold white letters and logo would look perfect in the outdoor setting. And besides, we did have a son attending the university.

I'm afraid that I failed to act sufficiently enthused when my wife showed me her frugal find. I'm not a sports guy. I just don't understand it. I can't figure out why I'm supposed to feel engaged in games played by people I don't even know. How is a sports team's performance supposed to impact my life in any functional way? The fact that some of these people are athletic celebrities sways me not one bit. To me the whole thing seems like a modern throwback to tribal brutality. It's like some kind of bizarre state sponsored religion that has its own rituals, holy days, and forms of worship.

But I didn't put up too much of a fuss. For months now I have had on my desk at work a lovely portrait of all seven members of our family clad in Utah Utes T-shirts. Although, to be honest, it kind of galls me to have co-workers think that I am somehow a U of U fan.

Back to last Saturday. My son and I were approached by one of the workers at the establishment we were visiting. She kindly asked about my son's T-shirt. He replied, "I'm not really a fan. It's just the shirt that came up in the rotation this morning."

The worker pushed aside her apron to reveal a BYU logo emblazoned on her dark blue T-shirt. "Well, I'm wearing this shirt to support my team today," she proudly announced.

Dread crept over me as it suddenly dawned on me that it was football season. I guess I should have had fair warning. School has started and the fall colors are coming on. But with my high degree of apathy for football coupled with the fact that I have no kids involved in the sport, I had been going along blissfully ignorant until I found myself in the middle of a tribal rivalry.

I looked around and realized that several other patrons of the establishment were clad in various styles of officially licensed BYU clothing. I wanted no part of this rivalry. I wanted nothing to do with football. I wanted to get out of the place.

By the way, exactly what is wearing something devoted to 'your team' on game day supposed to do? Is it supposed to help the team perform better or something like that? Whoa, that's superstitious. Or is it merely stating one's tribal affiliation so that you know who to like and who to dislike? Which circles back to the whole tribal mentality thing. Maybe I'm just sports impaired. I just don't get it. Moreover, I don't want to get it.

Anyway, my son and I were soon on our way. It's not like we were bullied or beat up by cheerful BYU fans. Neither of us knew nor cared about which games were being played that day. But after getting home I went to my closet and shuffled my portrait worthy Utah Utes T-shirt in the stack to make sure that it won't come up in the rotation until after football season is over.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Trail Life USA Offers a Scouting Alternative to the Boy Scouts of America

In a June 3 post about the BSA's decision to stop excluding gay Boy Scouts, I opined that some conservative churches that have traditionally sponsored BSA units may opt to start their own scouting organization. The Deseret News is reporting that this took place last Friday when "a group of Christians ... formed an alternative, faith-based scouting organization called Trail Life USA."

The Christian Post reports that "Trail Life USA is modeled after the American Heritage Girls." AHG was founded by a group of Christian moms in 1995 to offer a "Christ centered" alternative to what they saw as an increasingly secularized Girl Scouts program. Per Wikipedia AHG now has units throughout the United States with a total membership of just under 21,000 youth and adults.

The Christian Post reports that TLUSA was launched by more than "1,200 former BSA officials, parents and youth representing 44 U.S. states," and that the organization expects to have a nationwide program up and running by next January. But founder John Stemberger admits, "Most of us are coming from a highly-structured environment that has 103 years of culture and language and program and symbols … and we are starting from scratch."

The D-News article bears the attention grabbing headline, "End of Boy Scouts? Christian coalition creates new scouting group." That's more than a little over the top. Consider, for example, the fact that Girl Scouts of the USA boasts more than 3.16 million members (see Wikipedia article). If AHG is TLUSA's model, the BSA will see little competition, given that AHG's membership is less than 1% of GSUSA's membership.

Moreover, TLUSA will find tremendous recruiting challenges unless it can successfully differentiate itself from the BSA. TLUSA founders note that the organization was developed in response to the vote by the BSA this past June to drop its longtime ban on gay Boy Scouts. But TLUSA's admissions policy is almost the same as the new BSA policy. It admits gay youth as long as they refrain from engaging in sexual activity or promoting a homosexual agenda. It prohibits homosexual adult leaders.

So what can TLUSA offer to get churches to drop more than a century of tradition? Stemberger says that TLUSA will offer "a masculine outdoor program" that aims to be "stronger, safer and more principled in every way" than the BSA's program. Sounds great. But many are going to want more than mere promises before making the jump.

My understanding is that AHG gets support from evangelical churches by offering a program that is doctrinally structured to dovetail with evangelical teachings to which many non-members do not subscribe. The religious element of AHG would not seem to work well for non-evangelicals.

TLUSA's Stemberger says, "I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program. But at the same time, we are not going to become religious and churchy. This is not another church program." I could be wrong, but this sounds rather different from the AHG model. It will be interesting to see how the TLUSA program develops.

