Star Wars and the Plan of Salvation, Part 4

Today is the six-year anniversary of giving a talk version of this chapter for sacrament meeting. It’s the writing that ultimately spawned my entire book. Thanks to Travis Kupp for asking me to give a talk at his mission farewell.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Freedom to Live

The last stage of the hero’s journey is liberation. With the Death Star destroyed, the Empire dismantled, Luke could now live his life freely, without fear, without enemies. Neither his past nor his future were bound. In his book, Campbell even quotes Christ when He said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).

Similarly, when we have won our own cup of glory, our conception of time will cease to exist. We will recognize our eternal past and our eternal future as one great Now. We, too, will be freed from fear, from the chains of mortality and the chains of hell, by the power of the Resurrection and the Atonement, and we can live as free beings, having gained all power over ourselves and the world around us. The life of a god is a life of true freedom. That agency is, I believe, the very definition of godhood.

But agency has a twin that is just as necessary to godhood, and just as beautiful. It is the family: men and women, children of God, united by the sealing bond of the Holy Ghost. As His children, we are what gives God goals. Without progeny, the Plan is meaningless. Without parenthood, a god has no purpose, and all that freedom is for naught.

And so we see in our tests of mundane mortality the great practice grounds of godhood: the work of marriage and raising children. No other work comes close to the very essence and duty of God. And so that is the responsibility we must take most soberly.

Family is what this is all about. To be given the responsibility and “sacred privilege” of having and taking care of a family, one must first prove worthy to enter the temple, be armed with the attributes needed to be worthy of a temple recommend. In the temple we take more steps into eternity, principally the endowment and of course our sealing to an eternal companion. Only then are we granted the opportunity to take on the same kind of stewardship as Heavenly Father’s, the power to create life and the responsibility to raise that new being the same way Heavenly Father is trying to raise us. First we are stewards over ourselves, our spirits, our bodies, our souls, and when we have proven ourselves therewith, we are granted that blessing of increase, and subsequently receive grace for grace as we advance in the endless creative work that is eternal progression, the endless generations of gods.

This in its totality is the Eternal Arc, a term that, if thought about, seems to be a paradox. An arc, after all, is something finite, something that culminates in a defined conclusion. But the Eternal Arc does not. It is progress from all eternity to all eternity. Progress through eternal lives, the endless propagation of the race of gods that only builds on its own glory as eternity continues, linked by love and priesthood power—all of which comes back to choices we make here in this temporal trial, and the perspective with which we view this life. As we go through our seemingly mundane daily routine, we must never forget that we are actually living something far grander, something so bright and glorious that we can currently only see it through the cracks of our fingers, caught up in the mortal moments and telestial tempests as we are.

Those moments matter. The lone and dreary world is full of mediocrity, sameness, and often only in dull shades of gray and brown. The test lies in how we navigate through it, what lessons we can learn from life as we sharpen our eyes, as we pay attention to what occurs and why, and maintain an awareness of the grand goal at the far end, and that we, all of God’s children, are on this journey together, a truth too easy to forget. When we pass others in the street, do we see them for their potential, for their preciousness in the eyes of God? Do we even see ourselves with that same potential?

CS Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Think of the beginning of Star Wars. When you first see that whiny kid living on a desert planet with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, could you believe he would one day give hope to the galaxy and topple the devil’s Empire?

Ponder the consequences if Luke had remained with his aunt and uncle, farming moisture out of a barren wasteland of a planet—What a parable for our modern-day distractions! Meandering through apps and further down the Facebook feed, employing ourselves primarily in video games, putting all our resources and spending all our time merely seeking to gain more and more money, more and more things that fall away from us as we rise into the next world—though flashy and colorful, this kind of living leaves our Book of Life as empty and dull as Tattooine.

We have a destiny far grander than that. And it is Satan’s victory if we forget it, or disregard it, or treat it as dross. We must take absolute and total advantage of this gift given us by our Heavenly Father, this gift of salvation, this gift of love, this potential for perfection, for eternal increase. For right now, it is only potential, for none of us have reached it yet. Potential does not entail success or accomplishment. It does not mean that it will, in fact, happen. Just as a car sitting at a stoplight needs the gas pedal to be pressed to take it to its full speed, so are exertion and effort required for any journey. Without any input, we will sit there idly, never going anywhere, forsaking our inheritance for a figurative mess of pottage, for worldly pleasures and distractions—a fate Heavenly Father never wants us to fulfill. And fulfilling the potential God has in mind for us is definitely not as easy as putting your foot on the gas pedal. It takes work and significant sacrifice, and we can’t make that sacrifice if the reason for it fades from our eyes.

Yes, we must provide for our families, give our children good lives, work hard to improve ourselves and even help our neighbor fix his roof. But we must not forget to what end we carry out those temporal chores. Not for the sake of our daily bread, our daily lives, but our eternal bread, our eternal lives. Though our work may look mundane from our view on the ground, in exerting effort and sincerely trying to improve the lives of our families and all around us, we are indeed advancing through our very own Hero’s Cycle, our very own Eternal Arc. We are indeed becoming a society of gods and goddesses.

