Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moral Discipline

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Moral Discipline, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In my attempt at applying the conference addresses for the April 2009 conference, I confronted some views on motivations, particularly regarding the straw man representation that some Christians hold up for our friends who do not share our beliefs (e.g. agnostics and atheists). (This was in response to Elder Cook's remarks; my views here.)

I took a week to analyze Elder Christofferson's talk (it was one of my favorites!). As I did this, I continued to reflect on what some claim is a marked difference between Christians and atheists, but which I boldly declare to not be. I'll present the situation as a question:

Can atheists exercise moral discipline?

First, it is helpful to define what is meant by moral discipline. Elder Christofferson put it well:

By "moral discipline," I mean self-discipline based on moral standards. Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard.

In conversations I've both had and seen (meaning reading online conversations), some have vehemently maintained that without Christianity, there are no morals. Conversely, I've heard non-believers claim that Christians don't really have morals—they're just behaving a certain way out of fear of damnation, they say.

Of course, both of these camps are a bit off-base: believing in Christ is not a prerequisite for morality, nor does having such a belief preclude one from "true" morality.

It seems that the question boils down to another question, one regarding the morals in the moral discipline. Are the morals followed those taught by Christ and followed because they were taught by Christ, or are they the morals taught by Christ and followed by non-believers because they, coincidentally, are the right things to do? Or is it a combination of these?

Right is right regardless of who taught it. (But why we choose to do right may be another thing entirely!)

NOTE: I'm not advocating agnosticism or atheism herejust moral discipline!

Is there one morality that is better than others? Or, if you prefer, is there one "right" that is better than other "rights"?

These questions touch on my reaction to what I've heard time and time again from society: "Truth is relative and . . . everyone decides for himself or herself what is right."

As contradictory as this is, it surfaces even among the faithful periodically. You may have seen some version of this claim in Sunday School discussions on the Word of Wisdom, particularly the interpretation(s) of caffeine, soda, and chocolate. Furthermore, Priesthood lessons have had this claim surface when Sabbath-day lessons are given, particularly around the Super Bowl!

I'm reminded of a question posed in the Restoration of Truth video by the young Joseph Smith. In response to a preacher saying, "We each try to find the answer that is right for us," Joseph replies, "Shouldn't there be one answer that is right for everyone?" (find this interaction at 5:45 in the video, embedded below, or link here.)

Many aspects of the answer that is "right for everyone" were presented in the various talks of this conference—including this one. Elder Christofferson closes with a summary of this truth:

God is our Father and that His Son, Jesus, is our Redeemer. Their law is immutable, Their truth is everlasting, and Their love is infinite.

I want to "choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard," as I apply the morals I know are true—not just because they were taught by Christ, but because they are right!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blessings of the Gospel Available to All

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Blessings of the Gospel Available to All, by Elder Joseph W. Sitati
Of the Seventy

Last night I came upon a discussion of race, triggered by an incident involving Mitt Romney, the well-known LDS politician. Apparently, an altercation on an airplane occurred shortly after the Winter Olympics, where Mr. (or Brother?) Romney was physically attacked after asking the fellow in front of him to return his seat to the "upright position" for takeoff (one article here).

Where does race come in, you ask? I wondered, too! It turns out that the attacker (who was subsequently asked to leave the flight) has darker skin than Mr. Romney.

The race discussion was sparked by someone who apparently has a less-than-favorable view of "Mormons," and the history within the LDS church of whom the priesthood was extended to (disregarding when).

As I considered the points of this heavy-handed, almost one-sided discussion, I was incredibly grateful that the blessings of the gospel are available to all. Imagine my surprise this evening when I reviewed Elder Sitati's talk, the title of which was so in line with my grateful feelings of the previous evening.

To make the experience even better, I recalled researching Elder Sitati's history with my wife after listening to his talk in general conference. The message of his words accrued added meaning as we learned (from Wikipedia, link) that Elder Sitati is "the first black African general authority of the church," the first district president and stake president in Kenya, and that he, his wife, and children were the first Kenyan family to receive the sealing ordinance.

That's a lot of firsts.

With all of this in mind, reconsider his statement:

From humble beginnings in Fayette, New York, nearly 180 years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become a global faith.

Elder Sitati is truly qualified to distinguish our church as a "global faith."

