Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Keys and the Cold - The New Lesson Plan

This week, I am once again hopefully teaching a lesson at church tomorrow, but this time, it's not going to be the Resurrection lesson I had hoped to give on Easter. This time, the lesson I'm hoping and planning on giving is about the importance of the Restoration.

I'll probably start off by sharing Elder Gary E. Stevenson's story about losing his keys on his ski trip. The parallels are pretty much perfect. The cold, dark night on the mountain is perfect for picturing the spiritual situation of the earth during the great apostasy. The car is as excellent symbol for the Priesthood. The miraculous finding of the keys can be related to the miraculous restoration of the Gospel and the  Priesthood. One thing that I'll especially want to mention in my lessen that I didn't include in my blog post about this talk is the presence of other people.

In Elder Stevenson's story, he wasn't the only one on his ski trip. His family was with him. As they approached the vehicle together, he searched through his pockets unsuccessfully, while his family waited anxiously. This must have a difficult and embarrassing situation for him. He was the one entrusted with the keys. Everyone was counting on him. Having car keys grants a person a certain amount of power, but it also comes with a tremendous responsibility to carry them and use them well.

Again, the parallel is clear. As I'll be teaching a group of young Priesthood holders, I'll try to teach them what holding the Priesthood really means. The ability to perform essential ordinances is a great power somewhat similar to the ability to drive a car, but a person entrusted with the ability to perform such ordinances is also charged with the responsibility to remain worthy to carry those Priesthood keys. When those young men have families of their own, their families will count on them to remain worthy to carry the keys. They won't want to be in the situation of standing outside their car, unable to let themselves and their families into the car because they had lost the keys.

Of course, I may be going off on a tangent here. I think the lesson actually planned to spend more time explaining the reality of the apostasy and the restoration and the reasons for them. To answer the question of why there was a restoration, the lesson would say "because there was an apostasy," while I would say "because without the Priesthood, we'd be locked out in the cold." But if I explain the analogy well enough, it should be clear that those two answers mean basically the same thing. Apostasy is a period of spiritual darkness, whether it's a personal apostasy or the great apostasy. And, either way, the Priesthood is the key. With the Priesthood, we have access to saving ordinances that enlighten us and bring us closer to God, and that's something that's true for individuals as well as the church as a whole.

While teaching about the great apostasy and the need for the restoration of the Priesthood, I'll also be teaching about personal apostasy and the need to stay worthy to hold the Priesthood. In either case, without the Priesthood, both people as individuals and the world as a whole would be left out in the cold.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Questions Regarding Consciousness, Humanity, and Souls

Aprt of the problem I've been having the last few days is the things that I've been thinking about have been either not blogworthy or too complicated for me to blog about. These complex topics have included the concept of consciousness and what it means to be human. For example, if we built a robot with a computer brain exactly as complex as a human brain, and we programmed it to think like a human, would it be a "person"? If not, what is the trait that we have that it would lack? How can we define humanity? Is it an exclusively human trait, or is it possible for other creatures, perhaps even machines, to be "people," too?

Being religious, I get an easy answer to the question, but it's not one I'm fully satisfied with. The difference between us and the hypothetical "human" android is that we have souls, but that opens up other questions. Do animals have souls, for example? And if they did, would that make them people, too? If they don't, what happens to them when they die? Do they simply stop existing, as some non-religious people thing we do, or do they pass on to the other side, as we do? If animals have spirits that pass on to the afterlife, what's the difference between their consciousness and ours? Is there even a difference? They clearly are not human, but that could be as small a difference as a matter of species. Dogs are not humans in the same sense that they are not cats. There is a physical, biological difference, but there other differences, too. Animals don't seem to be as intelligent as humans, but that perspective could be a blend of human arrogance and our inability to measure animal intelligence.

We are certain that animals are not people, that there is something about us that is special that neither an animal nor a robotic replica of ourselves could have, but what is that defining characteristic? How can we be sure that all of us have it and none of them don't? Does such a characteristic even exist at all? I'm sure that robots don't, and could never, have souls, nor will they exist in the afterlife unless someone up there chooses to make more. But what of animals? They have spirits, don't they? What makes their spirits different from ours? What makes us so special? What is it that makes us human?

Anyhow, those are the questions I've been wrestling with lately. If you want to wrestle with them further yourself, you can talk to your religious friends, take a psychology and/or critical thinking class, and/or talk to anyone who has played The Talos Principle. Personally, though these questions trouble me somewhat, for now I think I'll be satisfied with saying that I don't know the answers to these questions, but eventually I'll have the opportunity to talk with Someone who definitely does. Until then, I'm going to try to treat animals decently and hope it doesn't matter too much that I have no intention to give up eating meat.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Candles and the Cost of Service

"A candle loses nothing by lighting another."