A Christlike people striving forward together against the shafts of the whirlwind will become a God-like people, and on a variety of scales—the self, the family, the community, and even the world. We are working to create a place where we grow together, where our own progress interweaves with our neighbor’s, where our families bloom in divine destiny, and we happily help each other in all things, including and especially in our Eternal Arc—that is Zion. And it is the reason for our more temporal (but still spiritual) callings in this life—as bishop, as Sunday School teacher, as ward clerk, even as the bulletin writer, or building cleanup supervisor, or Relief Society newsletter writer, and every other responsibility we are asked to undertake in our corners of the universe. Our progress is truly tethered to all those around us. We cannot succeed alone, nor should we even want to.

It is indeed telling that the authority to use the priesthood power is only granted for its capacity to bless others, and never one’s own self. For it is all a part of the pattern of stewardship, taught so perfectly by Christ in the Parable of the Talents. The talents that the worthy servants invested to gain were not for them alone—those invested talents went into the general economy of the society, and would have had to bless others as much as it blessed themselves. That deceptively short parable contains within it the structure of God’s plan for us, God’s plan for eternal progression: our Eternal Arc is not one we undertake for ourselves alone, nor is it by our efforts alone, but by the example and grace of Christ to become as He is, and with us rising to celestial glory our family, our companion and all those to whom we are sealed.

This end is the goal Heavenly Father wants for us more than anything, the conclusion of our own Hero’s Cycle, our Eternal Arc—for He is our Father, and He loves us more than all else He has created in ocean, earth, or sky. As He declared to Moses, this is His work and His glory—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

General authority Vaughn J. Featherstone related the following story:

“Many years ago I heard the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him. They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, ‘I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king’.”

Brothers and sisters, that is what we were born to be: Kings. Queens. Rulers and Creators. For we are children of the Most High, and heirs to a heavenly throne. We must be awakened from our slumber, roused out of our dormancy, and be reminded of our full potential, reminded of our fondest dream. Remember this mirror in your daily lives. Remember it when you say the things you say and do the things you do. Remember it as you press forward and endure well to the end. And remember most of all that unlike Luke Skywalker, in God’s kingdom, there is no limit to your arc, no true end to your story.

Christ is the Snow

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It’s snowing right now. Fresh snow. Beautiful snow. The kind of sight that still gives me awe, even though I’ve been living in Utah for nearly six years already. It’s beautiful because it’s pure. Clean. Untouched by human hands, by boots, by rubber tires, mixed in with the mud and slush of the streets.

What a beautiful thing, that it has started falling right as it becomes Christmas Day. What do we celebrate? The birth of Christ. What did Christ preach? That if our sins be as scarlet—or as brown and muddy as the stuff that our tires kick up—they can be white as snow. Christ didn’t preach it. He enacted it. He brings it about. Again and again, as often as we sin and repent. Christmas isn’t just once a year. It is always. That is the message of the Atonement. It is always and universal. At any time—for any sin, for any soul. He is waiting with that fresh falling snow.

What shocks me, always, is that it really is accessible at any time. There is no waiting list to talk to God. Nowhere to queue up. There is no waiting period to access the Atonement. Repentance is possible right now. I am familiar with that process probably too much. But I know that it’s always there for me. Snow, waiting to fall, and ready to melt into living water. I don’t have to wait for Christmas. I don’t even have to wait for winter.

That feeling of forgiveness is real. The Atonement is real. That’s the testimony I want to bear this Christmastime. That it’s not just an excuse to drink Martinelli’s. It’s not just a convenient time to visit family. It’s not just a time to emulate the example of a famous figure in history. It’s a time to remember that that figure is as real and reachable, perhaps more so, than He ever was two thousand years ago. And the power that He wielded then, in healing the sick and giving sight to the blind—and casting devils out of trapped souls—can do the same for all of us. And our souls can change, be cleansed—again and again and again, as oft as we need it, as oft as we seek Him out.

The world can be fresh and pure again. Our souls can be fresh and pure again. When you see the new snow outside—before you go out tromping in it to play and travel and do whatever you need to do—give that clean white landscape a second look, and ponder your Savior, and your own soul before Him. Remember the image of that snow as you take the sacrament on Sunday. Feel the peace and quiet that comes when the world is blanketed by snow, and the clouds are low, how all sound is just muted out, and you feel alone with our Savior, like a prayer. Take a moment and thank Heavenly Father for what we truly celebrate at Christmas. And if you need to, pray for forgiveness.

Here’s a hint: everyone needs to. So do not be ashamed if you need to pray for new snowfall. That’s what it’s there for. That’s what a god sacrificed His life for. That’s why we feel so much love and life at Christmas: because it is the time we remember Him: the source of all light. So, my friends, look to God, and live.

Why Star Wars Is a Mormon Film

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Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan reveals why he thinks Star Wars is such a universally loved story:

“People always say, ‘Why do you think this saga is so popular? I really do believe the underlying theme is recognizing your potential and understanding what you’re capable of. It doesn’t end. To understand what you’ve inherited, and what you like about that and what you don’t like about that. Have you fulfilled yourself completely — or is it too late. What is dormant? That’s a very real and tangible thing for people every day.”

Quote found at Collider.

Whether through exercise of one’s talents, or parenthood, or even the notion of godhood, latter-day saints are taught from a young age about their marvelous potential—even unending potential. Such vast possibilities are spiritually inherited from our spiritual progenitor: God Himself, whom we are called to emulate. That journey is the very purpose of our existence.

