Monday, May 8, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened On my Way to Losing my Testimony

Not much.

That's the truth. Nothing. Let me tell you about it:

In earlier posts I've talked about my testimony and how I gained it. I was raised in the LDS Church, had regular and often moments as a teenager where I felt the Holy Ghost —felt God communicating with me, heart-to-heart— but nothing real concrete. Then, as a missionary, I had a moment while reading the Book of Mormon looking for references to the Savior, that was an unmistakable experience of overwhelming joy and celestial burning, like a taste or a sniff of what Eternal Life would be like. Like my soul was on fire, blue fire, searing God's brand onto my spirit.

Yeah, this is how it felt, no joke. Best way to describe it.

I continued to have experiences with the Spirit and the Holy Ghost, but my intellectual mind could and would find ways to rationalize them as, "Maybes". Maybe I felt that, maybe I didn't. Again, nothing concrete, but worth noting all the same.

When life got hard and huge, huge struggles pulled and tugged at my testimony, testing my intellect, my optimism, my hope, my determination, all those "maybe" experiences would fall away, unable to withstand the storms. If my testimony, my determination and faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ were founded only on those things, I don't think I could have lasted. In fact, I know I wouldn't have lasted.

But that one experience as a missionary always stuck with me. I could not get away from that, no matter what I tried (and there were definitely times that I tried to get away from it) It held me down like a string to a kite, or an anchor for a ship. A flag pole to the flag. It keep me centered no matter which direction the storm blew from, and it blew from all directions. It was a direct witness of the Savior Jesus Christ, and it grounded me when life fell apart and kept me grounded when my house kept getting torn down.

That tiny line is the only thing keeping that kite up in the air, no matter how are the wind blows

Like Helaman 5:12 (my favorite scripture, by the way), I had a foundation built on Christ and nothing could shake me from it.

How long do you think that lighthouse has been standing up against such storms?

Then, most of the storms passed, and while the wind still blows, it's not like the hurricanes I was dealing with before.

For the past few years, I've been working on and writing a book about humanity, biology, and self-improvement. My goal is to reach out mostly to those who are no longer religious, or don't want to be. It's not an attempt to convert anyone in any way, and simply offers to help everyone see how much we have in common with each other and how we are all "in this" together and offer ways and insights to how anyone can become a better person, from wherever they are in life with provable scientific studies and simple natural observations.

In researching for the book and supplementing my knowledge of anatomy, biology, and hormones, one day, my brain received an unexpected idea. It was a possible explanation for what happened to me that day as a missionary, and it was purely biological, hormonal, and natural, and it fit pretty well. In other words, maybe my experience wasn't spiritual but was a strong hormonal response to some emotions I had that I felt were being fulfilled by my beliefs. A nice, strong, shot of dopamine and oxytocin from the hope that the Gospel, the scriptures, and my life choices all gave to me in that moment.

Huh.

Well, that's kind of interesting. So what was I going to do now? The one spiritual, otherworldly, anchor that I'd depended on for so long wasn't holding up as strong as it did before. I wasn't ready to dismiss it outright, because the truth is, I don't know if what I felt was more biological or more spiritual, it could be either. And the funny thing was, it didn't change how I felt about the church at all. If what I felt had been spiritual, than, heck yes I was gonna hang on.

And if it wasn't... well, I had plenty of other experiences with the church that have validated all the hope and energy I've put into it. It's not a perfect church and it doesn't claim to be. It claims to be God's Church that he is letting us build up, and it claims to have the most truth of any on the planet. And in my wide studies and experiences, both those claims hold up. The good it has done ENORMOUSLY outweighs any of the mistakes it's leaders may or may not have made (depending on your faith, perspective, or both). And the principles and ideas it teaches can heal the world, if we apply them correctly, and that takes practice and experience. God is willing to let us figure a lot of those things out with time, patience, and even through trial and error.

I've had so many positive experiences, and so many times that my faith has been fulfilled, so many times when my trust in God was well-founded and even rewarded, that nothing changed. When I received that idea, that notion, about my testimony's foundation, that seemed to weaken it, my feelings to and determination for keeping the faith, didn't change. That surprised me, quite a bit.

So, while I no longer feel such a solid anchor to a singular experience that I used to, that experience did such a great job keeping me grounded for so long, I'm not ready to dismiss it at the sign of a "possible" explanation from biology. I've set down enough other anchors and ties that I hope I'll be safe for a long while, yet, and I'm thankful to God for giving me those anchors.

The slack is off that line momentarily, but I'm guessing the storms and wind will pick up again. Perhaps I'll depend on that experience again. Even if I'm not going to put so much weight on it, that doesn't mean it's not strong enough to handle it, nor that it was poorly founded to begin with. Faced with the alternatives out there, I'll cling to it and the other anchors I have like the lifelines they are with a death grip that no one on this planet can shake me from.

Like the thousands of balloons lifting Mr. Fredrickson's house in the movie, "UP", losing a few doesn't change much, nor does it mean I should abandon the rest, and if I protect them from the damage that others try to impose, I should be able to stay aloft for quite a while and even add to them with more time and experience and investment.

Like so many in our church, this is what our testimonies are founded on. More little experiences than we can count, all lifting together to do the impossible.
Now, did I really, actually lose my testimony? Not really, but I did lose the sure foundation I'd been standing on for the past 15 years, and realized, I still have plenty of solid ground to stand on around me. I'm realizing that God will change the ground we're standing on. Sometimes he'll let us wash it away, sometimes he won't grant us the sure footing we want, or even need, and sometimes he'll change it around on us. He's got a plan, and while I don't understand it all, nor think it's fair all the time, I trust Him. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sacrifice, Norse Mythology, and Economics

Etymology, is the study of words and where they came from and how they were formed. The internet is so amazing, because in about 3 minutes, I was able to find out where the word Sacrifice originated and what it meant to our ancestors who first invented and used the word. 

In my own life, when I thought of the word “Sacrifice” I always thought of just “giving something up because God commanded it”. “Well, God says so, so I have to do it!” "It’s a commandment." "Sacrifice is hard, and if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be a sacrifice." The word always brought up associations of drudgery and pain and suffering. Unpleasantness.

This is what I found out by looking up the etymology of Sacrifice. Sacrifice, from the ancient pre-Latin (as in, the old old Indo-Europeans, like, the tribes who lived in southern-central Europe used the word “Sacer,” to make Holy, or...more accurately…. To make a treaty. IE, to pay the price for help. To offer something to get something in return. Doing business. Paying a fee in exchange for a good or service. Paying the price to belong to a community or group.

Mind blown.

