Saturday, January 24, 2015

Changing and Changing Back

You know you've got something the way you want it when you change it, and then decide that you liked it better the way it was. For Christmas, my brother got my a red dragon lego set, and I've had endless fun modifying my dragon from its original design. Originally, it could only stand on its hind legs. Its arms or front legs were too long, and its hind legs put its hindquarters too high off the ground. When I changed its hind legs so that my dragon could stand on all four legs, its hind legs proved too weak to support the dragon standing up. After a great deal more tweaking, I've managed to modify its hind legs to the point where it can stand on its hind legs or all fours, or even leaning very far forward - it's that well-balanced.

I also made some wonderful improvements to its wings. Originally, it had a few plates on it that were too unsightly to be worth their minimal functionality, so I moved or removed them. In their place, I added a pair of spikes, and put some plates for stability on the underside of the wings for a bright accent of color that doesn't draw too much attention to itself. The spikes I added to the wings mostly came from spikes I removed from the dragon's back. It was a tough decision to make my dragon have fewer spikes on its back, but its wings and tail look much better for it, and now there's a spot on the dragon's back where a lego man can sit to ride the dragon.

The part of the dragon I'm working on now is its head. The dragon's head has always seemed a little big, but since its the most complex part of the dragon, I've found it difficult to modify. After a careful study of the construction of the dragon's head, I found a way to remove a few plates from it, making the head slightly smaller. This has also had the effect of changing the way the dragon's mouth closes. Rather than having the teeth come together when the dragon's mouth is closed, so the closed-mouthed dragon always looks like it's snarling (and has to option of breathing fire through its teeth, but I don't care about that), its lower jaw now comes up behind its upper jaw, so the closed-mouthed dragon looks like its upper teeth protrude over its lower lip, like that of an alligator or a crocodile (I forget which is which).

This, at first, was not appealing to me, but there's a reason I think I may keep it. Whenever I made the sound of my dragon roaring, it's always been the same sound, "FRAWR!" with a definite "F" sound before the classic "RAWR." I was never sure why my dragon made that sound, and I'm still not completely sure, but I think that the fact that my dragon makes that sound will ensure that I keep the version of its head that makes it look like its upper teeth rest on or over its lower lip. When you make the "F" sound, it starts by putting your upper teeth on your lower lip and breathing out through them, exactly as my dragon would if it started roaring when its mouth was closed. I'm not sure if this is a coincidence, mostly because I have no idea why it wouldn't be, but it certainly seems that my dragon was almost destined to have the kind of mouth it has now.

Through all of these modifications, I have gone through a process of constantly tweaking its form, trying out new shapes for its appendages and placements for its pieces. Some of its limbs have gone through several versions, always returning to the form in which they are now. It's too early to say whether I'll keep the current form of the head, or change it back to its original form, but I might keep changing it back and forth until I decide which form I like better.

In life, we too can change and change back, but for us, change comes less quickly and with more difficulty. It's harder to change a habit or a human heart than to change the shape of a lego dragon. However, when a change is made, and a comparison can be made between the two forms, a decision can be made between the two versions, and you can usually tell which version of yourself you like better. Sometimes, the new you is an improvement. In fact, that's pretty much the whole idea of changing - to change for the better. But sometimes, you pick up a habit or attitude, or even something easier to change, like a hobby or a preferred style of clothing, and ultimately find that you liked yourself better the way you were before. That's okay. Except in the case of sinful behavior, it's perfectly alright to try new things, experiment with new styles and forms of yourself, and then decide which version of you you like better. Making a small change for the sake of experiment, and then deciding to change back to the way you were before, may be a sign that you like yourself just the way you are (of course, that's not always a good thing, but that's a lesson for another time).

