Monday, October 30, 2006

Joseph Smith and Friendship

I read this article by Terryl Givens yesterday and several statements got me thinking.

In it he talks about Joseph Smith's ability to forge a sense of community and fellowship within the converts of the early church. Givens makes the asssertion that "When he [Joseph] later stated, with striking brevity, 'Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,'36 he was saying something about the deepest underpinnings of Mormon theology" (15). I'd just never heard it put that way before—the idea that friendship, not just families, plays a fundamental role in our theology.

I think this can mean several things. For one, it is important to strengthen family ties through friendship. I don't live with my brother and sister anymore, and haven't for almost a decade, but I'd say we were friendly growing up, and that we're certainly better friends now. I don't worry about whether or not my family will stay in touch because not only do we love each other but our friendship is important to me. The same principle came into play as I was getting to know Nick's family—things became smoother once I decided to work on developing friendships with his siblings (not that they were bad to begin with—it's just more comfortable now).

But I also think the broader application of Joseph's statement holds true: the power and emotional ties of friendship are also eternally important in Mormon theology. I've always had a hard time imagining a celestial kingdom where I would "only" see my family (taking family in the constrained sense—I know we're all family when you look at it from God's perspective). Good friends have had (and continue to have) a significant impact on my spiritual growth and development. Givens talks about Joseph's words in the context of religious community. Friendship binds people together, and when you believe in eternal relationships, that bond even on earth can be quite strong.

These thoughts are all good and nice—friends are important and we can rely on the strength of friendship (and brother/sisterhood) in the eternities—but they also made me think more carefully about how I treat other people in my religious community, specifically in my ward. I'm afraid I'm too prone to avoid friendships, to judge others for their decisions, to say to myself "we're only going to be here another year, so it's ok if I don't extend myself a bit." I don't think I'm outright mean or rude, but I'm not sure I'm doing all I can do to build up the kingdom either. I don't believe you can force a friendship, but I think I can do a better job at being open to them and appreciating them when they do form.


Saturday, October 28, 2006


I was going to come up with a clever post to go along with this, but that would be unnecessary as this website says it all.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Musings of the Common Man – Part 1

You’ll have to excuse the corny title. I don’t know why I worded it that way. I haven’t listened to Copeland for weeks.

I often wonder about the way things are in the world. The things I wonder about are wide-ranging, including biology, physics, finance, society, religion, etc. Some of the questions are interesting enough that I make the time to research the issue and become informed on the subject. For most of my wonderings, however, I simply don’t have to time to become knowledgeable about all the things that I wonder about. Even if I made an extra effort to learn more things every day I couldn’t keep up because that process often leads me to new questions.
I think many of us are in the same boat. We live life with a sizeable portfolio of half-baked thoughts and misconceptions based on the holes in the information we have about the world. Eventually, we kind of get used to this idea and forget that the things we think are based on incomplete information; or maybe we just give up on the ideal of understanding the world.
An example of the frustration for me is that when the news has “experts” on whatever topic they are discussing I generally understand what they are saying but often I don’t understand why it is true. I wish I could call the show and ask the expert to justify his conclusions to a broader audience – perhaps to the level of a moderately-informed regular person. Hence the title of the post.
I don’t want to give up. I want to be a person who is continually learning about the world, even though I will never arrive at the point where I know it all.
With that said I want to bounce some of the things I’ve been thinking about off of you guys. Perhaps a little discussion on some of my musings (some of them rather old and dusty) will spur me to actually make the effort to answer my own questions. I apologize for the long post, but each subject didn’t merit its own post, you know, because my thoughts on them are so half-baked. Katie and I have already discussed many of these, but you know what they say: “Twelve heads are better than two.”*
Please feel free to challenge my logic, my assumptions, and my premises. In fact I encourage it. How else will I know if I’m wrong?

-On the stratospheric salaries of athletes and CEOs:
It seems like:
Athletes are not to blame. Don’t tell me any of you wouldn’t consider making a few million a year just for playing a game. People who are sports fans don’t have anyone to blame but themselves for high salaries of athletes. People who aren’t sports fans shouldn’t blame the athletes; they should blame the sports fans. Millions of people spend hundreds of dollars a year on tickets to professional sports games, apparel, and overpriced hot-dogs. That’s not even counting the time they spend in front of the TV subjecting themselves to advertisements where companies pay athletes to tell you to buy stuff. In short if you do any of the following things, you are contributing to the bank accounts of those athletes.
-Buy a ticket to a professional sporting event.
-Spend money at the concessions stand there.
-Buy sponsored apparel.
-Buy anything endorsed by athletes.
High executive pay happens for similar reasons. We shouldn’t wonder why the CEO of GE gets paid so much when we have a GE washer, dryer, dishwasher, and microwave. Every gallon of gas you pump from an Exxon station helps out Exxon-Mobil’s employees, including the CEO. Of course there are instances where the pay is too high, but that’s an issue for the owners (stockholders) of each company. The most effective way to complain is to speak the only language the shareholders understand: don’t buy their product.
Unanswered questions:
Why do people act like it's a mystery?
Why do people think it's unfair?

