Meet the Mormons Review

I saw Meet the Mormons over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. The idea of the movie is to showcase a few individuals who are faithful members, depicting what their daily life is like and how their choices are affected by living the gospel. So in that sense it is rather like an extended set of “I’m a Mormon” vignettes. Having said that, there are some pretty remarkable stories told here.

For myself, the introduction felt a little awkward to me–it wasn’t a really smooth transition into the vignettes. But that is alleviated by showing a number of humorous clips and comments about Mormons from various shows, including a brief clip of the famous South Park episode (“The correct answer was the Mormons”).

From the reviews I have read, many are critical because the movie doesn’t dig into the tenets of the faith–particularly the tenets that are controversial (such as the Church’s defense of traditional marriage). But the thing is, the supposedly deep, dark, controversial subjects that are such a big deal to critics and media (because those things make for a good story) simply are not what drives a faithful Mormon in their day-to-day life. But what I believe the show is really trying to put across is that the basic tenets of faith, love, service, fellowship, and family are the driving day-to-day forces in a Mormon who is honestly living their religion as best they can. And the vignettes show that in spades.

That is certainly been my own experience. From what the critics seem to imply, my daily life (as a faithful Mormon) must consist primarily of one of two things: either I spend my waking hours fretting about whatever the current controversy is, or those waking hours are spent vehemently arguing against said controversy. So of course the critics are mad that this is not portrayed in the film. And while the LDS faith certainly contains some who could be the embodiment of such caricatures, for the most part both of those ideas are simply false.

The reality is that, most of my life is spent working and familying, much like pretty much every other person. I go to church, I go to work. I come home and spend time with my family. However, because of the gospel, that working and familying is deeply affected each day by a commitment to family and gospel values that I would not otherwise have. This is what the movie portrays. And it does that quite well.

Don’t get me wrong–I do try to defend the Church that I believe strongly in. I am happy to spread gospel messages and promote and/or defend the Church through what small influence I have online. But that’s not the sole existence of my life. In fact, even in a recent talk from an apostle that was focused on increasing our use of social media and online tools to promote the gospel we were cautioned to “Not allow even good applications of social media to overrule the better and best uses of our time, energy, and resources.” The best way that I defend and promote the gospel is by living it day to day. So now we’re back to those basic ideas of love, service, family, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Especially for a first theater release from the Church, I am very impressed and would recommend this film to others. I hope they make and release more feature films.

Touch These Stones

I’ve taken a facebook “challenge” to state my favorite scripture verse as an excuse to write up a post I’ve been toying with for a while. Lately I have been rather fascinated by the story of the Brother of Jared building the barges.

In Ether 2 the Jaredites are commanded to build barges “after the manner which they had built.” So this is not so much like Nephi’s experience–apparently this group was familiar with barges, at least for short trips. But for crossing the ocean, the barges that were built had a couple major faults:

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

No light, and no air.

Imagine being a Jaredite helping to build these barges to cross the ocean. You know that there are some big problems with the solution that is being presented. But you are asked to pitch in anyway.

Imagine being the Brother of Jared, asking the people that have followed you all this way, and being commanded to build these barges, but there are some obvious problems. You have to ask your brethren to help you build these barges, and at some point the major design flaws come to light. And you have no idea what to do.

Are we ever asked to pitch in towards something that seems absolutely useless, pointless, or futile?

So The Brother of Jared prays and asks for guidance. God gives him the solution to the air problem. He then tells His prophet to come up with a solution for the light problem.

“Here comes the Brother of Jared! Hey, what did the Lord say?”

“He told me how to get air in the barges.”

“Wonderful! What about the light?”

“He asked me to come up with a solution”

“…Oh. OK, what are you going to do?”

“…”

Now it could perhaps be that the Brother of Jared had formulated an idea fairly quickly, but I rather doubt it. I would guess that he wrestled with it for a while. I think it was a hard time for him, and he spent a lot of time thinking and working. I think God wanted him to have that time to think and to struggle, and to come up with a solution.

I also think he worked hard on the solution. The scriptures state that he did “molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Perhaps not; but to me, that sounds like a lot of work.

I think he realized that he could not do it without help from the Lord. That in the end, his efforts alone simply would not be enough. But he needed to do the best he could.

In my own (much smaller) experiences, I’ve found that there is very often a difference between what I think is my best effort and what my best effort really can be (I’ve also learned that I can’t give everything my best effort all the time). Miracles come by the grace of God, but they are more likely to come after we have given much more than we thought we could initially.