In life, we're meant to change. We were born imperfect, and we're expected to be a little bit less imperfect by the time we leave. The only way to accomplish that is by changing. Sometimes, we change for the better; sometimes we change for the worse. It's important, when we change for the worse, that we recognize that fact and make the effort to change ourselves back. When I change something about my dragon, and then decide that it made for a change for the worse, I'm not usually too stubborn to admit that I was wrong, to acknowledge that my "improvement" didn't really improve the dragon, and to change it back. I hope that's even more true for myself. I make changes to myself sometimes, and I hope that most of them are changes for the better, but if one of my self-improvement projects backfires, I hope I won't be too stubborn to abandon the project and change back to the way I was. Making changes and evaluating the results are part of life. I frequently evaluate the state of my lego dragon to see how I might improve it. I should do at least as much for myself. And when a change turns South, for either me or my dragon, I hope that I'll be wise enough to change it back.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Resurrection and Redemption

Enough tangents! Let's get back to Elder Hamula's talk and General Conference talks in general.
The sequence of bread first and water second is not inconsequential. In partaking of the bread, we are reminded of our own inevitable personal resurrection, which consists of more than just the restoration of body and spirit. By the power of the Resurrection, all of us will be restored to the presence of God. That reality presents to us the fundamental question of our lives. The fundamental question facing all of us is not whether we will live but with whom we will live after we die. While every one of us will return to the presence of God, not every one of us will remain with Him. 
Through mortality, every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We will have had thoughts, words, and works that will have been less than virtuous. In short, we will be unclean. And the consequence of uncleanliness in the presence of God, Jesus made perfectly clear: “No unclean thing can dwell … in his presence.” That reality was brought home to Alma the Younger, who, when confronted by a holy angel, was so racked, harrowed, and tormented by his uncleanliness that he desired to become “extinct both soul and body, that [he] might not be brought to stand in the presence of … God.”
One of the most sobering facts about the gospel is that heaven won't feel like heaven for all of us. Some of us just won't feel comfortable there. I've heard it described as being like going to a fancy dinner party wearing grubby clothes. Even if everyone there is accepting of us being there, we won't feel like we belong.

The Resurrection of Christ's body ensures that all of us will be resurrected and will stand once again in the presence of God. The Atonement of Christ's blood can cleanse us from sin to the point that we'll feel comfortable staying there. Resurrection is guaranteed. Redemption is not. Our being cleansed from sin is dependent on our obedience to the laws, principles, and ordinances of the Gospel, including the Sacrament, which reminds us to obey the commandments and always remember Jesus Christ.

More than anything else, it seems, the Sacrament is a reminder. It reminds us of Christ. It reminds us of the commandments He has given us, our covenants to obey those commandments, as well as all other covenants we have made with Him. Now I know that the Sacrament also reminds us of our inevitable death and resurrection, and that we will all stand before God to be judged according to our works, but something I already knew is that, possibly more than anything else, the Sacrament reminds us of the Atonement of Christ, by which power we can be made clean. We will stand before God again someday. May the Sacrament remind us to keep ourselves clean so that we may be worthy to stay there.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Consider Your Ways

As I mentioned last night, I want to talk this morning about considering our actions, or more specifically, considering our ways. The last part of the caption of the photo I shared two days ago said "Think about what you are doing." This reminded me about a series of youtube videos that talked about agency in video games (among many other video game related topics). One of those videos highlighted a video game that forces the player to make tough choices - not the choices most video games have you make, like should I wield the longsword or the broadsword, should I go for the risky short cut in the racing game, or stay on the relatively safe main road, or should I play aggressively, possibly alienating other players to get an in-game edge, or should I play nice and possibly lose because I "wasn't trying hard enough"?

