Friday, July 29, 2016

Understandable, but not Justifiable

Sometimes, I feel absolutely certain that I've blogged about something, but then I can't find the blog post that I'm sure I've written. This is one of those times. Between how much I admire Captain Moroni and how many times I've blogged about the War Chapters, I'm surprised I've never blogged about Captain Moroni's anger issues.

Moroni's anger is mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon. He gets angry at the Lamanites, at dissenting Nephites, at the Nephite government, and possibly others. One thing that I find interesting is that almost every time his anger is mentioned, the reason for his anger is also given. Lately, I've been highlighting the places in the Book of Mormon where Captain Moroni gets angry, planning to blog about the reasons he got angry, though I thought I had blogged about that before.

However, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to blog about that just yet. I have more verses to find, highlight, and ponder. In the meantime, I'd like to blog about the reasons for Captain Moroni's anger in a more general sense. The thing is, I'm pretty sure he always had fairly good reasons for getting angry, but I also think that no reason he had was actually good enough.

Anger is a sin. Even if it's not written in the "Thou Shalt Not" format, we have certainly been counselled to control our anger, and I'm not sure how well Captain Moroni did at that. It seems to me that, even though  Captain Moroni always had good reasons to be angry, that doesn't mean that it was the right thing to do. His anger was understandable, but perhaps not justified.

There's an important distinction there. A lot of what people do is understandable, and forgiveable, but still wrong. When people give in to human weakness, like getting angry when others are frustrating, we should remember that that's perfectly understandable and very human, but it's not something that they or we should do. We can and should forgive such behavior, but we shouldn't condone it or emulate it.

I look forward to learning why Captain Moroni got angry so many times, but I don't plan on allowing myself to get angry as often or for the same reasons. I plan to continue to try to control my anger, no matter what I learn from studying and blogging about his.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

To Lead and to Follow

I can't believe this didn't occur to me earlier. To lead someone means to go before them, showing them the way, and to follow means to go behind them.

It's so simple. Leaders aren't just commanders. They don't just say "you go do that thing," then sit back and watch. They say "Let's go do that thing," and then they start to do it, trusting that the others will join in. Leading isn't just about giving commands, and following isn't just about obeying them. It's about working together. It's about setting a good example and following that example. That's why the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" irks me as much as it does. Leaders shouldn't just tell their followers  what to do and how to do it; they should show them, by example. They should walk the path they want others to follow, not just tell them where the path is.

That, in my opinion, is part of what makes Jesus Christ a great leader. He didn't just tell people how to live; He showed them by living that way Himself. Good leaders follow His example by leading by example, by literally leading their followers, not just bossing them around. Since I've been called to be a leader, I'm going to follow the Savior by being a leader who literally leads.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Lord's Kind of Leadership

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately, for a number of reasons. First, I just came back from a week-long experience where I served as a leader. Second, we in the United States are approaching an opportunity to select a new leader. And third, the next General Conference talk I had planned to blog about just happened to be about what it means to be a leader. In his April 2016 General Conference talk, The Greatest Leaders Are the Greatest Followers, President Stephen W. Owen of the General Young Men Presidency said:
The world teaches that leaders must be mighty; the Lord teaches that they must be meek. Worldly leaders gain power and influence through their talent, skill, and wealth. Christlike leaders gain power and influence “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.”
There are many approaches to leadership, and some methods are better than others. Throughout history, people have used intimidation to attempt to control people, and they have had some success, but that is not the Lord's way. The Lord would have us be humble and kind, whether we are leaders or followers. There are times when we have to be strong and put our feet down, but most of the time, we are to be meek and patient, exercising tolerance and respecting the decisions of others.

Too many people in the world, myself included, are too easily swayed by pride. Some leaders pridefully try to impose their will on others, while some would-be followers pridefully insist on acting on their own will. Being a strong believer in individual freedom, I often fall in the latter camp, but President Owen's talk is helping me realize that there is a balance between freedom and obedience. Yes, we all have the God-given gift of agency, but using our agency wisely often means yielding our will to others.

If I'm going to be a leader, and it's becoming increasingly clear that God wants me to be one, I'm going to have to learn to find the right balance between freedom and obedience. I'll need to learn how much obedience I should expect from those I lead, and how much freedom I should allow them to retain. Personally, I would want them to retain all their freedom, and to only follow my suggestions if they choose to, but that's not the Lord's way any more than ruling with an iron fist is. God expects me to obey those who have authority over me, and He expects those over whom I have authority to obey me. That, in a slight way, goes against my personal beliefs, but I trust that God's ideas of leadership and followership are wiser than mine.

