Sunday, January 13, 2019

CFM - January 7 to 13

Reading: Matthew 1; Luke 1

First Impressions


People are subject to fear.  Fear of loss; fear of the unknown; fear of uncertainty; fear of pain.

The angels that visited Mary, Joseph and Zechariah told them not to fear.  This is a message we all ought to repeat to ourselves.  To me, the first Great Commandment means that we are content with our fate and lot in life.  And to truly embrace the First Great commandment, we ought to also love our fate and lot in life.  This set of circumstances; these turn of events were meant for us.  The quicker we accept that fate and lot, the better off we are and we show God we love what He has given us.

No word from God will ever fail / virgin birth

This is a fascinating subject and I think a proper analysis will help dispel myths and help people have a proper balance between reality and faith.

In the KJV version, Luke 1:37 reads, "With God, nothing shall be impossible."  While in the NIV version, it reads, "No word from God will ever fail."

If anything is proclaimed that seems amazing or miraculous, we ought to go to great lengths to ensure it came from God.  We all know that humans are subject to being deceived and can deceive others.  This is the reason for scientific analysis; to detect when people are telling the truth or not.  Now, with Mary and the virgin birth - this truly is an extraordinary claim.  But not out of the realm of impossibility.  It is known, in the animal kingdom, that some animals can reproduce asexually.  It has never been proven with humans, but at least according to this article about a study, about 1% of the population claims to have had a virgin birth.

And this puts observers in an interesting spot.  Someone makes an amazing claim and they say it comes from God - how are we supposed to take this?  How are we, as individuals, going to ensure that this claim came from God or from the imagination of this other person?

For me personally, I will reserve judgement for myself.  I've seen and heard too many outlandish claims, from Scientologists, to Muslims to radical Christians to turn over my judgement and agree with their claims.  So, where do I fall with the virgin birth?  No where.  I'm not sure it really matters.

I think we all ought to be careful in thinking that if we ask God with enough faith, that He will give us a blessing.  I think too many people put a lot of hope in this scripture when they try to apply it to themselves.  They desire "blessing X" and they think that "with God, nothing is impossible" and they pray for it, but they don't receive it.  They then begin to blame themselves for not being worthy, or not having enough faith.

To people with this mindset, I would recommend that they check their desires.  The only thing they really have control over is their attitude.  All else is out of their control; their health, wealth, weather they will have a child or be child-less ... all of that is out of their control.  And if they extend their desires to one or all of those things, and they fail to get it, they may blame God!  And what a sad place to be in!  Rather, with all these things, they ought not to extend a desire toward them, and if they do, they should have a reserve clause: if it is according to God's will.

Some Questions from the Manual

Why did the Savior need to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father?

President Russell M. Nelson explained that the Atonement of Jesus Christ “required a personal sacrifice by an immortal being not subject to death. Yet He must die and take up His own body again. The Savior was the only one who could accomplish this. From His mother He inherited power to die. From His Father He obtained power over death” (“Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 34).

I will be very honest and open here; why does the Atonement require a sacrifice by an immortal being?  This is one of those things that seems to fall under the category of some great mystery; pointing to some law in the Universe that we are unaware of.  And we've just been told; that's the way it is.  And a follow-up "meta" question here.  Why are we humans OK with some assumptions as this one, but we deny other similar assumptions by other non-Christian religions?  Anyway, not sure this really matters anyway.

One final thought on this subject; the word "sacrifice" in President Nelson's quote.  To me, the word sacrifice means the one doing the sacrificing loses something in return for something greater.  I think some examples are in order.

In chess, if I sacrifice my queen for a knight or rook, but win the game with that sacrifice, then mission accomplished!  I don't want to lose my queen, but my goal of winning the game is bigger than my fear of losing the queen.

For the kids to love Harry Potter, we learn of the many sacrifices people make through the books.  One stands out in my mind, when Dumbledore and Harry seek out a horcrux at a cave.  To gain entrance to the cave, Dumbledore has to cut his hand in a form of self-sacrifice and self-harm.  Later in the cave, he drinks poisonous water that inhibits him, so that he can gain access to the horcrux.  They accomplish the mission, but as we later find out, the horcrux was a fake, so mission not accomplished.  And this brings another aspect of what a sacrifice is: uncertainty.  It's one thing to "make a sacrifice" when you are guaranteed an outcome (i.e. sacrificing queen for a win in a chess game), but it is quite another when the odds are less than 100% or even less than 50%.

In my career, if I sacrifice time with family, in order to earn more money, so that I can then have more time off work to spend with my family, then mission accomplished!  But sometimes these sacrifices can be long and the work might change and I may find myself away from my family.

If my child needs an organ transplant to live, and I supply that organ and in the process die, then the sacrifice was worth it if my child lives.  But there is the factor of uncertainly, that I may die or worse, my child dies.

All of these thoughts fall under the science of risk management.  People have studied this time and time again.  Life is full of decisions and trade-offs.  We are willing to take risks, so long as we are somewhat confident in the outcome.

Now, back to Christ's sacrifice.  If He knew with certainly he was the Son of God, and therefore immortal, then it would seem that His sacrifice is more analogous with a queen sacrifice in a chess game, for a certain win.  He was perfectly willing to suffer and die, because He knew he was going to live again just three days after dying.  And not only just live again, but be immortal.

But what if He didn't know for sure he was the Son of God?  What if there were some degree of uncertainly on His part?  We certainly get this vibe when we analyze the temptations of Christ in the wilderness.  If He were uncertain about his mortality, then that makes this a higher-risk sacrifice.

God’s blessings come in His own time

Indeed they do!  It is we humans who put too much desire in things out of our control.  If we are anxious about getting a blessing, we are putting ourselves at risk of violating the First Great commandment.  Better to be in a position to love your fate from God, than to extend your desire for something out of your control.  If you love your fate, then you will love what God sends your way on His timetable, and you will never be anxious.

We see lots of anxiety in Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah.

The faithful willingly submit to God’s will

The CFM manual says, "Like Mary, we sometimes find that God’s plans for our life are quite different from what we had planned."

Speaking from experience, I've learned that God's plan for me is very different from many others in my family and community.  For some, it is to remain a faithful member of one congregation or church, while for me, God has lead me on a different path.  I submit my will to God and I try to accept His will for me every single day.  I used to have lots of anxiety, thinking I could plan and control my fate and plan.  But I've learned, painfully sometimes, that I can't control it.  I have to accept God's will for me.  Accepting God's will is at the heart of the First Great commandment.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Qs&As and Reactions to Some Things That Have Been Said To Me

Who is your leader now?
I still consider God and Christ my leader; always have.

Who is your leader on this earth?  Are you following Denver Snuffer?
No one.  I now worship God through no medium.  No, I am not following Denver Snuffer or any of the leaders of the dozens and dozens of branches or splinter groups of Mormonism that exist today and have existed since Joseph Smith died.

Are you joining another church / religion?
No; one was enough.

Do you still believe in God and Jesus Christ?
Yes, any minimal investigation of my blog here, will indicate the devotion I've had and still have to Christ.

Have You Studied "Come, Follow Me"?
I have been studying and teaching from "Come, Follow Me" longer than most members.  I started studying and teaching from this manual since it was rolled out to the youth in 2013-2014 or so.  I have studied and taught from it the last 4 years while I taught the 15 and 16 year-olds.  Honestly, I wish it taught more about Jesus and less about, unique, LDS-specific doctrine.  Feel free to look at all my lessons on this blog.

Satan is influencing you!
Maybe I should take the high-road on this, but maybe it's worth while to talk about this a bit.

