“Be Not Afraid, Only Believe” (Mark 5:36)

UFO Sighting, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, 1941. Courtesy Flikr Commons.

When I was a young boy, I saw a UFO. As I’ve shared my story over the years, few have believed me. I’m grateful to those who have been open to the possibility that I didn’t make my story up. I know what I saw. It was real. It wasn’t my imagination.

Maybe this experience is why I tend to be a believer and not a skeptic. Maybe this is why I believe anything is possible.

As I recall, it was in the late summer or early fall. I was a young boy, 5 or 6 years old. One afternoon, I was playing football—or the comical grade school version of it—with three or four friends in a neighbor’s huge backyard. I don’t know who caught sight of it first, but gasps and shouts got everyone’s attention focused on a rather unusual sight that suddenly appeared in the sky.

Across the street and hovering a few hundred feet above another neighbor’s house was what most people at that time would call a flying saucer. I could see it between a pair of Lombardy poplars. I remember the place where I was standing and I could take you to the exact spot today.

The craft hung in the sky as if it were observing us. It was a luminous gray color. The bottom of it was wider than the top. The edges were soft and rounded and it seemed to be spinning and wobbling slightly. Below the craft was a small round protrusion with rotating lights of various soft colors—orange, red, green and perhaps a sort of purple.

I don’t think any of us were afraid. I personally don’t remember feeling any fear. We yelled and pointed at it and ran as a group in its direction. After being visible for 10 to 20 seconds, as I was running, it was obscured for a moment behind one of those poplars and it disappeared in an instant, as if a window to another dimension opened up and swallowed it whole.

I have a vague recollection of telling my parents what had happened later that night. I recall my father smiling and dismissing my story as only my imagination. A bit ashamed, I kept the story to myself for many years.

Recently I retold the story to a close friend, one who was there with me that afternoon. He confirmed that he saw the same UFO and remembered many of the details exactly as I have shared them with you.

So why do I tell this story to you, to further embarrass myself? No, I’m not worried about that at all. Am I trying to convince you to believe me? No, not that either. I’m just telling you about an experience I had. You can believe or disbelieve me. That’s up to you.

The truth is the truth, whether we believe it or not. It’s nothing to be afraid of, but I fear our understanding of the truth can trip us up at times. I’ve been tripped up many times, for sure. And I’ve tripped up others. For that I am sincerely and deeply sorry.

We can believe whatever we want to believe. It’s our choice. No one can make that choice for us. No one can talk us into believing anything without our permission and nobody should.

I have always been a believer. I have believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world from the time I was a small boy. It always gave me a warm glow just to think about Him. It still does, but that warm glow has turned into a bonfire of belief.

When you believe something, true or not, you often find confirming evidence because of something called confirmation bias, which can be misleading. The more conscious we can be of our bias, the better. Less tripping up that way.

To some, believing in UFOs or alien beings or Bigfoot or other cryptids may seem contrary to traditional Christian beliefs. Some find it hard to wedge such things in to a preconceived reality.

Here’s how I look at it: Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that UFOs do not exist? You can’t. On the other hand, can I prove to you that they do exist? I can’t. But the reality of my experience has proved it to me. I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m the only one accountable for my beliefs and choices. Yes, I’ve been sideswiped many times by other people’s choices as I’m sure you have. Others can influence us, but you and I alone can choose what to accept, believe, and how to live.

You choose to believe what you believe usually based on your experience; I choose likewise. My experience in faith, politics, career, and family is so different from yours that I can’t see the world like you do and you can’t see my world, either. But I trust you and I don’t want to disrespect what you have experienced or believe. I honor you. We are living in different worlds, so to speak, and I refuse to judge the world you live in.

I am not out—er, I am no longer out—to try to convince anyone about anything. I may share my feelings, beliefs, far out stories, or invite you to consider something new, but I won’t try to “get you” to believe me. Not anymore. Nuh uh.

You’re a sovereign being. You have freedom of choice. I don’t know of a weightier eternal principle than agency, the freedom to choose and believe as you will.

Freedom of choice, however, is not freedom from law, whether we are aware of those laws or not. If you walk off the edge of a cliff, for instance, the law of gravity will remind you, perhaps one last time, that you are not in charge of the results of your final choice.

Angels or wrecking ball incoming. Our choice.

I’ve suffered from bait-and-switch offers. I’m sure you have too. But the results of those choices, harmless or harmful, have shaped my beliefs and, sometimes after multiple failures, have sharpened them to be more accurate perceptions of reality and more helpful to me and others.

What you believe and what you don’t believe makes all the difference. It’s all on you, ultimately. And I choose to love you, no matter what you choose to believe or do.

A Release from an Unsolemn Duty

Brothers and sisters, we only have one item of ward business today, but it’s a doozy.

Would everyone please stand. Yes, everyone. That’s it. Thank you.

We have released every one of you from the responsibility of judging others. Each of you who would like to show appreciation for officially being released from this unsolemn duty, you may do so with a show of hands.

Thank you. The “voting” appears to be unanimous in the affirmative. You may all now be seated.

By way of explanation, brothers and sisters, you and I have never had a duty to judge others. (That’s why I called it unsolemn.) In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1.) That’s a commandment, and I think He meant it.

None of us has the responsibility to judge our wives or husbands, our children, our parents, our neighbors and friends. We can’t even really judge ourselves. Our Heavenly Father has delegated all judgment to Someone better suited to the job than you or I. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” (John 5:22.)

Why? Because He is the only one who can do it fairly and accurately. He is the only one who will do it always with mercy and love. I know we like to amuse ourselves with the illusion that we know what other people are up to, what they are thinking, and why they do things. But the truth is we are almost always flat wrong.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need to use our discernment to make decisions about who our children spend time with, what movies to watch, who we should be friends with, work for, or marry. We need to follow our inner guidance system—the light of Christ—to help us know what is good and safe for us. That is not judgment: That is righteous judgment.

What’s the difference between judgment and righteous judgment? Jesus explained it in a sermon: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24).

When we are in judgment, we are in the “natural man” and we are denying the atonement. Especially when we judge ourselves. It’s time to give it up. The more we practice, the better we’ll get at leaving judgment in the hands of our Savior.

I know we can do it.

(A remark on a CD by S. Michael Wilcox gave me the idea for this blog entry.)