The game in question puts you into the role of a sci-fi hero whom a race of sentient robotic aliens believe God wants them to kill. At a certain point, you have to choose between reprogramming them into fighting for you rather than against you, or wiping them out completely. A question like this forces us to consider our core beliefs and make a moral decision. Would it be more humane to reprogram the robots rather than killing them, or would it be more Christian to destroy the robots rather than taking away their freedom to believe and act as they choose? Would either choice be immoral? Both choices sound really bad, but the targets of your actions are just machines. Sure, they're sentient; they have individuality and freedom of thought (for now), but at the same time, they're not really human. Then again neither are the many other alien races you encounter over the course of the game. If either or both decisions are evil, which one is less so? Which one would you choose?
This is the unique power of video games as a medium: They ask us to live our decisions. In this medium, we cannot be spectators. We are forced to confront our own actions, and that forces upon us a level of introspection.
- Dan, Extra Credits, Enriching Lives
 As Dan says this, there's an image of a video game box, representing the video game itself, telling the player to "LOOK AT WHAT YOU'RE DOING. NOW LOOK AT YOURSELF." The "look at what you're doing" line is what made me think about this video series following a discussion on the Sacrament and the Atonement, and I wasn't going to bring any of this up at all, except that later in the day that I blogged about that Conference talk, my Institute teacher shared Haggai 1: 2-7 in which the Lord of Hosts says, more than once "Consider Your Ways."

We are constantly making decisions. Many of them are mostly inconsequential, but each of them tells us something about ourselves. What would we choose to do if we were in that situation? If an race of alien robots was trying to kill you, and you had the power to choose either of the following options, would you reprogram the robots, or destroy them? If a friend of yours was kidnapped, and the kidnapper left a bunch of minions behind to cause trouble for you and everyone else in the countryside, would you fight through the minions to rescue your kidnapped friend, would you go out of your way to avoid harming the minions unnecessarily because they're just following orders, or would you delay your friend's rescue to crush as many minions as possible so as to protect everyone else? Super Mario Bros. doesn't seem like a game with tough moral decisions in it, but that may be because we just don't always think about the decisions we make and what those actions say about us. When I play Mario, I usually don't think twice about stomping on Goonbas on my way to save Princess Peach. Maybe I should. Maybe I should avoid harming the Goonbas when I don't have to, or maybe I should actively pursue and destroy them so as to preserve the peace of the Mushroom Kingdom. If I were actually put in that position, I'm not sure what I would do. I'd want to protect the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, but I'd rather not kill the Goonbas unless I had to. I'd also feel the moral responsibility to go rescue Princess Peach, but that would mean leaving the Toadstools behind to fend for themselves. The next time I play Mario, I'm going to try to think about what I'm doing.

I'm probably looking too much into this. After all, it's just a video game. But if every action we make tells us something about ourselves, then that includes every action we make in video games, and that means that it's something I, as a player of video games, should think about. What do my actions, in or out of the game, say about me? Am I making the right decisions? How do I determine what the right decisions are? Some of these questions aren't going to be easy to answer, but they're certainly questions that I should be asking myself; especially if I'm going to try to follow the Lord's counsel to "Consider [my] ways."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Busy Building Prisons

I was reading in the Book of Mormon earlier this evening, and a particular passage caught my attention. Alma 53:5
And this city became an exceeding stronghold ever after; and in this city they did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands. Now Moroni was compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor, because it was easy to guard them while at their labor; and he desired all his forces when he should make an attack upon the Lamanites.

Some of the stories in the war chapters refer to tactics Satan uses against us. I believe this on one of them. The devil can't really force us to do anything, so he tries to get us to trap ourselves by force of habit. And once he has succeeded at that, he tries to keep us busy so we don't have time to focus on overcoming our faults. Like Moroni, Satan finds it easier to guard his prisoners when they're too busy to try to escape. And if he can get us to habitually do things that make it harder to escape, all the better for him.

I haven't figured out the part of the analogy where Moroni desired all his forces to attack the Lamanites. Maybe it's that Satan only has so many fallen angels, and the fewer devils it takes to keep the sinners busy, the more devils he has for tempting everyone else? I don't know how much that's really a factor in this war, so maybe not.

