Why We Write Fiction

harrypotterkingscross.jpg

Novelists are con men (and women). We write stories to trick people. The goal of the trick is make the reader think that what they’re reading, what the novelist is writing, matters. This of course applies to films and video games and even visual artists. What these people are doing, myself included, is show you a world that doesn’t actually exist except inside your head, and trying to get you to invest some part of yourself into that world, whether that’s some of your time, your emotions, or even your soul.

Some readers are more susceptible to this trickery than others. They devour anything they can get their hands on. They hunger for new worlds and new friends and to see evil defeated (perhaps unsatisfied with Good’s progress in the real world).

Some writers are more talented at tricking than others. They can get even the most reluctant reader to flip through pages and forget the real world for a time while forcing you to care about theirs. They are founts of creation, designing worlds that their readers naturally immerse themselves in, birthing characters that can be more real than a stranger on the street, and offer peace to a troubled soul through good’s triumph over evil, or if not, showing the reader truth and beauty despite evil continuing to exist even in their pretended world.

Sometimes we forget that these worlds are fake. But nonetheless, can’t we agree that these fake things can have powerful effects on reality? That’s the magic of fiction, whether in books, films, games, whatever.

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

So it is a trick. It is happening inside your head. But it can be no less real than anything else in your life if it goes on to affect that life.

So what’s my point?

Fiction writers: if you’re going to make your readers/players/viewers care deeply about something that is no real, make it matter in reality, too. The creation of worlds is an immensely powerful tool, and with that power comes great responsibility. So don’t waste it, or misuse it. Use your power wisely and for that aforementioned Good’s sake. You can change people with your stories, so change them for the better.

The Parallels of Celestial and Civilized Cultures

2001-10-5020-elder-neal-a-maxwell-590x331-ldsorg-article

Elder Neal A. Maxwell writes in 1978 about the values and virtues of civilization so bereft in 2017:

The prophet Moroni said, “Despair cometh because of iniquity.” (Moroni 10:22) When iniquity increases, so do despair and alienation. Paul also said the ignorance of the everlasting truths would cause unbelievers to be “alienated from the life of God.” (Ephesians 4:18) No wonder we despair when we sin, because we act against our own interests and against who we really are. When we are imprisoned by iniquity, we turn the cell lock ourselves.

It is striking when one catalogs those virtues that come to the fore when people act from an eternal perspective and then also catalogs those virtues that are necessary for wise mortal civilization. What does one see? He sees in both the urgent need for brotherhood and civility. He sees in gospel goals the requirement for self-discipline—and then the same requirement for a free society, since a republic rests, as an unknown writer has said, on “obedience to the unenforceable”; people must checkreign their appetites for their own good and for the good of society.

He sees, both in the celestial culture for which he is preparing and in our civilization which he struggles to maintain, that a high premium is placed on individual accountability. He sees in both settings the importance of deferred gratification so that the emphasis on now does not swallow up everything else; there must be thought and deference to generations yet unborn. He sees in both the requirements for real regard for the basic institution of the family.

Both the man of religion and the civilized man see the need to avoid covetousness, for envy is still envy even when it is politicized. Both also see the importance of not bearing false witness either by gossip or by inaccurate and misleading headlines.

In both a theocracy and a genuine democracy there is an overriding concern with personal freedom, for neither personal nor political liberty will last long when inappropriate appetites go unchecked in displays of disregard for people and their property. Salvation and secular survival require the same virtues in the citizenry. The plea for basic values is also a fervent plea for the preservation of civilization, which values must accord with things as they really are.

No wonder we need timeless truths against which to test the lures of the moment. The great truths about things as they really are are immune to obsolescence.

In departing from mortal civilization’s virtues, we fall too from the celestial.

We are still falling.

God’s Number One Priority

Hint: It’s not goodness or righteousness or even the salvation of His children.

cropped-herodoctrinecover1.png

I saw this post on Twitter the other day, and it got me thinking.

Here’s my response:

The ensuing discussion I had with this man (who engaged with me generally without hostility) was very enlightening. I realized that we had fundamentally different views on what freedom is and what it entailed. Hence the huge disagreement in our political views.

