Sunday, August 31, 2008

Swear Words and the Power of the Media

Yesterday I was lounging around reading a book (hey, it's a holiday weekend, for crying out loud, I'm allowed to do that!), when suddenly my daughter comes rushing to me with panic in her eyes. She then yells at me at close proximity that her younger brother had said a bad word. I asked which one and she said, "Dad, he said, 'Oh my gee oh dee'!" Oh, really?

In our house, we choose not to say that, preferring to treat the name of our Heavenly Father, any of His names, sacred. I yelled into the other room that he shouldn't say that ('cause, you know, I was reading, and I wasn't going to get up without seeing some blood or something ...). You know what he told me? "They say 'Oh my God' in the movie!" Great. I knew exactly which one, too -- the uber-lame "Lenny the Wonder Dog".

Just as I had lamented the other day, bad influences come steady and strong, despite our best efforts.

"Do you ever hear me or mommy saying that?" I asked him.

"No," he said.

"Then you shouldn't say that."

"Okay, Dad!" And he didn't. For a three-year-old, he's remarkably obedient.

We really want to teach our kids to be polite and well-mannered, and the avoidance of swear words helps greatly in that regards. My wife and I really never do swear, ever. Those words just aren't in our vocabulary. Unfortunately, there are plenty of non-swearing expressions (the "that bites" and the "that sucks") or swear-word substitutes (the "goshes" and the "darns") that aren't so great, either, that we do use on a regular basis. Oh, well, we've drawn the line on what's okay and what's not, and at least those, to us, are acceptable, even if we would that they didn't say them, either.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Hate Speech and Discrimination

I knew this would happen. My last post on homosexuality was written with strong wording, and I knew it would be misinterpreted by those who are "pro-gay" as being either hate speech or discriminating. Sure enough, there's a message on that post to that effect. What people fail to realize is that I do not consider myself "anti-gay". I just consider myself "pro-family" in a traditional sense.

As I've said before, I have gay colleagues whom I respect and admire for who they are -- I simply disapprove of their chosen lifestyle. Does this mean that I would prevent them from living said lifestyle? No, not at all, anymore than I would prevent people from drinking alcohol, coffee, or tea -- which I also feel is wrong.

People are free to choose how they wish to live their lives, but when it comes to this issue, I feel that my freedoms are at stake here. I would choose to keep my family free from influences that would lead them to behaviors that I consider to be deviant or in error -- this is a right and a privilege to which I believe every responsible parent is entitled.

Homosexuality is one such behavior that I'd rather they not participate in -- and if I had my way, they'd never be exposed to it. This current equalization of "gay marriage" with "traditional marriage" -- particularly as it would be forced to be taught in schools -- makes it more difficult for me to manage the environment in which I raise my family.

The blessing and the problem with America, which I love and to which I am devoted, is that we are a tolerant people. Indeed, we have a culture of tolerance. The problem with this culture, however, is that it makes it difficult to sometimes draw the line on these kinds of issues. We can see this in many aspects of American society. For example, when exactly is it okay to smoke marijuana? When exactly is capital punishment acceptable? When exactly is it okay to carry a gun -- and who has that right? When exactly is it okay to look at pornography or to participate in certain sexual behaviors? This last point is clearly the matter at hand. If homosexuality is okay, then why is polygamy disallowed? If it truly is acceptable to have sex with anybody you want, then why isn't sex with minors - or sex between minors - okay?

Where exactly do you draw the line? Society, collectively, must choose where those lines are to be drawn. Sometimes the line is easily determined by scientific reasoning, and sometimes it is not. Where the scientific proof is lacking, we must then rely upon other rationales, such as those derived from social conventions, behavioral science, or, can it truly be?, religion.

For me, I know where I would draw that line, and Californians as a people will choose this November. If Proposition 8 passes in November, is it hate speech? Is it discrimination? Not at all. It is a choice.

The Slipping of Moral Standards

Some of the things I've been exposed to recently that show a slipping of moral standards in today's society:

-- Nudity is allowed at a local beach unless "private citizens" object: San Onofre State Beach. Turns out this has been on the books for a long time, but still ...

-- We recently rented a movie that was clearly designed for and advertised to children where there is swearing and where the boy - the boy! - wears eyeliner and the (older) girl does not. Avoid it, the movie stinks: Lenny the Wonder Dog. Seriously, skip it, it's a horrible movie.

-- Listening to NPR (*gasp* am I old enough to do that?!) the other day while driving home from work, there was a spot about a study on Europe's population that shows that it is falling. In the interview, Iceland was specifically cited as a contrary country where the population is growing, but large percentages of the children born there are born to unwed mothers. Maybe I'm just sensitive to the whole issue of marriage lately, but the interviewee seemed to imply that the institution of marriage is unimportant and that there is no cause for concern.

-- I've been listening to NPR lately because I can't find any radio station that meets my standards of morality (or my taste in music). The one station that used to play the music I like changed their format and now regularly uses the word "orgy" and swears a lot, and plays a lot of songs about random sex and infidelity.

-- Entertainment Weekly online identified an Olympic "Stud" of the Day -- highlighting a talented athlete that had performed well. This of itself would be fine, but their writeups regularly discussed how the author would like to have sex with that person.

These are just the few things that occurred to me in the 3 minutes of thinking I did on this topic.

