January 22, 2014

Regarding Mormon temples

LDS temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, taken on a family vacation
It has been almost nine years since my first experience with the perhaps most controversial ceremony in the Mormon temple: the endowment. I had so many questions; I felt so dizzy. I wanted to understand everything at once. As I returned again and again, I let the pendulum swing to the opposite extreme; I shut down my brain and simply focused on how I was feeling. While undoubtedly more peaceful than that first visit, my temple experiences lacked intellectual depth. At times, I would even fall asleep. Some questions still emerged from time to time, along with the anxiety that comes with not knowing everything. Answers also came from time to time, but there was an underlying question that troubled me until-- I'm a bit embarrassed to say-- quite recently. Was the Mormon temple endowment truly good?

One of the most common accusations against the Church and its membership is that we are walking around smilingly brainwashed, shackled in a cult. This accusation perhaps most challenges the faith of those who are born members like me. Having never lived “outside” the Church, we may lack experiences which would give us a more objective viewpoint to compare. In some ways, we are forced to trust more.

To be honest, there are aspects of the temple which differ from anything else I have experienced in the Mormon Church. It is intensely packed with symbolism and ritual; two communication tools which may seem weird at first, but really aren’t.  

Regardless of where you’re from, you’ve been surrounded by symbolism and ritual. You may be so used to them, that you don’t even realize how strange they may appear to someone of a different culture. For example, when most Americans get married, some kind of ring is exchanged. If you really think about it, that is a bit weird. Is that what marriage is about— having a little piece of metal wrapped around your finger? Of course not, but some people choose rings to be tokens of beautiful things: reciprocated love, enduring commitment, etc.

Similarly, just as where you’re from may change how you react to something, when you’re from can affect you. The symbolism and rituals in the temple are old, and may feel foreign as a result. But again, foreign doesn't mean bad, even if our initial impulse says so. Think about how weird it would be if you took a smartphone to the dark ages. You’d probably get hung for possessing such an obviously evil instrument.

No tool is inherently good or bad. For example, an ax may be used to cut down a tree or to break into a house. How tools are used obviously matters, but maybe not as much as the purpose behind their use. Maybe that tree you’re cutting down has been dropping your neighbors’ crab apples onto your lawn for years, and it’s time they learned a lesson. Maybe that home you’re breaking into is on fire, and you’re on the way to save someone stuck inside. In short, tools can be instruments of love or hate or anything else. It is no different for tools like symbols and rituals.

One last thought on symbols before moving on, here's a great quote from LDS.org by the late Dr. John A. Widtsoe, a Mormon apostle (1921-1952): “We live in a world of symbols. We know nothing, except by symbols. We make a few marks on a sheet of paper, and we say that they form a word, which stands for love, or hate, or charity, or God or eternity. The marks may not be very beautiful to the eye. No one finds fault with the symbols on the pages of a book because they are not as mighty in their own beauty as the things which they represent. We do not quarrel with the symbol G-o-d because it is not very beautiful, yet represents the majesty of God.”

So, moving past the initial weirdness inherent to any foreign symbols, and admitting the presence of new or old symbols and rituals alone can’t say whether something is good, what is the overarching message and purpose behind the Mormon temple endowment ceremony? Is it truly good?

I have probably thought way too hard about this question. My wife Heather would just say, “Of course!” I greatly admire her firm faith, her love for Jesus, her love for what she believes to be His church, and her love for most everything about that church. 

I am a little more of a *skeptic. I ask a ton of questions about almost anything, but especially my Mormon faith. I can say I have received very satisfactory answers to most of my questions, and all of the ones critically important to me at this point. Some ah-has took years in the coming, and some are still pending. I try to be patient, but it isn’t always easy.

*(After seeing my first draft of this, Heather wanted to make sure I remembered that she thinks plenty too. While she may not be as vocal or have as much of a tendency to over-analyze, don't get the idea she blindly goes with the flow. Love that girl!)

But that’s enough about me. Back to the question. Is the Mormon temple endowment good?

I believe so. Here’s why…

The symbols and rituals encourage us to think deeply about the meaning of life, the importance of families, and the absolute necessity of Jesus Christ. Perhaps more importantly, the promises we make to God during the endowment help us live good, honest lives. It is no secret that one of the promises we Mormons make is to consecrate or dedicate our lives to our church. Perhaps this is our most controversial promise.