Understanding where this root word comes from set off a few light bulbs. Ohhhhhhhh, God doesn’t ever just “command” something just to make us do it, just to test our obedience. He asks for a Sacrifice in return for his blessings, his protections, his gifts.

Abraham didn’t offer Isaac as a sacrifice just because God commanded it. He offered Isaac, because he knew and trusted that God would find some way to bless him in return, or to continue blessing him. Abraham had been blessed by God and had learned to trust him, and now when God asked Abraham for his most loved “possession” (for lack of a better word), his Son, he had to have trusted that God would make it up to him somehow. And we know that Abraham did trust God, and that God DID make it up to him.

Let’s see if this new understanding of “sacrifice” holds up other places: Ancient Israel, or even before that, Adam, Sacrificing their livestock, their expensive, labor-intensive animals to God. Adam told the angel, in response to why he was offering the sacrifice, “I know not, save the Lord commanded it.” Now, why would Adam do what God commanded, if he didn’t trust that God had already made it up to him or would make it up to him in the future? That’s not explicitly stated, but we can infer that Adam trusted God. If a complete stranger walks up to us on the street and says, “Give me your car.” We don’t give it to them. It’s worth too much and is too important to our daily work to just give it away.

But if a stranger walked up to us at the car dealership and said, “I’ll give you…$50,000 for your car,” we’d probably take it, unless it’s a car as awesome as my 1996 Subaru Legacy with fading paint, cracked windshield, non-functional headlight and 250,000 miles on the odometer. Just four more years and that things gonna be considered a “classic” and it’s value will automatically SKYROCKET, I just know it! Especially since Utah isn’t going to require Safety Inspections on it after the New Year! Now, if only I can get it to pass Safety next month, so I can drive it until January…...

Back to sacrifices: What about the Savior’s Great and Infinite Sacrifice? What was he giving up? He was giving up his life as he had agreed with Heavenly Father and with all of us in the Grand Council. He paid a greater price through physical and emotional pain and suffering than we’ll ever understand. What did he gain in return? What was the other half of the “treaty”? His Godhood. His Eternal Salvation, and also the keys and abilities to give us….ours. Woa. Amazing. What is your Eternal Life worth? I don’t know if we’ll ever truly understand until we’ve got it, but knowing Heavenly Father, I’m sure we will understand it someday when we have the capacity to. Like, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

In my search for the original meaning of “sacrifice” one of the meanings it gave for “sacer”, also meant, “to make Holy”. But Holy is some word that modern humans attached to Sacer to help us understand it. Turns out Holy came northern Europe, and is rooted to the word “Hal” H-A-L, as in Hallowed, or things like “Halls” or “Coverings” or “Safe Places”. The kinds of places where ancient tribal or nomadic people took shelter from storms and wild animals, to gather together as a community.

What is God, to us? Holy. What is the Temple to us? Holy. What about our Familes, our Homes? Holy. Literally, the Halls where we seek shelter and safety.

I just finished reading this really cool book about Norse Mythology. Something that features REALLY REALLY prominently in Norse Mythology are “Halls”. Ancient vikings, they didn’t have much for architecture. Each Village built Halls as gathering places, where they dined, ate, slept, counselled, met, partied, danced, and just about everything else. Communal rooms that were multi-functional to gather and protect themselves from the outside world. Odin had a great Hall. Their giant enemies had halls. The dead were gathered together in Halls, like Valhalla. To them, Halls, were, Holy, literally. The two words basically meant the same thing. Safety and protection. So fitting.

So when we Sacrifice something, we are entering a treaty, to make something Holy, or Protected. We may not always realize it, but our sacrifices, are —in effect— buying protection from God.

What do we need Safety and protection from? The world, the universe, chaos, destruction, entropy, Satan, the Adversary. All of these things. Do we know how dangerous the world and the universe can be? Not always. We learn more and more as we get older and older.
I’m sure there were members of each village who chose to leave the safety and protection of their halls, either out of a need to grow, or out of a dislike and discomfort of being around their communities, feeling out of place. I'll talk about that more in a bit.
It sounds a little funny to think like we can “purchase” protection, or blessings from God, and truthfully, sacrificing what he asks of us is not quite the same thing, but it’s not too far off. He gives a killer deal. One we don’t really deserve. Like that story of the little girl who sees a new bike in the store but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. She goes home and works her tail off to earn money for the bike, but after spending all her energy on it, she goes to her Dad to show how much she’s proudly earned and finds that she is ridiculously short on the amount needed for it. He knows how hard she’s worked and makes her a deal, a “treaty” of sorts. If she gives him what she has worked so hard to accomplish, if she “sacrifices” her money to him, he will make up the difference and buy the bike for her. She happily agrees to this and gets to ride her new bike home, both sides fulfilling their sides of the treaty. Both sacrificing for the other.

Often, we can’t see the other side of the sacrifice. We won’t be able to see the good that will come from the price we pay. We can’t see what good our payment does for others, and that’s okay. We live in a world where we can’t always pay back a service that was done to us. We can’t make up a sacrifice back to the person who did good for us. We live in a world where “Pay It Forward” is the norm. I can’t build my own home but others can. I can fix teeth and get people healthier, when they can’t do it for themselves. And most of time,we won’t be in a situation where we can trade homes for dentistry. The person who needs their teeth fixed, can fix someone else’s car, who can make someone else’s clothes, for someone who can design office buildings, for someone else who understands law, for someone else who needs help with a business contract, for…. someone who can fix teeth? We are all paying it forward. Isn’t that cool?

How do we keep track of all this service and sacrifice that we are doing for everyone else? For all the good we do for others? How do we make sure everyone’s “treaties” are being kept? It would get too complicated, so we use things like “money”. I think of money as a way to keep track of the services and sacrifices we do for others. Some of us will be able to accumulate extra money, through our skills, hard work, abilities, and very often just good fortune and luck and blessing from God. We accumulate a service debt. Others have been served so much that they have accumulated more wealth than they need, or they’ve become so good and efficient at serving others that they can keep doing it without thought of anything in return. They, then, should take advantage of that and serve others all the more.
Think of those who are able to save for retirement and then, of their own money and time, go serve full-time missions, or in temples, or just go serve others and give back and pay forward and sacrifice for other people, some of the sacrifices that others have made for them.

Think of working, as a service. We serve our employers, we serve our customers, our clients, our patients. We are doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves. But since we can’t serve forever and ever without others serving us, we get paid in money. We’ve made a sacrifice of time, energy, expertise, or knowledge. So that we can make sure to properly receive the sacrifices of others in a fair way, we are paid for our efforts. Then we can honestly and fairly ask others to sacrifice for us the things we cannot do for ourselves.