Now, the point is not those political views. The real point is my initial response. I can want an America where you are free to choose poorly and I can also want my fellow Americans not to choose poorly at the same time. I can want people to be free to make their own choices and also attempt to persuade them not to make those choices at the same time. I can see people do stupid things and elect poor leaders and also not want to make those decisions for them at the same time.

This is the principle and priority of agency. And I do my best to maintain it—a part of me DOES want to make those choices for them, because all of us are convinced we’re right and that we’d make a good king—because I try to take God’s view on the matter, and prioritize certain elements of this world the way He does.

Our Heavenly Father is a God of love, first and foremost. The grand purpose for everything He does in this world is our salvation and our exaltation, the immortality and eternal life of His children. He lives, He works, He creates, He shapes, for us.

But is our salvation, the grand end He has in mind for us, the fruit for which He is doing so much planting and cultivating with His omnipotent power—is it His first priority?

If it is, why do so many fall away?

We can know how God prioritizes by observing the events of the pre-mortal realm: “A third part of the hosts of heaven turned…away from me because of their agency,” God says (D&C 29:36). A third part of the hosts of heaven will remain in hell, away from God’s saving and transformative power—by their own free will and choice.

God did not interfere to stop them. He did not put a wall on that path to hell, and force those eternally young spirits to come back to heaven, to agree to His plan, and come to Earth with a goal to partake of the Atonement’s power and become Christlike and Godlike.

Human beings are not chess pieces. Rather, we are of the race of gods. And agency is that race’s most defining characteristic. It’s been said that a free agent is a god in embryo, like how a seed that will one day grow into a tree. The difference is that we can choose to grow and transform, or we can choose not to. The choice to achieve exaltation, by definition, cannot be made by anyone but the being itself, for a god is not merely a biological being, but also a spiritual one.

The biological part of our godlike beings is our physical body, like God’s in shape and form, but not like God’s in perfection until we are resurrected. That part, the biological perfection, is taken care of for us by the Savior. But we are responsible for the perfecting process of the spiritual half. Being spiritual, that process is reliant on personal choice and accountability. If we don’t choose it, it might as well not happen for it reflects nothing of who and what we are.

Neither goodness nor evil are possible without agency. If God took away ten percent of our income—as is technically His right—then the tithing we contribute would be the result of an amoral act, insignificant of who we have decided to be because it has nothing to do with us. There would be no point to it, because God’s purpose is a spiritual progression, and our souls are tied to and defined by our choices. God wants our wills far more than He wants our possessions.

This spills over into political philosophy, particularly where socialism is concerned. Communism and its shadows are satanic counterfeits of Zion’s economy of consecration. Both envision a utopia of economic equality. But in communism (and socialism) the government simply takes your money and, theoretically, redistributes it evenly to everybody, making all equal. Let’s put aside the fact that no mortal government could do this effectively, and that any mortal government run by frail human beings with that kind of power would boil over with corruption and tyrannical uprisings. Instead we can make a moral argument: this kind of society prevents its citizens from making choices. This kind of society compels equality, coerces its citizens to give to the poor, foists “good” choices upon the people. If you’re thinking, Hey, that sounds like Satan’s alternative plan to God’s plan of salvation—you’re absolutely right. And that’s why Satan’s plan wouldn’t work, why it wouldn’t actually produce exalted beings. We would be nothing! Absolute zeroes.

In Zion, meanwhile, no man or woman lives above another by choice. We do not get Zion by overthrowing a government and passing laws that all must live by or go to prison, but by simply choosing to live that way ourselves. God does not compel anyone to live in Zion. We go there, we live God’s law, and remain on an equal plane with our fellow man and sacrifice for one another out of love and by our own free will and choice.

There is no other path to growth and godhood but through our own choices and choice-making. And that’s why, though God sends His servants to persuade us to do good, He allows us to make those choices without coercion or compulsion. He does not generally punish us in this life, but allows us to learn by natural consequence alone. That is why there is both good and evil in this world, this testing ground, and why it is essential to God’s plan. Without agency and its resulting effects, no one in this life could ever be like God, and His work would be for naught.

Salvation and exaltation are not possible without first a foundation of free beings to choose them. There is no other way.

