Sunday, January 20, 2019

Gas Law of Learning

They could both speak with perfect confidence because of what I call the gas law of learning, namely, that any amount of information no matter how small will fill any intellectual void no matter how large.
- Hugh Nibley, Collected Works, Vol. 1, Ch. 1

I went looking for a some statement from Brother Nibley about Abraham and Sarah in Egypt and came across this gem instead. It was a well timed warning about trying to read too much into the scant details we have of some of these old stories.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Women Lead in Teaching

My wife has been preparing for the new emphasis in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more gospel learning in the home. This statement from the prophet struck a chord with her.
This morning the announcement was made regarding the new Sunday schedule and home-centered, Church-supported curriculum. You, my dear sisters, are a key to the success of this new, balanced, and coordinated gospel-teaching effort. Please teach those whom you love what you are learning from the scriptures. Teach them how to turn to the Savior for His healing and cleansing power when they sin. And teach them how to draw upon His strengthening power every day of their lives.
As I was listening to an older talk from 2004, I heard Sister Julie B. Beck say this.
Every woman can be a gospel doctrine instructor in her home, and every sister in the Church needs gospel knowledge as a leader and teacher.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Unity, Diversity

In elders quorum today, we used the talk by Ulisses Soares, "One in Christ" as the launching point for our discussion. The conversation quickly turned to a discussion about diversity and how diversity makes us strong. Oddly, it seems we talked more about the benefits and value of diversity than we did about unity. I look forward to a future conversation where we can probe unity more deeply. 

When I think of unity, I think of that bodily unity that is part of conjugal marriage. In this case, two bodies come together, different, but acting as a single organism for a unified purpose to create life. This illustrates that unity isn't "sameness." A man doesn't have to become a woman to become "one" with her.

Elder Soares' example was of two rivers joining to form the Amazon river. In this case, each river had to lose something of its former essence to become part of something new. Is there something of this meaning when we speak of unity within the church? Is there something we need to leave behind if we're going to become "one in Christ?"

My son is partially paralyzed. He can't feel his feet very well. He needs to wear shoes anytime he leaves a clean, indoor floor. He can't swim without water socks. He shouldn't wander around in the yard barefoot. It is too easy for him to do serious damage to his feet without even realizing it.

Part of being in the body of Christ is to feel pain as a body when one part of the body is injured. If I'm to comfort those who stand is need of comfort, I probably ought to first be aware that they are hurting. If I am the one inflicting the pain, all the more important that I'm unified with them so that I can sense their discomfort and desist!

For the Saints to be one, we need to love each other in an pure way that usually escapes me. I should do better.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Our Memories are Weak Without the Holy Ghost

I taught in Elders Quorum today. My subject was the talk from President Eyring, His Spirit to be With You.

I started with a story about memory, comparing one woman's memory of what she was doing when she heard about the Challenger explosion one day after the event with her memory two years later.

"When I first heard about the explosion I was sitting in my freshman dorm room with my roommate and we were watching TV," wrote an Emory University student who participated in a memory study a year and a half after the Challenger disaster. "It came on as a news flash and we were both totally shocked." 
But that same student had given a surprisingly different answer, just 24 hours after the tragedy. "I was in my religion class and some people walked in and started talking about [it]," she wrote. "I didn't know any details except that it had exploded and the schoolteacher's students had all been watching which I thought was so sad."
The New Yorker also had an article on the same memory research that goes on at a bit more length than the article linked above.

Why are our memories so fallible? Especially when we're encouraged to remember so often in the scriptures? I believe it is because the Lord expect us to rely on the Spirit to enhance our memories of the important events in our life.

Keryn reminded me of the story of Laman and Lemuel seeing an angel. Did they forget the experience, or come to doubt it later in life? I wonder if they did, in the same way these memories of the Challenger explosion got modified, because the memories weren't being constantly refreshed by communion with the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Short Drive With "Saints"

The first volume of "Saints" was released this month. I thought I knew a lot of church history, but I've already learned new things in just the first 8 chapters. Did you know, for example, that Moroni told Joseph that he needed to bring Emma when he went to fetch the plates (see chap. 4)? Did you know that Moroni appeared to Mary Whitmer as an old man and showed her the plates--even before the 3 and 8 witnesses saw the plates (see chap. 7)? I've heard about Thomas Marsh's issue with the milk strippings, but it was cool to read the story of his conversion (see chap. 8 ). 


You can read it or listen to it free with the Gospel Library app.