Given that, is it any wonder Utah is the state with the most rabid Star Wars fans? While I don’t think this connection is conscious for Mormon Star Wars fans, I do think we recognize the inherent spirituality of such a story and are drawn to it. After all, it’s the story of Christ

Star Wars and the Plan of Salvation, Part 3

The following is the continued excerpt from my upcoming book, The Hero Doctrine. In this chapter we trace the arc of our souls along the same path (albeit a cosmic version) as the hero Luke Skywalker.

Part 1

Part 2

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Atonement with the Father

The transformation process takes the hero to a certain stage that resonates so loudly with our theology that it almost needs no explanation. After all, what else could “Atonement with the Father” really mean?

To Campbell, it meant a confrontation with the being that holds ultimate power in the hero’s life, most commonly a father or father figure. This stage is where we internalize that power and discover truth about our identity, our place in the world.

Christ expressed a similar desire for His people, for His younger brothers and sisters: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).

We are like our Heavenly Father in so many ways, not least of all in our race, our kind. In his sermon on faith, Alma remarked that “Every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness” (Alma 32:31). Bear in mind, the seeds themselves don’t look anything like the trees that produced them—not at first. If we didn’t know any better they would be totally separate things in our mind. Likewise, a human embryo doesn’t look very much like a human being; in fact it doesn’t look anything like it. But nonetheless, that is how we all started out. That was our physical beginning. Even taking it a few steps further, we see that an infant doesn’t look much like a human being either. But we don’t call a baby any less of a human just because it has not reached that stage of adulthood and maturity. It is a human—just not developed yet, not fully mature.

In other words, kittens grow up to be cats, and puppies turn to dogs. So what do children of a god turn into?

Recall Luke’s ambition to become a Jedi like his father before him. After becoming a full soul, with spirit and body, we are asked to go about perfecting that fused being, to become like our father and reject all ungodliness, deny the carnal nature inherent in mortal bodies and choose the divine nature inherent in our spiritual bodies. This is where we open up to our Father in heaven and let His power perfect us. Oneness with the Father—eternal life in His presence, and the eternal life that He himself lives—is what the Atonement is all about: God granting us power and increase we would not be capable of producing ourselves.

For the power and heritage of God to be expressed in our everyday lives, faith and the lens of the Spirit is required; we must stop depending on our own eyes, on our own strength, and start trusting in His. This is what Luke did at the Death Star attack run, when he disregarded the computer’s targeting system and put his trust in an unseen higher power. The Force, responding to his faith, guided his decisions. His mortal vision lacked the ability to pinpoint exactly where and when he needed to fire the proton torpedoes; only with the added measure of the Force and the spiritual vision Luke received therefrom could he hit that two-meter-wide exhaust port and destroy the Death Star.

Ultimate Boon

That never-ending inheritance, that everlasting happiness we’re promised, is our “Ultimate Boon,” our veritable holy grail, what we’ve been working on and searching for all this time.

For Luke it was peace within himself—peace as he rejected the Dark Side, and as he saved his father’s fallen soul; peace as he grew to his full potential and realized the Jedi that he became; peace as he destroyed the evil in the galaxy, ended the war decisively, and set the prisoners free. In the end Luke fully realized his destiny, his potential, and his power.

It is after we receive of the ordinances of the Gospel, after we show our faith in Christ and repent of our sins, after we live righteously to the ends or mortality and endure to the end—all steps and stages of the Eternal Arcthat we can advance to our highest state of being: the state of exaltation. A station where we, like Luke, understand ourselves in our totality—our destiny, our potential, and the profound power we’ve accumulated, not to mention the role we’ve presumably played in frustrating the enemies of our Father’s plan. This is the attainment of celestial glory, a perfected state, an inheritance of all that the Father hath—the powers of creation, of command.

Supreme happiness, supreme love—that is the true meaning of the word “heaven.” Sealed to your family, to your companion, to your parents, to your children, “to receive a greater change, and to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out, but to dwell with God eternally in the heavens” (3 Nephi 28:40), where we will learn the sacred power to create worlds and to tell new stories; to know all things, to do all things, to have all things.

What else could Christ mean by “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38)? Nothing less than that it is our right and privilege to inherit the kingdom of God if we live righteously to the ends of mortality. By the Atonement and power and priesthood of God, we may achieve this state of being. And we will be in the presence of the Father and our own families forever.

Master of Two Worlds

By the end of the journey, the hero holds power over both the spiritual and the material worlds, mastery over the inner vessel and the outer vessel in turn. The hero, at the end of his arc, has not only changed himself, but changed the entire world.

Luke became a full Jedi and dismantled the galactic Empire. He conquered the inner battle in his spiritual duel with Darth Vader and the Emperor, refusing to choose anger and become evil like them. He triumphed also in the external duel, defeating the Empire in battle and destroying their source of power in his part as rebel leader. He commanded himself morally, internally, and through the powers of the Force, physically and externally.

We too must become masters of two worlds. The first world we are meant to conquer is the stewardship of our body. The ideal end state of the soul is a spirit that maintains total possession over the body, a soul in which the natural man has no sway, and the perfected mind has full agency. And so, like Luke learning the powers and boundaries of the Force, we must learn the powers of our physical bodies and internalize the boundaries God has provided us to keep them under our soul’s domain. When we deny ourselves of all ungodliness, what then is left? Only godliness.

