#Adulting Our Way Down the Slippery Slope

Last year I got a grill. The kind you use for outdoor barbecues. It was Memorial Day and I figured, why the heck not? We have the money, and I want to start doing barbecues! My friend Gordon Goesch and I set it up that day and after putting it together and figuring out the best arrangements of charcoal, etc., eventually we actually started grilling food.

Both Gordon and I were shocked. This wasn’t supposed to actually work. Something was supposed to go wrong. Either that, or there was supposed to be some kind of knowledge wall, something we didn’t know how to do that everyone else did know how to do, and we wouldn’t be able to get over it. At least not that day.

But no. We ate steaks that day. Not great steaks, because we forgot that we’re supposed to marinate them for a long period of time. But still. We ate food that we cooked over a fire we created. We were officially adults.

There’s been a trend, lately. Of people my age, millennials, being shocked to discover that we’re adults. Doing grown-up things, holding grown-up responsibilities, being professional and mature and all that. This cartoon from the great xkcd explains the feeling:

Adult

I confess being in a similar mind set about a lot of things lately. I’m a father now and my wife are new homeowners. I even have a book out. And, I know how to grill meat pretty well.

But isn’t this a little bit sad? It’s taking younger generations longer and longer to actually behave like adults. To shoulder adult responsibilities. To have the thought processes of adults. Childhood doesn’t end at 18 anymore. It doesn’t really seem to end till our late 20s, if then.

Part of the problem with that is we learn life lessons later, too. A lot of us are still 18 when we go away to college, when suddenly we’re faced with freedoms we never knew before. No more parents to tell us how to eat right! No more parents giving curfews and setting rules! No more parents to teach you how to spend your money or time!

Not that this happened a lot anyway.

 

And because we aren’t actually taught all that well how to do those things as children—because life skills, and chief among them personal accountability, aren’t taught at younger ages anymore; we mature slower and slower—we’re shocked when the world actually expects this of us. And we almost immediately begin living irresponsibly.

This other comic from xkcd captures this mind set perfectly:

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I’m guilty of this too. Soda and sweets are awfully cheap, aren’t they?

But the point of this post isn’t merely to complain about my generation. I’m actually here to complain about previous generations.

It happened around the midpoint of the 20th century. That’s when religion started to fade.

Religion, you see, is a lot like society’s parent. At least it was for America and the west. A higher power tries to guide us morally, teach us the best path to happiness and peace and stability. But somewhere along the way, God stopped being feared. Or at least, God stopped being taken seriously. God and the moral teachings of Christianity. A lot of the younger generation stopped and realized, Hey, religion is just a power struggle, and they’re trying to take power over me. But I don’t actually have to behave how it wants me to. What is it going to do? It can’t do anything to me. I can live however I want. Essentially, I can cook bacon whenever I want.

Only it wasn’t cooking bacon. It was breaking the law of chastity. (Among other things, but I think that law is the best example of this concept.)

I don’t have to be married to have sex. I’m an adult! I just have to be really in love with the other person.

Then the next generation (I’m talking here about the general view of society, not particular instances): I don’t have to be absolutely in love with the other person. It can happen after a few dates, when we’ve committed to each other. Who sets these rules anyway? I’m an adult! I can do whatever I want!

Then the next: if the first date goes well, why not do it then? Why not have breakfast with her in the morning, too?  I’m an adult, I can take care of myself. Sitcoms lead the way.

Now we’re at the point where you can meet a stranger at a party, and if you feel like it, go right ahead, shake ‘em down. Live how you want! Follow your passions! Do what you love! Or rather, lust.

And thus we see terrible things like the campus rape epidemic, the inevitable product of the hook-up culture and pervasive acceptance of pornography. We see abortions and STDs and the Daily Show telling us, in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling against the pro-life movement in Texas, to “go knock someone up in Texas,” and, presumably, terminate the baby’s life because Why Not? We see families breaking even before they can really start because we don’t want to be accountable for our choices. We see moral anarchy, and everything that was once kept sacred and meaningful talked about and engaged in the most despicable and horrible ways. We see a generation past feeling.

All because we don’t have to accept the rules of oppressive and puritanical previous generations. Because hey, we’re adults now, and we can cook bacon whenever we want.

God loves broken things—and that includes families

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[It’s been about five years since I gave a talk in sacrament meeting, and this is it. The topic’s been on my mind lately, so I went in this direction after being given the Proclamation to the World as a general topic.]

———–

Good morning everyone, my name is Neal Silvester. You might remember my wife spoke last week on fatherhood. I have a related topic, the Proclamation on the family. I wanted to open this talk with the Brady Bunch theme song because it’s eerily similar to my family’s situation. It’s the story of a man named Rick (that’s my dad) who had three kids from a previous marriage; and it’s the story of  a lovely lady named Melanie (that’s my mom) who had three kids of her own, also from a previous marriage.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow

And they knew it was much more than a hunch,

That this group must somehow form a family.

That’s the way we all became the Silvester Bunch.

(I’m the seventh kid, the only child of my two parents together.)

Anyway, my family isn’t exactly what you’d envision when reading the Proclamation. But one of my best friends had a family like that. His parents had a perfect marriage and six children who all went on missions (including the daughters) and got or are getting college degrees. They are all beautiful people, intelligent and free of mental or physical illness. The father is a financial success many times over and grandchildren have begun to sprout.