I think I'm a moral prude, and I'm positive that's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Done With Longsuffering

All right, I'm done with longsuffering. Twice now some guy named "Chino Blanco" from Hong Kong has left comments on a few of my blog entries where I mentioned the whole Proposition 8 issue, effectively flaming me for my opinion and telling me I'm all wrong and should change. Well, I'm done with it. I prefer to be the nice guy, but sometimes you have to put your foot down.

Notice to this "Chino Blanco": I will now delete all comments you leave behind, so don't bother. To incite you to further anger, I'm going to tell you how I really feel on this topic. None of what you are about to read is the "party line" from my church, though it may sound suspiciously like it -- as it turns out, I feel the same way as the "party line" (so there!). Here goes, and I'm not going to soften it by any statements of "I believe" -- this is the way it is, as far as I'm concerned:

Position Statement

Religious: Marriage between a man and a woman is a special and sacred thing. Faithfully participating in and honoring this institution is absolutely required for anybody to receive the greatest blessings from God. A man is incomplete without a loving wife, as a woman is without a loving husband.

Social: Marriages between a man and a woman provide the foundation for successful societies by creating environments of safety, support, and well-being for both the man and the woman, and in which healthy families can be created. All children should be reared in a stable and secure home where both a mother and a father are present and supportive, and where children can learn to be fully responsible members of society.

Biological: Gay and lesbian behavior is deviant behavior that is not "normal" from any social, philosophical, or scientific perspective; and is a behavior that is just as distasteful and reprehensible to the human species as incest. It is not behavior that is "forced" upon fully rational people by the forces of genetics, but is rather elective behavior chosen by the participants. Where genetics may play a role in bringing forth the appetite to participate in this behavior, it is similar to other unacceptable behaviors, such as schizophrenia or other forms of clinical psychosis, that may deserve medical treatment.

Rationale

You are entitled to your view, I am entitled to mine. The people will decide this issue in November in California, and, if the people choose poorly, the people will ultimately reap the consequences. This is not a belief of mine, but something that I know. The equalization of homosexual pairings with that of heterosexual marriages would have long-lasting and negative social consequences which would undermine the very safety and security of our civilization.

Religious: You either believe the Bible, or you don't. If you believe the Bible, homosexual pairings is a great sin. Of course, there are plenty of well-learned people who will get anybody wrapped around the axle as they go on about translation of words, what was really meant by such-and-such, and the historical context of the material therein. Nevertheless, I believe what it very clearly says in Leviticus 18:22:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

And in Leviticus 20:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

I do not mean by quoting this that I believe capital punishment is appropriate for those who engage in this behavior, as this was clearly part of the Mosaic Law where all manner of things were punished by capital punishment, but it does illustrate how seriously this behavior was treated in those times.

Not only do I believe the Old Testament in the Bible, but I believe the New Testament, where Paul severally indicated that homosexual behavior was wrong. One example is from Romans 1 where Paul is talking about those upon whom the wrath of God will rest:

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

Not only do I believe the Old Testament and the New Testament, but I believe the modern-day prophets, as well. Indeed, it has been said here that, "The Church has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a husband and a wife united in the bonds of matrimony."

This excludes all other forms. Period.

Social: It has been shown in study after study that children who come from two parent homes (regardless of the sex of the "parents") perform better in schools, are happier, and are more socially adjusted (i.e. having two "parents", regardless of their sex, is important). However, studies have also shown that children of same sex "parents" don't perform as well as their peers in the areas of math or language (see the research results of one Dr. Sotirios Sarantakos), are more likely to be singled out for bullying or isolation in school, are far more likely to be sexually confused, and, in adoption cases, are more likely to suffer sexual or psychological abuse at the hands of a "parent" (see results of Cameron and Cameron of the Family Research Institute).

Biological: Human beings are designed as a binary sex. It is how our species propagates. Significant genetic deviations from the norm are generally incapable of reproducing and are terminated by natural processes, typically prematurely as compared to the balance of the population. It has only been in the last several hundred years that humans, as a species, have been able to understand some of the natural processes involved in reproduction, and have been able to derive methods to treat or avoid a variety of genetic aberrations that lead to disease, disorders, or deformities. In addition, we have made great strides in helping those who can't reproduce through natural means.

The human race has a knack for compassion for those who, through the random throw of the genetic dice, end up with an unfortunate combination of DNA as compared to the rest of us. So it is that we care for those who are sick, deformed, and diseased; help those who really want to have children, and attempt to prolong the life of those that nature, of it's own volition, would terminate early.

Homosexual behavior, if it is indeed driven by genetic predispositions, is of this same order. It is a reproductive dead-end, as nature would have it, and nature would have it be so for the benefit of the human species as a whole. Humanity is learning tricks to circumvent this, with unknown ramifications for the future and potentially far-reaching consequences to the viability of our species as a whole. As a reproductive dead-end, however, this behavior would be clearly "wrong" from nature's perspective.

There are a variety of problems that are inherent in our genetics that do not manifest themselves physically, but instead arise socially or intellectually. For these, as a compassionate people, we find medications or other treatments that can help these people live more normal lives. Anti-social behavior of other types, such as a propensity to commit criminal actions like theft or violence, may be the result of a genetic disposition to perform these actions. Nevertheless, we do not excuse the thief or the murderer from their actions unless it is very clear that they are mentally incapacitated to the extent that they do not understand the difference between what society says is "right" versus what society says is "wrong", in which case we drug them and/or lock them up.

