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Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel Triforce

fdf2ca21ee17c380a0975a681d47c833Here’s my Sunday thought. Much as been said of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but what, exactly, is it? One answer can be found in 2 Nephi 31:

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost …”

But what is the way? What is the doctrine? The answers are in the preceding verse, but I wanted to read it in reversed order to stress how important this preceding verse is. It contains three essential principles:

“Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ [(one) faith], having a perfect brightness of [(two)] hope, and a love of God and of all men [(3) charity]. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”

Nephi tells us that the “doctrine of Christ” is not an exhaustive work of rules and commandments but three simple principles. I’d heard before that faith, hope, and charity are good virtues to have, but not until reading the scripture yesterday did I make the connection that these three virtues ARE the gospel. Imagine with me a triangle, which we’ll endearingly call the gospel triforce. According to Nephi, it’s not enough to just exercise these virtues, we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” so in the center of this triangle we’ll put the face of Jesus Christ. And there we have it: the complete, encapsulated gospel.

It’s not hard to see why faith, hope, and charity are good things, but why must they center around the man Jesus of Nazareth? Have there not be many good prophets, wise men, rabbis, shamans, pundits, and imams who have taught these same principles? What makes Jesus so special? And is not the idea that he is the only name by which salvation comes narrow-minded, tribalistic, and old-fashioned? I will attempt to answer these questions.

First I’ll discuss the principle of faith, which, as Nephi describes, is not just faith in anything but faith in Jesus Christ. This immediately begs the question: why should we put our faith in Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, whom, as far as the secular world is concerned, lived on the other side of the planet and died nearly two-thousand years ago? Is putting faith in such a person not the definition of insanity? To anyone who would ask this question, I would respond, “Have you read Jesus?”

As far as we know, Jesus himself didn’t write anything, but his disciples recorded his life and teachings, and attempts to prove that Jesus never existed are no longer taken seriously by historians. What is fair to ask, however, is whether the gospel narratives contain Jesus’ true, unadulterated teachings, and whether or not the events described within them actually occurred. On these points, it does not appear that current science can confirm or deny their absolute veracity. For example, while there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence to suggest that Jesus was actually resurrected … the idea of resurrection is so far-fetched to the secular world that, understandably, they cannot accept it. However, this does mean that there is a better explanation for what happened. To me it seems like a divinely-instituted stalemate, where the burden of proof cannot be assigned to any one party but is placed on the individual reader, as if Jesus himself is saying to each and every one of us, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

We could respond, “You’re a great spiritual teacher, who I may or may not be interested in following, because I’ve got my own spiritual teachers, thank you very much.” Or, like Peter, we could say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Which camp are you in, and how can you discover which idea is correct? Jesus of Nazareth is either the Christ, the Son of God, the only way to salvation, as he himself said, or he was just another Jewish rabbi, and we’re a bunch of wackos for putting our trust in a dead guy. Hence my question, Have you read Jesus … seriously read Jesus? You are not only judge and jury, but your soul is on trial, and the stakes are eternal, and therefore you must consider the evidence.

I, of course, cannot read Jesus for you, though for what it’s worth, I can share my testimony. I love the words and stories Christ. Here is a man who single-handedly takes on the evils of the world. He’s bold, yet kind, powerful, yet merciful. He sees the good in lowly fishermen and looks right through the facades of kings and priests. His wisdom is profound if not otherworldly, and he practices what he teaches even while forgiving those who crucify him. Yet he’s the one in control, his sacrifice an unparalleled act of courage and love, not defeat. The bad guys cannot catch him. The doctors cannot out-think him. He inspired thousands, who inspired millions, and whatever he did, it so profoundly affected those who knew him, that they gladly walked into the jaws of death for his sake. These are facts. If Jesus, whose words depict the most honest man I have ever read of, is not who he says he was, then where did this unparallelled endowment of light and truth come from? There are no words that can inspire me like the words of Jesus.

Of course, not everyone perceives his words as truthful, as his gospel was not designed to be forced upon us. Each one of us must choose what we’ll do with this fruit. Some find it sweet and precious, others find it bitter and common. Though the question at hand is not only whether or not the fruit is sweet but what the long-term effects will be for those who make it a regular part of their diets versus those who do not. As demonstrated by the lives and examples of his disciples, I believe we can find further and quantifiable proof that it is good for us to put our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, all hope of another world aside, look what faith in Jesus Christ could do for you now. And if you like what you see, what’s left to lose?

Jesus Christ is more than a man, he is a movement, a legacy, an ideology. And central to this ideology is the idea of the flesh submitting to the spirit, of putting off the natural man and becoming a saint. Jesus not only taught us but showed us how to do this through his many examples of will-power, which led to his divine power. From his humble birth to his even humbler death, marked by a forsaking of riches and constant service, he showed us that worldliness (i.e. wickedness) never was happiness. He showed us that no amount of outward ordinances, generous contributions, large phylacteries, or hems on our garments are of any value if the soul isn’t right before God. This is an idea worth sharing.