So I think it quite likely that the Brother of Jared understood that it may be that God would not provide the miracle, but would give him further instruction and guidance (and that was OK).

But the miracle does come. And I love the implication behind this. God takes that effort, and makes it shine, providing light (and a constant reminder of God’s power and mercy) for everyone.

I love the lessons here, and there are a lot of them. God expects us to work and struggle to solve our problems. He will definitely help us, but the point is that we need to learn and grow. But most of all, that when we have worked and prayed and done everything we can do, and prayed some more, and worked some more, and it seems like all we have to show for our work is a lump of rock.

God touches it.

Living Prophets

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

9th Article of Faith

This Sunday I will be teaching the lesson “Why is it important to listen to and follow the living prophets?” I thought I’d put down a few ideas here to help organize my own thoughts.

So a few different thoughts come to mind. One of the main ones is that this is one of the very striking things about the LDS faith; that we believe in living prophets and apostles.

I love this. I love that the heavens are not closed. I love that God still speaks to man. I love that we can receive a witness of those prophets and their teachings (Elder Oaks discussed this topic quite well in his talk “Two Lines of Communication“).

The twelve apostles we have today are very different people (Here’s a fun exercise: go through the scriptures and try to pick out the personalities of the various prophets, seeing how they compare with each other). A judge, a surgeon, a nuclear phycisist, an educator, and a car salesman are some of the former occupations of our current apostles. Very different experiences and ideas.

Elder Ballard discussed this briefly in the CES devotional he gave earlier this week. He said something to the effect of, “We each have strong personalities; so when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion.”

Personally, in my own experience both in various Church callings and at work, I’ve seen how difficult it is to come to a unanimous agreement. If my coworkers and I made no decision until all parties involved agreed unanimously, then nothing would get done.

Elder Christoffersen gives some additional insight into how the Church is led by the apostles in his talk entitled “The Doctrine of Christ.” He discusses how changes in practices are made, how prophets are not infallible, but how they keep the body of the Church from straying.

I really like the imagery of the prophets as watchmen on the tower, who can see approaching danger from a long distance. Elder Tingey gave a devotional in which he discussed this parable:

In addition to the trees and the nobleman, there was a watchman, and he was to stand on a tower. I believe the watchmen today are the prophets and apostles. The Lord has designated President Gordon B. Hinckley as our chief watchman on the tower today. We will be guided and protected from the enemy if we follow his counsel. President Boyd K. Packer is also a watchman on the tower… Trusted local priesthood leaders, including stake presidents and bishops, are watchmen on the tower to their members and congregations. Certainly a father is a watchman on the tower to his family. Each of you should be a watchman to yourself.

Another really good discussion on the watchmen on the tower vs. prophetic infallibility can be found here.

I truly believe that we are led by modern apostles and prophets. I believe that individually they are very different people. But through them the Lord guides His Church on the earth today.

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

Doctrine and Covenenants 1:38

For we are well able to overcome it

God did not do everything for the Israelites. He certainly did many mighty miracles, and strengthened them in their battles and difficulties, but it is clear that they were to put some effort in on their own. Or at least some faith.

For example, when the Israelites initially arrived at the land of Canaan, which God had promised would be given to them, He did not cause an earthquake or plague to wipe out the existing inhabitants. Instead, God tells Moses to send spies out into the land. One man from each tribe is assigned to go.

Forty days later they return, and the report from 10 out of the 12 spies is very depressing:

And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great

…We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

Only Caleb and Joshua report that they will be able to take the land from their enemies.

The people of Israel are terrified at the report, and decide they want to go back to Egypt and be slaves

And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

Now on one hand, this seems like a reasonable response. Out of 12 spies sent into the land, 10 of them are adamant that the land can never be taken by their own army. So the choice seems pretty clear: either death at the hands of their enemies, or return to Egypt (their other enemies) and be slaves. Clearly, the “promised land” idea was simply that, an idea, and a foolish one at that.

Now wait a minute. Just wait a minute.

God doesn’t seem to like their tone, so to speak, and for good cause. These children of Israel can never seem to get it in their heads who is really leading them. They can’t even seem to remember the profoundly miraculous circumstances that have brought them to where they are now, considering whether to attempt to conquer the land of Canaan.

How frustrated God must have been! How many miracles had these very people witnessed? The ten plagues of Egypt; followed by leaving that land where they had been slaves with the spoils of their captors. Then the Red Sea was parted. Then the Egyptian army was drowned as they tried to give pursuit.

