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Sunday Masochism

At church the talks were about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and I renewed my resolve to forego any personal agenda. This turned out to be be rather tormenting when Sunday afternoon rolled around, and I felt a burning desire to write fiction, especially as a rationalized that I get so little time during the week to do so. When the sun was shining on such a beautiful April day, the thought of sitting down and reading a book was tormenting me, and as I couldn’t think of any good deeds to perform, I resolved to take my family into nature. Teresa humored me up until I actually started packing. Boy did I call her bluff. We drove up Spanish Fork canyon and found a free camping ground, where I pitched a tent and labored to start a fire as my ladies sat and shivered in the suddenly cold air. Eventually we roasted hot dogs (vegan, of course) and ate them on fat slabs of homemade bread. When the stars were out and we climbed into the tent, the true coldness of the mountain air hit us. Even though we had enough sleeping bags and piles of blankets, I hardly got a wink of sleep the whole night. Teresa had it nearly as bad, though her lack of sleep wasn’t due to coldness so much as the fear of wild animals. As we expected, Aspen put up a fuss for hours. As soon as the sky began to lighten, we tore down the tent, stuffed everything in the trunk, and took off, wondering why we subjected ourselves to this masochism.

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The catching up on my life post as I turn 30

Goodness, I can’t believe how much time I’ve let slip by since my last post. I thought I was only a few days behind, not a week and a half.

First, as resolution to my previous post about our mouse friend, we successfully caught him again with one of my ingenious traps and relocated him a few miles away at the edge of a mountainside, equipping the little guy with one of Teresa’s warmest socks, which was loaded with food. As soon as I opened my makeshift cage, he dived right into the snow. I hope he survives. Most likely he’ll run across the street and find a way into someone else’s house. That’s fine with me.

This last week has been pretty epic. I told at the Weber Storytelling Festival. For one of the events, I was the featured teller with a full twenty-five minute block. In fact, being preceded by some child storytellers and a lowly “regional” storyteller, I was introduced as the “national” storyteller. While I told Teresa that this made me a bona fide national storyteller, she had some weak argument about it not actually being true. For it to be true, she claimed, this fact would have to be in a program. I argued that emcees are higher authorities than programs, because if there’s an error in a program, an emcee can correct it, but programs don’t correct emcees. What higher authority could there be than the MASTER of ceremony? I am a national storyteller.

Teresa, feeling a need for theatre in her life, auditioned for a local production of “Hello Dolly”, and I, wanting to be a supportive husband, joined her. While both of us totally bombed the dancing auditions (and by bombed, think Hiroshima) she was nevertheless cast as a fairly significant part: Ermengarde, and I was cast as her lover Ambrose. This fulfilled all her girlish fancies. Whatever. While I’d rather be putting on my own plays, it’s probably good for me to now and then gain some real world experience.

The hard part about all this was that the auditions fell right into the precious time Teresa and I had to prepare for a puppet show at a library. So, forced to stay up late and wake up early, we threw together a show on behalf of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, featuring two new mini shows: “The Dog in the Hat” and “Purple Zuchini with Mayonnaise”. Somehow we must have pulled off a successful show, because afterwards, to separate mothers came up to me and asked if we did birthday parties. I turned them both down, saying, in my own special way, “You wish you could have us for your kid’s birthday party. We are so beyond that.”

Lastly, today marks my thirtieth successful revolution around the sun. Concerning the philosophical nature of this momentous moment, nothing hit me whatsoever, which is by no means depressing. I feel perfectly fine about the first thirty years of my life, perfectly fine about where I am, and perfectly fine about where I’m going. I’m happy. Really. And that is a wonderful blessing. I’m so thankful for the Gospel in my life, because of which I’ve never had to wonder who I was or what was my quest. And having everything I do, I can’t imagine how I could NOT be happy.

I really am happy. I smile as I lay down at night. I smile as I wake up in the morning. I sing jovial songs as I commute to and from work. I love every moment with my family and friends. I love to immerse myself in creative projects. I love to eat, to cook, to exercise, to love, to laugh, to be entertained, to entertain others, to play, and even to work. There’s just so much to be happy about. My biggest concern in life has nothing to do with my welfare or the welfare of my family but the welfare of others. Am I charitable enough? Do I give enough service? While I’m pulling my car out of my cushy garage, and the woman across the street is laboriously scraping the ice off her windshield, what can I do to make her life better? In our six years of marriage, Teresa and I have been through a lot already, from relative poverty to relative luxury. I know what it’s like to be cold in the winter, to have a nearly barren refrigerator, to wonder how we’re going to survive the next month. I hate the thought of others having to feel these ways. I hope I’ll always remember to give as liberally as I’ve received.