Homosexual behavior, if it is not driven by genetic predispositions, would then be a learned or a selected behavior, with the same consequences -- a reproductive dead-end. If this is the case, it then would fall under the same pathos of other deviant social behaviors that are worthy of medication and condemnation.

However, people don't really see it this way. I would not advocate locking up homosexual people for their behavior, any more than I would lock up the twelve-year-old girl who steals clothing from a store at the mall, or the homeless man who struggles with alcoholism. Are all of these examples of misbehavior the result of purely genetic predispositions? There may be something to that, but ultimately these people have their freedom of choice. As one columnist put it, they "are every bit as volitional as any other people. They are fully human -- and are fully accountable for all their choices and actions."

Nevertheless, while I wouldn't lock these people up or force them to take drugs, I do not condone or accept their behavior. And I never will.

Afterword

Let it be known, however, that I do know and work with many people who are homosexual. I see them practically every day. I am not one of those people who are isolated along with others who are exactly the same as me -- I work side-by-side with them, I respect them, and I appreciate them. My personal views on their sexual behavior are mine alone, and I do not attempt to enforce my standards of morality upon them. Indeed, it never comes up. They know that I am a male married to a female, and together we have had several children; and we have silently agreed to mutually not discuss it.

Nevertheless, while I greatly respect them as people, it is inappropriate for them -- a social minority group -- to force upon the remainder of us, who subscribe to the more natural and traditional sexual lifestyle, concepts that are considered deviant by social norms. The State of California already provides all the legal rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex partners. The California Family Code includes wording that says that "domestic partners shall have all the rights, protections and benefits" of married spouses. There are absolutely no exceptions to this.

Yet it is that the gay and lesbian community wants to take something as precious to me as my marriage to my wife, and equate it to their socially- and biologically-deviant behavior. They already enjoy all the rights and privileges of marriage afforded to them by the State, but now they want to take that word, that precious word and institution of "marriage", which, in one word, describes natural human behavior since the dawn of time; and call it their own. This I can not let stand, and I will do my best to make it not be so.

So, Mr. "Chino Blanco", the voters will decide in November. I know how I will vote (Yes on Prop 8!), and I know how you would vote (but you're not even a California voter, I'd wager!). If the proposition fails in November, I have absolutely no doubt you will gloat and rise up in a pompous display, shouting from the rooftops that justice has been served. But if it succeeds, I will not; you will not hear me gloat. I will simply continue to go about my life quietly loving my wife and teaching my children and hopefully instilling within them a love of God and his commandments, one of the earliest of which reads:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. -- Genesis 2:24

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Movie Review: 10,000 B.C.

I saw some previews about this movie, and it looked like something I'd kind of dig, so I put it way down my priority list for watching with the thought I'd get to it "eventually." Well, my wife and I have been frequenting Redbox recently because we usually just want a DVD for a day, it's convenient, and Blockbuster is too pricey for "casual" renting. The other day, we were looking to rent a movie, my wife knew I wanted to see it, and Redbox just happened to have it, so she got it, fully knowing it was a "guy" movie.

Well, it most certainly was a "guy" movie. I knew it wasn't historically accurate (despite presenting itself as being so), but I also knew it was from a director that I actually really like -- Roland Emmerich. He had directed such movies as The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, and Independence Day; so I was willing to give this one a shot.

During the movie, we ended up turning closed-captioning on so we could understand the words that were often delivered in a muddled or heavily-accented fashion -- you really had to pay attention to connect the logical dots in the story. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy it. It was an active, energetic film that I thought was well-crafted. I was also extremely pleased that there wasn't a single swear word or sex scene, the latter being particularly astonishing given how it could have been added to provide greater "historical" accuracy. It had it's measure of violence, but it made sense given the story, it wasn't gratuitous, and it was quite tame by today's "television" standards.

All in all, I liked it. I'd give it a solid 3 of 4 stars, with an emphasis that you should probably see it once.

Blog Protocol

Okay, so what exactly is the protocol for referencing other people's blogs on your blog? I'm pretty thorough about linking to blogs that are written by people that I know, and to which I care to keep up with. So, when somebody links to your blog, are you supposed to link to theirs? What exactly is the protocol here? Is it true that if one links to your blog, you should link back?

Since I'm a numbers kind of guy, I decided to do a little study, with the following results:

38% of the blogs I link to actually link back to me.
69% of the blogs I link to actually link back to my wife.
38% of the blogs I link to link to my wife but NOT back to me!
6% of the blogs I link to link to me and NOT to my wife.

Now, if it were indeed proper blog protocol to link to all blogs that link to yours, this information suggests that 62% of the people to whom I link don't actually know about my blog. However, I do know of a few cases where these people do indeed come to my blog (I have my ways of knowing ...), but they do not link to it from their own blog. Some people come to my blog via my wife's blog, which, I suppose, is acceptable. And there are others who come to my blog who do not have me linked who, I assume, must come to my blog from a bookmark (or a "favorite", depending on what browser they use). In these cases, I'm flattered -- I've graduated to a bookmark! As for the others, I can only conclude that these people either truly don't know about my blog, or ... *gasp* they don't care to visit my blog at all.

