Posted by: dteeps | September 17, 2014

On Education and Certification

I have been thinking a lot recently about learning and online education and researching subjects for my own benefit.  There are a lot of things that I would like to know, would like to be able to do and there are a lot of resources on the internet to provide the knowledge that I am looking for.  But, with all of this, there is one big question that I have been pondering.

 

How do I prove what I know?

 

I can research information online, even take courses online, free courses from MIT or other universities that offer such things online.  But, then how do I prove that I have learned that information?  More importantly, how do I show an employer that I have this knowledge?  Isn’t that really all a college degree is — a document from the university that says this individual has adequately demonstrated that they possess the knowledge and skills requisite to achieve this type of degree in this field.  And employers can look at that and assume that an individual has a certain level of knowledge and skill.  That document represents what the individual knows and can do.

But, with the advent of the internet and online content, there is a lot of information available and a lot of people who try to learn skills. The question now becomes how do we prove that we have actually learned this, that we have gained this knowledge?  Is there, or should there be, some sort of online equivalent of what a university degree is?   Some documentation that can be earned to prove that an individual has a certain amount of knowledge so that others can look and at a glance have an idea as to what this individual knows.

I have gone through some courses at Code Academy, teaching myself some basic HTML and web design.  It was fun and I think I’d like to take those courses again to refresh my understanding of HTML and CSS and to dig a little deeper.  At this site, there are badges that are earned whenever a course or project is completed.  I guess these could be used to demonstrate that I have indeed completed certain courses and gained this understanding of these specific principles.  But, for me, the questions still remains, how do I demonstrate this to others?  Would an employer look at this as evidence that I know how to build a webpage with HTML and CSS?  Should I include some of these badges on my resume?  And would they have the same weight as someone who has taken an official course at a university or college?  Why not, if the material covered and the information learned is the same?

I think that is the crux of the issue.   Is the material I learn online by researching and reading and studying the various websites the same as material covered in a course taught at a college or university?  And is it perceived that way by employers?  If so, should an online certification hold the same weight as a college degree?  What would be the ultimate difference?

Education is definitely changing and the internet is making more information more readily accessible.   I believe that we need to somehow come up with a way of codifying what is learned and we need a way to demonstrate what people know even if they do not have any ‘official’ degree or certification.   I think a system like Code Academy has would be great — a series of courses and practices and assignments that demonstrate what has been learned and then a badge is earned demonstrating that a course has been passed, that a project has been completed, that a certain level of knowledge has been gained.

If online educational resources were to implement some sort of exam or assessment at the end whereby a user could verify they have learned what was taught in the course, then they could award a badge or certificate of some kind demonstrating that, which would be acceptable as proof of what a person has learned.   That is hopefully where the future of online education is going.   Right now there seem to be many sites and resources that can provide the information and teaching that learners are looking for, we now need to have some universally recognized form of certifying what a person has learned.

And could this style of online learning eventually replace (at least in part) a formal University education?  There are many people who believe and have been taught that the only worthwhile career or life goal is to go to college and get a degree.   Now, I am not saying that people who want to go to college should not, but I think there are many who feel forced or pressured into going to college who would do much better in a different learning environment.   Some would do much better in a trade school or technical college, taking courses and earning certifications that will qualify them for specific careers.   And there are many who do much better in individualized education, studying on their own and not in a classroom setting.

If I were an employer and looking at a group of candidates, there is a certain something to be said for an individual who has obtained a college degree.   It does show that not only have they taken courses required for this particular degree, but that they have successfully navigated the university setting.   It shows that they have learned how to work and achieve and fulfill requirements.   All of this is necessary when considering a person for a position.   But, if I am looking for someone who knows a particular thing or has skill and experience in a particular field, I do not really care where they gained their experience, if it was in a classroom at a university, or by reading and studying and doing things on their own.   If the candidate can demonstrate knowledge and experience and skill in the required field, that is good enough for me.