I think there’s a very specific kind of hell we experience when we compare ourselves to the surface lives of other people (which is often the only thing we have to go on). Or in this case, the surface lives of other families.

Because that family, the ideal gospel family, is not what I grew up in. Though my previous description might have been amusing, the reality is that each of my parents had to go through painful divorces in their prior marriages, all the more painful because those marriages were broken by the other spouse, via abuse, infidelity, all the usual horrible things. Those two families had to literally break apart to fuse together into my current one. And such breaks always leave lasting scars that only the gospel and the Atonement can heal.

In my family’s case, things started out reasonably well. Though there were the usual sibling spats, they stayed in the realm of “usual.” Then they all started growing up. Family ties started to fracture and children started to stray, partly due to poorly understood bipolar disorder among some of my family. An even greater effect was my mother’s ex-husband, who had left the church. His example and attitude began to pull my mom’s kids away from gospel values. None of them went on missions (including me; I never served because of the bipolar disorder), and in fact all three of the others are completely out of the church, and two of them have already divorced their first spouses. Their choices broke not only the family, but my poor mother’s heart. And if you have any wayward children, you know your heart breaks anew every single day.

It hurt all the more because my mom was a paragon of gospel faith. She has never once strayed from the gospel path. She taught us while we were young, had regular Family Home Evenings, and set a constant example for us.

Yet my siblings rebelled, even so.

How is this fair? How is it fair that no matter how hard we try, some of our families remain spiritually broken, nowhere near the ideal we’re commanded to reach for in this church? Why is it that some families are torn apart by abuse or mental illness, and they must suffer the fires of an emotional hell while other families remain totally devoted to the gospel seemingly without even trying?

Then there is the guilt that righteous but mortal parents can heap upon themselves. We are our own worst judges, and when three of your children rebel against everything you taught them their entire lives it seems there is no one else to blame. We can give the standard answer of “agency,” that it’s the children’s choice whether to accept the gospel or not and no one else’s, and that’s true, but it still feels desperately unfair. After all, other parents’ kids chose the right. Their kids chose to hold onto the iron rod, to love you and the Savior, and they didn’t have to deal with the effects of abuse or chemical imbalances.

The truth is, we cannot always control our circumstances. And we certainly cannot go back in time to correct mistakes of the past. When I foolishly compare the state of my family to the supposed gospel ideal, I have to remind myself that not all servants of the Lord are granted the same number of talents. To one He gives five, to another, three, and to another, only one. Then He sees what we do with what we’re given. When all is said and done, we are judged not on outcome, but on input. On what we ended up accomplishing compared to God’s initial investment.

My mom, the faithful steward that she was, never saw any of her sons go on missions. How will God judge her?

How will God judge Lehi, whose two oldest sons rebelled and whose choices led to the destruction of an entire civilization?

How will God judge Alma the Elder, the high priest and prophet, whose son actively sought to destroy the church?

How will God judge righteous king Mosiah, whose sons followed Alma’s son and did the devil’s work so long?

And how will God judge Himself? He who has lost more children than any of us can even count. He who can sometimes do nothing but weep in His own private hell, and say, “What more could I have done for my vineyard?”

I apologize, because I don’t want this to be all about doom and gloom. Rather, it’s the opposite. I seek to remind any struggling parents and any members of any kind of broken family today that God loves broken things.

Think about it. For one thing, we are told that a broken heart isn’t just suggested but required before we can access Christ and the Atonement. And because we are mortal people with mortal perspectives and mortal desires, we are going to be broken spiritually at times, too. Because of the Fall, we live in a world of decay, where things break apart. Mistakes happen. Sins happen. God knows it, and He expects it. God loves broken things because, above all, His own family is broken, and He is trying to piece it back together.

And that is why He sent His Son. The Atonement was an act performed explicitly to heal broken things, to put disparate pieces back together again, to reunite parts of a whole. President Howard W. Hunter said, “Whatever Jesus lays His hands upon, lives. If He lays His hands upon a marriage, it lives. If He is allowed to lay His hands on the family, it lives.”

You’ll notice Pres. Hunter said “If He is allowed to lay His hands.” That is because we are not objects, like the rest of the matter in the universe. He can put a broken rock back together with ease, but His children are trickier because we have our agency. Respect for that agency forbids Him from fixing what does not want to be fixed. Not even God can fix or heal something that is not holding still, willing to be submissive to Him and trust in His methods. Thus it is we who allow Him into our lives. And if we do, our families, our souls, our hearts and minds, can be healed. It takes time, and faith, and love, and a willingness to suffer long, perhaps even into the next life, but these are the same attributes God employs in His quest to bring all His family at one with Him.

Brigham Young declared, “Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thing? The Savior will not say “The work is finished” until every single resource, every particle of pleading and persuasion and prayer, has been exhausted in the gathering of God’s wayward children, and they are sealed to us no matter what. I can’t imagine a more comforting doctrine. Sometimes the hope that doctrine engenders is the only thing we have to cling to.

Temple ordinances are the vehicle for this reunification of God’s children. Their sealing power allows children to come back to their families in the hereafter, and reinforces against further decay. A mentor of mine, Stephan Peers, once put it this way:

“When people are sealed in the temple—sealed either to one another, spousal relationships, or to their children—those parents are the best opportunity that those children have to reach salvation. That is not to say that the children will. It is to say that those parents are the right people to give them those best opportunities. That is not to say that if a child does not reach salvation it is a parental failure. It is to say that there is no better opportunity for salvation than the sealing power. None. Hence, we have temples.”