One thing to consider, naturally, is that most of those to whom I link are women, and womanhood is, really, an exclusive club that I am simply unqualified to join, so it's understandable that there might be a little bit of prejudice. But, of course, I am quite proud of the fact that there's actually 6% of my linked blogs (1!) that links to me and NOT to my wife. Wow, I think my blog is coming into it's own ... ;)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Speaking at Church on Sunday

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak during our sacrament meeting. A week ago, I received a phone call from the 2nd Counselor in the bishopric of our ward, with whom I visit with every Sunday during the normal course of the meetings I attend as the Executive Secretary. Not thinking anything of his call, I was surprised when he then asked if I would speak to the congregation on the topic of "Following the Brethren". He wanted me to address the ward and remind them the importance of this, particularly in light of the upcoming election where Proposition 8 will be on the ballot (check it out: protectmarriage.com).

While the church can not officially come out and tell people to vote for this proposition, the church can teach and remind the people of the sacred doctrines associated with it. We've been reminded of the non-church-affiliated efforts that are going on to collect money, contact voters, and discuss the proposition with people of all walks of life. So, it was that he wanted me to talk to the people about the importance of "Following the Brethren".

It seemed like a daunting task. He wanted me to lay the doctrinal groundwork for why we should spend our time, efforts, and even money to make this proposition pass. He wanted me to remind everybody very clearly that there is safety in obedience to the commandments, and obedience to the leaders of the church, who have the mantle of leadership and whose responsibility it is to lead and to direct us.

It was a tall order, and it made me nervous, which is a tremendously huge deal because, well, I don't really get nervous when it comes to public speaking (unless it's memorized dialogue, which is a whole other discussion). Throughout the week, I contemplated different things to talk about, leaving myself notes about topics that might be of interest to include. Ideally, I would have about 15 minutes to share this topic, but I needed to be prepared to take more time if the previous speakers were too brief.

Finally, Friday night, I sat down and went to work putting the talk together. I asked my wife for a few ideas, and she had some good ones, and I finally came up with my first draft. All day Saturday, I contemplated it some more, making some revisions that night. I printed it out, and Sunday morning made some more redlines. Come the time of the meeting, I was feeling queasy (or I could've just been hungry ...). As I sat on the stand awaiting my turn to speak, I noticed my vision was a little blurry in my right eye -- I think I'd stared at the bright chandeliers too much. I felt sleepy -- my trusty defense mechanism when I'm stressed (or I could've just been tired ...). I found it hard to focus, and I had to make a very conscious decision to not vibrate out of my chair from my anxiety.

Then it was my turn. My vision cleared, I stood to speak, and it went very, very well.

I had done my part to prepare, then let the Spirit do the rest -- truly the Holy Ghost is both the comforter and the teacher. Throughout the day, people regularly came up to tell me what a good job I'd done -- which is normal. However, what impressed me most was that people in the lessons that followed regularly referred to something in my talk to illustrate a point.

I do not feel proud at this accomplishment, but I have a lot of gratitude -- gratitude that it went so well, and gratitude that it is over. If you'd like to read the writeup of my talk, I've included it in this post. All told, the talk as delivered from the pulpit matches probably 70% of what is written there (some was cut for time, other parts of it were embellished for clarity, and all of it, of course, was delivered in my own way).

It was a great experience, but one I hope I'm not asked to do again for a while.

Follow the Brethren

Follow the Brethren, Delivered 24 Aug 2008 in the Saugus 3rd Ward

Introductory Whining

It seems like every week a speaker gets up and talks about how they didn’t avoid [our 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric] well enough to avoid being asked to speak in sacrament meeting. As the Bishop’s Executive Secretary, I had a theory that I was exempt from speaking in sacrament meeting. Clearly my theory was a bad one.

To make matters worse, what nobody ever really says is that [he] butters you up before he asks you to speak. He suckered me by telling me what a great job I could do with this topic. It wasn’t until after I’d hung up with him that it occurred to me that he probably tells that to everybody, regardless of the topic.

So, thanks, Mick!

Introduction of Topic

Nevertheless, I did put a lot of thought into how to present this particular topic, the title of which is “Follow the Brethren”. Today, I intend to discuss some reasons why we should “Follow the Brethren”. Along the way, I will give some examples of when people had a choice to follow counsel, or not, and some of the results of doing so.

First, however, I wanted to set the stage by relating a scripture ...

Introductory Scripture: D&C 68:2-4

Doctrine and Covenants Section 68 is a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in November of 1831 at the request of several elders who wanted to know the will of the Lord for them.

In part, it reads:

2 And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth—
3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.


Discussion of Introductory Scripture

In this scripture, we learn that it is by the Holy Ghost that the Lord reveals to His children His divine will for all things, both great and small. This is revelation. We often think of revelation as being related to the doctrines of the Gospel, but I believe that most revelation isn’t to outline doctrine, but rather to provide counsel directly to us in our daily lives. For example:

-- We counsel with each other and with priesthood leaders wishing for support and comfort, and often received divinely inspired direction,
-- We read the scriptures looking for understanding and inspiration, and
-- We pray to seek answers to our most personal problems.

In all these actions, it is the Holy Ghost that touches our hearts and our minds – or the hearts and minds of those around us – to reveal to us the will of the Lord.