What do we mean by Satan's influence?  If I were to walk in the door of all the local Christian churches, sit down and tell the pastor about myself and be completely honest with him or her, I would be willing to bet they would say I'm not being influenced by Satan.

For me, if someone is being influenced by Satan, it means they are immoral.  Immoral, to me, means:

  • lying, not being honest or truthful; intending to deceive; cheating
  • stealing, robbing, tax-evading, swindling, bilking
  • cheating on a spouse; wrecking families
  • lacking any virtue; such as justice, wisdom, courage or temperance
  • embracing vice; all the opposites of the above; being corrupt, foolish, selfish, prideful, slothful, licentious or acting cowardly
  • being abusive; physically, sexually or psychologically
  • embracing, supporting or giving cover to any behavior above, when you are in a position to stop or prevent it, within reason
I'm not perfect, but I don't have any habits of any of the above.  I don't think I'm being influenced by Satan.

Now, to a member of the Church, what they mean when they tell me I'm being influenced by Satan, is that I won't believe or say that Joseph Smith was called of God.  And here is the kicker ... there is plenty of evidence Joseph often stepped into immoral behavior as listed above.  Some members will try to ignore it or rationalize it.  This is moral relativism.  It wasn't moral in 1835, it isn't moral in 2019.  If we are going to give Brother Joseph a break, then I would suggest to anyone who thinks I'm being influenced by Satan, to give me a break too.  If Joseph passes the judgement bar, I think I will too.

We love you no matter what!
Thank you!  This is a wonderful response!  I love you too!

We often get so distracted by all this stuff that upsets people.  It did upset me, but not anymore.  I have simply let it go.  When I let go of all those issues, I felt profound peace.  I have been more content and less depressed and less anxious.  I have had more empathy for people, I’ve been more kind and much less judgmental.  Jill is my witness in all of this.  For people we are close with ... meaning we interact with on a daily and weekly basis, they too have noticed the change in my demeanor.  So all of that comes from simply letting it go and not putting it on a shelf and ignoring it.   I choose to simply focus on my relationships; with God, Jill, my family and my community, insofar as those relationships are respectful and kind.  I will always show love and respect to everyone and I hope I get it in return.

And I have to share one response - the best one in my opinion - I'll keep it anonymous, but it meant so much to me when I read this.
"I think the world of you, and always have. You are one of the most thoughtful individuals I have ever known. And I know that when individuals come to the conclusions that you have come to, there is a tenable fear of how friends and family will react.  In the immortal words of Dolly Parton, I will always love you for who you are and what you have meant to me.  If your path, whatever it is, gives you a closer connection to your savior and God, then take the path. Be happy and continue searching for what gives you peace and happiness. I love you."

The church is broad enough to accommodate divergent beliefs
I somewhat agree with this.  As long as a person goes through the outward motions and keeps controversial things (i.e. the immoral issues) to themselves and doesn't loudly talk about them, then yes, the church can accommodate you.  But this is how a person loses their integrity.  Integrity means the inward and the outward are the same.  One loses integrity when they "go through the motions" but are in pain and suffering on the inside; when their heart doesn't really believe what they are expected to say or expected to act.

We spoke to two leaders about our situation.  Both of them thanked us for not speaking openly about these topics.  If you can't speak your mind and share your heart in your church, then you're suffering in silence.  I kept all this in for a long time and it hurt me mentally.  It builds up in the dark; and depression, anxiety and fear creep in.  You begin to think you are broken and worthless.  I have learned so many people, in the church, have suffered many forms of mental illness.  I can't help but wonder, judging by my own experience, that some of the dogma and culture in the church causes mental illness.  And the fact that we can't talk about all these elephants in the room is sad.

That's all for now.  I will probably add to this list as time goes on.

By and large, reactions from loved ones have been positive and supportive - very Christ-like!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Compasses, Rocks and Goal Posts

As a missionary in Guatemala, every day I woke up with the goal of "bringing souls unto Christ."  That was the big goal.  From there, as an LDS missionary, I further believed that really the only way a soul could "come unto Christ" was through repentance, baptism by immersion at the hand of someone with authorized priesthood authority, confirmation by the same priesthood and then ultimately making covenants in a Mormon temple.  Sometimes we were able to bring people to the waters of baptism, sometimes all we could do was bear testimony.  And in rare cases, we saw some who would enter the temple.

But none of that can happen unless we, and the people who agreed with us, accept one crucial premise: that there is only one true, authorized-and-endorsed-by-God religion on the earth.  And by virtue of that premise, all other religions and philosophies are false.

From a religious and philosophical belief, everything hinges on that premise for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Time and time again, leaders of the church, from the beginning, to today, have maintained that there is no middle ground.  Either it's Christ's restored church and kingdom on the earth today, or it is a fraud.  I will never forget the words of the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley when he said in 2003, "Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."

As a missionary, I asked people to always re-evaluate their beliefs and in that process, they should consider reading the Book of Mormon and ask God if it was true or not.  At that time I sincerely believed in truth and that we are all on a life-long journey to find un-alterable and un-changing truths.  Today, I still believe this.  I think we all ought to be open to feedback and checking our compasses to see if we are still heading in the direction of truth.  We all ought to be on the lookout for lies and half-truths in our quest.  We all ought to be mindful of where we build our homes.  We may think we have built on rock, but when torments and rains and winds come and our house sways, cracks and tumbles, we may need to re-consider where we rebuild our home.  And when we play a sport, such as football or soccer, we ought to expect that the posts or goal won't move for the duration of the game, otherwise the game may be pointless.

And as I asked others to re-evaluate their life decisions, religious beliefs and philosophy, I too should be willing to do the same.  After all, when the stakes are this high (a religion is either endorsed by God or not), I ought to take this seriously!

My "testimony" for the first 30 or so years of my life was roughly built on this framework:

The Book of Mormon is true (historically and philosophically), because I read it, agreed with most of its teachings and when I prayed about it, God caused me to feel good, peaceful and reassured.

Since the Book of Mormon is true, I now know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, since he was called of God to translate the golden plates using the Urim and Thummim and breastplate into English.

And everything else that stems from Joseph Smith (teachings, actions, doctrine) is from God since he was called by God.

Anything else that didn't "feel right" or caused a "stupor of thought" was of Satan.  A lot of "anti-Mormon" rumors were spread by Satan, including Joseph using a peep-stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon or marrying other mens' wives.  Anything Gerald or Sandra Tanner said, was also false and "anti-Mormon."

So, you might be able to imagine my predicament when I began to read Rough Stone Rolling in 2008 and 2009 and learned that "anti-Mormon" rumors and lies were indeed accurate!  And not only did Rough Stone Rolling confirm these things as fact, but the Church also produced essays admitting that many doctrines were now "theories advanced by men." What would you do the moment you suspect the compass you have been using is inaccurate?  How would you feel when the news is delivered to you that your home, which you thought was built on rock, is actually not?  That is how I began to feel.  I was at a cross-road and had a couple of choices: 1) ignore it all or 2) confront it and find the truth.  I chose to confront it.

I finished reading Rough Stone Rolling and proceeded to investigate more.  I entered the world of accusations and apologetics.  Gone were the days of trusting my feelings.  Now I was trying to de-tangle fact from fiction; truth from half-truth, both from leaders and apologists of the church and from its critics.

I won't review all the aspects of the Church doctrine I disagree with now, in this blog post - there are plenty of resources on-line that get into all that.  However, I will say that if there were just one or two issues, and that were all, then maybe I could keep them on a "mental shelf" and still maintain a strong belief in the dogma of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  But that is simply not the case.  Time and time again, I've concluded that what is unique about the Church is not good, and what is good about the Church is not unique.

