Monday, April 21, 2014

April 2014 General Conference: Spiritual Whirlwinds

Elder Neil L. Anderson warned that the world will not glide calmly toward the Second Coming.  All things shall be in commotion, there will be spiritual whirlwinds.

Sin has always been part of the world, but it has never been so accessible, insatiable, and acceptable. The powerful force of repentance will subdue the whirlwinds of sin.

Not all whirlwinds of our making. Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.

Prepare for your whirlwinds.  President Monson said a chasm ever stands between standards of the Church and the world, but it is grows wider than ever before.

In a recent message to Church leaders, the First Presidency wrote,
Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We urge you to review … the doctrine contained in ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World.’

President Monson said,

The Savior of mankind described Himself as being in the world but not of the world. We also can be in the world but not of the world as we reject false concepts and false teachings and remain true to that which God has commanded.

Defending traditional marriage is derided, sometimes you will have to stand alone.

In the same-sex attraction whirlwind, we are challenged to love those who disagree.  But beware of self-righteousness.  There is no place in the Gospel for bigotry. But everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration.  God will dispel the powers of darkness.

We are called to stand in holy places.  To strengthen us, we are afforded greater access to Temple.  We find the peace of the Savior in the Temple.  The way you feel in the temple is a pattern for how you want to feel in your life.

Don't let the whirlwind drag you down. These are your days to stand strong as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

April 2014 General Conference: Protection from Pornography—a Christ-Focused Home

Linda S. Reeves asks, "What do I want my grandchildren to know?"  Church leaders are worried about the damage pornography is causing families.

Many are drawn back to images of pornography until it becomes an addiction.  Pornography has become more vile, evil, and graphic than ever before.

How do we protect ourselves?  Filters are great tools, but the greatest filter is a deep abiding testimony.

The challenges for parents can be overwhelming.  Someone told her, "When you ask the sisters to read the scriptures and pray more, it stresses them out. They already feel like they have too much to do.”

In reaction, Sister Reeves reports that their family set new priorities.  As they prayed about how to act, the answer that came was clear: “It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”

They were trying to do these things, but not always as the priority and, amidst the chaos, sometimes neglected. They changed focus to not to worry about the less-important things. The new focus became to talk, rejoice, preach, and testify of Christ by striving to daily pray and study the scriptures and have weekly family home evening.

If our children refuse to join us, we can start with ourselves.
What do I want my grandchildren to know? I want them and you to know that I know the Savior lives and loves us. He has paid the price for our sins, but we must kneel before our Father in Heaven, in deep humility, confessing our sins, and plead with Him for forgiveness. We must want to change our hearts and our desires and be humble enough to seek the help and forgiveness of those we may have hurt or forsaken.

Disappointment: How Well We Know the Feeling

Suffering from frustrated expectations can be much more bruising to the soul than physical pain is to the body.  This is a hard lesson, but most of us have more than ample opportunity to learn it first hand.

Not to obsess about my own life, but as one who has personally experienced perhaps the maximum possible pain at moments in my life, I can witness that I would much more willingly subject myself to the physical dimension of suffering than the mental and spiritual anguish that wrack my soul at other times.

One of the most vivid recollections from growing up is a vignette of my father standing next to my bed, saying with unfeigned anguish, "Oh, Jim - I'm so disappointed in you!"  I don't even recall what I did to let my Dad down, but I can never forget how miserable it made me feel.

I know how much it hurt my Dad, because I had other opportunities to watch him while he suffered from great physical pain resulting from accidents.  And I saw that the suffering from disappointed expectations was sometimes much worse.

Throughout my adult life one of my highest ambitions has always been striving to make my Dad feel proud of me.  For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to do what is right.  Not sure I even know what that is any more.

I know that I continue to disappoint my Dad, but I think he understands, now, when I am doing my best.

One of the coping mechanisms I have learned about for dealing with the hopeless problems we face and our so-oft disappointed expectations derives from Beck's Congnitive Theory of Depression.  Beck's theory posits that we create much of our internal mental state, that leads us into depression.  It has to do with errors in cognition, flawed thinking whereby we trap ourselves into hopelessness.  Through this understanding, and more objective self-analysis, we can learn to recognize cognitive errors. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Problem Solving

It seems to me that my life's perspective offers three approaches to problem-solving. In problem-solving situations, I am often called upon to make judgements based on my personal views. I have identified a number of possible options, characterized in a most general way.

First, I can be complacent about my current outlook.  No need to seek any different ways of seeing things.  No need to shift my position attempting to gain new insights.  Seeing something from a different angle would require me to leave my comfortable couch-potato station.