Hierarchy of Revelation

As the patriarch in my home, it is my responsibility to seek for divine inspiration to better lead and care for my family. It is the responsibility of the Bishop to seek for divine guidance in leading this ward. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Stake President to seek for guidance in leading the stake, and, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the prophet and president of the church to seek for divine direction to lead the church in these times and to make known to us the will of the Lord to us as a people.

The Lord can and does speak to each of us, today, according to our station in life, to guide us and those for whom we are responsible if we will humble ourselves enough to honestly seek His counsel.

Jonah 3:3-5, 10

Let us examine some examples to illustrate this point. Consider the story of Jonah; the “fishy” part of the story is of great interest, but I like the part that comes afterwards. Chapter 3 reads, in part:

3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God [not Jonah!], and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.


Jonah had received direction to go to Nineveh and warn them of impending destruction. Once he had done so, the people actually heeded his words and repented. This is one of the few cases in the scriptures where extremely dire consequences are avoided by a people collectively repenting. The people of Nineveh heeded the words of the prophet, repented, and were spared.

Naaman: 2 Kings 5:13-14

Let us now consider the story of Naaman as recorded in 2 Kings 5. He was struck with leprosy and eventually contacted the prophet Elisha, who told him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. At first, Naaman was unwilling to follow Elisha’s counsel. He couldn’t understand how washing in the Jordan River could help -- it wasn’t the cleanest of rivers. His pride and stubbornness were getting in the way. Verses 13 and 14 read:

13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.


Naaman finally humbled himself enough to take the counsel of the prophet, even though it didn’t make sense, and was able to reap a great blessing by doing so.

President Henry B. Eyring: Safety in Counsel (1/2)

Let us consider a more modern example of prophetic counsel. In the June 2008 Ensign, there is an article by Henry B. Eyring entitled "Safety in Counsel". In that article, we read:

When tensions ran high in northern Missouri in the fall of 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith called for all the Latter-day Saints to gather to Far West for protection. Many were on isolated farms or in scattered settlements. He specifically counseled Jacob Haun, founder of a small settlement called Haun’s Mill.

A record of that time includes this: “Brother Joseph had sent word by Haun, who owned the mill, to inform the brethren who were living there to leave and come to Far West, but Mr. Haun did not deliver the message.”

Later, the Prophet Joseph recorded in his history: “Up to this day God had given me wisdom to save the people who took counsel. None had ever been killed who abode by my counsel.”

Then the Prophet recorded the sad truth that innocent lives could have been saved at Haun’s Mill had his counsel been received and followed.


President Gordon B. Hinckley

In November of 2000, our late Prophet and President of the Church, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley challenged the youth to set goals that have become known as the six “Bs”. In that same talk, he counseled the young women to avoid piercing their ears more than one time. It’s been related in conference talks of a story of one 17-year-old who, just prior to the prophet’s talk, had pierced her ears a second time. She came home from the fireside, took off the second set of earrings, and simply said to her parents, “If President Hinckley says we should only wear one set of earrings, that’s good enough for me.”

Wearing two pairs of earrings may or may not have had eternal consequences for this young woman, but her willingness to obey the prophet would. And if she was willing to obey him then, on something relatively simple, how much easier it would be to follow him when greater issues are at stake.

How similar is this to the counsel of Elisha to wash in the River Jordan – it doesn’t really make any sense, but blessings came of obedience.

President Brian Sheffield

Consider an even more recent and local example. A few years ago in stake conference, our own Stake President Sheffield urged us to avoid energy drinks. As our stake leader and in his role as the spiritual leader of our stake, it is his right – indeed, his mantle – to give us who live in the Santa Clarita Stake inspired direction to aid us in our lives.

His counsel stands, and I know of nobody who can claim to be worse off for abiding by his counsel. Has the prophet and his counselors come out with this direction? No, and for us, they need not – it is enough that our stake president gives us this direction, and we should follow it.

Elders Quorum

Last week in Elders Quorum we had a lesson entitled “Establishing the Cause of Zion”. We had a very interesting discussion on what exactly “Zion” is, and outlined how the term can mean different things at different times. Nevertheless, we did have a discussion about how if the prophet asked us all to sell our houses and move to Missouri to establish Zion, some among us might find it difficult to do so.

I feel differently. I personally think that if the prophet, on behalf of the Lord, asked us to do this great thing, most of us would do so with little hesitation. Instead, it seems so much harder to do the small and simple things that we are counseled to do, especially those things that take us out of our comfort zone.

President Henry B. Eyring: Safety in Counsel (2/2)

Returning to the talk by President Eyring:

Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they either consider it faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.

Those without faith may think ... that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel that comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence ... In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred.

We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.


Final Scripture: Returning to D&C 68:4-6

Let me return to the scripture I shared at the beginning of my talk from D&C 68:

4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
6 Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you;


What marvelous promises!

Final Words

Our Heavenly Father loves us. He loves us so much that he gave his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins, so that we may repent and return to live with Him again.

Not only did he do that, some 2000 years ago; but He loves us here, today, now, so much that he gives us men of God to lead us today, prophets and apostles – even stake presidents and good bishops.

By heeding the inspired counsel we receive from these good brethren, we do not subject ourselves to a yoke of burden, but instead free ourselves to receive Eternal Life.