Despite difficult times of the past (and even the present), I, too, am grateful that:

God’s children on the earth today have the opportunity to understand His plan of happiness for them more fully than at any other time. . . . The standard is the same, and the blessing is the same for all. God has reaffirmed that He is no respecter of persons.

I love that even if I don't have the same impressive history as Elder Sitati, or nearly as many notable firsts, I can share in the same blessings that he and his family do. He tells that "a new celestial culture is developing in homes, nurtured by the ready hearkening to the counsel of the living prophet." I'm grateful that I can have this in my home, and that you can too—whoever, wherever, whatever you are!

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Easiness and Willingness to Believe

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

An Easiness and Willingness to Believe, by Elder Michael T. Ringwood
Of the Seventy

I'm in the process of listening to a radio interview on NPR's Fresh Air where author Bart Ehrman is outlining his departure from the faith (link to interview details). Apparently, he once believed the Bible to be inerrant, but through scholarly studies observed contradictions in various biblical accounts which, over time, convinced him that not only is the Bible false, but that God doesn't exist (actually, he's not sure if God exists—he's claiming agnosticism now).

Hearing of his book, titled Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them), made me consider authoring my own book to put his claims in a different light, and view the biblical accounts through the lens of the Restoration. While I likely won't actually do this, I have resolved to re-read the four gospels and record my impressions on the authors' points of view (I've already done this, interestingly enough, but want to do it again!).

My first impressions on why this scholar lost his faith included questioning his "inerrant" belief. Apparently many people believe that the Bible was literally penned by deity, and, therefore, is perfect. They dismiss the idea that the books of the Bible, many named after their authors, were actually authored by the authors. (Sounds strange to me.)

Another impression involved questioning what happened to his heart. Why did advanced degrees harden his heart? (I'm reminded of a play on words that might apply here, found in Alma 47:18, which discusses being poisoned by degrees.)

I was reminded of all of this as I reviewed Elder Ringwood's talk where he reminds of the need to maintain "an easiness and willingness to believe" else we suffer from hard hearts and an accompanied loss of the Spirit. While I'm sure he's not advocating an abandon of reason or inquest—I love to inquire—instead, he offers a test.

A test to measure our easiness and willingness to believe can occur each week as we attend sacrament meeting. In this meeting we renew covenants by expressing our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments (see D&C 20:77). As we sit in sacrament meeting, we should find it easy to make these covenants and easy to listen and learn through the Holy Ghost.

As I increase in knowledge, understanding, and even degrees, I want to keep a soft heart and an easiness and willingness to believe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Preserving the Heart’s Mighty Change, by Elder Dale G. Renlund
Of the Seventy

I must be pretty boring. In the past few days, I've admitted to the following: I've never broken a bone, I've never had major surgery, and I've never been outside of the United States.


In his address, Elder Renlund references an old Time article (from 1967) chronicling the events surrounding the first heart transplants (link to article). Now, these people weren't boring—they were on the cutting edge of innovation! Elder Renlund knows all about these things; his professional history is full of cardiac references (and you'll also find the word "transplant" sprinkled heavily in, too).

Given his considerable ethos on the matter of heart transplants, his subsequent point has considerable validity: "The ultimate operation is not a physical but a spiritual 'mighty change' of heart."

Perhaps I don't need surgery, broken bones, or a fully-stamped passport to rise above the distinction of boring: all I need on my resume is the ultimate operation—a change of heart.

(This is good news, because surgery sounds complicated, broken bones are unnecessarily painful, and I don't have much time for travel presently.)

Before I pat myself on the back for having had a change of heart, I need to remember Elder Renlund's main point: it's not the change of heart that matters most, it's the maintenance and preservation of the changed heart; I need to endure to the end!

After sharing an example from his life when his changed heart was being neglected, he said:

To endure to the end, we need to be eager to please God and worship Him with fervor and passion. . . . We must identify temptations that easily beset us and put them out of reach—way out of reach.

The Book of Mormon has incredible stories of missionary efforts and successes. Perhaps the more important points to me now may be the parts where those who have had a change of heart receive a spiritual biopsy: "If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (see Alma 5:12-14, 26)

Can I feel so now?

Sometimes? Yes.

Would I like to more? Of course.

I think it's time to "go under the knife" and have my spiritually changed heart biopsied to ensure that the change can be permanent. I felt the significance of Elder Renlund's reminder:

Remember, more than mortal years on this earth are at stake. Do not risk forfeiting the fruits of the ultimate operation: eternal salvation and exaltation.