Personally, I protect others by finding and providing ways to get them out of pain, to improve their ability to eat and stay healthy, and by improving their confidence or reducing embarrassment so they feel comfortable around others. I’m a dentist. It’s not always a glamorous job, and not always a job that others…..envy, but I gotta be honest, I love it. I get to meet thousands and thousands of strangers, and in the process of trying to convince them to let me do something for them that they don’t want me to do that would be good for them, I have gained and learned a lot more social skills than I gained from childhood or than came naturally.

I feel really lucky to get to do what I do, and I’m not even seeing financial benefit from it yet, having to take care of some tremendous other expenses (student loans, cough, cough). I think dentistry is so amazing, and there’s so much more cool stuff that I’m not even doing yet that I hope to learn someday. The education I received to get here has been incredibly valuable. Learning about science and anatomy and physiology and DNA, and how atoms and molecules and sunlight and food bring life. It’s soooooo cool! And then learning about human fears and anxieties and addictions and other compensating behaviors. And through the awful, stressful struggle of trying to start my own business pretty much from scratch and making all sorts of blunders along the way, I’ve learned a great deal more about finance and economics and business and customer service, and entrepreneurship.

By the way, I saw an article the other day that summed it up nicely, the headline was. “Entrepreneurship is Service, How are You Serving Others?!” The idea is, if you serve others, you’ll be served in return. So, while I’m not receiving the temporal benefits I was looking for in my career choice, the blessings I have received from the sacrifices I’ve made are irreplaceable.

Now, very often, very, very, often, we are not dealt with life fairly, we’ve made sacrifices that we can’t be compensated for, or we receive blessings that we didn’t earn or deserve. In those very abundant cases (they are all over the place), we sometimes just have to give freely and generously, and others of us have to receive generously and freely. We share through fast offerings, through charity, through missionary funds, through donations. It’s a great way to level out the uneven playing field of this planet Earth, of this mixed up crazy mortal life. Unfortunately, we tend to think of these charitable moments as the only sacrifices we make.

What do we get out of being charitable and generous? What’s the other half of the treaty? Why do we do it? We do it for the love of our God, for our Heavenly Father. We do it to fulfill his commandments and earn his blessings and love in return. We do it to be loving to others. I’m not going to pretend to know the motives for each of you for why we are loving to others in every unique instance. The bottom line is that sacrificing, of investing some portion of ourselves to others, is hard, it’s difficult. We are doing it in the hope that we’ll be alright for doing so, or that it’ll get made up to us somehow, or, in the confidence that we have already been blessed and prospered a great deal and now get to share with others what we’ve been given. Whatever it is, giving up something that is attached to us, takes mental and emotional effort, and causes us discomfort somewhere.

I remember reading some cutesy story once upon a time, back when those endlessly forwarded emails is how we shared stuff with each other. Remember those? Before Facebook and even before Myspace, we shared cat pictures and inspirational thoughts with each other by getting an email from that one aunt who forwarded it to every single person she had in her email account. The worst were those chain emails, you know, the electric version of the old snail mail chain letters, where if you pass this inspirational story or scripture to 20 people in 30 minutes, you’ll get blessed with an unexpected gift, but if you don’t then something bad will happen? Ugh. One of those emails I got, told of a woman who lived alone in a little one room shack, surrounded by trees, and a little stream out back where she got her water, who lived a very simple but pleasant life, and had almost no possessions. When asked what she would do if she won the lottery, she thoughtlessly replied, “Oh, I would give it to the poor!” She obviously didn’t feel burdened in any way and felt she was blessed beyond what she deserves.

Our ability to sacrifice for others has less to do with what we physically own, and more with how we compare ourselves to others. We can see the wealthy who are generous, or the stingey poor. Or the flip side, you can have the poor widow who casts her only coin into the Temple Treasury in Jerusalem, and the arrogant wealthy who care for others in word only. Being poor or wealthy does not make us better or worse than anyone else. Not one bit. Nor does our status in society have anything to do with our generosity and love for others.

All can sacrifice, and fortunately, most of us do. Some of us will only be in a ward for a short time, maybe a few months, and still accept the sacrifice of a calling in Nursery or Primary where there’s a pretty solid chance they won’t get to know many other people at church for the limited time they live there. Or the sacrifice of a Bishop or Relief Society President who spends hours and hours and hours of their valuable personal time listening to the worries and troubles and heartaches of their fellow members, in the hope of offering comfort and support.

We don’t use currency in the church to keep track of our sacrifices and services. We put our trust into the hands of others. We put faith into our fellow members and to God to make it up to us, or to repay forward the sacrifices and services others have made in our behalf. We trust that by caring for the young children at church with love and dedication, others will care for ours someday, or maybe we’re past that age, and we are caring for others children, so that those parents can go serve in other ways. We have benefitted from the kind listening ear of our ward leaders in the past and are now paying it forward by helping others now.

In the temple we specifically covenant to sacrifice our time, talents, and efforts to build up the kingdom of God and the church. What’s the treaty we are entering? The covenant? We give of ourselves to the Church, to build it up. Do we benefit from a well run and fully functioning ward or branch? Absolutely! Does God bless us for it! You bet, and often he blesses those who serve and sacrifice, so that they can serve and sacrifice even more in the future. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that President Monson and the Full time General Authorities and Presidents of the church are the kind of men and women who aren’t just willing to sacrifice and serve, but ENJOY it and can see the value that has been added to their lives by others and are eager to perform the same value for those they get to serve now.

Sometimes we get short-sighted. We fail to see how blessed we are, or what we need to invest of ourselves to earn more blessings. What causes this spiritual near-sightedness? Sometimes it is sin, sometimes it is just the mists of this world. Sometimes it is just the environment or conditions we were born into. Sometimes the cares and stresses of the world are more than we know how to handle at this point in our lives. Sometimes we are held back, either unknowingly by ourselves, or by God himself and that limitation can be so frustrating that our minds are turned inward onto our plight. I think this has to be good practice for Godhood, because someday, when we are like God and have been blessed with all that He has, we may have to solve ALL the problems we encounter, even and especially when they’re hard or nearly impossible. He does give us challenges so that we can learn to solve problems creatively and lovingly and we the help of others. In my experience I would say that that ability to solve problems creatively and lovingly and with the help of others is one of, if not the most important and valuable skill in the universe. Have you seen how DNA works and carries on all life on this planet in such an amazing and beautiful way, almost entirely on its own with just plain ol’ normal physics and chemistry? I know Brother Crane could tell you. Talk about creative. And why would God do such a thing? To serve us, to give us this garden planet floating through a universe of chaos and destruction where we can live in relative safety and peace and learn and practice to be like him.

