Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chained down by Agency

There's an obnoxious saying used only by parents and bossy colleagues that goes; "Obedience to the Law will set you free." The funny part is that we only hear this statement when we're doing stuff that we're not supposed to or when we're about to get into some serious trouble. The obnoxious thing is that this is one of those 'true' statements. Like Murphy's Law, (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong) it applies to everyone regardless of background, ethnicity, or current white blood cell count. 

I've noticed  a phenomenon when it comes to obedience to the law, or lack thereof. It's that when we choose to go against the commandments of God (Because we're big and bad like that) we really end up limiting ourselves and our ability to choose in the long run. Freedom from law is not true freedom. The scary part is that it doesn't all happen at once. We don't see each chain slowly being wound around us until they're pulled taught and we suddenly cannot move. Each decision we make will either limit or multiply our ability to make choices in the long run. Even when we cannot move, we may still believe that we are free or are living the 'high life' (A lovably ironic phrase if you think about it.) 

Take for instance those that are into drugs. When you first start out, it's fantastic. You feel like your brain is being expanded in ways that were never before possible as your perspective is bent and twisted as the chemistry in your brain goes completely out of whack in the same way that ants go completely whack when you knock their piles over. But after those first couple of hits, the chains starts to tighten a little bit here, or another chain there. Addiction begins to govern our lives instead of our God given agency. We begin to seek for ways to sate those pangs of desire that seem as strong as the need to breathe as the chains are pulled completely taught. We destroy our lives in pursuit of something we've come to need and eventually end up in the slammer or six feet under. Either way, we're no longer agents for ourselves. 

But even when we're at the very bottom and can go no further, God has given us a way out. Thanks to the sacrifice of his son, we are able to make changes in our lives for the better because when you have hit rock bottom, change is your only real option. Repentance is that key that unlocks the chains that bind us. It is through changing and becoming better that each chain is unlocked and we become free. Like binding ourselves up, repentance is not an instantaneous process, but in the end, it's alway worth the trouble. Then when we've gotten back up on our feet and are no longer bound down by the decisions of our past, Repentance becomes a way to continually stay free. 

Our agency is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us as his children. I want you to take a moment and consider this: Can you imagine how painful it was for God as our father to give us such a gift as the ability to choose for ourselves? I doubt that it was a decision that he made quickly or without forethought. He knew from the beginning what we would do. The atrocities that would be committed, the futures that would be thrown away, the cursing and hate between men, etc. We're all all too familiar with the blackness that the human heart is capable of. However, in the end he gave it to us out of love because we must be agents for ourselves if we desire to be truly happy. 

Can we choose to throw our lives away and curse God with a clenched fist? Yes. However, we can also choose the good things in life. The stuff that will make us happy for eternity rather than the few all too brief moments that we call mortal existence.  By making an effort to choose what's good in life, our ability to enjoy life itself will grow exponentially.

Because honestly, how much easier is it to appreciate all of God's creation from the top of a mountain than from behind the bars of a jail cell? 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls.

Death is by far one of the weirdest aspects of life, or lack thereof. This past week, I had an opportunity to attend the funeral of a missionary that recently passed away after getting hit by a car. The services of Elder Page caused a lot of introspection and self reflection as I listened to the eulogies that his family and Elder Zwick gave in regards to the life of this young elder. It caused me to wonder about a great deal of things, where am I going in this life, what will others say about me when I die, and how can I know if I've lived a successful life. 

I believe one of the greatest and most profound fears that human beings have is to leave a life unlived. To slough off their mortal coil (as Shakespeare puts it) with their music still in them. After hearing the eulogies of Andrew Page, there was no doubt that he had died a life well lived despite his youth. Though he was only eight days in the mission, he completed his tenure in mortality. It raised the the question in me of what it means to live a full life, and how can we know that we're on the right track? 

To me, Life isn't about what you are able to accomplish, but rather it's the influence that you have on others. We all want to be remembered for something when we pass on: our love for music, our past achievements, or what we contributed to this earth before we left it behind for that great gig in the sky. The way we are able to do it is quite simple. So simple, in fact, that a lot of people miss it. The way that we can know that we are becoming an influence for good and using the time we've been given to the fullest is to always seek to grow. To improve and refine our capacities to perform in any task or challenge that we face. There's even a basic checklist that God has given us to help us stay on that track, otherwise known as the commandments. 

