Monday, May 21, 2018


In response to my most recent blog post, about Cost Reduction, my mother reminded us all that most of the costs for God's choicest blessings have already been paid by the Savior. This reminded me almost immediately of another mechanic in Magic, a new one called "Assist."

Assist comes from a new set called Battlebond, which focuses on 2v2 matches. A team of two players play against another team of two players. Teammates are encouraged to work together, covering for each other's weaknesses and following the same plan and strategy. One thing they can normally not do is share resources. No player can give another player their mana, for instance, unless a special ability says otherwise.

Assist is just such an ability. When a player casts a spell with Assist, they still have to pay part of the mana cost, but they can ask another player, like their teammate, to help pay part of the cost. Exactly how much the teammate is allowed to help depends on the spell, but let it suffice to say that the teammate can pay up to almost all of the cost of any spell with Assist. For example, a 7-mana spell would probably allow the other player to pay up to 5 or 6 mana.

While the player casting the spell still has to pay at least 1 or 2 mana, it still somewhat works with my analogy. When we want blessings, there are costs we have to pay. But, as my mom reminded me, we should remember that a large portion of those costs have already been paid by our Teammate.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cost Reduction

In Magic: the Gathering, every spell has a mana cost. In order to cast a spell, you have to tap enough lands to produce enough mana to pay the cost. Some of the more powerful spells, like the spells that let you summon dragons, cost a lot of mana; however, there are some effects that can reduce the costs of some spells. For example, Dragonspeaker Shaman is a creature that has the effect "Dragon spells you cast cost (2) less to cast." If I have a Dragonspeaker Shaman on my side, dragons that would normally cost 6 mana only cost 4, and dragons that would normally cost 4 mana only cost 2.

A more real-world example would be coupons. With the right coupon, you can reduce the cost of a purchase and get something for less than what it would normally cost you.

But in spiritual matters, there are no such cost reductions. Every blessing has a cost in the form of a spiritual law that you have to obey in order to qualify for that blessing, and there is (as far as I know) no way to reduce that cost. If you want the blessings of the temple, for example, you have to obey the spiritual laws that allow you to qualify for those blessings. Period. There are no cost-reducing effects that will allow you to obtain those blessings without being fully worthy.

Cost reduction is an interesting mechanic in Magic: the Gathering, and it's a useful tool in commerce, but in the Gospel, it just doesn't happen. If you ever want any blessing, you have to pay the full cost.

A Lesson on Temptation

I'm not sure I much care for the stated purpose of the lesson I'm teaching tomorrow. The stated purpose of the lesson is "To encourage the children to keep themselves pure by staying away from temptation and living close to the Lord." This is a reference to the moment in which Joseph flees from the advances of Potiphar's wife. Yet, while that is a critical moment in the story, it is only one moment.

The rest of Joseph's story is about diligence. He work's hard for Potiphar, and it goes well, until he's sent to jail. Then he works hard again in prison, and it gets him nowhere until the butler remembers him two years after he helped him. And then he works hard for Pharaoh and ends up saving multiple countries from starvation. Through it all, Joseph works hard, regardless of his circumstances.

A large part of me is tempted to reuse the purpose from the last lesson, which was "To teach the children that even though we may not always be able to control the things that happen to us, we can control our attitudes." But that word, tempted, makes it clear to me what I ought to do.

While I'd love to focus the lesson on Joseph's diligence or, alternatively, on how his experience and an experience of mine could illustrate the surprisingly miraculous nature of God's plans, I know that the lesson the manual wants me to teach is probably more important. Diligence is an admirable trait, as is faith, but learning a wise response in the face of temptation is probably going to be far more important for these children, especially in the years to come.

So, as tempted as I am to spend as little time on it as I have to, I know that I have to cover Joseph's interaction (and lack thereof) with Potiphar's wife. At least, I know that I need to cover it enough that the children learn how to resist temptation.

Friday, May 18, 2018

What It Means to Be Discreet

When Pharaoh gave Joseph the job of managing Egypt's resources, Pharaoh told him "there is none so discreet and wise as thou art" (Genesis 41:39). When I first read that earlier this week, I didn't understand it. I had figured that discreet basically meant being good at keeping secrets and being sly, which didn't really apply here. So I looked it up. According to one definition I found, discreet can mean "Marked by, exercising, or showing prudence and wise self-restraint in speech and behavior; circumspect." Then, I wasn't 100% sure about prudence and circumspect, so I looked them up, too. Evidently, prudent means "Wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense," and circumspect means "Heedful of circumstances and potential consequences; prudent." These are all good qualities to have, and none of them specifically involves keeping secrets.

Taken together, these definitions basically mean that Joseph was very wise and practical. He foresaw potential consequences and he exercised good judgment in devising a way to prepare for them. He also likely conducted himself very well in Pharaoh's presence, which was very wise, considering the circumstances.