As I begin to wrap up this blog post, I'll note some of the unique things about the Church, which I think are not good.  I'll phrase them in such a way using Christ as a spiritual north on a spiritual compass.

Would Christ use a scrying or peep stone (different from the Urim and Thummim) to translate ancient Egyptian scripture?

Would he be less than truthful about his abilities to translate ancient Egyptian text?

Would he call one of his apostles to use a scrying stone and be less than truthful about his abilities to translate ancient Egyptian text?

Would Christ marry another man's wife, especially after establishing commandments to not commit adultery and coveting?

Would He command his followers to do the same?

Would He deny eternal blessings to some children of God based on the color of their skin or some other God-given genetic factor?

Would He command or encourage his apostles to lie or deceive others or use carefully worded denials?

Would He prioritize building worldly assets over feeding the hungry?

Would He change his doctrine based on political or social pressure?

Would He excommunicate His followers for trying to make His religion a better and more safe place for its members and children while ignoring and not excommunicating physical and sexual abusers?

And would He accuse you or anyone of being ignorant, wanting to sin or being offended if you did discover any of the above?

Obviously, that is a lot to unpack.  If any of that causes you to scratch your head or cause you concern, I know exactly how you feel.  It is not a good feeling.  But you have to ask yourself, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not true, would you want to know?  We asked this question, in the positive format, all the time during our missionary service.  I think the negative version of the question is just as valid and important.

Also, time and time again, in Sunday School, seminary and priesthood classes and in private conversations, we would often point to other religions who would do some or all of the above and consider this as evidence that that religion is not of God ("by their fruits ye shall know them").  Why would we not apply this same standard to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I want to conclude with one more thought for you to consider.  I have not lost my faith.  In all this journey of re-evaluating my religion and philosophy for the past ten years, I learned what it means to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalms 23:4).  The torch of certainty was taken from me and I was no longer spoon-fed what I must believe.  Now, I have to truly trust in God that things will work out fine; that He is still leading my life and that He has a purpose for me.  I often wonder if this is what Adam and Eve felt like after leaving the Garden of Eden.  I have concluded, this ten year re-evaluation has greatly increased my faith and trust in God.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

July Week 5: Remember Christ

From last week: when you have a mint or something minty, what are you supposed to remember?

How to Always Remember Christ

Activity on trying to memorize something
- Simon
- Memory matching game

When we are baptized and take the sacrament, we promise to "always remember" Christ.  It's easier said than done.

Read Helaman 12:1-5
- in summary, we get lazy and forget

How do you go about trying to remember something?
- for a test
- a person's name
- what you need to buy at the store
- any list

Why do we forget?

What is it like dealing with a person who forgets things?

What must it be like for God when we forget him and his son?

How can we improve at always remembering Christ?

Here are 8 strategies for improving your ability to remember:
1. Become interested in what you're learning
     i. How can we become more interested in Christ? (write answers)
2. Find a way to leverage your visual memory
i. One trick for quickly memorizing new peoples' names is to associate their name with something visual.  For example, you meet someone at a party named Mike and he has large ears.  Mike -> microphone -> he cleans his ears with the microphone … weird but it works.
ii. Maybe you can find a way to remember Christ in various parts of your day.  Create a visual
3. Chunking; to memorize 467890, it's easier to remember 467 & 890, rather than six numbers.
i. How could this apply to remembering Christ?
4. Associate what you're trying to remember with something you already know
i. You can use mnemonics to remember something about Christ that will help you
5. Write out things, over and over again
i. Journaling, or sharing experiences (i.e. telling stories) will reinforce lessons
6. Summarize as you learn and as you try to remember
i. Leverage writing to simply summarize what you're trying to remember.  Have you had a powerful spiritual experience and you want to remember it to help you remember Christ?  Then summarize it and write it down.
7. Memorize in the afternoon

8. Get enough sleep

If there is enough time, divide the class into three groups and have them scan through one of the talks below for tips on remembering Christ and then have them share.

Always Remember Him by Gerrit Gong
That They do Always Remember Him by Claudio Costa
To Always Remember Him by Todd Christofferson

Saturday, July 21, 2018

July Week 4: Making the Sacrament Meaningful

Opening Activity
What were you thinking about 15 minutes ago?

As discussed a couple of weeks ago, the purpose of ordinances is to see God and live - to enter His presence and remain there.  Furthermore, ordinances are symbolic and tied to duties.  When we participate in those symbolic rituals, we ought to think of what they stand for as well as what our duties are in connection to that ordinance.

The Sacrament Ordinance
Read Matthew 26:26-28

- What do you think of this re-enactment of the Last Supper?
- How does it differ from your experience in Sacrament Meeting?

The Last Supper was intimate and personal.  It seems to have been more like a quiet dinner party than a formal, solemn ordinance.

What do you think the disciples were thinking when Jesus began to wash their feet and feed them?

I think it would have been a bit awkward to have Jesus or anyone wash my feet.  But to have him break bread and share his wine with me, not so much.

A Service to Others, Who Desire to Serve Others (or Reciprocity)
Jesus served his disciples, by washing their feet and feeding them.  It was a an intimate act of service.  He would later bleed from every pore of his body, be beaten and whipped by soldiers, be forced to carry this cross he would be crucified on and he would later suffer and die.  He carried out the greatest act of service for his friends and for us.

In return, he asked that we love one another as he has loved us.

In July 2017, I was admitted to the hospital for an important heart procedure.  After the procedure was completed, my dear wife was there to greet me and then remained with me in the hospital while I recovered.  She helped me with a lot of things I could not do on my own.  This was just a minor example of how she did something uniquely special to me.  For this act of love, along with many other acts of love and kindness from her, I have this strong urge to return the favors and to serve her.

This desire to serve in return is backed by science.  In the world of persuasion science, this is called reciprocity.

An example (source):
Three groups of waiters were given different instructions.

The first group studied had waiters giving mints along with the check, making no mention of the mints themselves. This increased tips by around 3% against the control group.

The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand, and they mentioned them to the table ("Would anyone like some mints before they leave?"). Tips increased by 14% against the control group.

The last group had waiters bring out the check first along with a few mints. A short time afterward, the waiter came back with another set of mints, and let customers know that they had brought out more mints, in case they wanted another.

This last test was where waiters saw a 21% increase in tips versus the control group.

At first glance, the last two groups seem very similar: two mints per-person were brought out, and the waiter mentioned them.

So, what was different?

The difference was personalization - making the service intimate or unique.

How does this apply to the Atonement and the Sacrament?  Since Jesus is not here to actually serve us, we are left to our own devices to make the Sacrament meaningful for us.  Often, to make the Sacrament personal, meditation and contemplation are required.  We cannot thoughtlessly approach the Sacrament and expect to get anything out of it.  Rather, we need to make an effort to be there in the same room as Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper; we need to visit the Garden of Gethsemane; we need to see Christ hang on the cross and bleed for us.

As we make it personal, we begin to have a desire to love Jesus and in turn, have greater love for others.

Ideas to Help Make the Sacrament More Personal
- examine thyself! (1 Corinthians 11:28)
how did you do in serving others in the prior week?
how have you improved at living a more virtuous life?
what will you do differently this next week?
consider keeping a journal to mark your progress each week

- think of Jesus' sacrifice during the Sacrament
listen to the hymn, read the words again
meditate and try to place yourself at the feet of Jesus
recite scripture (i.e. Mosiah 14)

- study the meaning of a broken heart and contrite spirit
read this blog post

Closing Activity
We started off the class with "what were you thinking about 15 minutes ago?" and we see your answers here on the board.  What will you think about next week when you partake of the Sacrament?