It is when we manifest all godly attributes that the natural man ceases to have power over us, and our spirits have power over the material elements that comprise our bodies. We are, as Lehi instructed, “things to act,” not “things to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14). This, it should be noted, is the difference between ourselves and the rest of nature, what sets our potential apart. “Nature,” remarks Katharine Hepburn’s character in The African Queen, “is what we are put in this world to rise above.” An exalted body will obey our command, just as God’s body obeys Him perfectly. God is not divided like we are, the natural man pulling Him one way and the soul the other. This perfect unity of body and spirit is the purpose of the stewardship of our soul. It is the first world we are responsible for.

The second world is the world we will create, the world we are right now in training to organize. In obeying the commandments of God, we show that we, like God, are willing to live within law. And in the same way that our own bodies are our first stewardships, and that children—receivers of law—eventually become parents themselves, so do we as those obedient to law eventually become lawgivers ourselves. “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26).

Some see this destiny as too far off to concern ourselves with now. But we are closer to that lawgiving than we might think. We should never forget that the power God uses to create and organize worlds, to command the elements and shape matter at his will, is the power of the priesthood—the same power used in sacrament meetings, in governing our homes, in the administration of the church, and in all our sacred temple ceremonies. Through the regulation of priesthood authority via priesthood keys, any man or woman spiritually called to a work by the Lord through his servants can exercise that creative power. What a humbling realization it is to know that in fulfilling our callings, we act, to some degree, by the literal power of God, the same power that organizes worlds.

Star Wars and the Plan of Salvation, Part 2

The following is the continued excerpt from my upcoming book, The Hero Doctrine. In this chapter we trace the arc of our souls along the same path (albeit a cosmic version) as the hero Luke Skywalker.

Part 1 can be found here.

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The Road of Trials

The mentor is especially important given the next stage of the Arc. After we open our eyes to the reality of the world, we face tests, trials, challenges, and temptations. With our new perspective, we are now susceptible to so much, and as a result we’re going to have to confront danger—spiritual and temporal—just about everywhere. The mentor helps us understand the purpose of this stage—to be shaped and carved by the winds of adversity—and gives us the perspective needed to complete it successfully. In meeting these trials head on, we begin the transformational process of this life.

Luke faced many a peril in his quest to save the princess. Threatened by death at every turn, Luke learned the dangers of the world firsthand, but also how to react to them. And from the adversity provided by the stormtroopers and Darth Vader, and the guidance given by Obi-Wan in learning the Force, he eventually learned to fight on his own, even to become a leader of other heroic warriors.

But though he mastered the physical side of the training quickly enough, the real trials to come were mental, even spiritual. Against the warnings of his second mentor, Yoda, Luke succumbed to Darth Vader’s manipulation of his emotions, leading him into a dangerous trap that could have easily ended up toppling the Rebellion’s forces. But however much his mistake set the Alliance back, this experience, too, became a lesson for him, and he learned from it.

But he had yet to face his greatest challenge: confronting Darth Vader, who he came to learn was his morally fallen father, and finally the Emperor himself. This was not a test of skill with the lightsaber, but a spiritual battle, a trial of temptations. The evil Emperor, in his satanic role, sought to corrupt Luke’s soul and bring him over to the Dark Side. After feeling the press of evil within him, Luke fought hard and won out, remembering the hero his father once was, and wanting to be just as good. In making that choice, Luke took the final step in his journey and became a full-fledged hero.

The hero-in-training must always face temptations, a more realistic confrontation with evil than a mere test of swordplay. Like Luke, if in the midst of our temptations we remember our Father and our potential to become like Him, the strength of those temptations will lose their sting. Elder Neal A. Maxwell asked rhetorically, “Will we… remember our true identity as we move through daily life? How much sin occurs because people momentarily forget who they really are?”

Many of the temptations we receive are directly related to our physical bodies. Getting a body grants us capabilities we would not have as spirits, furthering our potential to be like our Father in heaven. But at the same time, the natural man, the inherent impulses in our bodies, can make it a struggle to retain control over those new aspects of ourselves, the pleasures of the flesh and other earthly appetites that we don’t immediately have a great deal of command over. When we let them, our bodies may sometimes take control and make decisions in place of our mind, our spirit. This can lead down a dangerous road, especially with Lucifer’s temptations enhancing our already pleasure-prone inclinations.

But what joy bodies can bring us, too! When we bridle our passions and use them in a controlled manner, they can lead to so many wonderful things. Having a body is an essential advancement towards becoming like God, for we know from the First Vision and other modern-day revelation that God Himself is as tangible as we are, possessing a body of flesh and bone (D&C 130:22), and that only with the body and spirit combined can we attain “a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33). We were created directly in His own likeness, in His image, and in the image of His Only Begotten. In other words, at maturity we look generally like what He looks like: a fully-grown, adult human being, with even more potential as stewards over our bodies with the commandment to take care of what we’ve been given.

We hear continuously from the pulpit about many other godly attributes that we can apply to our everyday lives, those aspects of Christ that He exemplified in His earthly mission—and the reason we hear them constantly is because we really need to practice them, and do so in actively, not passively. Instead of going about our day simply to get through with it, we need to actually make a daily concentrated effort to foster those traits in ourselves, in how we act and in how we think. Traits like faith, hope, charity, virtue, knowledge, humility, diligence, obedience, and patience all demand devotion and dedication as surely as trees need water and light. And fortunately in this life we are continuously given opportunities to practice them and in so doing let them grow up into a tree of life, whose fruit is sweeter to the taste than any other work in this world (see Alma 32).