The goal of the history was to make it accessible to the majority of Latter-day Saints today without feeling stuffy or academic. It reads like a story. On a drive home from a rock-hounding trip with the kids yesterday, I decided to turn on the audio of the book. My 13-year-old daughter (among the 5 kids in the car) was very taken by it. She grew impatient each time we reached the end of a chapter and we had to wait for the next chapter to download before we could hear it. 

We heard this part in chapter 4. 
The angel also told him to bring someone with him next time. It was the same request he had made at the end of Joseph’s first visit to the hill. But since Alvin was dead, Joseph was confused. 
“Who is the right person?” he asked. 
“You will know,” Moroni said. 
Joseph sought the Lord’s direction through his seer stone. The right person, he learned, was Emma.
As soon as the narrator said "Emma," my 8-year-old daughter said, "Called it!"

I look forward to reading the rest of the book and the next three volumes to be released in subsequent years. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Quorum Presidency Meeting Role-Play

I'm the deacons quorum adviser. Our quorum presidency (the boys who lead the quorum) was asked by the stake Young Men's President to help out with a presentation in a stake priesthood leadership meeting by doing a short role-play of a quorum presidency meeting.

We've known about this assignment for a couple of weeks. We had a campout last night and we spent some of our time around the campfire practicing our presentation. We watched a church video of a sample quorum presidency meeting. We went through the session twice by the fire.

This morning, in the car on the way back from the campout, the three members of the quorum presidency that were in the car with me practiced their presentation again. We arrived at the church a few minutes before the meeting and had one more practice.

The role play in the meeting when well. Afterward, the facilitator of the session asked the 13-year-old quorum president something like, "How do you think your advisers have helped you to prepare to run a meeting like this?"

"Well," he answered, "you just see what the boys in the presidency before you did and you just sort of figure it out."

So much of the coaching we do as adult leaders has, apparently, minimal impact on the boys compared to the example of their own peers.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Remembering Truman Madsen

In the late 1980's, Truman Madsen gave a series of lectures about the Prophet Joseph Smith. They were published on cassette tapes and later in a book. I got a hold of a set of those cassette tapes a decade later while I was serving as a missionary in Oklahoma.

Brother Truman was very popular among the missionaries. Through his lectures, we could feel his obvious and deep love for Brother Joseph. Through his testimony, our love for the Prophet deepened. Madsen was aware of every claim both for and against the character of the prophet. His love for Joseph was not naive, but knowing. Because of that, it was all the more meaningful to me.

A few years later, I was browsing through available religion classes at BYU and noted a class on Isaiah taught by Ann Madsen whom I knew to be the wife of Truman Madsen. I signed up. While she wasn't a clone of Truman and didn't share his uniquely captivating speaking mannerisms, she was sweet and warm. She required us to use a non-KJV translation of Isaiah, which surprised me. But I was grateful she did! She gave me greater appreciation for another prophet of the Lord.

As our final exam in the class, as was apparently her tradition, she invited us over to her home where we sat around together to share our favorite scriptures from our semester of study in Isaiah. As that session concluded and the students were standing around chatting, Truman came strolling out of his study.

Several of the Truman-worshipers, including me, tried to appear casual as we geeked out about the opportunity to meet him in real life--in his own home! Somehow, we drifted back into his study. I remember that he had copies of the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on his bookshelf. These were like family members for him. His love was again so obvious. I was reminded how we speculated as missionaries about the warm embrace that Truman and Joseph would someday share.

Today, I was listening again to those lectures by Brother Madsen. Even though he's been gone from this earth for more than 8 years, it is a blessing that his works and words can still be with us to inspire and uplift us. I hope he and Joseph are having some great conversations together!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ordinances For Power

Would God really break up a loving couple at death merely because they failed to get married by the proper authority in the temple? Doesn't he want our everlasting happiness?

Perhaps the nature of the universe is such that it is impossible or intolerable to stay with one person throughout eternity without outside help. Perhaps the ordinances of salvation are a source or connection to reinforcing power rather than a legalistic check box.

I hadn't thought of it that way until Teryl Givens framed it that way in the following interview.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Science Doesn't Prove. Science Describes.

Listen to Guy Consolmagno, the head of the Vatican Observatory (yes, they have one) talk about the scientific process. 

That also is how science works. You take the same data and you devise more than one story to explain what is going on. Because you're not satisfied with a story that works. You want to have a story that you can test, a story that you can interpret, a story that will lead you on to newer and more interesting questions. Because you're never satisfied; because science is never finished.  
Anybody who tells you that such and such has been "proved by science" is only proving that they don't know what science is. Science doesn't prove. Math proves, but science doesn't prove. Science describes.