This is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday Randoms

A few random things today:

-- I made an amazing discovery on how to get an almost-9-year-old to stop throwing a tantrum: Get the camera and record it, then threaten to put it on the internet. Seriously, it works!
-- My daughter has formed a "band" club at school. It's not really a "band" club, as it is a few girls that get together, make up silly lyrics to bizarre songs and thoughts, and put them to really bad, made-up tunes. She's loving it, though!
-- My wife is planning to take a breather from working on Thursday nights. She teaches cake decorating classes and does very well, and has been doing it for years. However, lately she's been feeling overwhelmed by life in general, and since the classes have been poorly attended of late due to a change in the advertising, she is feeling like it isn't worth her time anymore. As an outlet through which she can find adult interaction, it was something she has enjoyed, with varying levels of satisfaction. I will support her in whatever she decides to do, but I would be dishonest if I didn't say that I looked forward to having her around one more night a week.
-- The other day I was driving home from my daughter's soccer practice, and was filled with gratitude. I was grateful my daughter is well enough to play soccer, my oldest son is able to ride a bicycle, my youngest son was so happy and just said, "I love you, Daddy" completely out of nowhere. I was grateful that I had a car that works and gets decent gas mileage (32 mpg!). I was grateful for my incredible wife who loves me, is devoted to me, and works so very hard to keep our family life in order. I was grateful for my own health, that I have a good job that is stable, pays well, and has good benefits. I was grateful that my Heavenly Father loves me enough to give me all of these things. This stuff just came to my mind suddenly and unexpectedly, and I felt a tightness in my chest of extreme gratitude as I drove. I think I'm getting soft in my old age.

A few news-related items:

-- John McCain and Barack Obama are supposedly close to announcing their vice presidential running mates for the 2008 presidential race. The whole country is in a frenzy.
-- The Olympics rock. I don't think I've ever enjoyed them as much as I've enjoyed them this year. The swimming was spectacular (thanks to Michael Phelps, human fish), the gymnastics was riveting (thanks to Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin), the track and field events have been astonishing (thanks to the grandstanding, arrogant, and low-flying plane Usain "Lightning" Bolt), the BMX racing is freakin' awesome (who cares who wins? it's just fun to watch!), and everything from the diving to fencing has been delightful. I've loved being able to watch video online at the nbcolympics.com website.
-- Apparently the Iranians want to build a man-rated rocket (here and here). God help us all.
-- Apparently, a stillborn baby was pronounced dead, put in a cooler, and was found alive! Nobody knows if it will live very long, but it's a true miracle.
-- Finally, there's something familiar about this ...


Check out the brief here. Turns out crash-splattings of UFO-like objects sorta all look alike ... check out this other one here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Planets in the News

There's been a few news articles I've stumbled across lately that addresses the question of planethood. The first article addresses a debate between two "rock stars" in the fields of astrodynamics and planetary science regarding the status of Pluto. Good arguments were made by both, but I really do fall on one side, as indicated in a few paragraphs.

The second article talks about the history of the definition of a "planet" through time. I was very interested to learn that the word planet is derived from the Greek term asters planetai, meaning "wandering stars". Then the article gets into the two primary positions on what a planet is, namely one derived from "dynamic" considerations, and one derived from "geophysical" conditions.

Currently, the IAU made the ruling squarely on the dynamic side, ruling that a planet isn't a planet unless it meets the following criteria:

1. It orbits around the sun.

2. It has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (i.e. nearly round) shape.

3. It has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit of other massive bodies.

There's a few problems with this. First, in #1 above, they used the unfortunate "the" prior to the word "sun", which means that planets around other stars don't fit this definition. Second, in #2, the amount of "roundness" required of a planet is not quantified. And third, in #3, by this definition even Earth isn't a planet since our very own moon is actually quite massive. Regarding this, by "cleared" it is interpreted that this means either by "sucking" up offending bodies, capturing them into stable orbits, or by kicking them out to other orbits.

By this interpretation, Earth fits, but the interpretation of the word "cleared" has given planetary scientists argumentative fits in much the same way as theologians have struggled over John 1:1 from the Bible where it reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." What I mean by this is, "Huh?!" How exactly do you interpret something like that?

The "geophysical" definition is really just #2 from the above list, augmented by two distinct features. I'll repeat for clarity:

1. It has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (i.e. nearly round) shape.

2. It is not so massive that it causes internal nuclear fusion (i.e. it's not a star).

3. If gravitationally paired with other massive objects that fit #1 and #2, it is the largest of all the bodies.

Well, okay, so #3 isn't anywhere in the literature, but it's one that I added because it clarifies things beautifully. This is my personal, preferred definition for "planet". In the case of Earth, both Earth-proper and the moon fit both criterias #1 and #2, but since Earth is the largest of the two masses, it is considered the "planet" and the moon is considered a "moon" (naturally). This also allows for the fact that Jupiter has four such very large bodies that orbit it that we can continue to classify as "moons"; as would be so for Pluto, with it's relatively large "moon" of Charon. (Did you catch that, by my definition, Pluto is once again a planet!)

Now, note that my "geophysical" definition doesn't address what the objects may be orbiting. Not only, then, does this provide for objects orbiting other stars to be considered planets, but it also allows for bodies that may actually not be orbiting any star to be considered planets (what are most often called "rogue" planets).

Of course, my simplistic definitions have plenty of holes, too. I think that #1 of the "geophysical" definition should be augmented with a specific number that would define just how round an object would need to be to be considered round enough. Pick a number and suddenly you have a very crisp method for instantly categorizing objects.