In the end, I'll be fine if I'm still classified as "boring," I just want to have the courage to "press forward with steadfast faith in Christ and endure joyfully to the end," eagerly pleasing God and worshiping Him with fervor.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Call to the Rising Generation

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

A Call to the Rising Generation, by Elder Brent H. Nielson
Of the Seventy

My eldest child is in kindergarten. At the beginning orientation meetings, we were told that the children would be learning things that we (the parents) weren't introduced to until first or second grade. I thought just an exaggeration, but am learning more each day how true that statement was. For example, when we took a bike ride this last weekend, David would read all the signs that we would see, including billboards that weren't "Dick and Jane" simple words.

I was reminded of how advanced children and youth are becoming as I reviewed Elder Nielson's address. He told that when he was a full-time missionary, he and other missionaries would pray for the work to progress in a specific area, and "wonder who those brave young men and young women would be and when they would cross that border to take the gospel to the people there." The surprise came, you may recall, when his own son wrote to report that his first area of labor as a missionary was in the very city that he had prayed for so long ago.

I wonder if my little future missionary will likewise fulfill specific prayers I offered as a missionary in Idaho and Oregon. Whether or not he serves in those specific areas, I understand the responsibility that I have as his father to prepare him now to be a good missionary then.

Here is a picture of him at a recent concert he had at his school. He wanted to wear his "Future Missionary" tag so his friends could know that he wants to be a missionary.

For this post, I invited my future missionary son to answer a few questions about missionaries and missionary work:

What will you do as a missionary?
"When I'm a missionary, I would teach stories about Jesus."

Where do you think you'll serve as a missionary?
"In Japan, because Mommy went there." (Perhaps Idaho is out...)

What do you think will be the most fun thing you'll do as a missionary?
"Go eat at people's houses."

What will be the hardest thing?
"Traveling to the islands, because it took a long time to get to Utah when we went there."

Unfortunately, it became his bedtime, so our interview was cut short. I had intended to ask him more probing questions about missionary work, but will settle for these wonderful ideas.

I look forward to seeing my sweet little children rise up and prepare for the work that is in store for them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stewardship—a Sacred Trust

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Stewardship—a Sacred Trust, by Elder Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Do you want to succeed in life? Would you like to finally meet your goals? Do you need to lose weight? Would you like to increase your earning potential? . . . While seem may like lines that you might hear from a shifty salesman, I imagine that the key to successful realization of each could be found in the same place: accountability.

For as long as I can remember, I've heard many people say that if you want to meet your goals, the best (and seemingly simplest) thing you can do is tell someone about it, and give them regular reports. For some reason, though, this, for me, seems incredibly difficult. Perhaps I'm embarrassed to share my secret goals, or perhaps I'm just not committed.

Maybe I should make a goal to succeed at making goals—but who could I tell about it. . .

Elder Cook implicitly reminded me that the Las Vegas Convention and Tourism Authority has trademarked the line, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" (link). He contrasts that with the opposite view of Sevier County, Utah: "What Happens in Sevier County, You Can Share with Your Friends" (link). (While I couldn't find a picture of a sign stating the latter, it was in a guide book.)

Can anything really be hidden? Of course it can! . . . through repentance. This fact adds validity to Elder Cook's statement:

I would suggest that if we think about giving an accounting of our actions to the Savior, our rationalizations will be seen in their true light.

This reminds me of a new favorite song that the children and youth are singing these days, "If the Savior Stood Beside Me" (listen to the song here, and look for other versions here). I love the message, which goes hand-in-hand with Elder Cook's message of accountability.

Speaking of hand-in-hand, I want to live so that if the Savior stood beside me, I would be comfortable taking Him by the hand.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Safety for the Soul

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Safety for the Soul, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Shortly after going to bed last night, our eldest awoke, frightened because he had seen "a ghost." As I put him back to bed and calmed him, he said, "That's okay, Daddy; I know there's no such thing as ghosts."

However, my reply may either classify me as a good parent or a bad parent. I said, "Why do you think ghosts aren't real? What about the Holy Ghost?" After he asked if anyone can see the Holy Ghost, I told him that the Holy Ghost gave Nephi a tour of the dream his father had originally had.

I was happy that this helped him to calm down, and he quietly went right back to sleep. Now, I realize that saying, "Ghosts are real," to a frightened child may not be the wisest idea, but backed with scriptural evidences (and referring to the favorite of ghosts), it turned out fine.