Think about it, how much happier would we all be if we just tried as hard as we could every day to live the ten commandments? I can't think of a single person that would be unhappy by living by those ten guidelines that God gave to Moses those many years ago. Or consider to two most basic commandments that God has given us; love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy might. The second is like unto it, love thy neighbor as thyself. To live these two basic commandments would make us the happiest people on the planet because God lives to bless us, and we live to bless the lives of others. 

We have a instinctual need to search for the bigger and better in life. We want to find what will make us happy. The Meaning of Life, if you will. However, we should take care not to confuse the Meaning of life with the Purpose of life. Our purpose is resolute and cannot be changed, but the Meaning of life is a matter of personal opinion. We can always know the purpose of life thanks to holy scripture and living prophets, but the meaning of life is dependant on our own self examination and opinion. I recently came across a comic by Bill Watterson that explains what the Meaning of Life... well... means. Besides being the author of my childhood with Calvin and Hobbes, his views on life bring him to a level like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson in sagely wisdom. 

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There are certain guideposts such as commandments that will keep us on the path to have rich and fulfilling lives. Thanks to the direction that God gives us and by fostering an attitude to always improve, we needn't worry about dying with our music still in us. However, it will always be up to us to find the meaning of life. A task that requires a lot of self reflection and experimentation, but like Watterson said, we'll be all the happier for our trouble. I don't know what it's like to die, nor do I feel like I'm prepared to leave this existence just yet. But by doing all that we can to live life to the fullest. 

Strive for what matters most in life and once found, do with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Let's Go Dragon Slaying

I've noticed an odd phenomenon among world cultures. That is that in nearly every single culture, whether tribal or civilized has at least ten myths that feature a dragon. Whether it be that scaly, fire breathing, worm that Beowulf slays, or the snake-like and wise dragons of the orient that brought rain. Even today, how many of us still want to see a dragon in person? We just can't get over the things. Their role in fiction has varied almost as much as the culture wherein they reside, but the most common is that as something to be conquered.

Consider The Hobbit's main antagonist, Smaug. Thanks to J.R.R. Tolkein and modern cinema, he'll be one of the most famous dragons in pop culture. In the book, Tolkein describes him as "A most specially greedy, strong, and wicked worm." as he lays waste to the town of Dale and ejects the dwarven residents of the Lonely Mountain. Centuries spent laying upon his hoard of treasure caused the gems and coins to lodge themselves in his flesh, augmenting his already near impenetrable armor. His only weakness was a bare patch on his left breast. 

An invisible Bilbo Baggins has a conversation with the ancient creature and steals a cup. Tolkein describes Smaug's subsequent rage as comparable to that of "rich folk who have more than they could possibly enjoy who lose something that they long had but neither needed or wanted." He descends upon the neighboring village, Esgaroth, in all his fiery wrath to mete out revenge for his loss. Later to be slain by an arrow from Bard the Bowman. 

But isn't that how it always ends? Bard slays the dragon, Wiglaf and Beowulf slay the dragon, Sir George slays the dragon, etc. etc. So what point does all this fantastic draconian slaughter (and Fantasy in general) prove? 

It's not the fact that dragons exist, but rather, that dragons can be defeated. 

Smaug had his weak spot of skin. Beowulf had the loyalty of Wiglaf at his side. There's always SOMETHING that makes the impossible become possible. However, we are still required to give our all despite the weakness. Bard still had to face one of the most powerful dragons Middle Earth had ever seen. Despite the help of Wiglaf, Beowulf took on an angry Worm by himself. Every dragon requires courage and valor in order to be slain. 