I have a young friend in California, who’s not making some great choices right now. In fact he hasn’t been making very good choices for a long time, but now they’re bubbling up so far on the surface that it’s causing enough grief at home that he may not be able to live at home much longer. From what I can see over the distance of two large states, is that he doesn’t feel comfortable at home. He doesn’t feel like he can measure up. He doesn’t know how to achieve the beautiful, peaceful, life that his older siblings and parents have achieved. He can see the superficial surface decisions to make, but he cannot see the deeper decisions that have to be made inside yourself to achieve those things. And those things conflict with his personal desires so much that he is not willing to pay the price or make the sacrifice to gain that protection. He can’t or won’t abide by the rules of the home and so is slowly losing his right to be at home. And he’s a smart kid. He’s very bright, but some part of his mind cannot see the social impacts of his decisions.

Most of us don’t need many rules because our brain can calculate and figure out those unspoken rules, the unwritten costs we have to pay to belong to a group of loving people, but my young friend, his brain is not working in those ways and hasn’t grown enough to learn those things. (having watched him growing up, my personal opinion as to why this has occurred to the amount of video games and electronic entertainment he indulged in from a very young age.) It’s gone on so long, that now he is completely uncomfortable and feels out of place when he is at home. He is so lonely in his situation that he’s resorting to substances and drugs and the kinds of friends who’ll provide those substances to him to drown out those feelings of loneliness. Of course this is pulling him further away from his loving family and the protection of the halls of his childhood home. The interesting thing about this and why, though I disagree with his decisions, I can understand them a lot, is that our childhoods were very, very similar, even in regards to the amount of video games we played and the types of homes we grew up in, as well as personality and temperament. 

A big difference is that I grew up in the middle of 8 kids, while he, has been effectively, an only child with lots of grown-ups and parents in his life. I was pressured by the social group (my siblings) I was surrounded by to learn at least some basics of diplomacy and difficult cooperation, while he did not have such a benefit. So, have I been blessed more than I deserved in that regard? I think so. Of course there are a great many other factors besides siblings and video games that have led him and I into other paths. Right now, it will be up to him and the Holy Ghost to change the direction his life is taking.

In that Norse mythology book I read, the story of Loki is extremely similar. The cleverest and smartest of the gods is eventually cast out of the hall of the gods for his mischief and the destruction he brings onto the other gods out of his jealousy and selfishness. Does this sound a bit like the story of Lucifer in our own beliefs about the premortal life? I thought so. They were both able to work hard and invest their efforts into the things they wanted, so “sacrifice” in general, wasn’t the issue. But what do we need to sacrifice to avoid their fates? We need to sacrifice for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. Just as God gives us the better end of the deal in his treaties and covenants with us, we need to give others the better end of the deal in our dealings with others. The Savior confirmed this idea when he said,

"But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven."

So, when we sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others what do we get out of such a “treaty” or “exchange”? We get to be the Children of our Father in Heaven. He has made a treaty with us, and if we make the appropriate sacrifices, pay the appropriate fees by way of obedience, we get to return to live with God in his glorious halls in Heaven and join with all the others in our family who are also willing to do so.

I encourage you all to make the sacrifices God expects of us and do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reset Your Life?


I did computer support for the College of Fine Arts at BYU for four years while I was in college. In my crew were 4-6 other students who would sit in an office 1, 2, or 3 of us at a time waiting for faculty or lab TA's to call us up with some problem with their computer. We'd head over to their office and fix whatever it was that was wrong with their computer. Most of the time it was a simple thing, installing printers, or software, or setting up a new laptop. Once in a while we'd get something more problematic like a virus outbreak, or hardware failure. Many times the problems fixed themselves by the time we showed up, and way too often, the problem was just a computer that had simply been on too long and was so bogged down by open software, unfinished tasks, and used up memory issues, the bugs from countless updates, and other quirks that things had just gotten a little haywire and nothing seemed to be working right.

The best solution in these instances was to usually just restart the computer, let it wipe its slate clean, reset all of it's functions, and just start over. 

Image result for restart computer meme
Yeah, none of us had any real training. We were all just professional tinkerers.
The other day, my cell phone fell off my lap as I stood up from a chair and it fell smack onto a tile floor, face down. It'd actually been a pretty resilient phone and had survived several drops onto the ground like this one. But when I picked it up, a nice spider-web of cracks covered most of the screen, making it unusable. Doh. I considered replacing the screen, but reviews for the products and processes for doing that weren't real satisfactory, phones were never quite back to original. I'd done it before and experienced the same thing. It wasn't a very expensive phone, fortunately, so after careful consideration and shopping around some more, I ordered a new one of the same kind.

I found an old phone that I reactivated and am using in the mean time. I'd been having issues with that phone before I moved on and now, using it again is reminding me why I ditched it over a year ago. It's slow, doesn't work or respond the way it used to, even after going through resets and wiping it clean. Trying to use that phone again is fine for now, but just not smooth, and there's lots of hiccups.

Like getting a new computer or having to wipe off a virus, starting over on such a personal device is tedious and time consuming. Reloading all your apps, photos, music, preferences and settings, is obnoxious. First-world problems, right?



meme4u:
“ first world problem
”
Ugh!
Like moving homes, its a great time to reassess what do you really need. What's MOST important? It's a great time to de-clutter part of your life and start fresh clean over again.

When I was a young missionary, studying the gospel really deep and taking time every morning to figure out what the scriptures really meant, and there was a passage that I had a hard time understanding. In the middle of an argument between the lawyer Zeezrom and Alma and Amulek (who are essentially on trial for preaching false doctrine) a discussion pops up about the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Alma 12:



24 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
25 Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.
26 And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.
For the longest time it seemed out of place and a bit weird. Why this off-topic discussion about trees in the Garden of Eden when they were talking about the resurrection. I mean, I get that this life is a preparatory state, but why would it have been so wrong for Adam and Eve to live forever? Isn't that what repentance and the atonement is for?

Later, with experience and age, I came to understand that this life piles lots of haywire stuff on us. Things we can't resolve, substances that harm us, injuries that stick around, relationships that have soured. Our bodies and our minds become old and tired from the clutter of....life. Our bodies and our spirits can't let go of all the baggage we accumulate. Even with the help of the Atonement and daily and weekly repentance, we still accumulate stuff that we don't know how to deal with. We become worn out.

Someone shared this blog post about repentance and understanding. In it the author describes meeting an older member of the church who hadn't been to church in a few decades, her body visibly showing the effects of poor choices, probably only some of which were intentional. Her guilt and shame and embarrassment had gotten the best of her. She refused to come to church and confront her mistakes and her past actions because she was convinced she was just too far gone.