(At this point, one of the greatest nations in the known world has been thoroughly defeated. So what’s with all the grumbling about these cities?)

But there’s more: The commandments given to Moses on Sinai, and the miraculous food and water provided to an entire nation, time and time again.

How can these people possibly forget? Hasn’t it been shown to them over and over that God is with them as they put their faith and trust in Him? That there is nothing that they cannot do when they are on the errand of the Lord?

And now, here they are, at the very gates of the land promised to them by God. Their land of Promise. And yes, the walls are high, and yes the people are strong. Under virtually any other set of circumstances the task ahead would seem at least daunting, if not impossible.

But it should not be to these people. All they need is faith that God will help them, as He always has. All they need to do is act in faith.

If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.

 

Fast forward to another pending battle. The Israelites, now in the land promised to them, are threatened by yet another army, the Philistines, who has a mighty champion, Goliath.

This story is much more well known. Goliath comes out every day and taunts the Israelite army, challenging them to choose someone to fight him in single combat, winner-take-all. The army of Israel is terrified of this giant.

Once again, God could do the Israelites’ work for them and take care of this giant in some fashion. But God doesn’t work that way. He expects us to do what we can, and He will bless and strengthen that effort.

So in walks David. He’s not a soldier, he’s a shepherd. But that doesn’t stop him from volunteering.

Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

David is remembering something that the army (and the King) seems to have forgotten. That they are the army of the living God. The same God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan in the first place. That same God has made covenants with His people, which He will keep as the people of Israel trust in and follow Him.

And so, against all odds, facing an entire army, this shepherd boy runs toward his opponent, and dispatches the great giant that defied the entire army of Israel.

 

So, when we who call ourselves Christians are put to the test, what will we do? Will we act in faith, or cower in fear and doubt? Will we remember that there is a God in Israel?

 

Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

 

References: Numbers 13 and 14, 1 Samuel 17, and 2 Kings 6:14-17

 

Do What We Can

“Now,” said Peter, as they finished their meal, “Aslan and the girls are somewhere close. We don’t know when he will act. In his time, now doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own.”

Prince Caspian

I’ve heard a couple very troubling responses to the ruling on Utah’s marriage amendment and wanted to write a couple thoughts on that. These are responses from those who, like myself, oppose same-sex marriage.

Response One: “Well, it was inevitable anyway.”

This is precisely the argument that SSM advocates are pushing very hard, and frankly, I do not believe it. Even my old computer game is smart enough to advise the player to make it seem like your opponent is being routed. That encourages your troops, discourages the enemy, and makes an actual route much more likely.

There are countless examples of groups, communities, nations, and empires who believed something to be inevitable and were found to be quite wrong. Do I really need to list some? Think for a minute and see how many examples you can come up with off the top of your head.

Now, let us assume that it really inevitable. That no matter what I or anyone else does, same-sex marriage is made legal not only in Utah, but across the country.

Therefore what?

Does that mean that we should not let our voices be heard? Does that mean our opinions have no weight? Does that mean that right really is wrong, and wrong really is right and I should just shut up and get with the program? For myself, I want it to be known where I stand. I want to do my part to help in the causes that I feel are important, even if I fail. I think that the very act of standing up for what is right and true is how I can learn to become more like the Savior, regardless of the outcome. And this is one area that I feel is very important.

Do what is right. Let the consequence follow.

Response Two: “Well, I just hope the Savior comes soon”

So do I, and so do all faithful Christians, but again, therefore what? Are you saying that we should do nothing? Just lie back and count on the Savior to clean up the mess when He gets here? Is this how we learn and progress? Is this what the Savior would have us do? Is this what the Savior would do?

I don’t think it is. I think there are many important tasks and efforts that the Savior wants us to accomplish (or at least work on) while we are down here. The LDS religion is an active religion. We believe that we are here to learn and to grow and to help each other. We absolutely rely on the atonement of Christ in all of these things, but that does not mean that there is nothing required of us. Actually, the opposite is true. We have had many exhortations for us to “go about doing good.” Shouldn’t we be doing that?

WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

D&C 58:26-29

As a final thought, consider this quote (and check out some similar quotes):

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Sticks or Stars?

“Goals are stars to steer by, not sticks to beat yourself with”

Attributed to  Barbara Smith

I am not a big fan of goals or resolutions generally. In particular I don’t really care for the goals that are often required to be set (and then promptly ignored) at the workplace. You know, the S.M.A.R.T. goals? yeah, those.