But Jesus is more than an idea. He’s a man. His physical birth, life, death, and resurrection showed the world that God is not some abstract idea rooted in Greek philosophy but is a literal being with body parts and passions. What more, Jesus taught that each one of us is a god in the making, and that, therefore, what we do with our time on this earth is of tremendous consequence. As if that weren’t enough, he commanded us to be perfect, even as he and his father in heaven are perfect (3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus Christ is the way because he was perfect, and any way that does not require perfection of us will ultimately fall short of our goal of exaltation, because “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21).

Of course, none of us are perfect, and that presents a problem. We are in need of mercy from one who can lift us beyond the broken rungs of our spiritual progression. And who could we trust to do this but one who has, himself, mastered this perilous ascent? At this critical point, no prophet, hero, or teacher – or anyone who has not gone the full distance to perfection – could be adequate. Through his conflict-ridden life and his ultimate trial in Gethsemane, Christ learned and demonstrated more than any man that evil, sin, death, and the destroying powers are real, but that we, like him, through him, can and must overcome. He commanded us to follow him and continue his works and promised us that divine witness and power would attend those who courageously did so.

I have felt this divine witness, and it is my testimony that if anyone is worthy of our faith, it is Jesus Christ. Some might argue that no one’s worthy of our faith, but unless we’re completely stagnant, we can’t help but put our faith in something or someone, whatever ideal we aspire to become. Personally, I don’t believe that the question of faith or no faith is an option, only where we’ll put our faith.

Once you believe, as I do, that it is not only good but essential to put faith in Christ, we naturally come to the second principle of the Gospel triforce: hope. Of all the major wise teachers who have come and gone, by their own traditions, Jesus is the only who is even rumored to still be breathing. With the doctrine of his triumphant rise from the tomb comes a bright universe of endless possibilities. We learn that good will, indeed, conquer evil, that life will conquer death, that love is eternal, and that joy is boundless. In Christ’s own words: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). We have hope in Christ, because only he has conquered sin and death and opened the gate for us to follow. I do not know how this works any more than I can fully comprehend the miracle of how my wife and I created our children. But there they are in God’s own image, and similarly, I’m content to take it on faith that, somehow, Christ has made possible a second birth for all of us.

As King Benjamin put it, “… ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (Mosiah 5:7). When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as we would in a kind, protecting, and powerful father, we needn’t fear death. We needn’t fear opposition. We needn’t fear. Christ is hope.

And having found faith and hope, having tasted from the living waters, it becomes pretty hard to go back to regular water, which leaves us thirsty in the end. If we’re to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” as Nephi puts it, we must not only have “a perfect brightness of hope” but “a love of God and of all men.” Charity, the third point of the gospel triforce. This charity comes naturally, because having found purpose in life, seeing light ahead of us, and comprehending the great plan, we can’t help but feel God’s love for us and love him back, and when we’ve found this love, we can’t help but feel joy, and when we feel this joy, we can’t help but want to share it. As Joseph Smith put it, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church, 4:227).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t about a mystical connection with deity, a checklist of ordinances, an elect membership, or a free pass to heaven. It’s about becoming like Christ, doing his works, and renewing the whole world through his goodness and love. It is our mission to not only save ourselves but to help build the kingdom of God and assist in the salvation of all of our brothers and sisters. When people have found faith, hope, and charity in Christ, they can find peace in lions’ dens. No opposition is too great. And only when we’ve found this faith, hope, and charity is Zion possible, because these virtues are the foundation for integrity, accountability, duty, service, and equanimity. No government program or police state could ever shape from the outside what can only come from within. The world is in desperate need of disciples of Christ. Without them, we are all ripe for destruction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just to prepare us for some elusive heaven. It is the way of eternal life, which has everything to do with right now.

As Jesus himself put it, to which I add my testimony, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

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Paradoxical Intention and Why Unbelief Should Lead to Spirituality

hands holding the sun at dawnHere’s my Sunday thought. According to Wikipedia, “In psychotherapy, paradoxical intention is the deliberate practice of a neurotic habit or thought, undertaken to identify and remove it.” Founded by the German psychologist Viktor Frankl, the idea is that if you’re suffering from insomnia, rather than trying to sleep, which will most likely backfire, you should try to stay awake as long as possible. In trying not to sleep, you’ll naturally tire yourself out, and the body’s the sleep mechanism will automatically kick in with no further effort. Trying to sleep is like trying to forget: it’s indistinguishable from remembering.

If we believe that there’s no afterlife, it’s reasonable for a philosophy of nihilism to follow. Believing that it doesn’t matter what we do, it’s then reasonable for a life of hedonism to follow. As we inevitably fear the impending termination of our being, it’s reasonable to try to distract our senses with entertainment, sensations, and stimulants. But if all this is in response to a meaningless life, does it succeed in adding meaning, or, like trying to sleep in response to insomnia, does it exacerbate the problem?

Dr. Frankl demonstrates that when it comes to solving psychological challenges, our intuitions are often wrong. What if, in response to concluding that there is no God, instead of rebelling against the idea of God, we tried to become as godlike as possible?

