Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why bad things happen to good people...and other musings

We've all heard the question, "If God is so loving, why do bad things happen to good people?" Fair question. Here's why I think it happens. God wants us to become like Him so that we can inherit His glory. In order to become like him, we need refinement, and refinement often hurts.

I am currently taking a Biology class and learned something that I found very cool that helped me understand this concept. A vaccine kills a certain type of bacteria, usually one that causes a disease that no one wants. We used to believe it killed all of that bacteria. We are now understanding that it kills MOST of the bacteria, but not quite all of it. Some mutant strands survive, and by the process of natural selection, replicate themselves and become a new strain of the disease-causing bacteria, and one that is resistant to the vaccine, since they survived initially. One disease this is definitely the case with is Tuberculosis. Not only does our existing vaccine not kill all of this mutant strain, the mutant strain FEEDS off of our vaccine! So rather than eradicating this disease, we have been feeding it. Whoops. So, in order to control this disease, we were forced to find a different vaccine that could deal with the mutant strain. By extrapolating this out, we have a long, long ways to go before we can confidently say that we have eradicated tuberculosis.

How does this apply? Our goal is to become like our Father in Heaven. Let's say the things keeping us from being like him are strain A of tuberculosis. It is one of our vices. You can fill in your own vice. We work really, really hard to root it out. We are making really great progress and we think we've got it. Unfortunately, we didn't get all of it. There is this mutant strain that is really small now, but after years of self-replicating will become just as dangerous as the one we just worked so hard to root out. We can't see it yet, but Heavenly Father can. We are busy patting ourselves on the back for conquering strain A. Heavenly Father is busy helping us to take the next steps and keep conquering. Often times, this next step comes in the form of "something bad". We all have different lessons to learn and different traits to develop, but luckily, our Father in Heaven knows all this AND He knows the best way for each of us to learn them.

In the moment, we may disagree with His assessment regarding our need to overcome the mutant strain. I assure you, though, He knows best. We may not find out until years down the road just how the "bacteria" works and why it was necessary to overcome it, but it's necessary. In short, our goals are not always His goals, and our motives not always His motives, but if we trust in Him, eventually they will be. That's what He has promised us. If we keep the commandments and strive diligently to progress ourselves, we'll become like Him. Even if we question sometimes how much we want to be like Him if it means taking on the mutant strain, we really do.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Here is a poem that I recently wrote about my parents. In case you miss it, it's intended to be the thought process of a naive, younger version of myself.

I used to know

I used to know how to do my math homework,
And all of world history was a cake walk, for sure.
Physics, biology, it was never that bad,
All I had to do was ask my dad.

I used to know just where to look in the stands
If ever I needed to see my biggest fan.
At every event, no matter my size
My mom was there, usually with tears in her eyes.

Don’t worry, be happy, my dad always said;
That was easy for me, it’s not hard to be a kid
My dad was a millionaire, and I was his heir
Parents always have money, and they all love to share

Service makes you happy, my mom would repeat
As she sent us to serve with some neighborhood kids
Interesting, though, how she never had to go
She was always “too busy”, making dinner for some widow.

It seems the older I get, the less that I know;
Everything used to make sense, it was all so easy.
I hope in the future, when I turn into a dad
I get the same handbook that my parents must have had.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Politics, Polarization, and Peace

Like every other American, I have been following the events in Boston. It broke my heart. My heart broke for the never-to-be-lived years of the three lives that were lost. What would they have done? What impacts would they have had on those around them? My heart broke for those injured in the blasts. How devastating it must be to go from an athlete who can run a marathon to never being able to walk again. How devastating for the spectators who never imagined how that day would change their lives. It was a terrible, terrible event.

In the days that followed, I had a million different thoughts running through my head. This is my attempt to put them into words:

What is the goal of every terrorist? To incite fear. It is, almost always, a violent act by a smaller, weaker group on a stronger supposed enemy. Terrorism is often politically motivated. In many recent incidents there are also religious motives as well. Terrorists attempt to evoke a reaction based upon fear. They use disproportionate means. I understand that this may not encompass every act of terror ever, but I think it's a pretty encompassing view of the objectives of terrorists. Surely 9/11 falls into this description. The Munich Olympic attacks fit this bill. London Subway bombing? Check. Oklahoma City Bombing? Yep. The goal of terrorism is fear. If the terrorists can get us to play their game, they have accomplished their goal.