But, this brings us back to the point of how to we demonstrate knowledge or skill or experience, when it is gained in a non-traditional setting?  A college degree is shortcut for this and demonstrates that I have sat through a certain number of classes and passed the accompanying assessments.   But there does not yet exist an equivalent online version of a university degree.   I would love to see this develop in the next several years.   I can imagine some sort of online organization that exists to validate and certify individuals.   I see people creating accounts with a central site and then uploading documents or performing tasks or taking certification tests and earning scores that can be translated into some sort of “virtual transcript”, indicating what knowledge and skills the user has.

Or maybe I am just not as well-versed in internet-ology as I think I am.   Does something like this already exist that I am unaware of?  What are your thoughts about education and certification in a digital era?

Posted by: dteeps | September 15, 2014

On Why I Am a Mormon, or Why I Stay

“And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things”  1 Nephi 11:17

I feel that I should caveat almost all of my posts with this scripture.   It sums up my positions rather nicely.   I do not know everything, but there are some basic things that I do know, and among those is the fact that there is a God and he loves his children.   That is a wonderful starting point, a sure foundation upon which other truths can be built and based.

I should probably also caveat my posts with the fact that I’m not perfect.  Writing is a way for me to work through ideas, I write what I hope I believe and know to be true, even if I do not always live it.  Please do not think that because I write about a particular topic that I am an expert of any sort on that topic.   I write my thoughts and feelings in a way to share what things I do know as well as to work through and discover for myself what I truly believe.

With that said, or written, I have known several people through the years who have been faithful active members, and who, for one reason or another, have left the Church. I consider myself an intelligent person, logical, well-read, eager to discover and learn things for myself.   And so, when I think about people I have known who have decided to stop attending church, or to stop believing what they once held to be true, I find myself asking the question: Why do I stay in the church I was raised in? Or in other words: Why am I a Mormon?

In the Church we often use the metaphor that our faith is built like the church building.   We talk about building on the rock of our Redeemer, which is Christ the Lord, and we talk of building line upon line, precept upon precept.   You cannot build a block tower that is three feet high by starting at the top, and you cannot build a testimony that way, either.   The foundation of my testimony, of my belief in God and Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants section 46.

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.   To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:13-14)

I firmly believe that I am one of those spoken of in the first verse, one to whom it has been given to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.   And I am extremely grateful for that knowledge.   I have spent some time in my youth reading philosophy and discussing with friends different schools of thought and different views on religion and God.   I have tried to be a good deconstructionist, by deconstructing my preconceived notions and ideas to find out on what they were based.   As I questioned different aspects of my life and thought, though, there was one thing that I never questioned or called into doubt — That God is my Father in Heaven and that Jesus is the Christ.   I have always taken those facts as given and built everything else on top of that foundation. I look back at my life, at the  many hours I spent with my family reading in the scriptures and discussing them, at the many hours in Church meetings listening and learning about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the many hours I spent on my own reading and praying and pondering and I realize that I always started with the fact that God lives and loves me and sought to make sense of everything else in light of that fact.

But a foundation is pointless unless there is something built on top of it.   I have not just accepted the fact that I have always believed in Jesus Christ.   I believe Alma put it best when he was asked a similar question, why are you a member.

“And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?  Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit” (Alma 5:45-46).

I, too, like Alma, have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself.   And as I have written before, that is what I love best about the Joseph Smith first vision story.   It is not only the basis of the Restoration -the facts behind how the Restoration of the Gospel of Christ occurred, it is the pattern that everyone is invited, and even commanded, to emulate.   Each one of us must, as young Joseph Smith did, seriously reflect upon things heard and taught, then turn to the scriptures and read and afterward, “reflect upon it [the scriptures] again and again” and then come to the “conclusion that [we] must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else [we]  must do as James directs, that is, ask of God” (Joseph Smith History 1:13).

