Snowed In

This past weekend, my new companion and I were forced to stay home in the hill-side homestead of the family we live with. It was only about a foot of snow, which by Utah standards, isn’t enough to bat an eye at, but here in Washington, where an inch of snow can shut down the entire county, a foot of snow is simply unmanageable. There simply isn’t a budget for snow removal on that scale. So, since the roads don’t get plowed, and the drivers can’t drive well on the slippery stuff, our mission ordered all mission vehicles parked, which was just as well, as the icy hills where we live would have actually been dangerous to traverse. Thus, we were forced to remain at home all weekend, which was the first time I haven’t gone out and done missionary work for longer than a day since I got out here.

The interesting situation of being a missionary without work is that the mission rules still apply to you, despite your inability to work. Thus, the normal time-filling activities that the rest of the world enjoys simply aren’t available. This provided me with a lot of time for…thinking (Bad..bad…bad…). Amongst a ocean of quite useless thoughts, one train of thought may have been slightly productive: how opposition in all things is not only necessary, but desired in life.

Genesis 3:19 : In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…

This was a portion of God’s ‘briefing’ to Adam and Eve shortly after they were expelled from the Garden and in reality, it defines our condition in life quite well. We work (or are supposed to work) for everything we attain in this life, and in the modern day world we spend quite a lot of time doing it. I feel that one of the greatest discoveries we come across in life is that by work we attain happiness. By work, I don’t mean our jobs, but all productive labor. I feel that this is a lesson learned through contrast, and my companion and I spent our snowed-in weekend appreciating that contrast.

As missionaries, we work long hours 7 days a week. 2 years goes by fast, and the opportunity to devote one’s time to serving the Lord and others doesn’t come often. The grind of the work day can be exhausting, and often times I’ve found myself longing for a break. Well, the snow storm presented quite the opportunity for such a break. Anyone who’s been cooped up in a home for longer than a day knows how great it feels to be able to go out and do things again. Well, this feeling was magnified by the sheer boredom we experienced as missionaries, still held under the strict rules of mission life, and therefore unable to distract ourselves.

Maybe some are capable of happily spending long hours at a time staring at a blank wall while lying on their bed, but I seem to be geared towards DOING THINGS. I honestly think the human condition is geared to help us attain happiness through work. Isn’t the American Dream defined as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? And usually when I think about that dream, I think about the ability to attain anything we desire in this life through honest work. It’s through work that we grow. If you don’t add any weight to your weight machine, you can push that bar up and down forever, and it won’t do you much good. It’s only when you add some weight, or opposition, that your muscles are able to improve and grow.

And here’s why I’m even talking about this: I went absolutely nuts being stuck in the house for 4 days, and there’s nothing that’ll make you appreciate work like the perspective you get while being incapable of working.

Now go get a job, and be happy.

The end. 🙂

So when did you become a Mormon?

