Category Archives: popular culture

Prescience of Neal A. Maxwell

maxwell 1997

I’m looking forward to our Priesthood class today. We will be reviewing a landmark talk given by Neal A. Maxwell in 1998 at BYU on January 4, 1998. This talk, The Pathway of Discipleship, a little over a year after he had been diagnosed with leukemia.

I was struck by the prescience of one of his remarks near the conclusion of the talk, and how well it resonates with the challenges we face today:

Do not, my young friends, expect the world to esteem the seventh commandment—chastity before marriage and fidelity after. Some people in the world will fret genuinely over the consequences of its violation, such as staggering and unprecedented illegitimacy and marital breakdowns. However, sexual immorality per se will still not be condemned by the secular world as long as the violators have any commendable qualities at all or as long as they are, in some respect, politically correct. We will have to keep the seventh commandment because it is spiritually correct, not because we will get much support from society’s other institutions.

It is almost haunting to read his warning that scriptural and spiritual memory can fade in just one generation. He cited Judges 2:10, which says “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (see also Mosiah 26:1-2).

His remedy is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and lifelong discipleship for us. Without it there is little hope. Even with it, there will be some rough patches.

Without gospel perspective in our lives, we just won’t “get it” either. Special moments will come and go unused and unnoticed. How we manage those moments in daily life ends up either developing character or disintegrating character.

I am the first to acknowledge that we, as Church members, have a tremendous challenge being equal to our theology and our opportunity. We fall short. If we stumble, let us arise and continue the climb. The Lord will bless us because we are possessed of truths about “things as they really are, and . . . things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13). These truths beckon us, even in our imperfections, to be better.

This guy is awesome. I’m so grateful he was so prolific in his writing and speaking before he died in 2004.  As a result,  we have a roadmap that will come in quite handy on our own journey down the pathway of discipleship.

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Jedi v. Sith: Opposition In All Things

Qui-Gon Jinn
darth maul
Darth Maul

I just bought the Star Wars Complete Saga for Blue Ray. We are watching the series in order and finished The Phantom Menace. I was astounded (again) at the degree to which gospel themes are woven into the story line.  I’ve posted on Star Wars before (Jedi mind tricks and the power of the dark side) and somehow think the next 5 movies will be insightful.

Part of what makes this story so compelling to me is the great battle between good and evil that is at it’s heart. The Force is portrayed as an all-powerful influence  that exists independent of any one individual. Members of the Jedi Order use the Force to bring about peace and justice in the universe, whereas the Sith Order use the Force to gain personal power. It is apparent pretty early in the saga that there will be a cataclysmic  conflict between these opposing philosophies.

The respective codes of the Jedi and the Sith are outlined below:

The Jedi Code The Sith Code
There is no emotion, there is peace
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge
There is no passion, there is serenity
There is no chaos, there is harmony
There is no death, there is the Force
Peace is a lie, there is only passion
Through passion, I gain strength
Through strength, I gain power
Through power, I gain victory
Through victory, my chains are broken
The Force shall free me

The opposition between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force is the glue that binds this story together. It seems like the opposition leitmotif  in the Star Wars saga might be the same critical ingredient that is needed in the saga of our own eternal journey.

In his final words of counsel to his son Jacob, Lehi said “there must needs be opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) in order for God to bring about his eternal purposes (2 Nephi 2:15).  The 29th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants speaks further to God’s great purpose. Without opposition, men could never be agents unto themselves. We would never recognize sweet without first tasting something bitter (D&C 29:39). This agency was an essential part of the test of mortality, and a critical mechanism whereby God could exalt His children (Abraham 3:25-26).

It would be very interesting to sit down with George Lucas and discuss how nicely his story line coincides with LDS understanding of how the forces of good an evil interact in man’s eternal destiny. There are certainly days in our individual lives when we are left to wonder which side will triumph. Fortunately for those with faith in God, both stories conclude with a happy ever after ending.

Photo Credits:
Qui-Gon Jinn
Darth Maul

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Fighting Words

Today  I read an editorial in which owners of a wedding chapel in Idaho face fines and possible jail time for refusing to perform same-sex marriage. The husband and wife owners are both ordained ministers and believe same-sex marriage to be contrary to their religious beliefs. But the recent court rulings on same-sex marriage now make it legal in Idaho. As a result, they are in potential violation of local non-discrimination ordinances because their wedding chapel is registered as a business, not a church.