I have done so.   I have pondered upon the scriptures, I have found quiet moments and prayed to my Father in Heaven, and I have received an understanding through the Holy Spirit that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that the Gospel of Christ was restored to this earth with all of its ordinances and requisite priesthood authority through the Prophet Joseph Smith.   I have read the Book of Mormon, in its entirety and in sections, multiple times and have felt the confirmation from the Spirit that the message it tells is true.   It teaches of Jesus Christ and encourages and admonishes everyone to come unto him and “lay hold on every good thing” (Moroni 7:19).

Why am I a Mormon?  Because I have found the joy of the Gospel of Christ.   Because I believe that there is a God who is our Father who loves us infinitely more than we can understand.   Because I have prayed to know and have felt the Spirit teach me truths that can come from no other source.   I am grateful that I was blessed to have this knowledge and belief from an early age and that I had a family that helped me learn these truths.   I am a Mormon because the Gospel of Christ has been restored and there is once again a Prophet in Israel who receives revelation from the Lord on how we can be happy in our families.

Posted by: dteeps | August 15, 2014

Update on my life

I am just looking at my blog and realizing that I have not posted in almost four months.  Things have been busy for us lately, with the biggest news that we have moved across the country — from Columbus, Ohio to Seattle, Washington.

I grew up in Renton, WA and we have been trying to find our way back to the Seattle area for several years now, but haven’t had any luck in finding a job.  I have applied for anything I could find that was even remotely related to what I want to do and what I have experience in, but haven’t heard back from hardly any of them, even the jobs I was more than qualified for.  In reading several job search sites and speaking with friends I learned that many companies do not like to hire from out of state, and often will not even look at candidates who are not local.  Especially in Seattle in the technical support industry, which is what I am looking at.  They have enough local applicants that they do not want to bother with the hassle of interviewing and hiring someone from out of state.  I have heard that some companies in Seattle do not even look at applicants if they live on the wrong side of the city, fearing the commute may be too much or some other factor may keep the employee from taking the job or staying long, I guess.

So, after a couple years of hearing nothing from Seattle and with the knowledge that jobs would respond better if we actually lived in Seattle, we decided to just move.  We began looking into the logistics of moving from Ohio to Seattle and started planning it. Our current landlord wanting to raise the rent significantly in our apartment and then having some friends in Seattle say they had a house they rented out a few rooms in where we could stay with them helped make the decision for us.  

It was quite a month, boxing everything up, organizing a yard sale to get rid of excess items and bring in some money to help with the move, and getting everything else settled to move across the country, but we did it.  And then we took five days to drive the 2600 miles, having a slight problem with our radiator and overheating as we were towing a full U-Haul trailer over the mountains in 100 degree weather.

But, we arrived safely and had wonderful help getting the trailer unloaded and now we have been working om getting all of the boxes unpacked and things put in their new place.  I have been looking for a job here in Seattle, and have had a couple of promising interviews.  But one last great thing happened a week before we left Ohio.  I had already put in my notice at work and was preparing to leave, when my manager approached me and asked if I had a job lined up in Seattle yet.  I told him I didn’t yet, and he asked if I wanted to keep working for Ohio State remotely.  I could take the laptop and log in remotely to keep working for the University to help them through the beginning of the fall semester, which is the busiest time of year for a university help desk.  So, I have still had a job and continue to have a job with OSU through September giving us much needed time and income to get on our feet and search for a job out here.  

We are doing well and enjoying Seattle so far. I have been driving around trying to take in all of the changes that have occurred in the ten years since I lived here and showing off my favorite places to my family for us all to enjoy now.  We are equally excited to see what comes next for our family, now that we are finally living in the great Pacific Northwest where we have wanted to be for so long. 