As a missionary, I talk to a lot of people…Or at least a lot of people talk at me. It’s kind of the nature of conversation when you interrupt their day at their doorstep or on the street. Most are pretty happy with their religion, or lack thereof, and mostly don’t want to be preached to. They feel that whatever we have to offer can’t be any better than anything they can find on their own, thank you very much. Most often, people are rather friendly, or at least not outright rude. Sometimes, they’re considerably less so. Wearing the little black badge kind of gives us a second skin, or shield, which allows us to let such shoutings roll off our backs. I think some of the most interesting responses are from those who actually want to talk to us, but not to learn; they want to save us. Sometimes these individuals are preachers for other churches, or sometimes they’re simply concerned Christians who are convinced that we’ve never had a fair chance to find ‘real religion’ for ourselves, being so sheltered in ‘Utah’. This question usually devolves into a core concern:
“Haven’t you just been brainwashed by your parents? I mean, really, if you’ve been raised to believe a certain thing, can you really say that you know for yourself that your church is “true”, whatever that means?”
This is a tough question to answer, really, because when it comes down to it, aren’t we all children of the environment we grew up in? Our parents and friends heavily influence our speech patterns, interpretations of stimuli, and decision making processes. Human perspective is inherently limited to the experiences we encounter throughout our sojourn through mortality. We compare new experiences with old ones, trying to organize this complex world into one that the human mind can understand. A kid who grows up Mormon definitely thinks differently than a kid who grows up Muslim. In the end, all parenting could be considered brainwashing. Culture trains our brains to think a certain way. Quite simply, Mormons grow up in a different culture than those who aren’t. So real question is: Is my testimony based on truth, or the way I was raised/my culture? Can there even be a difference?
I think that separating the decisions I make that are based on rational reasoning as opposed to mental defaults based on how I was raised is quite futile. Instead I focus on the spiritual experiences I’ve had and the honest research I’ve done into other religions’ beliefs and practices. I think this is all anyone who honestly searches for truth and guidance in life can do. It’s impossible to be truly objective in any aspect of life, and in the end, I’m not sure that’s our purpose here on Earth.
From my research I’ve come to a firm conclusion for myself: Either The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only church led by men who actually commune with God on a regular basis, using real power given to men through our faith and righteousness, for the betterment of humanity and the eventual eternal life of man; or there is no God.
I think I can sum up this post in a simple sentence:
From a catholic priest from the movie Rudy:
” Son, in 35 years of religious study,
I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts:
There is a God,
And I’m not Him.”
I’m a Mormon, and I’m staying a Mormon. 😀

Called of God

When I was set apart by the Stake President to be a missionary, I didn’t feel any different. Heck, right after that I went long boarding down Provo Canyon with my friends without a second thought. I’m still not sure I feel any different, yet something is different. Words come without thought or effort, yet have dramatic effects on those I teach. Questions come to my mind during my study time that i find being asked, sometimes hours later, by investigators, and answers come almost as effortlessly and “mysteriously”. Am I different now that I’m a missionary? Hard to say. Probably…

I’m often reminded of an episode of Futurama I love: Bender the robot is drifting through space after a spaceship wreck, when an asteroid deposits a minute civilization on his chest and back. The chest civilization thinks Bender is God, and starts worshiping him. Through his misguided attempts to help these people, he inevitably leads them to their demise in a nuclear holy war against the “Atheistic” back dwellers. He finally meets “God”, whom Bender asks: why doesn’t he do more for earth? God laughs, pointing out Bender’s failed attempt at being God, saying “When I’ve done right, people don’t think I’m doing anything at all”.

God values our agency above all things. It’s a universal right which he holds dear, and does his utmost to protect. When possible, he accomplishes his work through his children, through subtle, perfectly precise means. Even as one of his designated tools, the thoughts and ideas are quiet, friendly, and if I didn’t understand how revelation works, I wouldn’t notice at all.

In the car, I put my sunglasses on, look at my companion with a goofy, lopsided grin, and say “We’re on a mission from God”. – See The Blues Brothers; Dan Akroyd says it a lot. –

I’m just starting to see what that really means.

Hockinson

This is another post from my original blog. Originally posted August 28th, 2013

Hockinson, Washington is an interesting place. About 15 miles ENE of central Vancouver, it’s not quite out in the boonies, but it’s far enough out, and the Forest is thick enough that it feels quite isolated from the rest of the world. Thus, it seems the folk aren’t used to being bothered. And while most have little to no interest in religion, they’ve been mostly friendly.
D— J—- is an investigator that the old missionaries ran into while tracting another area. He has a beautiful 10 acre plot of marginally wooded land, and is very much one with nature. He has a very good relationship with God, but simply doesn’t believe God has a body or a plan for us. To him, God is an essence that is with all living things. Thus religion seems pointless to him. We left him with homework: read 2 Ne 31, and ask god if it’s true. I’m skeptical that he will, but we left him our names and number on a card should he ever feel compelled to learn truth. I’m not sure truth means much to him.
P— W— is also an elderly man who has a good relationship with God. He believes in a tier of higher beings that are superior to us, one of which seems to have a special interest in us. Organized religion has no appeal to him; too much world strife has been caused by it for it to be of God. he is in constant communication with God, and thinks it arrogant of humanity to think we could ever grasp God’s being or the real nature of the universe. He thinks that clearly humanity doesn’t belong here, as our nature is so contrary with the rest of the beings here on Earth. P— loves talking to us, but has no intention of converting.
Both men have such unique and full relationships with God, yet somehow neither are ready. I hope to learn more, but I trust God has a plan for both.
In other news, Elders are no longer worth 50 points apiece for smearing with a car. There are no sidewalks or shoulders on these roads. Don’t hit me, please.