For the vast majority of human history and cultures, the idea of deity played a central role in every day life, because while people lied, it was believe that God could not be deceived. Beneath pragmatic social contracts was an underlying contract between individuals and a transcendent ideology. For every action, word, and possibly even thought, individuals would be held accountable. And how could such accountability not improve individuals and societies? Anyone who’s tried to transform their body through exercise or healthy eating knows self-destructive temptations are a real thing, and accountability is crucial. One needs a friend, a deadline, or a beach party by which to gauge his salvation or damnation.

But if one honestly doesn’t believe in God, how can one feel accountable for his actions? Perhaps the French philosopher Voltaire had the answer: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I interpret this to mean that, when we see God as an ideal to strive for, the question of whether or not God actually exists is, at least in some ways, irrelevant. To allude back to the fitness metaphor, while it would be nice to see pictures of ripped muscle men for inspiration, whether they actually exist or are Photoshopped illusions should have no bearing on the progress of one’s bodybuilding.

If we believe that there’s no God to overlook the affairs of humanity, then we must become the gods, because the world desperately needs goodness, love, knowledge, power, and principle. Ironically, atheism really shouldn’t lead to hedonism but a more astute sense of purpose, accountability, and even spirituality, because with atheism should come a realization that everything depends on us.

Far from deluding one’s mind with dogma, it is my belief that everyone should choose to believe in the principles of God because of the inherent value in so doing. And who knows, one might actually discover God in the process.

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A Defense of the Mormon Mind

HumanmindHere are some thoughts I composed in response to an online debate. In an effort to be non-contentious (and to spare strangers the burden of reading a novel), I’m posting them on my blog instead.

I find it funny how points of minutia are turned into all-or-nothing arguments. How often, at church, do the exact age of the earth or the origins of race come into discussion as topics pertinent to salvation? In light of the arguments for the need of science to adapt and refine, why criticize religion for doing the same? Religion was never meant to be in the business of answering “how”, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many Mormons who view nineteenth-century speculations that rightfully belong to the realm of science as final. BYU has a fantastic evolutionary biology program, because Mormons aren’t afraid of discovering truth, whether or not it appears at first glance to be scripturally-supported. Of course there are exceptions to this rule as we’re all only human. But Joseph Smith defined the word Mormon as literally meaning “More good.” If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report (including any and all scientific data that sheds greater light about the origins and destiny of our planet), we seek it out. Whatever you think of Joseph Smith, nearly every section in the Doctrine and Covenants came as a result of asking a question and seeking an answer.

Much has been said of cognitive dissonance. But every time you point a finger, four point back at yourself. What about the cognitive dissonance that would come from abandoning a moral framework, a purpose to life, a family bond, a tie to our ancestors, a world-wide force for good, a personal accountability to God, and a quest for eternal progression and perfection … solely on behalf of the appearance of intellectual incongruities? There is no scientific principle or historical fact that I can’t learn and internalize as well within the church as without it. From my experience, this so-called Mormon thought-policing doesn’t exist. Yes, church isn’t an appropriate place to discuss contraversial history or the latest in string theory any more than lobbying for Rand Paul is appropriate at a Democratic rally. But those who really understand the Gospel know that the acquisition of knowledge and truth is entirely up to the individual. Are we going to search for information that fits within our world view and be skeptical of information that doesn’t? Of course. Everyone does this, because anything less would be unscientific. We have to stick with what we know, not what we don’t. People stay in the church because of an abundance of evidence that the fruits of the church are good.

Furthermore, it’s ironic how these appeals to the finality of science are, in themselves, nothing short of religious. Can science tell me how to live a fulfilling life, how to raise a family, or how to build a strong society? It’s possible that the answer to all of these questions could someday be yes, but in the mean time, are we going to live out our lives as lab rats? In his documentary “The God Delusion”, the famous atheist Richard Dawkins makes the argument that children are wired to receive instruction from their parents, because children can’t afford to learn through scientific observation. E.g. a child cannot test whether or not it’s a good idea to crawl off a cliff. To use this same logic, what if Dr. Freud concludes that sleeping around is perfectly natural and acceptable, and a few years later, everyone’s dying of STD’s? Do we not all need a roadmap that transcends the latest worldly opinions? Science is a terrible epistamology for determing moral frameworks. To state otherwise is nothing short of a religious opinion.

Genetic research has not disproven the Book of Mormon. There is overwhelming evidence that Joseph Smith possessed gold plates, just as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best-attested facts in ancient history. It’s not science that contradicts these points, it’s religion, a religion that believes that such fantastic claims could not possibly be true. While this is a perfectly understandable belief, my point is that pure religion is not un-scientific anymore than what’s often deemed as science is non-religious. It is a matter of faith to say that we know that all life evolved from a single cell on earth. This appears to be plausible, but there are so many unknowns. How do we account for the anomalies of the Cambrian Explosion, for evolutionary advantages that appear out of order, for the apparent introduction of a new species every million years or so, and then the sudden cessation of such upon the arrival of humans? Perhaps a better question is how do we explain how these facts seem to mysteriously align with Genesis 1?