This life is a practice life. It is a chance for us to make mistakes and learn. When I was in dental school, there was an obsession with perfection. The faculty demanded it, and the students broke themselves trying to live up to it. I felt much of this pressure, but I also tried to have fun with it. When I stuck around the practice clinic after hours, trying to perfect my drilling technique on overly soft plastic teeth that showed every. single. mistake. sometimes, it was a nice break to just have fun and carve up a tooth into some funny creative shape or design. What kind of little monster could I turn this tooth into? How well could I write words with this high-speed-drill?

The dreaded "MOD: Mesial, Occlusal, Distal" We called it the "Mother Of Death" in school. Don't  the other teeth!
I remember one lab exercise where we got to use fancy pressure machinery and test how well our fillings stuck to the surface of a tooth with our fancy etches and bonding agents and curing lights. Most students were competing to get the strongest bond strength, using nothing more than the same instructions everyone else was using, fighting for prominence over tenths of MPa's (unit of measure of strength). For whatever reason, I wanted to see what kinds of mistakes would make the bond fail. I knew in the real world I wouldn't be able to test these things out on a live patient, better to figure it out in a lab setting where the results didn't matter so much. I wouldn't etch it quite as long, or not dry the surface quite as much. What about not curing the filling with my blue light quite as long, or too long? What made a difference and what didn't? I definitely didn't win any high-fives from class-mates for having awesome bond strengths, but I learned the limits of what worked and didn't and why. Without just taking a professor's word (which I learned were often...not wrong...but not quite right, either).

We came to this Earth to practice. To get a test run at having a physical body made of concrete matter that could manipulate and control the elements around it, with conscious decisions. Our supernatural spirit has been given this minute and extremely fragile connection with the physical universe and we have been given this lab setting to see what it can do, how to control it, and how to take care of it. We have been given some realm and freedom to abuse it in the process.

To compensate, God has allowed for a Savior and the Atonement which will one day give us a RESET on everything, if we want it.

I've always loved this quote by CS Lewis:


“I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience et cetera doesn’t get the upper hand. No amountof falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence.”
January 20, 1942
– C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Mary Neylan, 
President Hinckley tells the story of a vision Joseph F Smith had while he was a young missionary in the Hawaiian Islands. In the vision, Joseph finds a wash room and cleans himself off, and puts on a new set of clean clothing. Then this:

Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:
“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’
If Adam and Eve had transgressed the way they did, and then eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Life, it would have caused them to have lived forever, stuck in their sins. There is something inherent and connected between this mortal, imperfect life, and the bodies we have with it. If we cannot shed this body through death at some point, we will have to carry the weight of our life with us for eternity. But God has promised us a new body. A perfect, celestialized body, that cannot be tainted or stained.

We know that in this enormous universe of ours, life is extremely precious and rare. How much more rare is the gift of a physical body that is impervious to the chaotic effects and entropy of the universe?

We get a GRAND RESET on our life, if we choose it, and a chance to begin again, having tested so many wonderful things in this laboratory, called Earth.

Image result for reset button
Yes please
Now, as a disclaimer, I'm not and would never recommend making choices that we KNOW will harm our body and make this life harder than it already is, nor would I ever recommend someone ending their life intentionally in the hope of shedding the despair we pick up here. Part of the lesson we need to learn here is the proper role of life and it's preciousness and awesomeness and respect it accordingly. How could God trust us with an Eternal Life, if we desire to hurt other life for selfish pleasure? But that also said, our bodies are incredibly hard to control and they do a lot of things on their own that our spirits are consciously aware of, but that we don't choose. Learning to keep control of a wild horse is one challenge. Learning to get and keep control over a wild body is another. Let's not judge each other on how well someone else is doing when we are clinging on for dear life ourselves.

My patriarchal blessing basically says I'm gonna live to be old, I tell everyone I'm gonna aim for 120, and if I only make it to 100, I'll still be good. That kind of goal has shifted what I'm focusing on in life, for sure, and how I'm living it now, knowing I'll have to live with myself and others for many more decades.

I will longingly look forward to the day when I can be free of the sorrows and cares of this world and work on my own and help others with their Eternal Progress and growth, but I live with much less fear, knowing that the destruction I cause to myself and others despite my best efforts, will one day be wiped clean and made right. I can move forward motivated by love for others and myself, and less out of fear or worry. I encourage you all to do the same.

Image result for eagle nebula
There's more stars and planets being made in this "little" nebula of unorganized matter than we can count. How cool is that?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Damsels in Distress


A little while ago, we got talking about Damsels in Distress and how common of a theme it is in books, movies, stories, everything.
Sounds like your basic D.I.D.: Damsel in Distress

Strong women and feminists look down on the trope as a bad thing. Now, just because something is a "trope," isn't bad in itself, though it has a negative connotation to some.

Some see DID's as a sign of a week woman. A submissive female, subject to powers outside of her control, waiting for a rescue, often by a prince or knight, or hero.

I'm beginning to see it as a typical gender-thing. My wife has a number of youth and young-adult based novels in our bookshelf, almost all written by women. Stories focused on a girl or young woman in a predicament (because, what good would a story be without a predicament?). As I looked through some of these books and their summaries, many of these predicaments were internal as well as external. "How can she confront the memories of her past, while she looks to the future?"

Whether the girl rescues herself or is rescued by others, changes from story to story, but the theme is the same, in that the girl has to find her own way out of the problem, though she may have help from others. This may be a new artifact of our current culture and society. Disney doesn't seem to like adding to this theme, as I described in my last post. Disney likes it when girls manage to fix everyone else but themselves. Many of my wife's favorite books are based on girls who learn to make themselves better.

Challenge that with typical (Yes, I'm going for BIG generalizations, here) stories about boys or men. Often, there's the Hero's Quest, a task, calling, assignment, or challenge that pulls the boy out of his comfort zone, into a series of adventures, the formation of new friendships and bonds, and eventually a team, brotherhood, or army, that conquers the challenge. He often becomes a "Man" in the process.

The Hero's Journey theme can be equally applied to boys and girls, but more often it gets applied to males. At least externally, like I said earlier. Girls' quests often have a lot of internalizing that is done. Internal battles and struggles.

This fits with some of our basic gender issues. Girls like to describe their problems, boys like to fix them. Watch this for a solid summary of this issue. "It's not about the nail, stop trying to fix the nail."

