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?

“ first world problem
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 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?"

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
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,

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Role of Emotions in Manhood, Priesthood...and Everywhere Else

As a kid I had a gift for understanding intellectual, scientific, things, or at least, I think I did. I was fascinated with nature, biology, computers, technology, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and more. I'm still fascinated by all these things, but my fascination with more things has sprouted. I've since learned that I love history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and more.

I used to have the mindset that emotions were these burdens we were stuck with as human beings. Feelings that complicated our thinking, that got in the way of making good decisions.

Regardless, I was raised in a home that taught me to follow the Spirit, follow the Holy Ghost, and that I should follow it by using my feelings and emotions. There was the teaching that I should "study it out in my mind" and then make the final decision based on how I "felt". It was easy to recognize and listen to the positive emotions, but I was never given a whole lot instruction on dealing with the negative emotions: boredom, loneliness, anger, fear, stress, fatigue, sadness. I was told to read the scriptures, go to church, talk to my parents, and help others. Those are good things, but it was a bit incomplete and I often still didn't recognize those things in myself.

For anyone who's seen the movie by "Inside Out" by Pixar, like the main character, I may have felt a pressure to exude positivity and happiness all the time. Those came pretty easy to me and it was an ever-present compliment from strangers or my parents' friends that I was always smiling. I felt a naive confidence that I was in control of my emotions and at times I obnoxiously put down others who weren't, or gloated over people who couldn't control their negative emotions. I remember one night, my younger brother telling me, "You're making me MAD," and I telling him back, "Nope, I can't MAKE you do anything. If you're mad, it's because you want to be mad." He was furious with me and I thought I was hot stuff that I wasn't the one that made him that way and that I wasn't feeling angry back. Steffen, I'm really sorry.

There was some truth to what I was saying that night, but my actions were not helping anything. I didn't MAKE him mad, but I certainly contributed to it, a lot.

We do that a lot, in life. We influence the feelings of others through our actions. We can do this in both directions. We can help people feel good or help them feel sad. We can't MAKE them feel these things, but we can certainly make it easier or more difficult for them to deal with their emotions in constructive ways. While I am responsible for the actions I take because of my emotions, I have learned to take into account the effect that others have on me and now I have to practice compensating for, or dealing with those effects from others.

Emotions are valuable tools. They are the fire inside us that pushes us in our chosen (or unchosen!) direction. An emotion is a widespread response inside our brain, triggered by some loaded memory, thought, or action, that calls to action parts of our brain that wouldn't normally be involved in the thinking process or action process. If our conscious thought is the steering wheel, emotions are the engine. Our brains do an ENORMOUS amount of thinking behind the scenes, most of it we are unaware of. It calculates and deduces and decides long before we know it does, and long before our conscious thought becomes aware of it, much of it in the form of emotions below the surface, triggered by some...thing...that we encountered in the last hour, this morning, or even the previous week. The effects are long lasting and very pervasive.

I had to go through a lot of my own rough times to learn this. For a period of time, I was very, very alone and it seemed like my life was falling apart and I wanted it to end. I went to see a therapist, I found a support group, I relied on a lot of prayer and quiet moments to think through the whole thing. My family was all 400 miles away and my cell phone was my life-line to people who cared about me.

And they were a tremendous help. They took to heart, the council in Mosiah 18:8-10, that those who are uniting themselves with the teachings of Jesus Christ should "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort". Or as Paul admonishes, "Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Romans 12:15)

That kind of empathy I received from my family and a few close friends, as well as professionals and even strangers, was enlightening for me. I'd been taught about empathy just a bit before, but I don't think I really understood it. In our current society, the word "sympathy" is falling out of favor as a negative thing and being replaced with "empathy". Sympathy says, "I feel bad for what happened to you." Empathy says, "I may not know what you are going through, but I can understand those feelings." Sympathy has a strong tendency toward selfishness, self-pity, and emotional manipulation (if others feel bad for me, they would do things for me), while empathy keeps responsibility for feelings in the appropriate corners but brings about unity between people who can share similar feelings.

It makes me think of the definition of "Zion" found in the Book of Moses 7:18, "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind and there was no poor among them."

This Zion could only be achieved by a people rejoicing with each other and mourning with each other. Think of what that would be like. If my neighbor enjoys a huge success that elevates his position, comfort, or status in life, I wouldn't be jealous of him, I'd be ecstatic! If my friend loses healthy use of his body, I wouldn't tell myself, "Well, he was careless and took big risks, serves him right!" I'd go be by his side and help him work through what happened as he tried to make sense of it and learn to cope with it. If he really did lose something because of his own poor choices, he is mostly likely going to figure that out with healthy support and the safety that empathy brings and the ability to think clearly we can achieve when we feel safe.

