Friday, November 22, 2013

Lean on Me

There's a common expression for those of us with little faith that goes, "With God, all things are possible." This statement usually follows an expression of self doubt in terms of overcoming a personal obstacle. Like gravity for instance. We tell our beleaguered friend to press onward and have faith. He thanks you for the comfort, then proceeds to brush it off later on. 

I feel that the general attitude towards most things in life is to square your shoulders and go forth the best you can relying on your own strength to carry you through. As though it's a display of manliness that we take on life's obstacles by ourselves rather than reaching out for help. Action movies draw on this and love to show burly heroes who take on entire zombie hordes by themselves wielding nothing but a garden weasel and their teeth. While I can understand that we don't want people to see us in our moments of weakness, I fear that this leads us to include God right next to the government and mother-in-laws on the list of people who cannot help us in life. Unfortunately for your pride, life doesn't work that way. 
Unless you're Chuck Norris, Then life works for you.
It's true that God expects us to do things on our own. The whole purpose of this mortal life is for us to learn the difference between good and evil so that we can make good decisions and act for ourselves. Like learning to ride a bike, God doesn't expect us to use training wheels all of our lives. Even if it takes falling down a couple times to find our balance. He wants us to become agents for ourselves. However, there's another lesson that he expects us to learn during our brief sojourn through mortality; that there will come a time where we cannot do things by ourselves and must rely on Him to carry us through. 

It's a lesson that the Mission has taught me thoroughly. I've been reminded just how dependant I am on God when certain challenges come. Taking over an area is still one of the most stressful experiences I have had in the field because I'm suddenly personally responsible for the salvation of everyone in the entire city because my new companion doesn't know jack about the area. In short I stress myself out as I try to comprehend all that I must do in order to make sure that the area runs smoothly. 

I took over the Monroe area on the 12th of November and about a day later, I woke up sometime around three in the morning and couldn't fall back asleep because of all the things that came into my mind that I was stressing out about. Are the people we're teaching still going to progress? Are we doing everything we can to help the members out? How's my new companion doing? Do I know the area well enough? The questions kept coming with no sure resolution. I was sinking into despair when I realized that this is the Lord's work, therefore, I should let Him take care of things and that's what I did. I prayed to God for quite some time. Telling Him how I felt about the area, the fears I had, and what I wanted to do. I asked for help in the guidance in the things I was expected to do as a missionary and left the rest up to him. As soon as I finished, the despair dissipated and I was able to go back to sleep. Since that first night, I haven't been worried with the schedule of the upcoming days. I haven't been stressing over the people we're teaching and how they're doing because now I understand that we're expected to simply take things day by day and not concern to much about what's to come. This is the Lord's work and He'll do it His way. 

I was able to feel a weight lifted off my shoulders as I asked for God to throw me a bone and help a brother out. Even though it wasn't as dramatic as fighting off a rabid kodiak grizzly using nothing but a tin of Altoids, God was able to pull me up and help me out when I felt like I couldn't do things on my own. I know that god answers prayers and is willing to help us in the situations that we face where we feel like there's no hope to be had. Because there is always hope, and when we have hope, we have faith, and when we have faith, we can do anything. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

That's Just the Way I Am

The Human race seems hell bent on destroying itself one way or another. Perhaps that's the major reason we need God in the first place. The guy can't turn his back without us running off some proverbial cliff or starting some war somewhere. Every day in the news we hear something about a shooting, armed robbery, homicide, abortion, chemical weapons, the list goes on and on. If it wasn't for the tender mercies of God and a sufficient amount of 'Good' people, the human race would have self destructed eons ago like a snake eating it's own tail. 

There is nothing so discouraging in life than to hear the phrase, "That's just the way I am." Especially as a missionary because nothing else conveys such a profound sense of hopelessness on their part or evoke as much frustration on mine. We as missionaries are here to help people change their lives for the better and everyone can through living the Gospel of Christ. I know for a fact that anyone can make changes to their lives and improve. So imagine what it must feel like when someone tells me that they cannot change because that's "Just they way they are." It's the greatest form of self condemnation that I've ever heard. 