In this way, the family is essential to the success of the Atonement. A family headed by two loving, righteous parents sealed in the temple is the best framework for growth and salvation Heavenly Father can give the spirit children that He sends down to Earth. Which is why the Proclamation declares that, “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” The family is like a castle, the main structural protection against invading forces. Without the high brick walls and iron gates, individual soldiers and even the royalty within can be picked off with ease.

In this light it seems obvious why Satan is targeting the family, and why, as these times look more and more like the days preceding the Second Coming, he seems to have a marksman’s aim, for he is hitting his targets dead on. Whether it’s through parental apathy, infidelity, or even downright cruelty, he is succeeding in shattering families and by extension souls themselves. With no consistent parental structure to foster and frame the upbringing of a new soul, the adversary is easily able to take the reins and provide a subtle and sinister framework of his own. This is why the Proclamation closes with a warning that should shake every reader in his or her shoes: “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

That was in 1995. Can’t we see now, just two decades later, how prophetic that was? I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if the whole world followed even just the law of chastity, 90% of society’s problems would completely vanish.

There is yet another reason why we as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take parenthood and the family so seriously: it’s the pattern of living of exalted beings. A message from the Quorum of the Twelve in 1973 declared that parenthood is “an apprenticeship to godhood.” It’s a test of stewardship that reveals how we would act given even the slightest sliver of literal godlike responsibilities—how and who we’d be towards our hosts of spirit children if we were God Himself.

Ideally—ideally, there’s that word again—this stewardship of parenthood is only granted to us in God’s kingdom after we’ve advanced to a certain stage of spirituality, which we mark by our having received the highest blessings of the temple. The stepping stones of the endowment and sealing ordinances are what make us ready for the next step: having children.

But as we know firsthand, mistakes are made. Laws are broken. And sometimes we get the higher responsibilities at the wrong time, before we’re ready. That can make the burden all the harder to bear—much of the world is as much of a mess as it is because so many parents are not even close to being qualified to bear that burden.

Wonderfully, there are exceptions. Sometimes people rise to the occasion. Sometimes we see parents who are single through no fault of their own, who fight all the harder, and teach their young ones all the better. These single parents, almost always women, need our support. They need to be embraced, and loved, and listened to, because they are doing their best with what they have, and that is all God asks of us. I believe these single parents will be lauded all the more at the last day because they stepped up to their stewardship as much as any other did.

And it is the other spouse or sexual partner—the abuser, the deserter—who will be shaking and trembling at the judgment bar of God, wishing for a mountain to cover them, to hide their shame. For the Proclamation issues this warning to us all: “We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.” President David O. McKay even said that the first thing Christ will ask us in our personal interview on the other side will be about our relationships with our family—our spouse and our children as individuals.

Those who have made drastic mistakes in the past sometimes pile more guilt upon themselves than is necessary, as if punishing ourselves before God can do it. But frankly, I don’t think God punishes us in this life. I think He lets the natural consequences of our actions, and the suffering sin begets, be punishment enough. If it shakes us sufficient to wake us up and get us turned in the right direction, I think that’s enough justice for Him. It should be enough for us, too.

So while the Atonement does not necessarily liberate us from the natural consequences of our choices, it does mercifully strengthen our ability to bear those consequences, and allows us to grow from them without the shadow of condemnation hanging over us. If we are facing the light, no matter how far along we are on the path, we are not under condemnation from God. So, ultimately, though our lives are shaped by them, our souls are not judged by the trials we endure but by the way we endure them. Because that is what crafts the soul.

I originally titled this talk “Pantheon.” The word generally refers to the family of the Greek gods: Zeus, Athena, Hermes, all those guys. Taken literally, “pantheon” means the house of the gods. That’s why I love that word. I believe that is what each of us as parents are building as we raise and guide and love our children. Think about it: we are literally raising a household of little beings who can one day approach the same state of existence as our Heavenly Father. In other words, we are raising gods. As the Twelve said, parenthood is an apprenticeship to godhood. That’s what this is all about! That’s why it’s so serious.

So, like our Father, we will sometimes weep over our children. And like Alma the Elder and king Mosiah, we will pray over them, plead for miracles that we can trust—with the surety of their prodigious and confirmed faith—that a miracle will one day occur in their lives.

But we cannot and will not make their choices for them. The only way to be like God is to choose to be like Him, and because ALL of us are just starting out on this eternal journey, we’re going to choose otherwise from time to time. Both parents and children are imperfect and fall short and do things that widen the chasm. Hence, we have the Savior, who watches and waits—to rescue us, to heal us, to make us His, and to make all of us at one with our Heavenly Father.

Remember: God loves broken things. So allow Him entrance into your life and family. Like all of God’s great works, it will take time, so practice those divine attributes of patience and long-suffering, because God uses them with us every day. Give Him the time it will take to truly heal your broken heart. Let Him heal your broken soul. Allow Him to heal your broken family.

Because that’s how He heals—and seals—His own.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Guest Post: “The Only Thing the World Understands Less than Motherhood”

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From my wife’s talk in church this Father’s Day:

Good morning, everyone, and happy Father’s Day. For those who don’t know me, my name is Nyssa Silvester, and my husband, Neal, and I moved into the ward less than three months ago. Since this is the first time many of you have seen me, please permit me to give you a quick introduction to our family.