When you look for contradictions, you’ll find them. When you look at the bigger picture, there is so much harmony. Photons that mysteriously behave in consequence of human will … evidence of paralellel universes that could be interacting with our own … the question of what it was that could have incited the big bang … a mind-blowing number of expolanets that could harbor life … the nearly-perfect calibration of Earth … the fact that only 5% of the known universe is even observable … It’s not just that the universe is wide-open for the existence of transcendent beings or that no one can disprove their existence. Those aren’t good arguments for faith. It’s that either way you look at the universe, you’ll see what you want to see. Science presents us with little more than an open book with which to define our purpose and destinies. We can’t escape religion. We can only choose what to put our faith in.

Rather than branding everyone who hasn’t abandoned their faith for your faith as brain-washed simpletons, tell us what we could actually gain — not lose — from leaving the church. I’d love to know. Statistically, being Mormon makes me pretty well off as far as health, income, education, and happiness. Mormons report among the highest of answered prayers. Mormons, in contrast to much of the religious world, present an anomoly where higher education does not result in decreased faith. Mormons live longer. They’re among the most charitable. They’ve introduced a huge number of invdentions and scientific advances. There’s something good going on here, and I have yet to learn of anything better.

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Immortal Beings are Real

The pearls of my past are ever threatened by the oblivion of forgetfulness and the corroding apathy of time. The angel on my shoulder is always telling me to write, record, share. The devil insists that tomorrow will always present a better opportunity to do so, when what matters today is that I sleep a little longer.

I fell to this deception during sacrament meeting today. “Lie back in the pew,” the voice said. “Close your eyes, and in a state of relaxation, you’ll be in a better frame of mind for connecting with God.” And so my consciousness sank into inner recesses, where all sorts of interesting images and disjointed ideas began to present themselves in an almost mystical web. This must be spirituality, I thought. I’m almost comprehending something. I’m almost transcending.

Minutes later, I jolted into consciousness, suddenly aware that I’m none the wiser. With all my faculties firing, the truth became shamefully obvious that enlightenment is only to be found in sobriety.

And so I think of all the treasures I’ve lost — meaningful events, profound realizations, tender mercies, vivid dreams, priceless utterances from the mouths of my babes — and the price at which I’ve irreversibly exchanged them (usually for a few extra moments of drunken sleep … sleep I would have been better off without), and I’m left to mourn the untimely disintegration of my life. For what do I have from my thirty past years if not memories? What else matters?

There’s something profound in the principle that the “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36). More than power, possessions, or accomplishments, what matters most to God isn’t what he has but what’s he’s learned and experienced, which ultimately shapes not only how he acts but who he is.

And with that preface, it’s high time I add an important memory to my sacred vaults. A few weeks back, Ariah and I went on a Mormon pioneer trek reenactment with our ward. This was my third such experience, as I always jump on an opportunity to don a cowboy hat and get rough and dirty as I pit myself against the elements. And more than that, in comparing myself to my pioneer fore-bearers, how could I turn down such a remedial challenge and consider myself a man?

Not that it was in any way a challenge. In fact, as I’ve been exercising fairly consistently, I was in such good shape at the time of this last trek that I ran laps around the entire company as they pulled their handcarts. I must have looked pretty cocky (though hopefully the ridiculously anachronistic sombrero I was wearing made up for that). The only real challenge was when we parked our handcarts and setup camp in the middle of the day … the very hot day. Because there were only so many miles to traverse in this kiddy course, we were left to kill time in the middle of a desert.

I did get in some quality daddy-daughter time. Though I could only take so many of Ariah’s spontaneous games, and she could only take so many of mine. Another pastime was in observing insects. I just walked over to a particular bush, cleared away the thorns beneath me, had a seat, and watched. There’s so many marvelous, little creatures in this world. Spiders, ants, moths, beetles, and species I’ve never even seen before. They’re everywhere, coexisting in a cosmopolitan world completely separate from our own. It seems someone’s made a little home in virtually every patch of earth. Bugs. They’re awesome.

But my real takeaway from this event was an impression. I had this impression as I heard stories about pioneer heroes (notably Ephraim Hanks) and as I pondered on the supernatural events reported by so many of these nineteenth century saints. My impression was that immortal beings are real. And I think that’s about one of the most meaningful impressions anyone can have. If the immortality of the soul is a reality, and people from beyond the grave have actually communicated with mortals, and if the nature of these communications were as the pioneers said they were … well then … to possess such a knowledge would be far greater than anything the libraries of the earth could produce, because it would be knowledge that transcends earth.

I don’t have this knowledge. I don’t know for a certainty that death is not the end. But I do not believe it is. Especially during this event, I was touched by what was to me such a rich drove of evidence that immortal beings are real, and that, with an eternal perspective, the way we live our lives, and the paths we choose to follow, matter a great deal.

But that’s rudimentary. What really impressed me was a need to become a better man, a sanctified man, one with whom, if circumstances require, immortal beings could commune. Far from merely realizing the reality of God, I want to be an instrument to God, a servant in this great work of salvation. The folly in getting too existential about the nature of God, the nature of ourselves, and even the nature of reality, is that we may fall into a circular and life-consuming trap of unanswerable questions, thinking we’re somehow gaining intelligence in the process. In reality I believe we’re only burning precious time, missing out on the great work we were sent here to perform. It seems that for the most important decisions we make in life, such as who to marry, what college to attend, etc., we can never know what the right answer is. Sometimes believing is good enough … perhaps the only way. Yet we can have profound assurance that the path we’ve chosen is right from the fruits that follow it.