All in all, discretion is a good quality for a person to have, even if they don't have any secrets to keep from anybody, because discretion, as it turns out, isn't about keeping secrets; it's about being wise.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Absence of Attitudes

I just read the three chapters of Genesis that I'm going to cover in my lesson on Sunday, and while I read about what happened and what people did, it struck me that the Bible doesn't really say how anybody felt about any of it. Moses didn't write how Joseph felt about being sold to Potiphar and working for him. Moses didn't say how Potiphar felt about being (falsely) told that Joseph tried to sleep with his wife. We don't know for sure how Joseph felt about being in prison. We don't know how the butler and the baker reacted to having their dreams interpreted. We don't know how the butler felt about forgetting about Joseph for two years and only remember him when the Pharaoh had a dream. We know that Pharaoh was "troubled" by the dream, but we don't know how troubled. And we don't know how Joseph felt about being released from prison and being charged with the affairs of all of Egypt instead.

Of course, we have pretty good guesses for many of those attitudes, most of which are revealed in their actions. Joseph worked diligently for Potiphar. Potiphar sent Joseph to jail. Joseph worked well in prison as well. We don't get much of a reaction from the butler or baker until the butler described forgetting Joseph as one of his "faults." Pharaoh was troubled enough by the dream to drag Joseph out of prison to interpret it, but that might have been no big deal to Pharaoh. And though Joseph worked diligently for Pharaoh as well, he gave his sons some interesting and meaningful names that might give us a clue as to how he was feeling.
And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.
And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
Genesis 41: 51-52
Forgetting all one's toil sounds like a good thing, and forgetting his father's house could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how homesick he was (which , again, we don't know). God causing Joseph to be fruitful is definitely good, but describing Egypt as "the land of [his] affliction" probably isn't a good sign. It could, theoretically, be neutral, but it sounds pretty bad.

So, how did Joseph feel about this experience overall? It's impossible for us to say for sure. Maybe he only worked so hard because he was afraid of being punished or to help him keep his mind off of how bad his situation was. Or maybe he greeted these challenges with vigorous enthusiasm, or at least faith that God had a plan. He could have been angry, resigned, accepting, peaceful, or even happy. Almost anything is possible here.

So when my Primary kids and I cover this lesson, I'll try to make sure we don't color Joseph's experience with assumptions about people's attitudes. We don't even know whether Potiphar was livid at Joseph's apparent betrayal and vindictively threw the book at him or whether he was reluctant to lose his best and most trustworthy servant just to appease his lecherous wife and let Joseph off as lightly as he could, given the circumstances. The latter seems more likely, since he didn't have Joseph tortured to death, but none of us really have any idea how angry or how sorry Potiphar was, and without further evidence, we shouldn't even venture to guess.

What we can do is ask ourselves how we might have felt if we were in their shoes, and how we know we ought to react to unfortunate circumstances. It's possible that Joseph was submissive to the will of the Lord, as many renditions of this story depict him, but we certainly should be. That's my main takeaway from tonight's study session: As far as we need to be concerned, their attitudes don't really matter. If they did, they probably would have been recorded. But our attitudes do matter, so perhaps we shouldn't worry so much about their attitudes when the attitudes we really should be keeping tabs on are ours.

Dreamstate Behavior

My D&D game tonight was a bit unusual. A few of our characters got trapped in some kind of dream or hallucination. One of the characters found a great deal of freedom in the knowledge that this was all a dream and began to engage in unusual behavior, knowing that what he did didn't matter and none of his actions would have lasting consequences.

Personally, I saw that as a test of character. What we do when we have no fear of consequences (and no hope of rewards) can tell us a lot about what kinds of people we are. The character in question proved to be exploitative and not terribly concerned about the welfare of others, which makes sense for a pirate (we're currently playing a pirate-themed game). As for my character, he was cautious and non-confrontational, which might have a bit out-of-character for a pirate, but every pirate needs a crew, and you've got to be good to them if you don't want them to turn on you. Also, magical hallucination dreams can mess you up if you're not careful. As a barbarian, he possibly should have taken more risks, but he took more risks than I would have been comfortable with, and that's probably reckless enough for his character to be believable and consistent with his class.

The real question is (as is normally the case when I play D&D) What would I do in such a situation? If I thought I was in some sort of dream, where I could do whatever I wanted to do and not have to deal with any consequences when I woke up, what would I do in that dream? This question deserves more consideration than I have time for, but it's a question worth asking, because our actions say a lot about us, especially when we think they don't.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Authoritative Source

My Primary class is currently learning about Joseph, the son of Israel who was sold into Egypt. As we talked about him last Sunday, it became apparent that some of the Primary kids got much of their information about this story from a movie titled Joseph, Prince of Dreams. I've never seen that movie, but I'd be surprised if it was 100% accurate. Still, I myself am not much better, since my most recent experience with this story was watching Veggietales' The Ballad of Little Joe, which most certainly had several gaps in its accuracy. I think that, this time, summarizing the well-known story isn't going to be the best idea. There are too many false, removed, altered, and exaggerated ideas involved with the modern retellings of Joseph's story. It can be hard to know which elements of the story are Biblical and which ones are apocryphal, unless, of course, we go to the source.

What this means for me is that I'm going to plan on spending most of my lesson time having the children read directly from the scriptures that first told this tale, perhaps after I warn them about the folly of trusting an entertaining film to give them factual information. A lot of good can come from such retellings, but a lot of misinformation can come from them, too. If we want the truth about what happened, we had better stick to the authoritative source.