I do believe in trying to improve oneself, and when I heard the quote above, I thought, that’s how goals are supposed to be. It’s not something to set and ignore. It’s not something to fail at and then feel like a failure (I think Satan particularly loves and encourages this kind of approach). It’s also not necessarily something that should be followed no matter the cost.

A good goal should be something that motivates you to do or be better. Something that guides you.

So, for 2014, what are the things that I hope to come closer to achieving? What will guide me?

Here are a few of my goals. It’s a pretty standard list, really…

  1. I want to have more meaningful scripture study. Too often I read a few verses or paragraphs when I have a spare minute or two (typically on the toilet, of all places). That’s not feasting on the word. It’s better than nothing, and I expect I’ll continue to have plenty of days when that’s all I get, but I hope to have a greater focus on really studying scriptures, and finding a regular time that I always do scripture study. I get the most out of it when I have time to think and write a few notes about what I am studying.
  2. I want to do more to teach my children the gospel. Typically we come up with some lesson or other for Family Home Evening shortly after I get home. I hope to take a little more time to put something together. I also want to watch for teaching opportunities more closely. In particular, I want to help my children understand the Articles of Faith.
  3. I want to help my wife more with the daily chores and messes. I don’t think I do too badly here, but this is one area where I think husbands can (and should!) always improve. I can be more observant and see what needs to be done and jump in and do it. I should make dinner more often.
  4. I want to be more healthy. I really should be eating better than I am. I also want to keep up a good exercise routine that includes other things besides running (which is my preferred exercise). I have gotten to where I will do a good run a couple times per week in decent weather, and that’s good; but I think it’s time to add to that doing other exercises regularly, particularly to strengthen my back and knees (which running tends to wear down, at least for me).
  5. I want to be more politically active, particularly at the local level. I want to know what’s going on in my city and state, and do what I can to advance those measures and interests that I feel are important.
  6. I want to advance the projects I’ve started. I’m really good at starting new projects, and really lousy at following through and finishing them. If I could make sure that I’ve done something 2 or 3 times each week, I might actually finish something.

So that’s my list for 2014. I’m going to add a calendar item to review this list each month and help me to remember them and work on them, and adjust them if needed. But I don’t plan on beating myself up if I don’t do all of them.

Lessons Learned From Dating

I recently ran across an interesting blog article about dating which has some good ideas to it. I particularly enjoyed this person’s comments. They reminded me of my own dating experiences. As this week is a celebration of the Proclamation on the Family, I thought I’d pontificate on the topic a little.

I’ve always wanted to have a family. I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I honestly don’t remember not wanting a family. This has always been an important goal for me.

I’ve also always been fairly socially backwards. I’m a geek. In my early twenties I was enjoying life pretty well. I was home from my mission attending BYU. I enjoyed sitting in my bat cave of a bedroom (living at home) and playing on my computer. Or working on model trains. Or playing legos.

…you get the idea.

There was one problem that kept coming up. I was lonely. I wasn’t that much of a loner–I had my group of friends and we got together and did fun things. I wasn’t entirely introverted, to my knowledge.

But I was still lonely. I knew I wanted to get married. I wanted to cuddle with someone. I wanted to experience physical relationships (there, I said it). I wanted to have kids and show them how to build model trains and play legos with them. I knew that where I was currently at (single, going to college) was a transitional period to help me get to where I both needed and wanted to be eventually.

I didn’t want to date.

I didn’t mind dating per-se, but I quickly found out that it was a lot of work. And frankly, for me it was rather hard work. I attended the local singles ward (congregation) and had plenty of friends, but…

Well, some guys are handsome. Some are really big and buff even if they aren’t handsome. Some guys naturally know how to talk to women. Some guys naturally know how to talk. I didn’t fit into any of those categories. Even on the talking front.

That sounds funny, but honestly, I often struggled with just talking, and never more than when I was trying to strike up and/or keep up a conversation with a woman who I thought I’d like to date. I was pretty darn good at quoting movies (still am), but most people don’t really count that as talking.

Now people that knew me then would say, “Oh, you weren’t that bad.” Those that knew me well say, “Yeah, that’s about right.” Whether that description really is accurate, it is how I viewed myself, particularly at that time.

In any case, it was hard for me to get a date. First off, I quickly found that everyone’s schedule filled up really fast. If I didn’t have a social engagement of some kind set up by Monday, then everyone was already doing something else. And I really didn’t want to think about what that seemed to imply.