The glory of God is intelligence. I can’t speak for others, but in my little life, nothing has opened my mind, expanded my horizons, endowed me with understanding, given me reason to pause, reflect, and treasure more than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This stuff is real. Those who came before, suffered greatly, and gave all, weren’t liars. They honestly experienced what they said they did. I believe that. And they weren’t nutcases either. They were minds and souls that had been touched by a burning light, a light than fosters intelligence and action, not ignorance and complacency. If anything is real and if anything matters, then this is it.

Immortal beings are real. I really believe this. And it makes all the difference.

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Of Citizens of Zion and Builders of Zion

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown“The man who does only those things in the Church which concern himself alone will never reach exaltation. For instance, the man who is willing to pray, to pay his tithes and offerings, and to attend to the ordinary duties which concern his own personal life, and nothing more, will never reach the goal of perfection” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 123).

This quote stung me in Elders Quorum today. I wondered how many times in my life I’d viewed the work of my personal salvation as summed up by an ordinance check list, a Sunday school roll, a ritual of nightly prayer and scripture study, and the canary copy of a donation slip. I think there’s a pivotal threshold between the Terrestrial person who’s good and devout, but whose goodness doesn’t extend beyond his nose, and the Celestial person whose goodness leads to a natural connection, empathy, charity, and service toward others. I think there’s a fundamental difference between a mere citizen of Zion, who enjoys the amenities and associations of the Gospel, and a builder of Zion.

“Never refuse to serve. … This course brings joy and peace, and at the same time those who serve receive the greatest blessing. The teacher gains more than the one taught; the blessing returned to us when we accept a call to work in the Church is far greater than the blessing we can impart to others. He who refuses to perform any labor or shirks responsibility when it is given him in the Church is in grave danger of losing the guidance of the Spirit. Eventually he becomes lukewarm and indifferent to all duties, and, like the plant that is not cultivated and watered, he shrivels up and dies a spiritual death” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 123).

President Smith sums up the crisis our world is facing today. I think more often than not, people don’t leave the church and lose their faith because of a great sin or a philosophical qualm, but because of boredom. The formality, repetition, time, and exertion the church requires of us is hardly appealing when compared to the non-committal allures of electronic entertainment.

Then there’s the camp of us who know we can’t let go of our faith and commitment but are still turned off by a perceived loss of freedom that would come with full investment in the church. We prefer back rows. We never read the lessons. We only speak when called upon. We may or may not accept a calling. We don’t go out of our ways to talk to people, because we don’t want to threaten any personal bubbles. We preach “live and let live” as we pass the time checking Facebook on our phones. When church is over, so are our Sabbath days. Off go the ties, on go the TV’s. Our salvation is secured at the absolute minimal requirements.

Lame. With a capital L. And a capital A. Actually, the entire word is in caps, bolded, and underlined, with Impact font, size 18 point, and five exclamation marks as if written by an eleven-year-old girl typing her first email.

The Gospel’s either true or it’s not. Supposing it is true, I want to be a builder of Zion, not just a citizen. I want to be a saver of souls, not just some dude saying, “Whatever, man, it’s all good.” I’d rather be cast into dungeons for Christ’s sake than enjoying a Sunday afternoon chill. I want to be able to come to a tree, and knowing the mobs are after me, be able to fall asleep in an instant, because I’ll know that my heart is pure, my cause celestial, and my fate in God’s hands.

To me, that’s what happiness is. And now having written this post, I’m feeling guilty about not having contacted my home teaching families. I’ve got work to do. Good day, ladies and gentlemen.

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To the Young Men Who Were Texting During Elder Ridd’s Talk

Of all the talks to ignore while text messaging, this was the most ironic

Of all the talks to ignore while text messaging, this was the most ironic

To the three young men sitting beside me during priesthood session, who’s eyes were enamored by the glowing screens in their hands while Elder Ridd of the Seventy was saying …

“Young men, you have probably heard before that you are a ‘chosen generation,’ meaning that God chose and prepared you to come to earth at this time for a great purpose.”

To these outstanding youths who were exercising their thumbs while the officer of the Lord was saying …

“You are growing up with one of the greatest tools for good in the history of man: the Internet. With it comes an elaborate buffet of choices. The abundance of choice, however, carries with it an equal portion of accountability. It facilitates your access to both the very best and the very worst the world has to offer. With it you can accomplish great things in a short period of time, or you can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential.”

To these brilliant young thinkers whose concentration was too absorbed in their electronic conversations to be distracted by the words that were reverberating around them, saying …

“Every day the world seeks to influence your desires, enticing you to buy something, click on something, play something, read or watch something. … Satan wants to control your agency so he can control what you become. He knows that one of the best ways to do this is by trapping you with addictive behavior. Your choices determine whether technology will empower you or enslave you.”

To these fun-loving teenagers who were far more interested in a game of out-swimming a digital shark than listening to an old man saying …

“Young men, remember who you really are. Remember that you hold the holy priesthood. This will inspire you to make correct choices as you use the Internet and throughout your life.”

