Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An impromptu adventure ...

Tonight, after bathing in the fine, sun-soaked waters of Lake Wanaka, Michelle and I returned to our overpriced quaint "Alpine Motel" to get all dandified for a quality evening at Cinema Paradiso, the local hot spot for cinema, where we watched The Imitation Game and sampled some of the "famous" homemade ice cream and cookies (NB movie was fantastic and I for one hope Cumberbatch's streak of playing misunderstood, socially awkward geniuses continues ad infinitum). In doing so, though, we left our little guy (the bustling bundle of 2.5 year old energy that he is) in the capable hands of our friend Saria, who joined us on this trip through Middle Earth all the way from Papua New Guinea where she works for Doctors Without Borders.

On our return, Saria related a rather humorous tale. Shortly after we left, Saria and Simon also went out for a sort stroll, but while Saria was locking our front door, Simon darted off through the conveniently open door in the motel room next to ours. He apparently took a quick look around, saw that the family was preparing to eat dinner (which included a heaping bowl of rice, one of our little guy's favorites) and proceeded to pull himself onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table. I can only imagine the Chinese family looked on with slightly befuddled amusement.

Saria of course ran in and pulled him away with apologies as he was reaching his hand toward the rice ... and the family was uber excited at Simon's mixture of (a) cute and (b) moxie ... but to me, the story underscores a rather simple theory I've had since Simon was born in Queen Mary hospital: A child born in Hong Kong will never be able to withstand the draw of adventure, Asians and rice. Put all three together, and the above tale seems as inevitable as the coming spring.

Friday, April 11, 2014

From this day forward ...

The greatest quality of human nature is our capacity for change. Our ability for recreate our innermost selves into something better, something grander than we are today.

Cynic decry such capacity ("Don't you know that leopards can't change their spots?"). Perhaps this is in part because most people do not change for the better all at once in some sort of Scrooge-like total turnaround.

Instead, we change slowly, from bad to good and from good the better and so forth (sometimes at a glacial pace). Line upon line and precept upon precept is not just the pattern to increase in knowledge and intelligence; it is our most well-trod path toward change.

Following such a path, I may today decide to leave behind my anger at unfortunate events relating to unimportant things (where "I can't believe I missed the *@^&@ train!" becomes "oh well ... more time to read."). Then, later, even unfortunate events relating to important things won't phase me.

With change, backsliding happens. Sometimes its three steps forward and two steps back. And the cynics love nothing more than to see the one progressing fall back (like crabs in a bucket, as my high school English teacher would say). 

But progress, however small and incremental, is still progress. As Lorenzo Snow taught:
If the husband can live with his wife one day without quarrelling or without treating anyone unkindly or without grieving the Spirit of God in any way, that is well so far; he is so far perfect. Then let him try to be the same the next day. But supposing he should fail in this his next day’s attempt, that is no reason why he should not succeed in doing so the third day. ... Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today.

The key is not how far along the path we are nor the speed at which we're traveling, but the direction we're traveling.

And so it is that I tell myself to keep going. No matter how hard or how often I want to give it all up, keep moving. 

Change will come.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff ...

Anyone remember the debt ceiling crisis of Summer 2011? How 'bout S&P's downgrade of the US government bond credit ratings that followed (first in US history)? Of course, then came the fantastic failure of the Supercommittee and the theatrical set up for the next big (and fantastically titled) economic crisis: the Fiscal Cliff.

The problem is succinctly summarized on
The end of the year will bring what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has termed the “fiscal cliff,” as various tax provisions expire and the $1.2 trillion budget sequester begins to take effect—threatening to remove trillions of dollars from the economy, coupled with an almost certain need to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Obviously, the best way to avoid falling off the Fiscal Cliff is to stay as far away as possible (after all, no one fell off a cliff who never went near one). But to do that, we must get this issue in the public spotlight now by forcing Obamney (that loveable odd couple) to make it a major election year issue.

If you agree, there is one simple thing you can do right now: Visit and sign the petition requesting that "the Commission on Presidential Debates and the presidential campaigns to commit to dedicating one of this fall’s debates to a forum in which the candidates present and defend their plans and discuss what trade-offs they are willing to accept to achieve the necessary savings."

And, of course, keep spreading the word ... Let's really show those recalcitrant prima donnas in Washington that this is a problem "We the People" want resolved.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Small Enough to Fail

In today's Financial Times, a contributing editor called for governments to instigate a modern-equivalent of the trust-busting of Wilson and Roosevelt:
Rather than jury-rigging the existing system, or falling back on meaningless calls to change 'culture,' political leaders need a modern version of Woodrow Wilson’s dictum. Where Wilson was for business but against monopolies, today’s leaders must be for finance but against banking behemoths. The instruments of finance, from risk models to derivatives, are useful when used responsibly. But the structure of modern finance – vast institutions that borrow cheaply because taxpayers are on the hook to save them – is an abomination that must stop.

In 2011 the hedge fund manager John Paulson lost more money than JPMorgan’s London unit. Regulators didn’t worry, because his private partnership is not too big to fail. We need a system in which more institutions resemble Mr Paulson’s: simple enough to be manageable; focused enough to avoid conflicts of interest; and small enough to fail.
Well said, FT.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Loss, love and learning: Elder Richard G. Scott

In 1995, Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lost his wife to cancer. In the fourteen years since that time, Elder Scott has, on occasion, spoken of this loss and of his experiences coping with it. Below is one such example, an excerpt from a Mormon Conversations interview by Sheri Dew with Elder Scott and his daughter, Linda.

Sheri Dew: Elder Scott, you'd been married, I think, 42 years when Sister Scott passed away. You were then a member of the Twelve. I'm wondering a couple of things associated with that very tender experience. The first is, are there things that you would feel comfortable sharing with us about what you learned in this quite remarkable experience, remarkably difficult experience, of having your wife proceed you in death and ... [second,] you've chosen not to remarry, are there things that you would feel comfortable sharing with us about that?  

Elder Scott: First of all, Sheri, I didn't lose her; she's on the other side of the veil. We've been sealed in that holy ordinance of the temple and we'll be together forever. And at critical times in my life when I need help, I can feel impressions come through the veil in such a way that I just [say] "thank you Janene." So there isn't that loss. The second is, when you get it right the first time, you don't want to mess it up with a second time. We are so close and love each other so very much that I don't have any feeling of need to remarry. I recognize that for some men, there is a very strong support they require from a wife and so they remarry, and I don't question that for them. Janene and I prepared each other in all the ways we could think of for being able to survive well when one of us passed through the veil. I wish she hadn't been the first one, but that's the way it worked out.  

Sheri Dew: Linda, this is such a tender topic. And I love what you said Elder Scott ... you didn't lose her, that's absolutely true. We speak all the time of loss, of feeling a sense of loss because the reality is, and now talking to you Linda, she's not here right now at the moment where you can pick up the phone and talk to her. [A]re there things that you learned - I'm sure there are things you've learned - that you would feel appropriate to share about life and about the Lord and anything else in the fact that your mother has already stepped across the veil.

 Linda Scott: Well, I learned a lot about why she's needed on the other side of the veil. It was hard for me to understand why the Lord didn't think that Dad needed he here. And it taught me of the importance of the things that happen on the other side of the veil and it taught me to see the bigger picture. It also taught me about faith. I learned a great deal about faith. And there were several times when ... for example, there was one when I came to visit and help mom after she had a cancer treatment and we were there at the home and she was very weak and the nurse was not able to put in the I.V. and Dad came and gave her a blessing and then he had to leave to go to the MTC for an assignment. And it was snowing hard outside and I just couldn't understand that; I couldn't understand how he could leave. And it just ... it taught me faith in the priesthood and how he just knew that things would be OK, and they were.  