A few minutes before this spot where this link takes you in the talk, Consolmagno described the perfectly logical assertion that there were water canals on Mars and a civilization struggling to survive. That conclusion was logical based on the evidence available to observers with simple telescopes. Later evidence helped them reinterpret what they were seeing. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Two Men on the Bus

Today on the bus, I was two men.

A teen sat on the seat across from me, sitting with his headphones on and bobbing to the music that only he could hear. After a couple of minutes, snatches of phrases of the song started to escape from his mouth. At first they were quiet, but they started to get louder and louder.

The first man in me heard the bits of music and thought, "This guy is crazy. Doesn't he know you're supposed to wear earphones on the bus? I guess the rules don't cover singing... but still the driver ought to say something. What if he's bugging people on the bus. Is he bugging me? He shouldn't be singing out loud. He's making a scene."

The teen started to sing out the chorus of his song with full voice. The bus wasn't very full. He didn't seem self conscious.

The second man in me thought, "His voice isn't bad. It's actually pretty good. The bus isn't too full and he isn't singing something offensive. Isn't it great that he's feeling the music so much? Isn't music a blessing?"

The first man in me turned his head to look straight at the singing teen, perhaps to shame him with a glance. The second man in me smiled at the teen when our eyes met.

The chorus was over and the teen lapsed back into silence. Still, I smiled the smile of the second man until I got off the bus.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Have Not Seen, Yet Have Believed

Thomas the apostle famously refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected unless he, like the others, could actually see him. When Jesus did appear, he said to Thomas, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

One man gave me a different twist on this concept. He said that he's made a lot of mistakes he wished he would have avoided. He was grateful he could repent, but he would have preferred to avoid the sin altogether in the first place. And then he quoted the verse above and applied it to himself. He wished he could have learned from the experiences of others. He believes he would have been more blessed not to have experienced the consequences of sin for himself but instead to believe on the words of those who had walked the path before him.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lone Survivor: A Knowledge Problem

I've sometimes imagined what it would be like if I had to bear the sole responsibility of passing on all the world's knowledge to the next generation. What if, through some apocalyptic scenario, only I and a small band of people remained on the earth.

How good a job could I do at preserving the knowledge of the centuries? Perhaps I could sit down and make an effort to write down everything I could remember about every subject. On many subjects, I'd only be able to write the merest hints about the depth of the subject.

  • Pi is a handy number that is defined by the relationship of the length of the perimeter of the circle to its diameter. It is a number that you can never get to the end of writing because it just goes on and on forever. There is a way to calculate it out by hand, but I've never had to do so and don't know the procedure.
  • A laser is a beam of light that is so focused that it can travel for a long distance without becoming diffuse. It is being used for all sorts of things, including medical procedures. I'm not sure how to make a laser, but I think it has something to do with generating a light and getting it to pass through the right lenses back and forth to focus it.
  • An iPhone is a device with a billion tiny transistors and integrated circuits that allow it to do general purpose calculations and communicate over large distances wirelessly. There are so many steps required to put technology like this together, including the production of the necessary metals, that I have no hope of being able to write enough to help our little society get to the point. The machine is wonderful, though. I can see on a small screen the words of thousands of books and I can listen to music stored in the device and I can play games of complex strategy. It responds to my touch though it has almost no moving parts. 
Future generations would refer back to my works to mine them for ideas of what to create and build. The words would seem strange and distant to them. Without all the background knowledge that I failed to write, they would probably misinterpret many of the things that I wrote. They would think they built some of the things I described, though they would probably be very different than what I would recognize by the same name.

I wonder if it is like that when we read the words of a prophet after a vision. John or Nephi describe things with the best language available to them, but we are missing so many details that it is hard to imagine what they really meant sometimes. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Time Travel

If you could go back in time, what would you change? Are there horrible things you would prevent? 

If you changed the past, would you change the present in ways that make you sad? As brutal as the events of the past have sometimes been, have they born good fruit in the present? 

God can see all through time as though it is the present for him. Our future is just as real for him as our present. If he intervenes in our world today, in ways we may sometimes be desperate for, he might rob our future of something important to us or our children. 

We see through a glass darkly. He understands our pain in the present, but he can weigh that against our glorious future. Trust him, even in trials. Especially in trials. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Unconditional Love

There is some confusion about the love of God. As a parent, I can't imagine ever ceasing to love my children. Yet we are taught that the love of God is not unconditional. How can it be that I believe my love for my children is unconditional?