To these strapping boys who had more important things to show each other on their phones than anything this geezer could have been saying, such as …

“Many of us immediately stop whatever we are doing to read a text message—should we not place even more importance on messages from the Lord? Neglecting to connect to this power should be unthinkable to us.”

And to these growing youths of Zion, who, if upon glancing up for a moment, couldn’t last for more than five seconds without pulling out their phones again to check for updates, all the while being impenetrable to the booming voice saying …

“Young men, don’t do dumb things with your smartphone. You all know what I mean. There are countless ways technology can distract you from what is most important. Follow the adage ‘Be where you are when you are there.’ When you are driving, drive. When you are in class, focus on the lesson. … Your brain cannot concentrate on two things at once. Multitasking amounts to quickly shifting your focus from one thing to another. An old proverb says, ‘If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.’ ”

To you, young men with the smartphones, I have something to say.

And that is …

God bless you, everyone.

And for the wretched author who had the audacity to sleep through several talks during the Sunday morning session, who could only stay awake while stuffing his face with popcorn …

Please pray for me.

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True Christians Are Unjust

"I am He" - the declaration of Jesus of Nazareth causing the soldiers to fall back in fear
“I am He” – the declaration of Jesus of Nazareth causing the soldiers to fall back in fear

I tried to think of the most controversial title I could for this post, (1) because I’m a menace, (2) because controversy is good for SEO (outraged discussion fuels more engagement), and (3) as proof of the point I’m going to attempt to make. What I mean is that if you find yourself outraged by such an audacious title, read on, and by the end of the article, you might just find yourself saying, “Dang it, I failed the test.”

First, the scriptural basis for my argument. In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. … Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 38:44).

Where’s the justice in all that?

Let’s think about this. First, Jesus is telling us to “resist not evil.” Jesus. The son of God. The standard of all things good and true … telling us not to resist evil? But wait a minute, what if someone cuts you off on the highway or besmirches your good name or makes some outlandish, close-minded comment, or worst of all, has the audacity to be wrong about some pressing social or political issue? What if your client never paid you or your so-called friend betrays your trust or that certain mooch takes advantage of your generosity? What about that family member who let you down or that stuck-up rich girl or that shameless demagogue or that horrible group of people who are responsible for all of the world’s problems? Aren’t we justified in a little righteous indignation toward such cancerous cretins?

If we’re going to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, I imagine he might say something such as, “Worry about your own problems.” Similarly, from classic Brigham Young, we get the following wisdom: “He who takes offence when no offence is intended is a fool, and he who takes offence when offence is intended is a greater fool.”

Apparently we’re not supposed to take offence. Period. If that wasn’t enough, from the words “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” Jesus seems to be telling us to not even defend ourselves. Of course, many other scriptures, such as in the Book of Mormon, seem to justify  defending one’s property, family, country, etc., and if you buy into the Old Testament, the same God we’re talking about may just command you to go head up a genocide or two (but we won’t go there). In any case, these instances are exceptions. The rule is to show meekness, forgiveness, and mercy to both our friends and our enemies. The rule is to not demand justice when we’ve been wronged, to show mercy where mercy is not due (which, I guess, is the recursive definition of mercy). Thus true Christians are not just. They’re merciful. But it’s more fun to say unjust, because it sounds so needless controversial.

So now’s the test. Did my inflammatory title upset you? Did you feel attacked as a Christian and feel a need to sift through this garbage so that you could further feed your outrage and pursue a grounds for redress? Assuming that my assertions are way off and everything I’m writing is hogwash, I hope my fallacy will have no sway over your solid foundation, because you know where you stand, and you know what truth is, so whatever this crazy blogger is rambling about is his problem, not yours.

More often than not, debate is a waste of time. Rather than listening to each other, we think only about what we’re going to say next to defend our egos. Our hearts are so shielded by pride that changing our opinions (which are really just façades over of our feelings) is almost beyond the realm of possibility in the heated moment, sometimes even long afterwards. Outrage is even worse than debate. When we’re outraged, we can’t possibly see an issue from our opponent’s point of view. We’ve already determined that whatever they have to say is wrong.

When someone attacks our beliefs, we feel personally attacked, because through our beliefs we find our identities. Thus changing our beliefs is a very hard thing to do, and a healthy transition usually takes good friends and lots of love. While probably everyone will agree with me that charity is the way to go, we often forget that charity isn’t just about giving but about receiving. And I don’t mean receiving gifts, I mean receiving punches. In the face.

Let people malign your poor tastes, your bad habits, your incorrect politics, and your close-minded philosophies. The uncomfortable truth is that, whether or not you’re humble enough to listen, they might be right. On the other hand, defending pride is a counterfeit of standing for truth. The more we engage in petty disputes, the more we feed the fire. The more we take it like a man, the more respect and power we gain.

Consider John 18. In consequence of Judas’s betrayal, soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Rather than crying, “Judas, how could you!? I’m innocent! This is so unfair!” Jesus boldly yet meekly declared to the soldiers that he was the man they were looking for, and the sheer majesty of his being caused the soldiers to step back and fall to the ground. When’s the last time the sheer majesty of your being caused your enemies to step back and fall to the ground?