Sheri Dew: Thank you. Wonderful.

Elder Scott, I want to play an excerpt, a brief excerpt, where you had some things to say about the passing of you're wife:
Fourteen years ago the Lord took my wife beyond the veil. I love her with all my heart, but I have never complained because I know it was His will. I have never asked why but rather what is it that He wants me to learn from this experience. I believe that is a good way to face the unpleasant things in our lives, not complaining but thanking the Lord for the trust He places in us when He gives us the opportunity to overcome difficulties.
What I am trying to teach is that when we keep the temple covenants we have made and when we live righteously in order to maintain the blessings promised by those ordinances, then come what may, we have no reason to worry or to feel despondent.
Sheri Dew: My question, Elder Scott is this: That statement is a remarkable statement of faith ... filled with faith. Do you have counsel for those who are listening and who may have just suffered something devastating in their lives or something that they don't understand or something that has even made them wonder if the Lord knows who they are. Do you have some counsel for them about how you develop the kind of faith that this passage demonstrates?  

Elder Scott: I think just understanding the message of the Restoration that's come through the Prophet Joseph Smith and evidence that there is a Father in Heaven who loves us, a Savior who was willing to lay his life down for us, who's Atonement has made it possible for us to resolve all of the difficult challenges in our lives. When we have that overall understanding of our circumstances here on earth, it is not hard to exercise faith that in times of trial or challenge we'll be supported by a loving Heavenly Father and aided by a Savior who was willing to lay his life down for our benefit.  

Sheri Dew: Thank you.

Linda, this statement from you father and his explanation leads me to want to slip in one more question before we take a little break. What have you learned from your dad and what have you learned about him since your mother passed away?  

Linda Scott: I've learned that even though you have trials and unexpected things that come up in life, the responsibilities are still there, your covenants are still there, the things that we do every day are still there. And you can't put them aside. You just have to keep going and do the best that you can and in time, things get better. But you can't put those responsibilities aside.  

Sheri Dew: And do you see that affecting the way you make decisions and the way that you feel about your life?  

Linda Scott: Yeah, and as an adult now, I might not have seen that right then, but I look back now and think maybe with my little problems, I can't put them aside. I need to move on and take care of responsibilities even though things are tough.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Well done, DOJ

Although not always a fan of lawsuits pursued on a personal level (I believe that, although necessary in some cases, such lawsuits more often than not ruin lives), I can't help but throw out some kudos to the Department of Justice which recently brought suit against Apple and five major book publishers (including Penguin, Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster) for "collud[ing] to increase the price of ebooks," a move which allegedly "cost consumers 'tens of millions of dollars.'" Apparently, these nogoodniks, including Steve Jobs, "worked together to eliminate competition among stores selling ebooks" by "rais[ing] the price of best-selling titles $2 to $5 each by introducing, at the same time Apple launched its iPad tablet, an “agency” business model in which publishers set retail prices." Apparently, Apple also insisted on "a 'most favoured nation' clause in which publishers agreed not to sell on cheaper terms elsewhere – while giving Apple a 30% commission on every sale – forc[ing] other retailers [including Kindle and Barnes & Noble] to adopt the same terms (see Financial Times story here).

As an American with fiery trust-busting fervor flowing throw my veins, the story rings mightily of injustice. But as one of those customers bilked out of extra cash by such collusion, I hear that ring even more clearly.

See, in the good ol' days, Amazon set the price for its eBooks at $9.99 - a veritable steal of a deal for avid bibliophiles like me. But then the price of eBooks began to increase until the point where, in some cases, it now costs more to buy an electronic copy of a book than the bound volume.

And so I applaud this suit most heartily, particularly as it seems to be bearing fruit (three of the publishers have already settled, putting strong pressure on Apple and the remaining publishers to do the same).

Under the terms of the settlement, it seems that the DOJ (and several states which have also sued Apple and the book publishers) will get their own (monetary) pound of flesh out of the baddies; but the best part is that, as part of the settlement, the DOJ is requiring that the publishers "let retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, set their own prices for ebooks."

Booyah. I can only hope that the days of the $9.99 novel will return ... and I can again enjoy the full might of Kindle's glory on the (comparative) cheap.

Monday, April 9, 2012

True Love

The simple example shown by my parents during the difficult days of my mother's illness and death have taught me more about the nature (and celestial possibilities) of human love than all the words that have been spoken, lessons that have been given or books that have been written on the subject:

Thank you both for showing me what I can someday have.

I love you, Mom, now and forever.

It was good for us to be here ...

General Conference (of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterd-day Saints), which is held semi-annually in October and April, has long been among my favorite times of year. What could be better than to be taught the words of God as delivered by His chosen and ordained servants on the earth (and then to have the verity of those words confirmed through the power of the Holy Spirit)?

Answer: Not much.

General Conference is a time to learn doctrine* and to reset our lives as we strive to be ever more honest, selfless, patient, kind and loving (which, in this world, seems to become more difficult by the day). Although touched by many impressions and thoughts (both prompted by, and independent of, the words spoken), I want to share some quotes from the April 2012 sessions of Conference that particularly struck me:

"May each of us resolve anew to live so that we are worthy sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. May we continue to oppose evil wherever it is found." - President Thomas S. Monson
"The purpose of the Church is to help us live the Gospel." - Elder Donald L. Hallstrom
"'Love of God is the root of all virtue, of all goodness, of all strength of character, of all fidelity to do right.'" - Elder Paul E. Koelliker (quoting President Gordon B. Hinckley)
"Just as the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is at the center of the plan of salvation, we followers of Christ must make our own sacrifices to prepare for the destiny that plan provides for us." - Elder Dallin H. Oaks
"I have visited with a woman who received the miracle of sufficient strength to endure unimaginable losses with just the simple capacity to repeat endlessly the words 'I know that my Redeemer lives.'" - President Henry B. Eyering
"So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live." - Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
"We consume such precious emotional and spiritual capital clinging tenaciously to the memory of a discordant note we struck in a childhood piano recital, or something a spouse said or did 20 years ago that we are determined to hold over his or her head for another 20, or an incident in Church history that proved no more or less than that mortals will always struggle to measure up to the immortal hopes placed before them. Even if one of those grievances did not originate with you, it can end with you. - Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
"The purpose of both temporal and spiritual self-reliance is to get ourselves on higher ground so that we can lift others in need." - Elder Robert D. Hales
"In the kingdom of God there are no second-class citizens." - Elder David S. Baxter
"Although you may at times have asked, why me? it is through the hardships of life that we grow toward godhood as our character is shaped in the crucible of affliction, as the events of life take place while God respects the agency of man. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented, we cannot do all the sums or make it all add up because 'we do not have all the numbers.'" - Elder David S. Baxter
"[O]ur daily question must be, 'Do my actions place me in the Lord’s or in the enemy’s territory?'" - Elder Ulisses Soares
"The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel be based on faith rather than just external or scientific proof. Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed, such as how the virgin birth or the Resurrection of the Savior could have occurred or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures, will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith. Ultimately, Moroni’s counsel to read and ponder and then ask God in all sincerity of heart, with real intent, to confirm scriptural truths by the witness of the Spirit is the answer." - Elder Quentin L. Cook
"Humility is a fertile soil where spirituality grows and produces the fruit of inspiration to know what to do." - Elder Richard G. Scott
Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless, and to strengthen other people." - Elder David A. Bednar
Ordination confers authority, but righteousness is required to act with power as we strive to lift souls, to teach and testify, to bless and counsel, and to advance the work of salvation." - Elder David A. Bednar
"During World War II approximately 500 U.S. soldiers and supporting locals were held captive in a prison camp. Because of the suffering and concern for their safety, a volunteer force of approximately 100 U.S. soldiers was selected to rescue these prisoners. After the volunteers were assembled, the commanding officer instructed them something like this: “This evening you men meet with your religious leaders, you kneel down, and you swear to God that as long as you have a single breath of life, you will not let one of these men suffer one more moment.” ... Should we be less valiant in our efforts to rescue those who could suffer spiritual and eternal consequences? Should we make less of a commitment to the Lord?" - Bishop Richard C. Edgely
"Dear young men of the Church, let me ask you a question that I hope you will carry in your heart for the rest of your life. What greater power can you acquire on earth than the priesthood of God? What power could possibly be greater than the capacity to assist our Heavenly Father in changing the lives of your fellowmen, to help them along the pathway of eternal happiness by being cleansed of sin and wrongdoing?" - Brother Adrián Ochoa
"We must not allow the doctrines of the priesthood to lie dormant in our hearts and unapplied in our lives. If there is a marriage or family in need of rescue—perhaps even our own—let’s not just wait and see. Rather, let us thank God for the plan of happiness that includes faith, repentance, forgiveness, and new beginnings. Applying priesthood doctrine will qualify us as husbands, as fathers, as sons who understand the why of the priesthood and its power to recapture and secure the beauty and holiness of eternal families." - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
"The Holy Spirit of Promise, through our obedience and sacrifice, must seal our temple covenants in order to be realized in the world to come." - President Henry B. Eyering