Posted by: dteeps | April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

Today is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.  I heard a story on NPR this morning during my drive into work about the Globe Theatre’s “bold, stupid idea”, as the director put it, to perform Hamlet in every country in the world over the next two years.  I think this a great idea, as the director explained, there may be plays more well known, like Romeo and Juliet, but Hamlet is so universal that it can be performed and understood and appreciated in every country.

Hamlet is such a universal play because it deals with universally human themes and characters.  On the one hand it is about a murdered king, a usurper taking his wife and crown, and a plot to avenge the murder.  But, it is also about a murdered father, a brother stealing his wife, and a son avenging his father.  It is about corrupt government as much as it is about family drama.  It is about an entire kingdom, but it is about a single family.

There are court politics and intrigue, with Polonius, who can’t keep his nose out of everyone’s business and gets himself stabbed for it.  It is about family relationships, with Hamlet trying to figure out how to deal with his mother and his uncle and their reaction to his father’s death, and trying to figure out how to deal with his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s father, and his girlfriend’s brother.

Everyone can find something in this play that they can relate to, something that they can enjoy and learn from and ponder as they leave the theatre.  It is so very complex that scholars, actors, directors, and students have been studying this play and performing it for over 400 years and are still finding new interpretations.  Yet, it is so simple that it has played well in non-English speaking countries, almost from the very beginning.  There is evidence of a tour of Hamlet going through the Netherlands and northern Germany in the early 1600s.

I had a Shakespeare class at BYU where our research was not confined to one, end-of-the-semester paper, but was instead written as a research blog, online, with several posts each week about the research we were doing and the plays we were reading.  I chose to focus my study on Shakespeare in Germany, and one of my conclusions was that the play Hamlet is now as officially German as it ever was English or Danish.

I love the play Hamlet, and would love an opportunity to see, act in, and direct this play at some time in my life.  I would love to find a German translation or version and find some way of performing that to an English audience, to prove and explore the universality of this play’s importance and impact beyond the language of it.  I think it would be incredibly interesting to see this play performed in a different language, to find the similarities and the differences that a different language and culture brings to this play.

Maybe that is in the works for the Bard’s 500th birthday — the Globe Theatre not just doing Hamlet around the world, performing in every country, but Hamlet around the globe, performing a version in every language!  I would definitely see several of those performances.

 

Happy Shakespeare Day everybody!

During this last General Conference two different talks (here and here) mentioned the story of Martin Harris and losing the 116 manuscript pages.   Each made the point that because Martin and Joseph kept asking the Lord after he told them ‘No’, there were consequences, including the fact that Joseph lost his spiritual gifts for a time.

While neither of these talks directly referenced the Ordain Women movement, it seems they are making a reference to this group, who have already been told, and were told once again by an Apostle, Elder Oaks, during this conference about the rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood and the order the Lord has established for His Church.   It will be very interesting to see what this group does when the next General Conference rolls around in October.   They have been given their answer, by an Apostle of the Lord, a leader in this church they say they are a part of and believe in.   Will they again petition the Lord with the same question, as Martin Harris and Joseph Smith did, until they get the answer they want to hear?  And what will be the consequences of their repeated petitions of the Lord and the Lord’s Church?

Does it seem coincidental that at exactly this moment the story of Martin Harris and Joseph Smith was again emphasized with the consequences of repeatedly asking the Lord the same question hoping for a different answer, waiting for the Lord to give the answer one wants?  Or do we believe that the Church is directing its messages to those who associate themselves with this Ordain Women group?   An Apostle of the Lord spoke and clarified many things pertaining to how the Priesthood is used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the fact that many women in the Church are given Priesthood authority to act and serve in their respective callings.   Elder Oaks said,

We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.