Now go ahead. Malign me. I can take it.

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The Other Great Apostasies

When my older brother was serving his LDS mission in Taiwan, I got to talk to him on the phone on Christmas day. I asked, “So what are the other religions like over there?” He replied, “You know how we like to say that all religions are good? Well that’s a bunch of bull. The entire world is utterly apostate.” Of course, this was a bit tongue-in-cheek.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Mormonism is in a “Great Apostasy,” which is that beginning around 100 AD and following the deaths of the apostles, the Church, as established by Jesus Christ, was corrupted. Truths were lost. Authority was revoked. Doctrines were distorted. The philosophies of men were mingled with scripture. There was a universal famine on the earth of hearing the words of God.

Hence, God himself said to Joseph Smith, referring to the churches of the nineteenth century, that “Their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 1:19).

This declaration is a little less than ecumenical, and I don’t think God was being tongue-in-cheek. If I were to go around announcing these words to the religions of the world, I doubt I’d win many friends. And yet, as politically incorrect as it is, God himself seems to agree: “the entire world is utterly apostate.”

What I want to explore is whether or not this principle of a “Great Apostasy” can and should be taken further than the subject of which church to join.

When the Lord revealed his code of health to Joseph Smith, (the “Word of Wisdom”), he prefaced it by saying that he was “showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” and that this revelation was  “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (Doctrine & Covenants 89:2-3). I find two important takeaways from this: (1) The Lord is interested in more than just our spiritual salvation. (2) He hasn’t told us everything. In fact, he’s told us the bear minimum of what he’d like to, because he feels a need to adapt his revelations to the “weak.”

The existence of this revelation infers that not only had their been an apostasy in the subject of religion but in the subject of diet. In large, the world was and is abusing substances that aren’t meant for the body. Our addiction to meat is not pleasing to God, who informed us that the killing and eating of animals is for “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (D&C 89:13).

In church, you’re allowed to talk about the Lord’s words on substance abuse, but if you bring up his words on meat consumption (unless you use the supposedly ambiguous phrase “eat meat sparingly”), you’ll be viewed as an extremist, if not an apostate. Yet to the honest reader, the popular interpretation of what the Lord has said is simply at odds with what the Lord actually said. My point: while a few steps above the rest of the world, on the subject of diet, the general body of the Church is still in a state of apostasy. Does it matter? Well … yeah, if you value the Lord’s opinion … and don’t want to die of a heart attack.

If the Lord is interested in not only our religion but our diet, surely he’s interested in other facets of our well-being, such as our lifestyles. Could it be that our American habits of commuting for an hour a day, working for eight to ten hours, then crashing in front of the television and spending our last few hours in mindless recuperation are less than ideal in the sight of God? What if the forty-hour-work-week is another “abomination in his sight?” What if he hates the way we burn up our precious lives in cubicles, call centers, and fast food kitchens instead of climbing mountains, canoeing rivers, and writing poetry? Now I’m the one in danger of apostasy here, because I have no scriptural backings. However, would it be wise to assume that what God has officially spoken is our only basis for judgment? Or would it be wiser to ask ourselves, “If this earth were the Celestial Kingdom, how would things be different?” What’s stopping us from being like God in everything we do?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in education? What if the way we turn our children over to the government for seven to eight hours a day  is backwards, inefficient, irresponsible, and one of the biggest sources of human degradation?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in music, and the sounds we beat our heads to contribute to depression and base desires instead of ennobling and enlivening us?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in fashion, and our plain white T’s and jeans contribute to our lackadaisical airs instead of the majesty the human race was meant for as sewn by the enlightened tailors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in politics, and the Democrats and Republicans are both wrong? What if the principles of limited government, citizenship, and free enterprise have been shortchanged by greed and entitlement?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in dance, and the way we meander back and forth amid the ear-splitting insanity of school dances is a sheer perversion of the glory our grandparents knew during the swinging 30’s and 40’s?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in attitude, demeanor, conversation, and sense of humor, and the self-doubting, needlessly-limiting, depressed, sarcastic, and irreverent mentalities too common in our world are diametrically opposed to human happiness?

What if there’s been a great apostasy in entertainment, and instead of creating our own fun and fantasies, we’ve become addicted to watching others play pretend?

What if we’ve forgotten how to live, how to love, and how to be, and thus, whether we’re Mormon, Buddhist, or Atheist, chances are we fit among the rank and file of earth’s inhabitants who, in so many ways, are utterly apostate?

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I open as Percy in the Scarlet Pimpernel – False Doctrine

Last night was my opening night as Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel at the SCERA Shell amphitheater in Orem. It was epic.

And now my Sunday thought:

I was thinking about a character in the play, the Marquis de San Sier, a French nobleman who’s sent to the guillotine with his entire family. Before he’s murdered, he cries, “Save us, my God, if you’re there! God, can you not feel the terror like a fire in the air?” But God does not save him. In this world of terror, God most definitely allows bad things to happen to good people.