Second, I can attempt to view my situation from afar.  I can move back to take in the long distance picture, from a broader perspective. The 1000-mile overview.  This approach sacrifices fine detail in the interest of establishing a more holistic understanding.

Seen from a distance has its own drawbacks.  The broad view tends to overlook what may seem like minor details that get lost in the weeds. We may be missing precious jewels.

Third, I can try the reductionist approach.  I can take things apart into discrete components, zooming in on smaller and smaller pieces, attempting to analyze each of them individually, assuming that the sum of all the parts can effectively characterize the whole system.

Reductionism has been my propensity from the beginning, and it got me into a lot of trouble.  I would determinedly disassemble complex things, to find out how they work.  I repeatedly discovered that holding the discrete parts in my hand did not always contribute to a more holistic understanding, and would generally then be faced with the dilemma of how to put the watch back together - most optimally, it might even work again.

After inflicting major trauma on a series of Chatty Cathy dolls, I did uncover the secret of the talking dolls.  But my sister has never forgiven me.

The trouble with deconstruction is that it tends to be destructive.  It might generally fit the wry observation that the operation was a success, but the patient died.  Such reductionist exercises tend to render the inquiry moot.

As it happens, the problem-within-a-problem is illustrated in the fractal image called the Mandelbrot set.  Given any particular point within the graphical rendering of the Mandelbrot, zooming in further only results in a different view, of equal complexity.  In this instance, application of reductionism does not resolve anything.

I have also rediscovered a number of times that the complacency approach has drawbacks.  One of the most memorable illustrations of this idea was presented during a tour of Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky.  The tour guide was delivering his spiel during our tour.  He mentioned that at one time, the region was dotted with private caves, fostering a competitive spirit between the cave venues to attract tourism.  One of the inventive methods for promoting a particular cave was to assign various different names for the same cave feature.  Then as the flocks of tourists were led on their ooh and ahh tours, the guide would bring them around on a circuitous route to view the same feature from a new angle, introducing it with a different name.  Apparently few tourists ever caught on to the trick.

But we seldom give credit to the fact that considering something from a different aspect sometimes gives a very different perspective.  No particular point of view tends to me more "true" than another.

As it turns out, for general problem solving we use all these methods.  The degree of scrutiny needs to fit the scope of the problem.  There are superficial matters that can be disposed of with hardly a glance.  Then there are cosmic questions that merit long and intensive inquiry, problems that will never be completely solved. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Thomas Jefferson Profile: An Ongoing Discussion

The Thomas Jefferson Profile has been moved to a blog of its own.  To visit please click here.  Sorry for any inconvenience.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Government Injustice: My Own Woeful Tale

The Bundy Ranch showdown reminds me of my own BLM association.  I have my own stories about tyranny and injustice.

From 2001 to 2008 my work was mostly independent contracting for the government. Including Forest Service and BLM jobs.  Several years I won a bid for herbicide spraying on public lands to control invasive species like this one, Onopordum acanthium, the Scotch thistle.

In 2008 something changed.  Introduced in the bid process was a provision they called "SBA 8(a)".  After that was implemented I never won another contract.

The last big job we won involved weed spraying at the site of the Milford Flats fire, with other fire-damaged areas around Beaver County in southeast Utah.  It covered about 90,000 acres of BLM land.

We started work in May and worked through the summer and into September.  My partner and I worked really hard, and the BLM supervisor from Beaver indicated that he was pleased with our efforts.  Based on our performance, he promised to help get us the contract again the next year.

When the next spring arrived we were expecting to have the contract renewed.  Instead, we learned that it had been given to another company that was 8(a) qualified.  The other company did not participate in bidding.  They had no performance history.  But they were placed at the head of applicants because of the 8(a) status. The local supervisor had no say in the matter. Apparently this company filed SBA documents that certified that the business was owned by a woman.  They were hired on that basis alone.

We never won another contract bid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sexism and Ordination Discussion

Truth will prevail?  Not in this instance, it seems.  Perhaps political correctness is what serves now in the Times and Seasons blog, just as it seems to dominate in so many other forums.

Well, once again I failed to restrain myself from arguing in a more public forum.  The context was regarding the "Ordain Women" issue, which strikes a touchy nerve for me in the first place.  I am prompted to recall from my most basic biology instruction in college, where we learned that irritability is one of the primary factors that characterize life. I know that irritability is certainly one of the primary characteristics of my life.