Anyhow, the rest of the analogy is pretty good, so I thought I'd pass it along. It's important to keep an eye on our actions, they're helping us resist Satan's influence or whether they're putting us deeper into bondage to him. Considering our actions is what I had planned on blogging about this morning, and what I plan on blogging about tomorrow, so this scripture goes along pretty well with that. Consider your actions, and particularly evaluate whether you're building your heavenly mansion or whether Satan's got you busy building your own prison.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Take It Personally

Those talks about prophets are going to have to wait. The next talk after Elder Robert D. Hales' talk about the Godhead is a talk by Elder James J. Hamula about The Sacrament and the Atonement. This is a really good talk, and I definitely need to blog about it at least once. From just my first skimming through of the talk, two paragraphs strongly stood out to me. They're about the Sacramental bread and water, respectively, and they talk about what the bread and water represent and what it means when we partake of them.
With torn and broken bread, we signify that we remember the physical body of Jesus Christ—a body that was buffeted with pains, afflictions, and temptations of every kind, a body that bore a burden of anguish sufficient to bleed at every pore, a body whose flesh was torn and whose heart was broken in crucifixion. We signify our belief that while that same body was laid to rest in death, it was raised again to life from the grave, never again to know disease, decay, or death. And in taking the bread to ourselves, we acknowledge that, like Christ’s mortal body, our bodies will be released from the bonds of death, rise triumphantly from the grave, and be restored to our eternal spirits.

With a small cup of water, we signify that we remember the blood Jesus spilled and the spiritual suffering He endured for all mankind. We remember the agony that caused great drops of blood to fall in Gethsemane. We remember the bruising and scourging He endured at the hands of His captors. We remember the blood He spilled from His hands, feet, and side while at Calvary. And we remember His personal reflection on His suffering: “How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.” In taking the water to ourselves, we acknowledge that His blood and suffering atoned for our sins and that He will remit our sins as we embrace and accept the principles and ordinances of His gospel.
 The caption of the photo I shared above, in case it's too small to read, says "Think about what the Savior did. Think about what you are doing. (See D&C 19: 16-17.)" The scripture that they reference reads:
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
 Without going into too much detail about the kind of suffering we'll experience if we don't repent (this blog post isn't really about us), I want us to recall what suffering the Lord went through for us, each of us personally, and what we have to do now to make sure His suffering doesn't go to waste. He endured ultimate agony for us. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the pains of hell for them. In doing so, He experienced pain so severe that I'm sure it would have killed a mortal man. He suffered all that pain for us, expressly so that we wouldn't have to suffer it ourselves.

Now, we have a choice, thousands of choices, really, and when we think about what Jesus did and why He did it, those choices become a whole lot easier. I used to not want to sing the chorus of I Stand All Amazed, because I didn't think it was "Wonderful that He should cared for me enough to die for me." I thought it was terrible that He had to. What would be even more terrible, though, would be for Him to have suffered so much for me, just for me to let that suffering go to waste.

Jesus experienced terrible pain for us in Gethsemane, but He also feels great emotional pain for us when we don't repent. I once thought that I could keep Jesus from having experienced the pain of my sins by not repenting of them, so I could take that burden off of Him and carry it myself, but it doesn't work like that. He suffered for every sin I've ever committed, and will ever commit, whether I repent of them or not. What I can do reduce His suffering is refrain from committing more sins. His Atonement makes it possible for us to repent, to change, to become better people. As we take the Sacrament, we should think about what Jesus did for us and what we should do (or refrain from doing) to thank Him, to take advantage of the Atonement, and to not make it worse. Taking the Sacrament isn't just to help us remember and be thankful for the Atonement. It also reminds us of what we can and have to do to show our thanks.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Separate Individuals United as One

The first Article of the LDS Faith is that "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." This is somewhat different than what other Christians may believe, and it have even caused a few Christians to wonder whether we Mormons are Christians at all, but my belief in, faith in, and worship of Jesus Christ are not lessened by my belief that He is not the Father to whom He prayed those many times in the New Testament. Nor was He the source of the voice that spoke from heaven when He was baptized. Nor was He literally standing beside Himself when Stephen had a vision of Him and His Father as he was being stoned. The distinction between God and Jesus in the New Testament is, in my opinion, very clear.