On the lack of interest in politics among our youth:
It seems like:
Similarly to the previous topic… I don’t think the youth are exclusively to blame. Politicians have a tendency to do the following things that contribute to the problem.
1. Be old.
2. Do unrespectable things.
3. Bring up lots of old dirt and try to pin it to their opponents.
4. Blather, blow hot-air, and use calculated rhetoric to distract from a lack of substance in their speeches.
5. Be boring.

Say what you will about Generation Y-ers, but one thing we can do is spot phonies. Maybe that is because we all had to read “Catcher in the Rye” in high school. I think that a lot of us see politics as a big game of Calvinball. The only thing keeping us from completely ignoring it is the fact that it actually has a real effect on us. I also think that a contributing factor is that our generation, now that many of us are living on our own and have to support ourselves, has a tendency toward disillusionment. We were told we should shoot for the stars, but we have had to find out that propelling projectiles heavenward doesn’t put food on the table or pay the electricity bill. Now we question we were taught, for better or for worse. (“Do what you love? Bah! Civic responsibility? Bah! Rotate your tires? Bah! Care about baseball? Bah!”)
Unanswered Questions:
Why do people act like it's a mystery?
Do people really act like it's a mystery, or is it just me?

On the council in heaven:
This is how I think it was. Tell me where I’m inconsistent with revealed doctrine.
God presented his plan. He asked for a sustaining vote. We were not required to sustain the plan right at that time, or perhaps time didn’t work the same way at um, that time.
Lucifer rebelled. His “plan” wasn’t really a viable plan - it would not have accomplished one of the purposes of sending us to earth, namely, to try us to see if we would obey God when given the choice and opportunity to disobey. Lucifer’s plan was really just a cover for his rebellion, or perhaps he was so in love with the potential for personal glory that he really did believe that he could convince Heavenly Father it was a good plan. The war in heaven ensued, where the rebels (comprised of the power hungry and fearful of the possibility of failure inherent in Heavenly Father’s Plan, I imagine) tried to recruit more spirits and the um, loyalists tried to convince rebels that the consequences of rebelling against God were bad. Perhaps some of the rebels were under the impression that Heavenly Father would change his mind if enough people spoke out against the Plan, as if it were a democratic process. (an erroneous understanding the principle of common-consent that is still made in the church in these latter days.) At some point the division bell rang, the final sustaining vote was recorded, and those that rebelled were cast out along with Lucifer.
Unanswered questions:
Did Lucifer realize he would be cast out in the end? If so, why did he rebel? Simple Megalomania?
Lucifer went on to play a role in the plan by tempting Adam and Eve. Was that part of the original Plan? How does that work? That would imply that part of the plan was that Lucifer would rebel.

Let me know what you guys think. If any of these turn out to be particularly interesting, maybe I’ll start a new post.

*See the post “Musings of the Common Man” on the web log “Salsa Night” (I’ve always wanted to do a circular reference.)


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Innovations in Toast

I think this picture speaks for itself.
I guess Disney was way ahead of it's time with the Mickey Mouse toaster.
I'm not sure how I feel about this, though.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The Face of God

As a youth, my favorite activity was to lay on the trampoline at night, whether alone or with friends, and fall asleep watching the sky while pondering space and eternity. I was (am?) a nerd. Being well versed in astronomy and physics, I would spend hours laying there with friends explaining how relativity worked, why most galaxies were moving away from us, why the more distant ones looked redder, and how you look back in time as you peer deeper into space. Despite my unnaturally strong interest in science and astronomy, I was also intensely religious, and this activity was one of my sacraments- I and my friends communing and partaking of the wondrous works of the Creator. Looking into deep space one literally sees the creation itself. Over time however, like most people, my testimony of an actual God has ebbed and flowed.

This year's Nobel prize winners were announced this week. The physics prize winner, George Smoot, once *said of his discovery, "Its like seeing the face of God". What exactly did he discover? Take a look for yourself.