The late Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle (1972-1985), explained the principle in a talk available on LDS.org, “[W]e consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church…”

At first gawk, that may seem extreme, especially with today's cultural obsession with personal autonomy. Many people are hesitant to pledge anything to any organization, let alone everything. Is it really healthy to promise such unfettered commitment to a Church?

Before trying to answer that specific question, let’s think about some other examples where people, regardless of religion, try devoting everything to an organization.

Starting small, the family
Successful husbands and wives strive to do all they possibly can to help each other. That doesn’t mean they agree about everything, do everything the other asks, or think their spouse it perfect. But they must be honest with each other, love each other, give each other the benefit of the doubt, forgive each other, be grateful for each other, and be patient with each other if the relationship is going to work out. In short, they must be truly committed to each other. The semi-committal usually have a tough time making marriages work, or giving their children the time and attention they deserve.

Thinking bigger, the country
While far from infallible, this country has done tremendous good. God bless those who live their lives trying to improve our nation.  God bless those serving in the military who give everything, including their lives, for the freedom and safety of others, even those who disagree with them.

Organizations are not machines
Really, any organization is nothing more than a group of people who have chosen to work together.

I think of the Mormon Church as one big, loving, but imperfect family. I do love it, warts and all. By promising to give everything for its cause, I’m really promising to help build and strengthen a big family (a family the whole world is welcome to join, but no one is forced to).

But there is more than that. If I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is Jesus Christ’s church, then pledging myself to it means I’m pledging myself to not just any family, but to Christ’s family. Under that belief, asking someone to offer everything to the Church is another way of asking her or him to keep the two greatest commandments described in Matthew 22:36-40:

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

You may say, "But hey, didn't Jesus say everyone is your neighbor with his parable of the Good Samaritan? Shouldn't Mormons pledge themselves to the welfare of all and not just other Mormons?" 

I would say, "Absolutely. But we can only be neighbors to the extent others want us to be neighbors."

Imagine you're the injured person in that parable and you tell the Samaritan.
"No, thank you." 
Or, "Leave me alone." 
Or, "Oh no, not a Samaritan!" 

Would a truly good Samaritan force his friendship on you beyond the limits of your consent? 

He may be heartbroken.
He may ask, "Are you sure?"
He may even come back later to see if you'd changed your mind.
But he would not force you to come with him, even if he believed he could save your life.

So, yes. Mormons do promise something special to each other; something they can't promise to everyone else. Some promises simply can't be made without permission. We promise to both give all and to receive all.

To me, any encouragement to love Christ, and love others to the extent they desire, can't possibly be bad.

But maybe you don’t think it’s Christ’s church. Maybe you don’t even believe in Christ. You have every right to believe what you will. But even if you don’t think it’s Christ’s church, I don’t think you should be bothered by Mormons pledging their all to it. You may disagree with us, but it is unquestionable that we add value to the conversation. And the Church is improving. After all, we Mormons have committed ourselves to do all we can to improve it.

January 20, 2014

Finding truth

avenues to truth
*At law school, my study group has playfully nicknamed me "the philosopher." I guess daydreaming about stuff like this is why...

One may say, “It’s impossible to know if something is true.” But that belief is self-contradictory; you cannot say it without implying you know something. So, logic basically forces you to believe in at least the possibility of knowing truth. 

So, how do you find out truth?

Some may say, “I know what my eyes can see.” The problem with that is looks can be deceiving. One usually doesn't see the air she breathes. The human mind can play tricks, and for some, even cause hallucinations. One cannot see music. One cannot see love. While allowing for some discovery of truth and beauty, trusting sight alone is insufficient. Few would doubt this argument, and yet too often people are prone to say, “I’ll believe it, when I see it.” Or, even more oddly, “I only believe in what I can see.” 

Similarly strange, one may say, “I only believe in what I can hear.”

Or, “I only believe in what I can touch.” So far, this seems the most reasonable, but even it is lacking. If you truly only believe in what you can touch, can you believe in anything until you touch it? Have you touched the stars, the moon, or sun?

Or (though I doubt any non-canine would ever say so), “I only believe in what I can smell.”

Or (even more absurdly, unless maybe you're an infant), "I only believe in what I can taste."