Neal and I grew up separately in California, less than two hours apart from each other. My cousins even lived in his small hometown, so I’m convinced that we spent several Thanksgivings and Christmases dining and celebrating not two minutes from each other, though we didn’t know it at the time.

We met each other in Provo, Utah, where I was attending BYU and where Neal had moved to start the next phase of his life. After what I’ll call a “Utah-length courtship,” we got married and five years later had our wonderful daughter Dagny. When she was just two months old, we moved across the country, here to Ohio, to start a new job and provide a new life for her. I’ve heard it said that no one really moves to Cleveland, but we love it here so far.

I’ve been privileged this year to see Neal become a father. I’ve seen him carry more responsibilities on his shoulders and stand up straighter for it. I’ve seen him become simultaneously stronger and more tender as he takes care of our young daughter. So I’m grateful to speak to you today about something I have a new perspective on–fatherhood.

Specifically, I’ve been asked to talk about Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk from the most recent general conference, which he called simply “Fathers.” I think the title of the talk is so broad because there is so much to cover on this topic. After all, perhaps the only thing the world understands less than motherhood is fatherhood.

If the world tragically underestimates the importance of a mother’s role, they at least seem to understand what mothers at their best can do. Celebrities and young children alike confidently say that their mothers are their heroes. They understand the depth of a mother’s love and the sacrifices mothers make for their children.

On the other hand, how does the world view fathers? As Elder Christofferson points out, media and entertainment outlets frequently depict fathers as “bumblers and buffoons or ‘the guys who cause problems.’” Fatherhood is so mischaracterized and misunderstood that when a father stays home to take care of his children, many men and women alike would say that he is babysitting instead of parenting.

We clearly know that this portrayal of fatherhood is false, because we can look to our Heavenly Father as an example. Could you ever picture Heavenly Father as the typical sitcom dad? As a parent tasked merely with babysitting us while we’re on earth? Absolutely not–and that’s how we know that the world has it wrong.

So what should fathers be doing instead? Truthfully, surpassing the world’s vision of fatherhood is not hard, but here’s how President Dieter F. Uchtdorf describes how to be a good father in this month’s First Presidency Message: “Two of the most important roles fathers have in the lives of their children are those of being a good example and a mentor. Fathers do more than tell their children what is right or wrong. . . . Fathers mentor their precious children and show by their good example the way an honest life is lived.”

Essentially, President Uchtdorf says that the father’s role is to be a role model. Just as we look to our Heavenly Father as an example of divine parenthood, our children should be able to look at their fathers and see honorable men they can strive to emulate. Jesus said, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father” (John 8:38). As parents, we should be demonstrating every day what we want our children to learn.

Further, The Family: A Proclamation to the World tells fathers the most important spheres to excel in–the areas where fathers can best serve as role models: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Today, I’d like to focus on the providing part of the father’s role

Because of Neal’s and my career paths and temperaments, we decided that I would to join the workforce while Neal stays at home with our daughter and works on his books. I don’t claim to understand all the challenges that fathers go through, but I do know how hard breadwinning can be. If you work a traditional job, every hour you work is an hour away from your family, and even at the best jobs, it can be painful to leave your children, drive to an office, and give your valuable time on earth to an employer–not to mention the effects that too much time away from home could have on your children.

Church leaders understand the challenges that come from the workforce. In his talk, Elder Christofferson says, “Breadwinning is a consecrated activity. Providing for one’s family, although it generally requires time away from the family, is not inconsistent with fatherhood–it is the essence of being a good father. ‘Work and family are overlapping domains.’”

Let’s take a closer look at that word: consecrated. In a general conference address from 2010, Elder Christofferson defined consecration “to set apart or dedicate something as sacred, devoted to holy purposes.” And honest work can be sacred, as evidenced by how often it appears in the scriptures, from Adam and Eve earning bread by the sweat of their brow to Zenos’s extended allegory of the laborers in the vineyard. But I think that part of Elder Christofferson’s message is that we must consecrate our work because it takes us away from our family so much. If we spend that much time away from our family, which is the most important part of our earth life, we must have a good reason–an eternal reason–for doing so.

For many fathers and other breadwinners, this time away from family can seem overwhelming. Between a standard full-time job and getting enough sleep to function, you lose about half of the time you could spend with your spouse and children–and that’s not to say anything about church callings, everyday errands, and other responsibilities. Similar to how Abraham was commanded to lay Isaac upon the altar, being a breadwinner can feel like we’re offering up our children in the form of our time with them, the fleeting years we have with them as children, hoping that we can still come home to their love and affection.

But, as with Abraham, Heavenly Father provides us our own ram in the thicket: although we spend time away from the house, if we consecrate our labor, our children can feel the blessings.

A story from Elder Christofferson’s talk illustrates this idea. He says, “I myself was blessed with an exemplary father. I recall that when I was a boy of about 12, my father became a candidate for the city council in our rather small community. He did not mount an extensive election campaign–all I remember was that Dad had my brothers and me distribute copies of a flyer door to door, urging people to vote for Paul Christofferson. There were a number of adults that I handed a flyer to who remarked that Paul was a good and honest man and that they would have no problem voting for him. My young boy heart swelled with pride in my father. It gave me confidence and a desire to follow in his footsteps. He was not perfect–no one is–but he was upright and good and an aspirational example for a son.”