The basic idea of leadership, as far as I understand it at the moment, is to be gentle, but firm. We shouldn't be too strict with those whom we've been called to lead, but we shouldn't be too lenient, either. We all need guidance, and some of us need more firm guidance than others. As leaders, we need to be willing to nudge, and occasionally shove, our followers in the right direction, just as God does with us, just as we need to be willing to step back occasionally and let others make their own choices, as God sometimes does. Learning when to be firm and when to be gentle is going to take a lot of practice for me, but with God's help, I think I can master it. I've already learned a lot about the Lord's idea of leadership. God willing, I'm going to continue to learn a lot more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Faith to Keep a Two-Land Hand

In Magic: the Gathering, playing most cards requires mana, which is generated by land cards. Since each land can usually only produce one mana per turn, it's important to make sure you have enough land cards to play the other cards in your hand. However, since each player starts with only seven cards in their hand, and normally only draws one card per turn, it takes a certain amount of luck to get the number of lands you need by the time you need them.

For example, if you draw an opening hand that had several three-mana-cost spells, but only two lands, you would have to decide whether you'll keep that hand or take a mulligan, shuffling your current opening hand back into your deck, and drawing a new hand with one less card. Taking a mulligan might increase your chances of having all the lands you'll need, but having fewer cards would put you at a disadvantage. Alternatively, keeping a two-land hand is a small gamble, but with two or three chances to draw a land by your third turn, your odds are fairly good, so it's usually worth it to take the leap of faith.

In life, we never know what will come our way next. We can make educated guesses and we may have pretty good odds of things working out according to plan, but the future is never certain. In life, we can never know what cards we'll be dealt. But often, God asks us to move forward in faith. Unlike us, God knows exactly what cards are coming up next, and in what order. He knows which risks we can afford to take, and which ones we should shy away from. God knows when we'd be safe with taking a two-land-hand, or even a one- or a zero-land-hand (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Sometimes, we need to move forward with faith in order for things to work out according to God's plan, but if we do, they always will. God's plans are foolproof, so even though we may not know every detail about God's plans, and we may not know what'll happen next, if we act in faith, God will reward that faith with success.

Now, I'm not saying that you should always take crazy risks, like keeping a hand with too few lands in it, but what I'm am say is that, if God prompts you to go ahead and take the risk, then there really is no risk at all. God knows what's going to happen, so if He assures you that everything will be alright, you can have full confidence in that assurance and move forward in faith. I doubt God really cares how well I do in my Magic games and which opening hands I choose to keep, but if, for some reason, He prompts me to keep a hand that has very few lands, or even no lands, in it, I hope that I would have the faith to keep the hand, trusting that God would give me what I need in the moment I need it, just as He does when it really matters.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Courage of the King Men

As I've been reviewing the war chapters, I've found it shocking how often the bad guys set good examples. Case in point, when the King Men failed in their attempts to reorganize the Nephite government, they were offered an ultimatum: Either fight, and possibly die, for a cause they didn't believe in, or be put to death. Under the threat of death, many of them chose possible death over certain death, even though that meant switching sides, but a handful of them stuck to their convictions and chose death.

This choice must have taken a great deal of courage and conviction. Sure, their conviction was misplaced, but their loyalty to their cause was admirable. If I were put in their shoes, being forced to choose between death and fighting for a cause I opposed, I'm not sure I would have the courage to make the right decision.

However, I know a few truths that make the decision a little easier. For example, this life isn't all there is. When we pass on, we'll go to an afterlife in which we'll be judged according to our decisions. Knowing that, going early into that afterlife for having boldly made a righteous decision doesn't sound so bad. Plus, we're all going to die eventually anyway, so choosing life over righteousness would really only buy you a few more years or decades, if that. All in all, dying for a good cause isn't all that bad, especially compared to the alternative.

When it comes to one's moral convictions, it's almost certainly better to die for the right cause than fight for the wrong one. Fighting for the wrong cause means promoting evil, and possibly dying in the process. Dying in the act of promoting evil won't exactly look good on one's permanent (eternal) record, and surviving is almost as bad. The longer a person survives the war of which they're on the wrong side, the better that side will do. With their help, that side may even win. And when the war is over, no matter who wins, they'll have to live with the fact that they made a cowardly and immoral choice.

I admire the courage of the King Men who chose death over betraying their political beliefs. Granted, in their case, it was the wrong choice, but I admire the courage with which they made it. I personally hope I never get put in a similar situation, being forced to either die for my beliefs or fight against them, but if I am ever forced to make that kind of choice, I hope that I'll have the kind of courage those King Men had, the courage to stand by my convictions, even in the face of death.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pretending To Be Native American

The only thing I dislike about the Scout Camp we went to this year (beside the fact that there's a lot of hiking up and down hills to get around camp) is a ceremony that the Staff performs late in the week. This ceremony borrows heavily from what I can only assume is Native American tradition. I haven't seen much of any genuine Native American ceremonies, so I have no idea how closely this ceremony mirrors theirs, but I strongly suspect that this ceremony was entirely composed of falsehoods and fabrication.