Learning to recognize these teachable moments is paramount to our becoming like Christ. It is what makes our ordinary, mundane lives, training grounds for higher living. Brigham Young said that “the gospel…causes men and women to reveal that which would have slept in their dispositions until they dropped into their graves. The plan by which the Lord leads this people…brings out every trait of disposition lurking in their [beings]…Every fault that a person has will be made manifest, that it may be corrected.”

Take the attribute of patience, for example. It can be applied throughout our day with other people and even inanimate objects. You’re at a stoplight. You’re in a hurry to get somewhere and waiting for the light to change. It’s not turning green and your blood pressure is rising. Stress is increasing. You become irritable and more liable to curse at that filthy, dumb, stupid bleepity bleep bleep red light. Why won’t it change? It isn’t helping anyone, and it’s actually preventing people who really need to go somewhere from  getting there. It’s really an inconsiderate thing. It has no regard for those in a hurry. Okay, fine, there it goes. Finally. Now you can go. Now you can move forward. However, now you’re in a horrible mood, liable to be angry to others, and grumpily aware that you could have done better. Whereas if you showed some patience, and accepted that there are some things you cannot change, you could have felt peace and calm. Exercising patience in these kinds of situations trains you for dealing with other potentially frustrating events. God Himself has to exercise such patience every day with His children. Think of the patience He’s had to develop!

Now think of the consequences Luke brings about by not heeding Yoda at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Instead of calming himself and exercising patience, Luke acts rashly and falls right into Darth Vader’s trap. This sets the Rebel Alliance back significantly and necessitates some improvisation to try to recover what was lost, wasting time they could have spent fighting the Empire. Similarly, when we act without patience, we are more likely to fall into Satan’s traps and lose spiritual ground, needlessly wasting limited time on reparative repentance.

That is just one example. We have endless opportunities in our normal lives to exercise all other traits of godhood, to cultivate godliness in ourselves. In their masterful theodicy The God Who Weeps, Terryl and Fiona Givens write, “The particular potency of the challenges we face—our bodily weakness, the instincts and passions that consume us, the press of evil all around us—make a life of virtuous aspiration very like a race through quicksand. However, it is just these conditions of mortality…that are especially conducive to growth and progress.” All the same lectures and sermons we hear from the pulpit, repeating the same prescription of prayer and scripture reading and everything else leaders talk about—all of that is preached for a reason! It is a reminder that it is the ordinary things that will make us extraordinary. It is love and long-suffering for our fellow man—and all that emanates therefrom—that will make us closer to God. And each and every Christlike attribute we are asked to take on is something we can practice every day on our own metaphysical moisture farms as we endure to the end with patience and long-suffering.

Death and RebirthTransformation

But the point of developing these attributes isn’t simply to get us to that end of the examthis journey is all about what we transform into along the way. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”

And what does Heavenly Father want us to become? Christ asked the Nephites this very question, and answered it not only for that ancient people, but for all: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Even as Christ. And so we see the importance of these transformative attributes, for when cultivated within one’s soul and when granted an added measure of them from the Savior Himself through the Atonement, they are the very things which turn us gradually into those beings that are like Christ. Through sincere repentance, supplication for grace, and a willingness to change, our souls are reshaped, reformed, and we gradually take on the Savior’s countenance. That, my friends, is the purpose of the exam!

Our paradigm shift from pre-earth life to this world calls to mind the Campbellian notion of “The Belly of the Whale,” an image representative of a womb-like state in which the hero undergoes a kind of death and rebirthing process. It is here that the hero takes on a new, fresh identity with a greater understanding of his potential, and then through the aforementioned trials and temptations that he achieves it.

Luke didn’t pass through his adventures just to see them done; he went about doing good—rescuing Leia, blowing up the Death Star, fighting off the evil Empire—for a reason. And while his works were good, even great, in defeating his enemies and bringing the galaxy closer to freedom, Luke himself became himself something great, someone who fulfilled his potential. He became like his father, Anakin: a hero, a legend, and an inspiration to so many. He even saved his father’s soul, wrenching it from the Emperor’s grasp and returning it to the side of good. From farm boy to hero and even to savior: that is the transformation process of the Hero’s Cycle, and is the essence of the Hero Doctrine.

As we strive toward Christlike behavior, we cast off the natural man and integrate the roots of our divine heritage into our whole soul. We begin to be concerned for the welfare of others, both spiritually and temporally. We begin to see the world and God and our neighbor with a spiritual lens, with an eternal perspective. And we begin to feel love and become a source of love in a way that is not possible without Christ’s influence.

But that is not the end. Being Christlike is only the first half of our transformation. The second half is becoming like Heavenly Father.

Star Wars and the Plan of Salvation, Part One

[Alternate titles: The Eternal Arc; Could We Call the Jedi a “Campbellite Religion”?]

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I’ll start off with a confession: I’ve had more doubts about the new Star Wars movies than moments of excitement. This isn’t because I doubt the capabilities of J.J. Abrams, et al, or because I’m worried about CGI, or anything like that.

My reasoning is simple: the story was done.