He taught that women do have access to Priesthood authority to fulfill their callings and responsibilities in the church, even if they are not ordained to Priesthood offices.   At this time only men are ordained to Priesthood offices, as Elder Oaks taught: “The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood. But, as various Church leaders have emphasized, men are not “the priesthood.” Men hold the priesthood, with a sacred duty to use it for the blessing of all of the children of God. ”

He was very clear, answering the main concern of the Ordain Women group, which states on their website that they are “Mormon women seeking equality and ordination to the Priesthood”. Elder Oaks clearly addressed the fact that the Lord has determined that women are not ordained to offices in the Priesthood.   I believe Elder Oaks also addressed the first point as well when he said, “In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.”  And he quoted another Apostle, Elder Ballard, in saying ,”Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other.” But, it seems that many may not have caught that, or have wished for a better, fuller answer.

I was browsing the #ldsconf hashtag on Twitter today and came across this tweet:

Honest question: how can we claim equality of gender while we say one gender presides over the other? #ldsconf

My response was:  @brianspittler Ephesians 5:21-33 Men preside over the family in love and righteousness as Christ presides over church. Should emulate Him.

I am a big fan of these verses in Ephesians, though I know they are often misinterpreted or misunderstood.   I was asked by my brother-in-law to read a Biblical passage at his wedding, and these are the verses I choose, and when we told the Pastor conducting the service, he seemed surprised that I was “bringing out the big guns”, as he put it.   Even he recognized that these verses can be controversial, but do contain heavy doctrine pertaining to marriage and how husband and wife should treat each other.

Most people start quoting at verse 22, which says “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord” and they do not like that women are told to be submissive to their husbands.   But I like to start in verse 21 where Paul is still talking to the congregation as a whole and says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord”.  Marriage is not just about wives submitting to their husbands in everything, but husbands submit to their wives as well.   Anyone who says differently has never been married, or is sorely mistaken about the true relationship in his marriage.

True, Paul starts out by talking to the wives, telling them to submit unto their husbands as unto the Lord, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” and “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. ”  But Paul does not stop there, he goes on to preach, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.  That does not sound like a husband who domineers over his submissive wife, demanding that she obey him whatever he says.   No, the relationship between a husband and a wife needs to emulate Jesus Christ and the way he dealt with the Church.   He presided over the Church and gave direction and counsel and taught good principles, but he never used force or sarcasm or demanded subservience from the Church.   He said, “I am among you as he that serveth.”

Men preside over the family in the same way, always looking to Jesus Christ as an example for how to act, just as He said he only did those things which He had seen the Father do.   Presiding in the Priesthood is fundamentally different from presiding in any other aspect of our mortal, secular lives.  As Elder Oaks taught, “There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward”.  This does not make sense to a corporate world which teaches that if one is above another then that one is more important.   The positions one holds in the Church, even that of Husband and Wife or Father and Mother do not make one important, it is only in how one acts in those positions.   And just because a husband is set to preside over his family does not place him above his wife or children, instead he has simply been given more responsibility for ensuring their needs are met and they are taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again Elder Oaks mentioned this important principle: “Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities.  Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities.”  Presiding in the home and in the family is not about having the ‘right’ to do so, but having the ‘responsibility’, and husbands have been given the primary responsibility, though any husband who does not engage his wife and utilize her as an equal partner is a fool.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed Elder Oaks’ talk and I do not see that women in the Church need to advocate for equality.   When it works properly, women are equal, though with different God-given responsibilities and talents and characteristics and roles.   I think the real problem is that the Church, as an organization, does not always function as well as the Church, as the Kingdom of God on earth, should.   I had a mission companion who said, “Jesus founded a perfect Church — and then he let hosers like us in.”  Well we could say, with Mormon, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God”

Posted by: dteeps | April 9, 2014

Writing Wednesday: On Writing Interesting Villains

I have realized that I have not been writing, either on this blog or for my own purposes, as often as I have wished.  I would like to change that and write more consistently, and I think I want to revive my Writing Wednesday posts, where I write about writing ever Wednesday.