If someone accepted my typically awkward invite, then I had to figure out what in the world we were going to do together for four whole hours. Movie and a date worked for a while, but then I was sure I couldn’t or shouldn’t keep doing that, so then I was trying to figure out other fun things, and for some reason, I never could think of something that I thought was interesting/fun and that I thought my date would enjoy. There never seemed to be enjoyable date activities on the weekend in my college town…

Suffice it to say that I often would only make a token effort to get a date (or no effort at all), and just spend the weekend in my room (which was still fun, although lonely). I still had fun dates and met some nice women, but on the whole I found the whole experience to be stressful and occasionally depressing.

Looking back, I can see how… downright silly I was, and how much I was over-thinking things, and making life a lot more difficult for myself than I really needed to. But at the time I really couldn’t see that.

I did try to make an effort. Sometimes. But it would be so much more convenient if she would just magically appear in my life and sweep me off my feet. Sadly, I rather wished for this kind of a scenario to happen… a lot…

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a woman sweeping a man off his feet. But in my case I think God knew that there were some things I really needed to learn regardless of who, when, or how I found my bride-to-be. Like how to talk.

It took work on my part. And I mean work. Conscious effort. A lot of it. I had at least a couple rather serious “We love you son, but you really need to be more social” talks from my parents. I had lots of sisters with no shortage of advice (using the term loosely–“You’re not going on a date wearing that”).

Now those are all things that I could (and to some extent did) get offended at. Why are you getting after me? I am trying. The woman I marry will love me for who I am, why do I need to act like I’m someone else? No, I’m not going to wear that, it’s really not my style.

I had to realize that the advice I was being given was being given with good intentions (even if the delivery was sometimes lacking). They weren’t getting after me, they were trying to help me get to where I myself was trying to get to. Yes, of course the woman of my dreams will love me for who I am. And of course I should not try to be someone else. The other side of that, however, is simply that I do need to try to be my best self, and whether single or married, I should be putting forth an effort to improve myself in various ways (This is a rather major theme in the LDS faith). And dressing up a little bit for a date is not a bad idea.

I had to keep at it. When I said it took a lot of work I meant it. Not a lot of work for two weeks or 4 months. I was single for a good number of years. And I had to keep on trying to meet new people, put myself out there. Talk. Get out of my comfort zone. Do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Over time, I like to think I got better at it. I got to where what used to be outside of my comfort zone wasn’t really outside of my comfort zone anymore. In fact, dating began to be more fun and less of a chore. I met a lot of people and had a number of (sometimes very) different experiences. Some of those experiences weren’t good, but most of them were. Sometimes I dated someone for a long time, often it was only a date or two.

I actually got to the point where I didn’t mind being single that much. And I think that was important. I even enjoyed it. I enjoyed being where I was at. And that didn’t mean I wasn’t trying to find a special someone–in fact, it was the opposite. I knew where I wanted to go and I was working on getting there rather than spending my time bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t there yet.

Surprisingly enough, continued steps toward your goals tends to get you there. There’s one more thing that I learned, at least about my search for my future bride. I had often heard people talking about their internal and/or eternal struggles trying to figure out if this particular person was “the one.” Just to add some context, in the LDS temple, couples are married for time and all eternity, so yeah, it is kind of a big deal.

I was fully expecting to have similar struggles, but it wasn’t like that at all. Instead, dating Rosanne was like meeting my long lost friend. “Hey, there you are! I’ve been looking for you.” She was and is my best friend. She does love me for who I am (I knew I was in love when I was tempted to quote something during Sunday School but restrained myself,  and she turned to me and quoted the very line I was thinking of). But we both work to improve ourselves and help each other be the best that we can.

Was it a lot of work for me? Yes it was. Again, this is my own experience I’m talking about. For many people, social skills are not the bane of their existence.

Did I have to actually listen to my parents’ advice and counsel? Yep. They were the ones constantly steering me towards trying to enjoy where I was at and not get too worked up or melodramatic. Without consciously acting on that advice, I do not think I would have been the kind of person that my wife (or anyone) would want to spend their life with.

Was it worth it? Every second.

Do we cuddle? You bet. And the other stuff too. And it’s awesome. And worth waiting and working for. But more than that–we enjoy doing lots of things together. We enjoy games, working on projects, going places, reading books, watching movies.

Is our marriage and family complete peace and bliss? Of course it isn’t. It’s still work, and lots of it. And patience, and lots of it.

But I’m not lonely.

And I play legos with my kids.