Missionary-ing

A repost from my original blog:

Hi there. It’s been a while, I know. But fear not! My senseless neglect of my…um…imaginary readers has come to an end! So brace yourselves, or self, for I am about to unleash what is likely to be my longest post yet. You see, I’m going on a mission. In a few short weeks we’ll find out when and where. And in the mean time, I get to wait and ponder my existence. I had knee surgery in February; I’ve had a lot of time to…ponder.

If some of my non-Mormon imaginary friends decide to read this, let me first explain what a mission is in the Mormon context. You see, we as Mormons believe in a three tier system of exaltation. We also believe that in order to reach the top and preferred tier, certain ordinances must be performed either by the individual in question in his mortal life, or by others in the individual’s behalf post-mortem. God wants all of his children to have the opportunity to achieve their desired exhalation, thus it is important that everyone be given the opportunity to be a part of this great cause. In order to give that opportunity to each when they are ready, God has called for young men and women to spend 2 years abroad teaching those who would listen.

I can see my imaginary non-Mormon friends’ eyes glassing over, so let me put it in simple terms. I’m going on a mission to be God’s door to door salesman. 😉 haha. The thing is, in order to be an effective missionary, one must have a very close and open relationship with God, so as to be guided to individuals who are ready to hear, and be able to reach that individual’s heart and soul in an individual way. It’s a tough job for the non-psychic! Thankfully, this relationship is in fact achieved by all missionaries who truly want it.

So think about it: 2 years with the thinnest barrier between one and God that most will achieve in their entire lives, all while setting aside the cares of the normal world to be enveloped by the loving work. 2 years invested, and I come out with a healthy testimony of the godhead and the gospel, a full understanding of my relationship with Him, and 2 years of experience being independent. Not to mention the lives it helps. Even if you don’t believe in my message, you have to admit that for me, it’s an offer that is hard to pass up.

I didn’t think that a few years ago though.

I grew up home schooled. The only friends I knew were the neighborhood boys I saw at church. I was nerdy, and over-articulate, and couldn’t play sports well. I didn’t fit in well with my predominantly sporty ward. I spent most of my early teen years desperately trying to fit in. Church was a social experiment for me. I had my first crush on a girl I knew at church…and that led to my first inevitable rejection. Needless to say, once I went to a high school full of teens with a zealous love of school and all things nerdy, my social life at church seemed…well completely pointless. I fit in at school. I didn’t at church. I stopped going. Turns out that even though I’d spent my life growing up in the church, my entire testimony was based on lessons taught by my parents and church leaders, not a drop based on my own experiences.

I really lost interest in religion for a while. My best friend in high school though, a girl who’d experienced a lot of what the rest of the world had to offer; sex and alcohol, had turned her life around and was one of the most spiritually mature people I knew. She loved church and everything the church had to offer, all without the judgmental attitude of those who haven’t really experienced sin. She was really an anchor in my drifting life.

In senior year, I took a Ethics and Values class that was required by UCAS to graduate. This class introduced me to the world’s quest to find the true nature of God and morality itself. It made me think of good and evil in ways I’d never thought about before. Every lesson, my thoughts turned to countless family-home-evening lessons my parents had taught me long ago. So much of what they had taught me made these questions that confounded the world’s greatest philosophers easy to answer. Mormonism brought sense to a seemingly chaotic world.

Still, despite these breakthroughs, church meetings, and indeed a mission, still seemed…well…pointless in my life. If God loved us unconditionally and wanted an individual relationship with us, what was the point of church attendance? And what was the point of organized religion for that matter? These answers didn’t come to me quickly. A religion class taught at BYU explained the point of organized religion to me: God’s plan for humanity and us was too complex to be adequately explained on an individual level, especially considering everyone has differing levels of spiritual receptivity. But still, if we all have the opportunity in our post-mortality existence to learn and accept the gospel, why do we need missionaries to convert people in this life? Why do we feel the need to convert everyone we meet?