“The Sound of Impotence Trying to Reassure Itself”


“Yes, there is a mirth that can be heard among mortals who are estranged from the living God and from things as they really are. But it is a melancholy mirth. The jokes by drinkers about drunkenness are but an attempt to mock that which mocks them. Those who boast and chortle about their sexual conquests are boasting of that which has actually conquered them. The backroom laughter of power brokers over the latest triumph is but contempt for those they say they serve; it is also the sound of impotence trying to reassure itself.”

—Neal A. Maxwell

The LDS Conception of a Heavenly Mother

Over at The Interpreter, there’s an excellent podcast on the Divine Feminine in Mormon theology. A perfect way to spend 23 minutes on Mother’s Day. She is most assuredly there.

http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/lds-perspectives-podcast-rachel-steenblik-and-caitlin-connolly-a-heavenly-mother/

A note from me: remember that “Elohim” is not just “God”—it is plural: “Gods.” And remember that when we are sealed as couples in the temple, two truly become one. I believe together our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are, essentially, one God, incomplete without the other.

Also be sure to check out my Mother’s Day piece at Eat Pray Vote in which I ask that we start thinking about motherhood as more than just doing chores around the house, and instead what it really is: the crafting of souls.

Happy Mother’s Day!

How Tribalism and Identity Politics Will Destroy the Constitution

constitution.jpg

My piece for Eat Pray Vote today:

The Ties That Bind – Not Divide

This writing gig is pretty interesting, in that it allows me to reference my faith in overt ways. In the article directly quote Fourth Nephi about what made that utopian society special (“nor any manner of -ites”), and what made it fall apart (the rise of -ites).

Hugh Nibley said about the Book of Mormon, “Woe unto the generation that understands this book.” Certainly, woe be unto us.

Why I Need A Savior

Why do I need a savior?

For the same reason these prisoners needed Bruce Wayne.

Easter: a time for lost things to be saved, and broken things to be made new. A time to honor and worship the One who pioneered His way out of the universal pit of death. In doing so He made it possible for us to escape it as well. He threw that rope down, allowing us to follow after Him, into the light of liberation. That is the universal message of Easter Sunday.

Why do I need a savior? Because I was, and am, broken.

A Confession of My Brokenness, Both Spiritually and Mentally – My soul, broken from addiction. My mind, broken from bipolar disorder.

God Is a Master Novelist: Part One – The story of my darkness.

God Is a Master Novelist: Part Two – The story of me finding the light.

God loves broken things—and that includes families – Christ will fix our broken lives and relationships, if we let Him.

The Gospel According to Dagny: Crying Repentance – Like infants we cry into the night, and our Savior runs to succor us.

A Tribute to Joseph Harris – Our imperfect bodies, some of them full of pain and ache and discomfort, will one day never feel such things again.

Do Cats Have Souls? – How much does Christ’s Resurrection really cover? How much will be restored in the next life?

The Chapter Closes – Goodbyes are never permanent. Friends and family will one day be reunited. The New will be far greater than the Old.

Christ is the Snow – Pure as the driven snow; it melts to become living water.

What the God of Nature Tells Us About the Nature of God

I lay before you some adorable animal videos.

 

First, a Labrador father tries to teach his adoring puppies to swim:


Then we have a kitten trying to lick itself just like its mama:


Lastly we have a group of ducklings following their mama duck as she tries to teach them to swim and do other hard things:

Think about these videos. Think about nature, about the idea of life itself. Now ask yourself this: what does every single life form on this earth—every tree, every mammal, even every bacteria and virus—what is the one thing they all have in common?

There is only one common element, and it is the core of their existence: to reproduce. To create beings like themselves. All life is driven by this one unending desire.

Now consider the following verse from the Book of Moses:

63 And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me. (Moses 6)

God puts Himself in nature, in every particle. How can we look at His Creations and not see who and what He truly is? How can we look at the God of Nature and not see the nature of God?

God is a parent. A parent leads his or her children by example. A parent cares for those children by teaching them everything he or she knows. A parent wants his or her children to grow up to be just like them.

Just like them. It is the pattern of all creation.