Given this view on terrorism, what happened AFTER the bombing was disappointing to me. I'm not talking about neighbor helping neighbor and even stranger helping stranger. There was goodness in abundance. The people of Boston impressed me with their charity. Let me be clear, I am a patriotic American and I feel like I do have the best interest of America at heart. I do not, however, think that America is perfect. I believe we completely went about finding the suspects the wrong way. We shut down the entire city of Boston for an entire day! We essentially locked people in their homes. We drove armored vehicles down the streets of Boston and searched citizens' homes. That is NOT America! We are the home of the brave! We don't cower in our homes to some evil punks. What if, for example, someone had declined to let the swat team enter their house and search it? They would have immediately become a person of interest. We assumed everyone guilty! Additionally, when did they find the suspect? AFTER the lockdown was lifted and an ordinary citizen that had been quarantined noticed something amiss with his boat.

If I am terrorist in some far off country, or even in America, and I am watching this unfold, I am chalking this up as a win for the terrorists. With a couple thousand dollars in pressure cookers, nails, and explosives, I just brought one of the biggest cities in America to it's knees for an entire day. What cost me a couple thousand dollars cost them millions. There are those that argue, "ya, but we caught him, and one is already dead." While these two weren't suicide bombers, the same logic applies. They don't care. Dying is not a loss to them. They view it as martyrdom, and martyrdom = eternal glory. My fear is that we just incentivized similar despicable acts. If I am a terrorist, I am extrapolating what I just saw. By this logic, with 50 terrorists and $50,000, I can bring 25 of the biggest cities in America to a halt for an entire day. I could cost them billions. I could throw their still-rebounding economy for a very big loop.

Well how should we have responded? That's a fair question. Here is my opinion. This is exactly the type of thing we train special forces for. We sent a very small group of highly trained, elite soldiers and retrieved Osama Bin Laden from a heavily guarded compound. I refuse to believe that they couldn't have captured an unarmed 19-year-old, and quickly. But what about the public demand for action? How would covert special forces appease that demand? Herein lies our real problem, in my opinion. We demand that something be done, and we demand that we know exactly what it is, and we demand detailed updates every 4 minutes. This undermines our own efforts. We have to trust our highly-trained, elite soldiers to do their job. We have to trust the government to handle the situation. If we can't trust the government to do this, we have bigger issues.

America is beyond superior in terms of military might. Our problem is that we fail miserably at, and our citizens seem unwilling to, win the battle for the heats and minds. We take a short-sighted approach that yields immediate results, while failing to see that we are incentivizing exactly what we claim to be fighting in the long term.

Ok, on to polarization. Boston spurred me to think on something that I have been thinking about for years. I believe there is a polarization happening. We refer to these times as the last days. The polarization I am talking about is between good and evil. I believe that the evil are getting more evil, and the righteous are becoming more righteous. The gap is widening. There is evil everywhere. Terrorists are happening more frequently than ever. Society is choosing to abandon eternal principles. Crime, in all its varieties, is out of control. On the flip side, there are more missionaries, members of the church, and temples than ever before on the face of the earth. We have been promised that this dispensation will not fail. Just expect it to get harder before it gets any easier. Love will win. It cannot fail.