So it is in our own lives. So too must we face immense challenges that are seemingly impossible to overcome because of their size and ferocity. But just like Smaug, every challenge we will face has something that we can use to overcome and defeat it. However, it'll require our all and, in the case of Beowulf, the help of others. But so be it, life was never meant to be easy. Stories aren't written about the quitters or those who avoided conflict but about those who overcome the greatest conflicts and didn't back down. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

That Fuzzy Connection

Before you assault me for pictures of cats because you took the time to look at the title, lemme just start by saying that this post has nothing to do with felines. Rather I speak of the connection that we have between us and deity, that for many of us seems to be the same quality as a sketchy phone call. We try to get a clear signal as we try to communicate with our Heavenly Father, but it sometimes seems like God's responses are masked in static.

I think that, when it comes to our communication with God, the fault is our own when we can't seem to get answers to the questions we have. This shouldn't be a cause of alarm, it's simply a fact of life. We live in a world that is constantly vying for our attention nearly every minute of our waking day. Whether it be emails at work, the phone ringing, or your own pangs of hunger around one in the afternoon because you haven't eaten yet. There are hundreds, and each distraction seems to be ten times louder than that still, small, voice by which God communicates with us. No wonder, it seems, that we never get a clear answer from the guy upstairs. 

However, there is hope for us. The good news is that it doesn't require that new Galaxy 4GSi MK VI Velociraptor iOS smart phone that costs you your first born child for the basic data plan. It's simply being able to become in tune with that still small voice which is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the godhead or trinity and he acts as the link between us and the Father. It is through Him we are able to receive promptings and help from God. Through the whisperings of the spirit, he is able to calm our fears, hush the nagging worries of life, and comfort us when we grieve. After all, one of the Holy Ghost's titles is the Comforter. 

But that's just it, he speaks and influences us through whispers. God has never gotten our attention with a heavy hand shaking us back and forth. It's always through moments of peace and quiet when we open ourselves to receive help from god that we actually do. When we seek to qualify for the spirit, the static vanishes and it seems that our connection to God becomes crystal clear. 

Like family, revelation is something you need to make time for during every day. If you don't have any time during the day where you're open enough to receive spiritual promptings, then you probably wont get any. Times when we read scriptures, pray, and spend time with our families are good times to feel the spirit work through us. Basically, if an activity draws us closer to God, then we'll have a clear connection with Him. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Spirit of Brotherhood

Back in the Christmas of 1914, The allied forces and the Germans found themselves locked in the famous stalemate that comprised most of World War 1 before the United States came swooping in to kick butt in the name of Uncle Sam. In the weeks leading up to Christmas day, treaties and ceasefires had been put forward including a treaty from Pope Benedict XV, for peace on Christ's birthday. All of which were rebuffed. However, on December 24th, roughly 100,000 British and German soldiers entered into an unofficial ceasefire for Christmas Eve. 

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British and German soldiers pose for a quick snapshot

The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and Christmas trees and then continued the celebrations by singing carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings at each other. Soon both sides made excursions into "no man's land" to exchange small gifts such as food, tobacco, booze, and souvenirs such as buttons before returning back to their trenches. Artillery in the region silenced and soldiers were allowed a breather to retrieve dead and dying soldiers. 

Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote: "I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. Then I gave him two of mine in exchange. The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck." 

Nor were the observations confined to the British. Leutnant Johannes Niemann: "Grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy."

There is a stark lesson to be learned here. No, it's not that the Germans' hearts grew three sizes that day. Rather, in what was the most devastating war the world had yet seen, love still prevailed. Holiday cheer still brought out the best of both sides despite the fact that they were conscripted mortal enemies. It brings to mind, my mind anyways, that despite whatever illusions and prejudices we put up about the rest of humanity, we're still brothers and sisters. If German and British soldiers were able to find peace for a week in each other's company, then by George it should be possible to find peace among those we come in daily contact with. 

So be kind to people. You don't know everything that they're going through. Sometimes the one thing that'll help someone get through a tough week is the kindness of a complete stranger acting out of no other motivation than the love of Christ. After all, the second greatest commandment, according to Christ, is to love thy neighbor as thyself. In the end, we're all brothers and sisters in this dazzlingly beautiful world that God created especially for us. There are no 'teams' or 'sides' to be on when it comes to dealing with your fellow man, there is only 'us.'