"At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right." - President Thomas S. Monson

"If we are not worthy, it is possible to lose the power of the priesthood; and if we lose it, we have lost the essence of exaltation. Let us be worthy to serve." - President Thomas S. Monson

"This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!" - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"Be we reminded that a perfect body is not required to achieve one’s divine destiny. In fact, some of the sweetest spirits are housed in frail or imperfect bodies. Great spiritual strength is often developed by people with physical challenges, precisely because they are so challenged." - Elder Russel M. Nelson

"If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well meaning and often given, 'Let me know if I can help' is really no help at all." - Elder Ronald A. Rasband

"We have been taught that “it is as obligatory upon a woman to draw into her life the virtues that are fostered by the Relief Society as it is an obligation for the men to build into their lives the patterns of character fostered by the priesthood.'" - Sister Julie B. Beck (quoting Elder Boyd K. Packer)

"We value scholarship that enhances understanding, but in the Church today, just as anciently, establishing the doctrine of Christ or correcting doctrinal deviations is a matter of divine revelation to those the Lord endows with apostolic authority." - Elder D. Todd Christofferson

"When compared to eternal verities, most of the questions and concerns of daily living are really rather trivial. What should we have for dinner? What color should we paint the living room? Should we sign Johnny up for soccer? These questions and countless others like them lose their significance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are hurt or injured, when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens." - President Thomas S. Monson

"His Atonement and Resurrection provide all of us an escape from physical death and, if we repent, an escape from spiritual death, bringing with it the blessings of eternal life." - Elder L. Tom Perry

"'There can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from the home. … There is no happiness without service, and there is no service greater than that which converts the home into a divine institution, and which promotes and preserves family life. … The home is what needs reforming'" - Elder M. Russell Ballard (quoting President Joseph F. Smith)

"Brothers and sisters, the most important cause of our lifetime is our families. If we will devote ourselves to this cause, we will improve every other aspect of our lives and will become, as a people and as a church, an example and a beacon for all peoples of the earth." - Elder M. Russell Ballard

"[A]nytime we try to compel someone to righteousness who can and should be exercising his or her own moral agency, we are acting unrighteously." - Elder Larry Y. Wilson

"My dear brothers and sisters, we can build up His Church and see real growth as we work to bring the blessings of the gospel to our family and to those we love." - Elder David F. Evans

"The sacred cannot be selectively surrendered. Those who choose to abandon even one sacred thing will have their minds darkened (see D&C 84:54), and unless they repent, the light they have shall be taken from them (see D&C 1:33). Unanchored by the sacred, they will find themselves morally adrift on a secular sea. In contrast, those who hold sacred things sacred receive promises: 'That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day' (D&C 50:24)." - Elder Paul B. Pieper

"Being a disciple [of Christ] in these days of destiny will be a badge of honor throughout the eternities." - Elder Neal L. Anderson

"Discipleship is believing Him in seasons of peace and believing Him in seasons of difficulty, when our pain and fear are calmed only by the conviction that He loves us and keeps His promises." - Elder Neal L. Anderson

"If there are disagreements or contentions among you, I urge you to settle them now." - President Thomas S. Monson

* Note: I tend to disagree with commentators, such as Matthew Bowman who suggest that the doctrines of the Church are murky, muddied and shifting (e.g., "[t]here is a great deal which Mormons might believe; there is very little that they must believe.")

Although there are many things that we may never fully know or understand in this life (e.g., why the Lord permitted, and in some cases required, the practice of polygamy among the early saints or why the Lord denied the priesthood to black Africans and their descendents prior to 1978), it is not at all difficult to discover the saving doctrines of the Gospel by, for instance, studying the revealed word of God contained in the holy scriptures and as delivered by His servants in General Conference. The same cannot be said with respect to the exact location of Kolob or whether Adam had a belly button.

We have been promised that, in the Lord's own due time, all truth (religious and scientific) will be revealed and we will cease to "see through a glass, darkly." I look forward to that day with all my heart because, although I have long since overcome my doubts about the truthfulness of the Gospel of Christ as restored to the earth, I have about a million questions. Nevertheless, until that glorious day of promise comes, I know what I'm going to spend my (limited) time studying.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Love Echoes

While combing through my family's memory boxes recently, I came across a letter I wrote to my mother on her birthday on April 22, 2002. In it, I included a birthday poem (the quality may be blah, but the sentiment is sure) and a short note*:
Love Echoes

Sweetly, fully, gently
A mother's unforced love
Giving, helping, sharing
A treasure from above

Beauty, goodness, virtue
Locked within a glance
Reaching, caring, saving
She gives the world a chance

Her worth, no mortal tongue may tell,
This precious gift was giv'n
And sent to lowely earth to dwell
A living glimpse of heav'n

My pen is reaching to express
My thankful heart, yet still
These words could ne'er quite convey
The gratefulness I feel

But thank you, thank you, mother dear
Your son, still standing true,
Would shout these words for all to hear
Dear mother, I love you
Thank you for the love and the support you've given me. The Sons of Helaman may have had wonderful mothers, but I don't know how they couold possibly compare with you. You do so much for our family, the community and the world. You are the original Super Mom. ... Thank you, and Happy, Happy Birthday, Mother Dear, happiness will come to you all year.
Love, Matt"
* NOTE: The letter also included a short message from my companion at the time, Elder Greg Cottrell:
The Cottrell Corner: Mom! Happy Birthday! I hope you can forgive me for all the years I've missed. You're great! Okay, so I've never met you, but your son is great, so he must have a great mother. Thanks for reading "The Cottrell Corner" and Happy Birthday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Each Life that Touches Ours for Good

"All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."
In this life of difficulty and conflict, the Lord often grants us tender mercies that, among other things, "fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live." As I can now testify, such tender mercies also give us strength and comfort to face the many challenges inherent in this sphere of existence, often coming in the very hour when we most need that strength and comfort.