And finally, peace. Peace is a concept that we often misunderstand. I don't claim to understand it completely. Most people view peace as the absence of contention/war/etc. In a very basic sense, sure. But I believe it is so much more than that. True, enduring peace can only come from living in accordance with divine principles.  It wasn't until the Lamanites became converted to the gospel and started living its precepts that real peace was attained. It was the missions of Alma and the Sons of Mosiah that brought real peace. Probably my favorite verse of scripture is in Mathew 11:28-30. Here the Savior says,

"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

That's peace. We all labor and are heavy laden at times. So how do we take His yoke upon us? It's in the daily decisions to be better than we were yesterday. It's our conscience choice to see the evil in the world (like 9/11 or the Boston bombings) and choose a better path. It's our choosing to be the change we want to see. It's the perfect "line upon line, precept upon precept" principle. As Elder Cook so eloquently put it just days before the Boston Bombing:

"Peace comes from knowing that the Savior knows who we are and knows that we have faith in Him, love Him, and keep His commandments, even and especially amid life’s devastating trials and tragedies."
There is goodness. The principles of the gospel are for every human ever. Lasting peace is found by obedience to eternal principles. Love will always win.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I believe the Jazz could win a championship

This is kind of a continuation of the last post. I have many thoughts on the subject, as you can see.

This particular thought is on the fallacy of predicting future behavior according to past events. Yes, I see the logic, but I also see some limitations.

As I discussed in the last post, though, it only takes one instance to provide us with further insight, or to prove something that we once thought impossible is indeed possible. It could not happen 999 times, and we would think we knew all about it. Some would even say it's never going to happen, and people would agree with them because for the last 999 times, that's been true. If you looked only at what had been, there would be no reason to believe it would happen. It only takes one time, though, to alter everyone's thinking and become "possible."

This is a very hopeful principle. It applies to nearly everything we do. We are not a creature of probability. We love the one time out of a thousand. We love when the underdog wins. We speed everywhere hoping this won't be the one time we get caught. We (some people) buy lottery tickets believing that this will be our one in a million. We eat at McDonalds because they give us Monopoly pieces that mean we might win something. We go one date after date waiting to find the one. We cheer for our team, honestly believing that this might be their year. We hope. We hope even when hoping might end up hurting. We hope because we don't want the alternative. We know that it's a long shot, but we hope.

There seems to be one area that we don't carry this principle over very well, though. When it comes to other people, we bind them to probabilities. This is what Christ never does, and what we must become. Christ sees the best in us and believes in what we can become. We can make the same mistake over and over and over, yet He believes in us. He is waiting for that one time in a thousand that we decide to act differently.

There are times that we do this. This principle is demonstrated with the mother who offers prayer after prayer that her wayward child will come back. She is waiting and hoping for the one in a thousand. It is demonstrated in the bloody knuckles of a missionary. He is looking for the one door in a thousand. It is demonstrated in the home teacher who goes month after month even though no progress is readily apparent. He is persevering until that one month that the message gets through. It is demonstrated by the single mother who persistently takes her children to church. She will not let them follow the statistics. It is demonstrated by the sinner who repents after years of sin. He is realizing his one in a thousand, and with open arms the Savior welcomes him back. Letting people change is a manifestation of the hope that is in us.


What seems impossible is not. Regardless of how many times something may seem to fail, it must not fail forever. Our understanding is limited by our perceptions of what is possible. I believe this is one small part of what is meant in 2 Nephi 9:29 where we are taught that "to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God." No matter how learned we become in this mortal realm, we do not know as much as God. No matter how hopeless a situation may seem, it is not. God is in control, and He is not bound by the frailty of mind with which we bind ourselves.

Hope is an eternal principle. As we learn to hope we become more like Christ, which is the goal of this mortal existence. As we are doing the things that the Master has instructed us, there is always hope. Impossible is a word of the devil. Each situation requires varying degrees of hope. It is in the ones that seem hopeless, though, that we must remember that people call things impossible until someone does them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How do you know?

Ok, so this post will correlate with my previous post. If at any point you have no idea what I'm talking about, I've either done a terrible job of connecting some dots or you  need to read that post for context.

In this post I would like to discuss the fluidity of human knowledge, and how that fluidity leads us to limit both ourselves and our opportunities unnecessarily. As humans we seem to have a need to explain things. We try to assign causality to everything, most commonly after the fact.  This is seen frequently in sports, and since I love sports, I'll use this comparison. If a basketball game is tied and one team makes a half-court shot at the buzzer to win the game, what will happen? "If they had not left the guy open...", "If they had made their previous shot...", "If the coach had left player X in...", and on and on and on. We MUST find a reason to explain why our team lost that game. The other team, and the fans and coaches and pundits, though, seem to realize that they just got lucky with that half-court shot. They rarely go in, and this time they happened to be the beneficiary of some good luck.