After this experience, I did some thinking on Lehi's dream (see 1 Nephi 8), and then, on my morning commute, I listened to Elder Holland's talk where he revisited aspects of the dream again.

Interestingly, I was riding at 5am, against a stiff wind, in the dark, through palpable mists (that left me quite wet) as Elder Holland reminded that in the dream, "an already difficult journey gets more difficult when a mist of darkness arises," obscuring the view of safety. This was fitting as my glasses, fogged and marked by countless water droplets, did nothing to aid my vision, but rather hindered it!

Putting my commute experiences aside, Elder Holland reminded of the universality of opposition, as well as the way to overcome it:

It is imperative to note that this mist of darkness descends on all the travelers—the faithful and the determined ones . . . as well as the weaker and ungrounded ones. The principal point of the story is that the successful travelers resist all distractions.

I had a missionary companion who had as his motto a phrase from Lehi's account of his dream: "But we heeded them not" (see 1 Nephi 8:33). Come what may, he was determined to not be discouraged or distracted from his ultimate goals.

This tenacity has been evidenced by countless individuals who face persecution, even staunch religious oppressive persecution. Elder Holland poetically reminds of two people who did this beautifully: Joseph Smith, and his brother Hyrum. They maintained their testimonies of the truthfulness of the work they helped to usher in (including the veracity of the Book of Mormon) to the very end, staring death in the very face.

I agree with Elder Holland that this is an evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. In addition, if I may, I would like to add my name to the list of those who testify of its truth:

Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean, settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, “[I] give [my name] unto the world, to witness unto the world that which [I] have seen.” And like them, “[I] lie not, God bearing witness of it” (see The Testimony of Eight Witnesses).

My wife finished reading the Book of Mormon yesterday for the who-knows-how-many-times. I love each instance of completion and the return to my knees to pray of its truthfulness (as Moroni directs, link). And even though I know I don't need to pray anew (because I feel the witness of truth each time I read its pages), it's still wonderful to experience, again, what I felt the first time I prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true.

I know that the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is the word of God.

I'm grateful that I can find safety for the soul amidst mists of darkness.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Have I Done for Someone Today?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

What Have I Done for Someone Today?, by President Thomas S. Monson

I loved the accounting of birthday gifts that President Monson received from children around the world. Their gifts were acts of service, rendered in response to his statement that an ideal birthday gift would be to "find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely, and do something for him or her."

We all loved the image shown representing "warm fuzzies," where each fuzzy represented a child's act of service.

Occasionally I notice discrepancies between what is recorded in the Ensign and what was said during conference. Regarding the warm fuzzies, there was a nugget that was, for some reason, omitted from the printed account; imagine President Monson, the King of Warm Fuzzies, saying upon hearing of the service and its effects, "I wouldn't have known what a warm fuzzy was!"

Despite either not being familiar with the phrase, or not making the connection to its physical representation, President Monson inspires warm fuzzies in my heart each time I hear him, read his messages, or try to be like him. For example, often at the dinner table, we take turns saying something that we did to help someone during the day. When one child cannot remember, someone seems always ready to offer an observed act of service to refresh their memory (when Rebecca forgets, David will say something like, "Remember, Becca; you helped me find my shoes this morning!").

Each time we do this, I feel warm fuzzies in my heart.

I'm ashamed to admit that we've been falling out of practice—even with the associated warm fuzzies! I've loved when we've recounted our service, and I want to continue to. In fact, President Monson asked me to (I guess he asked you to, too):

May we ask ourselves the question . . . each evening at dinnertime: “What have I done for someone today?”

While I didn't hear of his birthday wish (until this conference), and I wouldn't have been creative enough to send in a jar of warm fuzzies if I had, I know that I can help my family lift, love, and serve—everyday!

Warm Fuzzies!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ask, Seek, Knock

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Ask, Seek, Knock, by Elder Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Chances are that you're reading this on a computer through the magic of electricity, computer processing, and Internet technologies. We've come a long way in a few short years. I remember times not ten years ago when I would go more than 24 hours without checking my email or getting news or other information from the Internet.

Isn't modern technology amazing?

"Even more amazing than modern technology," Elder Nelson argues, "is our opportunity to access information directly from heaven, without hardware, software, or monthly service fees."

Without monthly service fees?! How can something so wonderful be free? Or, is it really free?