Indeed, as Elder David A. Bednar explained:
When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
In the days and weeks since the death of my wonderful mother, Sherie Porter Wright, on March 10, 2012, the Lord has poured out His tender mercies on me and my family in great abundance.

As one instance of such mercies, the Lord has allowed me glimpses into the many ways in which my mother served and touched the lives of her neighbors and community. Such glimpses have come through comments and stories from family, friends, neighbors, mourners and strangers (at least to me), many of which have come in the form of letters and cards, such as the examples below:
"When I moved here I had no friends and was judged for my appearance (I had lots of tattoos). Sherie was the first person who genuinely embraced me. Loraine Whitear introduced us and since that day Sherie was my friend. She was always so happy to see me - at school or at home. I wasn't active, but she didn't care. When I started going to church and 'Sisters in Scriptures,' she always made my daughter Shiloh feel safe and happy to go to nursery at 6 months old. Sherie always made me feel loved, even when no one loved me. Sherie had the true love of Christ and she blessed me with that. I will always hold her close to my heart. I will always know that I am lovable because Sherie loved me. Thank you for sharing her with us."
"Dear Sherie - You probably don't know who I am, but I know who you are and I wanted to tell you that you are a great example to me of faith, courage and steadfastness. I look up to you and think you truly are an outstanding woman. May God give you the strength you need to continue on with life. My prayers are with you and your family."
"You are such an example and inspiration to me and so many others I know that even during this trial in your life, you continue to be an example of strength, love of the gospel and the peace that comes from living righteously."
The above are a small sample of the volumes that have been (or could be) written by the many individuals who have been (and continue to be) blessed by the life of my angel mother. The true impact of her life on this world may not be recounted in the annals of world history, but she will ever stand in the records of heaven as one of the choice daughters of our Heavenly Father who loved Him by serving and loving His children.

I love you, mom, and I simply can't wait until the glorious day of promise when I can see (and hug) you again.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Literary Musings of Mark Wright (circa 1993)

Bless our public school teachers. They may not be perfect, but, by golly, they deserve our respect (and a much better salary). After all, without them, I would never have come across the following tales (reproduced exactly from the original) written by my younger brother Mark when he was in the second grade (as he tells me now, these musings show only a glimmer of his fecund seven-year-old imagination):*
"The Day I Learned to Fly"

One day a witch came and I asked her if I could fly, so I got to fly and I went to see if it worked. I finely started to fly. I could see everyone in the city. I went over to my friend's house. They said, "how did you do that?" I told them, "a witch told me I could fly." But when I said that, I tried to fly and I fell flat on my face.

"All About Me"

I like riding horses. I also like going to the zoo. My favorite color is blue. My favorite food is pizza. My best friend is Bret Osborne. I like playing transformers with my friends. I have nine people in my family. I also like watching T.V. with my friends. I write with my right hand. My favorite animal is a horse. My favorite animal in the zoo is a bear. I like reading pages. My favorite cartoon show is Batman.

[Editors Note: Mark still likes bears and watching T.V. He insists his favorite show at the time he wrote this was actually X-Men.]

"My Family"

I have 9 people in my family. This their names: Kelly, Sara, Mike, Sharry, Matt, Amy, Timothy, Thomas and me. I like going camping with my family. I also like going to the store. My dad is 40 years old and my mom is 30 years old an dike is 13 years old. I have 4 pets. They are a rabbit called Lacie and a dog named Cotton and I have 2 cats named Pumpkin and Garfield.

[Editor's Note: My mom and dad are, in reality, only nine months apart in age.]

"My Friend the Ghost"

One Halloween night I went to the graveyard to see my dead grandpa. Then a ghost came out of the grave. Then I said hi and then the ghost became my friend. Then we played Nintendo and he won. Then we played checkers but then I won. After, we went trick-or-treating. The ghost scared everyone. We went back to the graveyard and we both said good-by. I went home and went to bed.

[Editor's Note: Both of Mark's grandfathers were alive when he wrote this. Also, the most improbable part of the tale is Mark losing at Nintendo (even to a ghost). Mark is a serious gamer.]

"Escape of the Thanksgiving Turkeys"

One day, the turkeys went on an airplane to New York. They were going to have Thanksgiving in California, but went to New York instead. They went to New York and got ate by the pilgrims and Indians. That was the first Thanksgiving.

[Editor's Note: This account is remarkably consistent with Squanto's story of the first Thanksgiving]

"Our Thanksgiving Feast"

At first we go to the store and buy turkey and stuffing. We go home and cook the turkey. And in a little while we take it out and stuff it with stuffing. We also have rolls and jello and mashed potatoes and gravy. Then we set the table and put everything on the table. We all sit down and eat. I go to eat in a cabin. My favorite food at Thanksgiving is jello.

"December, 1993"

I've been a good boy this year. This is what I have done, I've been nice to my friends, help my mom do the dishes, and I helped my dad clean the shed. I'm thankful that last year for Christmas you brought me a fort with horses and people. I would like the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I would also like the movie Beethoven, and some money. Your Friend, Mark Wright

[Editor's Note: None of Mark's claimed acts of goodness have been verified. Also, Mark still likes money.]

"An Elf in my Stocking"

One Christmas morning I looked into my stocking. In my stocking was an elf. He was 6 inches tall. We got him out and he said what do you want from me. I would like a Wooden Reindeer. So he built me the Wooden Reindeer. Then I said what is your name? He said my name is Christmas Tree. All of the year we played with all my toys. I wrote a note that said, Santa please come and get your elf. I put the note on my stocking. The next day was Christmas morning I got up and looked in my stocking, the elf was gone. I said thank you for coming and getting your elf. Good-bye!

[Editor's Note: True story. Every word.]

"My Own America"

I am glad to be an American were I know I'm free. I like the beautiful place and you get to do whatever you want to do. I can watch any movie I want to, but not R rated movies. I'm never going to move from America. I can read any book I want to. I can see anyone I want to.

"I Wish I Had ..."

I wish I had a dragons head so I could breath fire. I wish I had it so I could scare my teacher and my friends. So I went to the wishing well and wished I had a dragons head and I dropped a penny in there. But it would be a problem because my mother would not know who I was. So I got my dragons head and scared my teacher and my friends. But then I got home my mother said "What is that?" So I went back to the wishing well and wished the dragon head was not there. I threw in another penny and the dragons head was gone and I went home and played with my friends.

[Editor's Note: As with all great writers, Mark's tales share certain recurring themes and motifs. For instance, there is the "wish to be something, become something, grow tired of the new something and wish to return to normal" theme and the "really like to scare people" theme. Can you see any others?]

"How to Lose a Tooth"

First, I wiggle it to get it loose. If that doesn't work, then I get a string and tie it to a door. Then I slam the door. If that doesn't work, I use my dad's pliers to pull all my teeth out and it all most always works.

"The Day the Valentines Came Alive"

On the day we passed out Valentines one of the bags started to shake. Then all of them started to shake. So we took out all our Valentines and they jumped all over the place. We grabbed them and opened them. We found hearts jumping all over the place. They said, "I love you."