The post was basically soliciting information about Gospel Doctrine teachers in the Church, in the context of some sort of panel discussion about the "Ordain Women" group.  The author maintained that women get short shrift in "more important" teaching jobs in the ward, and more men tend to fill these sorts of "more important" jobs.

The author asked,

Why are so many Gospel Doctrine teachers men, when it appears that they should, in a random universe, be almost all women?

Of course, the correct answer would have to be that no part of this assumption is accurate.  No other numbers were offered to support the broad assertions inferred in the question.  The premise appears derivative from class-envy arguments that are so integral to Marxist/Socialist philosophy and assumptions.

There was no clear consensus in the responses.  Some were as apt to say that their Gospel Doctrine teacher was a woman as a man.  Many responded that it is a "team teaching" arrangement, some with husband/wife teams trading off for different weeks.  I did not notice any that appeared to assert that they had never seen women teaching Gospel Doctrine.

The premise seems to be that women always get the lesser jobs, like Primary teachers and Nursery helpers, that tend to be associated with lesser status.  This as apparent justification for jealousy and envy over who gets what calling.

I bristled at the suggestion, because I for one have never been particularly inclined to track specific numbers for such callings.  And I quoted from Dallin Oaks in the recent Conference.

At this conference we have seen the release of some faithful brothers, and we have sustained the callings of others. In this rotation—so familiar in the Church—we do not “step down” when we are released, and we do not “step up” when we are called. There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward,” and that difference depends on how we accept and act upon our releases and our callings. I once presided at the release of a young stake president who had given fine service for nine years and was now rejoicing in his release and in the new calling he and his wife had just received. They were called to be the nursery leaders in their ward. Only in this Church would that be seen as equally honorable!  (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood)

From my perspective the idea that Church callings represent a level of importance or status in the Church community is a shallow and superficial premise that effectively serves to denigrate some types of service while elevating others.  While it may be true that such misplaced ideals can be found in LDS groups, it clearly violates the teachings of Church leaders, as the Oaks quote indicates.

Another misperception that was voiced was regarding the role of inspiration in the callings extended to ward members.  The inference was made that bishops tend to approve callings subject to some degree of their own personal bias, and not are not particularly moved by inspiration from God.  In response, and in the context of this discussion, I wondered if the author of the post could estimate a performance rating that measures the relative level of inspiration a typical bishop might be receiving.

My concern at that point was that I regard inspired acts to be the sine qua non of Church leadership, and it is not possible to grade any particular performance level.  Nobody in Church service has ever been regarded as functioning perfectly.  I quoted from Elder Holland on this issue.

Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.  (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, "Lord, I Believe")
Exactly how those who complain that bishops do not always receive a full measure of divine inspiration would propose to measure such things was not explained.  Nor is it readily apparent how such issues are related to whether it happens to be a man or a woman.  Does the imperfection of Church members limit the power of God to fulfill His purposes?  If it does, there is no need for further discussion, since the Church amounts to little more than a social club anyway.

One other point that raised my eyebrows was in reference to the ideal of love and compassion.  In the words of one commenter,

Ideally, when someone says “I hurt,” the response would be along the lines of “how can I help?” rather than “oh, it’s not that bad…”

Not at all.

Many times, with my own children, "Oh, it's not that bad" was exactly the comfort we offered.  When a child falls and skins his knees and elbows, what he needs is assurance that such hurting is limited, and that they are not permanently injured.  Offering a temporary distraction from the hurt is prudent.  Asking a fretting child, "How can I help" in such an instance would be inappropriate to the point of ludicrous. And of course, in the instance where a compound fracture has been sustained, the "How can I help" response would be equally ludicrous.

In my opinion and experience any such tentative approach tends to be superficial and hypocritical, and generally issues from those who are mostly fulfilling their own need to satisfy doubt about  regard for themselves.

Most often in my own case, the expression of compassion is reflected when people just pitched in and helped.  I have been in such circumstances many times, of late.  In my experience, those in great need seldom understand fully why they are hurting or how they need help.

Responding to a complaint from Ardis Parshall that my comments constitute "trolling", and that I ought to just shut up and go lurk under a bridge somewhere, I commented,

The emphasis in this discussion seems to be on numbers and percentages. I’m wondering how that translates into questioning the bias of my bishop, and ultimately, the power of God. The tone of rhetoric does not appear to reconcile with Elder Holland’s admonition to Church members. That’s all.
Am I trolling, because I am so impertinent to presume to ask such questions?
I realized during the 2012 political campaign that Ardis would prefer not to hear from people like me. Nor is she alone. I have not ventured to comment on her space since then.
Yes, I am just another imperfect being. But I can still talk somewhere, can’t I? Should I just withdraw from public presence, because my backward foolish and unpopular ideals are such an embarrassment? I do write things on my blog, but intend this more as a personal journal. Does this forum not more represent the public square?
FWIW, perhaps it would be instructive to review the etymology of “trolling”. I think perhaps it does not mean what you think it means. :-)

Monday, April 14, 2014

April 2014 General Conference: Christ the Redeemer

Elder Carlos H. Amado gave testimony regarding the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ.