I guess I do have one philosophical thought about getting old and all, some hypothetical questions I’ve tested on a few family members, from whom I’ve elicited tears and attitudes of depression. If you were to look twenty years into the future and see yourself as everything you hope not to become — financially poor, spiritually deaf, intellectually dull, emotionally unstable, with broken relationships and broken dreams — what would you say to your future self? Similarly, if yourself from twenty years ago could see you now, exactly as your are, with everything you’ve accomplished or haven’t accomplished, what would your younger self have to say? If this last question really bothers you, then you’ll know there’s room for improvement. It’s been said that children are the parents of adults. That’s been so true in my life. I’m constantly haunted by the young Stephen Gashler, who reminds me of my goals and principles. While in some ways I fear that I may have let him down, in many other ways, I think my life has turned out more gloriously than his limited world view could have imagined. I haven’t yet climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or built a theme park, but all in all, I’m okay with being thirty.

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Sunday thoughts

Some thoughts shared in Stake Conference that I liked were:

When we tell our children what to do and what not to do, we’re essentially telling them how to be like us. When we tell our children stories, we depict principles and ideals in their minds, giving them a basis from which they can choose for themselves what kind of people they want to be.

It’s not only a bad idea to judge other people, it’s insane, because only the person and God know all the information by which the person can be adequately judged, so whatever judgment we make will inevitably be based on assumptions and therefore inadequate.

If your children were to write your obituary right now, what would they write? What memories would they have about you? How would they typically imagine you? What examples did you show them? What principles have you instilled within them? How will their lives be forever affected because of you?


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Faith and Logic as taught in the Book of Ether

I love the Book of Ether. While I’ve often viewed it as a chore to get through, there’s nevertheless something profoundly spiritual about this section near the end of the Book of Mormon. I love the story of the Brother of Jared and Moroni’s insights on faith. This time through, I was really impressed by the doctrine of enlightenment. For the Brother of Jared, Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Moroni, John the Beloved, and surely many others, there was a point when their faith turned into knowledge, and they saw beyond the veil of mortality. And when this happened, they all seemed to have a similar vision. They saw everything. They comprehended the world’s history, the world’s future, and the cosmic designs and glories of God. It evidences that Plato may have been more correct than Aristotle after all, that this world is, in fact, a simulation, and a brief glance into the great beyond will enlighten us beyond any scope we could have before imagined. The paradox is that the only way to achieve this state of enlightenment is to, as Moroni put it, “doubt not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” In other words, we can’t reach this point through logic, only faith.

But why should we put our faith in something we can’t logically support? What’s wrong with doubting what we don’t see? Shouldn’t we start with a “witness” before we put our faith in something? To me this is the great mystery of the Gospel. How can I logically explain faith? I can’t. Notwithstanding, it seems  that the Gospel has everything to do with this mysterious doctrine of faith. The Book of Mormon is a perfect example. Its very existence is the antithesis of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for it is that Joseph Smith fabricated it. To believe the fantastic story of its origins, the fantastic stories contained within it, and to take every word of it at face value, when in so many ways it seems like a nineteenth century book, is an incredible leap in logic. And yet I believe in it. Very much so. I like to think I have many logical defenses for it, but when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my faith precedes my logic. And there you have it. I don’t know why it works this way, but I know that it does work this way, and I know that, for whatever reason, God wants it to be this way. He gave us the Book of Mormon in the most scientifically unsupportable way imaginable. And yet with supporting evidence from Hebrew writing styles, to horse bones, to DNA, I’m confident that it can’t be proven false either.

I think the whole world is this way. Until the veil is parted, we’ll never prove (or disprove) the existence of God. Supposing someone were to hack into the source code of this simulation and discover the truth, surely God could stop the system, reboot, clear the record, and leave this person to second guess his findings. Perhaps this sort of thing happens all the time, forcing us, the citizens of earth, to choose between logic and faith. And why is God so sold on this system of schooling? Again, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll never be able to explain why. But I choose to believe, because it feels right, and the consequences fill my life with light and intelligence. And if not in my brain, at least in my heart, this method of obtaining truth makes a world of sense. I truly believe that those who choose a life of faith, rather than basing their life’s choices solely on empirical evidence, will have their minds expanded and, like the Brother of Jared, will eventually come to comprehend all things. This is my goal. It should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints. It is the essence of the Gospel.