See, the brilliance of Star Wars is in its archetypal nature. It is the story of the hero’s arc: the rise of the hero and the downfall of the evil empire. And we saw that narrative to completion. There wasn’t a single subplot left hanging, or a mystery still to get resolution on. The only story we were not filled in on in the Original Trilogy was the story of Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker. And of course, we got those movies already—and despite the poor storytelling on display, that story is also a perfect archetypeal counterpart: the fall of a hero and the rise of an empire. Together, the two stories are one, and complete.

So you’ll understand why the thought of Disney making more of them sounded to me like a cash grab when it was first announced. I didn’t really care how well they’d do it, because the problem is at the core of this narrative: what story is there left to tell? Let me amend that: what universal/classical/archetypal story is there left to tell?

That, for me, is what will convince me the new ones are worth making when I see Episode VII this Thursday night. So far they’ve done it right: not revealing even a smidgen of plot. That shows that they think they’ve still got a story worth telling, and one worth keeping secret, rather than just whoring it out to make more money. I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not. Ultimately they need to find a great arc to depict that is inherent in the Star Wars universe and that doesn’t feel like just another excuse for cool action scenes. It needs to be absolutely necessary, and absolutely universal. And because they were smart enough to get Lawrence Kasdan on their writing crew, I honestly have more faith than fear. So here’s hoping!

While we wait for Thursday night (if you’re not seeing it at the (quasi) midnight release, you are not a true fan), let me share with you what I find so perfect about the Original Trilogy. This week I’ll be posting excerpts from the first chapter of The Hero Doctrine, which is all about Star Wars and how Luke Skywalker’s Hero Cycle almost perfectly parallels the arc of our souls—essentially, the Plan of Salvation.

Honestly, only if Episode VII gives me more gospel parallels to think about, I’ll consider it a success—and I’ll be posting about them next week.

(I’ll also consider it a success if we hear at least one original line from James Earl Jones somewhere in there.)

————

Chapter 1. The Eternal Arc

You’ve all heard of Luke Skywalker. In the story of Star Wars, Luke starts out as a moisture farmer on the barren planet of Tatooine, and ends as a key player in the rebellion against the evil Empire, gradually transforming from an ordinary soul into the epitome of a classical hero. The general arc of this transformation is called the “Hero’s Cycle,” a literary and mythological concept first formed by Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In the book Campbell details the various trials and stages a would-be hero has to go through to obtain that status. This cycle was based on myths and legends of old, the stories of heroes; Campbell discovered that all these otherwise disparate myths agree remarkably on the precise situations and experiences that ultimately form an ordinary Joe into a hero. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, followed this cycle purposefully and perfectly with his protagonist Luke, and the timeless nature of that tale is one of the primary reasons the Star Wars movies are so universally loved.

There’s another arc I’d like to talk about, however, similar, but far more significant. I call it the Eternal Arc. It is about man’s potential to become like Heavenly Father, and it parallels the Hero’s Cycle with startling precision. Just as Luke unknowingly progressed through various stages of character development in his unconscious quest to become a hero, so must we advance through different stages of existence, different states of being, in our conscious quest to join our Heavenly Father in all His glory and domain.

Now, much of what follows may very well feel remedial to you, but bear with me. We’re going to cover this doctrine from beginning to end so it is properly understood in its context—a process that we echo in our own personal journey into eternity.

Paul in the Book of Acts called us “the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29), and in Romans he writes, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” before following logically that, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). That state— as joint-heirs with Christ—is the end goal of our very existence: to inherit the station and glory of our Heavenly Father. First we must become like Christ in traits and attributes, and then we may become like Heavenly Father in glory and stewardship. That is the grand destination at the end of our journey.

Journeys, of course, need maps. We need to know exactly where we are going to go and which paths we need to take on our way to the end. Luke Skywalker didn’t have a map to chart his personal journey, but we do. We call that map the Plan of Salvation or, the Plan of Happiness. The plan takes us from ordinary peasants, busy with the daily doldrums of mortal toil, to spiritual kings and queens, heroes and rulers in our own kingdoms—from blurry-eyed intelligences all the way to exaltation and eternal life as heirs in the presence of God. This plan was presented to us before we were born into this world, when we were mere unembodied spirits. In that state of being we lived with Heavenly Father as His literal spirit children. He had a spirit as we do, and as it is an essential part of us, so is it an essential part of Him.

But we existed before even tabernacles of spirit. Just as we have an eternal future, so have we had an eternal past, an existence before even Heavenly Father clothed us in spiritual form. As mere intelligences, we had only the most basic of identities, but even then, a potential we perhaps didn’t understand. This is the state Luke begins in, unaware of his destiny but looking up at the stars, wanting to join them, and be a part of a higher life, even if he didn’t know what that would be.

In Luke Skywalker we see a mirror of our own potential.

The Call to Adventure

The Hero’s Cycle always begins with a rousing cry. The lad or lass is figuratively awoken and called upon to put foot to the path for a special mission or duty that will eventually carry them away to a transformative adventure.

Luke was roused from his state of mediocrity by a literal call for help; the message came in the form of C-3PO and R2D2, droids that possessed a recording from Princess Leia asking for help from whoever got the message. This was Luke’s Call to Adventure—the first opportunity to show his true potential.

Likewise, our corresponding first step in our Eternal Arc was our own call to adventure, the love of a God who showed us what we could one day be: a being like Him. He brought us out of our ethereal existence and gave us more sharply defined identity through spirit and gender.