King Benjamin described this in his sermon, "and ye yourselves, succor those that stand in need of succor...perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just - But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same has great cause to repent;" (Mosiah 4:16-18) We need to know what others are feeling and do what we can to help them and we cannot do that if we don't know them. When we know them, we will have one heart AND one mind. We will be individuals with different backgrounds, gifts, and experiences, united in a common purpose, bringing ourselves to the group to enhance it.

So how does this relate to the target of Men and the Priesthood? As men, it is a mix of biology, culture, upbringing, and peer pressure that keeps us from expressing our own emotions. When we don't express our emotions, we stop recognizing them. When we don't recognize our emotions, give names to them, address each one appropriately, we let them do what they want, below the surface, without oversight or supervision. Only when one breaks the surface do we finally address it, but by then it's been getting it's way for a long time. This shows up in an outburst of anger, frustration, or a lost temper. It shows up as an unproductive past-time. It shows up as addictions. It shows up as detachment from others, distancing ourselves from loved ones. It shows up as sin.

My wife and I and other family members have been working hard with my son to teach him how to recognize his own emotions. He got to attend a summer school focused on this. The class was almost entirely boys. They did exercises and assignments to recognize, describe, and learn what each emotion does. I think it has helped. When he sees something scary and tries to downplay it in an attempt to be strong or tough, we talk about it. "What you saw WAS scary. It's okay, you NEED to know that, or your brain will stop trying to tell you what is scary and not and it will just do its own thing without you." To keep in charge of his body, he needs to recognize his feelings.

Most men have this disconnect. Many women do as well, but it doesn't seem as prevalent. Maybe it's just a human nature problem that affects everyone, but men in mostly this way. Maybe it's a challenge built into the "system" and Plan of Salvation by a loving God who set this place up for our learning and growing.

The church and the Priesthood are near-perfect vehicles for helping us with this challenge. It pulls us out of ourselves and into the lives of others, not just our wives and children, but also our neighbors, ward-members, and even strangers. It puts us into a position of service to others. It puts us into a position where we are supposed to listen to others, to get to know them, to serve them, and occasionally counsel them, but mostly find ways to help. It encourages us to Give, to spend energy, to love, to work for others without thought of reward or gain.

For some nay-sayers out there who will claim that magnifying our priesthood is selfish because it works toward our Eternal Life and Salvation, I will put out that no threat of hellfire and damnation ever worked well to get men to do their home-teaching. Those who home-teach faithfully and regularly don't do it for selfish reasons, they do it out of love for others. Eternity is too far away and home teaching is to "small" an act to be a consistent motivator.

It would be nice to think that intellect can stand on its own two feet without the complication of messy emotions, but it can't. It is inextricably tied to our emotions. If sadness, fear, or anger is what is boiling below the surface, our intellect tends towards cynicism and mistrust. When love and joy are what our minds focus on, we put more emphasis on hope, cooperation, and gratitude. Most of us are a mix of both.

Ever heard that story of two wolves inside of us? One filled with fear and doubt, the other with hope and love. Which one wins? The one we feed. Most of us feed both.

Neither side is blind to the truths of the world, but our emotions will drive our thinking, which then drives our actions, whatever those truths of the world actually are. Our focus determines our direction, regardless of truth or reality. I remember an incident at a park where many people were sledding. Near the bottom of one of the hills was a post embedded deep into the ground and most people just went right by it. Two boys went down this hill, in a steerable sled, the one driving could not take his focus off the post and several bystanders watched them turn and veer right into it.

Now, with all this in mind, think about what happens to our intellect, our emotions, and our actions when we focus on things like a perfect God who loves us unconditionally, a priesthood that expects us to serve, and a weekly Sacrament that points us to a merciful Savior. Do you think our emotions, intellect, and actions will start to align and harmonize with those thoughts? Absolutely.

This is why, even if someone doesn't believe in a literal Savior, the thinking of and hoping for one can still create an improvement in their lives.

I know there is a Savior. I have felt him in ways that are undeniable and I have seen his touch in my life in unmistakeable ways, even when not looking for him.

Why Logic Cannot Prove or Disprove A Religion, History, or Just about Anything

I've tried writing three different posts with that title in mind. But Logic is so fickle and so subjective I get lost in the discussion with myself. It starts to sound like I'm arguing with myself, or rambling on. It's easy to go around and around in circles. Imagine what it's like when two or more people try using logic to back up their claims!

LOGIC can give us an indication of what probably happened in the past, according to the best of our observations, knowledge, and reasoning. Logic is simply and very simply a method FOR reasoning, not the end result of our reasoning and thinking.