Saturday, July 07, 2018

July Week 2: Covenants

Review: Ordinances

Last week, we talked about why we need priesthood ordinances.  Ordinances are to helps us translate commandments into actions, so that we can be worthy to live and persist in God's presence.

Ordinances are symbolic - which remind us of certain things - which in turn help us to remember to do our duty to God and our neighbors.  Again, everything ties back to the two great commandments of loving God and loving others.

Now that we understand the why of ordinances, we shift to how do we commit to these commandments, and how do we help others commit to these commandments.

We call these commitments covenants.

Covenants are simply commitments to keep the commandments.

Why Do Covenants "Work"?

Before we get into examples of covenants, let's think about the process of making covenants for a minute.  We have these two great commandments and in a lot of ways, commandments are sacrifices of the ego.  There are a lot of things that we don't want to do.  We may want to party and have a good time and we want everything to go our way.  So how do we get people to commit to love God and others?

This is were persuasion and compliance come into play.

There are roughly six persuasion techniques that work on a lot of people.  In brief they are:
1. Reciprocity
2. Scarcity
3. Authority
4. Consistency
5. Liking
6. Consensus

All of these techniques factor into religion and marketing and politics.  For today's lesson about covenants, we are going to focus on the fourth in the list above: consistency.

Below is a video that briefly explains all of them, but now, we are only going to focus on consistency.

A lot of times in my life as a member of the church, teachers have often used the phrase "milk before meat."  This alludes to the fact that you cannot give a baby meat, because they don't have teeth and they could choke on the food and die.  Instead, you give the baby milk, then solid food and then eventually the child or young person can eat meat.

Covenants are very similar in the church.  Leaders don't ask, nor will they allow, new members to go to the temple right away after joining the church.  If they did, they would be weirded out or think it very strange.  Other religions are similar, such as Scientology, where they don't let members 'advance quickly' or do things right away.  Rather, they get members to commit to smaller things before committing to bigger things.

In the example from the video, the researchers wanted commitment from the neighborhood to post a large sign on the street.  By asking them "cold-turkey" most refused and would not commit.  But if the researchers were able to get them to commit to a smaller promise and then follow up with the bigger commitment, more people were willing to comply and commit.

This is why we make multiple covenants through our life; such as baptism, priesthood ordination, and temple ordinances.  This is also why, in primary, young women's and young men's programs, we ask people to commit to smaller things - such as offering a prayer, giving a talk, going to a service project, helping clean the church and other things.  In hundreds of little ways, we are always asking each other to commit to keeping the commandments.  Then when it is time to make a bigger commitment (covenant), people are more willing.

The other part of the video describes how people commit to do something.  When someone seemingly makes a voluntary and public commitment, they are much more likely to keep that commitment.  In the video, he talked about patients committing to an appointment at the doctor.  From a doctor's perspective, patients missing their appointments is not a good thing.  He wants them to keep their appointments.  So, in order to increase the level of commitment among patients, the doctor will have the patient write down the date and time of the appointments rather than the secretary.  When they publicly committed to writing the date and time, they were much more likely to keep the appointments.

Similarly in the church, all covenants are done publicly.  This is why we invite friends and family to baptisms, ordinations, missionary farewells, temple ordinances and weddings.  Even though the temple is not open for the entire public, many families will attend when someone goes to the temple for the first time.

What Covenants Do We Make?

Let's spend some time talking about the covenants we make.  What are they?

Baptismal Covenant
- read Mosiah 18:8-10, D&C 20:37

The Sacrament
- read Moroni 4 and Moroni 5,  D&C 20:77, 79

Priesthood Covenant
- read D&C 84:33-44

Temple Covenants
- read Endowed From On High Lesson 4

Marriage Covenant
- the church calls this "the new and everlasting covenant"
- sometimes called (and is related to) the Abrahamic covenant
- when it was first revealed, it really meant members we asked to enter into a polygamous and/or polyandrous marriage
- see D&C 132, particularly verse 32 "do the works of Abraham" and then later vs. 58-66
- the church no longer practices "live" polygamous marriages, but does approve "serial" polygamous marriages
- note: President Nelson and President Oaks are sealed (married for eternity) to two wives, even though they had the option to marry their 2nd wife for "time only"
- see "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo"
- see "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah"
- see "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage"

Sunday, July 01, 2018

July Week 1: Ordinances

What is the purpose of ordinances?

Quickly review the events in the Garden of Eden.  God created Adam and Eve, who were perfect in body and innocent in mind.  They were place in the garden, commanded to have children and commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Satan came, and tempted them to eat the fruit; they ate and were cast out of the garden and more importantly, they left God's presence.  Ever since then, humans have been trying to get back to God to live with him.

Read Moses 1:1-24
Pay particular attention to verses, 5, 10-11

D&C 84:19-22
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

The whole point of ordinances is to help us prepare to meet God and live in his presence.  Ordinances are symbolic and teach and remind us of our duties to God and others.  Each ordinance is tied to a duty - always a duty to God or a duty to others.  As we fulfill these duties, we prepare ourselves to meet and live with God again.

What are the ordinances?

Saving Ordinances
- Baptism
- Confirmation
- Melchizedek Priesthood ordination
- Temple endowment (washing/anointing, receiving tokens and signs)
- Marriage sealing

Other Ordinances
- Sacrament (memorial ordinance)
- Washing feet (for apostles; see this link)
- Naming and blessing of children
- Oil consecration
- Blessing sick


What is a symbol?

Think of song The Star Spangled Banner and how our flag should remind us of the sacrifices our fore-fathers made and when we see the stars, stripes, red, while and blue, we ought to think about them and be grateful for what we enjoy.

My ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to Jill.

Just this week, an author I enjoy reading, produced a little coin called a memento mori which is supposed to remind the person who carries it around, that they will die soon and they ought to treat each day as a gift.

Symbols represent something or an idea.  And when we see the symbol, we ought to remember whatever it is we are supposed to remember or we ought to do whatever it is we ought to do.

How we learn from ordinances

Divide class in half.  One half will focus on baptism and the other half on sacrament.

They will search and then share:
1. What does the ordinance symbolize
2. What does the ordinance teach
     - what should we remember
     - how should we act and live / fulfill our duties

They should be prepared to share a quote from the scriptures or from a talk.  They can use the chalkboard or anything else to help demonstrate the symbol and what it is we are supposed to remember or do when we see that symbol.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

June Week 3: Scripture Study

When I was a kid, around maybe age 10 or 11, on a Christmas Eve, my family watched a movie called Empire of the Sun, which was about a boy (played by Christian Bale - Batman) living in China and how he was separated from his parents in a panic while they were trying to flee the country ahead of the Imperial Japanese army.  This boy grew up in a prisoner camp without parents.  One of his fascinations was airplanes and in particular, the "Cadillac of the Sky" P-51 Mustang.  Toward the end of the movie, he is ecstatic about seeing a group of P-51's bomb the Japanese airfield next to the prisoner camp.  I still keep goosebumps watching that scene.  Ever since then, I've loved WWII airplanes.

Then a few years ago, the church produced a really neat video about a WWII P-51 pilot who was LDS and from Blackfoot, Idaho.  In that video he talked about how pilots will experience vertigo and how they have to rely on either a better pilot or their instrumentation to gauge where the sky and ground are; otherwise they would end up crashing in clouds or fog.  Life and scripture study are similar.  We need to have a proper sense of direction or we will find ourselves being misguided.

Scripture study is like our compass and flying gauges in life.  They tell us what to do and how to steer.  Therefore, it's important to equip yourself with the best process and tools in this important endeavor.

