Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Real Test of Charity

I was going to share this on Facebook, but I realized that I had enough to say about it that I might as well share it here.

I disagree. Helping a stranger is easy (once you get past the awkward "why are you helping me? You don't even know me." part). The real challenge is helping someone you don't particularly like.

I just disagreed with a prophet, didn't I?

Perhaps which scenario is the "real test" depends on exactly what you're testing. If we're testing how much we love our fellowmen, helping a stranger is the real test because it means you saw a random person who needed help and your first response was "that person could use my help. I'm going to go help them." That shows a good deal of love for someone, even when you don't know them.

If what you're testing is how committed you are to helping others, even when you don't want to, then perhaps the "real test" is helping someone you'd rather not help. You don't need to love a person in order to help them. Just ask a sales clerk. Sometimes, you are or feel obligated to help someone, and that sense of duty convinces you to help them, despite the absence of brotherly love. Helping someone doesn't necessarily prove that you have charity for them.

However, I can see how if you neither like nor dislike someone because you don't really know them yet, and if you have an opportunity to help them, though you're under no obligation to, then whether or not you help them would be based almost entirely on how much charity you have for them. Helping someone you don't like isn't charity. Loving someone you don't know is.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Accepting the Principle of Free Will

For many thinking creatures, alignment is a moral choice. Humans, dwarves, elves, and other humanoid races can choose whether to follow the paths of good or evil, law or chaos. According to myth, the good-aligned gods who created these races gave them free will to choose their moral paths, knowing that good without free will is slavery.  - D&D 5e PHB p.122
That paragraph, shamelessly copied without the copyright holder's permission, highlights a principle of the gospel that's relevant to the General Conference talk I just listened to. Even though God knows the path that leads to happiness and desperately wants us to follow it, He gives each of us the freedom to go our own way; and not He nor the devil nor anyone can prevent anyone else from acting according to their own will.

In his General Conference talk, Waiting for the Prodigal, Elder Brent H. Neilson shared the story of his sister, Susan (after having gained her permission). Susan had been raised in the church, but she became "disenchanted with the Church and some of its teachings," to use Elder Neilson's words, and she eventually left the church. Elder Neilson's family loved her and wanted desperately for her to return to the gospel and to receive the peace and joy that only the gospel can offer. But it was always her choice. For years, the Neilson family continued to love and support Susan, to invite her to family gatherings and birthday dinners, to keep in touch and to make sure that she knew that they loved her. "Although we could not embrace all of her choices," Elder Neilson wrote, "we could certainly embrace her."

After a long time away from the church, Susan eventually returned, but it wasn't because anyone forced or pressured her into doing so. She came back because, after years of being away from the church, she realized how much of a difference it had made in her life, and she made the choice to come back. The decision had always been hers to make.

To paraphrase the plagiarized paragraph above, the good-aligned god who created this universe gave us the free will to choose our moral paths, knowing that good without free will is slavery. God will not make slaves out of any of us. Satan tries, but our will can overpower his. Despite the strength of our will, we should not attempt to force our will on others. We each have to make our own choices and let others make theirs, no matter how much we wish they'd choose differently.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Visiting Great Places at Home

Bishop Gerald Causse used to live near Paris. During the 22 years he lived there, he took his family on annual trips to see the "monuments, historic sites, and natural wonders of Europe," but as they were about to move away from Paris, his children pointed out to him how "shameful" it was that they had lived near Paris for 22 years and hadn't gone to see the Eiffel Tower.

Like Bishop Causse, we all have occasional desires to go on trips to visit great places and to see natural wonders, not realizing that we already live in great places and that we are surrounded by natural wonders. I live in Sacramento, the Capitol of California. Here, we have the Capitol Building, Downtown Sacramento, great rivers and bridges, an amazing bike trail, hundreds of parks, and hundreds of thousands of trees. Sure, I could go to a forest if I wanted to see a lot of trees. I could go to the coast if I wanted to go on a great bike trip. Or I could go to a bigger city if I wanted to take a walk downtown. Or I could do all of those things here.

