Sunday, July 22, 2012

#71: When tragedy strikes.

Friday, July 20th was my birthday. For months now I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Dark Knight Rises, which came out Friday morning at midnight. I love Batman, and I was excited to see how he would ultimately defeat Bane and save the day. Although I enjoyed the movie, this weekend, Batman suddenly became very unimportant.

As I'm sure is the case with many of you, this weekend I was shocked and saddened when I heard that James Holmes, an apparently gifted and capable young man, walked into the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, opened fire, and killed 12 innocent people while wounding 58 others. These were not just nameless victims--each of them was a father or mother, husband or wife, child or friend of someone left behind. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of these victims who are surely feeling an unbearable sense of loss today.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the youngest victim of the Aurora, Colorado shooting.
You can honor the full list of victims at CNN's tribute page.
Like September 11th, like Columbine, like Fort Hood, or like so many others, this latest tragedy will forever alter the lives of those involved. Inevitably these tragedies remind us of the fragile nature of our mortal lives and cause us to step back and consider what really matters in life--our relationship with God and other people. Although we cannot bring these people back or make sense of their deaths, we can honor them by making their lives count for something. Rather than give in to fear and doubt, we can become united in faith and love. We can honor them by unselfishly loving one another as we know we are capable of doing. One of my favorite quotes is from the book Les Miserables. While on his deathbed, the hero of the story, Jean Valjean declares "Remember to love each other, always. There's scarcely anything else in life but that."

As the poet Charles D. Meigs once wrote, may we make this our creed:

Lord help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for – Others.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true
And know that all I do for you
Must needs be done for – Others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep; and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again
Unless to live for – Others.

And when my work on earth is done
And my new work in heaven’s begun
May I forget the crown I’ve won
While thinking still of – Others.

Others, Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

#70: A simple testimony of two things.

During the last few years, it has been interesting to see all of the attention that the Church has received due to Proposition 8, the "I'm a Mormon" advertising campaign, The Book of Mormon Musical, and Mitt Romney's U.S. presidential bid. Any time a new article is released about the Church, a major byproduct is the online discussion that follows in the comments section of the article. Filled with both negative and positive comments from opponents, friends, and members of the Church, these comment sections cover every imaginable aspect of our beliefs, history, and religious practices. Occasionally I try to be a part of these online discussions on sites such as, The Washington Post, or on LDS-themed blogs (some of my favorites are Jocelyn Christensen's Being LDS and Jeff Lindsay's Mormanity).

Regardless of the actual subject matter of an article, especially on some of the bigger sites, many of the comment sections quickly devolve into arguments over controversial Church topics such as polygamy, perceived errors in the scriptures, or the pre-1978 Priesthood ban for men of African descent. These (and others) topics are not easy to address, and despite thoughtful opinions and well-meaning explanations from members, we don't fully know why these things occurred. Even for a sincere seeker of truth, these kind of issues may cause doubts, weaken testimonies, and lead members and investigators away from the Church.

Personally, I don't know the answers to these questions. For a long time, I wish that I did have the answers. I thought, "Why would the Lord allow these things to distract people from all that is good about the Church? Why didn't He plan ahead of time and tell the prophets to fix these problems before they occurred?" These issues never stopped me from finding comfort and peace in living the gospel, but I'd be lying if I said they didn't bug me or cause me to have doubts at times.

Wouldn't it be easier if these issues weren't there? Sure. Wouldn't it be great if we could all see an angel and handle the golden plates ourselves? Absolutely. Wouldn't it be nice if we could send an e-mail to the Lord requesting an answer to every doubt or confusion? You bet. BUT, despite this, I have learned that these issues don't matter nearly as much as we think they do.

To me, these gospel issues, and any others like them, can be resolved through a personal testimony of two simple things: (1) the reality of the divinity of Jesus Christ and (2) the validity of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.