Christ demonstrates this pattern with His own relationship with His Father:

19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (John 5)

And He passes this same relationship onto us, asking us to learn from His example:

21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do (3 Nephi 27)

This is how and why we become children of Christ, though He is actually our elder Brother:

14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. (Ether 3)

Seeing this God, and observing the infinitely unfolding lines that play out forever across all time streams and in every corner of creation we might find ourselves, how can we not see ourselves for what we truly are?

Acts 17:

24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring

We are His offspring. And so we can see ourselves in those animal videos, too. Aren’t we those puppies and ducklings, following our patient and loving and long-suffering Father in the easy things, but once we’re asked to take a leap of faith into deep water we falter and hesitate and draw back? Aren’t we that kitten, trying to learn the pattern of spiritual and temporal washing that we’re taught by our parents?

This doctrine should astonish us. It should not sit lonely in the wings, but define our vision for our lives. It should not be for only the philosophers to contemplate, but revolutionize how we think about ourselves and about our God, whether that is via a personal relationship with Him or merely an intellectual conceptualization. This pattern and its implications should be known by all, Mormon or Evangelical or Buddhist alike. It’s right there, in front of us every day, inside of us at our core.

There is no greater purpose we can aspire to. There is no other proposed life purpose that can make as much sense or mean more. Perhaps this is why the Adversary has tried to destroy it in the minds of potential believers as “heresy.” But to call it that is an insult to God, for what greater purpose could God Himself live for, if not to accomplish the ultimate task: create Beings like Himself?

39 For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1, check out the link)

Think about it this way: kittens grow up to be cats, and puppies into dogs. So what do children of a God grow up to be?

 

 

Do Cats Have Souls?

IMG_20170315_162843880.jpg

My good friend Amy Carlin recently suffered the loss of her beloved cat, Sealie. She made a few posts on Facebook about it, reaching out for needed support. Selfish fool that I am, every time I came across a post I quickly scrolled down, trying to ignore it where so many others stopped to comment their support and love. It wasn’t that I didn’t care—it was that I cared too much. I hate stories of pet cats passing away or getting lost and I’d generally prefer to avoid the subject entirely, even at the cost of supporting a friend in a desperate time—exactly the opposite of “mourning with those who mourn.”

But, like in fast and testimony meeting, the Spirit kept poking me. So this morning I started writing her a note and was almost immediately in tears. (I’m a sappy guy, especially when it comes to animals.)

Amy—I’m so sorry about your cat. I have been avoiding your threads because it hurts me too much to think about. I’m almost in tears just starting this little note. As you probably know, I’m a cat person. Nyssa is too. We’ve both experienced heartbreak over losing them in the past. Our first cat as a married couple, Tzeitel, never came home one night after we put her outside on our way to Leading Edge. That was a nightmarish time. As it happens, though, it led to us getting the four cats we have now, and I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to take care of them, especially Ringo, who would have been put to sleep if we had not arrived in the humane society the day we did, on the very off-chance Tzeitel was there. Though I don’t like to think about it, I have to face the fact that I will probably have taken care of several generations of cats before this mortal time is over. That means a lot of both joy and deep pain as we’ll have to end up saying goodbye. I hate writing about this because the pain is so much easier to feel than the joy. But I needed you to know that I’m hurting for you right now and I know what you’re going through. It’s so awful. But maybe you’ll be able to save another cat that needs a home and family and love. Maybe Heavenly Father wants that cat to have you. That’s how I feel about Ringo. God knows all the animals of the earth as well as all of us. And as you probably know, cats have souls every bit as real as we humans do, although they aren’t God’s direct children.

That’s an interesting notion, though, isn’t it. Do cats have souls?

From LDS.org:

Do animals have spirits and are they resurrected? Yes. The Prophet Joseph Smith received information concerning the eternal status of animals. Answers to questions he posed are in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 77. He also spoke about the resurrection of animals in a sermon but did not expand on the subject. (History of the Church, 5:343.)

We know quite a bit about God’s views on His creations, and how He wants us humans to view and treat those living, breathing, feeling creatures—including when it comes to hunting for sport.

A few excerpts from that link:

“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. … And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:9–11.)

That animals are to be treated with kindness is indicated in the law of Moses. The Lord enjoined the Israelites to show kindness to the ox by not muzzling it when it was treading the corn during the harvest threshing. (Deut. 25:4.) Undue strain on unequally yoked animals was forbidden as well. (Deut. 22:10.) The ancient Israelites were also to avoid destroying birds’ nests while working in their fields. (Deut. 22:6–7.)