Though I’m sure Elder Christofferson spent many joyful days and evenings with his father, this moment of fatherhood happened in Paul Christofferson’s absence. All the time that Paul spent working and developing his character came together for the good of his son, who learned from Paul’s example. By consecrating our labor, we do more than bring home money: we leave a legacy of integrity and dignity for our children to inherit. Through this consecrated work, fathers become the role models their children need.

At this point, you may naturally wonder how to consecrate your work. If you’ll excuse an extended quote, Elder Christofferson addressed this point well:

A consecrated life is a life of labor. Beginning early in His life, Jesus was about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:48–49). God Himself is glorified by His work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). We naturally desire to participate with Him in His work, and in so doing, we ought to recognize that all honest work is the work of God. In the words of Thomas Carlyle: “All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness. Labour, wide as the Earth, has its summit in Heaven.”

God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion. I recall the Prophet Joseph Smith’s simple statement: “By continuous labor [we] were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance” (Joseph Smith—History 1:55). By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the mortal experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.

I would add that I believe that honest work only becomes consecrated if we do it for the right reasons. For my part, I think the reasons for hard work come in “good, better, and best” varieties. A good reason to work hard might be that we enjoy it. I work in sales, so it’s all too easy to work hard only for the rush of competition. It’s good to enjoy my work, but I might lose sight of the why behind it. A better reason for hard work could be the satisfaction of performing a job well. This motivation adds to our integrity, guiding us to give our best, even when we don’t enjoy our work that day. But the best reason for hard work is consecration: to develop our spirits, provide for our families, and set a good example for our children.

As for my own experience of consecrating my labor, I’ve found it helpful to take a couple minutes after every meeting to sit alone and think of my family and the spiritual meaning of work. I will also, whenever possible, call Neal during my lunch break so I can talk to him and our daughter during the day. With these small efforts, even my time away from my family becomes an opportunity to bond with them through work consecrated for their good.

Of course, while you’re with your children, be doting fathers. Be the man who rocks sick children to sleep, who shows up for soccer games and ballet recitals, and who your daughters can rely on when they need you to buy tampons in the middle of the night. But also remember that part of parenting is what we do when our children aren’t around–when we labor honestly, conduct ourselves with integrity, and develop wisdom through living the gospel, we are also being good parents, the parents that God has called us to be.

Remember that God may not always be with us in the flesh, the way He was with Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. But we have His example through our doctrine, His words and wisdom through the scriptures, and His conscience through the Holy Ghost. Earthly fathers can leave their children with similar gifts to guide them through this world.

It’s not easy to give your all at a job and then be an active parent at home–believe me, I know that after long days at work, it can be hard to muster up the energy for a midnight feeding or another game of Candyland. But Christ’s Atonement can make us equal to these challenges. He promises, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” On the longest days, may that promise see us through, so we can give every sphere of our lives the attention it deserves.

Though we haven’t met everyone in the ward, we thank you for the examples you’re setting for your kids and for us. I wish you all a happy Father’s Day today, and I pray that on Monday, to paraphase Nephi, we can continue to spend our labor on that which does satisfy: our quest for eternal life and a bright future for our children. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Plans of Salvation: Satan’s Autocorrect vs. God’s Spellcheck

ac1I got a new cell phone recently. It’s fancy. But fancy is kind of the norm now. We’re a bit spoiled, don’t you think? All this technology doing the work for us. Especially when typing and texting to friends. My new phone does a pretty brilliant job of autocorrecting when my thick thumb hits the wrong key. I’ve gotten in the habit of just typing through the word I want even while I recognize I missed a letter or three earlier, and it usually gets the job done successfully (there are teeth-gnashing exceptions—why on earth did you think I meant that word?).

Spellcheck used to be the big thing the older generation complained about. With spellcheck, students don’t need to learn how to spell anymore! It just does the job for them. They’re going to go through life unable to spell basic words and become terrible communicators and thinkers.

I’ve been an old man since my youth and so I used to get uppity about the thing too. That happens when you take pride in your spelling ability. I got to the top three or four in a spelling bee in elementary school. I think in terms of the written word. It’s always been natural to me.

Nowadays, it seems like no one complains about autocorrect the way they used to complain about spellcheck. I think that’s a shame, because there is a world of difference between the two. Where spellcheck just underlines the misspelled word, letting you know it needs to be fixed, autocorrect does the job for you. There is no reason to go back over your message unless you notice out of the corner of your eye that the autocorrect turned “nice” into “toast” or something. Where spellcheck invited learning by informing you of your mistake and showing you how to fix it, autocorrect allows you to speed through without an extra thought at all.

(Interestingly enough, “autocorrect” is getting that red squiggly line beneath it. I didn’t think about it before, but I think that has some pretty heavy significance.)

So what does this matter? Am I still just an old man complaining about kids these days?

To the second question, well, yes, I’ve always been that way.

But to the first question: it matters. Oh boy, does it matter. It’s the difference between the two plans of salvation presented at the great council of the gods before the foundation of the earth.

Lucifer proposed to save everyone. Now, there are two interpretations of how he would do that. The common version of his plan we hear described most often is that he’d make everybody do the right thing all the time. No sin would ever be committed, and so no sin would ever prevent a child of Heavenly Father from attaining exaltation.