I can say from first- and second-hand experience that this is only half-true. While it's true that some service costs us nothing, or, at most, very little, other forms of service cost a person a great deal. And even if the service one gives isn't monumental in its scope or cost, the cost of many acts of simple service can add up alarmingly fast. This form of work takes a toll of a person as much as any other form of work does. Whether you devote yourself to a few great works or countless smaller ones, there is almost always a cost.

On the other hand, theoretically, there are rewards as well as costs for the service we do. Also theoretically, the rewards are always equal to, or greater than, the costs. If this is true, then that means that our repayment for our service will always be at least as great as its cost.

Unfortunately, the rewards and the costs don't always line up. If you spend time and energy doing work, and you get paid in cash, getting paid for your work doesn't mean that you get your time and energy back. You might be able to buy something that saves you time or energy later, but I think I'm letting the analogy take me too far away from the original topic. If the service we give is physical or emotional, and the reward we get is spiritual, we may have great rewards awaiting us, but we'll still feel tired and drained at the end of the day.

A candle may lose nothing from sharing its fire, and maybe I'm pulling the wrong analogy from this message, but we do lose things when we reach out to others. We lose time, we lose energy, and sometimes we even lose peace or sleep. The rewards may more than make up for the costs of our service, but that doesn't negate the fact that there is almost always a cost.

We shouldn't underestimate the cost of service, and we especially shouldn't undervalue our sacrifice when we pay that cost. We may, eventually, get as much out of our service as we ever put into it, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a price to be paid first. To say that service has no cost is to undercut the sacrifice of those who chose to pay it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Taking Pride in Trying

I saw this on Facebook just now: "Don't wait until you've reached your goal to be proud of yourself. Be proud of every step you take toward reaching that goal."

Too often, we base our self-esteem on our accomplishments. We consider ourselves successful as human beings if, and only if, we succeed in what we attempt to do. But often, even just making the attempt is, in itself, an accomplishment, and we should recognise that. Every effort is a little victory, but we almost never celebrate them. Instead, we tend to set goals for ourselves, then think of ourselves as complete failures if we fall short of those goals in any way, forgetting the little successes we have along the way, including the victory of choosing to try.

When it comes down to it, our choices are really the only things we can control. We can choose our actions, but we can never choose the results of our actions. Often, whether we succeed or fail depends largely on factors outside our control. In those cases especially, we should give ourselves credit for trying, whether we succeed or not.

Our success is not ultimately in our hands. There are too many other factors, beyond our own actions, for us to take full credit for any success or full blame for any failure. It's not for us to decide whether we succeed or not, so we shouldn't place the burden of determining our success solely on our shoulders. All we can really do is try. If we try and we succeed, that's great. Good for us. But if we try and we don't succeed, that's okay, too. Good for us for trying. To deepen our inner peace, we would do well to try to learn to accept ourselves and take pride in our efforts, even if our efforts don't become accomplishments. We don't always get to succeed in what we set out to do, so we should give ourselves some credit, even if we can accomplish no more than to try to do the right thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

AoE Healing

Many games that involve combat also involve healing. If there is a way to lose health in the game, there's also usually a way to regain it. In games that involve multiple people on the same team, there are sometimes ways for one player to heal another. Sometimes, one player can heal many others at the same time, though they usually all have to be within the same area. This is called Area of Effect (AoE) healing. Everyone stands within the circle, then everyone within the circle gets healed.

However, games with AoE healing effects have to answer an interesting question: What happens if an enemy gets into the circle? Do they get healed as well? I see no reason why they wouldn't. A spell whose effect is as simple as "heal everyone in this circle" would have no way to distinguish between friend and foe. If an effect were to heal your friends, but not your enemies, it would have to have some way to tell the difference between the two.

Games solve this problem in different ways. Some games keep track of who's on whose team, and they make sure your healing spells affect only your teammates. Other games allow you to specify exactly who you do or do not want to be healed, either by allowing you to name exceptions to the AoE effect (e.g. Heal everyone in this circle, except for that guy), or by forcing you to select each individual you want to heal. Depending on how the game goes about it, trying to figure out how to heal your friends but not heal your enemies can be a complicated problem.