Think of that sentence above. Those are a lot of conditions that have to be met to figure out the best "truth" we can figure out. Think of that for a minute. Even if we use the BEST archaeological findings, the BEST scientific reasoning, and pair both of those with the most complete basis of previous knowledge, we are still only reaching as high as is within our current grasp for the moment and we still could be wrong!

Now, let's look at reality. There is too much for any one person to know, too much for even many large groups, organizations, and bureaucracies to know. And even with a large mastermind group of the most brilliant scientists, trying to get a unanimous consensus between them is near impossible. Why? Because each person will have a slightly different perspective on their field of expertise, a slightly different collection of knowledge in their head, and a slightly different aim for their intentions or their predictions.

And this is only to decide what physical events actually occurred or are occurring!

Now try to figure out what emotions a person was feeling as those events occurred. Or what the motives of a person were as they carried out their deeds. Some motives and emotions will be obvious but most will be....extremely complicated.

Was Genghis Khan actually a good guy, like most natives to Mongolia believe, or as my friend asserted in his Master's Thesis? What about Napoleon or Charlemagne? How about Robin Hood, or even more complicated: Prince John Lackland, King of England (Robin Hood's nemesis)

Was Joseph Smith an honest man? Are all Anti-Mormon articles written out of spite, bias, or ill-intent? What about LDS apologists? How many articles are written out of ignorance? If ignorance is intentional, does that make the person dishonest?

Am I a good person?

The phrase, "By their fruits ye shall know them." Is a very loaded sentence. What constitutes a "fruit" and which fruits should you judge a person by, their intentional fruits, or all of them: mistakes and successes?

We can look up the diaries of the limited perspectives of outsiders, or even insiders and try to draw conclusions about a person like Joseph Smith. If his closest friends assert to his prophetic position, if his wife stood by his side, and if the thousands of followers and members of the church praise him, that's worth considering. What about a handful of  detractors who make claims that he behaved inappropriately. Was he righteously following the commands of a demanding God, was he acting on his own? How do we know?

We really can't. From the reports of those men and women who say Joseph Smith made mistakes or poor decisions it sounds like he's an awful guy! Looking at only those things and those perspectives, it paints him in a really negative light! And in the end, we can't really know if he was acting under God's direction or not unless God himself told us, can we? If we decide for ourselves, "Well, NO prophet would ever act like that!" then we are taking on ourselves the title of "Expert on Prophetic Behavior" and that would be an arrogant position for us to take onto ourselves, wouldn't it?

What if we take a look at the whole? What if we take a look at the countless visitations, revelations, evidences, and experiences (many of which were experienced WITH another person present!) What if we look at the testimonies of his wife? His best friends? His family members and siblings? We get an entirely different picture. Emma Smith is reported to have loved Joseph until her dying breath. We know from many accounts that she was not some mousy, submissive woman. She had a strong will, a strong intellect and mind. She knew most of the accounts that are being used to paint Joseph in a negative light, and she loved him to the end all anyway. So did most of his colleagues and followers.

Emotionally, mentally, culturally, historically, and academically, it would be EXTREMELY difficult for Joseph Smith to have come up with what he did. Pretty well impossible. For an uneducated person, raised in a fairly uneducated family and community, with no access to history books or outside cultures, to write so much at such a young age, so well, with archaeological and cultural influences included into the Book of Mormon things that weren't known to the scientific experts or the public for another hundred years, would be...tough, to put it mildly.

Logic doesn't say, "You can find the truth if you put undue emphasis on the 'negative' qualities of a person." Logic says, "You have to look at EVERYTHING, and then accept what seems most reasonable, probable, or likely."

If I give you the statement, "2+2=4" you may not realize it, but you are making a LOT of assumptions in deciding whether I wrote a true math statement there. You are assuming I'm using a base-10 counting system (10 digits, 1-10, or 0-9, etc), you are assuming that the + sign I used is an additive function, and that the = sign is a statement of equality. You are assuming I am meaning true whole integers and not rounded-off measurements of an actual item, which could carry margins of error (close to 2 inches, plus close to 2 inches is about the same as 4 inches, if I actually new what an inch was).

Logic still expects you to make assumptions about my statement based on likelihoods of what I HAVEN'T told you. I didn't tell you all those background items, you had to assume them. You are MOST likely right, because I was trained in an American school using similar math techniques as the rest of you, but there's no guarantee you are.

If I took a document that inspired millions of other people, say, the Declaration of Independence, or the American Constitution, and take versions of that text, with similar principles, switch it all up, repackage it, spread it to every culture across the globe and present it in a way they will be the most receptive to it, good will likely be done to all of them and they will respect and venerate that document appropriately.