To quote Elder Robert D. Hales:
Can we see a pattern in these scriptures that testifies of the Father and the Son as distinct individuals and beings? How, then, are They one? Not because They are the same person but because They are unified in purpose, equally dedicated to “bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
The references Jesus makes to being "one" with the Father are confusing to some people. Taking their oneness as being literal, a person would have to find some way to explain how God and Jesus are the same person despite talking to each other and about each other and being both seen separately in Stephen's vision. This may be what gave birth to the "mystery of the trinity," in which God the Father, Christ the Savior, and the Holy Ghost, are seen as simultaneously being the same being and three separate beings, or perhaps three distinct manifestations of the same being, which refer(s) to itself/each other in perplexing ways.

However, when we consider that their oneness is figurative, signifying a oneness in purpose, their identity appears more clear. Now, I'm not saying that the simplest explanation is always the truest one, but I would say that the truest explanation is likely to be the one that doesn't contradict what's written in the scriptures. If they were the same being, they would hardly have had a need to talk to each other, especially when alone, and when they talked about each other, they could have done it in the first person, saying "I" and "me" instead of "my Father" and "my Son." However, with them being separate beings, it makes sense for them to talk to and about each other in that way. Their oneness is that they have the same purpose, the same goal, and the same plan. That way, they can be separate beings, but one God, just as the Patriots can be separate players, but one team, or just as various cogs and gears can be separate parts of one machine.

God and Jesus work together, and I'm pretty sure they are together, in heaven, most of the time, but they're not the same person. They are individuals who work together to achieve the same aims. As their followers, I hope that we, as Christians of various faiths, can follow their example. We may have distinct and separate beliefs about the Godhead, just as the members of the Godhead have distinct and separate attributes, but we can work together, just as They do. By acknowledging our similar purposes, we can look past our differences and develop the same kind of oneness that They have, remaining various sects of Christianity, but becoming one unified force for good in the world. We, as different Christian religions, do disagree on some topics, but we all agree on several. We all believe in encouraging each other and others to be good. We all agree on the basic tenants of morality, including, at the very least, keeping the Ten Commandments. If we look more at our similarities and try to work together rather than focussing on our differences and trying to tear each other down, I think we'd accomplish much more good together than any of us could have on our own. If God and Jesus Christ are one, as we all believe They are, I think that we, as Christians, should try to be one, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Zoning Out

In Sacrament Meeting, one of the speakers shared an example of something that one child learned from his father. Coming out of a boring Sacrament Meeting, the father commented on how wonderful that Sacrament Meeting was. The child ask how that Sacrament Meeting could have been so wonderful when the talks were so boring, and the father said that when he was listening to a boring talk, he would simply close his eyes and, in his mind, give himself a talk on that topic.

I was given an opportunity to do that later today. In Elder's Quorum, our teacher shared an old General Conference talk. The whole talk. On video. That, in itself, wouldn't have been too bad. Lazy on the part of the instructor, but not terrible. But the speaker of the talk had a voice that, quite literally, put me to sleep. There is, according to the child's father, a correct way to zone out in church, but falling asleep isn't it.

What I should have done, rather than letting the droning voice dull my consciousness, was think about the topic of the lesson, Pray Always, and have a discussion with myself about it, perhaps starting the conversation by asking the "wh" questions. Why should we pray always? Where and how can we? Asking when we should pray always is silly, but asking what it means to pray always might have led to some interesting thoughts.

I zoned out in Elder's Quorum today, and not in the way that I should have. I'll try to do better next time.