Of course, there are qualifications to participate in personal revelation, as even the title of his talk implies. But we still don't receive a bill!

Elder Nelson outlines the guidelines using D&C 4:5-7:

The Lord asks you to develop “faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God.” Then with your firm “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and] diligence,” you may ask, and you will receive; you may knock, and it will be opened unto you.

Elder Nelson gives an example of the change that is possible to all who ask, seek, and/or knock. As interesting and touching as the story is, there is more that can be learned by looking in the footnotes. Each conference, I love to read Elder Nelson's footnotes because he not only cites references, but gives clarification and additional information as well. In a footnote for this story of conversion, he references the classic hymn "Amazing Grace," which, interestingly enough, is rarely (if ever) sung in LDS congregations:

Such conversions are complete. John Newton (1725–1807), for example, changed his life from that of a slave trader to a devoted disciple of the Lord, summarizing his conversion when he wrote: “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound!) / That sav’d a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found; / Was blind, but now I see”

I think the reason this song isn't echoing off the walls of LDS chapels is the inclusion of just one word—and, No, it's not "grace" (see these great Book of Mormon scriptures, for starters: 2 Nephi 2:6-8, 4:17, 9:8, 53, 10:24-25; Moroni 10:32-33). In my opinion, the word that keeps this hymn out is "wretch." Although Nephi refers to himself as a "wretched man" (see 2 Nephi 4:17), we focus on the joys of Christ, and that because of His grace, we are no longer wretches (as long as we ask, seek, and knock).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hold On

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Hold On, by Ann M. Dibb
Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

In a recent post, I shared a video that a municipality in the UK uses to stress the importance of wearing seat belts. I really like the video. According to the NHTSA, 17% of people in the U.S. don't wear seat belts (link). Paraphrasing Sister Dibb, these people have the necessary safety equipment, they just choose not to wear it.

Here's the video, in case you missed it (link to blog post).

In her talk, Sister Dibb spoke of a construction crew who were, literally, left hanging after their scaffolding failed. For more than an hour, they clung to the underside of a bridge, 125 feet in the air—without safety equipment. Apparently, "they had the equipment; they just chose not to wear it."

It's understandable why people don't use safety equipment, particularly when statistics enter the discussion—they just don't think "it" will happen to them. But when emergencies or perilous situations come, we all wish we had buckled up, used more care, or fastened that necessary clip.

Here is the connection from one aspect of life (everyday things), to another (the important things):

Heavenly Father has not left us alone during our mortal probation. He has already given us all the “safety equipment” we will need to successfully return to Him. He has given us personal prayer, the scriptures, living prophets, and the Holy Ghost to guide us. At times, using this equipment may seem cumbersome, awkward, and horribly unfashionable. Its proper use requires our diligence, obedience, and persistence. But I, for one, choose to use it. We must all choose to use it.

I always wear a seat belt in the car, but do I likewise use the other "safety equipment," which may, ultimately, be more important?

I may think I'm safe, but so did those construction workers on the bridge. I don't want to wait for opposition and difficult times to see if I have the necessary equipment on hand—that would be like trying to buckle a seat belt as your car careens off a cliff. Rather, I want the courage to choose to use the provided safety equipment, even, and especially, when times seem easy and happy. For when the scaffolding fails, I want to be secured, and not have to dangle precipitously.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let Virtue Garnish Your Thoughts

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Let Virtue Garnish Your Thoughts, by Bishop H. David Burton
Presiding Bishop

"We believe in being honest, true, chased by elephants..."

This is how I used to think the thirteenth Article of Faith started (it's really, "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent." - link). Bishop Burton reported that he, too, had difficulty with this one. He continued to describe virtues that end in "ity," calling them the "ity" virtues. Examples include: "integrity, humility, charity, spirituality, accountability, civility, fidelity, and the list goes on and on."

I stumbled upon a short film that used a certain effect called tilt/shift (or the Scheimpflug principle for you fellow nerds out there) that makes reality appear miniature. My brother-in-law has used this effect in his photographic explorations (link), so I shared it with him.

Watching this film produced some interesting thoughts. First the film:

This effect gives an interesting perspective on humanity and reminds me of Linus' quote (from Charlie Brown): "I love humanity; it's people I can't stand!"

People look so cute and even adorable when seen from this view—if only I could like [and love] all people when they're close-up!

Basically, what I experienced in my inner reaction to this film was a desire for me to have more "ity" virtues.