By nature, it seems, many women WANT to be the damsel in distress, or, they like being the DID. They don't always want to be rescued by someone, or for their problem to be "fixed" by someone else. They want to fix it themselves, but it seems, they LIKE being in distress. If they're not in actual distress, many women find something to complain about so that they can be in distress. What was once a knight in shining armor, becomes a lazy-dead-beat husband who can't seem to do anything right. (So what's he do? He checks out of the relationship, even if he's present, he's on his own planet).

There's a good reason Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Bennet spends all day in his library, by himself.

It's romantic to be rescued and swept off your feet, to have someone else do all the dirty work for you, but it gets demeaning when you can't take care of yourself. Or, it is for some women. Other women LOVE to be doted on and spoiled, never having to lift a finger of labor. Who doesn't love a spa-day? Or at least the idea of it?
I'm in distress from this stress, rescue me
Even Women's Marches. Y'know, the kind where women march in solidarity to express their strength, and their fight against oppression? Damsels in Distress. "We have it hard, and we want you to know about it! But we are going to solve this ourselves! Because we are strong! So pay attention to us and do what we tell you! Because our life stinks!" (Compare that with the statistics that show that men are more likely, in this country, to suffer from violent crime, more likely to get injured on the job, more likely to lose child custody, about as equally likely to suffer sexual abuse, get more severe punishments for crimes committed, more likely to commit suicide, don't actually get paid more for the same experience and same job, etc, etc.)

The natural reaction from men, is to find some way to "fix it" for them. That's our programming. Whether it be the government, the community, or our family, when we know women are in trouble, we come to the rescue! It's as natural as it is for women to be "in trouble". Some women truly are in danger, some women are just always going to be disgruntled and unhappy in their situation. And men will often rise to the occasion and try to fix whatever is bothering or endangering whatever it is that is threatening the women in our life.

And so we do. I asked my wife the other day what makes a good husband, as opposed to simply a room-mate, or even a provider (like any benefactor could be). Her answer right away, "Well, I guess friend and roommate and provider could all be done by others, but I guess, Protector is something special and unique about a Husband. And someone to share life's experiences with."

Here's a solid attempt at a multi-faithed group from India, out to protect women. It has the message, "Protecting women is Religion."

So what do we do when women don't want or don't need protecting? How do we know if women want the help or not? I don't know. Sometimes, women just need to vent and work through their own problem. Sometimes they are in danger and truly need help. What if someone offers help? Can too much help, too often, be obnoxious? Of course. 


Like all things, there's no simple answer for when a woman should want rescuing, or just needs to learn to work through her own troubles, nor is there an easy answer about when others should be able to give help. To be safe, help should ALWAYS be offered when something bad is recognized, and those offers should ALWAYS be appreciated, but neither should be upset if the help is offered, or refused. And coming from a guy, there's nothing wrong with being a Damsel in Distress. Nothing fulfills my manhood better than helping my wife and daughters with some problem they can't solve on their own. In fact, I live for those moments (and once in a while when things are too quiet, we need to stir up the trouble and become the dastardly villain, just so we have someone to rescue :-)



Do men need rescuing? Of course. And we all get a good laugh or smirk whenever we see roles being reversed and the man being rescued by the woman. It's all in good fun, and yes, Men do often need to be rescued by women. Sometimes, too often.

Basic Dude in Distress from Disney's Enchanted

Sunday, January 8, 2017

In Defense of Frozen's Kristoff...or why does Disney hate girls so much?



Allison Hull recently wrote on the Federalist, an article titled "Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much?"
http://thefederalist.com/2017/01/05/disney-hate-boys-much-male-characters-losers/

In her article she makes the claim that Disney has taken a swift turn against its male characters, and takes especial aim against Frozen's Kristoff. 


My wife and I took a lot of issues with this article. There does seem to be a definite trend against positive male role models in popular movies and TV shows lately. The bumbling dad/husband has been an on and off staple of entertainment since the Honeymooners and Berenstein Bears, maybe earlier, but most especially since the late 90's. 

But Disney and Pixar have not been too much a part of this trend. I'd argue that Pixar hasn't been a part of it at all (but I'm a biased guy that way). Allison Hull thinks very little of Disney's male characters, especially in the princess movies. I'll address the problem with Disney's princess counterparts later, but Disney does put out movies geared towards guys with admirable, strong characters. A lot of them. Even since the 90's. The Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame (though not a "guy movie" it is a male-led cast), Hercules, The Emporer's New Groove, Treasure Planet, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Wreck It Ralph, and Big Hero 6. There's other movies in there. Atlantis might fit the bill, but it's been a while since I've seen it.

A trend I've noticed with just about all Disney movies (and Pixar as well) is that movies geared towards boys almost always involve personal growth, gaining of experience, and self-reformation of some kind. Whether it's King Arthur/Wart learning from Merlin, Lewis Robinson learning to "Keep Moving Forward", or Hiro learning to cope with loss. Boys seem to be easily able to project themselves as aliens, robots, animals, and more. This is a bit opposite to girls who see themselves as Princesses and Ladies, or as the clumsy but very capable Tom-boy. Self-improvement is a key element that's played up big-time in the boy movies, but not so much in the girl movies.


I think this is an awesome thing. Some guys out there see themselves as the weak, picked-on-nerds trying to find respect and honor in life, whether they might in actuality be a super-strong demi-God like Hercules, or a brilliant kid who can't seem to figure things out like Lewis Robinson. The other half of guys already think of themselves as awesome and need some sort of humbling experience to show them they are not, but that they can become awesome still, like Bolt, Emporer Cusco, or Hiro. I love that Disney portrays both sides well, and shows boys that problems can be conquered with determination and fixing themselves.

On the flip-side, Disney's princesses, usually, are out to fix other people or circumstances, not themselves. They may grow along the way, but that's always just a side-effect. Is this because girls, don't often see the need for improvement in themselves, or is it because Disney isn't allowed to insinuate that young women need fixing? 


Allison pines for the John Waynes of a by-gone era while condemning Moana's stern father. She relents the weak male characters of the new Star Wars movies, even though the mostly male characters of Rogue One made the ultimate sacrifice, showing true bravery.

She especially doesn't like men that need fixing. She takes particular issue with the character Kristoff in Frozen. She writes, "
He’s smelly, dirty, eats food with his reindeer, and has no other friends....When Kristoff finally realizes he loves Anna, he tries to rescue her but can’t. Opposite to the Beast, he doesn’t sacrifice himself but watches her sacrifice for her sister. In the end, he’s just comedic fodder to two charismatic princesses. While Kristoff is not a bad role model, Anna walks all over him, and I’m not sure that’s something I want for my sons. Strong women, yes, but weak men who in the end don’t do anything? No."