Crossing the Threshold

The stage of Crossing the Threshold refers to the moment when, no matter what the decision, the would-be hero can never turn back. It is a bridge burned, a path chosen, a cause to which the protagonist is comprehensively committed. Without this step, the hero could go back to his old life at any time, and because all heroes face weakness and peril in the face of strain and pressure, the path to return to the lesser estate cannot be accessed. It compels the hero to stay the course and hold strong against adversity, for the hero has no other place to go except total surrender.

For Luke and many other heroes, the threshold is the moment when the first call to action is refused. Luke felt the initial weight of destiny on his shoulders, responded with fear and uncertainty, and so refused the call. It isn’t until Luke learned that the Empire killed his aunt and uncle that he accepts Obi-Wan’s invitation to train as a Jedi. The deaths of Owen and Beru made staying home and declining the journey an impossibility, and so at this point Luke is compelled to journey on, and become who he was born to be.

In pre-earth life, we, too, made certain choices, but unlike Luke, we did not refuse our initial call. We kept our first estate, our first stewardship, choosing to heed Heavenly Father’s call the first time it was offered to us. This choice allowed us to be sent to this earth and be given bodies, the next essential phase of being in our Eternal Arc, and our second great stewardship or estate.

The decision to come to earth was a decision we can never take back, in which our eyes were opened to mortality, with all its pains and pleasures, its rights and wrongs, and all the mundanity and mediocrity in between. As our spirits obtained a mortal frame, we became a full soul, with body and spirit fused together. This was our point of no return, after which our eyes could never be closed again.

Mentor

The mentor figure is an essential part of the hero’s development for it is through the mentor that the hero perceives the greater goal. The mentor, who could be a normal human being or a supernatural entity, must be there to guide the future hero to his path, for he cannot find it on his own. Luke had Obi-Wan Kenobi, who taught him the basics of fighting and revealed to him his true potential—to be a Jedi knight, like his father.

Similarly, we have mentors everywhere in our lives. Ideally they teach us how to navigate the world, how to make good choices, and, like Obi-Wan, remind us of our true potential to become like our progenitors. These are the prophets, the scriptures, priesthood leaders, and, most especially, our earthly parents. From them, and from the gift of the Holy Ghost, we learn our true parentage, and thus our true identity and destiny.

Without a guide, without anyone teaching us truth and training, we would not be responsible for poor choices–we would not know any better, leaving us ignorant and stunted. With a guide, with the Holy Ghost, we become responsible and accountable for our actions, and become full agents, just like Heavenly Father.

–Part 2 to be posted tomorrow.–

The Most Underappreciated Christmas Song of All Time

[Alternate titles: Me and My Drum; A Carol of Consecration]

“The Little Drummer Boy” is among the most mocked of Christmas carols. All those “rum pum pums” are often what stand out the most. Either the song is made fun of, or it’s overperformed for the purpose of showing off a singing voice—thus ruining the point as thoroughly as the rich donors overshadowed the widow’s mite.

41 ¶And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

 44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

The point of this song is utmost humility. It is not about showing off. The version of this song I have shared in this post knows exactly what it is doing—no operatic voices, no one displaying their great talents, and most of all, putting that pause right before the climax to reveal the purpose of the song through narrative timing.

When you take all the “rum pum pums” out, what do you get?

Come they told me
A new born king to see
Our finest gifts we bring
To lay before the king
So to honor him
When we come.

Little baby,
I am a poor boy too.
I have no gift to bring
That’s fit to give our king—
Shall I play for you?

Mary nodded;
The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him
I played my best for him…

Then he smiled at me—
Me and my drum.

You get the purest expression of the law of consecration and the Savior’s response to our best yet feeble efforts since He gave the parable of the talents two thousand years ago.

 

 

The Hero Doctrine Cover Reveal!

I present the back and front covers of my upcoming book, The Hero Doctrine: Awakening to Your Eternal Potential!

The book comes out February 9th, 2016.

HeroDoctrine_Cover

(Click it to make it bigger and the text readable!)

The book is meant to be a rousing cry to my fellow saints, to awaken them to their potentials (mirror), duties (sword), and privileges (shield) as children of a god. Every chapter is framed by an in-depth parable from pop culture, such as Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter. (Lots of Christopher Nolan in there, for what it’s worth.) I’ll let everyone know when it’s available for pre-ordering, which should be soon as there’s only two months left before the official release! Very exciting times for the Silvester household, because that’s also around when my baby is due. Until then we’ll be bracing for the storm.

Thank you to Shawnda Craig over at Cedar Fort for such excellent design, and Kevin Haws for some quality condensed back cover copy!

And thank you for checking this post out, whoever you are. Stick around and check out some of my blog posts; they’re great examples of what you’re going to find in the book itself.

 

Nephi and the Try/Fail Cycle

[Alternate titles: God Is a Master Novelist, Part Six; Nephi Was a Failure, Too]

try, fail, repeat, success

One of the remarkable things about The Book of Mormon is that it is a huge compendium of stories. Stories that feature individual characters with individual voices who make unique marks on their society. Stories that foreshadow the ultimate fate of their civilization, microcosms that mirror the thousand-year arc their people are constantly moving along, ending with the devastation of an entire nation. Stories that are full of moments that we truly can, as Nephi urges us to, liken to ourselves and our own lives. That we can, and so frequently and thoroughly, is evidence of their reality. These are real people dealing with real problems and real events. The stuff of genuine literature.