In real life, it's not actually a problem at all. Real life is a game that involves spiritual combat, and it involves spiritual healing as well. The spiritual healing I'm referring to is forgiveness. In this sense, Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer. His Atonement created an AoE healing effect that encompasses the entire world. By putting the entire planet within His healing circle, Christ was presented with the challenge of figuring out He could make sure He healed some people without accidentally healing others. His solution was wonderfully simple; He didn't bother. As far as I know, Jesus made no effort to exclude anyone from His healing power. Even His mortal enemies, the people who actually executed Him, had access to His forgiveness. He didn't exclude anyone from His healing circle, and neither should we.

In a much smaller way, we have the ability to forgive others, healing their (and our own) spiritual pain. Some of these people, we may consider our enemies. After all, they hurt us, which is why they require our forgiveness. However, in the grand scheme of things, we are not enemies at all. We are all brothers and sisters. We have the same goal, even if not all of us know it, and there is no good reason for us not to help each other along. As such, we have no reason not to heal others, including even those who have hurt us. In fact, there are many reasons why we should forgive them, specifically.

One reason we should heal our enemies is because we heal ourselves in the process. In his April 2016 General Conference talk, The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness, Elder Kevin R. Duncan taught us that "an unforgiving heart harbors so much needless pain."
Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment, or even revenge. We can forgive, and we can be free!
Another reason we should especially heal our enemies is to show them that we are not really enemies at all. If we forgive those who have harmed us, they may feel sorry for harming us, making them less likely to do it again. In a purely practical sense, it's a defensive measure designed to reduce and prevent aggression. In a spiritual sense, it's the right thing to do.

In the end, all judgement belongs to the Lord, and He has offered a way for everyone to be forgiven. We should follow His example by offering forgiveness to others. Doing so will lessen the spiritual pain that we feel, and it will dull their spiritual pain as well. When it comes time for justice, God will be just, but He will also be merciful, and He asks us to be merciful as well. Let us let the Lord soften our hearts so we can gladly extend the healing ointment of forgiveness, not just to our friends, but to everyone whose lives we touch.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ponderize - Mosiah 4:30

We've been reading through Mosiah in our family scripture reading, and I've highlighted several blogworthy and ponderize-worthy verses. One of them is Mosiah 4:30.
But this much I can tell you, that if you do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your days, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
This is kind of what I've been doing with my ponderizing: trying to watch myself, especially my thoughts. Last week, it didn't work so well because the scripture I chose was rather vague in its guidance of what a person should do to increase their spiritual power. It basically just says to be righteous. This scripture is much more specific in its counsel, but it remains broad enough to cover many situations.

It's kind of a longer scripture, but I think that's a good thing. The extra challenge of trying to memorize it will give me more time to ponder it and to really think about the words and the message.

I wonder what it means to "continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord." Granted, this counsel was given before Jesus' first coming, but if we apply it to our own time, it could mean to remain conscious of the reality of the Second Coming and to prepare ourselves for it.

Anyhow, I hope it works. I've been trying to use ponderizing to center my thoughts on the gospel, and ponderizing a scripture that literally says to "watch your thoughts" should help with that. At any rate, it's worth spending a week thinking about it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ponderize 121:36 - A Limit to God's Power?

This week, I've been ponderizing D&C 121:36
The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected to the powers of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled except upon the principles of righteousness.

Apart from a few minor errors, like saying "or" instead of "nor," the only differences between what I memorized and the original verse were deliberate. I took out the two "that"s so the sentence could stand on its own, and "only" to "except," because I'm pretty sure that's more true to the original meaning.

But while we're on the subject of that "except," I wonder how true that second half of the verse is. "The powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled [except] on the principles of righteousness." Does this restriction extend to God as well? Does God have to be righteous in order to use His power? We know that if a mortal priesthood holder tries to use to priesthood unrighteously or unworthily, it won't work, and I'm pretty sure the power that priesthood holders hold is the same kind of power that God uses. If we cannot use the priesthood unrighteously, I wonder if God couldn't either. Then again, the question is moot, since God is always perfectly righteous anyway.

Still, I wonder sometimes whether the rules of the universe were created by God, and whether He could change or break them, or whether those rules were in place before He attained His godhood, and whether He is as bound by them as we are.

Of course, it's not an important question. If it ever becomes important for us to know, we'll probably find out at that point, and like I said earlier, the questions is moot anyway. God wouldn't break His own rules, even if they were his own rules and He could do it and get away with it. He wouldn't set that kind of example for us and have His Son tell us to be like Him. God is perfect; therefore, His righteousness is perfect. He will always act on the principles of righteousness, whether His priesthood power depends on it or not.