But there’s another interpretation of his plan that I think makes a lot more sense. After all, how can you force a being to make the right choice? I don’t see how that plan could successfully be implemented. The plan that I think he had in mind was the principle behind autocorrect. (There’s that red squiggly line again.) No matter what we did here on earth, no matter what sins we made, what mistakes, what selfishness, what pride, what lust and envy and gluttony we exhibited, we’d be saved. No matter how we spelled words in the choices of our lives, we’d be exalted. We could do whatever we wanted, and we’d get back to heaven. We’d all be back in the clouds, and worship Lucifer as our new God.

Then there’s the plan Heavenly Father had in mind. It’s a lot more like spellcheck, to me. We’d go down to earth and write up our essays, and even if we didn’t have access to the entire dictionary of truth and correct spellings, we’d have something called a conscience. That little voice in our head would inform us when we did something wrong. In essence, it would put a little red squiggly line beneath our choices, and it was up to us to check it, think about it, and then correct it ourselves. Our writing wouldn’t be perfect, and we’d make a lot of mistakes along the way, but if we consistently noticed that red line, we’d be granted the mercy—through the Atonement of Jesus Christ—of being able to correct it before it was printed off to turn in.

We know which plan was put in play. We know Satan and his cohorts were banished as a result of their choice to rebel against a system they may have thought unfair. But it was perfectly fair. That was the point.

So why care about the difference? Satan’s plan was never implemented. It’s in the past. Why should we care about it now?

The answer is that it’s not in the past. Satan is still attempting to implement a plan very much like it—at least, one with a similar aim in mind: to take away the agency of God’s children. And the difference is important because it is essential to our understanding of this mortal life, essential for us to know how to come back to live in His presence as spiritually evolved beings. Essential for us to evolve at all.

So how is Satan selling his plan for rule today? By helping us find ways around consequences. Helping us choose whatever we want to without regard to the effect. Modern comforts and conveniences, scientific discoveries and technological developments are helping us take shortcuts. We can do whatever we want, and ignore potential consequences. This is seen most damningly in the paradoxically titled “pro-choice” position on abortion. A woman has a right to choose what she will do with her body! Well, a pregnant woman (excluding cases of rape) has chosen exactly what she will do with her body. As has the man, with her body (an even grosser crime). And the pregnancy, intended or accidental, is the consequence. Women seeking abortions and men trying to pressure a woman into one are seeking to destroy their own agency through destroying the effect they originally caused. As such, this position is not “pro-choice” at all. In reality, it is anti-choice, because they are trying to do away with the natural consequence of their actions. In that case, their original choices mean nothing. Without accountability, there is no true free will.

(I realize this is unfair towards women—but that, unfortunately, is biology. An errant father may escape temporal consequence by leaving the mother to deal with the pregnancy alone, but rest assured, his judgment will come, and it will come straight from God Himself at the bar.)

This principle is seen everywhere in modern society. We seek to get rid of guilt for immoral behavior by rationalizing it as mere social conditioning or the result of an oppressive puritanical culture. We get rid of weight by undergoing surgery or taking miracles pills rather than taking care of our bodies ourselves. We expect technology and the bounty of others to take care of problems we could reasonably solve ourselves with a little extra work. We ask for preferential treatment as victims of an oppressive society rather than do the work of building our souls and character to reach farther on our own strength.

It’s the principle of mercy unbound. A state where there is no law, where choice does not matter and we can manipulate the result to both have our cake and eat it too. Mercy is a terrific impulse, and God is a god of mercy, and the Atonement is founded on the principle of ultimate and eternal mercy—but without a foundation of justice, mercy cannot exist. Without existing law, no exemptions can be made. What we are attempting to live today is simply lawless, amorphous, anarchic. No rules, no system, no accountability.

As Alma and Amulek pointed out, God will not save us in our sins. He will save us from our sins, after we’ve acknowledged them and worked to correct them.

The implementation of Satan’s plan may not any longer be obvious and presented to God’s children as a whole. But that slithery gentleman is still fixing to strip us of our agency, to make us objects rather than agents, to destroy our identity as the race of gods that we are. That’s the only way he has to gain control over us. That’s the only way he can fulfill his dark ambition to become a god, which has always been his aim. In his twisted, pathetic little mind, godhood is all about control.

But we know that a being cannot be a god without transformation. We grow by making mistakes, then recognizing them as such, and then choosing to do the right thing the next time it comes up. And we cannot do that without choosing it ourselves. An object cannot ascend to godhood. Only agents can.

That being said, I don’t think Satan’s plan is autocorrect anymore. I think it’s pre-spellcheck. Pre-word processing software. Pre-computers or even dictionaries at all. I think he wants us to type whatever we want, as much as we want, in whatever way we want, all without a single red squiggly line to let us know when we made a mistake. A correct spelling of words? Give me a break. It’s up to you to decide how to spell the words on your paper. I can spell mine any way I’d like, and you can do the same. Whatever a man spells, it is no crime. And we prosper according to our genius.

And so what’s the result of no spellcheck? Of a variety of spellings for the same word? Of not even the validity of a dictionary, that great big book of truth, to check your work?

Chaos. Incoherence. Disorder and apathy. In short, no one will ever learn anything about how to spell, how to use words, how to put them together into cohesive thoughts. No one will progress, and we remain stunted, forever in our intellectual infancy, never once making an ounce of development towards the beings God so desires for us to be. Never becoming the writers of our own stories, the creators of our own worlds.