We've all seen this happen, right? It happens. There's a problem with this thinking, though. We have NO IDEA what actually caused that shot to go in or what should have been done differently to produce a different outcome. Where are our recommendations coming from? Things that worked in previous games, things that "experts" tell us, probability equations, etc. Guess what, though, in a game with as many moving parts as basketball, all of our "reasons" for losing, are complete guesses and do no more to explain the loss than a fan sneezing during the second quarter.

Ok, so what's my point?

We humans have a need to explain. We love to "know" things. The problem comes when something happens that is contrary to our "knowledge."

The Titanic was unsinkable, before it sank. The laws of gravity would never let a chunk of steel fly, until it did. A human could never run a mile in under 4 minutes, until Roger Bannister did. The earth was flat, until it wasn't. It was impossible to find the instantaneous rate of change of an object moving along a curved trajectory, until Sir Isaac (or Leibniz depending on your school of thought) did it.

You get the point.

Let's take Mr. Bannister's four minute mile a little further. Why couldn't a human run a mile in less than four minutes? Because no one had ever done it. There was no evidence to the contrary. Herein lies a human fallacy. I will type two sentences that are too often used interchangeably, but are not, and have very different meanings and ramifications.

1) There is no evidence that a human can run a mile in under 4 minutes.
2) There is evidence that no human can run a mile in under 4 minutes.

Do you see the difference? It's slight, but it makes a huge difference. Far too often, we say sentence 2 when we mean sentence 1.  Please see the principle behind this. Just because we can't explain something, doesn't mean it can't be so.

I will liken this to dating. I was single for several years (and three times as many in Mormon terms). I fell into this trap over and over and over again, without realizing it, until one day I did. I would go on dates. I would put myself out there. I would buy girls flowers. I would walk them to their doors. I would open car doors. I would do everything that I believed would get a girl.  Everyone else told me it worked. It worked for them. Date after date, door after door, flower after flower, I did these things, yet I remained single.

1) There is no evidence that what I'm doing is working.
2) There is evidence that nothing I'm doing is working.

Which one was true? Sentence 1 was true. But I kept telling myself it was sentence 2. Do you see how different those are? Had I stopped doing the things that I was doing, I may never have found the love of my life. As soon as I found her, both sentences were false. There WAS evidence that what I was doing was working, and there was NO evidence that nothing I was doing was working. It only took one instance to change what I "knew". Again, just because you can't explain something, doesn't make it untrue.

So, as this is getting really long, and you're probably bored to tears, here's my point. Human knowledge is based on things that can change. Things that may seem true today may seem false tomorrow. Ultimately, though, we must choose what we believe. During that choosing, would it not be wise to seek advice from someone beyond this mortal realm? Someone who is not persuaded by human evidence or earthly phenomena?

I believe in a God because I choose to. I believe that He can see further than I can see, that He can see causality much more clearly than I can. I believe that He has given us principles and invites us to live by them because they will lead to happiness, both now and eternally. There are things I can't explain, and there are situations I wish were different, but that doesn't make those principles any less perfect. Just because I can't make every free throw doesn't mean He doesn't know the perfect form.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Principles and Planes of Personal Perfection

This is going to be a hard one to articulate for me.  I've been thinking about this for years.  I'll do my best.

It started something like this.  What is the gospel, really?  Not the church, not the members, not even the leaders.  The gospel is a set of principles.  These principles are true for anyone, anywhere, anytime.  They are universal.  The gospel is for ALL the earth and every inhabitant thereon, not just the members of the LDS church.  These universal principles apply always and to everyone.

So if these are universally true, why is there such discord among people?  As I have talked with people in my life (both LDS and not LDS), it always stands out to me how much we judge these perfect principles in reference to imperfect people.  Zero people that I have talked to argue that any person (besides Christ) is perfect.  We all agree on that.  So if we all recognize that no one on earth is perfect, why are we using their actions to judge the validity of perfect principles?