First off, Kristoff is a supportive role. He's not the hero of the story, Anna is. Technically, he's been hired by Anna as a servant or guide and he does a great job keeping it professional, and going above and beyond his duties and pay. And secondly, Kristoff might be the most admirable male role model Disney has ever created. Not only is this orphan-from-a-young-age tall, well-built, and blond, he's also hard-working, responsible, assertive, gentle, he's not impressed by money or wealth, he's financially responsible, he's self-employed and entrepeneurial, he's creative and resourceful, he thinks decisively and quickly, he's quick to forgive, he loves and respects his family and respects their advice while trusting himself, he's good with kids, he's honest, he fights off wolves, he is chivalrous, he's emotionally intelligent, he values health over appearance, and he never drools over Anna for her appearance (I'm looking at you Milo from Atlantis!). And every time that Anna "walks all over him" he ends up being in the right and she looks silly and air-headed. And while he does start to love her, he never loses control of himself or takes advantage of her.

Yes, he's definitely an easy-going bachelor, and lives that lifestyle up in the way that a good guy would/should. Taking a bath and learning a few dinner manners isn't a big deal.

I would hope my sons want to be like Kristoff and my daughters find someone like him (or at least as good as him). He's the most well-rounded, balanced male character Disney has probably ever portrayed. And for some reason, of all the male Disney characters, he's the guy the gets the entire song devoted to him being a "fixer upper"!

Now, lets look at the Disney "Princes" and romantic male counterparts to the Disney princesses. Long ago, we had Lady falling for the Tramp and somehow winning him over to domestication and around the same time Dutchess managed to snag Thomas O'Malley the Alley Cat in Aristocats. Both pampered well-to-do house pets who were able to reform rogues into gentlemen, but that was it for that dangerous idea.

Ever since the good-natured Bernard found some courage in himself to save the day AND propose to Miss Bianca in The Rescuers Down Under, we've just about nothing but Disney's women falling for scoundrels. First, the Beast: a spoiled, ill-tempered young brat. Immediately after comes Aladdin, a homeless thief, then John Smith, the wild and adventurous explorer who has a thing for innocent young girls. Then comes Stitch, the endlessly destructive alien. A few years later you get Prince Naveen from Princess and the Frog, a philandering, openly-womanizing, irresponsible, party animal. We can't forget everyone's FAVORITE scoundrel ever, Flynn Rider -a professional thief and shameless charmer- followed by street hustler, Nick Wilde, from Zootopia. Most recently, Maui from Moana.

While women are so much more than their partners, we need to acknowledge that a partner in life can be a huge asset, or an overwhelming dead-weight. Settling for someone with a real shady past and no sign of real change except a one time sacrifice or momentary professing of love, is a recipe for disastrous relationships.

So, to be fair to Allison, yes, the male counterparts to the strong Disney Women for the past 20 years, are scoundrels. But as a guy worried about my sons, this doesn't phase me or worry me. Disney gives plenty of time to good guys and in all the right ways, we just need more moms to show those guy movies to their sons. It's the ideas that Disney gives girls that worries me.

What does this teach girls? That a one time sacrifice makes someone worthy of a life-time commitment? That their amazing qualities and ambition and determination can reform just about any type of bad-boy? That's what it seems like the lesson is. Or that they need to settle for guys who are their inferior, or at best a really bad match?

Other than the odd exception, the women don't have to undergo any major changes to themselves, except seeing some bit of good in an otherwise jerk. Actually, the only women in Disney that undergo some major personal reformation are Anna and Elsa. The rest learn to stop doubting themselves and go big for their dreams, sure, but that's not quite the same thing.

Allison picks and chooses which guys are admirable, mostly -it seems- based on whether they have domineering, bold, personalities. The conquer-the-earth types. There's plenty of those in the non-scoundrel form, even in the past 20 years. Phoebus, Jim Hawkins, Tarzan, Kenai, Bolt, Hiro, and more. There's even plenty of the down-to-earth good guys. The kind that make excellent partners in life. Maybe we've just forgotten what they look like.

 I'll tell you what good guys look like, they look like Kristoff, or Bernard from the Rescuers, or Lewis/Cornelius Robinson from Meet the Robinsons, Tadashi from Big Hero Six, Pacha from Emporer's New Groove, and Li Shang from Mulan. They look like Kenai, Koda, and Sitka from Brother Bear, or Mufasa from Lion King. We just need more Moms who can promote those characters to their sons.

I love that Allison and so many others are noticing and pointing out the trend against men and boys and hope she keeps up that fight. It seems that my parents' generation tried their best to snuff out male chauvinism, but perhaps the pendulum swung too far against it and now it needs to come back and hopefully settle somewhere where we can praise strong men and women. Let's just preserve our girls in that process.

Disney doesn't hate boys even while so much of other mainstream media does, but it hasn't been doing any favors to girls with these empowered strong female leads it's created recently. For the past 20 years, it's been showing them that they don't need to work on improving themselves, they need to fix everyone else. While it's true that the only "fixer-upper fixer that can fix a fixer-upper is true love," I want my daughters to learn that they should work hard on themselves first and then find someone to match. Disney has failed at this as much as everyone else, but I have hope for the future: Anna and Elsa were a great start.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ancient History and the Brother of Jared

In getting ready to teach the Sunday School lesson about the Brother of Jared and the first half of the book of Ether, I got lost on Wikipedia reading about all the historical stuff going on in and around Mesopotamia around the same time as the Jaredites leaving.

It kinda blew my mind and I was up way too late reading Wikipedia, and all of the related articles and sources it cites, into the night absorbing as much as I could.

Here's what I found:

We suspect the Jaredites lived in Babel near the Persian Gulf sometime around 2200-2300 BC. Around 3000-2500, Egyptians had started building pyramids as tombs using quarried stone. This practice seemed to spread into Mesopotamia, because by 2500-2000 BC, the Mesopotamians were building "Pyramids"  all along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers out of baked bricks and using bitumen or pitch (basically prehistoric, semi-fossilized slime) as mortar. These pyramids, or Ziggurats, were not as strong and prone to collapse, had a little different shape, and ended up being used as temples to Mesopotamian gods. None have survived in their original size, we can only guess and presume how big they were from a few eye-witness accounts of ancient historians.

One of the earliest Kings in Mesopotamia was apparently a guy named Nimrod, a mighty hunter (in 1932, Bugs Bunny called the dimwitted Elmer Fudd a "regular Nimrod" and the association seems to have stuck in America as a name to call someone we think is stupid) He ruled one of the first empires in the area, though most of what we know about him comes from traditions, religious documents, and stories. We don't have much factual evidence about him or who he was. There's lots of mythology and legend surrounding him, but he apparently ruled somewhere between 2700-2200 BC. He, or other kings of the period, started a lot of building projects and founded a lot of the cities of the area, including Babel and Uruch/Erech/Arak (where modern day Iraq gets its name). He started the building of many of the Ziggurats, including the most prominent one in Babel. The name Babel in ancient Mesopotamian means, "the Gate of God" and became a major trading place, bringing in people from all over the middle east, from as far as Egypt and the Indus River Valley in modern day Pakistan.