 

I read a quote the other day while browsing the internet that stuck with me as I have been considering topics to write about.   It was from an actress Maisie Williams who plays Arya Stark in the tv show Game of Thrones.   I will admit that I am not a fan of the show, I have not seen any of it, though I did read the first three books or so several years ago.   I found I did not really enjoy them, though I do understand why they are so popular, why so many people do enjoy them.   There are certainly a lot of well-developed characters, and the story is told compellingly from various characters’ points of view, giving us an insight into these different characters and their relationships.

 

The quote from Maisie Williams, about her character Arya, was “we only think Arya Stark is a good guy because it’s told from her point of view”  She went on to say, “and we think Polliver is a bad guy because he’s killed Lommy, but he could just be a guy doing his job with a wife and four kids to feed back at home. No one is good and no one is bad on Game of Thrones, it’s just how we’ve shown it. ”

 

I think that is one of the strong points of Game of Thrones, that we see a lot of different characters and very few of them are entirely good or entirely evil, they are just people who make decisions and do what they can.   I think we, as society, have moved beyond the days of enjoying a good guy going up against a bad guy, with good always winning.   Even most of the superhero movies that are being made recently do not necessarily have entirely good good guys or entirely bad bad guys.   I think of Christian Bale’s Batman who is not the fine, upstanding hero of previous Batman incarnations, but has a distinctly dark side.   We do not like our movies or our characters completely black or white anymore, which I think is a reflection of our understanding of the world around us — that we, as people, are not completely good or evil, but filled with layers of complexity.   What may be seen by one person as an ‘evil’ act, may be seen by another as a ‘heroic’ act.

 

I have long loved to think about complex villains. I enjoy a story with a bad guy who is not bad simply because he is bad or simply because the hero needs an adversary.   I have written before (here and here) about my thoughts on villainy, and how I enjoy a villain who is a villain for a reason.   But, what I have been thinking about lately is writing a story from a villain’s point of view such that the audience does not realize the character they have been following is actually the villain.

I do not want to write a story making the villain sympathetic in the style of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, retelling The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s perspective, portraying her as a misunderstood villain.   I simply want to tell the story primarily from the villain’s point of view, but in such a way that it is not obvious that it is the villain until some major turning point.  The question I have been facing is how to tell a story from such a perspective without revealing that this character is the villain.   I will need to create such a villain that believes so much in their villainy that they do not believe they are not a villain.

 

But, honestly, any well written villain should believe they are not the villain.   Everyone in life believes they are the hero of their own story.  A good villain is not villainous simply because it is written that way.   A good villain should have motivation, should have some reason behind being a villain, some compelling characteristics to make them interesting and worth reading.

 

I am still working out the details — I don’t even have a plot yet, really.   But, I think this is definitely an idea worth pursuing and working on.   I think it could be a very interesting novel where the reader is not sure who the villains are and who the heroes are, but are drawn into compelling characters who have their own motivations and work toward their own goals.

 

What do you think?  How would you write such a story?

 

 

Posted by: dteeps | April 7, 2014

Thoughts from General Conference, April 2014 Edition

We were once again blessed to enjoy a General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   I was able to watch all sessions at home with my family, while simultaneously following #ldsconf on Twitter, joining in the online conversation and participating in a back and forth with friends around the world.   I cannot wait until later this week when the text of the addresses become available on LDS.org and I can go back and read and begin annotating and taking notes based on what was said this weekend.   I feel that this weekend more than any other General Conference in recent memory, I was blessed with a clearer understanding of my duty and what I need to be doing in my life now.   I am thankful for the inspiring promises and counsel I have received, both in the actual words spoken and in the impressions given to me through the Holy Spirit.

And as always, there were some definite major themes that were repeated in several different addresses by different speakers in different sessions.   One that stood out to me was the repeated message to Be Prepared.   It was subtly hinted that we need to prepare physically for any disaster that could happen (tornadoes were mentioned twice), but more importantly we need to prepare ourselves and our families spiritually to be strong when the trials and the storms of life will buffet us and seek to halt our progress toward our Father in Heaven.   We were reminded of the importance of making righteous decisions, of choosing the right and of the necessity of courage to stand firm in our convictions and in our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.   We are beginning to see it in the world around us that many positions of faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are becoming unpopular and ridiculed as being outdated and ignorant and backward.   We will need to stand firm and be bold in declaring gospel truths.