2 Nephi 2:32 - "feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do."

How do you rate your scripture reading / study today?

What can you do to improve your scripture study?

Why do you want to improve your scripture study?

What are you trying to get out of the scriptures?

Ideas and Tips for Improving Scripture Study

Learn to read mindfully
so many times, we treat reading like a check box; read 30 minutes, done.  Try to find a time to be awake when you read.  Approach reading with real intent.

Be diligent
set aside time to regularly study; make a habit out of it.  Turn it into a project.  And when one project is done, start a new one.

Find a quiet place where you won't be distracted.

Rephrase what you read
pretend you had to explain what you are reading, to another person or if you were asked to explain a passage to a class.  Would you be able to?  Could you "explain it to me like I was five?"

Use a dictionary / define words
if you don't know a word, don't assume a definition; look it up.

Use scripture study tools:
- Topical Guide
- Bible Dictionary
- Maps
- Scripture commentary
- For the Bible, use an NIV version

Ask yourself questions before studying 
when you have a desire to search, you are more likely to learn

Make it personal
answers to your questions will make scripture study personal.  Also, substituting your name in the place of people in the scriptures helps make it more real.

Reality check
read with critical reasoning.  Lots of stuff from the OT and BoM and D&C should be viewed with a reality check (Nephi and Laban, section 132, etc).  Use the bulletin board or news headline test (if God told me to cut off some dude's head and I did, would that be OK?)  Therefore, use and apply the good, discard the crazy.

Use a journal / take note
very useful, especially when you are preparing a talk or trying to answer a question.  Journals and notes help you remember more easily and if you organize it well, they are very useful when you are in a hurry or need to prepare a talk or lesson.  Journals and notes help you "cover ground once" rather than trying to re-learn and re-hash the same content over and over again.

Look for lists.  Look for patterns.
Look for commands and the blessings from obeying those commands.

Use the audio version of the scriptures.

Read what others have studied
share what you have studied (blogs, social media, books, etc).  Use on-line resources.


Give students time to look at their scripture study habits and form a plan to improve.

Show students ways I've studied.

Walk students through an example of how they could study (pick a topic, or question and go down the rabbit hole)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

June Week 2: Principles for Proper Leadership (Commentary on D&C 121:34-46)

34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

we are all 'called' in some capacity or another.  we are called to be leaders or examples or other areas of service.  what does 'chosen' mean in this context?  to me, it is synonymous with "effective" or "ideal" or "good" or "proper".  therefore, to rephrase it, we all have work to do, but few are really good or effective at accomplishing the task at hand.

from here, we dig into why some people are good and effective at callings or leadership while others are not.

35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

reason number one why some people aren't so effective: their hearts are not in the right place; their intentions are not good.  they want to lead in order to be popular or prestigious or to perhaps become wealthy from the position.

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

in a priesthood leadership context, some people want to be priesthood leaders to be popular; but they fail to understand that they must always be righteous and wise and just in order to be an effective and good leader.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

leadership keys and priesthood authority may be granted us, but we lose that authority when we are prideful, vain or when we exercise control over people because of our position of authority.  many are aware of the catholic church priest scandals; but even the LDS church has its own issues and history.  as recent as this year, the news was filled with reports about a man named Joseph Bishop, who assaulted a sister missionary in the MTC of all places.  there are many other cases of heinous behavior of leaders abusing their position of authority (see wikipedia entry on mormon abuse case).

there are two key lessons here:
1. don't assume a bishop or stake president or mission president or general authority are good people.  reserve judgement and be mindful of never letting down your guard.  speak up for yourself; tell a trusted adult if you've been the victim of such heinous behavior.  DO NOT be silent about such matters; whether you've been the victim or if a friend or someone you know has suffered abuse.

2. if you are in a leadership position, you must set a higher standard for yourself.  don't ever let your actions betray the trust of others.

as youth, you should be aware of on-going efforts by a bishop who lives in houston, who has made it his mission to make bishop interviews less sexually explicit.  also, some people think it is a great idea to ensure there is more than one adult in the room when a leader interviews a child or young adult.  for more information about this effort, see:

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

do you know what the term "kick against the pricks" means?

a prick or an ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered.

maybe a more modern-day application would be "tire spikes."  maybe you've seen these in a parking lot, where you pay where you enter, but where you exit the parking lot, to prevent non-payers from entering, the lot has theses tire spikes.  if you roll over the spikes while exiting the lot, the spikes fold down.  but if you back up or go the wrong way over the spikes, it will pop your tires - a very costly mistake.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

according to D&C 121, most people are power hungry - in that when they get power and authority, the begin to abuse it.  this is a very stern warning for all of us - that we should be aware of our bias toward power.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

power hunger is the reason why so few are effective.

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

no one can or should tell you what to do for the reason of: "because i said so; or i command you to ..."  this really only works in the military.  in normal day-to-day interactions, for anyone to be an effective leader, they must actually be good people.

up to this point in D&C 121, we've been talking about the traps of leadership.  now it gets into how to actually be a good and effective leader.

you can't just boss people around.

use persuasion, reason, logic.

long-suffering simply means being patient with people.

anger never really works; the other end of the spectrum from anger is gentleness.  how effective have your parents or leaders been when they get angry or upset?  are you more willing to do what someone tells you when they are freaking out or when they are gentle?

love unfeigned - what does 'feign' mean?  it means 'fake or false or to pretend'.  do you like it when people pretend to love you or when they actually love you?  it's an obvious answer.  so the lesson here is: don't be fake.  be genuine.

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

similar to gentleness is kindness.  again, think of when leaders have been kind to you.  are they more effective or less effective?

pure knowledge - is it better when a leader gives you good reasons for doing something?  or is it better when they just give opinions?  we are all biased in some way or another.  we assume we know, when in reality, we really don't know.  many of us don't admit we don't know.  it is always better to let data and sound knowledge guide us.  this is what pure knowledge is.

being lead by good information and knowledge will prevent leaders from being hypocrites and it will give them confidence in their decisions (confidence = enlarging the soul).

guile is simply deception.

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

followers will sometimes disobey a leader.  in those cases, the leader needs to provide feedback.  the old-school style would typically involve yelling and foaming at the mouth - which is, less effective.

a better way to provide feedback (which really is the essence of "reproving someone") is to ensure the feedback is given in a timely manner.  this is why your teachers assign homework and give quizzes in between tests.  if a lesson has been given, but the teacher doesn't know you've learned the lesson until the final exam, that is not very timely feedback.  even at work, all the employees are ranked once a year; but once a year feedback is not enough, therefore, we are coached frequently.  failure is bound to happen, but we lose opportunities to teach and learn if we don't actually think about and learn from our failures.

after you provide feedback, be sure to give encouragement and try to make the feedback experience positive.

this whole concept is easily apparent in dog-training.  you train your dog with positive reinforcement; not negative.

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

better to enjoy the kindness and confidence of a leader than the fear of hellfire damnation!