This is just a re-creation of the lowest layer of an ancient Ziggurat, it likely had several step-layers on top of this and a temple shrine at the very top. These were enormous structures for ancient times. 
Ziggurats had a different purpose than the tomb-pyramids of Egypt. The stories go that Nimrod and other kings began building them as a way to escape the floods imposed by God for punishing the people. They didn't have to be all good and righteous to escape flooding and punishment, they could take care of themselves, all on their own. A sort of man-made high ground. And like all rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates were prone to regular natural floods that could wipe out whole cities. They became, of sorts, a "middle finger to God" dedicated to their own gods.

The Ziggurat in Babel eventually became the biggest during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, though not much of it is left, mostly a large mound of eroded bricks and sand. Ziggurats were prone to erosion and collapse since they were made out of bricks, not stone.

The Tigris and Euphrates valley had two dominating languages at the time: Akkadian, spoken by the "empire" further upriver, towards Iran, and Sumerian, spoken by the people closer to the Persian Gulf in modern day Iraq. The Akkadians began moving down river into the area of Babel, bringing their language with them, eventually getting rid of and absorbing the Sumerian language completely. In the confusion and cultural upheaval, many Sumerians left Babel and scattered, including, apparently, the Jaredites and their families. As Hebrew evolved as a language, over the next thousand years, the word Babel came to mean, "Confusion".

Ship-building was invented by the Egyptians and used by the cities and nations around the Persian Gulf to aid in the trading between the Mesopotamians and the Indus River valley people. Not just reed-rafts, but actual, water-tight boats, like we think of them today. Often called, barges, because they were normally broad and long and open on top. Not real sea-worthy, but excellent for rivers and inland seas.

An Egyptian Barge from around 2500 BC
It was in this setting and circumstance that the Jaredites felt fear for losing their language and culture and praying to God for guidance whether to stay or go. God told them to go, and they traveled further upriver, up the "Valley of Nimrod", building barges and boats along the way. Where they went after they traveled upriver, is just about anyone's guess.

Only in the recent several hundred years had humans domesticated animals and plants, and the Jaredites were not strangers to this practice. They brought with them all the seeds of the plants they were used to growing, and all the animals they were used to having. Honey bees were first domesticated in and around Mesopotamia and Egypt just a few hundred years before the Jaredites, and the Jaredites brought them as well.

Glass adds an interesting bit to the Jaredite story. Glass was invented around what is now coastal Syria, not far from northern Israel. The first glass was used for beads as decoration and currency, or as very crude and rudimentary dishes. It wasn't used for windows until around 100 BC by the Romans, and only by the extremely wealthy. And glass was usually very colored and non-transparent, unless it was a very pure quartz sand, heated to extremely high temperatures. I was told by a class-member after my lesson the other day, that he lived in Saudi Arabia for a time. Many of his friends would drive out into the Arabian desert after a big lightning storm and go look for "sand diamonds".

State-of-the-art glass ear-studs from 2000-1500 BC (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
So the Jaredites would have known about glass and glass-making, but only for rudimentary purposes. It was quite a feat for the brother of Jared to create and melt 16 small stones as transparent glass.

If glass wasn't used for windows in the Jaredites' time, it definitely wouldn't have been used regularly as a window in Noah's time. Most window coverings were made out of hide, leather, fabric, or paper. Sometimes clay tablets were used. Not anything worthy of an extended ocean-voyage. When God was giving the Brother of Jared instructions about the upcoming barge trip, it was clear that God wanted them to build barges that could take a beating out in a wide-open ocean, especially if the trip was going to be purely storm and wind-driven (no sails!!). No windows, and very likely, the doors would have been sealed to prevent leaking and water coming in. Only small, easily stoppable openings in the top and bottom. Imagine how frightening the open ocean would have been for this group of people who only knew the relatively calm, enclosed waters of rivers and inland seas/lakes!

The LDS edition of the Old Testament has a footnote regarding the window in Noah's ark. Many Rabbis and ancient Jews believed that Noah was given a glowing stone that he set into the ark for light, because, like the Jaredites, Noah was building an ark that could take a beating out on an open ocean and had to be sealed shut. The Brother of Jared, must have known his scriptures and took some inspiration from the story when he asked God to give them a similar gift.

So imagine the faith of the Brother of Jared! He's about to commit his entire tribe to some floating caskets, full of animals and each other, closed up except for some holes for air (and probably) disposing waste), under the direction of a talking cloud who says he is going to blow them through severe storms and waves, to a far-off promised land. He probably felt fairly hopeful and anxious about God giving them these glowing stones, and had the boldness to ask for it.



And compare this faith with the "faith" of the Babylonians that they'd just removed themselves from. The people who didn't want to exercise faith, who would rather build their own security and protection in the form of a tower or pyramid and worship the way they felt like. I can't blame them, that's pretty typical human nature, to want to be self-sufficient.

Babel was one of the choicest lands on the planet at the time, and here was God telling them he had another choice land for them, somewhere else, far away.

There's so much more to this story that we talked about on Sunday, but for those of you reading this, I'll end this here, and give a final point to ponder about how well the Jaredite story fits into actual history. I love history, I love learning and reading. I got to receive a fantastic advanced education and training in all sorts of sciences, and I spend my spare time watching educational Youtube videos. Only now am I putting this together myself.

And yet there are those out there who want us to believe that the writing of the Book of Mormon is some sort of "miraculous accident" of either a "prodigy" or "fraud" named Joseph Smith, who only had access to only a limited few books -and probably no access to a world atlas- during his childhood which probably weren't accurate with what we know now about ancient history, since archaeology -especially that of the Middle East- wasn't probably a popular science at the time. True, we know some of this story from the Bible, but the Book of Ether gives a number of other details that weren't included, yet fit so well.

I don't mean to take away our faith in the Book of Mormon and replace it with "proof". But I hope that by learning and studying, our faith turns to knowledge, and our faith grows further into new knowledge, much like the Brother of Jared's did, when he faithfully asked for a glowing stone that he'd studied about, and was then able to learn about the TRUE nature of God and the history of the world.

Keep studying!


Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and LDS.org
Photo of Egyptian Khufu boat:
By Bradipus - assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=134281