"My Kite Flying Adventure"

One day I made a kite. The kite was green, red, and blue. It was 3 feet long. I flew it in the air and it went so I high I went with it. We went really high and then the kite got stuck in the tree. I threw the kite back in the air and off we went. Then the wind stopped blowing and me and my kite both fell to the ground. Then we went home.

[Editor's Note: Add a stuffed tiger and you could call these tales "The Adventures of Mark and Hobbes."]

"The Day I Turned Green"

One day in March it was close to St. Patrick's day. Then it was the day before St. Patricks day I found a Leprechaun and he said "Do you want a wish?" I said yes, so I got my wish. It was to turn green like a Leprechaun. So he turned me green and I shrunk. I went around in trees and scared people. I tried to find the Leprechaun so I could have my last wish. I found him after a while and said turn me back to a human. So he did.

"April Showers Bring ..."

April showers bring grasshoppers, armies of ants, golden books, gold horses, rainbows, flowers, golden rabbits and birds.

[Editor's Note: Horses may be Mark's favorite non-zoo animal, but gold horses are everyone's favorite non-zoo animal.]

"The Most Important Thing About Mark"

The most important thing about Mark is he likes his teacher. He laughs a lot. He likes riding horses. He likes playing baseball, football, soccer and basketball. His favorite food is pizza and nachos. He likes snakes. But the most important thing about Mark is he likes his teacher.

[Editor's Note: The MOST important thing about Mark is he learned to be a brown-nosing suck up very early in life.]


* I found this book while going through my family's memory boxes. Lesson? As an expectant parent, I'd best make sure to pay attention to (and keep) all such treasures.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Men and Women of Integrity

One of my all-time favorite plays is "A Man for All Seasons," by Richard Bolt.* I love this story for a number of reasons (for instance, I love it as a lawyer seeing a fellow practitioner worthy of emulation), but perhaps, on the most fundamental level, I enjoy it because it is a portrait of that increasingly elusive specter in these morally dubious days: A man of integrity. (Although many definitions of integrity can usefully be put forward, let's just call it by an alternate appellation ... honor.)

In a speech given at BYU in December 2011, Elder Tad R. Callister lays out, rather succinctly, what the life of Sir Thomas More can teach us about being men and women of integrity:

["A Man for All Seasons"] is the story of Sir Thomas More. He had distinguished himself as a scholar, a lawyer, an ambassador, and, finally, as Lord Chancellor of England. He was a man of absolute integrity. The play opens with these words of Sir Richard Rich: 'Every man has his price! . . . In money too. . . . Or pleasure. Titles, women, bricks-and-mortar, there’s always something.' That is the theme of the play. It is also the theme of life. Is there a man or woman in this world who cannot be bought, whose integrity is beyond price?

The answer, whether you look to the play, the scriptures or the lives of those excellent (and relatively obscure) individuals who raise the world on the shoulders of their personal values, is yes. A resounding yes.

As the play continues, the tides of fate force More to face the ultimate test: Will you stand true to your internal moral compass even if doing so would cost you your life? Elder Callister continues:
As the play unfolds, King Henry VIII desires to divorce Queen Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. But there is a catch: divorce is forbidden by the Catholic Church. And so King Henry VIII, not to be thwarted in his desires, demands of his subjects the taking of an oath that will support him in his divorce. But there is a further problem. Sir Thomas More, who is loved and admired by the common people, is a holdout—his conscience will not let him sign the oath. He is unwilling to submit, even at the king’s personal request. Then come the tests. His friends apply their personal charm and pressure, but he will not yield. He is stripped of his wealth, his position, and his family, but he will not sign.


At the climax of the play, Sir Thomas More is being falsely tried for treason. Sir Richard Rich commits the perjury necessary to convict him. As Sir Richard Rich exits the courtroom, Sir Thomas More asks Rich, 'That’s a chain of office you are wearing. . . . What [is it]?'

Prosecutor Thomas Cromwell replies, 'Sir Richard is appointed Attorney-General for Wales.'

More then looks into Rich’s face with great disdain and retorts, 'For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. . . . But for Wales!?'**

Sir Richard Rich serves the perfect foil for More - the paragon of integrity - through his willingness to cheaply dispose of his integrity (which, as More and the Savior so clearly point out, is in reality his soul).

But how many of us sell our integrity (soul) so much more cheaply? For a better score on an exam? For a raise? For a few hours of entertainment? For a free (or discounted) meal? For recognition from our co-workers? For temporary (or perceived) freedom from mental pain or social duties? Again, turning to Elder Callister:
A lack of integrity is a major problem in the world. That deficiency undermines every business transaction and every spousal, family, and social relationship it touches. It is a concern of every profession. There are attorneys who bill for hours of service that they never rendered; physicians who recommend surgeries and procedures that were never needed; teachers who fail to prepare lessons but deposit their paychecks just the same; and, unfortunately, politicians whose integrity is governed by popular polls rather than by eternal principles. It is a day and age in which men and women of integrity are in desperate demand but in short supply.

In this sad world, many of us have, in one way or another, already sold our integrity. Fortunately, though, through the atonement of Christ, such a sale need not be final. Indeed, if we are willing to pay the price of repentance (which includes the hefty price tag of a lifelong change in thought and action), we can regain our integrity, the crown jewel of virtues, and be able to stand squarely with More, proclaiming to an honor-starved world world that our integrity is "NOT FOR SALE AT ANY PRICE!"

* I should note that I adore this tale independent of the extent to which it presents an exact portrait of the More of history. From what I've read, the play is, at least in spirit, modeled quite closely on the historic hero (described, nearly 450 years after his execution, as "the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance"). Nevertheless, I firmly believe that we should strive to equal the legacy left by the literary More whether that figure was sculpted entirely from the mold of the historic More or not.

** Some other key quotes from the play:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

* * * * *
Duke of Norfolk: Oh, confound all this.... I'm not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names.... You know those men! Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

Sir Thomas More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"

* * * * *
Sir Thomas More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

* * * * *
Sir Thomas More: [talking to the witnesses for his execution] I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die his Majesty's good servant but God's first.
[to the executioner]
Sir Thomas More: I forgive you right readily.
[he gives him a coin]
Sir Thomas More: Be not afraid of your office; you send me to God.
Archbishop Cranmer: You're very sure of that, Sir Thomas?
Sir Thomas More: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.
[he kneels and puts his head on the chopping block]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shouldn't that be obvious?

In what may be the "duh" moment of the year, FINRA published an Investor Alert on July 25, 2011 to help counter the problems arising from the fact that, in their own words:
[I]nvestors may not realize that they could be taking on more risk if they invest in products with higher returns.
Kind of obvious, no? Still, when the herds flock to speculate in the market (rather than invest in it), such an elementary lack of understanding of financial products is bound to occur.

Other gems from the Alert include:
If you do not fully understand how your investments function, you could find yourself surprised by outcomes you didn’t expect, such as illiquidity, exit fees, loss of principal or the return of your investment in a form other than cash.
The promise of higher return is almost always associated with greater risk and an increased possibility of investment losses.
Legitimate investments that promise returns of 30, 50 or even 100 percent per year without any risk to your principal simply do not exist. Always independently verify who you are dealing with and whether the seller of the investment is licensed to do business with you.
Seems to me that the brunt of FINRA's advice is two-fold: (1) don't get greedy (i.e., by participating in Madoff-style get rich quick schemes) and (2) do your homework. After all, the key difference between a speculator and an investor (and no matter what nomenclature the financial press favor, most "investors" today are, in reality, speculators) is the amount of good ol' fashioned research an investor does before tossing their cash to a third party (be it the markets or Uncle Jeff).

