Saturday, July 4, 2015

What We're Fighting For

I found this image on Facebook this morning and thought it was worth sharing. The Title of Liberty was originally raised at a time when its creator's country was at war. At the time, the people needed to be reminded what they were fighting for. I don't know how much that's true today, or how literal our battles are now, or even how inevitable such battles may be. But I do know that, in both times of war and in times of peace, it's important to remember what really matters. Our God, our religion,our freedom, our peace, and our families are definitely things that matter. I hope we don't have to literally fight to defend our freedom, but we almost certainly need to fight for it politically, and if and when we do, we could certainly use a Title of Liberty to remind us why we're fighting and what we're fighting for.

The Inspired Cashier

This post is late. Sorry about that. I need to get back into the habit of blogging first thing in the morning. Otherwise, I forget.

This afternoon, Mom and I got a pair of sandwiches at a Subway restaurant. They were having a special where, if you buy a $25 gift card, you get a sandwich free, so Mom had the idea of buying a gift card to get one free sandwich, then using the gift card to pay for the other sandwich. It was a good idea, except that the cashier didn't know how to do the gift card special. He had never done it before, and his manager. What was funny was that, earlier that day, he had felt impressed to ask his manager to show him how do it, but his manager had thought that it wasn't likely that the cashier would need that information while he was out. When my Mom heard that story, she remarked that the cashier had likely been inspired to ask his manager, which I think is really cool.

I think it's awesome that you don't need to be a member of this church or any other church, in order to be led by the Spirit. The Spirit can touch anyone's heart and offer them guidance. A person doesn't need to be a member of any religion in particular or even any church at all - We just need to be listening. The cashier had listened, which is how he knew to ask for the information he had a feeling he might need. We should follow his example by acting on the promptings we  receive. We should also follow my mom's example by pointing out inspiration when we recognize it. I'm going to try to do that more often, especially now that I've been reminded that anyone can be inspired.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Will of God - Will of Man

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'” -C.S. Lewis

I think that, with the amount of agency we're given, we must be careful not to seek for things that are  contrary to God's will. God has given us His perfect counsel, but has left it up to us to decide whether we heed or ignore that counsel. He lets us choose, even when we choose poorly. One famous example of this is when Joseph Smith repeatedly asked for permission to lend the first 116 translated pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript to Martin Harris, despite getting repeated 'no' answers. Eventually, at Harris's and Smith's insistence, the Lord finally said something along the lines of "all right, then, have it your way," but it went rather badly for Joseph Smith and Martin Harris.

We should be careful not to make the same mistake. Those who insist on following their own paths, despite the Lord's counsel, are eventually left to their own wisdom, and it often leads them astray. Because God loves us, He offers us inspired guidance, but because He respects our agency, He lets us make our own decisions,even when they lead us to bad places. I'm not saying that a certain number of individuals made such a decision recently, but I am saying that we should each be careful not to make such decisions ourselves, no matter what other people are saying or doing.

God makes it rather clear, through the voice of His servants, what His will is concerning us. I hope that I have the courage to say "Thy will be done" rather than "my will be done." I have a feeling I know which course of action will work out better for me in the end.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Scatter Sunshine

One of the sappiest hymns in the LDS hymnal is Hymn 230, Scatter Sunshine, but earlier this evening, I found myself humming it because that is exactly what we had done weeks before, and boy did it pay off! The birdseed we sometimes buy has lots of sunflower seeds in it, which our pet cockatiel doesn't eat. I took to sifting the sunflowers seeds out from the other seeds, and over a period of months, we had collected several buckets full of sunflowers seeds. As a family, we decided that what we wanted to do with the seeds was to scatter them in a vacant lot near our neighborhood, so that's what we did.

That was some months ago, and the conditions of that lot haven't really been conducive to growing things. The drought has been terrible, and the lot had been mowed a few times. Though we had once fantasized of seeing rows and rows of sunflowers, we had all but given up on seeing any of our sunflowers grow. However, earlier this evening, Mom spotted one, and our whole family was happy that at least one of our sunflowers had grown.

Now, it may be that our sunflower might soon get mowed down along with the weeds that grow in the lot, or maybe the drought will kill it; I'm not sure. But I am sure that those few minutes of scattering sunflower seeds paid off in the happiness we felt when we saw that one of them had grown. It was only a little thing, but it made us happy.

Scatter Sunshine recommends doing "little kindly deeds" because "slightest actions often meet the sorest needs." I don't know if what we had done met any "sorest needs," but it certainly brought joy to my heart, making it well worth the few minutes it took to scatter the sunflower seeds. Similarly, we may not change many people's lives very dramatically by doing "little kindly deeds," but we might make a few people a little bit more happy, and when we do, we'll find that it was definitely worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Burnt Toast and Honesty

In contrast to most nights, I currently have two thoughts I'd like to blog about. One of them concerns the immutability of God's laws (Even when our laws change, His don't). The other is about something else I saw on Facebook, plus thoughts pulled from a country song, contrasted against a widely-accepted virtue and church doctrine. The question that is raised, and hopefully answered, by these sources is "How honest should we be?"

I couldn't find the story again, but it went something like this: A parent was having a pretty rough day at home, trying to keep the kids out of trouble and trying to get the messes cleaned. While they were at it, they were preparing some toast, which ended up getting burnt. Their spouse, having just returned from work, or just finished preparing to leave for work, I can't remember which, ate the toast and commented about how good it was. The moral of the story was to be patient and sympathetic and, when necessary, to lie.