So it begins.

In reality the battle lines have been forming for quite some time now and the Church has anticipated this fight. To those that are in favor of same-sex marriage–and even those that are completely indifferent about it–the Church’s position is difficult to understand. “Why not concede on this one issue and then everyone can get along with no further quarrel?”

148 years ago, critics were asking the same question of the Church regarding it’s position on marriage.  Brigham Young’s response then is something that would work pretty well today–if we simply substitute ‘polygamy’ for ‘same-sex marriage’:

[If] we would give up polygamy . . . would they be satisfied with this? No; but they would next want us to renounce Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God, then the Book of Mormon, then baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. Then they would wish us to disclaim the gift of prophecy, and the other gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, on the ground that they are done away and no longer needed in our day, also prophets and apostles, etc.

They want us to yield all these points, transgress the laws God has revealed for the salvation of the world, and change all the ordinances of God’s house, and conform to the dogmas of modern Christianity and to the corruptions of the age. Will the Latter-day Saints do this? No; they will not to please anybody. Shall we have a warfare? We shall; we will war and contend for the right, and trust in our God until righteousness is established upon the earth, until peace shall reign everywhere, until the children of men shall lay down the weapons of their warfare and cease to exhaust their ability and ingenuity in forming weapons of destruction to slay their fellow men, until the minds and affections of mankind shall be turned unto the Lord their God, and their energies be directed to beautifying the earth and making it like the garden of Eden. We calculate to struggle on, and continue to exercise faith and enjoy our religion, keeping all the commandments of God, observing the ordinances of his house, trying to fulfill all his words, trusting in him, and we shall see what this course will come to. (Brigham Young – Journal of Discourses 11:239)

His words are eerily prophetic.  Were the Church to concede on the issue of same-sex marriage, it wouldn’t end there.  There would be “just one more thing”.  I think we are in for a fight no matter what.

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Low Expectations

Originally Published at Modern Mormon Men on 10/3/2014

From The Simpsons episode 72 "Selma's Choice" (21 January 1993)
From The Simpsons episode 72 “Selma’s Choice” (21 January 1993)

I recently watched an excerpt of Charlie Rose’s interview of Bill Maher in which they discussed the looming threat of terrorism sponsored by radical Islam.  Maher said something so provocative that I had to listen to it several times and then review the transcript:

“Now if they were beheading people in Vatican City, which is the equivalent of Mecca, don’t you think there would be a bigger outcry about it? So this is the soft bigotry of low expectations with Muslim people. When they do crazy things and believe crazy things, somehow it’s not talked about nearly as much (source; emphasis mine).”

It was just one of those phrases that struck a cord with me.  And, although Maher has used this line before (here), it seems he’s borrowed it from an unlikely source: his avowed archenemy President George W. Bush.* Talk about irony!

Now you may think this post will go on to rant about the scourge of radical Islam.  Not today.  Instead, I’m struck with how universal the soft bigotry of low expectations has become in our everyday world.  President Bush originally used this phrase in his 2000 speech to the NAACP shortly after assuming office. He was illustrating the need for the Republican Party to mend fences with the NAACP and address issues of discrimination and racism that still exist in this country. But this example is just the tip of an iceberg of scenarios in which this rhetoric could be applied.

Think about society’s current expectations for restraining profanity, immodesty and overtly sexual imagery and messaging. The expectation of respectful or courteous treatment by others, trustworthiness of strangers and the public sense of common decency is almost non-existent. We are programmed to expect tantrums from children that don’t get their way and infidelity from spouses.  We expect dishonesty and corruption from politicians and the media who cover them. After all, its just politics, right? We are told that the key to personal happiness is to lower our expectations of ourselves and others.  If you don’t, you’ll just be disappointed. It all begs the question: when will it end?

In contrast, take a look at how our Church has revised expectations of its members.  Start by taking another look at The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Review how the Church’s expectations regarding chastity and moral cleanliness have changed since the sexual revolution. Finally, consider the changes in levels of commitment in terms of time, money and heart that is required of members of the Church. In the face of society’s rush to the bottom, we find our Church clinging to standards that are increasing old fashioned.