So next time you're looking to invest, grab a calculator (or abacus) and all the info you can get your hands on and get to work.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Sabbath day thought

"Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." - President Thomas S. Monson

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"The Power of Personal Testimony in Strengthening the Family"

Last night during the Saturday evening session of our semi-annual district conference*, my lovely wife Michelle delivered a remarkable sermon on the power of a personal testimony to strengthen a family. Indeed, it was too good not to share ... so here it is:

Mary McQuarrie was born in August 1846 near Glasgow, Scotland. At the age of 11, her family left for the American west to join her brother who earlier converted and moved to the Salt Lake Valley. Mary, her parents and other siblings were baptized after their arrival in the states. At the age of 15 she became the third wife to Edward Bunker, a man 24 years her senior.

It is said Mary was “never was to regret this marriage. She ... came to know by experience that if this law were lived as God intended ... it would refine and purify the soul as nothing else would,” (Online Biography).

Mary understood the hardships of pioneer life as she moved with her husband and family to St. George and Santa Clara, Utah before settling Bunkerville, Nevada. Later, Edward moved to Mexico with his first wife, where he suddenly passed away. Mary spent her final years battling a crippling illness while raising her 8 children alone in the desert.

Yet, her granddaughter explained, “[Grandma] was never known to complain of her suffering. Her faith and trust in her Heavenly Father was sublime. She gave to her posterity a powerful testimony of the truth of the Gospel, and an example of righteous living that should stimulate her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to increased devotion for righteous living ... Her children found in her ... a faith in God indomitable and unimpaired, though she had been sore-pressed and tried ... One could not know this little woman, so humble and sweet, without knowing that when she approached---God listened,” (Online Biography).

In October 2006 General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf similarly spoke of the power a personal testimony may have. He said, “Our firm personal testimony will motivate us to change ourselves and then bless the world,” (Ensign, November 2006).

As with Mary McQuarrie, this principle is illustrated time and time again in the scriptures. We read and study of individuals who desire and seek testimony through continued prayer, faith and obedience. And by so doing are able, like Mary, to call upon God’s attention and the powers of heaven to change their lives, the lives of their families and the lives of others. Today I’d like to highlight three such examples - Enos, Martha and Alma and his son Alma.


Enos begins his record explaining the “wrestle which [he] had before God,” (Enos 1:2) to receive a remission of his sins and gain a personal testimony. With a sincere desire and hunger to know for himself, he earnestly prayed until he received forgiveness and a witness of the power of God. He shared this testimony with his family and community, as his son Jarom explained that he “did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering ... continually stirring them up unto repentance,” (Jarom 1:11, 12).

Enos also used his testimony and faith to call upon the powers of heaven when he asked the Lord to preserve the Nephite records. He says, “Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsovever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it. And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them his own due time,” (Enos 1: 15-16).

Enos is a great example of a powerful testimony that motivated change in himself and subsequently blessed his family and countless generations to this day. Because of Enos’s testimony in the Savior and His ability to bless us with the righteous desires of our hearts, he helped preserve the Nephite records, an important part of the Book of Mormon we hold so sacred today.


Martha, her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus were close with the Savior while he was on the earth. It is said that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus,” (John 11: 5).

When Lazarus became ill, Martha and Mary sent for the Savior. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days. Martha went to greet the Savior and said unto him, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee,” (John 11:21-22).

Jesus responded saying, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live ... Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. [And then] he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth,” (John 11: 25, 26, 27, 43).

In a recent conference address, Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer explained this story “gives us a deeper view of [Martha’s] understanding and testimony,” (Ensign, May 2010). He continued, “[Martha’s] testimony in the trial of her brother’s death clearly shows the depth of her understanding and faith ... By knowing more about Martha, we find she was actually a person of deep spiritual character who had a bold and daring testimony of the Savior’s mission and His divine power over life.” Indeed, we learn through this story that Martha’s testimony not only positively influenced her own life, but also strengthened her family as Christ restored Lazarus to life.


Alma, after hearing the testimony and teachings of the prophet Abinadi, repented and began to teach the things he learned. He encouraged others to “walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs ...” (Mosiah 18:29). When his son became “a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church,” (Mosiah 27:9), Alma prayed so fervently that an angel appeared that he might “be brought to the knowledge of the truth,” (Mosiah 27:14).

Afterward, Alma the younger explained that during this experience “[he] remembered ... to have heard [his] father prophesy ... concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ,” (Alma 36: 17). It was his father’s testimony that led Alma the younger to seek forgiveness from and a testimony of the Savior.

This testimony he passed on to his children as well. Before leaving for the last time, Alma asked his son Helaman, “Believest thou the words which I spake unto thee...? And Helaman said unto him: Yea, I believe. And Alma said again: Believest thou in Jesus Christ, who shall come? And he said: Yea, I believe all the words which thou has spoken,” (Mosiah 45:44).

As we see in both Alma’s lives, developing a pattern of testimony bearing and teaching within the family can have a profound effect. Elder David A. Bednar explained “feeling the power, the edification, and the constancy of testimony from a spouse, a parent, or a child is a rich blessing. Such testimony fortifies faith and provides direction,” (Ensign, November 2009).

In October 1994 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales suggested seven ways in which we may gain and maintain a strong testimony. They include continuing in prayer, searching the scriptures, pondering gospel principles, being humble and receptive, living our testimony through obedience, sharing our testimony, and lastly enduring trials of circumstance and persecution, (Ensign, November 1994 or New Era, August 2002). Once again, our previous mentioned examples illustrate each of these principles. Enos pondered gospel principles, even the words “ ... which [he] had often heard [his] father speak concerning eternal life,” (Enos 1:3). He then prayed and continued to pray “all the day long ... yea, and when the night came [he] still did raise [his] voice high that it reached the heavens,” (Enos 1:5). Later, we learn that Enos continued to “pour out [his] whole soul unto God,” (Enos 1:9) and that he “prayed ... with many long strugglings,” (Enos 1:10). Similarly, Alma the elder “prayed with much faith,” (Mosiah 27: 14), and “did pour [his heart]” unto the Lord (Mosiah 24:12).

Martha was humble and receptive to the Lord’s admonition to “choose the better part,” (Luke 10: 41-42) which resulted in a faith and testimony of Christ so powerful as to raise her brother from the dead.

Alma the younger was known to “study the scriptures diligently, that [he] might know the word of God,” (Alma 17: 2), and freely shared his testimony with others as he found that “the word had a great tendency to lead the people [and] ... had [a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than ... anything else,” (Alma 31:5).

Mary McQuarrie lived her testimony through cheerful obedience and remained devoted despite years of physical and spiritual trials.

Elder Hales taught, “Individual testimonies are the foundation and strength of the Church. Our testimony provides a guiding light that leads to a commitment which directs our conduct and our way of life ... Having a strong testimony allows us to help others in their search for truth,” (New Era, August 2002).

I know there is great power in personal testimony. I know because although we have not met in this life, the testimony and example of those in the scriptures as well as my great-great grandmother, Mary McQuarrie has sustained and encouraged me through varied life experiences.