I understand that there is a part of us that will never change despite years, growth, or maturity. Our personalities are as permanent a part of our lives as the shape of our noses because they reflect the eternal soul that dwells within. Despite the changes of view on politics, or our maturity as we go through experience, at our very cores, we are the same people from when we were born to when we die. I feel that's a fear of a lot of people that undertake something that requires them to change, that they'll lose that spark of what makes them... well... them. However, I know for a fact that that's not the case. 

My first week or so in the mission, I absolutely dreaded what I would become. I feared that I would change and become a person that I didn't want to be. I saw the robotic personalities of missionaries around me, how everyone expected me to act a certain way. That there was a right way and a wrong way to act and if you didn't act the right way, you would be cast out into outer darkness where there's weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Granted I was terrified of the social norms in the MTC but in the beginning of my mission, I saw my flaws as an integral part of who I was. In the beginning I repeated to myself  "That's just the way I am." and I'll never change. 

God has accurately been compared to a gardener. A master of his vineyard. Like anyone with a garden and a green thumb. He wants the best out of the plants that he grows. He wants them to be tall, green, and bear a lot of fruit when the harvest comes. Therefore He'll do all he can to prune, shear, cut, and trim his plants so that they grow according to His desired manner and fulfill the vision that He has for them. Gardening is rarely a gentle process for the plants, but you'll never hear a barren berry bush exclaim "That's just the way I am." when God expects it to yield fruit. 

As I got into the work and started to develop an actual testimony of the gospel rather than having a sideline basic knowledge of what repentance was, I realized that despite the changes that we go through in life. We remain the same at our core. I still have the quirks and thought process that I did when I was sixteen but now I've become a more refined and mature individual even though I'm still... me. The process wasn't easy, nor was it particularly enjoyable at times, but it was well worth it and will continue to be worth it. It also taught me that there's no such thing as "That's just the way I am." We can always become better. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Livin on the Edge

A while back I was wearing a shirt that features a chimpanzee dressed as Che Guevara and the phrase: "Viva la Evolucion" when I was approached by another missionary and he said. "Ah, I see you believe in evolution." 

To which I replied, "Uh yeah, the same way you believe in electromagnetism or the theory of gravity." 

We later got into a conversation about how Bruce R. McConkie stated that natural selection was one of seven deadly heresies and I told him to stuff it because James E. Talmage noted that the stones that Adam supposedly used to build his first altar were fossiliferous. (Meaning that there were dead things in them.) In either case, I tend to get heated up in discussions such as these because I can't wrap my mind around the concept that people don't accept Evolution as scientific fact. 

The way I see it, there's this massive genre of stuff in our every day lives wherein we don't really have any form of guidance from God or holy scripture. We're forced to use our own personal judgement and hope for the best. Stuff that falls into this category are things like which political party you should join, what kind of car you should drive, and is Weight Watchers really worth it? God promises us that he'll always be there for the big important stuff but there's a plethora of things in life that in the end, don't really matter to him. It may make a lot of people upset but I don't believe God really cares what we think about evolution because we'll all find out the truth eventually. 

However, I think the issue is important for another reason. Namely how we need to take great care that our understanding and interpretation of scripture and church doctrine doesn't cloud our judgement to other truths that aren't covered between Genesis and Revelations. Things like Gravity, Quantum Physics, or the Dirac Sea. After all, the glory  of God is Intelligence and he wants us to learn everything we can about this dizzyingly beautiful universe He put us in. Knowledge gained is a precious resource because it allows us to achieve so much. I'm using Darwin's theory of Natural Selection as a springboard for this entry because it's been a stupidly controversial topic for quite some time and it's something that I feel passionate about. 

Natural Evolution can be summarized thusly; Over millions of years, species go through physical changes in order to more effectively adapt to their environments. Through reproduction over various generations, traits are developed and refined that help ensure the greatest survival of that particular species. 