The ties the Boy Scouts of America claims to have to Native American culture has always been my least favorite part of the organization. BSA and the ceremony teach good ideals, but they package those ideals in references to a culture that we are not a part of. We are not Native Americans. We probably don't do a very good job of respecting Native Americans when we borrow from their traditions to spice up our campfire stories. And any campfire story that starts with the phrase "Many moons ago" might as well have started with the phrase "Once upon a time" for how truthful I expect them to be. Sure, we're teaching young men how to be good men, but we lie to them when we do it. And this from an organization whose members' first tenet is to be trustworthy.

My point is that we don't need to pretend to be Native American to be interesting. We can capture the boys' attention in other ways. At the final campfire, one member shared a true story of how he saved a person from serious injury using skills he had learned at Scout Camp six years earlier. It was a powerful message. I'm sure we can find other true, inspiring stories about Scouts who used their skills and their virtues to accomplish good and great things. And we can do so without wearing leather and feather costumes that only cover half of our bodies.

I respect the Boy Scouts of America for teaching young men to act with honor and integrity, but it pains me to see so many leaders of Scouting organizations discard their dignity and act in a way that betrays the ideals of Scouting. I believe that leaders should lead by example, and by dressing up as Native Americans and telling tall tales, we're not setting very good examples of how honest men should behave.

Yet, as with almost every fault I decry on my blog, I have no room to talk. I make-believe to inspire myself to be righteous. The leaders of that Scout Camp may not be Native Americans, but I'm not a Paladin, either. However, I never seriously claim to be a Paladin, and I think that sets me apart from the Scout leaders who performed that ceremony a few nights ago. Whenever I claim to be a Paladin, which is rarely, I only ever mean it in a figurative sense. I have never tried to convince anyone that I literally am a Paladin. But I think some Scout leaders have dishonestly attempted to make young men believe that they really were Native Americans, and in my mind, that is completely unacceptable. Playing fictional roles in skits is fine, but actually pretending to be something you're not takes the idea of fiction a little bit too far.

Maybe I'm just bitter about this because I think that the leaders of impressionable young men should hold themselves to high standards of conduct. Maybe I'm just being a stick in the mud or a wet blanket. Maybe I'm drawing too fine a line between fiction and dishonesty. But I personally don't plan on participating in any supposedly Native American ceremonies organized by members of the Boy Scouts of America. It's possible that there's not actually anything wrong with them, but they seem dishonest and unnecessary to me.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Most Important Thing I Learned at Scout Camp

It's probably premature to say this, because there's still plenty of time for me to fins out that I'm wrong about what I'm about to say, but I think I may have found my element. For as long as I've been serving as a leader, even of other young men, even of those younger than myself, I've felt underqualified. I've felt that I didn't have what it takes to be a leader. I don't feel like I make good decisions, I don't think I handle stress very well, and a frequently feel overwhelmed. Since planning and crisis-management are part of a leader's job, and I felt that I don't do well in those areas, I thought that I simply wasn't cut out to be a leader.

However, my week at Scout Camp taught me that I have other leaderly qualities. Specifically, I'm patient and understanding, I can be persuasive, yet gentle, and I can provide an uplifting and infectious positive attitude. In short, though I may not excel in the managerial side of being a leader, I have some talent for being a leader "on the field," so to speak. I may not be able to lead an organization, but I can lead a small team.

And the group I've been called to lead is certainly a small team.

Some people believe that knowing one's own weaknesses is useful in that it tells you where you need to improve. I disagree, to a certain extent. While I agree that it is good to try to reduce one's own weaknesses, I'm not sure that eliminating them completely is even possible in all cases, and it may not be the best use of one's time. Rather, I think that knowing one's own weaknesses is most helpful to those who use that information to adjust their methods. For example, a person who has more intelligence than they have strength would do better to put themselves in a position where their intelligence gives them an advantage than to work on their strength until theirs is on par with everyone else's. Yes, one could work on their weaknesses in order to round themselves out and make themselves more adaptable, but in a team, having four or five people who are all average in every way is less useful than having the same number of people who each excel at different things.

There are people who know how to run an organization and who thrive under pressure, but I'm not one of those people. If I made enough effort, I could probably learn those skills, but it's probably wiser to work with the strengths I already have. I have traits and talents that make me a natural leader, just in a different sense than I had been thinking. If there's one thing I've learned at Scout Camp, it's that I can be a leader. I may not be a great organization leader, but I can be a great team leader. If I bear that in mind, consider the Young Men's Presidency as a team, and draw upon the strengths of others while utilizing my own, I think I can be a great leader, which is something I would never have had the confidence to say a week ago. I can be a leader; a team leader.