I know that as we engage in the activities Elder Hales recommends, we will increase our testimony of and faith in the Savior. We will gain the kind of testimony that will motivate change in ourselves and bless the lives of our families and others. I know that as we desire and seek these things, that it may also be said of the power of our testimonies that when we approached, God listened. Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

* Note: Elder Perkins, the Asia Area president, told us last night that the Saturday evening session of stake/district conference is invariably (1) the least attended and (2) most uplifting meeting of any stake/district conference. Because of that, he feels that the Lord will likely pick that meeting to announce His second coming (allowing active church members to self select into the wise or foolish virgin camp ;)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"You are not a billiard ball"

I first came across the delightful work "Eternal Man" (by Truman G. Madsen) on my mission. Unfortunately, in the intervening seven years (really ... seven?!), I've had little opportunity to revisit this excellent volume.

Until now.

Thanks to the ever-so-convenient Kindle, I recently rediscovered the magic of this booklet, which is chock full of delightful lessons and thought-provoking commentary.

Take, for instance, the following excerpt:
Freedom was not created. You are, and always will be, independent in that stage of development to which your voluntary decisions and divine powers have led. There are limits all along the way to what you can be and do. But you are not a billiard ball. No power in the universe can coerce your complete assent or dissent.

And another (just for good measure):
There is no creation 'from nothing.' There is ordering of elements: movement from simple to complex; growth from one degree to a greater degree, and from part to whole.

You are not just a product; you are an originator. In space you are coexistent with God. In time, you are coeternal with God.

Essentially, this little publication takes the Prophet Joseph Smith's teachings on premortal existence and applies them to (and uses them to answer) numerous problems posed by religion and philosophy over the last few thousand years.

For anyone interested in a better understanding of what it means to be an eternal being, I couldn't recommend the book enough. After all, where else would you find a host of well-reasoned arguments allowing you to stand up, face this crazy world and yell, "I am NOT a billiard ball!"?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fortune Tellers ...

Back at USU, my roommates and I decided to invite some other Bridgerlanders over to make fortune cookies (or it may have been that the other Bridgerlanders and I invited my roommates to join us ... not certain).

In preparation for that lovely event, my roommate (Benjamin Franklin Cummings, a.k.a. Ben of the Silly Laugh) and I set about creating some fun and genre-bending fortunes to stuff inside those delectable shells. As I was giving my inbox a much needed cleaning out, I stumbled across a few of these little gems and, in the interest of nostalgia and humanity, present them here for your viewing pleasure:

(1) On the side of the road, you will find a gift for your brother
(2) A new shirt will attract a stray flock of doves
(3) Beware the Ides of March ... or Brutus ... or both
(4) Neo-Nazi propagandists will give you legal trouble
(5) Swimming fully clothed will save your dog’s life
(6) Sneezing in class will incur the wrath of your professor
(7) You will be assigned to a new partner from a foreign land
(8) A long-forgotten math test will give you an ulcer (literally)
(9) Painting the walls blue will bring good fortune to you
(10) You will find love on the short bus
(11) A dead butterfly in Lichenstein will influence your stock options
(12) Your second class on Tuesday will bring a smiling face from a kind heart
(13) Under the light of the full moon, you will cross your future nemesis
(14) You will enjoy an exotic camel ride through Arizona
(15) A run-in with pagan idols will leave you naked
(16) A break down on the road less traveled will lead to fortune on the highway to hell
(17) Capturing snowflakes on the end of a pencil will guarantee grad school entrance
(18) You will find success working nights at McDonald's
(19) A completed Bachelors degree will give you nothing but trouble
(20) Seeking to become a True Aggie* will bring disastrous results

As you can tell from these tongue-in-cheek send ups, Ben and I saw fortune cookies (and astrology and ... etc.) was all a bunch of flim flam ... but at least we could turn it into some fairly funny flim flam ;)

* NOTE: Look here for a discussion on the hallowed tradition of becoming a True Aggie.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Those Wacky, Star-Crossed Lovers ...

In scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo - that impetuous boy and star-crossed lover - introduces himself to Juliet by saying
'Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear, That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops ...'
At that point, however, he is cut off in his love diatribe by a much more mature, much wiser Juliet when she says:
'O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.'
Romeo, probably a little disconcerted that his one true love has doused the flame of his poetic praise, nevertheless listens to her wise counsel and asks,
'What shall I swear by?'
To this, Juliet calmly responds:
'Do not swear at all; Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self . . . And I'll believe thee.'
After thinking about Juliet's musings this morning, I realized that in many ways, she is simply saying that a love that is true love does not need any vain affirmations. When we feel an incredible depth of feeling for another human being, one which may be described in the Greek as Agape -
the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance, we do not need to make any protestations through words or swear by any fickle and failing objects (celestial orb or otherwise) ... instead, we simply must let the love we feel grow and expand through whatever storm may come and through whatever obstacle we may encounter. Regardless of the circumstance, that kind of love will remain.

Not bad for a teenager destined to kill herself in the most unnecessarily tragic of Shakespearean suicides.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The innocence of youth ...

Just read an interesting piece on a thesis written by recent Harvard grad, A.K. Barnett-Hart.

Though I enjoyed the article, one of the most interesting parts for me was the cynicism exhibited in the last five words of the piece (to give the proper context, I preface these words with the paragraph preceding them):

“After writing my thesis, it became clear to me that the culture at these investment banks needed to change and that incentives needed to be realigned to reward more than just short-term profit seeking,” [Barnett-Hart] wrote in an email. “And how would Wall Street ever change, I thought, if the people that work there do not change? What these banks needed is for outsiders to come in with a fresh perspective, question the way business was done, and bring a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank - providing necessary financial services, not creating unnecessary products to bolster their own profits.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

This ideal-crushing, five-word jab represents one of the fundamental roadblocks preventing any real, productive change on Wall Street: Disbelief.

The world's financial players (and those who write about their exploits) frequently exhibit disbelief that anything can change ... and, what's worse, sometimes they exhibit disbelief that anything should change.

For instance, look at how quickly the financial institutions have returned to "business as usual" in the wake of the financial crisis. These "movers and shakers" of markets and economies seem to have no problem pushing the world to the brink of chaos and then, after complete disaster is averted, start the merry-go-round over again.

The fact is, Barnett-Hart slammed her hammer down in exactly the right spot: The culture of the Street needs to change. The devil-may-care, recklessness must be removed (and possibly penalized) and a new culture of personal, moral, and ethical accountability must take its place.

An important question, of course, is how that change should be accomplished. Should we simply rely on Big Brother to come in with its newly-minted regulations? Or, should we seek to help the players develop stronger self-regulation skills? In a prior post, I wrote that
[T]he effectiveness of a free market model depends not on an unbreakable tome of rules and regulations ... but instead on a system of internal ethical and moral controls that must be imbued into the very nature of the people who work within the market.

Thus, I tend to stand in the latter of those two camps. Perhaps, though, a third possibility exists ... replacing the current players with newbies looking to "provid[e] necessary financial services" rather than create "unnecessary products to bolster their own profits."

But whether we believe in change through an external regulatory clamp-down (the easy fix), an internal ethical overhaul (the more difficult, more lasting fix), or some combination of the two, we should believe in change (both it's need and it's possibilty).

And we should applaud those who earnestly seek it.

Indeed, what right do we have to denigrate or mock someone who, seeing the moral mess on Wall Street, wants to bring the Street "a fresh perspective" and "a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank"?

Answer: None.