It's simple and it makes sense. Yet how much drama has been made over this issue ever since 'The Origin of Species' was first printed? I've discussed it with past mission companions, one of which vehemently exclaimed "NO! I didn't come from no monkey!" Even now we hear of lawsuits in which public education boards (I'm looking at you, Kansas) wish to teach intelligent design alongside natural selection, as if the scientific explanation conflicts with their spiritual beliefs. It's not the first time people were slow to embrace new fact, consider for a moment that Copernicus was put to death by the Catholic church on account of Heresy for saying that the earth orbits the sun. 

Genesis has plenty to say on the "Why" man was created, but nothing to say on "How" he was created. The observations of Charles Darwin and thousands of others since provide that evidence of "How" we came to be. Do we have an entire line of events? Not yet, but we're working on it. I feel that some people develop the attitude that if it can't be readily explained, then God did it and we shouldn't probe any further. This forces God to become a sort of "God of the Gaps." We don't know how something happened, therefore it was God working in "mysterious ways" and we leave it at that. We should take care to avoid this way of thinking because in time, those gaps become filled. It is a way of thinking that undermines faith as our understanding of our surrounding universe improves.

Do we understand everything about Life, the Universe, and everything else? Not even close. But we're working towards those answers and slowly learning how God put together this magnificent world of ours. As our understanding continues to increase at faster rates, I urge you to always maintain an open heart and an open mind. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Glory of God is Intelligence

The wise philosopher once said that opinions are like noses because everyone has them. There is great wisdom in this however, I feel he failed to mention that our opinions are different from noses because they need to be constantly and thoroughly examined. We need to be critical with them and not just the opinions of others. We need to challenge our own beliefs. To take them outside and severely beat them with a cricket bat. To be intellectually rigorous. I say this because it's our opinions that we're more than happy to share with everyone else whether they want to hear what we think or not. Unfortunately this can lead to situations where it's people wanting to beat US with a cricket bat. 
It's small wonder, then, that God counseled us that:
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. -Proverbs 4:7
It's through learning and knowledge that we are able to change and influence our opinions. To learn how to think is possibly one of the greatest pursuits a man can have in life because it will positively affect every other aspect of his life. 

Pictured: Me vs. Calculus 
This lesson was hard learned for me back when I took AP calculus back in high school. Going into the class I was confident that I could tackle Isaac Newton's way of thinking like Terry Tate tackles unsuspecting co-workers in the break room. As the weeks dragged on and the amount of math I had to assimilate increased I realized that, like captain Ahab realized with Moby Dick, I had tackled something that was ready and willing to tackle back with all it's aquatic mammalian fury. 

One day in frustration I asked my teacher "When will we ever use negative integrals in life?" and he being the sagely philosopher/calculus teacher that he is, responded "The only people that ask those kinds of questions are the ones that are frustrated with the work." Boy howdy was he right. I went in early, I stayed late, and I always asked him for help. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, my grade seemed dead set to stay at a 'C' for the entire year and I passed the AP test with a 3/5. So I passed at the same level that I had been all year. 

Despite the heartache, frustrations, and cursing that it caused me at the time. I look back on AP calc with fondness. I'll happily admit that Newton destroyed me intellectually the same way Mr. T could destroy me physically. However, I'm glad that I went through the experience because it taught me how to think. Logic had found a nice little nook in which to nestle in my mind and I got infected with a bug that made me want to learn as much as I could about everything. Despite the fact that Calculus kicked my rear, it also engaged my mind in ways that it hadn't been engaged before and I found that... well... engaging. 

We must always search after wisdom in life. It's the only thing that we can take with us into the afterlife besides a litany of our misdeeds. By learning and growing mentally as we do physically, we are able to grow and become better people. Constantly questioning and challenging yourself on you think and believe will always keep you engaged and moving upward. Calculus had the courtesy to do that for me and the lessons I took from it far outweigh my ability to do derivatives.