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

charity is the greatest of all.  see Moroni 7:45-48.

virtue (self-discipline, courage, justice, wisdom and the related virtues) should guide you in all your do as a person and as a leader.  at one point in time "garnish" actually meant , in part, "to warn or defend" (link).  If we apply this meaning in this context, we should let virtue guard our thoughts unceasingly or all the time - we should never let our guard down.  in today's terms, i often hear that we need to "be mindful."

if we can guard our thoughts with virtue all the time, then we will be confident relative to our position with God and with others.  we won't have anything to hide or feel guilt for.

pure doctrine - sound reason - real knowledge will seep (distil) into our minds like dew on grass.  have you ever notice your grass or a field at night - does it have dew on it?  no.  but in the morning, it does.  it's almost magic.  that process of distillation happens over hours.  if we practice virtue and learn right doctrine, then that knowledge will seep into our souls and minds.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

wisdom will be our constant companion.  what else is the holy ghost but a means for teaching us what is right and wise and just?  we want to have those virtues to be with us all the time.

a scepter is a symbol of true power and authority.  kings and queens have scepters.  when you are an effective leader, your symbolic scepter will be righteousness and truth.

your domain or sphere of influence, will grow.  people will begin to seek you out; looking for your wisdom - all because you have take the time and effort to learn how to be an effective leader.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

May Week 4: Memorial Day

What is Memorial Day?

Why do we celebrate it?

Some of my favorite stories to remind us why we should pause and think on Memorial Day.

Apology to the Dead

Memorial Day 1945 was a somber time for most Americans, and 70 years later it still carries with it a special poignancy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been dead just over a month, and while the war in Europe had concluded, it was too early to begin celebrating victory over the Axis powers. The fighting in the Pacific, where the battle for Okinawa had begun in April and would last through most of June, was still taking a heavy toll.

President Harry Truman, who was working on a speech for the final session of the United Nations conference in San Francisco, marked the day by sending a wreath to Hyde Park for the grave of President Roosevelt and another to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

At Normandy, following a brief military ceremony, work continued on the cemetery above the beaches where Allied troops had landed on D-Day. The paths between the blocks of graves were still uncompleted, and much of the labor on the new cemetery was now being done by German prisoners of war.

Lucian Truscott Jr.
At the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, Memorial Day was also an elegiac occasion. Lt. Gen. Lucian Truscott Jr., who had led the U. S. Sixth Corps through some of the heaviest fighting in Italy and now commanded the Fifth Army, gave a speech that is particularly relevant for today when the trauma of our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to haunt so many vets.

No recording or transcript of Truscott's Memorial Day speech exists, even among his papers at the George C. Marshall Research Library in Virginia.

In Stars and Stripes, the military's newspaper, we have only excerpts of Truscott's remarks. "All over the world our soldiers sleep beneath the crosses," Stars and Stripes reported Truscott observing. "It is a challenge to us -- all allied nations-- to ensure that they do not and have not died in vain."
Missing from the Stars and Stripes story is what Truscott did in delivering his speech. For that account we are indebted to Bill Mauldin, best known for his World War II cartoons featuring the unshaven infantrymen, Willie and Joe. Mauldin was in the audience when Truscott spoke at Nettuno, and he never forgot the day.

"There were about twenty thousand American graves. Families hadn't started digging up the bodies and bringing them home," Mauldin recalled years later in his 1971 memoir, "The Brass Ring."
"Before the stand were spectator benches, with a number of camp chairs down front for VIPs, including several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"When Truscott spoke he turned away from the visitors and addressed himself to the corpses he had commanded here. It was the most moving gesture I ever saw. It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics," Mauldin wrote.

"The general's remarks were brief and extemporaneous. He apologized to the dead men for their presence here. He said everybody tells leaders it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart this is not altogether true.

"He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances. . . . he would not speak about the glorious dead because he didn't see much glory in getting killed if you were in your late teens or early twenties. He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought that was the least he could do."
Truscott's words echoed the reaction to the bitter fighting in Italy of others who had experienced it close up. "I had been feeling pretty much like a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery," Ernie Pyle, America's most widely read World War II correspondent, wrote after landing with American troops at Anzio.

But making Truscott different from Pyle and Mauldin, as well as everyone in attendance at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, was his belief that as a commander he bore a special responsibility for the dead lying before him in their fresh graves. He was unsure if apologizing to them was enough, but he could, he knew, guarantee that he would not romanticize their passing.

Memorial Day: A Time for Heroes

I leaned against an oak at the side of the road, wishing I were invisible, keeping my distance from my parents on their lawn chairs and my younger siblings scampering about.

I hoped none of my friends saw me there. God forbid they caught me waving one of the small American flags Mom bought at Ben Franklin for a dime. At 16, I was too old and definitely too cool for our small town's Memorial Day parade.

I ought to be at the lake, I brooded. But, no, the all-day festivities were mandatory in my family.
A high school band marched by, the girl in sequins missing her baton as it tumbled from the sky. Firemen blasted sirens in their polished red trucks. The uniforms on the troop of World War II veterans looked too snug on more than one member.

"Here comes Mema," my father shouted.

Five black convertibles lumbered down the boulevard. The mayor was in the first, handing out programs. I didn't need to look at one. I knew my uncle Bud's name was printed on it, as it had been every year since he was killed in Italy. Our family's war hero.

And I knew that perched on the backseat of one of the cars, waving and smiling, was Mema, my grandmother. She had a corsage on her lapel and a sign in gold embossed letters on the car door: "Gold Star Mother."

I hid behind the tree so I wouldn't have to meet her gaze. It wasn't because I didn't love her or appreciate her. She'd taught me how to sew, to call a strike in baseball. She made great cinnamon rolls, which we always ate after the parade.

What embarrassed me was all the attention she got for a son who had died 20 years earlier. With four other children and a dozen grandchildren, why linger over this one long-ago loss?

I peeked out from behind the oak just in time to see Mema wave and blow my family a kiss as the motorcade moved on. The purple ribbon on her hat fluttered in the breeze.

The rest of our Memorial Day ritual was equally scripted. No use trying to get out of it. I followed my family back to Mema's house, where there was the usual baseball game in the backyard and the same old reminiscing about Uncle Bud in the kitchen.

Helping myself to a cinnamon roll, I retreated to the living room and plopped down on an armchair.
There I found myself staring at the Army photo of Bud on the bookcase. The uncle I'd never known. I must have looked at him a thousand times—so proud in his crested cap and knotted tie. His uniform was decorated with military emblems that I could never decode.

Funny, he was starting to look younger to me as I got older. Who were you, Uncle Bud? I nearly asked aloud.

I picked up the photo and turned it over. Yellowing tape held a prayer card that read: "Lloyd 'Bud' Heitzman, 1925-1944. A Great Hero." Nineteen years old when he died, not much older than I was. But a great hero? How could you be a hero at 19?

The floorboards creaked behind me. I turned to see Mema coming in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

I almost hid the photo because I didn't want to listen to the same stories I'd heard year after year: "Your uncle Bud had this little rat-terrier named Jiggs. Good old Jiggs. How he loved that mutt! He wouldn't go anywhere without Jiggs. He used to put him in the rumble seat of his Chevy coupe and drive all over town.

"Remember how hard Bud worked after we lost the farm? At haying season he worked all day, sunrise to sunset, baling for other farmers. Then he brought me all his wages. He'd say, 'Mama, someday I'm going to buy you a brand-new farm. I promise.' There wasn't a better boy in the world!"
Sometimes I wondered about that boy dying alone in a muddy ditch in a foreign country he'd only read about. I thought of the scared kid who jumped out of a foxhole in front of an advancing enemy, only to be downed by a sniper. I couldn't reconcile the image of the boy and his dog with that of the stalwart soldier.

Mema stood beside me for a while, looking at the photo. From outside came the sharp snap of an American flag flapping in the breeze and the voices of my cousins cheering my brother at bat.
"Mema," I asked, "what's a hero?" Without a word she turned and walked down the hall to the back bedroom. I followed.

She opened a bureau drawer and took out a small metal box, then sank down onto the bed.
"These are Bud's things," she said. "They sent them to us after he died." She opened the lid and handed me a telegram dated October 13, 1944. "The Secretary of State regrets to inform you that your son, Lloyd Heitzman, was killed in Italy."