And, of course, I think people just need to relax on this whole topic. To me, it's okay to have more than 9 planets. It's okay to swap definitions for objects if things change. Seriously, our universe is a dynamic place, with things moving and changing and crashing together and coming apart all the time! If Pluto were to suddenly be captured into the orbit of a larger body, then, wow! we suddenly lost a planet ... that doesn't make me lose sleep. Neither does the discovery of new objects way out beyond Neptune that are bigger than Pluto. Really, as I've said before, my heart is big enough for all the planets we can find in our little corner of the galaxy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Funny (Embarrassing) Moment

Okay, so this afternoon I experienced an embarrassing moment. It wasn't one of my own embarrassing moments, but one of somebody I hardly know. I was at my daughter's gymnastics practice with my youngest son, and he was playing with another three-year-old. The little boy (not my son) was talking incessantly and his mother came over several times to tell me that if he was bothering me then I should tell her and she'll move him away. Honestly, he wasn't a bother, as my son was happily playing and sharing with him. We were, in fact, having funny little conversations, and I was amused.

Well, the third time this little boy's mother came over and finished telling me that I could ask her to take him away if he was bothering me, her little boy decided at that very moment to announce to me that, "My daddy has a big wee wee!" My jaw dropped, her face flushed, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

She immediately gathered him up, clearly unhappy and mortified by the situation, and took him away to lecture him about things that are inappropriate to talk about. I just looked at her with a big smile and said, "You know, this is one of those times when you just think, 'I'm glad my kid didn't say that.'"

She made her retreat, while I barely suppressed my snicker. Honestly, I wasn't remotely offended, and would've given him the very same lecture she no doubt gave him in much sterner words about keeping private things private. It was hilarious.

My Birthday

It was my birthday yesterday, and it was a really nice day. I took the day off as a "personal holiday" and "slept in" (all the way to 6:45!). My wife put together a nice breakfast with French toast (one of my favorite breakfast foods) and we puttered around the house all morning. We eventually got ready to go to the temple for our temple sealing assignment. Leaving the kids with a babysitter, we headed out the door and were gone nearly all afternoon. Upon arriving home, I took our oldest to karate lessons and then we had a very nice dinner (tapalia fish with a mango sauce as the main dish) followed by a very pleasant chocolate birthday cake. My wife had to go to teach the cub scouts tonight, so she took our oldest and left in the evening. I stayed home and put the two younger kids to bed and upon my wife arriving home, we pretty much just folded laundry, talked, and watched an episode of Stargate. All in all, it was a great day!

For my birthday, my parents gave me two books: "The History of Tooele County", volumes 1 and 2; I've been asking for these books to look through them to satisfy my family history cravings and they gave them to me! They (the books, and my parents) are a true treasure. My in-laws gave me a gift certificate at Amazon.com, which I haven't decided what to do with, yet. My oldest son made me a decorated tin-can to put on my work desk to store pens (how thoughtful!), and my daughter made me a paper rocket, also to go on my desk (how, um, useful!). My wife gave me new white shoes for the temple, a blue-tooth ear piece to go with my cellphone, and, the kicker, an old Gamecube game to play on our Wii called Robotech: Battlecry. Simply put, it rocks (and I suck).

It was a normal, hanging-with-my-family, sort of day. And I loved it!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quick Download

I've nothing interesting to say, but I wanted to record some of the good stuff from the weekend:

-- Worked from home Friday -- I was far more productive than I usually am at work (no interruptions, nobody knocking on my cubicle wall, no meetings to distract me ...).
-- Went to the temple that night to attend a sealing ceremony for some friends from the ward, who were sealed together and to their two little girls. It was an uniquely special experience. In addition, we finished the last endowment we need to do before next Tuesday's sealing assignment where we intend to do some of my own family names. Traffic was bad getting there, so we didn't have time to eat dinner before getting to the temple, and ended up going out to eat afterwards at Subway. It was a late night, but the babysitter didn't mind (she loves the money ...).
-- Saturday I got up and mowed the lawn, then we turned on the Olympics and left that on pretty much all day. The kids are loving having the TV on all day, and they're excited every time that the U.S.A. wins something. They're being exposed to lots of things they'd never really seen before, such as synchronized swimming, field hockey, and fencing. Pretty cool.
-- In the afternoon, we went to the movies (with free tickets from our grocery store, believe it or not) where I took our youngest to "Wall-E" again (delightful!) and my wife took the two oldest to "Journey to the Center of the Earth". About 30 minutes into the latter, my wife showed up in the "Wall-E" theater where I was at to deliver our daughter, who was too freaked out to stay in the other movie. Our oldest, apparently, barely managed to stay in his chair from being so scared. Awesome.
-- Later that night, we got yet another babysitter so my wife and I could go to the Saturday session of Stake Conference. It was a late night, but happily the babysitter, one we've never used before, managed the kids very well (we'll be using her again). Topics of conversation were activation of "prospective Elders", true conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, service, home teaching, caring for and serving the youth; and doing our duty, even when it's really difficult (specifically related to Proposition 8, which was NOT specifically addressed one way or the other in the meeting, as was appropriate).
-- Sunday I went to Priesthood Leadership Meeting at 7 am and then traded my wife off so she could practice with the stake choir prior to Stake Conference at 10 am. The meeting went well, but the kids weren't well-behaved towards the end. One speaker, a recently returned missionary, was absolutely phenomenal, but I'm drawing a blank on his subject.
-- I spent the rest of the evening pretty much doing nothing except talking on the telephone with my parents (which I try to do every Sunday), and my younger sister, who called to wish me a happy birthday (it was great talking to her!).
-- Oh, and the Olympics were on the TV nearly all the time.
-- Then we watched Stargate for an hour -- it's been a while since we've seen it, and I missed it!
-- And today, I got up late and came to work. It's been a ho-hum day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ghoti