Now what if an outsider sees these similarities and similar documents and teachings across all these cultures, but this outsider has somehow learned that each was a fabrication by an uninspired and unlearned person, it could be a logical conclusion that since they were all faked, the information contained in them is not worth  basing a life on. Or you could make the logical conclusion that even if those texts are imperfect, the contents are good and wholesome and uplifting for the most part and ARE worth basing a life on until something better can be found. Or another logical conclusion could be that with so many similarities across cultures there was an original pure and undiluted source that all these things sprang from. An original that WASN'T fake. Logic helped come up with three different outcomes from the same situation. Logic is a tool and will be used differently by people with different sets of information.

Do people make unlogical conclusions about religion, even and especially their own? Absolutely, all the time. But what constitutes a logical or unlogical decision? That's a tough one, since so many things go into the formation of an opinion or action. There is almost always a reason for someone's actions. Even if WE don't think it was a logical decision, that person definitely would. The difference is in what information we have access to.

Can people make logical decisions based on or about their emotions? Absolutely. Can people make logical decisions based solely on intellect? Of course, or, they can try. If an action makes me feel good, the logical thing to do is keep doing that until some new bit of information or experience says otherwise. Some people's intellectual capacity is greater than others, and for others, their emotional intelligence is greater. Which is more important? Depends what you value, or were taught to value by your society and family.

What if a person has a very similar set of information as us (a family member, or close friend) and makes a very different decision from us? Should we assume they are crazy, or misled, or deluded? No. Should we assume they are mistaken? Not really. What we should be is understanding, loving, and kind while we share each other's knowledge as best as we can, and still be understanding if we stick with different decisions. We cannot share everything we know, no matter how hard we try. We cannot live another person's life, and until we can, we won't know everything that led them to their logical decision.

My decisions to devalue the attacks and claims of those against the church stems firstly from undeniable experiences that the Book of Mormon is correct enough for me to stake my life on and that the priesthood I hold is a real force. Secondly, it stems from an overwhelming majority of experiences I've had that those who attack the church either have incorrect information, are intentionally being misleading, or are putting an unfair emphasis on smoking guns, secondhand accounts, or details that are incomplete and must be filled in by assumptions they make using their own personal backgrounds.

I KNOW the Book of Mormon is True, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the Priesthood is REAL. More than anything else, I know those things, because I received that information from The Source, undiluted, and unmistakable, specific and more real than anything else I have ever experienced. I could taint and destroy that knowledge by filling my mind with opposing thoughts, or putting undue emphasis on assumptions and guesses, or I could keep it clean and bright. Letting it corrode isn't a sign that the knowledge was false, only that I let my perception and memory of it degrade. I can't speak for others' testimonies, only of my own, which is the most important one, to me.

The only person who could accurately and completely use Logic to determine absolute truth or reality, is an all-knowing God. Anyone else who claims they can is...mistaken.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why I Stay

Over the past few years I've seen a lot of public declarations from people who've left the LDS church. I wanted to make my own public declaration.

Somewhere around April 6, 2002 I had an experience that changed my life. It only lasted a few moments, though I wish it could have lasted longer. And there was a message that came with it.

Let me back up a bit. I was raised in a devout LDS/Mormon home, the fifth child of nine. My father owns a local health food grocery store in coastal southern California. Right there is a clash of cultures that was the norm for me, yet I never felt any tension that's not felt by just about anyone growing up in any faith-oriented home. I was expected and encouraged to go to a church-owned school and a church mission. I can't say I felt any undue pressure from those expectations. Those were things I wanted as well. My parents and community did a great job selling me on how wonderful those things would be. And they were right! I was a Deacon's quorum counselor and president, a Teachers quorum counselor and president, and an assistant in the Priest's quorum. My dad was a Bishop of our congregation while I was a teenager. While those sound like admirable traits and callings, I can't say there was anything overtly extra spiritual about holding those positions of responsibility. Maybe it put pressure on me to set a good example for my peers, but having influence over other males my age is not something I was ever good at, then or now. What I probably was, from my foggy memory, was self-righteous. Maybe, maybe not. The other guys will have to tell me.

Our family vacations had campfires loaded with religious campfire stories and even mini-services on Sundays when appropriate where we took the time to keep the Sabbath day as best we could in the woods and mountains of the high sierras of California. Some of these I still remember as extremely "spiritual" and notably emotional. We had Family Home Evening most weeks, and we had family prayers and "Scripture Time" most mornings.

My paternal grandparents were converts to the church and modern day pioneer immigrants to the USA from Denmark. My maternal grandparents have pioneer family lines associated with Joseph Smith and handcart treks across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. The stories about how admirable and brave and courageous my descendants were are plentiful.