Without question, no single sensation can paint reality. But even if personal sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste combine, is that enough? No. 

Everyone trusts, to at least some degree, in the claimed experience or authority of others, which, to at least some degree, can’t be confirmed by physical senses. I may say, “I bought you a gift and it is waiting for you in that room.” If you choose to, you can check out that room. Your physical senses may very well give you evidence that there is in fact a gift, but they say very little about whether I bought you it. 

Even if there were a receipt that had my name on it, while relevant evidence, could still be fraudulent. I could even give you the phone number of the clerk I say I bought it from. While this could open the door to even more evidence, even that eventual evidence wouldn't completely close the door to the possibility of fraud. Ultimately, you are forced to make a choice of believing, disbelieving, suspending judgment, or simply not caring about if I actually bought the gift.

If you choose to care, you might weigh the probability and size of the risks and benefits involved with believing, disbelieving, or suspending judgment. You may include in your decision-making your recollection of past experiences with me: perhaps the gifts I gave you that seemed more expensive than I could afford, or the time the police came to your door in search of stolen merchandise, etc. You may also include what other people have said about me: my capacity for fraud, my reliability, my generosity, my wealth, etc. You might also give weight to what was in your gut: an instinct or impression going beyond the visible, audible, touchable, smellable, or tasteable. 

Are any of those considerations without value? Is any consideration more important to you than the others? What if your instinct about this particular situation conflicts with past experiences? Maybe you have a feeling that I am telling the truth this time. My guess is we tend to trust our feelings much more in our day-to-day lives than we may want to admit. While there is something appealing about seeing ourselves as more logical than emotional, rational than impulsive; is that really how we tick? Is it possible to detach emotion from human decision-making?

Let’s assume we really do give a lot of weight to our feelings. Is that an entirely bad thing? 

Consider relationships. How romantic would it be for you to sit down with your girlfriend and rationally analyse your relationship with her? “So babe, after weighing all the evidence logically, though there is some plausible evidence for doubt, I have decided I probably love you.” Over-thinking love can undoubtedly damage trust and hurt relationships.

But does intuition have its limits? Of course, just like any other tool you use to sort out life.

Consider efficiency. A gut instinct can move you in a direction faster than attempting rational analysis. If intuition is correct, it speeds you toward reality. If incorrect, the opposite.

Consider human volatility. Sometimes it is hard to know what our gut is feeling. Sometimes our feelings change. Depending on emotional health, intuition waxes or wanes in reliability. 

Thus, unfettered faith in our feelings is risky. The greater impact a decision will have on your life, the more various types of evidence are readily available, and the more time you have to make a decision-- the more foolish it is to simply rely on intuition. However, as illustrated above, perhaps it is even more foolish to ignore intuition all together. 

January 15, 2014

How to get delete a blogspot header

You would think +Blogger would have an easy way to remove title/description headers, but nope.

This is how I managed to get rid of my blog header.
  1. From your blog dashboard, click Template.
  2. Click Edit HTML.
  3. Find the .Header h1 code. (I use the Simple template and found it on row 248. I had to click a little triangle to expand my rows, so I could see it.)
  4. After the last semi-colon ; preceding the first close parentheses )  in that section type "display: none". 
  5. Bonus: If you want to eliminate unnecessary white space at the top of your blog, you can change the header padding.

steps 1 and 2
steps 4 and 5
I have heard of other ways to do it, but this is the only way I have been able to make it work. Though I'm no programmer by any stretch of the imagination.

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Crazy court cases that are actually true but actually aren't

"These cases are actually true."

"I can't believe they really happened."

Turns out, many of the vastly viral crazy court cases you'll find on the web are completely made up. 

You may have heard about Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania that broke into a house while its owners were away on vacay. He got trapped in a garage and barely survived on Pepsi and dry dog food for eight days. He sued for mental pain and won a half million. 

I wanted to learn more about that, so I searched Lexis. I couldn't find anything. Probably because nothing exists. Google told me I am not the first to figure that out. Snopes and USA Today beat me by about eight years. They also exposed a bunch of other classics that are still trumpeted today (that a site like thecrazycase really wished were true because they are so hilarious).

Like Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, who broke her ankle by tripping over her own wandering toddler at a store and then sued the store and won most of a million. LIES.