In church a woman bore her testimony about her love for the primary song “If the Savior Stood Beside Me.” She expounded that the Savior does stand beside us, every hour of every day and that God will never, ever, ever forsake us. I believe that this is false doctrine.

First, those who believe in the corporeal nature of deity must reject the notion that Jesus Christ literally stands beside us. I would add my opinion that he doesn’t even figuratively stand beside us. If the idea from the poem “Footprints in the Sand” is true, that (as the Lord says) “the times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you,” then I’ve been very misinformed about the purpose of life.

My understanding is that our mortal probation in the telestial world comes with a literal separation from God, that we’re to be tried and tested without God’s intervention. When Joseph Smith was crying from his pit of despair, as recorded in D&C 121, the Lord didn’t respond with “don’t worry, I’m carrying you through this.” What he essentially said was, Toughen up. Your suffering has a purpose and an end. Job had it worse than you, and I had it much worse than both of you. Do you think you’re better than me? When Christ was dying on the cross, he himself exclaimed, “My God, why hast though forsaken me?” If he was left alone to suffer through his trials, can we expect different treatment?

I’m not suggesting that God doesn’t perform miracles or comfort us in our times of need. But I am suggesting that such events are exceptions. On a daily basis, we can find peace in conforming our lives to the principles of the Gospel, but when it comes to actually living our lives, we’re on our own, even forsaken, for all intents and purposes, until the end of mortality.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

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Time to get entrepreneurial

It’s interesting how many times I’ve noticed themes in my life. Right now the theme is entrepreneurship. Even more broad than that, it’s a theme of awakening my mind, taking control of my life, and fulfilling my calling. I’ve felt a real need for this over the past few weeks. Not long ago, I was content with my job, and life seemed fine and dandy. Then I remembered a goal I’d set almost two years ago when I first became a full time slave of the corporate machine. The goal was to liberate myself within two years, to spend my hours following my dreams instead of prostituting my talents for things I had no passion for. Do we not too often devote ourselves to something we hate, hoping to, at some future time, free ourselves for that which we love? Lately I’ve been of the opinion that this future time of fulfilment is an illusion. Now is the time to live the life we want to be living, and if there’s a will, there’s a way. The words of a Newsies song come to mind:

Open the gates and seize the day
Don’t be afraid and don’t delay
Nothing can break us
No one can make us
Give our rights away
Arise and seize the day

Back in December I was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between a well-paying job doing something I’m not passionate about or teaching music (something I’m passionate about) at a high school for a lot less money. Part of me now wishes I’d taken the latter offer, though I knew I made the right choice. Aside from getting more real world experience and sharpening my skills, Teresa and I agreed that we needed the cushy job in order to get out of debt and pay back my parents (who were coming upon difficult financial times) the money they’d given us to help purchase our house. Just a couple weeks ago, we gave my parents a substantial sum of money (having to give it in cash and hide it in a card so they’d actually accept it). It was at this same time that I was beginning to have strong desires to quit my job and try something entrepreneurial. Thus giving up the money was a challenge, because I knew how much it could help in the cause of my liberation.

Still, as the days went by, I got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, because the thought of going to work in the morning was too depressing. Not that there was anything wrong with my work. As far as real jobs go, it was very good. But I just knew that, come morning, I’d spend my most valuable hours working for someone else, and almost the rest of my hours in commuting, house choirs, family responsibilities, etc., leaving me few precious moments for following my dreams. Of course I realize that such has been the fate of untold millions of men since the world began, and I should be grateful for what I have. And yet, if there’s a better way, should we ever accept a less than perfect fate?

I asked Teresa if she’d be okay with me quitting tomorrow. She voiced her concern that this wasn’t wise, as we’d just given up nearly all of our savings, and we didn’t have a ready alternative for making money. Though soon she caught my bug, and a night or two later, she said, “Steve, if you want to quit your job tomorrow, I support you.” But by then, the powers of Lord Bore had worked me into saying, “No, let’s wait till September. We need to build a savings.”

Then a funny thing happened on Friday. First, before I went to work, I checked the analytics on a little project I’d begun months ago, a website that could potentially bring in money. To my surprise, the site had reached a new record of hits by a substantial margin. Turning the site into a source of revenue appeared more plausible than I’d imagined. Then I got to work, and I got laid off. The company was falling upon difficult times, and with the bringing in of a guy whose expertise outshown my own, I’d become expendable. This certainly caught me by surprise, but it by no means depressed me. In fact, I sang for most of the way home. How Teresa took the news was another matter, though she now shares my vision.

I began this post with saying that my life happens in themes. To me it’s clear that my feelings of needing to be independent, my challenge of giving up my savings for a greater good, the sudden growth of my website, and my unexpected unemployment, are not coincidental but have been arranged by the master storyteller, who has reaffirmed to me that my time does matter on this earth, that now is truly the time to seize it, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

So what am I going to do exactly? I don’t know. But I do know that whatever it is must meet three conditions: (1) I have to be in charge, (2) I have to work at home, and (3) I refuse to work more than twenty hours per week. My time is mine. I will not give it up so easily again. Sound crazy? Good.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. And thus all progress depends on the unreasonable man” (George Bernard Shaw).