But we were also advised to remember whose gospel and church this is and to emulate our Savior Jesus Christ when dealing with opposition.   Elder Andersen said, “There is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry”  We may be accused of all of these, but we need to do all that we can to ensure that we are not willfully giving into ridicule or bullying or hatred of others because they happen to disagree with us.   We can reach out in love and seek to understand those who oppose us, looking for commonalities upon which we can build, and then we will have honest opportunities to stand as witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ.   We cannot be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but we cannot be arrogant about it either.  Elder Holland taught, “Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world.”  We need to develop that love in our lives and it will naturally flow to those around us, starting in our families.

I believe Elder Oaks provided a great example of exactly this when he spoke clearly and unequivocally about the Priesthood and how it is used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and how it is and can be utilized by both men and women in the fulfilling of their responsibilities.   I will definitely be reading his talk again and again in the coming months, and I can almost guarantee it will be used in wards and branches throughout the church.   He was bold in his explanation of the truth and in his defense of the standards of the church, but he was not overbearing, nor did he mock or put down those who disagree with him.   Though he did not say it, it is obvious that his remarks came in response to the Ordain Women movement, and I wrote a few of my thoughts yesterday on the subject, but a point I want to make again is that we, as members of the church, cannot respond with ridicule or mockery or bullying to those who hold views that differ from our own.   I have seen far too many jokes on Twitter and Facebook about those who choose to associate with Ordain Women, I will not repeat any here, but it is exactly the wrong attitude and approach.   We cannot dismiss them with a joke or demean their valid concerns.   We cannot dismiss them with simple statements that they ‘just do not get it’ or ‘must not be righteous enough’ or ‘do not understand the gospel’.  They are children of God as we are, and deserve to be treated with the same respect we would ask for when they disagree with our views.   And to be honest, none of us can claim to know the mind of the Lord, we can only know what he has revealed through the scriptures and his chosen mouthpieces, the prophets and apostles.   I would like to believe that many in this group have honest questions and concerns they would like to address to the leadership of the church, but I believe that organizing and demonstrating at Temple Square during General Conference, when they had already been told they would not be allowed into Priesthood session is disruptive and detracts from their message, however honest and sincere it may be.

With all of this and everything I heard and felt this weekend, I feel like I have been shown just how far short of the mark I currently am.  At the same time, I feel so overwhelmed with the changes I must make in my life and yet so hopeful and excited for the wonderful future that lies ahead.   We must repent and come unto Christ, but we know that we will be filled with joy and love as we do so, no matter how difficult our repentance may be.   Jesus is the Christ and God is our loving Father in heaven and they will never forsake us.   They may at times “convince many of their sins, that they may come unto repentance, and that they may come unto the kingdom of the Father” (D&C 18:44).  They may at times show us exactly where we fall short, but they do so in love and with the expectation that we work harder to improve ourselves so that we can be worthy of the many great and unimaginable blessings in store for the faithful and the righteous.

And so, in my own life, these are the changes that I will strive to implement.   These are the changes that I feel my Father is asking me to make as I try to keep that one great commandment of his, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”  That is both a commandment and a marvelous blessing — that we can be perfect and become like our Father in heaven.

1.  I need to control myself, beginning with my thoughts and my words.   I need to give up anger and resentment and be nicer to all around me, letting the love of God fill my heart and overflow to all I come into contact with, most especially my family.

2.  I need to be more diligent in my daily scripture study and prayer.   As I daily immerse myself in the word of God and daily communicate with him, I know that I will feel his spirit that much stronger in my life, helping me to accomplish goal #1.