But according to a song by Brad Paisley, "That's not a lie - That's love." Sometimes, things go badly, but complaining about it would only make it worse. If you love someone, you would want them to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. If that takes lying, so be it. Surely, it's kinder to give an insincere compliment than an honest complaint.

Or is it? Insincere compliments, especially when they're known to be insincere, can be just as painful as an honest complaint. My advice is to say nothing, or to be honest, but not brutally so. In the case of the burnt toast, the spouse could have simply said "Thank you for cooking this for me and for taking care of the kids." That would have been sympathetic without stretching the truth.

As members of the church, we believe in being honest. One of the temple recommend interview questions is "Are you honest in all your dealings with your fellow man?" Also, I'm sure that Jesus never lied to anyone, even to spare their feelings. It may take careful and/or clever word choices to be both honest and kind at the same time, but it can be done, and we should speak that way to each other rather than lying to each other to spare each other's feelings. Kindness is good, but honesty is essential. So if, after a hard day, someone serves you a piece of burnt toast, thank them kindly for it, but don't lie to them about how it tastes.

The Meanings of Words

I don't like to get political on this blog. I sometimes try not to get political on this blog. I feel like we get far too much about politically-charged topics from the media and our other Facebook friends. You really don't need to hear more about the Supreme Court's gay Marriage ruling from me. However, since it's the only thing anyone has been talking about for the past few days (yes, I know that's an exaggeration), it's the only thing I've been able to think about (another exaggeration), so I'm going to blog about it - or rather, a topic closely related to it - even though I have nothing more to say about it than what's already been said (I hope that was an exaggeration, too).

Some people find it distressing that certain words and symbols have been given new meanings. Personally, I don't mind that the definition of "gay" has been changed. I never use that word anyway, unless I'm singing Deck the Halls. But some people are upset at the change in definition, and I join them in being upset about the change of the implied meaning of the word "pride." I believe that if a person has pride, it means that there's an aspect of themselves that they appreciate and don't mind other people knowing about. A person can have pride in any aspect of themselves - not just atypical sexual attraction. For example, I take pride in being athletic. In my mind, a "pride rally" is a celebration at which everyone is openly proud of being the way they are, however they are, whether they're gay, straight, White, Black, male, female, or anything else. Those events that are being called "pride rallies" by some people are, in my opinion, "gay pride rallies," which are more specific.

I'd also like to complain about how the symbol of the rainbow has been changed by people's opinions and the media, but I'm already late in publishing this blog post, and it doesn't matter anyway.

Honestly, I don't think what words "mean" actually matters all that much. Words don't change what things really are. We could all disagree on whether a box is light or heavy, but popular opinion won't dictate its actual weight. You can call it pride. You can call it marriage. You can call me a bigot. But attaching labels to things won't change their true natures. If I truly am, or am not, a bigot, I won't be any more or less a bigot by your saying whether I am one or not. And if your marriage is valid, it isn't any less so by my saying that it isn't, or if it isn't valid, it isn't any more so by your saying that it is. Words don't matter. Words can be used to describe things, but not define them. Things are what they are, no matter what words we use for them. Truth is constant, even when the meanings of words and symbols change.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Adverse Effects of the Improper Use of Magic

Those who have unlocked the secrets of the universe have discovered a number of magical hand signs - gestures that virtually anyone could make and that would activate powerful magical effects. One such hand sign is made by putting the fingers of one's right hand together and keeping them straight, all but the thumb and the pinky finger; the little finger is held curled by the thumb, which diagonally crosses the palm. The three longer fingers are aligned with the forearm, which is held vertical while the upper arm is held horizontal. This hand gesture channels cosmic energy to entrance most people who see it, causing them to fall silent. In addition, those who see the sign are compelled to make the sign themselves and to hold still and silent until the original maker of the sign lowers their arm. This mystical gesture is called the Scout Sign because it's most particularly effective on members of the Boy Scouts of America.

However, this magic has its limits. Though it can impose a profound silence and stillness on those who are normally noisy and rowdy, if an individual is exposed to the sign too frequently or too long, they can become resistant to its effects. I've seen this happen before. I was recently traveling with a camp of young and older men, all of whom were susceptible to the magic of the sign. Those with whom we were camping knew the secret of this sign, and they used its magic often. For the first few days, the power of the sign frequently held us in thrall, but gradually, its power over us began to weaken. Over time, the young men were able to resist the sign's magic for successively longer periods of time before falling silent and returning the sign. By the end of the week, we had become so desensitized to the power of the Scout Sign that when we were exposed to it one final time, by a powerful arch-mage, a respected member of our own clan no less, we all completely resisted its magic without even trying.

This cautionary tale is given to serve as a warning to anyone who would use this sign, or any other magical power, improperly. It was because the camp leaders used the sign too often that we developed a resistance to it. Similarly, there are many other magical powers that stand to face far harsher penalties than eventual ineffectiveness if they're used incorrectly. Magic, if not carefully handled, can have devastating, destructive, and even damning effects on those who use it, if they use it poorly. We must use the powers we've been given wisely, or we'll be stripped of them - or worse.

Thankfully, I believe that no permanent damage has been done. Over time, our resistance to the power of the Scout Sign will fade, and it will once again be as potent as it had been. However, when other powers are used equally badly, the results can be far more terrible and far more permanent. There are other gestures, actions, and words of power that can bring about powerful effects, for good or ill, depending on how you use them. So be cautious of what magic you use, and how and when you use it. If we use it properly, such magic can do a tremendous amount of good. If we use it improperly, we will be lucky if failing to function is the magic's only adverse effect.