I honestly didn’t understand the answers to this question until my tumultuous experience in Basic Training with the Army.

I’ve always believed in God. His plan for my life is way well explained to me through personal revelation to be otherwise. Thus, when I felt prompted to visit my local National Guard recruiter after an exciting chat with an Apache pilot in my ward, I didn’t hesitate to sign the dotted line in hopes of one day becoming a Black Hawk pilot. Honestly, I saw also it as a way out of this mission service thing that everyone wanted me to do. Surely I could attain the same level of maturity a the hands of those legendary drill sergeants! Haha, if only I knew what that actually meant.

I’ve never been an athlete. I tried every sport available growing up, hoping to find something I was good at. Sadly, I don’t think it’s in my genes. So needless to say, Basic caught my poor, out of shape body with a painful surprise. Everyone thought my pitiful PT scores and my struggles during those long days dripping work-out sweat onto our sleeping-bay floor were a symptom of my ‘not wanting it enough’. I had very few friends. My morale dropped quickly. Thankfully, I was allowed 2 hours of church attendance every Sunday. I still remember that first church service, 2 weeks into basic. I was so miserable. But when I walked into that basketball court floor on which we were having our sacrament meeting on, listening to a familiar hymn being played by the pianist, I honestly sat down on one of the back chairs, and sobbed my eyes out. I’d never felt a spiritual contrast that severe before. I felt so warm and peaceful…I don’t think I stopped crying once during those 2 hours. It was then that I realized why we Mormons attend church every week. That spiritual consistency in my week was the only thing that got me through basic. That and the loving letters sent by my parents each week.

Each Sunday school at basic, a room was set aside for priesthood blessings. I think I had a total of five during those ten weeks. During those blessings, and through my own personal prayers during the week over my tiny Book of Mormon, God let me know how important my service was to him. Both in the Army, and as a priesthood holder. More than that, he let me know that he wanted me on a mission, and me to become worthy and get the Melchizedek priesthood. He’d waited long enough. 😉

To be honest, Basic taught me more about my relationship with God than anything the Army had intended. I straightened up my life. I repented of some serious sins I’d committed during my inactivity. A week ago, I submitted my papers to serve a mission. After a stake president interview, they’ll be sent to the Quorum of the Twelve for my assignment. I’ve never been so excited for something in my entire life. I have no idea what the lord has planned for me, but I know it must be the best thing for me. He certainly cares and loves me with a love only a parent could understand. I guess I’ll learn about that too someday.

Well, to those expecting some more insightful wit (you know you love it), I’m sorry to disappoint. But I hope some of my imaginary friends will appreciate my own conversion story. Maybe next post will be funny. We’ll see how I’m feeling. 😉

A blog needs POSTS Mr filter man

Well, after discovering last weeks post was killed by whatever email filter they have going on here, I guess I need to make sure I only say positive things about the MTC in this one… :p

Life at the MTC is quite busy. In fact, yesterday we had an 8 hour workshop called In-Field orientation. I have a cold however, and found it hard to do anything except shade in all the circles in the letters in the workbook we had. 
 
The MTC schedule is very structured, and very little free time is available. We teach role-played investigators, role-play our own investigators, and iron out the kinks in what we thought teaching the gospel would be like. I personally have found that the most difficult aspect of teaching is preventing what I like to call the “Information Fire Hose”. You know, running at the mouth. It becomes very easy to take for granted the complexity of what we consider to be very simple subjects. I guess that’s what happens when you start teaching the Plan of Salvation to five year olds. 
 
They work very hard to keep the campus as aesthetically pleasing as possible, but we still can’t help but call it “spirit prison”. It’s very spiritual here, and we can’t leave. 
 
I very much hope that what I write in the future will have more entertaining aspects to it, as I assure you, there is very little entertainment to be had at the MTC. 
 
By the way, I realized I forgot to post my email here….unfortunately for you, I don’t plan on it. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, Congratulations! That’s where it is. If not, sorry. I don’t like spam. 😀