I attended an EFY camp at BYU and had a number of "spiritual/emotional" experiences there. I remember telling my mom as a kid that I could feel the "spirit" during some of our church hymns. I remember praying to know if the Book of Mormon was true and having "good feelings" while doing so. These are the kinds of things I leaned on for my "testimony" as a kid and teenager and young adult. They were how I "knew" that how I was living my life was good.

As a missionary in British Columbia, Canada I was exposed to more sex, nudity, drugs, infidelity, substance abuse, sex-addiction, and prositution in two years than I'd ever been exposed to in my previous life put together. I had never been offered drugs by anyone at school as a kid or teenager. Everyone around me knew I wouldn't take it. I often joked that I had never been offered drugs or sex until I became a missionary.

One assignment we got from a local Public Relations missionary for the local area, was to scout out the local library for any books about our church, whether they were favorable or not, make sure fictional books were listed in the fiction sections, and make sure that books published by our church were included in the library's collection. I ended up reading things I wished I'd never read, overtly sexual things written by someone who had found themselves in a terrible relationship and blamed the church for it, others who'd found intellectual reasons to leave the church, and still others with attacks on our temples and ceremonies that I couldn't refute since I didn't have access to a temple as a missionary and had only attended a few times before I left.

Yet, I tried not to let those things get to me, so I didn't, mostly. I didn't have a whole story so I didn't have to make up my mind at the time anyway. I'd been exposed to plenty of anti-Mormon stuff as a teenager anyway and most of it had no substance, or was unfounded, or was laced with half-truths (did you know that Joseph Smith renounced the Book of Mormon on his death bed? It took me an hour to realize and remember that Joseph Smith didn't die on a death bed. I'm not the fastest thinker in the world). I was exposed to this all the more as a missionary by well-meaning but mis-informed Born Again Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses, or self-proclaimed Intellectuals. Interestingly, it was the Wiccans and self-proclaimed "Pagans" of British Columbia that could carry on the best conversations and heartfelt discussions about spirituality and the peaceful feelings our church associates with the Holy Ghost.

 I once took an article given to me by a Jehovah's Witness as he challenged me to make any corrections to the article and return so we could discuss it with him and inform him of how his religion's publication was wrong. I highlighted every statement that was untrue or partially untrue and by the time I finished the article, between a third and half of the article was highlighted bright yellow. There were just too many things to even address a part of them, and all intermingled with things that were true. A single sentence could switch from true, to false, to true again. I don't mean to attack any other faiths, there is goodness and value to almost all of them and most of the people in them are trying their best to live what they know of God's laws and teachings from their understanding. I was and am the same. But it taught me that trying to pull untruths and truths apart from each other is like trying to pull ingredients back out of soup. Sometimes it's best just to throw it away and start with fresh ingredients, though most people don't want you throwing away their soup. They like their soup because it is theirs and it tastes better than uncooked raw fresh vegetables.

Fast forward a few years. I was going through a divorce that was partly caused by my own mistakes and misdeeds and transgressions. I had spent my entire life and made every choice I could possibly make trying to build an "Eternal Family" the way I was taught, and almost overnight the whole thing came crashing to the ground incredibly fast, unexpectedly, and completely beyond anything I could do. I found myself leaning on a Savior who wasn't physically there, but who I could "feel" in my moments of greatest sadness and loneliness. I came to feel closer to Him than I'd ever known before or than I'd ever felt possible. It *almost* made the whole experience worth going through just to feel the comfort of a forgiving and endlessly loving Savior.

Then a few years later, a bolus of controversy starts surrounding the church regarding it's policies about women, homosexuals, and it's history. I wasn't too emotionally involved in these battles but would engage with others online when I felt the church was being unfairly attacked. There was a lot that was brought up that wasn't new to me (or to the church) and there was some that was new, but had the same flavor as the article given to me by the JW. Many friends and family members left the church over these things and more still leave and are quick and eager to try out those experiences that the church discourages. But the great most of my friends and family in the church have stayed.

It's easy to see the negative and put all of our attention on it, even if it doesn't constitute a majority by any means. When a pond is still and silent and a leaf falls onto the surface and spreads ripples that spread across the water, overall, the pond is still and calm, in fact it's the stillness and calm that makes such small ripples so noticeable. I'm not saying "all is well in Zion," ask any Bishop or Stake President and they will know numerous families and individuals in their congregations struggling, severely, in multitudinous ways, who try to look put-together in public. And they could tell you of the countless more who stop coming to church because of other personal storms.