This is remarkable because of one fact we don’t often consider when weighing the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith was not a storyteller. He did not have a tendency to write fiction. He did not share tales of his own creation around the campfire. Apart from the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith never composed a story again after The Book of Mormon was published.

So what’s a perfect try/fail cycle doing at the beginning of The Book of Mormon?

For those who don’t know, the try/fail cycle is a narrative mechanic used by an author to generate suspense and tension. If a main character gets exactly what they want without earning it, there’s no story. The point of almost every story is that a hero overcomes opposition, whether that’s genuine evil in the form of a mighty villain or simply his or her inner demons and weaknesses.


This idea is, of course, also at the heart of the Plan of Salvation. Lucifer wanted to give us celestial glory without testing us, which of course would not be celestial glory at all. Likewise, a protagonist who achieves his goals without being tested, without growing and enduring the refiner’s fire, is not a real protagonist. He’s just a lucky guy. And as I said, that’s no story at all because it teaches us absolutely nothing.

The stories of The Book of Mormon all teach something. Every single incident is included (to the exclusion of hundreds of others, as Mormon tells us) in this abridgment for that purpose. So why wouldn’t God use narrative mechanics in orchestrating His prophets’ life stories?

Because Joseph Smith was not the author here. God was. God is.

The first major story sequence of The Book of Mormon is Nephi retrieving the brass plates from Laban. This story illustrates the try/fail cycle perfectly.

Lehi has had a vision in which the Lord commands his children to return to Jerusalem and obtain the spiritual and genealogical records of their ancestors which had been engraved on brass plates. The first bit of opposition is the daunting journey this would take to achieve; experts estimate they were about 200 miles away from Jerusalem at the time. That’s 200 miles of walking. Nephi, in his record, is immediately willing to obey. (That’s where we get the famous speech of 1 Nephi 3:7.) Meanwhile, Laman and Lemuel murmur, and they represent another barrier to this mission’s success. But at this point, they do agree to go.

(I’ll bet Nephi had to endure a lot of complaining over those 200 miles. Heck, I’m pretty sure we’d all complain to one degree or another—which teaches us that sometimes our own attitude is the opposition we need to overcome.)

After casting lots, Laman even agrees to be the one to confront Laban about the plates. Here we find the first true failure: Laban is angry at the very request, and calls Laman a robber, and threatens to slay him. Laman has to hightail it out of there for his life. Failure #1.

At this, many of us would probably deem it impossible to get the plates. We tried, and we failed. And with our limited, mortal eyes we can see no way of getting around the obstacles. Nephi’s brethren certainly felt that way, being “exceedingly sorrowful…and about to return unto [their] father in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 3:14).

But Nephi, hero that he is, refuses to retreat, and entreats his brothers to perk up, grow a little more faith, remember that this wasn’t just some dream their father had, but a commandment of the Lord, and the Lord will help them as long as they keep trying. Nephi also takes this moment to remind them that it’s more than mere blind obedience: they need the brass plates for the sake of posterity, so their children and all future generations will be able to remember their fathers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Without the brass plates, without this crucial mission, knowledge of their language and their spiritual heritage would be lost forever.

Catching this vision reminds Laman and Lemuel of the significance of their mission and they agree to try again.

The idea Nephi gets next is to go back to their old residence and gather up all their gold and silver and precious things to offer to Laban as a trade for the brass plates. I have a feeling this idea came directly from the Lord, because it proves to be far more a test of Lehi’s sons than a successful tactic. It is a test of consecration: will they give away all their temporal wealth in exchange for spiritual wealth? (See D&C 6:7 and Alma 22:18.)

They do. We don’t even hear about Laman and Lemuel murmuring about it. But of course, this doesn’t work either. Laban wants the gold, and sends his guards to kill our heroes. They get away with their lives, but not their precious things, and definitely not the brass plates. Failure #2.

But though they prove their willingness to consecrate, this failure destroys Laman and Lemuel’s confidence in the Lord, and they beat Nephi and Sam “with a rod”—until an angel comes and sets them straight. The angel also promises them success if they try one more time.

Even after this, though, Laman and Lemuel murmur, and “were yet wroth” (1 Nephi 4:4). “Nevertheless,” Nephi explains, “they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.” They show a modicum of faith, and Nephi decides it’s time to step in himself. So he goes solo, into the night—“not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do.” In this last try, he relies entirely on the Lord, with no idea or plan of his own. He becomes a character in a story written by God.

So this time, it works. Success.

So what’s the lesson here? It’s twofold: first, the reminder that even prophets and spiritual heroes fail. Second, that they only succeeded because they tried, tried, and tried again. The great men and women of scripture and history and literature have ALL endured failure, and thus they have all emulated the try/fail cycle—lived in a story written by the hand of God Himself.

God is a master novelist, my friends. He is a literary master. He knows what He is doing in letting you fail from time to time. Trust Him and trust His timing. And so do not be afraid of failure. Either God is testing you or you are learning, growing. And in the end, if you pass, if you grow, and if you let him, the Lord will take over and finish the story for you.

So whatever you’re failing at, keep trying. Just keep trying. And like Nephi, like the sons of Mosiah (see Alma 26:27), you will find success.