Tuesday, September 30, 2008

There Is No Random

I mentioned before that I'm enrolled in two classes that use probability and statistics. Many of the ways we model events assume randomness (e.g. it is as likely in earthquake models for an earthquake one year as the next—regardless of recent events. Therefore, the concept of being due for an earthquake because one hasn't occurred in so many years at a seismic fault is incorrect, considering the model.). Nevertheless, one of my questions elicited the following response from my professor yesterday:

There is no 'random.' What we perceive as randomness is the result of our inability to understand what is going on. We simply don't have a good enough model yet to understand the event in question.

Now, you may expect such a response from an experienced university professor (and possibly the best school instructor I've had), but do you agree with the claim that there is no random?

Many throw the word "random" around attempting to describe things, thoughts, people, and occurrences. We may say, "I had the most random thought...", or "It is so random seeing you here."

Was the thought really the most random? Was it even random at all? Was it really random running into a friend somewhere unexpected?

I was thinking on random (not to be confused with having random thoughts) and the application of its claimed nonexistence from my viewpoint. I wonder how often I maintain that a life-changing event stemmed from a seemingly random occurrence or encounter. I know I've heard many others say things like "I didn't understand why at the time, but looking back I can definitely see how the overall course of events played out to benefit me. I've been guided by the hand of the Lord."

The retrospective look at life seems to erase many "random" events, especially when viewed through the lens of faith. What at first appeared random, is reclassified to divine as we see the grand design in the minutia, or random.

Returning to the professor's idea: We classify things as random because we don't yet have a model sophisticated enough. While we may not have models that predict life's events, particularly the life-changing seemingly random occurrences, we do have a philosophy for living that helps us see the divine through the random. It's an old concept, but it is tried and true:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

After this seemingly random discussion, I hope to look at things that I would have classified as random with new eyes to see the hand of the Lord in my life as I'm led, guided, and directed to better paths.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Willing to Die

I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia. In reading the many accounts of wars where heroes are made and will is surrendered to the cause, I asked myself, "What am I willing to die for?"

The answers weren't at all surprising: family, religion, friends, rights, etc.

However satisfying the answers, I wasn't satisfied with the original question. Instead of wondering what I would die for, it may be more important to decide what I will live for. Or, rather, to understand why I do what I do—to understand the motivation behind action.

In the course of life, I think it is considerably more important to live for a cause than to die for a cause. If I'm willing to die for important things, shouldn't I be willing to live to honor those same things?

However noble and courageous heroes are who die for a righteous cause, sacrifice seems more significant if it is founded upon everyday decisions to do what is right and needful while striving for perfection (see Matt. 5:48). Christ is the perfect example of this—his infinite sacrifice would have been meaningless if not for his a perfect life.

I am willing to die for many things. Does my life evidence a willingness to live for these same things?

Monday, September 15, 2008

If the Savior Stood Beside Me

Walking about campus lately has reminded of my days at BYU. I've noticed that students here don't sing or whistle to themselves nearly as much as they did at BYU. It was not uncommon to be walking across campus and hear songs or hymns quietly being sung by a fellow pedestrian. In fact, I occasionally came upon those who practiced full-out singing! (I always wanted to join in, with another part, but never had the courage or talent.)

Letaly, though, I've been guilty of quietly singing as I walk across campus for a class. Perhaps the change in season reminds me of fall in Utah, and the associated BYU singing, but I think it's something more.

We've been listening to a compilation of songs for a children's presentation at church that David will be involved in. One of the songs has stuck in my mind, occupying a place and coming out much longer and more often than any other song that has found its way into that place in the brain that holds onto songs—the "I've got a song stuck in my head" place.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. In fact, I really enjoy the song and its message. The song, "If the Savior Stood Beside Me," is especially catchy as I think of my little David singing it, and seems even especially applicable to me, even as I walk across campus (listen to the song here, and look for other versions here). Apparently, the author wrote the song for her daughter, not as a lecture, but because the child was Christ-like (like my sweet children).

I've noticed that I smile much more as I'm walking when this song is in my head. It helps to focus my thoughts upward and inward, instead of simply having random unproductive thoughts. To help understand the power I draw from this song that's stuck in my head, here are the lyrics:

If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I think of His commandments and try harder to be true?
Would I follow His example? Would I live more righteously,
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

If the Savior stood beside me, would I say the things I say?
Would my words be true and kind if He were never far away?
Would I try to share the gospel? Would I speak more reverently
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

If the Savior stood beside me, would my thoughts be clean and pure?
Would His presence give me strength and hope, and courage to endure?
Would His counsel guide my actions? Would I choose more worthily
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

He is always near me, though I do not see Him there
And because He loves me dearly, I am in His watchful care
So I'll be the kind of person that I know I'd like to be
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.

I like that some subconscious part of my mind has retained this song, and that the message is helping me on my quest to do the things I should do, and be who I want to be. In addition, I love that this children's song helps me more fully honor the sacramental covenants to "always remember him" as I strive to "keep his commandments," trying to live so I "may always have his Spirit to be with [me]" (see Moroni 4:3 & 5:2).

Is it any wonder that I'm smiling more? After all, Heber C. Kimball remarked:

I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit. (Journal of Discourses 4:222)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm at the start of new semester, enrolled in two classes: statistics, and probability. Both classes are currently discussing probability, which has caused me to think much on the topic lately. I customarily deal with probabilities on a daily basis regarding the weather and the likelihood of rain (20% today), all because I commute by bicycle and want to know what's in store for me.

These thoughts have caused my mind to wander back to my undergraduate course on probability. In a discussion on the topic, the instructor challenged us to come up with an event for which the probability is one, meaning the event is going to occur. The typical sun rising was given, which was promptly shot down. Even the rising of the sun cannot have a 100% probability. Because it was at BYU, I offered an answer that the professor had to admit (contrary to his lesson plans) has a certain probability: resurrection.