And our leaders are just regular people, too, with their own problems and shortcomings. I used to think that quitting church because of a leader was so dumb, until I felt the same way. I've been remarried for several years now and we have two wonderful girls. We live not far from my older children and I'm keeping a relationship with them as best as possible despite the very difficult career circumstances it places on me and the severe limit it places on earning and prospering in my professional career. When my new wife and I got engaged, my ex-wife (who'd openly left the church and was preventing our children from becoming members of it) had told my Bishop and Stake President a number of angry half-truths about me that made both of them uncomfortable with approving our application for a temple sealing despite numerous meetings to assuage and even prove my worthiness. We were told we would have to wait for the Sealing Ceremony until things calmed down between my ex-wife and me, while being assured that a former spouse cannot hold-up the process of being sealed to a new spouse.

When we moved to another state, the pattern followed and rather than getting to meet my new Bishop and Stake President as strangers, a primacy-effect had already beat me and I was being called into their offices to defend myself from false accusations as a first introduction. Six months later we moved again because of a change in jobs, this time to Utah to be near my kids, jobless, homeless, my wife pregnant, we were broke, and had only a few extended family members in the region (who were extremely helpful and generous). We managed to get to our bishop first this time and he was ready to approve of our Sealing application but the congregation got divided and re-organized because of rapid growth in the neighborhoods before he could complete the process. The new bishop and stake president were approached by ex-in-laws before we met them. After months of meetings, we managed to convince our new bishop of our worthiness to be sealed and then the ward was divided again and a new bishop assigned. We had to start over, again. Even after we won this bishop to our side, the Stake President refused. For whatever reason he seemed to give more weight to my ex-wife's story over our own far longer than I felt he should, despite proof of our story's validity. We followed every bit of his counsel and advice and direction he gave and still each time our requests send in our application were denied. He gave us reasons and justification for doing so but none of them felt real. In the end, he just "wasn't comfortable" with it. All of our years of prayers and fasting for a righteous desire were not working.

My anger at the situation boiled. I wanted to vent and yell at our Stake President. I wanted to quote his own Handbook to him to convince him that he was doing his job wrong. Here we were doing our absolute best to live the gospel and it's commandments, to have an extremely simple but very important ceremony performed for us. A ceremony that is usually a default for most LDS couples in the U.S.A. getting married, who hardly have to give it a second thought. And here we couldn't have it no matter how hard we tried, for years. I felt my faith end. Completely. My faith in my church leaders was gone. I was free to choose my own way. To live the kind of life I wanted to live. No pressure now. It was scary and exhilarating. I could do what I wanted with no guilt. My life was mine to choose without restraint. I was Free.

So what was I going to do? I was going to think about it, and decide. Were social pressures enough to keep me going? Nope. Were family pressures? No. What about all those other spiritual experiences and good memories associated with church activity? Not important enough anymore. But there was that one memory....

It was that early April morning in 2002 that I mentioned at the beginning. While reading the Book of Mormon as a missionary, marking and underlining any and all references to a Savior in the same way I'd been doing during my prescribed morning study for the past several months, a feeling engulfed me that I'd never felt before. Separate from my body, I felt my soul become engulfed in a blue fire (I don't know why blue, but that's what it felt like) and my soul lit up in what I can only describe as PURE JOY. A taste of a Celestial Heaven. Visibly and audibly, nothing was happening to me, I was just sitting at a desk in a dim apartment near the water's edge in Campbell River, BC, reading a comparatively boring book of scripture that I didn't even understand all that well, but something inside me was ablaze like an Angel of Glory. Not like the other spiritual experiences I'd ever had, and not like any other rush of endorphins or dopamine I'd ever felt from other exhilarating or emotional experiences. Not even like the niacin flushes I'd had from taking vitamin supplements. This was something completely different. It was more REAL to me than anything has ever felt real before. It became my new standard for reality. As if everything I've ever seen, felt, and experienced before in this life on Earth was really more like a fuzzy, hazy, dream compared to what I "seeing" and "feeling" then. And there was a message that came with the feeling. No words were spoken, but they were seared on me somewhere inside; indelible and every bit as REAL as the joy I was already feeling: 1. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World, and 2. the Book of Mormon is True. Unmistakably, this was the message of the experience. Like my soul had just been branded in the same way cattle are branded with the mark of their owner. Unavoidably, I KNOW these two truths and all I have to do is look inside myself and see those two facts there, permanently.

I've read a lot of psychology, I've studied physiology and anatomy and neuroscience. These are the kinds of things I do when I'm bored. I understand the power and effects of hormones, substances, and neurology. What I felt and experienced does not mesh with any other known occurrence or effect I've ever come across, except for similar experiences shared by other religious peoples, and it's not even very common there. And more often, when people have a spiritual experience, there's no message attached to it except for a general feeling that what they are doing is "good" or "right".