Legitimate problems arise from unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others–there’s just no getting around this. We have to expect that on our best day we all will still fall short.  But the answer, contrary to popular belief, is not just lowering the bar. When every kid gets a trophy, it’s all smiles at first. But it doesn’t take long for everyone to recognize the devaluation of trophies that this practice creates. It is refreshing to spend time with people that honestly believe and teach that we are capable of much, much more.

Undoubtedly, there will be days when we have our share of disappointments from dashed expectations. The essence of the Gospel is the ability to love and nurture those that fall short of lofty standards. The things that make this possible are faith in the Lord and hope in the power of His atonement to lift us over a bar that is set very high.

__________________

* George W. Bush’s speechwriter at this time was Michael Gerson and he is generally credited with coming up with this phrase.

 

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These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For

Originally published at Modern Mormon Men on September 17, 2014

I recently saw a friend deploy a Jedi mind trick in an attempt to evade being ‘volunteered’ for an assignment at a church function.  He waved his hand and said “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Genius! Though a relatively new convert, he demonstrated maturity well beyond his years in the Church in that moment. Even though he was only joking around, his bold move really got me thinking about the Jedi mind trick.
 
For those that need a refresher on how the mind trick is played to perfection, review the dialogue from this scene in Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope (listen here).*
 
Obi-Wan Kanobi uses the Jedi mind trick on stormtroopers
at a checkpoint at Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine.
Obi-Wan Kanobi assured young Luke Skywalker that the mind trick could be employed to good effect since “the force can have a strong influence on the weak minded.” My friend had no other options. Tactically speaking it was a brilliant move. But it didn’t work for him. He and his wife were ‘volunteered’ anyways. They took it all in stride. You win some and lose some, right? 

There’s actually a number of other examples in which the Jedi mind trick didn’t work–even for a Jedi.  Luke had it working pretty well with Bib Fortuna, but things got sideways in a hurry when he tried it on Jabba the Hutt** (here to watch Luke’s strikeout). In Qui-Gon Jinn’s attempted use of the mind trick, things went poorly from the outset (here).
 
Although there are times when I think mastery of the mind trick would come in handy, those reasons are mostly selfish.  Jedi doctrine forbade a Jedi from ever using the mind trick for personal gain.*** It is probably better for all of us to think about being victimized by such trickery rather than becoming a master of it. In this context, Obi-Wan’s use of the mind trick at Mos Eisley reminds me of a classic passage in the Book of Mormon.  In it, Nephi describes Satan deftly using the mind trick for his own selfish purposes: 

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them carefully down to hell. 

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none–and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them in his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:21-22)

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jabba the Hutt both agree that those most susceptible to the mind trick are the weak minded. It has become a standard operating procedure for the world to casually wave a hand and say ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for‘. We are sometimes too easily persuaded that evil is okay, that darkness has a subtle luminescence and that something that is bitter actually tastes kinda good (Isaiah 5:20). This weak-mindedness, called carnal-mindedness by both Paul (Romans 8:6) and Nephi  (2 Nephi 9:39), can bring about our spiritual demise.  Spiritual mindedness, on the other hand brings peace and eternal life. This spiritual mindedness can confer on us a type of situational awareness that alerts us to deception.  Like Jabba or Watto, we see right through the hand waving and soft tones that would lull us into a dumbed-down state of complacency. 

Our vulnerability to these kinds of deceptions will wax and wane over time as our spiritual mind subjects our carnal mind (and vice versa). During weaker moments many of us will resort to trying to deploy a mind trick  ourselves to suit our selfish purposes. But remember the advice of Nephi, lest any of us think we can sweet-talk our way past the checkpoint to heaven: 

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name (2 Nephi 9:41, emphasis mine). 

 Evidently Nephi knew a thing or two about Jedi mind tricks. 

__________________



Mos Eisley Space Station

Stormtrooper: “Let me see your identification.”  
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “You don’t need to see his identification.”
Stormtrooper: “We don’t need to see his identification.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Stormtrooper: “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “He can go about his business.”
Stormtrooper: “You can go about your business.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Move along.”
Stormtrooper: “Move along. Move along.”

**Luke Confronts Jabba the Hutt 

Bib Fortuna: May I present Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight? 