I think that there are perhaps two definitions of love at work here. The first we might call beneficent love. This is the love that is an action that provides benefits to the object of that love. This is the "verb" kind of love. It is the love that pours down blessings on our heads. In this sense of love, our Father's gifts are certainly conditioned upon our choices. 

The second type of love might be called affectionate love. This is the feeling in our hearts that reaches out to others and helps us empathize with them and desire to serve them. This is the "feeling" kind of love that causes our hands to continually be outstretched toward our children to welcome them back when they exercise their agency to return to us after an absence. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Knee Deep in Sardines

Via Bill Reel, I discovered a fantastic talk by Dale Sturm of BYU-Idaho. Two things need to be cited from this talk that I'd like to remember. First, is Brother Sturm excellent telling of the story of Peter in one of his early meetings with the Lord when the Lord commanded him to throw in his net for fish.
Try to imagine this with me: The sermon is over and the boat is brought back the few yards to shore. Peter drops his now washed and dried and folded nets into the empty boat. He sighs that tired sigh that means the work is finally done. Perhaps he now turns his thoughts to breakfast and home and rest. It is in this moment that the Lord Jesus Christ looks Peter in his weary face and says, “Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” In other words, “Take those nets you just cleaned and put away, and sail back out on to that Sea you just spent all night on, and use your tired, aching muscles to throw the nets out again and see if we can’t catch some of those fish that are nowhere to be found today.” Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face in this moment? Peter seems to begin his response to the Lord intent on saying no, but something happens half-way through: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.” I imagine a long pause here as the Lord listens to Peter while calmly, firmly, lovingly, expectantly gazing at him. Peter changes course: “Nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.”
And then this.
Now amidst the excitement and the yelling and the laughter and the splashing, Peter stops and falls to his knees right in the fish. “Depart from me,” he says to Jesus, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” We may come to know Christ and feel our testimonies move up to the next level at the most surprising moments. For Peter, it happened when he was weary and discouraged and knee deep in fish; but when he had, nevertheless, responded to an invitation from the Savior; when he had done something he was not in the mood to do. Faith is not just a feeling; it is a decision. I think that sometimes the pay-off is more powerful in moments like these because the Lord has allowed us to illustrate—to Him and to ourselves—that our commitment is bigger than the circumstances.
I love the phrase upon which Brother Sturm built his talk, "Faith is not just a feeling; it is a decision."

Also moving was the poem he quoted about a lanyard woven at summer camp as a gift for a mother. 
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
Most of us have felt, I'm sure, that our token repayments have been sufficient. Brother Sturm says,
And even more disturbing, I find that I sometimes think the same way about what I owe to God. I go on as if my sporadic temple attendance and my pretty-good personal prayers and my hit-and-miss family nights are enough to make us even; that these “lanyards” I offer to God are a sufficient trade for Eternal Life and Glory and “all that [the] Father hath.”
We can do better, with His help. We will never be "even" but we can do better.

While browsing through Brother Reel's site looking for the post with the reference to Brother Sturm's talk, I also noted a great post on "praying with your feet." It is one I think I'll read again in the future.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Early to Church

My wife is brilliant. She carried over a tradition from her family growing up to our young family. She labors to get our family to church 20 minutes before the meeting begins.

When she first proposed this practice to me, she suggested 30 minutes early but I was able to negotiate her down.

This has at least two wonderful effects. First, when we accomplish the goal, we easily find a bench big enough for us all to sit together comfortably. We are able to get settled with our 5 young children and really prepare for the meeting.

Second, it provides a safety valve for us that makes the morning less stressful for everyone. If we need to hunt for a missing pair of shoes, it only elevates our blood pressure half as much a it would if it was going to actually make us late to the meeting. If we are "really late" like we were today, we still get to our seats 5 minutes before the meeting starts.

I wouldn't want to apply this strategy to every meeting I have to attend, but it works especially well for a meeting that we attend together as a whole family.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Teaching Reverence

This counsel stung a little bit.

"But remember, if reverence is rooted in love, so is the teaching of it. Harshness in our training begets resentment, not reverence."

That is from Margaret S. Lifferth, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Small and Simple vs. One Great Thing

A well known statement attributed to Brigham Young presents a theological problem for Latter-day Saints. Speaking of the heroic young men who helped to rescue struggling pioneers across a freezing river, President Young is reported to have said, "that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end."

One act can be enough to get you salvation? That doesn't square with everything else we know about the doctrine of "enduring to the end."