Since then, I have also been branded with the truth that what I know to be the Priesthood -used by our church as an authorized form of the power of God to act in His name- is a real power and force of the universe similar to Gravity, similar to the Nuclear forces and Electromagnetic force. I don't have much control over it but I am an instrument for it's application and use in this world.

When I felt my faith in everything end and I had come to that fork in the road, to act in any way that I felt was right for me, I had to address this experience and how it would apply to my life. Was I going to live in a cognitive dissonance for a while, fighting off and pushing down that burning memory, or was I going to embrace it for what it was and live up to what I'd preached to so many people before? The Gospel and the Church are true, I could not deny it. The people who run it are still just people, at all levels. There is no doctrine of infallibility in the LDS church, but there is a promise that God will not let the head Prophet and President of the church lead the church astray. That is a subtle but important distinction. Countless authors, apologists, and academics spend their time and energy trying to prove and convince others of the falsity or veracity of the LDS church. While I don't enjoy contention and fighting and debate, we need to stand up for right when we can, or, when it's appropriate. So, while some are out there attacking the church, others will contend with them in it's defense. That these debates exist is not proof of anything except that there are passionate and educated people on both sides. As my Molecular Biology professor would repeat often, "Show me the Data!" Don't trust commentary from anyone that has to fill in gaps. Look at the original sources in an accurate context, acknowledge the gaps in the data and draw your own conclusion. (and there are a LOT of gaps, holy cow. Just because I find a long-missing lego piece doesn't mean I know what the original model looked like, or just because I can't find any of the unique lego pieces for a specific model among jumbled tubs of legos doesn't mean it wasn't ever there)

Some will claim that some large mistake or poor policy disqualifies a person for being a prophet or the church from being God's. To that I'll ask: What does qualify a person for being prophet or a church from being God's and who are you to decide it was a mistake? The qualifications are this: Nothing other than being assigned the task by an all-knowing and all-powerful, and all-loving God. I've heard a lot of people claim that God's prophet or God's church would never do such-and-such thing. How do you know what God's prophet or church should or should not do? Are you God and why is your standard the one that God's church/prophet should meet?

I watched a lecture on psychology recently and the speaker promoted the idea that to keep an open mind and find truth, one MUST look at opposing views and consider them equally. I will have to disagree with the "consider them equally" part. If I give equal weight to a lie as I do to a truth, I will end up uncertain and have just as much chance of making a poor choice as a good one. Often, when there are two opposing views about facts of the universe, they are either both partially right AND partially wrong, or one of them is right and the other is wrong. We must consider that possibility, that there can be a right and a wrong, that a voice of opposition might be false, perhaps by accident or ignorance, or perhaps by malicious intent. If I'm presented a story from a stranger about my best friend's guilt, who should I believe? Years of personal experience, or some new guy? If I let someone taint my white paint with a bit of black, it might turn grey, but not because my white wasn't originally white. I get to be the guardian of my own "paint," my own beliefs and knowledge. I can decide for myself if I will accept a proposition or new fact as believable and whether I will include it into my palette as an acceptable addition. If I'm not careful, I'll end up with a muddy brown mess that doesn't hold any of the colors I originally wanted.

What about crazy miracle stories with all sorts of weird cultural oddities? Does every story in our scriptures make sense with all we know? Of course not. These were stories and histories and experiences written by people who only had the perspective and culture they were stuck with, and often written and re-written in such brief detail and description that MOST of what we imagine these stories to convey is really our own imagination filling in the gaps. Or they were told in such a way that we, from our perspective, cannot fully understand them. If there is a God who can influence the elements of the universe into creation, can he not perform feats we cannot understand?

It's only been three hundred years since we learned what electricity is, though it's been there all along. Only a hundred since we understood the structure of the atom and those bits of knowledge have changed the world in the very recent past and are still changing it drastically. Let's not let our current knowledge convince us that we've learned it all or discovered it all. We are not even close. We just barely and finally saw what the surface of Pluto looks like though we've known it was there for 80 years! We have to take into account the perspective, knowledge, and education of the authors of the scriptures and just understand that we weren't there witnessing it. Much like Joshua turning the sun back -instead of, more likely, the earth turning back, or, some other phenomenon that was convincing enough to the people of the time- perspective is *almost* everything.

The power of God is the ultimate source of the Universe, he can do what he wants when it suits his purpose without disrupting the system, or he can disrupt it as he needs to to accomplish his purpose. Stories representing God's love and involvement with his children make the most sense to the people they happened to. They then become symbolic of our own relationship with God through the telling of the story, whatever the details we have. And just like my College Folklore professor often said, "Just because it's folklore doesn't mean it's not true, or wasn't true when it was first told."

