Saturday, May 23, 2015

Josh, the Young Paladin

Last night, I typed the word "dragon" into the search bar on LDS.org, hoping to find a list of scriptures in which dragons are mentioned. What I found first was even better. The top results were two articles and a poem from three issues of the Friend magazine. The top result of those three was a story called Josh and the Dragon.

The story begins with Josh, a kindred spirit of mine, who, having just finished a meal at a restaurant, begins to climb on a play structure with his younger brother and sister. Josh pretended that he was a knight, his sister, Anna, pretended to be a princess, and his brother, Brian, pretended to be a dragon. Playing knights and dragons on a play structure sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm sure it was, until the other children showed up.

The other children were nice enough, but they used language that children shouldn't use, or even hear. Summoning up his courage, Josh asked the other kids to stop using that kind of language around him and his brother and sister, but they didn't stop. He said a silent prayer prayer for guidance, and in his mind, he saw himself as a knight fighting a dragon, with his brother and sister standing behind him. At that moment, Josh knew that he had a duty to protect his younger siblings from hearing the foul language, so he led them away.

When the three of them rejoined their parents, their father asked them why they were back so soon. Josh explained what had happened,  and his father told him that he was proud of him for protecting his brother and sister and setting a good example for them.
Josh smiled. It was almost like he really was a knight watching over those he loved while fighting a dragon. Josh also knew he’d done more than protect his brother and sister—he had also protected himself.
I, too, am proud of Josh for his courage in making that decision. It's nice to know that there are other people in the church that are inspired to righteousness by the thought of being a knight. I had always thought that I was a little bit crazy for choosing paladins as my role-models, and maybe I am a bit old for playing pretend, but at least there's at least one church-published article that suggests that I chose a good example to follow. Judging by his thoughts and actions, I'd say that Josh was a paladin. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Me and My Dragons

There are currently no less than ten dragons visible from my bed. One, I made out of legos (I've made extensive modifications to the original design. I think I've blogged about that. I've made another few changes since then). One was once a keychain, but I made it into a necklace. Two serve as bookends that hold a book series that I've been reading. Three are stuffed toys originally meant to be played with by dogs. And the last three are figurines, covering their eyes, ears, or mouth. In addition to that, two of my favorite T-shirts have dragons on them, my favorite Magic: the Gathering deck has ten or twelve dragons in it (depending on whether you count the Taurean Maulers as dragons) and most of my other trading card decks have at least one dragon each. Needless to say, I love dragons.

However, as awesome as I think dragons are, I have to admit that most dragons do not make good role-models. Dragons tend to be proud, greedy, violent, and sometimes vain and/or gluttonous, accounting for at least four of the seven deadly sins. Some might say dragons are slothful, too, so that would make it five out of seven. Not to mention, there's a certain scriptural "dragon" who is practically the antithesis of a role-model.

So, what does that mean for me and my dragons? The good news is that I know that dragons aren't good role-models, so I don't try to emulate them, like I do with Paladins. But, given that I know that dragons don't set good examples, is it wise for me to have so many around me? We're counseled to choose our friends carefully. Does that extend to our plush, plastic, and paper friends?

I'll have to think about this, and especially about what effects my dragons have on me. Do they, can they, help me be a better person?

One thing that dragons have always represented to me is power. Their wings give them the power to go where they choose. Their scales give them the power to withstand attacks. And their claws and fiery breath give them the power to destroy their enemies. Power, in itself, isn't a bad thing. It's really all in how a person uses their power. As such, having power and even wanting power aren't always bad things. The freedom and resilience of dragons are two aspects of dragons that are especially desirable and useful in the fight against the biblical dragon.

As for the destructive power of dragons (by far a dragon's most prominent aspect), it probably fits into the same category as the only non-armor component of the armor of God. Every Paladin, every soldier of God, needs to have some kind of weapon they can use against the adversary. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul represented that offensive power with "the sword of the Spirit," but in other places, the Spirit is presented not as being sword-like, hard, sharp, and solid, but as being like a fire, warm and bright, intangible in that it doesn't have a physical form, yet tangible in that it can be felt. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is sometimes called the baptism of fire, and receiving inspiration from the Spirit is sometimes called a burning in the bosom. I think that, in many ways, fire is more like the Spirit than swords are.