Chad Orton provides some additional background on this episode in an article for BYU Studies, "The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look" from volume 45 number 3 (2006). He also does a superb job in helping us to understand this theological issue. He also looks at some of the other sources and tries to give us a more complete picture of the Sweetwater Rescue than we traditionally hear. The story is still inspiring, even with the additional sources, a claim that doesn't hold true for every faith promoting tale. The upshot of the analysis is that Brigham Young certainly didn't mean to imply that we could do a single act and then goof off for the rest of mortality.

In a recent BYU Devotional address, I heard this quote from David O. McKay which also addresses the subject of being saved by a single, mighty act.

There is no one great thing which we can do to obtain eternal life, and it seems to me that the great lesson to be learned in the world today is to apply in the little acts and duties of life the glorious principles of the gospel. Let us not think that because some . . . things . . . seem small and trivial that they are unimportant. Life, after all, is made up of little things.

In the rest of that devotional address, J. Michael Hunter also talk about some of the simple things that made a great difference in his life. I was most touched by his story of his association with his cousin who helped him find friendship and kinship while far from home. The cousin who helped him, Larry St. Clair, was also my freshman biology teacher. 

Here is my favorite passage from the devotional.

When we are willing to accept assignments from the Lord, they may only take a moment, but they might also take a month or a year or a lifetime. The important thing is that we are in tune enough to see the one within our reach who needs our help and that we have enough faith to accept the assignment. It won’t be convenient. I hope nothing I have said here today has given the impression that I believe “small and simple” means easy, because it doesn’t. But I believe these small and simple things will become our most valued university experiences.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Forgiving the Excommunicated and Disfellowshipped

The church's topic study page for "forgiveness" includes a link to a talk by Elder Theodore Burton in 1983 on the subject of forgiving those who are working through the process of church discipline. This is a topic I don't recall ever having heard addressed in general conference in my adult life. He had some really profound stuff to say. All emphasis added by me.
To teach people to overcome sin and change their lives for the better is the sum and substance of Christian service. We must do everything in our power to help sinners to change their lives for the better. Otherwise, as the scriptures warn us, we will have to shoulder their sins ourselves. Our obligation is to teach and help them, and the sinner’s obligation is to listen and learn. He will have to bear the whole burden himself if he refuses. But regardless of his present attitude, we must never abandon him nor think his reformation is hopeless. There is hope for everyone, and we must never cease trying to help people understand that through the atonement of Jesus Christ not only the sins of mankind in general but also their personal sins can be forgiven.
I've struggled with this myself--to forgive and forget when people in the church who know better commit serious sin. One of Elder Burton's responsibilities was to prepare the materials for the First Presidency about people who were seeking to be rebaptized into the church after having been excommunicated. Some of those materials included letters from people who had been harmed by the transgressor. Sometimes very seriously wounded, in fact. 
One thing causes me great concern as I read letters from those who have been injured. I am concerned with the feeling of resentment and hatred some individuals have expressed against the spouse that betrayed or abused them and their children. ...Some individuals have expressed such resentment against a former spouse that they write that nothing that spouse could ever do could right the wrong he or she committed. They insist they can never forgive a spouse for the pain and suffering that spouse has caused.

A person with that attitude can hardly be called a follower of Jesus Christ. Even of those who were so wicked they crucified their Savior, he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) So, when Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive a person who sinned against him, “Till seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21–22.) People can and do change, and our duty is to forgive them.
Ouch. That is a pretty blunt statement I've highlighted in bold above. He is warning us that, no matter how seriously someone has sinned against us, their eternal debt is not to us but to their Redeemer. Jesus paid the price for their sins and it is He who must decide when forgiveness is appropriate.

I don't believe he is saying that people are not expected to pay their debt to society. One who abuses his family may suffer the punishment of the law, perhaps evening serving time in jail. But in our hearts, we must not image that we can deny them forgiveness without poisoning our own souls.

This is also not to say that we should institutionally forget about those who have committed past crimes. Especially when children are at stake, the church keeps a record of such offenses so that those people are never placed in a position in the church where they will be alone with children. Far from representing a failure to forgive, this policy helps to shelter previous offenders from a situation that may present them with a challenging temptation. It is a policy of mercy and wisdom.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brain Waves

We can probe a person's brain with a tiny bit of electricity and cause sensations similar to a spiritual experience. You might conclude from this sort of research that you've identified the source of alleged testimony and that you can safely dismiss the spiritual experiences of yourself or others.

This makes no more sense than assuming that because you could jolt the mouth muscles with a bit of electricity to form a smile that you've identified the source of laughter and joy.

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