Your son! I imagined Mema reading that sentence for the first time. I didn't know what I would have done if I'd gotten a telegram like that.

"Here's Bud's wallet," she continued. Even after all those years, it was caked with dried mud. Inside was Bud's driver's license with the date of his sixteenth birthday. I compared it with the driver's license I had just received.

A photo of Bud holding a little spotted dog fell out of the wallet. Jiggs. Bud looked so pleased with his mutt.

There were other photos in the wallet: a laughing Bud standing arm in arm with two buddies, photos of my mom and aunt and uncle, another of Mema waving. This was the home Uncle Bud took with him, I thought.

I could see him in a foxhole, taking out these snapshots to remind himself of how much he was loved and missed.

"Who's this?" I asked, pointing to a shot of a pretty dark-haired girl.

"Marie. Bud dated her in high school. He wanted to marry her when he came home." A girlfriend? Marriage? How heartbreaking to have a life, plans and hopes for the future, so brutally snuffed out.
Sitting on the bed, Mema and I sifted through the treasures in the box: a gold watch that had never been wound again. A sympathy letter from President Roosevelt, and one from Bud's commander. A medal shaped like a heart, trimmed with a purple ribbon. And at the very bottom, the deed to Mema's house.

"Why's this here?" I asked.

"Because Bud bought this house for me." She explained how after his death, the U.S. government gave her 10 thousand dollars, and with it she built the house she was still living in.

"He kept his promise all right," Mema said in a quiet voice I'd never heard before.

For a long while the two of us sat there on the bed. Then we put the wallet, the medal, the letters, the watch, the photos and the deed back into the metal box. I finally understood why it was so important for Mema—and me—to remember Uncle Bud on this day.

If he'd lived longer he might have built that house for Mema or married his high-school girlfriend. There might have been children and grandchildren to remember him by.

As it was, there was only that box, the name in the program and the reminiscing around the kitchen table.

"I guess he was a hero because he gave everything for what he believed," I said carefully.

"Yes, child," Mema replied, wiping a tear with the back of her hand. "Don't ever forget that."
I haven't. Even today with Mema gone, my husband and I take our lawn chairs to the tree-shaded boulevard on Memorial Day and give our three daughters small American flags that I buy for a quarter at Ben Franklin.

I want them to remember that life isn't just about getting what you want. Sometimes it involves giving up the things you love for what you love even more. That many men and women did the same for their country—that's what I think when I see the parade pass by now.

And if I close my eyes and imagine, I can still see Mema in her regal purple hat, honoring her son, a true American hero.

The Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Lincoln at Gettysburg the day he gave the speech
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Six videos to watch Memorial Day weekend (30 minute run-time)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May Week 3 - Discerning Truth from Error and the Pure Doctrine of Christ

Truth vs Error ... Pure Water vs Fake Water
Prepare 5-6 cups of water (1 with chlorine in it, 1 with salt, 1 with sugar, 1 from the tap, 1 from a purified water bottle)

Bring the class in the kitchen, explain the situation and then ask for a volunteer to see if they can find the pure water.

Talk about what the person did to test the water before they tried it.

How is this like trying to discern truth from error and the pure doctrine of Christ?

N. Eldon Tanner once said, "Freedom is based on truth, and no man is completely free as long as any part of his belief is based on error, for the chains of error bind his mind. This is why it is so important for us to learn all the truth we can from all the sources we can." (source)

The Woman at the Well - Living Water
Next, take the class down the hallway to the Woman at the Well painting.

Ask them if they know what this picture is.

Tell the story (John 4); the purpose of this is to state that Christ could give her living water - water that never ends; that keeps on providing forever.

13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

What is this synonymous with?

If you were given a pill that gave you the capacity to discern truth from error forever, would you take it?  I think the answer is yes!  This is essentially what Christ told the woman - that endless truth could be found by listening to his teachings.  And what were his two greatest teachings?

1. Love God
2. Love neighbor

Some Absolute Truths vs Nots (Plus some Indifferents)
If you agree with the statement, thumps up; if not, thumbs down.  If it doesn't matter, make a flat hand.

Having self-discipline is good.
Being courageous is good.
Black kittens are good.
Having lots of money is good.
Volcanoes are bad.
Lying is good.
Helping others is bad.
Love is good.
Money is good.
Integrity is good.
Being famous is good.
Humility is good.
Perfect health is good.

What matters in this life is accepting what God sends our way - be it disease, poverty, a flood, wealth, health, certain people (i.e. choosing to accept our fate and be in harmony with it) AND

Helping others with a focus on developing virtue within us and instilling it within others.

That is 'living water' - water that will bring you contentment and peace.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

May Week 2 - Mothers Day

 My grandmother, on my Mom's side was the only grandma I knew.  Her name was Velda.  It may be an odd sounding name at first, but I love her name!  I can still hear her voice, "Hello Don!" as I walked through her back door and up the 5 or 6 steps and into the kitchen.  The carpet was a 70's yellow and the pattern looked like slices of bread.  Grandma's house was so cool and chic.  She was a chic woman.  Her smile was the best!  And she laughed so much and so often!

I was lucky to have my grandma live just two blocks away.  There were very, very few Sundays when we did not go over to her house.  Her cooking was simply the best.  She used real butter.  She taught me how to eat and love grits, pickled beets and rhubarb.  She tried to teach me how to drink buttermilk, but I could never develop a taste for it.  Her roast beef was delectable!

She worked so hard.  In my teenage years, I would help them mow the lawn and care for the bushes and rose garden.  While my grandpa and I did the lawn, she washed the sheets and hung them outside to dry.  I don't know of anyone today who hangs their sheets to dry.  But in Oregon, you could and the smell of air-dried sheets is unforgettable.

She loved to talk and was always interested in hearing how things were going at school and play.  She never pretended to listen - she was always interested and listened so lovingly.

It was such a sad day for me, when I received the call from my sister and mom and my grandma died.  It was over Labor Day weekend in 2004.  What a lovely woman!

My mother inherited all the wonderful qualities of my grandmother.  Mom was a fantastic cook, worker, talker and listener.  My absolute fondest memories of my Mom are when she and I would talk for hours.  We'd talk politics, religion, world events, scriptures and things around the town.  She was a seminary teacher and so she knew how to get discussion going.  I learned so much and got so much deep insight from my Mom.

She sacrificed a lot for me.  It was she who had to get up at 2:00am to pick me up at school after arriving home from a very long and late bus drive for basketball.  And it was bitter cold at 2am in the winters in Oregon.  Being the last child, and with the school so close to home, I would drive home for lunch often.  She always had a sandwich and some chips and some Oreo's ready for me!  My cousin would sometimes ask if we had Cheetos and if we did, he would want to come along too.  So when we turned the corner at the top of the street, Mom would see if there were one or two heads in my truck and then quickly make sandwiches!

She was primary president when I was an 11-year "Blazer".  I remember this one primary event she organized for Halloween.  It was this type of carnival, with lots of games and treats in the gym.  The carnival was in the afternoon on a Saturday.  She bought bottles of Orange Crush for all the primary kids - it was such a treat!  She had a few extra leftover and I remember getting to drink another bottle that night, while we sat by the fire and watched an NBA game on TBS.

We still talk quite often these days.  I usually call her and my dad on a Thursday afternoon while driving home from work.  She is always so happy to hear from me; I'm sure its the same way with the rest of siblings too!  She is a wonderful Mom!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

May Week 1 - Gaining a Testimony

The Context of Religion

Write the world's population number at the top of the board.  Next have them find the number of members in each of the major world religions.  Next, break down the Christian religions and then break down the Mormon religions by the numbers (list off a few off-shoots both from the 1800's as well as the 1900's).