Jabba the Hutt: I told you not to admit him! 
Luke: I must be allowed to speak. 
Bib Fortuna: He must be allowed to speak.
Jabba the Hutt: You weak minded fool! He’s using an old Jedi mind trick. 
[Jabba shoves Bib Fortuna aside] 
Luke: You will bring Captain Solo and the Wookiee to me. 
[Jabba laughs] 
Jabba the Hutt: Your mind powers will not work on me boy.

*** See this link for more information on Force Persuasion

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2014 List of Banished Words

Originally Published August 26, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Lake Superior State University has been publishing an annual list of banished words since 1977. Their website catalogues all the entries over the years, but be forewarned: reading too many of these lists will put your hate-coefficient into the red zone very quickly. There is a lot of painful memories buried in these archives. Though its difficult to admit it, I’m as guilty as the rest of you in creating this sad legacy.

The 2014 entries are indeed worthy of banishment from our vocabularies forever. Each of us would do well to read this list annually and use it as one of your home teaching lessons. Trust me … people will thank you.

2014 List of Banished Words (in descending order)
3. Hashtag
I thought it was just me, but apparently I’m not the only one annoyed by the hashtag craze. Actually it’s call an octothrope, but either way it’s best if you part ways. If you insist on continuing to use it on Instagram or Twitter then let’s just try to use a little restraint. No one will complain if you never say it or use it again.

2. Twerk/Twerking
I hope you’re happy, Miley Cyrus. I can never unsee that. You’ve ruined it for everyone.
1. Selfie
It seems that most of the world is under the mistaken impression that other people care about seeing a picture you take of yourself (or rather retake eight times before publishing) every day. It’s a lie.  I think we should employ Elder Uchtdorf’s advice on this one: Stop It!
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Paško Tomić (used with permission).
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Searching For Help: Google or God?

I was preparing a lesson for priesthood recently in which we reviewed a General Conference talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson entitled Let Your Faith Show. His talk highlighted a perspective that is increasingly prevalent in our society. It is the notion that religion has become irrelevant in modern life. This message is broadcast a thousand times a day in a myriad of forms that range from overt rejection of God to the more subtle ideas (such as the belief that government, when properly constituted, will achieve the same results as organized religion [here for an old post]). It occurred to me that this phenomenon is demonstrated even more subtly by considering where we search for help when we need it: Google or God. 

I’m not suggesting that we ignore the wealth of information (and misinformation) that exists on the web when we have questions or problems. In fact, I’m certain that the web represents a gift from God to further His work. Furthermore, I believe the Lord wants us to use every resource at our disposal to work out our problems (D&C 9:7-9) before troubling Him with them.* But, for all its good, the Internet certainly drags along its share of problems as well. Google has literally changed the way we solve problems and perceive the world. Though it brings a wealth of resources to our fingertips in an instant, Google makes the ultimate source of knowledge, guidance and direction just a little more elusive.
 
As members of the Church we have the privilege of having the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost–if we use it.  That means we have the opportunity of having God with us all the time. That presence is like spiritual 4G–even when you’re stuck on an airplane, in the wildness, or are subject to international roaming. Brigham Young pointed out that most of us don’t use it:

There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him His will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.  (Journal of Discourses, Volume 12; page 104)

Who do you turn to when the chips are down?  Its a question that is cause for some personal introspection. As we become habituated to going to Google for answers, we are less inclined to go to God in prayer, to visit the temple, to open the scriptures, or to listen to the God (i.e. – the Holy Ghost) that is patiently waiting to for us to spend more time with Him. 

Google is great–but we are wise to remember it is one more way to persuade us to put our trust in the arm of flesh–in this case digital flesh. Caution is advised, lest we fall into the increasingly prevalent trap of worshiping the creation, rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).** 
_________

*The Prophet Joseph Smith is an example of a man that knew where to go for help.  His history and the Doctrine and Covenants are replete with examples of how his instincts and experience taught him where to search for answers (JS-H 1:11-13, 1:29-30).  In fact, he was so comfortable in going to God with questions that the Lord sometimes had to say “you’re bugging Me . . . knock it off” (D&C 5:29; D&C 59:22; D&C 130:15). 
** See also Isaiah 10:15
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