So I say, go get 'em A.K.

Let's get to work ...

Listening to "Conversations" this morning, I heard Elder Bednar share an experience from Sept. 11, 2001.

After the horrific events of that morning, Elder Bednar was set to meet with President Hinckley and other presiding leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that evening. He mentioned how eagerly he anticipated what the brethren would say about those events. At the meeting, President Hinckley said, quite simply:
We live in very troubled times. Now, let's get to work.

We do live in difficult, sometimes scary times; we are embroiled in the events of the last days ... the days when men's hearts shall fail them. We are surrounded by a state of constant change and turmoil. Truly, all things are in commotion.

But, we must continue on in the service of God. The work of the Lord is rarely easy or convenient, but, with faith in ourselves, faith in God, and faith in the future, we can (and will) have the strength to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I believe that the answer to fear and uncertainty is to go to work. God's Plan will not be frustrated and He will continue to work for the eternal benefit of His children even as the world drops further into complexity and (eventually) chaos.

As we work in the cause of the Lord, He will help us be prepared for all that comes and will give us the courage to face the future without fear.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life without Youtube ...

On March 25, 2010, Youtube suffered a minor (and temporary) outage.

The world trembled.
"YouTube is up again following a technical issue which has now been resolved," a spokeswoman for Google said in a written statement. "We know how important YouTube is for people and apologize for any inconvenience the downtime may have caused."
But do you really know how important YouTube is, Google? DO YOU!?

From talking cats to chubby dancers (dancing chubbily), YouTube connects us to all that is real and good and holy in life. To be deprived of its radiance - even temporarily - is almost more than we mortals can bear.

According to Google (that demigod of search engines), the outage was not caused by outside tampering. And, while it's good to know the Russians haven't hacked our system to the point of being able to interfere with our most basic, shared need, we can't help but feel a significant sense of loss for the time YouTube was down.

After all, you can never get that back.

But, somehow, we pulled through; somehow, we filled the gaping temporal void left by YouTube's catastrophic absence; somehow, we moved on.

Just don't let it happen again, Google.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chuckle-worthy review ...

Couldn't stop laughing when I read this EW movie review for Remember Me, starring none other than America's favorite vampire, Robert Pattinson:
As a shameless contraption of ridiculously sad things befalling attractive people, the engorged romantic tragedy Remember Me stands tall between those towering monuments to teen-oriented cinematic misery: Love Story and Twilight . . . the movie is one part "Love means never having to say you're sorry" and one part Edward's warning to Bella: "If you're smart, you'll stay away from me." ... [It is] a movie with all the hyperventilating hysteria of a 1960s teen-tragedy pop song and all the disposability, too.
Rotten Tomato Critical Score: 26% (a.k.a., certifiably ROTTEN).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On a Golden Springtime

In the springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, a ding a ding a ding,
Sweet lovers love the Spring.

- William Shakespeare

My friends, today I have but one purpose in this little post ... and that is to wish you all my love on this most beautiful of Spring-ish days! There is sunshine in my soul and happiness in my heart and I hope that the whole world can rise up with me in song and praise of Him who grants us this yearly renewal!

On a golden springtime, underneath the ground, a tiny seedling lay asleep until the sun shone down. Awake, awake, O little seed! Push upward to the light! The day is bright, with all your might, push upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke and left the tomb where he had lain; the bands of death he broke. Awake, awake, O sleeping world! Look upward to the light. For now all men may live again. Look upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, in a forest glade, the Father and the Son appeared as Joseph knelt and prayed. Awake, awake, O nations all! Receive the gospel light! The gospel true is here for you. Receive its glorious light!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Creation and the World of "Jack the Dripper" ...

Abstract expressionist painter (and all-around splatter genius) Jackson Pollock is often credited with inventing the technique of working spontaneously with liquid paint (a.k.a. "action painting").

But last Friday night, I think my friend Michelle and I perfected it.

After a little bit of furniture shifting and a trip to Home Depot to buy some supplies, I taped plastic drop cloths on the walls and floor to create a temporary, non-"apartment deposit destroying" Art Studio (the plastic definitely kept the painting project from morphing into a Spring Cleaning project).

Here is the room pre-action:

Because "splatter painting" is supposed to release the inner self (that is, the supremely creative child-like self from many decades ago), I tried to stock the table with some unconventional (and fun) tools of the trade. In addition to paint and brushes, we also had scissors, balloons, a toothbrush, spoons, a funnel, a spray bottle, tape, and airsoft guns.

In Round 1, we started with a variation of a "splatter paint" idea I saw in "The Princess Diaries." After using the funnel to put paint in the balloons and taping those balloons to a canvas* on the wall, we shot at the balloons with my friend's Airsoft gun ... Best. Artistic tool. Ever.

This artistic "Biathlon," which created a vibrant and unique splatter scheme, was, to put it in one phrase, totally wicked! And it left lots of little pools of paint littering the floor like a multi-colored mine field. Having inadvertently created such a perfect art palette, in Round 2, we did what came naturally ... we dropped a new canvas on the ground and started making "Foot Art."

Here is the finished product:

After the first two rounds, we (and the art studio) were knee deep in the the Art of Entropy.

To kick off Round 3, we dropped another canvas on the ground and tried a bit of drip painting (inspired by old Jack). A rousing round of joyous spontaneity! Fun twist, though, after we finished dripping, Michelle grabbed the spray bottle and sprayed part of the canvas causing the colors to blend together in an even more interesting panorama.

Finally, in Round 4 we decided to limit our color scheme to blue and red and created a mirror image painting by splattering one half of the canvas and then folding it over. We ended up with a sort of artistic commentary on political (Democrats v. Republicans) and scholastic (BYU v. U. of U.) rivalry:

After all was said and done, we taped the four pieces to the wall so they could dry ... **

... and paused for a moment to appreciate the art (pondering? planning future projects? posing for a picture?):

During the night, as we got messy, made mistakes, and had an altogether brilliant time, I wondered why I had done so little visual art over the past few years. Now, it's true that law school doesn't lend itself to Art Jammin' nearly often enough ... but I realized (after some thought and a bit of conversation) that I actually began to let go of art back in eighth grade when it dawned on me that my very limited, "traditional" artistic talent was likely to pull down my GPA (pretty sure my lowest grade ever was in art class that year).

Now, that's not to say I don't like to get creative ... even law school lends itself to interesting & innovative outlets (just look at the "Death Concert" some of my friends put on). I think, though, that I hadn't done much visual art because I let that negative, eighth-grade response from my art teacher get me down.

Fortunately, though, on Friday, I rediscovered the joy of artistic creation. And what profound joy that is. As Pres. Uchtdorf told the sisters in a recent General Relief Society Meeting:

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

... You might say, “I’m not the creative type." ... If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters [and sons] of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

... What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. ... Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside. ... The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come.***

I for one am definitely going to let that inner me - that creative me - out far more often. Not just in painting or in writing (though I'm planning to do more of both), but also in the ways I interact with people; in the way I approach my calling; in everything I do. And hopefully, with a little practice, I'll begin to become more like my "endlessly creative" Father in Heaven.

* NOTE 1: The "canvas" was actually a bed sheet cut in four pieces ...

** NOTE 2: One of the best part's about Friday's art extravaganza is that the floor itself became a piece of art, combining the best of all four sessions and providing a rare glimpse at the artistic process ...

** NOTE 3: For a really inspiring Mormon Message based on this talk, click here.