So reject Satan’s plan. And as you go about writing your own story, keep a dictionary nearby, and pay attention to that red squiggly line.

Especially the one under “autocorrect.”

“Hate is strong, and mocks the song.”

A few Sabbath thoughts regarding the horrible shooting in Orlando.

Early this morning a gay nightclub was shot up in Orlando in an act of religious terrorism. This was nothing more than an act of pure hatred—and completely typical of the world’s environment in these the last days.

Folks, it’s only going to get worse. Just make sure that you—whatever your political or religious affiliation—never give in to hatred. Never consider another group of people who happen to disagree with your own values your enemy. They are people to be loved, embraced, and reasoned with. Because whoever they are, whatever they stand for, they are children of our Heavenly Father first and foremost. Too many alleged Christians these days forget this truth, and are entrenched in prejudicial and hateful rhetoric that only helps Satan continue to divide us.

The Civil War was such a time of division. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem, “Christmas Bells,” when the Civil War was raging, when his own son had gone off to fight without getting his father’s blessing. His wife was killed in a house fire, the world itself was on fire, and in his sadness Longfellow reached out to God.

And he found his answer.

 

“And in despair I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, good will to men.”
He found the answer in the unbroken song of Christendom. A song that has been sung for millennia, never ceasing except in the hearts of people who cut themselves off and give in to hatred.
Always, before the disaster, and after, the song of redeeming love is being sung by our Savior. Through all death and carnage and battle, through the fog of hatred between splintered groups that have no reason to kill but do anyway, still Christ waits at the door. He waits. He waits. He waits. He does not sleep, and He is not dead.

Elon Musk thinks we’re all probably in a giant video game simulation. He’s kind of right.

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http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/06/03/elon-musk-thinks-were-all-living-in-someone-elses-video-game

If you haven’t heard of Elon Musk, you should read up on him. A brilliant space engineer and CEO and creator of the Tesla car, he recently put forth an interesting theory.

The man behind Tesla Motors, Hyperloop and SpaceX thinks the chance of us not being inside an advanced civilisation’s gigantic virtual reality simulation right now is “one in billions”.

IGN quotes him directly:

“Forty years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

“So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”

Sounds pretty crazy. An intriguing idea, made concrete and thrilling in films like The Matrix and Inception, with dreams within dreams and simulations within simulations. And in a way, eerily similar to our own theology.

Don’t see it? Let me explain with an excerpt from The Hero Doctrine:

There is something in the end of Christopher Nolan’s film Inception that is worth discussing in this light. No, not the spinning top, the endless questions of what is real and what is not—I’m talking about the scene in the airplane at the ending of the dream, when Cobb has found Saito, and all of the crew begin to wake up. If you can remember that scene, focus with me on Cobb as he opens his eyes after a lifetime lived in dreams below, as those disconcerted eyes flit madly back and forth, taking in everything he knew before, seeing “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13). In your mind’s eye, watch as, over just a few seconds’ time, he remembers all he once knew, the life he had forgotten, the life that had led him into the dream world in the first place, to the quest to improve his existence, to complete it, all so he could ultimately return to the family he had been forced to leave long ago.

Every time I watch that film I am struck by those first few seconds of waking, when a lifetime of memory pours back into his mind all at once. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’ve experienced something similar in waking from my own dreams, as things as they really are fly back through my fluttering eyelids.

Now, again in your mind’s eye, watch as Cobb’s gaze falls onto Saito, the man he made a special promise with—one could call it a covenant. As Saito’s eyes lock onto Cobb’s, more memories flood into their minds and we can see Saito’s near-instantaneous remembrance of their deal, the agreement that gave meaning to the whole dream experience. Immediately as Saito wakes and remembers, he makes that precious phone call that would mercifully free Cobb from the constricting binds of justice, to honor the plan that had been agreed to before the dream began.

Do you see it now? Do you see the crucial parallel with our own experience of that transition called death? My friend Korance Goodwin pointed out this little parable to me. Think of the moment when we leave mortality and awaken back in the spirit world, the realm from which we came. I think it might be very like what Inception shows us. Would it be so different from waking up in the afterlife, from feeling the veil finally brushed aside as we grasp hands with God and enter eternity, as we return to our true home? I think, as the preponderance of memory comes rushing back into our minds, our faces might look something like the faces of Cobb and Saito, eyes darting back and forth across the halls of heaven, remembering the past eternity we spent in God’s household all at once. Especially as we once more take on that eternal perspective, looking back on our mortal life in context of the pre-mortal life we descended from. We would probably think of the people we knew before, and what we know of them now; of how many promises we kept, and how many we didn’t keep; of the things we’ve done and the words we’ve uttered that we can never take back; and more importantly, of the covenants we made, and the covenants we broke. And think of that deal we made with our Heavenly Father before we came to earth, the agreement He is bound to honor if we repented and sincerely tried to follow His path.

Will we look back in the context of that agreement in horror and shame, with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? Will we be filled with regret? Or will we feel joy, that perfect sense of relief and peace as we remember that we gave all we had to give, did all we had to do?

Suppose Cobb had failed in his test. When that plane landed he would be instantly arrested and thrown in jail for the rest of his life. Permanent imprisonment. But Cobb didn’t fail; he did what he needed to do, and as a result he was blessed with freedom from the chains that once mercilessly held him bound.