*gasp* I stumbled across this article on bad spelling. You know, it is a pet peeve of mine that people can't spell these days -- even people with Ph.D.s! It's absolutely ridiculous. I accept misspellings from my six-year-old, but certainly not from a twenty-six-year-old. They should know better. Interestingly, the article stated:

Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: 'gh' as in "tough," 'o' as in "women" and 'ti' as in "nation."

In a day when misspellings are rampant in advertising, text messaging, and pretty much all other written forms of communication (even children's books, which aggravates me more than anything!), this is really something to think about. (Isn't it?! Okay, maybe not ...)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Funny Blogs

Blogger.com has a little section when you log in that lists blogs with entries that have recently been posted. Sometimes I click on these just to go snooping. Today, I clicked on this link, which is a blog documenting some of the worst real estate photographs ever to be posted online. While paging through many pages during my lunch break (just now), several times I nearly snorted my diet shake out my nose. It's incredible what lazy or clueless people will do. Very funny.

Teratology

I ran across this word reading a book, and was so shocked by it that I just had to look it up. I had absolutely no idea what the root word was, or what it related to, and its context didn't provide any clues. The definition from Merriam-Webster reads:

Main Entry: ter·a·tol·o·gy
Pronunciation: \ˌter-ə-ˈtä-lə-jē\
Function: noun
Date: circa 1842

The study of malformations or serious deviations from the normal type in developing organisms


The way it was used was in relation to politics, and it was discussing the formation of a political movement. I thought it very clever! Anyway, had to share that. I found it while reading the book "Seeing", by José Saramago. So far, it's really dry, and I swear the guy doesn't believe in paragraph breaks -- I'll have to write a review later, if I can get through it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Few Tidbits

Something I saw on some random blog:

Atheism: The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. Makes perfect sense.



Stuff I thought about putting into the presentation I'm giving to the Singles Ward tonight for their Family Home Evening "career night":

-- The distance between here and your dreams can be measured by the length of your laziness.
-- Raw talent is helpful, but properly applied effort will take you farther.
-- Smart is as smart does. Seriously, I've seen incredibly smart people do extraordinarily dumb things, and awesomely dumb people do equally brilliant things.
-- A good education comes from a variety of sources, but a college education only comes from a college. Most people need the latter.
-- Nobody is ever truly “ready” for marriage, and the best life is one built with somebody else. Waiting to "travel the world" or to "have more money" before getting married is an absolutely, ridiculously bad idea.
-- Being able to spell and to balance your checkbook is more important than the new iPhone. Smart people look really dumb if they can't communicate through the written word (not to say that typos don't happn!), and if you can't balance your checkbook you deserve to be poor.
-- Don’t break any laws. Any laws.
-- Floss your teeth.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dodger Night

Every year, there's a "Mormon Night" at Dodger Stadium. They usually have tickets available through the church for a "discounted" price (this year was $11 a seat) to sit in the outfield and watch the game. We've gone in the past, but, just as it was this year, the games are always in the evening and it's typically too late for us to take the kids. This year, however, my two older kids are finally old enough, we felt, to sit through it that late at night. Truth be told, we probably could've done it sooner, but, hey, we're not exactly huge baseball fans.

Nevertheless, I took the two oldest children and we drove to Dodger Stadium just after dinner. Earlier in the day, we had them watch "How to Play Baseball" -- a Goofy movie from 1942. Armed with their newly gained knowledge, I also educated them on the drive. By the time they got there, they knew the various ways that one can get "out", the names of the bases, and how many players are on the field at any time. They loved the concept of "stealing" a base. They still couldn't name the player's positions, but that's all right -- they could at least follow the game.

So we got there, and, well, just watch the video to find out what my daughter thought about it ...

video

Leaving the game, however, I asked her how she liked it, expecting her to say she was bored (since she sprawled on the bench about half the game and regularly complained about how far away the play was), but she surprised me with an emphatic, "I loved it!" I asked her why she loved it, and she told me that after I bought her the insanely overpriced hot dog ($5 for the World ... Famous ... Dodger ... Dog!), she "just started watching and I realized it was fun!"

I was shocked, but pleased. Previously, she was devastated when she found out that we weren't actually going to be playing the game, but just watching the game. We won't be buying season tickets, but I'm grateful that she learned that it can be fun to be a spectator. In fact, it was really cute to see her holding up our little cushions that we took with us that has the Dodger logo printed on it, and cheering for the team. Unfortunately, the Dodgers lost 2-1 to the Diamondbacks, but it was still a great experience. Being the first baseball game they will remember that they attended in person, I'm grateful that it went well and that they eventually learned to enjoy themselves and the atmosphere.

P.S. I'm glad that we actually made it to the game because I managed to misplace the tickets to the game for weeks and actually only located them the day before. I was so happy because that's a lot of money to spend only to lose the tickets, plus I was really looking forward to the game!

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