Other places may have different interesting sites and natural wonders, but every place has its own attractions. Instead of going to different countries, or even different states, looking for great places to visit, we can save ourselves a lot of time and transportation money by visiting the great places in our own areas. Of course, there's nothing wrong with traveling the world, seeing the famous monuments, but there's nothing wrong with staying home either. Sometimes I think people get so caught up in visiting the amazing places beyond the horizon that they forget that there are amazing places right in their own backyard.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Three Habits for Better Blog Posts

Elder Jose A. Teixeira does not know I have a blog, nor did he know when he gave his talk, Seeking the Lord, that I would have had a good deal of trouble writing decent blog posts. But inspired as he was, he gave me three pieces of advice that I believe will help me write better blog posts.
Habit Number 1: Visit the Church’s Official Websites for Resources
Often, when I don't know what to blog about, I search around Facebook, looking for inspirational picture quotes. More recently, however, I've been reading and listening to General Conference talks and blogging thoughts inspired by those talks, and I believe that my blog posts have improved as a result.
Habit Number 2: Subscribe to the Church’s Official Social Networks
 When I do check Facebook, I'm about as likely to find political messages, interesting news stories, and mildly amusing jokes and videos as I am to find anything inspiring or uplifting. By subscribing to people and organizations that post good, inspiring, uplifting messages, I'll invite the Spirit into my life more frequently, even while I'm just enjoying and sharing trivial amusement.
Habit Number 3: Make Time to Set Aside Your Mobile Devices
 My "mobile device" is a cell phone that isn't "smart," but I'm sure that that's not what Elder Teixeira was talking about. Given that much of the time I spend online (when I'm not blogging or doing homework) is just spent on entertainment, I can definitely reduce the amount of time I spend online. If I did, I'd have more time to spend actually enriching myself by reading books, doing chores, and playing the piano. Doing this will help me be a more balanced person, which will help me write better blog posts.

In our age, we frequently hear General Authorities counsel us on how we can use technology better, which, in some cases, means using it less. I know that if we use technology in appropriate ways and amounts, it can be a real blessing in our lives and help us feel the Spirit more and grow closer to God, which is probably what God meant for us to do with technology all along.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The "Children's" Songbook

Rosemary M. Wixom is the Primary General President, so it's no surprise that her April 2015 General Conference talk, Returning to Faith, involves a copy of the Children's Songbook. That book, which contains the songs Mormon children learn in Primary, also contains, within those songs, the most precious truths of the Gospel, expressed so simply that even children can learn them and begin to gain a testimony of them. But despite it's name, the Children's Songbook is good for more than just children. The songs in that book can instruct and inspire anyone who wants to gain or regain a testimony of the core principles of the Gospel. No matter what your age is, listening to those songs and paying attention to their lyrics is a good way to invite the Spirit to strengthen your testimony. I might do that myself later today.

Friday, August 28, 2015

An Awkward Prompting

In his April 2015 Sunday Morning Session General Conference talk, Blessings of the Temple, President Thomas S. Monson told the story of a young man named Landon. In the story, Landon had just attended the temple, and while sitting in the Celestial Room, he felt impressed to strike up a conversation with another young man in the room, who appeared to be praying. This was an uncomfortable prompting to follow for a number of reasons. First, talking to a stranger is often awkward enough, even without other factors contributing to the awkwardness. Second, the temple is a quiet place, and the Celestial Room especially so; it's not a great place for holding conversations, unless you're conversing with God. And third, it's not usually polite or appropriate to interrupt someone when they're having a conversation with someone else, especially when the being they're conversing with is God. Considering all the reasons for Landon not to go talk to the other young man, I'm almost surprised that he did, but that conversation turned out to be exactly what the other man needed. In fact, it proved to be the answer to his prayer.

There may betimes in our lives when we feel prompted to do things that are outside of the social norm. We may feel prompted to do things that are awkward or embarrassing or that "just aren't done." In those moments, our wills are being tested. Will we then have the courage to follow a prompting, even when it's something we wouldn't normally do, even when we have no idea why God wants us to do it? Landon did, and it ended up helping a young man who had been struggling with a personal challenge. Being the answer to someone else's prayer is a terrific feeling. It's certainly worth the risk of feeling socially awkward.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The New Plan Is The Old Plan

I keep telling myself that I need to blog earlier, and it keeps not happening. I'm sorry. Part of my trouble is that I never know what to blog about, but at Institute today, I committed to watching one General Conference talk per day. Hopefully, I can kill two birds with one stone, preferably in the morning. It's too late for today, but I can start tomorrow.

It's funny. Watching a General Conference talk and blogging about it before noon had been my plan since I first started blogging. The standards of my blogging have slipped dramatically since then. Maybe it's time to reinstate them.