Most often we make choices and choose our beliefs based on the emotions and hormones that are influencing our physiology, rather than intellectually, more often than we really want to admit. It's been studied EXTENSIVELY. Some of us have a really hard time understanding that or admitting that. So we find intellectual reasons to back up our choices. We tell ourselves a convincing story and decide to believe it, and it can happen within milliseconds in an unconscious corner of our mind. Our brain wants an explanation for what we are feeling, and when it finds something acceptable it latches onto it. This helps us feel like we are above our emotions, like we are in control of ourselves, when we are not. I haven't ever met a person who was fully in control of their emotions and knowing what I've learned about Emotional Intelligence and human nature, I am worried for anyone that claims they are.

Emotional experiences keep people in their faith just as much as they keep people out of it. We look for confirmation for what we already believe or what we want to believe. I have to accept this as a possibility when I reflect back on that singular moment as a missionary. The moment that my life has hinged on over and over and over. And yet, when I do, there is that indelible mark left on my spirit that stands out miles beyond every other emotional, spiritual, or religious experience I have ever felt. It doesn't fit in, it doesn't match up. I can't do anything with it because it I didn't put it there and I have no power to move it anywhere else. I have to live with it, but between you and me, I'm really glad it's there because it's been a bigger help in my life than just about everything else, and everything good and enjoyable in my life can be traced to that experience. And my strategy for how I've handled every crisis can be traced back to that moment.

There is not much difference between a person who leaves our church just because they don't like -or are uncomfortable- going compared to another person who finds a cleverly worded narrative about our history from someone they trust. Both are leaving for emotional reasons and an emotional dislike of the organization or lifestyle. The difference is what they build their confidence on: physical, emotional, or intellectual comfort. We will all do well to admit the enormous impact that our emotions and impressions play in our lives, even and especially, when false or misled by our senses and environment, both in and out of the church. Academic evidences that seem to either promote or put down my own faith are fun and interesting and worth noting, but in the end, my own personal experience gets to trump everything else. And I get to grant the same privilege to everyone else. Don't be offended if I share my perspective while you share yours.

You can probably guess which fork in the road I took regarding my life, and hopefully you can understand why. I stay with the church not because of any mortal reasoning, not even because of faith anymore (though I depended on faith for a long time), but instead because of a burning memory and a gift of knowledge that I can't claim I deserved, but feel blessed to have received. I do not feel coerced, or guilted into staying. I had a set of facts and perspectives unique to my life to use in making my decision and I am making it to the best of my ability. I do not feel like my freedom and agency and individuality has been trounced or impeded. Quite the opposite. My freedom has never been greater, nor my individuality more pronounced. I still struggle through the muck of life like everyone else. Like a flag in the storm, I am still pounded and lashed at by wind and rain, but I have a fixture, set and immovable that keeps me displayed whichever way I feel pulled. A foundation that keeps me grounded and upright, no matter how much the earth shakes. As long as my memory and brain remains intact, I will keep acting according to what is in it.

About my church leaders and my feelings toward them: In the Leadership Handbook which the church distributes to certain positions of authority in the church, there are policies and guidelines to be followed as much as possible, but there is always an important caveat that in some situations, the leader is allowed to "follow the spirit" (the Spirit of God, or the Holy Ghost) in making decisions. While this is a hard thing to accept, especially when it goes against what we want, it is a vital doctrine, and crucially important to the belief of an actively involved God that we can go to for answers and help for our unique problems. I knew of this doctrine and policy even before I got angry, but in my anger I wanted to ignore it and put heavier weight on written, concrete policies because they would be in my favor. I didn't want to believe that the leader was following the Spirit, because I felt that the Spirit would want us sealed. Whether or not this leader was following the spirit is not my decision or place to say. How could I know? But what I did know as I made my decision, was that God knew what I was dealing with, and this was still God's church. And my greatest chance for long-term happiness in this life, and a sure and certain chance for happiness in the next, was to stay with it.

In the end, my ex-wife eventually stopped wanting to be involved in our sealing application and it was sent through and approved very quickly. We were sealed earlier this year and it was an AMAZING experience for me and my wife, and for our family, and all who got to attend.

We are here on Earth to learn by experience, by trial and error, by faith and uncertainty, in and out of God's church, Christian or not, religious or not. God has simply designated one organization to hold his Priesthood authority and a sprinkling of people here on this Earth to do specific jobs he wants done, even if we don't understand what our job is, entirely. You all are a part of it, whether you want to be or not. And I am part of it, of my own choosing. Happily.