The next time you watch that movie (which should be soon), watch with your spiritual eyes. There’s a lot there.

But there’s another aspect to this little parable, and it is what I want to focus on in this chapter. Still bearing in mind that same parallel, in which waking from mortal life will be like waking from a dream, remember the whole sequence of dream levels that comprises the better part of the movie, and recall how much violence there is. Think of the shoot-outs, the fistfights, the explosions, the car chases, the bloodshed. Characters get shot, stabbed, strangled. Think of Saito being wounded in the chest, and the hosts of human-like mental projections killed, extinguished, and the massive scale of destruction in each of the dream worlds.

And then remember that they are in fact merely dream worlds. None of it is real, or lasting. The bloodshed and carnage end, and they eventually wake up in that plane perfectly intact, physically speaking. All the suffering and strife are gone, erased, and frankly only imagined to begin with. The players in this story are once again whole. The only thing that has truly changed is their minds—or we could also say, their souls.

We undergo the same kind of violence in this life. Debilitating disorders, broken bones, strokes and starvation, cancers and comas, hunger and heart attacks—all leading hopelessly to death, for each and every one of us. Truly it can be said that we live in a sphere of violence and decay. But, just like in Inception, all that pain and heartbreak, the scars caused by the inherent suffering of everyday life, is temporary, impermanent, and can and will be wiped away, and rendered significant only in how much it changed that part of us that is eternal.

Though we are not dreaming, per se, we are certainly in a world that is sectioned off from eternal reality, one from which we will one day wake up. And, as the article puts it, we are essentially “inside an advanced civilization’s gigantic virtual reality simulation.” What else is God but a spiritually and intellectually and metaphysically advanced Being who is cultivating a garden of souls in what is essentially a simulation where no harm is permanent to rise up and be like Him?

The story of 2001: A Space Odyssey (both novel and film) also posits we humans are the workmanship of the hands of advanced society that lives elsewhere in the universe. My favorite film of all time, Interstellar, depicts the same thing, except Nolan gets it closer: in his film, the advanced society is us from the future, able to reach back because time is irrelevant at their stage of existence. It’s a vision of humanity’s potential that lines up dramatically with the gospel’s.

Neal A. Maxwell:

If, on occasion, you notice the strange encapsulation we call time, you’ll understand it’s not our natural dimension. The birds are at home in the air. They don’t think about how to fly. Fish are at home in the water. They don’t think about how to swim. It’s natural. But you and I are cocooned, as it were, in this dimension we call time. And it’s not our natural dimension. So it is, we’re always wishing we could hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. And we can’t do either. We’re uncomfortable with time because we belong to eternity. If we were comfortable with time, we wouldn’t have clocks on the wall and calendars and wristwatches. It is not our natural dimension, so time will whisper to you, in the words of another hymn, that you’re a stranger here.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: science gets God. They just don’t know it yet.

Another 5-star review for The Hero Doctrine on Amazon!

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This Amazon review comes from my brand new friend Gary:

This book is outstanding. It is doctrinal but rightly so. Doctrine is presented in such a way as to help the reader understand their true potential, their relationship with the Savior and the Father, and how to reach higher than one’s current place on this earth. The allegories and stories the author uses are valuable tools within the teachings of this book. I am an avid reader and recommend The Hero Doctrine to all. I submit that any reader will find this book of great value if it is read objectively without bias.

I met Gary at one of my Costco book-signings. It was a special moment, as I found out months later when he emailed me about his experience.

My name is Gary Barrett and you may not remember that but you would remember me if you saw me. My wife and I saw you with your books on 02-25-2016 in Costco in Sandy/South Jordan. We looked at you and walked by and the Spirit told me to turn around and talk to you. I did so and asked what your book was about. … I have read thousands of books and I was moved by the Spirit to turn around and talk to you that day in Costco. I am glad I did.

For me that is the most wonderful, validating thing. Proof positive that for at least an afternoon, I was exactly where God wanted me to be, and He was working on my behalf without my even knowing.

There was a specific point in the book that Gary liked best:

I told you I would email you with comments when I finished it but my reading queue is long so I just started reading it. It is so spot on and amazing that I had to email you even though I am only on page 41. When you stated that God’s highest priority is not our eternal salvation; rather it is our agency I cheered!! I have taught this my whole life and I am pretty old.

It’s true! God would rather let us freely fall from His presence than force salvation upon us. I personally think that’s because the kind of being God wants us to be begins as a free agent. You cannot be a god without first being free. It is a self-contradiction. It’s one of my favorite doctrines and is the heart of the novel I am close to finishing, No Romance. (Take a look at that book’s prologue if you haven’t already.) Thanks, Gary, for appreciating that too!

If you haven’t bought my book yet, check out what it’s about here, and if you believe the reviews, click over to Amazon to purchase it for only $14.89.

What We Should Be Learning Each Day

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From Robert Millet:

The extent to which I am prepared to meet the Lord Jesus when he comes again might very well be reflected, for example, in the extent to which I am learning each day to tame the tongue; to channel my thoughts in righteous paths; to choose not to be offended but rather to assume the best; to ask myself consistently what I can do to serve and lighten the burdens of others; to put on hold my immediate gratification in order to achieve a higher aim than satisfied selfhood; to be willing to be inconvenienced; and to be found at my duty station at all times.