Wow. What am I looking at? you ask.

That, my friend, is a map of the minute variations in temperature of the cosmic background radiation of the entire observable universe.

Its a map of how hot space is.

I didn't know space had a temperature.

It does. Its about 3 Kelvin, or 270 degrees below zero Celsius, or 454 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Oh.... Why is that even remotely important?

This map, and newer, more detailed maps can tell us exactly how old the universe is, why we have matter clumped in some places with empty space in others, what will eventually happen to the universe, how much of the universe is matter, among other interesting tidbits of information.

Cool. Can I go now?

As it turns out, the data obtained from this type of experiment tells us that the universe is just about 13.7 billion years old. That would make our universe approximately.....wait a sec, let me do the math.....13.7 billion light-years across. It also tells us that the geometry of the universe is flat, meaning that straight lines will never intersect, that the universe is only 4% matter (that includes all forms of matter and energy we are familiar with), and that the universe will keep expanding forever until it dies a cold, silent death.

Now, a word about expanding universes. When most people hear about the big bang, they think about this tiny, nearly infinitely massive particle that blows up, sending all its contents hurtling through space. That is incorrect. Unfortunately, the correct way to think about it is rather difficult. What is really happening is that the entire universe- space itself, is a tiny point, that blows up, causing space itself to expand. What is it expanding into?- is the usual question. Well, you can't really ask that question, since you can't be outside of space. Space, and time, turn out to be things that change and move and expand and compress, much like matter. If you think about it, every point in space then becomes the center of the universe, such that as you look out, it appears that everything is flying away from you.
Tricky, isn't it?

So where is this "face of God"?

One of my pet peeves is hearing people say- "Oh, what a big mountain range! There MUST be a God!" or, "Life is so complex that the only explanation is that there is a God".


There is a big mountain range because of tectonic forces. Life is complex because the less complex lifeforms could not compete with the newer, better ones. Yet I still find myself on my trampoline looking up at the sky wondering, "Why does the universe exist? Why 3 spatial dimensions? Why are spatial dimensions reversible, but time is not? Why isn't there just ....nothing? Why? Why? I realize that all this cool science is able to answer more and more questions of how, and what, and when- questions that my faith cannot answer and that most **"religionists" get wrong. In turn, science cannot begin to approach the everpresent... why.

I do not claim to see God's face in that picture. That experiment does not prove the existance of God, nor can any experiment. But, to my small mind trying to comprehend eternal things, it feels a lot like his fingerprint. And that to me is a sacrament- the physical intertwined with the eternal; as we probe that incomprehensible singularity from which our universe sprung and which our physics fails to describe, the hows and whys merge, and I become still- and know that He is God.

*He claims he actually said "If you're religious, this is like looking at God."
**I define a religionist as a person who is dedicated to their religion instead of to their God. They will use their interpretation of texts like the Bible to dictate what science can and cannot say.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

General Conference

I don't feel like discussing conference at the level of a big mormon blog (the bloggernacle, I guess). I would rather make a few not-so-deep observations.

You know how some talks are so good that you remember them and people talk about them for many years? The epitome would be President Benson's talk on pride. I don't know that there has really been one on that level since then, though Elder Maxwell's talk on obeying the will of the Father comes close for me. The only other one that comes close for me was Bishop Edgely's talk, "Behold the Man" in October, 1999. Incidentally, I really enjoyed Bishop Edgely's talk on Sunday morning.
Anyway, on a different level are the especially memorable moments that weren't necesessarily attached to an especially memorable talk. Examples of this would be:

President Hinckley: announcing small temples
President Hinckley: talking about raves
Elder Oaks: Telling women who wear revealing clothes that they are "walking pornography"
Elder Uchtdorf: delivering laundry on bicycle/lung disease story
Elder Wirthlin: talking about playing football with a helmet that was too big, also talking about the wind blowing through his hair.

I could probably think of many more of those.
The reason I brought it up is that I thought what President Hinckley said in the priesthood session about education was really interesting. He told the young men that they needed to be serious about getting higher education. He quoted some statistics about how more women are getting bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees. Then he said something to the effect of, "How do you expect to find a woman to marry and be equally yoked with her if you don't have similar levels of education?"
Of course, this is something that I've ranted on before on this blog. I wonder if this will be one of those things that people remember about conference and are talking about for years to come. I hope so.

Do any of you remember things about this conference that you think will be or should be remembered in particular?