Warning: here comes a sport analogy.  If I go to a basketball court and show you the absolute perfect form to use while shooting free throws, and I promise you that if you will do that exact form every time it will go in.  Let's say I make 10 in a row using this form to convince you, then I leave.  Will you be able to make every free throw for the rest of your life?  Does that mean you're not trying to use the perfect form I just showed you? No.  You're trying, it's just really, really hard to replicate that perfect form.  Other factors also play in.  Maybe its the fourth quarter of a game and you're really tired.  Or you just shot 200 in a row and you lose focus for a second.  Does that fact that you can't replicate that perfect form every time make the form any less perfect?  No.  By the same logic, the fact that we can't live the gospel principles perfectly, doesn't make the perfection and universality of those principles any less valid.

It doesn't matter what Sally did or what Alex said.  Quit watching the free throw shooter!

Christ showed us the perfect way.  He shot the 10 free throws to show us that it works.  Now we're all trying to replicate that perfect form.

Now, when I speak of principles, I am not speaking of commandments.  Commandments are an application of a perfect principle to an earthly circumstance, usually a base application.  Selfless service, for example, is a principle.  Paying 10% tithing, or doing your home teaching diligently is an earthly application (commandment) associated with that principle.  The principle can be applied to thousands of different situations, though.  Any situation that comes up, actually.  That's the beauty of universality.

For a more thorough understanding of what I believe are eternal principles, study the "Christlike attributes" chapter of Preach My Gospel.

Ok, so there are universal principles.  If we live according to these principles we will be happy.  We will be happy because we will become more like Christ.  Learning to live these principles perfectly, however, is not an over-night process.  Like learning to shoot free throws, there are going to be misses along the way.  No worries, Heavenly Father saw this coming.  His plan is perfect, remember.  Christ came, lived perfectly, and died so that when we miss those proverbial free throws, he can make up for it.  We're also taught in the scriptures the refinement process.  2 Nephi 28:30 teaches us that "[God] will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little."

So, this logically tells us that along the path to salvation, individuals are at different spiritual planes.  So wait, what is not wrong for one person can be wrong for someone else?  Precisely! As I said before, the explicit commandments are a base level, a starting point.  If we start and stop there, we are missing the point.  The goal is not be able to check off a bunch of commandments.  The goal is to become like Christ.

Let's look, for example, at what Christ taught.  When he came, the Jews had very strict "commandments" and guidelines for just about everything.  Let's say that there was a handful of people that were observing every single one of these commandments.  Were they perfect?  No, even if they were living all 600 guidelines perfectly, they still were not like Christ.  They were living the base commandments, but failing to further their progression through personal revelation and refinement.  What do you think the higher law is?  The higher law refocused their view.  Christ says, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

Wait a second, so it's not enough to not kill people?  But wasn't that the commandment?  Yes, but that wasn't the whole principle.  It was the application of the principle that they were ready for at that time.  Likewise, as we progress through life and learn some self-mastery, we are qualifying ourselves for further light and knowledge.  This further light and knowledge is always accompanied by a change in behavior. 

Two thoughts before I stop for now:

1)  This is why it is so essential that we not unjustly judge others.  As I said before, we are all on different spiritual planes.  If we are judging someone else according to our spiritual understanding, we are probably missing the bigger picture.  This is why Christ is the perfect judge.  He knows each of us perfectly, and is, therefore, qualified to be the perfect judge of imperfect people.  For most of us, our job is to love.  If we are focused on the free throw shooter, we are stalling ourselves on our own personal path to perfection.

2)  Where do we get the next lines and precepts?  Luckily for us we have myriad sources.  We have the scriptures, we have living prophets, and we have personal revelation.  I would also submit that the spiritually in-tune can find further light and knowledge even in seemingly "un-spiritual" settings.  This is, of course, personal revelation, but I think too many of us limit personal revelation to certain locales or settings.

I have so many more thoughts on the subject!  They'll have to wait for another time.  This is already really long.  I'll do more soon.