Think about it--you can consider these two items in complete black and white. If they are true, then everything else pertaining to them is true. If you can gain a testimony that Jesus Christ really is who He said He was, you have no reason to doubt that He is ultimately in charge and knows all things. He is either the Son of God, like He said, or He is not. There is no middle ground. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
Jesus the Christ by Del Parson
In regard to the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, you can take a similar stance. Either he actually saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, or he didn't. If he did, then Heavenly Father meant for him to be the prophet and we need to accept everything that came afterwards. If he didn't, then everything else he said and did is a fraud. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it like this:

Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni's lips, and eventually received at his hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he had lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would certainly be none of these” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant).
The First Vision by Gary Kapp
These stark, clear contrasts really makes sense to me. And due to experiences I have had in my life, I indeed do have a testimony that both Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that Joseph Smith restored Christ's church. If you sincerely pray about these things and try to live the principles related to them, you can know they are true too. And once you know that, no other question or gospel concern can dissuade you otherwise. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

#69: 1 fuse. $700 of fireworks.

One of my best friends is a great guy named Bryan Crown (fellow member of the "Brain Trust"). Even though Bryan and I have many things in common, we also have some differences--particularly in the fact that Bryan is a big adventurer, whereas I am a big wuss. For example, Bryan likes to go camping, skiing, rock climbing, and caving, whereas I, on the other hand, once played a video game that had a cave in it. I became an accountant, whereas Bryan became a recreational therapist working with troubled youth. I like to watch Star Wars in the comfort of my living room, whereas Bryan could actually BE Han Solo.

(As a side note, I just realized that used the word "whereas" four times in one post. That's gotta be a record.)

The difference between Bryan and myself was again made apparent to me last night. Whereas (five times) I like to watch city-sponsored fireworks from a safe distance, Bryan likes to put on a firework show to actually rival the city's. Last night was Bryan's 3rd Annual "July-a-palooza" firework show. And believe me, each year keeps getting better and better. This year, Bryan, along with some of his other friends and family, bought approximately $700 of fireworks, tied them all together with one giant fuse, and let 'em loose. Enjoy the video of the finale below!

Like a kid in a candy store.

One fuse to rule them all!
 The 3 minute finale!
Always have a bucket, just in case things get crazy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

#68: Gratitude for a great hometeacher.

Our garbage disposal has been broken for a couple of weeks, and whatever was in there really reeks (Ha, Dr. Seuss Jr.). I kept hoping that it would magically fix itself, but as we all know, magic is only real in Great Britain and on the planet Dathomir.

At first I figured something was simply blocking the blades (because, duh, garbage disposals have blades). But even after we reached around inside to dislodge any gunk (gross), it still wouldn't work.

Previously, when our disposal stopped working a couple of years ago, I bought a "self-service wrenchette", which you are supposed to stick into the hole in the bottom of the disposal and twist around a couple thousand times. I was pretty confident this would do the trick. But, guess what? It didn't. Thanks for nothing, wrenchette.
Self-service wrenchette failure.
Finally, I repeatedly pressed the red reset button on the bottom of the disposal in the hope that it would reset the circuit. But when it didn't work, I became so frustrated that my face turned just as red as the button.

I was stuck. And the disposal stunk. And I didn't know how to fix it. And I felt very unmanly (and not just because I love Taylor Swift music). Then....Diane had a great idea: buy a new disposal and call our home teacher for help installing it! 

Because I don't want to embarrass him, I won't mention my home teacher by name, but he is one of my heroes. He is a convert to the Church, a great father and husband, a doggone funny guy, and he also happens to be a genius at fixing things like garbage disposals. Yesterday afternoon, after going on a 55-mile bike ride in the morning, and working a full day, he came over and installed our new disposal (without swearing even once!) in under an hour. And he even let me hand him tools so that I would feel manly. It was incredibly awesome. At the end, we offered to make him some cookies, but he said he was just glad for the chance to serve (although he did joke that he would love it if I made him some Brazilian cheese balls). 

Thanks again, home teacher. You make me want to be a better one myself.