Allowing fire to symbolize the Spirit creates a potent visual when considering where a dragon's fire comes from. Some say that dragons have a sort of furnace within them, which is constantly burning with an incredible heat. If fire represents the Spirit, that tells me that such dragons have powerful, constant testimonies. But even in worlds where dragons' fires aren't lit by inner furnaces, dragonfire always comes out of dragons' mouths. Many of the things we can do to invite the Spirit, and especially to invite the Spirit to touch the hearts of others, are done with our mouths, such as by praying, reading scriptures aloud, singing hymns, teaching gospel truths, and bearing testimony of them. If fire represents the Spirit, then dragons have the Spirit with them more than most other mythological creatures.

So, dragons do have some spiritually-positive aspects to them. As long as I focus on those aspects, rather than on the negative ones, dragons can have a good influence on me, or at least not a bad one, and can help me win my spiritual war against the dragon spoken of in the scriptures. At the very least, I have just succeeded in justifying my love of dragons to myself, despite knowing that dragons don't always exhibit Christlike behavior. Besides, I'm sure that not all dragons are evil, greedy, lovers of destruction. I bet there are plenty of good dragons out there, including each of the ten I can see from my bed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Suffer Now..."


I don't hate life, and I certainly don't hate every minute of it, but sometimes, life gets challenging. In times like that, we need to endure, which in this case doesn't mean just surviving until the trial is over; it means to keep doing the right thing, even though it's difficult. The good news is that there are eternal blessings in store for those who can endure temporal trials. Life is our training. It's tough, but that toughness makes us stronger, and that strength can stay with us forever. Endure your trials now, and you can spend the rest of eternity as a champion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Effects of Soda and Sin on Teeth and Eternity

When I treated myself to a fast food lunch yesterday, I happened on an interesting thought: Soda is good for my teeth. The logic went something like this: Soda is composed of acid, sugar, and artificial flavors, so it's obviously very, very bad for your teeth, so when I drink soda (which isn't often), I'm reminded to brush my teeth afterward, and brushing is, of course, good for your teeth. So drinking soda reminds me to brush my teeth, so drinking soda is good for my teeth.

Attaching a gospel analogy to this, I surmised that sin brings us closer to God in that it reminds us to repent, and repenting brings us closer to God. I figured that just as the net result of brushing your teeth after a drink of soda is (probably) good for your teeth, repenting after a fall (possibly) brings us closer to God than we'd have been if we had neither repented nor sinned. So sin brings us closer to God in the same way that soda is good for our teeth.

Naturally, I was very wrong, and here's why: You don't need to sin in order to draw closer to God any more than you need to drink soda in order to brush your teeth. You can pray and brush anyway. Sure, soda and sin may remind you to brush and pray, but the reminder isn't strictly necessary. Taking two steps forward for each step back is technically making progress, but taking two steps forward without taking any steps back helps us make even better progress. Besides, though I may play devil's advocate for the sake of argument, I'd hate to actually advocate anything the devil tells us to do. Drinking sugar-infused acid is not a good dental hygiene strategy, and sinning is not a good way to draw closer to God. Though sin and soda may have a net-positive effect on us if we repent and brush our teeth afterward, it's far better not to sin or drink soda at all.

Am I still going to drink soda again, even knowing what I know about its effect on teeth? Probably. After all, I'm only human. I also know that I'm probably going to sin again, for the same reason. But I'm not going to harbor any backwards notions that sin and soda are somehow good for me. They're not. And I'm not going to wait until I sin or drink soda again before I brush my teeth or say my prayers. We should all brush our teeth and say our prayers regularly, multiple times daily, whether we sin or drink soda or not. It's in praying and brushing our teeth that our eternal welfare and dental hygiene improve, and we don't need to (and shouldn't!) wait until after we've sinned or drunk soda to do it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Learning to Play the Music of the Gospel

I just finished the final exam for my Piano class. Partly because music is on my mind right now, and partly because we've already heard several Conference talks about marriage and family, I've decided to skip Elder Christofferson's talk, at least for now, and share thoughts influenced by Elder Wilford W. Andersen's talk, The Music of the Gospel. In this talk, Elder Andersen speaks of the difficulty of dancing well when we can't hear the music we're dancing to. Going through the motions feels difficult and awkward without music to support the movements. He likened this to trying to live the principles of the Gospel without feeling the joy Gospel. I'd like to share that same moral, but with an analogy even more closely related to my Piano class.