During the Zion’s Camp expedition in the summer of 1834, an incident occurred that allowed a practical application of concern for animal life. As related by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his history:

“In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 71–72.)

President Lorenzo Snow related in his journal the change of heart he had concerning hunting shortly after his baptism: “While moving slowly forward in pursuit of something to kill, my mind was arrested with the reflection on the nature of my pursuit—that of amusing myself by giving pain and death to harmless, innocent creatures that perhaps had as much right to life and enjoyment as myself. I realized that such indulgence was without any justification, and feeling condemned, I laid my gun on my shoulder, returned home, and from that time to this have felt no inclination for that murderous amusement.”

But even disregarding those scriptures and official quotes, if you have a personal relationship with an animal, you know. You know how unique they really are, even if they look identical to other members of their species. You know how they can love, and how they need love. You know how real their soul is in how it connects with your own.

IMG_20161208_111826941.jpg

My experience with cats tells me God cares for us through them and even cares for them through us.

Throughout my youth I suffered from a deep, largely un-medicated, clinical depression. Very near the beginning of this period, our family pet, a Yorkshire Terrier, the last of what was once five dogs in the home, passed away, and the house became very empty. Then one night after some family discussions my parents came home with an autumn-colored calico kitten. This cat, who I would eventually call my Keyta, became my ever-present companion. She was like a guardian angel, a messenger bearing Heavenly Father’s love to remain with me as long as I needed her. She was one of the only constants in my life through those terrible years. She would always sleep at the foot of my bed and at night she would come galloping up to meet me alongside my car as I got home from work so we could go inside together. Ours was an incredible bond.

But one night, just a few weeks before I moved away from home for the first time, she wasn’t waiting outside to greet me when I got home. The next morning, I went to open the door for her, sure she’d be lounging on the porch, but she wasn’t. I checked that porch many more times that day, but she didn’t come home, nor did she return that night, nor the morning after that. A horrible fear began to seep through me. My life became a living nightmare as she continued to not come home, and I finally realized what all this meant. I had her for eight years, my reassuring angel through depression and other dark episodes, and just like that, that light inside my soul was blown out. She was just…gone. I never found out what happened to her.

But by that point in my life I knew there was a purpose to everything that happened. And soon it was made manifest to me exactly what the particular purpose of this loss was. Shortly before she had gone missing, I had expressed to a friend how my only real remaining concern about moving from home was that my Keyta wouldn’t be able to accompany me, and she’d be lonely; her only friend and ally was moving away and couldn’t explain to her why, or where he was going, or when he’d come back, if ever.

Later, when I shared with my friend the story of her disappearance, he reminded me what I had told him before. And in my darkness I saw that light. I saw Heavenly Father take a burden from me—and also from her—in bringing her to Him, to a place where she wouldn’t ever have to be lonely or distressed, where she could again wait for me to return to my true, final home.

To use Alma’s words, my Keyta was “sent out” (Alma 41:15) of my life. Does this principle of restoration mean, then, that she will return to me again? I think it does. I think she will be among those who greet me as I leave this life. I think she will be running, galloping toward me. I think she will jump up onto my shoulder, and I will pet her again and I will cry the same kind of tears as when I see everybody else, when I will see my Savior and Heavenly Father again.

She was taken from me by Heavenly Father, as many things are throughout our life. But this is only temporary. All that God takes from us in this life can be returned in the next, and for all time, as it says in the Book of Mormon, “to go no more out” (Helaman 3:30).

(This is a short film I made starring her almost ten years ago:)

“We Have Abandoned the Watchmaker”

Please click on the tweet above and read this whole thread. It captures precisely the perilous position America’s soul is in right now.

Some excerpts:

“What has happened since, that we cultivate the profane?”

“When you replace country with party, you replace enduring ideals and truths with fallible, mortal people.”

“Do not rest your allegiance on a man, no matter his promises. Do not rest your hatred on those you deem different.”

“Do not abandon the Watchmaker.”

Nothing good can come from a political party driven by hatred and revenge and swollen with so much pride they cannot see the mess they sold their souls to shoulder.