Jesus never received honors from the people of his day.  Even though he performed miracles and gave his disciples power, he was not recognized in his time.

He held authority and power over life and death, as seen in the incident with Mary and Martha, and Lazarus.  Jesus promised, "...I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."  His works bore irrefutable evidence of his power.

In Gethsemane, Jesus took upon him our infirmities, then was raised up on the cross, in the crucifixion.

He was resurrected as witness to his power.

April 2014 General Conference: The Joyful Burden of Discipleship

Elder Ronald A. Rasband spoke on Saturday morning about his involvement in Church relief efforts.  Quoting from President Monson,

We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us. …
“‘… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me’ [Matthew 25:40].
He talked of sharing the burdens of others.  We are the Lord's hands here on the Earth.

Each of us faces the challenge of balancing earthly possessions against spiritual treasures.  Our treasures on earth can be destroyed in an instant.

Elder Rasband recounted an Oklahoma tornado survivors story.
They were protected by angels.

Often we are given the opportunity to help others in need.
If we resolve to bear one another's burdens, we are rewarded with
the joy that comes from sacred service.

Anarchy is Not Freedom - for Anyone

Is this how we assert our rights?  Is this how we protect freedom?  There just has to be a better way.  In the Bundy Ranch conflict, everyone seems to see their own favorite cause represented.

What I saw depicted in the popular media was a confrontation provoked by acting out, anger, and threats of violence from both sides.  It would have been difficult to tell, judging by which side was doing more screaming and threats, which represents traditional values of justice and freedom and which was just a screaming mob.

Why must the proponents of "freedom" engage in a violent shouting and shoving match?  Some of the scenes bore uncanny resemblance to two playground bullies striving against each other to assert their dominance.  The frenzy of uncontrolled rage was the most obvious characteristic of the "militia", who in many photos and videos of the incident appeared to be bristling with fierce looking weapons, many with the substantial bulges of personal body armor.

In the scenes I witnessed, there were no black helicopters from embattled government forces hovering overhead.  No sharpshooting snipers appeared to be zeroing in on their assassination targets.  Many of the BLM guys appeared to be intimidated and unprepared to confront the screaming mob, their six-shooters holstered against the threat of facing many wielding semiautomatics and high-power hunting rifles.  I heard one member of the Bundy family promise that they had a shotgun, and knew how to use it.  It looks like the BLM "thugs" were outnumbered by the screaming protesters, and were most anxious to get the heck out of dodge.

Witnessing the prudent retreat, many of the protesters were apparently emboldened, screaming dire imprecations and making derisive and rude gestures at the government "thugs" as they sped away.

If that is the appearance of freedom vanquishing tyranny, I'm pretty sure I'm not favorably impressed.  I'm trying to grasp how all this reconciles with counsel from General LDS Church leaders.

Our whole society really rests on the capacity of its citizens to give 'obedience to the unenforceable.' (Elder Neal A. Maxwell)

Citizens are not free to choose which laws they consider themselves not subject to, and which they opt to obey.  This rationale to justify disobedience to the laws of the land is not far removed from justification for disobeying the laws of God.  (Elder Dallin H. Oaks)

I don't really care to argue further about "liberty" and "freedom".  Those who have appropriated this event as some sort of symbolic cause, fine for them.  Believe whatever you please.  But I think I am pretty clear on the relation between land and money.

Like most western cattle ranchers, I understand that the Bundy Ranch has title to holdings of just over 100 acres.  This is what traces back to family tradition.  All of the rest of the more than 7000 acres being claimed for grazing land has always been owned by the state.

Bundy has no title or deed of ownership for this extensive area.  But like many others, the Bundy Ranch happens to be a strategic location that controls most of the available water in the area.   With range cattle, this is the primary difference that controls whether the land can support the big herd of cattle, or is just more burning sands.

Snopes comments about the Chinese conspiracy theory and other such misinformation. Both sides of this controversy have tossed in so much irrelevant information now, it is impossible to separate.  It makes me uncomfortable to see so little difference in methods used by either side.  I think they're both losing.