At several points over the course of the class, we were given pieces to practice and play. When we were assigned a particularly challenging piece, the teacher would sometimes play the song for us, so we could know what it sounded like and get a feel for the song. This is like having someone who loves the Gospel teach us to love the Gospel, too. It's a good way to learn to hear the music, but sometimes, we didn't have that luxury. Sometimes, we had to figure the music out on our own.

We had learned to identify the notes and the various symbols on music notation so, theoretically, we could simply read the music that was written on the sheet, and play that. In practice, however, it wasn't that simple. We could pick out the right notes and hold them for the correct amount of time, but we couldn't really play the songs until we heard the music and knew what it sounded like. At least, I couldn't. Plunking out notes gave me an idea of what the music was supposed to sound like, but until I had an idea of how the song was supposed to go, I couldn't really play it. I could play the notes, but I couldn't play the song.

The Gospel may be something like that. We know what the commandments are. We've heard them countless times. We know what we have to do to live the Gospel, but if we try to live the Gospel knowing only the letter of the law, and not "hearing the music," as Elder Andersen had put it, we will falter. The good news is that even if we can't yet hear the music, or if we've gone out of tune somehow, we can sound it out. As we learn the letter of the law of the Gospel (including such commandments as "Thou shalt not kill"), we can also learn the Spirit of the law of the Gospel (including such principles as "Life is sacred; respect it"). The more we learn about the spirit of the law, the closer we get to truly understanding the Gospel, just as I was able to grow to understand a song gradually, just by hitting the keys. Only once I learned both the "letter" of the music and the "Spirit" of the music was I able to play the songs with the emotion those songs were trying to convey.

Thankfully, many of us don't need to "sound out" the Gospel because we already hear, and dance to, its music. Many of us have been raised in the Gospel, or had great mentors when we came into the church. But for the rest of us who haven't heard the music yet, or who may be slightly out of tune, we can pick up the tune of the Gospel the same way I picked up the tunes of the songs I learned in Piano class. We can learn the music of the Gospel gradually by learning how to play the keys.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dawn Has Come


For one young man, the long, hard night of battling cancer is now over. We still pray for his family and our hearts still ache for them, but we are comforted in the faith that their little angel is enjoying the light of a new life. One phase of his life is over; another has begun. The candle that kept burning longer than anyone expected has been extinguished, but for the soul who held that candle, a glorious new dawn has come.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bonus Post - Why the Grass Is Greener

In my previous blog post, I used the phrase "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." When I did, it occurred to me why that might be true. If your neighbor's grass is greener than yours is, that's probably because they water it.

If you've ever wondered how a musician became so talented, how a genius became so smart, or how a millionaire became so rich, it may be because they practiced, studied, and worked for it. Yes, there was probably some luck involved in helping them find their talents or opportunities to thrive, but even then, most of them had to work to be as successful as they are. If we're not willing to put forth the extra effort to become great, we shouldn't complain that those who are have greener grass than ours.

On the other hand, green grass can be a bad thing. During the drought in California, we've stopped watering our lawn, while others haven't. As a result, our lawn has grown to no longer be quite as green as theirs. But in this drought, I consider our tan lawn a badge of honor. It shows that we're willing to make sacrifices to conserve water. When I see other, greener lawns, I wonder how much water they spray over their lawn so their lawn could stay green. There's only so much water left in California, and it's not getting replenished as quickly as we're using it, and that's partly because some people are still watering their lawns.

Whether our grass is green because we water it or brown because we don't, the shade of our lawns say a lot about us. It shows how hard we're willing to work to improve ourselves and how much we're willing to consume so we can look good compared to others. As children of God, we should improve our talents, but we shouldn't make a big show about it. Our inner lawns should be as green as we can make them, but it doesn't really matter whether our outer lawns turn brown.