Or Carl Truman of Los Angeles, who won close to 100k when his hand got run over while stealing a hubcap. LIES.

Or Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, whose neighbor's leashed dog in a fenced-in yard bit him in the rear because he had been shooting it with a pellet gun. Jerry won the value of a new car. LIES.

Or Mr. Grazinski, who won about $2 million and a new RV because he'd left the wheel of his old one to fix some joe and cruise control isn't as great as it sounds. LIES.

Or Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who broke her tailbone after slipping on soda she'd thrown at her boyfriend. The Philadelphia restaurant hosting the the scene had to pay out over 100k. LIES.

Or Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, who got 12k and dental expenses from a night club when her teeth got knocked out after falling from a bathroom window to the floor. Apparently, she'd climbed through the window to escape paying the $3.50 cover charge for using the restroom. LIES.

Or Blake Flake of Salt Lake City, Utah, who won $1 million from a manufacturer when his cell phone spontaneously combusted and burned his house down along with his Pokemon card collection. The fact he'd put his smartphone in the microwave is why Flake only won as much as he did. THAT ONE'S ACTUALLY TRUE.

Nope.

I take credit for fabricating that last one. Way too easy. Kinda fun though. I should start doing that more often...

Here's what I have personally noticed about fakes. How to spot made-up crazy court cases:
  1. Unlike the real craziest lawsuits, which usually never make it to court, fake cases always seem to score a trial by a jury of insane people who grant excessive awards.
  2. Fake cases are quick to give victims' names and hometowns, but never specifically identify any defendants. Probably because the original author doesn't want to get sued, and in most cases something like a fake company name would be more of a giveaway.
  3. There about 50 words or less. Don't know if that's really important.
Dig this kind of thing? Visit the crazy case

President Monson's first talk as an apostle

President Thomas S. Monson is one of my heroes. I stumbled across this gem today and couldn't help but share.

I don't think obedience to God and His servants is outdated. To me obedience is not a matter of blindness; it is the proper exercise of perspective, love and trust toward a Heavenly Father who rejoices in our joys, weeps in our sorrows, and sees things as they truly are and are to come.


(4:53) "I may never see the prophet. I may never hear the prophet. But far better, I can obey the prophet." (paraphrased slightly) Little did she know she was speaking with a future prophet! :)

+Mormon Channel +Mormons on Google+

January 11, 2014

Does Chromecast work in on-campus housing?

I hate the idea of other people unnecessarily suffering through hours of troubleshooting, so I will dump everything my personal pain has taught.

Does Chromecast actually work in BYU on-campus housing?
Yes. If you are the first to set one up one the router serving your apartment, you're in luck; there are only two extra steps and they're easy.

First, when you get to this screen STOP. Write down your Chromecast's MAC address:


Second, go hear: https://it.byu.edu/byu/form.do?form=8d716fea0a0a3c0900f3362d8ea23949

Enter your BYU net ID and password, and then fill out the simple form to register your device with BYU wireless.

Then, and only then, proceed with the standard Chromecast setup.
*If you can't seem select HousingSecure in the Wireless Network dropdown box in the Chromecast setup, then try selecting the "Other" network option first, only after doing that was I able to get HousingSecure to stick. Make sure to enter the password carefully. Even after all this, you may have to try a few times before the connection actually works.

What if you blew past the above screen with your MAC address before registering it with BYU?
Simply hold down the button on your Chromecast for a minute or so while it is plugged in to reset it. Then start over.

What if you are not the first one on your router to use a Chromecast?
You will know this because when you open the app, you will see multiple devices, including the one you need to setup. If that is the case, you need to figure out who has those devices (probably someone in your stairwell area if you're living in Wymount). This may be hard if they haven't renamed their Chromecast with a giveaway like my neighbor did. Once you figure out who else has Chromecasts on the network, you need to have them do you a favor; they need to disconnect/turn off their Chromecasts while you do your setup. Once they are off, restart your own and you should have more luck.

If you still get stuck, feel free to comment and I will try to help more if I can.

Good luck!

PS- Even with the potentially nightmarish setup, the Chromecast is totally worth it! Setup stinks, but the actual use rocks. And... kinda funny note... you can cast on any of your neighbors' TVs who are connected...

+Chromecast Forum +Chromecast Review +Chromecast Forums +ChromecastWORLD +Chromecast