Monday, October 23, 2017

Come to Scratch

I have told this story before, in a 2010 blog post, but I think it’s worth retelling seven years later. It seems to fit well with the intent of this post. As you will see as the discussion proceeds, I “came to scratch” with the adversary and lost.

My first chance to get a taste of real beer came one evening in Antioch, California when I was about 14 years old, as I was babysitting our next-door neighbor’s children. They were not LDS, and there were three or four beer cans on the table in front of the couch. There was also cold beer in the refrigerator. I didn’t have the courage to open a fresh one, but as I shook some of the cans on the table, I discovered that they still had some beer in them. After some personal discussion with the adversary (or one of his minions):

“Go on – try it.”
“No. It’s against the Word of Wisdom.”
“So what? One sip won’t kill you. Some of your friends have already tried it. Who’s gonna know?”
“OK. Just one sip.”

I guess that I gave in to the adversary’s whisperings pretty easily, but I really wanted to know what beer tasted like, so I picked up the fullest can and took a big swig. It was then that I was introduced to the previously-unknown-by-me practice of snuffing out cigarettes in half-empty beer cans. My wife’s father told her that beer tasted like old mop water. I still have a memory of the taste of the beer/cigarette butt combination – far worse than any mop water I can imagine. I ran into the kitchen, spat the nasty stuff into the sink, and rinsed my mouth out about a hundred times. Cool water never tasted so good.

The oxford English Dictionary defines the term “come to scratch” as follows:
A line or mark drawn as an indication of a boundary or starting-point; in Pugilism, the line drawn across the ring, to which boxers are brought for an encounter.

In various phrases (often figurative), such as “come up to the scratch,” “bring to the scratch,” “toe the scratch,” and so forth, There is a connotation of  contestants defiantly facing each other across the line, ready to do some kind of mayhem as soon as the signal is given. As a matter of fact, one of the names given to Satan is “Old Scratch.” An interesting quote from Anne Osborn Poelman’s book, The Amulek Alternative: Exercising Agency in a World of Choice, goes like this:
Common appellations for the devil have included Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, and even "Old Scratch." He has been variously called the prince of darkness, the great imitator, the master deceiver, the father of lies. In the lyrics of a song by a popular hard rock group, the Rolling Stones, the devil was even misleadingly described as "a man of wealth and taste."

The adversary is always willing to toe the scratch. He is glad for a confrontation and up for any challenge. Whether it’s wondering what beer tastes like, going boating on Sunday, putting a quarter in a slot machine, (or any of a million other sophistries), Old Scratch offers the temptation, and he is always “up to scratch.”

As a matter of fact, he, like the liar and cheat he is, doesn’t even wait for the signal. At the first sign of our willingness to toe the line with him, he jumps across the line and attacks us full force, encouraging and abetting our willingness to succumb.

Defiantly facing the adversary across the line can have only two outcomes. One is that he attacks and wins – and we are closer to becoming instruments in his hands. The second is that we have strengthened ourselves through the gospel so that we can resist the enticement Satan offers, supported by our resolve and the wonderful amazing grace that the Lord offers us! Carlos E. Asay, in his book, The Road to Somewhere: A Guide for Young Men and Women, teaches a profound lesson about our relationship with Satan:
…they who invite or dare others to engage in sinful practices serve as instruments in the hands of the evil one-Old Scratch, Satan, Lucifer, or call him what you will.

Elder Francis M. Gibbons of the Seventy, in the October 1991 General Conference, taught the following in his talk, titled, The Dual Aspects of Prayer:
…while Satan can convey thoughts, he does not know whether these thoughts have taken root unless they are reflected either in our words or our actions.… It is clear then, that Satan and his followers, who have been cast out of God's presence and are dead to His Spirit, are excluded from those who by the spirit of prophecy and revelation may know the thoughts and the intents of our hearts…

But why should we challenge or aid Satan? Why should we face him across the line? Would it not be better to stay far back from the line? Satan cannot know our thoughts. He can only plant thoughts in our minds and watch the results. That’s what he did with me and the beer. He is willing to plant thoughts in our minds (often at the most inopportune times) across the line, but must wait to see the results of his efforts.

A quote from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, tells us about a great prophet’s counsel about “coming to scratch” with the Father of Lies:
George Albert Smith often repeated the counsel his grandfather used to give to his family: “There is a line of demarcation well defined between the Lord’s territory and the devil’s territory. If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line you will be under his influence and will have no desire to do wrong; but if you cross to the devil’s side of that line one inch you are in the tempter’s power and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly because you will have lost the Spirit of the Lord.”

One inch? I would suggest that not only should we stay on the Lord’s side of the line, but that we should stay far away from the line. We should never “come to scratch” with Old Scratch himself. He doesn’t fight fairly. He knows no rules and obeys no laws – he was cast down in the preexistence because of his wanton disdain for the laws of free agency, justice and mercy.

Satan reached across the line. I responded – I tasted the beer. He planted the thought in my mind and watched me cross the line with glee. I knew the line was there; I had been taught. But the beer commercials made it seem manly and cool (another counterfeit), and gave me the impression that it really had to taste great (I was leaning toward something like cream soda). So I walked a little too close to the line. I gave the adversary the opportunity to reach across the line to entice me to come to scratch with him. Inevitably, I lost. He won. Lesson learned – with Satan getting a huge laugh out of the combination of cigarette butts and warm beer!

Don’t taste the beer, figuratively or literally. Don’t come to scratch with Old Scratch.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Personal TOUCHDOWN!

When I was in 9th grade in the old Antioch Junior High School (long gone now) we had gym class every day. We suited up in our grey shorts and tee shirts (gym uniform – everybody wore the same thing) and went out on the playing fields to do whatever our gym instructors wanted us to do.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Murals

In the Salt Lake Temple, the walls in the various rooms are covered with beautiful murals. While the temple is not open to the public (only church members in good standing may enter), many smaller renditions of the murals can be seen in the work of the 5 art missionaries sent to Paris to prepare by studying with the masters of the Paris art scene. They were to return and paint appropriate murals on the walls. The most prominent among them was a Swiss-born artist, John C. Hafen. You can find out much more about him by Googling John C. Hafen, or Utah impressionism.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


From my admittedly imperfect point of view, wondering seems to me to be the key to many great discoveries. Scientists wonder. Clerics wonder. Philosophers wonder. Mathematicians wonder. Artists wonder. We all wonder many times in our lives about many things.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Practiced Ease

I have always been fascinated by the organ in the Tabernacle at Temple Square (and now, by the one in the Conference Center too). When I was very young, the organ seemed to be magical to me. It was impossibly huge, and the music it made was fascinating and mysterious. I couldn’t imagine where it came from. It had always existed as far as I was concerned, and was just part of the Tabernacle, which had always existed too. But describes the real history of the organ briefly:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Teaming with the Lord

The Savior has told us from Old Testament times that he would team with us to make our burdens lighter, to work out our salvation, and to advocate for us with the Father. In Leviticus 26:12-13 Jehovah tells us:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Your Personal Tree of Life

Behold the Cashew! A most unique fruit; both the seed and the fruit are highly edible and enjoyable, but the seed (nut) is difficult to obtain and the apple has a very short useful life.