Although TLUSA may garner only a few thousand members, I think that competition in American scouting programs can serve to strengthen scouting in general. Offering alternative scouting programs for those that feel out of step with large scouting organizations will likely serve youth better than insisting on huge scouting monopolies. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

To War Again? What Think Ye?

American life in the early part of this century was indelibly affected by the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Many facets of life today are still colored by these horrific events. So I can't help but reflect on the past dozen years as I consider the current push to take the U.S. to war in Syria.

To war? Yes. Although the administration describes its military ambitions in Syria as a very limited affair, one cannot deny that such intervention would be an act of war. Nor can anyone guarantee that the conflict would be short lived and would require minimal American blood and/or treasure. The most prescient among us cannot see where this will lead.

Like most Americans, I supported going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In retrospect, I see that no one can really say whether we or the world are better off for having engaged in these conflicts. Effective arguments can be made either way. But all such propositions rely on projected might-have-been scenarios that are impossible to prove.

The entire reason behind engaging in any military conflict is to make life better than it would be otherwise. No serious person considers war a panacea. We all pretty much know war produces unsavory and often unexpected outcomes. But it is proposed that those outcomes are preferred to what would happen if we didn't press the matter.

How do past conflicts rate on this scale? Perusing this list of wars involving the U.S., it seems that clear victories have been pretty sparse as of late. Some of the listed victories are questionable. The 12-year Iraq no-fly zone was a victory? Then why did we end up going to war in Iraq?

Numerous conflicts are ongoing. Almost no one thinks that Afghanistan is going well. Have our efforts there improved American lives? Foreign lives? Most Americans can't tell you what our objectives in Afghanistan are. Many military people wonder the same.

After a quick victory in Iraq we had a very bad time before wrapping up the operation somewhat favorably. We no longer have a blustering dictator there. The government isn't overtly challenging the U.S. But the security situation there is a shambles and there are reports of operational terrorist training camps in the country.

Many Americans don't even remember the 2011 Libyan Civil War because U.S. involvement was relatively brief and low key. We went in, did quick work, and got out, while other governments did most of the high profile work. And the conflict ended fairly rapidly.

Administration supporters are suggesting that the Syria incursion would be more along the lines of Libya 2011 of Bosnia 1993-95. Lots of air support. Make things go boom. Then leave.

Maybe. But the Pottery Barn rule warning given to the Bush 43 administration on Iraq applies here too: If you break it you own it. Unlike Libya, the U.S. would not be simply playing a supporting role. Unlike Bosnia, the U.S. would not be just taking part in a mission championed by the U.N. and carried out by NATO.

Just as no one doubted that Saddam Hussein was an atrocious and obnoxious dictator, no one doubts that Bashar al-Assad is a murderous despot. Nor is there much doubt that he has used internationally forbidden chemical weapons against his enemies in the current civil war.

President Obama insists that the objective of any U.S. attack on Syria would be to simply eliminate Assad's ability to use banned weapons of mass destruction, not to effect regime change or even affect the balance of power in Syria's civil war. Go in, blow things up, and then leave the warring parties to continue their fight.

Some are asking why the U.S. should do this. As one Democratic senator put it; while Syria has been meddlesome, it offers no direct threat to the U.S., nor do we have any allies there. Why should the U.S. get involved in a war where it's a shame that both sides can't lose?

Some suggest that since Russia and China have been supporting Assad, the U.S. must support Assad's enemies, even if they are also our enemies. Did we learn nothing from using the Vietnam War as a proxy for the Cold War?

President Obama insists that the action is necessary to bolster faith in international law. If one state can flout broadly agreed weapons prohibitions, what will prevent other states from doing so if there are no resultant negative consequences? The administration also argues that Assad could easily use these weapons on our allies in the region; although, he has not yet moved to do so. So the strike would be both punitive and preventative.

Of course, this only works if it produces the desired results. We will only know in hindsight if it was worth doing. We might well ask what might be the worst possible outcome if we did not attack Syria? What might be the worst possible outcome if we did?

Also, there are those pesky voices echoing all the way back to the Spanish-American War asking why the U.S. should play the role of being the world's police force. How well has this served us? Others are asking whether this would be both a just and a necessary war. Just, perhaps. But necessary? I will leave that to your judgment.

Given our recent track record, Americans spanning the political landscape are justifiably reticent to become involved in another Middle Eastern war. No doubt there is plenty of domestic political gamesmanship involved in the matter. But that ought to be a tawdry sideshow to the important moral and security questions before us.

Is this the right thing to do? The answer is simple for both staunch libertarians (no) and defense hawks (yes). For everyone else it is not so cut and dried.

Some will choose apathy, reasoning that the government will do whatever it will do regardless of their opinion on the matter. Some will choose a shallow response based on what their perceived political allies are saying.

But I think it matters how one feels in one's heart on the matter. A reasoned and even prayerfully formed opinion is worth pursuing, because doing so will reveal more of your own true character. Honest people can come to different conclusions. But no one can rob you of the qualities developed through this process. And should anyone ask your opinion, you will be able to answer from a solid mooring deep within your soul.