In testifying of their importance, Bishop Burton reminded both what the "ity" virtues are, and how we can develop them:

Heavenly Father expects His children to exercise integrity, civility, fidelity, charity, generosity, morality, and all the “ity” virtues. May we have the humility to take the opportunity to act upon our responsibility to demonstrate our ability to do so.

I agree wholeheartedly that the development and cultivation of the "ity" virtues can and will bring needed changes to individuals and society.

I hope I can lose my security blanket of separation (from people, similar to Linus) and "let virtue garnish [my] thoughts unceasingly" (see D&C 121:45).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Past Way of Facing the Future

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Past Way of Facing the Future, by Elder L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Do you ever wish for the imagined simplicity of days gone by? To sit on the front porch of the farm without distractions or busy-ness to draw attention?

I do.

But then I realize that I have very little practical skills, and I return to the present. But what about the innovations and ingenuity that occurred in the last 200 years? Ronald Reagan (and Elder Perry) have the following to say:

I do not want to go back to the past; I want to go back to the past way of facing the future.

Although I've been to the Manti temple only a few times, those visits are quite memorable to me. I recall going with my roommate and a friend, where I first heard that the temple's roof was designed as an upside-down boat. At this visit, a temple worker gave us a guided tour of the temple, including an impressive trip to one of the temple's two spiral stairways constructed without a central support (see picture below, which I didn't take, btw).

I made another visit a few years later, now married, with our then one-year-old only child. We enjoyed spending time on the temple grounds building memories.

The pioneer-era temples provide a level of inspiration even above the more modern temples. I enjoyed when Elder Perry waxed philosophical, hearing the following in each room of the Manti Temple:

Look at what we built with our own hands. We had no power equipment. No contractors or subcontractors were involved in the construction, no fancy cranes to lift up the heavy stones. We performed this labor under our own power.

The conclusion of this impressive recounting is the importance of "having a working knowledge of the basic principles." Elder Perry ties this all together:

Embedded in the gospel of Jesus Christ there are eternal principles and truths that will last far longer than the principles of building ships and roofs. . . . You and I both know how important these eternal principles and truths are in our lives. I’m not sure those early pioneers could have faced the perils and uncertainties of the future without them, and neither can we. They are the only true and eternal way to face the future.

We love to imagine living in the good old days (at least certain parts of the good old days!), but perhaps what made the good old days so "good" was the past way of facing the future. I want to employ clever ingenuity as I face problems of today, remembering always the eternal principles and truths that are so important.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Our Perfect Example

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Our Perfect Example, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

Today was a perfect day for this talk, following President Monson's talk yesterday. Here's why:

I felt like I had forgotten that I have a choice in becoming angry, and President Monson's talk reminded me that I don't have to get angry (or, rather, choose to be angry), I can show love instead. I approached today, really wanting to not fail.

I did all right.

As I tried to be Christ-like, I realized my goal.

Will I be able to continue showing love instead of choosing to be angry? I hope so. Nevertheless, I understand that reality may just be a process of becoming. President Eyring taught:

We believe that through living the gospel of Jesus Christ we can become like the Savior, who is perfect. . . . None of us is perfect yet. But we can have frequent assurance that we are following along the way. He leads us, and He beckons for us to follow Him.

What was it about today that was so great? In one word: Love.

If I want to maintain that love, I'll do well to follow President Eyring's admonition:

Love is the motivating principle by which the Lord leads us along the way towards becoming like Him, our perfect example. Our way of life, hour by hour, must be filled with the love of God and love for others . . . go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did and to love as He loves.

I'm grateful for the successes that I find as I forget myself (and my way of messing things up) and follow Christ, our perfect example.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

School Thy Feelings, O My Brother

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

School Thy Feelings, O My Brother, by President Thomas S. Monson

I'm in the middle of listening to an interview discussing parenting (link). Near the beginning, the interviewee mentions a study where children were exposed to fighting parents, and the responses recorded. Here's what he said:

Normally when a kid watches a fight between parents, an argument, a quite heated conflict, that kid will then lash out afterwards or during it and act aggressive. But there's one thing that happened in those experiments that makes all that aggressive behavior in the child go away: it's watching the fight get resolved, it's watching your parents work it out in a constructive way.

I can see that, if given the choice, it is preferable to have children learn how to peacefully resolve conflicts over seeing only escalation with no conclusion. However, what isn't mentioned (at least not that I've heard yet) are studies of parents teaching their children to school their feelings and not even get angry to begin with.