The moneyball stat is that Mormonism represents about 0.2% of the world's current population and about 0.7% of the world's Christian population.

Write on the board the word TESTIMONY.

Let the numbers sink in a bit to let them see the odds of finding the one true religion on earth as well as what it means in terms of converting the world to Mormonism.

99.78% of the world doesn't not believe in Mormonism!  Truly astronomical odds!

As of  May 2017, the number are roughly as follows:
2.2B Christianity
1.6B Islam
1.1B Agnostic, Atheist, Secular
1.0B Hindu
1.0B Chinese Folk
0.5B Buddhism

1.2B Catholic
0.8B Protestant
0.3B Eastern Orthodox
0.05B Restorationism (0.016B Mormonism)

When we say "Testimony" what do we really mean?  Also, what do we do with people who have "come to know" their religion is the one true religion?  (see this video)  In a sense, when we say testimony, we may mean broad, widely acceptable principles and we may mean something unique about our own religion.

Maybe show a venn diagram of some 'common' commandments and beliefs along with unique commandments and beliefs to certain religions.

Gaining a Testimony

Matthew 4 - Christ fasts in the wilderness for 40 days and nights and is tempted of the devil.

Matthew 14:22-33 - Peter testifies of Jesus, sees Christ walk on water, Peter himself walks on water, doubts and Jesus saves him (O ye of little faith) and Peter reaffirms his testimony of Christ.

Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75 - Peter says he'll never deny Christ, Jesus says Peter will deny him three times before the morning.  Peter denies him three times and weeps bitterly.

Despite seeing and knowing and feeling the savior, Peter struggled mightily to gain a testimony of the Gospel.  And with all that in mind, after the savior was resurrected, Peter went back to fishing.  And along comes Jesus and the well known interchange of Jesus asking Peter if he (Peter) loves fish more than Jesus.  To which Peter responds he loves the Lord, then Christ says 'feed my sheep' ... this repeats three times.  Finally, Peter turns away from fishing and bares his testimony by showing it.

This is a good video that helps drive home the moment Peter finally grasps what Jesus has been trying to teach him all along: Elder Holland: Peter, Do You Love Me? The First and Great Commandment

And one other point - if Peter struggled so much to gain a testimony, how much harder is it for us!  Nevertheless, the challenge is worth it.

It's all about the Two Great Commandments

In summary, we gain a testimony in serving and loving others.

A testimony is not found at the pulpit on Sunday, rather it is found in serving, lifting the hands that hang low, weeping with those who weep, going the extra mile, and turning the other cheek.

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but life and judgement day and gaining a testimony and religion and all that is simply about the Two Great Commandments and nothing else truly matters.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April Week 4 - Recognizing Truth

The Importance of Compasses and Reliable Instruments

Play a couple of guessing games with a "standard" and then the right "standard":
1. How much does it weigh?
2. How long is it?

Is it important to have reliable instruments when building a house? cooking?  flying?

Then what about living your life and people telling you how to live it?

You are ultimately responsible for how you live your life

While you may receive guidance from your parents, your teachers, your friends, the prophets and any number of people and voices in the world today, at the end of it all, it is up to you to decide.

My goal today, is drive this single point home: You (each of us) wholly own our thoughts and actions.  As such, each of us has to take that responsibility seriously.  At the end of the day (or this life) we can't say, "my parents made me do it" or "I was just trying to follow my leaders."

Nuremburg Trials
After WWII, the Allies put many of the Nazi leaders and industrialists on trial for their war crimes.  Many tried to use the defense, "I was only following orders."  But in many cases, that defense was not successful, because the crimes they committed were so egregious - essentially the Allies were saying "you should have known better as a human being."  The Wikipedia page on "Superior orders" does a good job explaining this.

Mark Hofmann, the Prophet and Forgeries
Everyone can be deceived; which is why it is so important for each of us to really check our assumptions and underlying philosophy.  We simply cannot outsource our personal philosophy or religion.

As primary kids, we sang the song "Follow The Prophet"; the chorus goes:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; he knows the way.

Each of the verses talks about how people regretted not following the prophet.  Unfortunately, "the knife cuts both ways."  There have been times when people did follow the prophet and regretted it.

It is wise to remember we all, including prophets, are fallible and subject to deception.  Again, this underscores the fact that we need to be responsible for our own beliefs and philosophy - we can't just delegate this responsibility to others.

Case in point is a man by the name of Mark Hofmann and how he deceived many of the leaders of the LDS church.  It all started, if you recall, when Joseph Smith and Martin Harris attempted to get a professor to vouch for the reformed Egyptian characters.  The professor's name was Charles Anthon.  Martin Harris took a paper with some of the Egyptian characters on it and asked Anthon if they were legitimate.  Supposedly Anthon said they were, and he signed a document stating as such.  But upon further inquiry, Harris told him all about how Joseph found and translated the Gold Plates, at which point, Anthon asked back for the paper and ripped it up.  What became of the paper that had the Egyptian characters is up for debate.  No one really knows if it still exists today or not; it is called the Anthon Transcript.  Under this cover, Mark Hofmann created a forgery and claimed it was the real transcript.  He took it to Church leaders, who evaluated it, were deceived by the excellent forgery, and then proceeded to purchase the forgery for $20,000.  Thus began Mark Hoffman's career in forging Church History artifacts.

He continued to create forgeries and the Church continued to collaborate with him and purchase them.  Hofmann was secretly trying to make the leaders look bad.  He created what was called the Salamander Letter, which basically tried to make it sound like the angel Moroni did not visit Joseph Smith, but instead a spirit in the form of a white salamander, appeared to Joseph at the time of him obtaining the gold plates.  The Church bought this letter, which caused many members to stop believing in Joseph as a prophet.  Many top Church leaders, including President Oaks, defended the forgery.  What is even more fascinating is that two avid critics of the Church (Jerald and Sandra Tanner) readily criticized the forged letter, saying it was fake, despite the Church saying it was real.  At this point in the story, you may begin to feel a bit of vertigo yourself.  Who can you trust?  Who is right?  Who is telling the truth?  And you'd be right and justified in asking those questions.

Eventually Hofmann was caught in his lies and, sadly, killed people who were catching on to his lies.  To this day, he sits in a Utah prison.

Who can you trust?  What measuring stick or instrument can you rely on?  What is constant and unchangeable and undeviating?  That is the real question we must all try to find.

What is the 'measuring stick' for life?

Again, each of you will need to decide what your moral compass is.  You may find that what you think is right, is actually not.  You may find that after going down a path - a way of life - you conclude it was not right for you.  Many claim to know what the correct philosophy is, but it is interesting that on some points they agree and on some points they disagree.

For me, personally, I think it all boils down to the two great commandments:
1. Love God with your whole heart
2. Love others

If we do well in those two commandments, we can comfortably stand before God at judgement day, and honestly say we've lived those two commandments, then that is the best we can do.

Focus on finding contentment and happiness in things you can control.  Accept the things that are not in your control.  After repeated practice, you will begin to find that virtues such as self-discipline, courage, justice and wisdom are indeed in your control and are also the attributes, which if you develop, will bring you contentment in your life.  Other things that may worry you, such as pursuing money or lucrative career, seeking a life of ease and pleasure, indulging in excess, selfishness, dishonesty, fear, anxiety or general worry - these things are not important and are generally out of your control - so why set your heart on them?

Heart Failure

Why would our hearts fail us?  Read this post to find out.