We know that all will be resurrected, "both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous" (see Alma 11:41-45), but I want to explore supernatural probabilities further.

Resurrection is an amazingly wonderful gift, but what gift is greater? Eternal life (see D&C 14:7). In fact, the referenced scripture gives an indication of what is required to qualify for this "greatest of all the gifts of God": We must keep the commandments and endure to the end. It is essential to note that this is made possible only in and through Christ (see Articles of Faith 1:3 and Mosiah 3:17).

Returning to probability: With the sure knowledge of resurrection to all, what is the probability of exaltation? Of course this is a personal matter, but I wonder how many faithful believers actually believe that they will be exalted—and I mean the highest state of happiness and glory in the presence of God.

If belief influences action (and I believe it does), then the higher confidence one has in personal exaltation will influence one to do the things that qualify for the gift. How, then, can one increase their confidence in exaltation? The brief, surface answers may include: actually believe Christ (instead of simply believing in Christ), and apply the infinite and eternal atonement to your life—both by improving actions (keeping the commandments) and truly repenting of sin.

Related thoughts:
Pew Placement
I recall a discussion I had with our good friend and neighbor where he stated his belief that a person's preferred sitting location in a chapel is an indication of their feeling of worthiness (or confidence in exaltation). He argued that those near the front are confident with their standing with God and personal progress, and those near the rear have guilty consciences.

Of course the validity of this claim is uncertain, but I liked the idea and related discussion (probably because I sit near the front!).

Pew Poll
The results of a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life were explored in a Time article (click here). Part of the results show that only Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses had a majority vote that their faith was the sole means of obtaining eternal life (I add: through the merits, mercy, and grace of Christ, of course (see 2 Ne. 2:8)).

Sure, this may only be slightly related to my question of confidence in personal exaltation, but it is interesting nonetheless.

As you may have guessed, an LDS author explored the results of the Pew poll related to the LDS belief that persons of all faiths can find exaltation—providing they did not have the opportunity in this life and accepted the gospel in the next life (article is here).

[Any thoughts on these articles? Feel free to comment.]

Rhetorical and Direct Questions
I asked myself the following: "How much confidence do I have in exaltation?" which translated into, "To what degree do I believe Christ?" and then, "If I really believe Him, am I doing all that I should?"

Unfortunately, I didn't like my truthful answer to the last question. Nevertheless, I'm happy I asked, for how is progress to be attained without measurement, analysis, and truthful introspection, followed by course correction?

I am confident (probability = 1) that Christ provided the way, means, and example of how we can be made clean and receive exaltation. At the same time, though, I want to work on my confidence that I can/will do what is necessary to become clean.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


We took a trip to the mall recently. While Maryann shopped for what she needed, I took the children to one of the play areas to have fun. The setup was perfect for romping children looking for good, clean fun—except for the background.

Perhaps wanting to have a prominent place near the food court, a women's underwear store lay directly across from the children's play area. As I sat and watched my children enjoy themselves, I had to consciously try to filter out the multiple immodest advertisements adorning the store's facade. This made keeping a watchful eye difficult.

I wished I could set my eyes as I would the lens of a camera: with the focus in one place, having all other depths blurred beyond recognition. Instead, I fought the mysteriously natural tendency of my mind to want to focus on the images and shapes in the background because of their shape and position.

As I considered my position, words of Isaiah came to mind that I always found funny when I was younger because of their almost comic use of great descriptive words (see Isa. 3:16-24). However, I found no humor in the predictions that day, especially as I observed the sweet smile of my pure daughter in front of filth, unaware as she was of what lie behind her (thankfully).

How can I help my dear children rise above the temptations of the world—which evil is increasing in both magnitude and frequency—while being surrounded by near-constant exposure? The knowledge that such are a sign of the last days (see 2 Tim. 3:1-7) is of little comfort as viewed from a very personal level; I'm talking about my children, not some abstract concept.

Perhaps one answer lies in the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. The people of the Lord were under attack in dangerous warfare (recall Alma 49&50), yet they found success through fortifications. They strengthened their defenses through inspired and innovative means and found protection.

What can we use for protection?

I think of the charge to "put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (see Eph. 6:11-18). This account gives, perhaps, more practical application of defense: we are provided with a list of things we can do to guard against evil. In the August Ensign (link), Elder Hales provides additional insight:

The “helmet of salvation” guards our reasoning, intellect, and thoughts.

The “breastplate of righteousness” helps us to have the Spirit with us always, guarding our heart and soul.

Having our “loins girt about with truth” gives us the foundation to build faith and develop our testimony.

The “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God to pierce the darkness so that we may have light and truth to guide our way in life.

The “shield of faith” helps us withstand the fiery darts of the adversary.

Having our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” by reading and studying the scriptures helps us be obedient to the laws, ordinances, commandments, and covenants of God.

Returning to modesty. We know that "the way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside" (For the Strength of Youth). I want to thank my mother for something that she has done for our little Rebecca, perhaps unaware. After having seen cute, playful (and expensive) dresses at a shop, she ventured that she could make them herself for her granddaughters. A trip to the store supplied her with clearanced shirts and fabric. Armed with materials, skill, imagination, and large amounts of love, she set to work. The results of her "labor of love" are modest dresses that the children love (see Rebecca in one, below).

How does this relate to the "way you dress" quote from above? My mother knows who her granddaughters are, and she is aware of their divine potential as daughters of God. This loving act of making dresses has not only revealed one aspect of her unending love, but has given her granddaughters an additional bit of armor: pure love.

I hope that it will prove safe to practice the belief that if children find pure love, support, and the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ at home, then they will be able to withstand the evils of the world and remain unscathed.