Does this sound impossible?

I'm reminded of the life-changing (hopefully) observation that Elder Robbins made in 1998: "Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!" (link to talk)

President Monson agrees:

No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry.

I guess it's not impossible. In fact, President Monson continued, "I testify that such is possible."

In a recent church lesson, we were discussing anger, and I asked, "We read of righteous indignation; is anger ever justified?" After some great discussion, we concluded that, No, anger is not ever justified.

If our goal is to always have the Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77, 79, the sacrament prayers), then perhaps the following question can help more than our lesson discussion:

I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case.

Unfortunately, I know all of this, but I still fail. It seems that every night my personal prayers have a significant portion where I admit that I have failed, again, and plead for help to do better. While Elder Andersen would say, "Don't be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting," (see his talk this conference) I still live with disappointment every time I choose to be angry (previously termed 'lose my temper'). Perhaps I'm on the right track.

This I know, I want to do as President Monson taught. In fact, just tonight, as we were having family scripture study, my son said, "Daddy, I love President Monson. I wish he could be president forever!" As I continue to work on improving my choices, I hope to remember President Monson's charge:

May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger and to leave unsaid the harsh and hurtful things we may be tempted to say.


Each year, my family participates in the Austin CROP Hunger Walk (CROP stands for "Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty"). This is an event where participants raise donations from friends (you) in order to help combat the growing problem of hunger—both locally and world-wide. In addition, funds raised help victims of the recent earthquakes (e.g. in Haiti and Chile).

I'll be walking with my family and I'm looking to find friends who will either make donations to the organization or come and join me in the walk. 75% of the funds go toward global hunger resources and 25% stay local (Austin).

This is us last year.

"What can I do to help?"
you ask: You can simply donate using the secure CROP Walk site (link), or you can join in on the fun this weekend, either Saturday or Sunday (location info, link), and raise sponsors/funds from other friends. (Here is my family's CROP Walk site: link.)

Want additional information? The CROP Walk website,, has links for additional information.

-Additional Information-
Official Austin Website
: for more information.

Main CROP Website:

You can make donations or join in the cause from any of the above sites, but it is easiest from my family's CROP site.

-CROP Walk Specifics-

The walk will be held on Saturday and Sunday (March 6 & 7) at Walter E. Long Park (map), at 9:30 am (Saturday) and 1:45 pm (Sunday).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Be Ready

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be Ready, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

One of the worst things about being a parent is having an ill or injured child and feeling helpless—not knowing what to do. It is at these times that I am especially grateful for priesthood blessings. However, these times come with little or no warning, which leaves me asking, "Am I ready?"

President Eyring reminds that preparation "must begin long before the crisis which requires priesthood power."

Priesthood blessings are a sacred rite, which I revere. "It is the right to call down the powers of heaven."

Understanding the source of the power makes proper preparation more understandable. President Eyring put this in a new light when he taught that we need to not only "have faith that God lives," but "that [we] have won His confidence to allow [us] to use His power for His purposes."

I love the somber reminders encapsulated in that second faith item (regarding confidence): first, that it is not only the power of God, but the purposes of God; second, that God has confidence in us—in me! This second part is what stood out to me the most from this message (at this reading).

I'm reminded of the story of J. Reuben Clark discussing trust with his children (they were talking about curfews). When asked if he trusted his child, the reply was, "No, my [child], I don’t trust you. I don’t even trust myself" (I heard President Faust relay this, here).

I, too, share this feeling: I often don't trust myself. This puts an interesting spin on the need to have faith that God trusts us. However, I think I can identify the difference. I don't trust myself in matters of selfishness, but I have much more confidence in myself when my desires and interests are turned away from self (as in the case of wanting to help a sick/injured child or loved one). Because of this perhaps perceptively small distinction, I can (at times, at least) know that God trusts me, especially to "use His power for His purposes."

I'll end where I started. One of the worst things about being a parent is having an ill or injured child and feeling helpless—not knowing what to do. However, we know at least one thing we can do: we can be ready; ready to use the power of God, according to his will.

Often, when my children are ill, I'll be on the verge of asking if they would like a blessing when they look at me with loving eyes and ask, "Daddy, can I have a blessing?"

I want to be ready for times like these—because they come without warning.

As President Monson often reminds:

When the time for performance arrives, the time for preparation is past.