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Saul and Ananias

After all Saul had done to persecute Christ and his people, Christ asked Ananias to go and heal Saul’s blindness. To Ananias’s surprise, Christ referred to Saul as “a chosen vessel”. Truly the Lord looks on the heart, knowing us far better than we know ourselves. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been, it only matters that when we put our hands to the plow and don’t look back.

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Mormons are cool

Tonight Teresa and I went to a benefit concert in SLC featuring a ton of Mormon artists: Alex Boye, Lex De Azevedo, Kurt Bester, Kenneth Cope, Peter Breinholt, Nancy Hanson, Michael Dowdle, The Piano Guys, and many others. Every performance was phenomenal and inspiring. I’m proud to be associated with these amazing artists. Mormons are cool. They’ve got a pretty good music scene going on. As for literature, my favorite authors are definitely Mormons. They make good athletes, scientists, and politicians. Perhaps this is because a true Mormon can’t accept mediocrity. At the core of our religion is a radical doctrine that life is not meaningless, and time is a precious commodity. I think most people realize this before they die. How blessed we are to have been taught it since our infancy.

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Goodness and Godness

Is God God because he’s good, or is good good because of God? In other words, is God a subset of good or is good a subset of God? Jesus told us, “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). As opposed to saying “good is whatever God does”, Jesus implied that good is a classification that applies to God. If God were to cease to do good, it stands to reason that God would no longer be good. But if we were to reverse the semantics, and good were to cease to be God, good would continue to be good. Thus goodness is independent of God.

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Sunday thoughts

“The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always flow from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise. The history of all past ages abundantly attests this fact” (Joseph Smith).

This quote reminds me of the futility of the building up of myself, my career, and my mansion as my ultimate aims in life. There’s only one thing in life that’s worth doing: build Zion.

“Upon the cross he meekly died for all mankind to see that death unlocks the passageway into eternity” (“Upon the Cross of Calvary,” Vilate Raile). This passage really stuck out to me during Sacrament Meeting. I think it captures the true point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell. If there’s one concern that looms in the mind of every living soul, it’s death. Christ came to earth not only to show us how to live but how to die. By experiencing death and coming back again, he showed and taught that death, far from the end, is “the passageway into eternity.” The more dismal one’s view on death is, it seems the more dismal his view on life is. But to believe that death is glorious thing makes life glorious. I choose glory. And if there is no afterlife, at least I’ll have had a glorious life.

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Where are you Texas? – 6th Anniversary

Another fun day at my sister’s house in Lubbock. We went to the local LDS ward, where I really hoped to hear some Texan accents. To my disappointment, nearly everyone seems to speak American Neutral. I don’t think there really are any Texan accents out there, let alone Texans. I just see a bunch of normal people with soft-spoken, conservative viewpoints, not the fearless, gun-slinging, barbecuing cowboy confederates I’ve idealized. Still I believe they’re out there somewhere. Where are you, Texas? America needs you. I need you.

Though in the ward’s defense, one of the various things I heard in Sunday school was, from the teacher, “I believe that anyone should be able to have a gun. Now I’m not getting political on ya …” Another phrase I adored was, “Ya wanna know the truth? I hate church. There’s plenty of other things I’d rather be doing. But I come here for Christ.”

Oh yeah, and today marks six years of marriage for Teresa and I.


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Family reunion

Tonight was a Gashler family reunion. I had two impressions: (1) Almost all of my extended family members over forty are obese. Americans have serious issues. (2) I loved hearing the family history stories. While it was neat to hear about a great-great-grandparent, it was especially neat to hear about an immediate grandparent, because all my aunts and uncles knew about them, and they could tell passionate, firsthand stories. I found myself begging for more details. It’s fascinating to discover clues in the lives of our fore bearers that better illustrate who we are. What also struck me was how profound of an influence the church is in all of our lives, especially among my aging aunts and uncles. It’s the glue that’s pulling them back together, even those who have more or less left the church, because there’s no substitute for it. It’s the common quest for which they’re all striving (whether they’re fully realizing it or not), to not merely drift apart and die off, but to become a celestial family. The coolest part of all is that I really believe in it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the sealing power at the center of it is the most genuine, meaningful, awe-inspiring power of influence I have yet to encounter on this spinning sphere. And I think this whole uniting families beyond the grave idea just might actually work.