3.  I need to seek for opportunities to share the gospel more openly and actively.   I often justify my not sharing the gospel with the fact that I am not shy about being a member of the church.   All of my coworkers know that I am a Mormon and I do regularly answer their questions about what I believe.   But, I need to be more proactive and “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”

What will you do because of what you have heard and felt this weekend while listening to General Conference?  What changes will you make in your life as you accept the invitation to become more like Christ and more like your loving Father in heaven?  I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to the addresses given, please leave a comment and let us start a conversation.

It was another wonderful General Conference, filled with uplifting messages and words of hope and encouragement and invitation to all who choose to listen.   We have truly been blessed to have Prophets and Apostles who can teach us and speak to us directed by the Holy Spirit, and we are blessed to have the Holy Spirit in our own lives to help guide us and inspire us to be more than we are.

That seemed to be a major theme of several talks today, that we have great potential and that we can and must live up to that potential and become who we ought to be as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as children of God. Another repeated point was that we will be called on, if not now then very soon, to take a definite stand on moral issues and in defense of truth.   We need to have courage to say what is right and do what is right and invite others to stand with us.   But, we need to stand in a spirit of love and understanding and not look down on any who do not share our same views.   We need to reach out gently at the same time we stand boldly for standards of the Gospel.

And all of these thoughts were made more obvious and applicable as Priesthood Session approached and once again those who associate themselves with Ordain Women came to Temple Square seeking admittance to the session.   I have been thinking a lot about this movement, as they call themselves, and am trying to understand the motivations behind it and what the purpose and goal of it could be, beyond the eponymous Ordain Women.

We cannot dismiss or ridicule or make light of what they are trying to do.   There are many faithful and righteous individuals in this group seeking to make a stand for what they believe is right, seeking a change.   The Lord himself has told us to “ask and ye shall receive” and this church was restored in response to a young boy’s fervent prayer and simple question.   We need to listen and apply what Elder Zwick taught just that morning, that responding quickly to situations in anger or frustration is not the way of the Lord.  We need to listen and seek understanding.   We need to acknowledge their honest concerns and seek open communication, back and forth.

On the other hand, though, it was well publicized and announced that Priesthood Session is for men only to attend.   The Church has released a statement already addressing this issue.   To stand in line and seek entrance anyway is simply a demonstration and public protest not in harmony with Gospel or Spirit of Christ.   “Contention is not of me” He said to the people gathered in the Americas when he visited them and taught them his Gospel.   There is a way to petition the Lord and Church leadership.  Making a public display for the media’s cameras and social media’s feeds is not it.

I am honestly curious how many of those women who participated in the demonstration at Temple Square are trying just as hard to attend local ward’s Elder’s Quorum meetings, or local Stake Priesthood meetings.  Do they only care about attending a Priesthood meeting at General Conference because it is so publicly visible?  Are they hoping on the publicity of being denied entrance to the General Conference Priesthood Session to somehow shame the Church or the Church leadership into changing policies to appease them?  Or are these women actually sincerely trying to demonstrate a willingness to live up to Priesthood responsibilities by seeking to attend Priesthood meetings?  If so, then should they not be equally as active in attempting to attend any Priesthood meeting they can?

And right on cue, as I sat in the Stake Center for Priesthood Session, scribbling these thoughts about Ordain Women in my notebook, Elder Oaks stood to speak and proceeded to address many of the points of concern of Ordain Women regarding Priesthood authority, Priesthood power, Priesthood keys and Priesthood ordinances.   I believe he explained extremely well the role that both men and women have with relation to the Priesthood that is held by Jesus Christ and whose use is directed by Him in His church.   This talk is one that should be and most definitely will be read and re-read and studied again and again in Elder’s Quorums and High Priest Groups and I would imagine any and all Councils in the church for years to come.   It clearly lays out the doctrines of Priesthood governance in the church in plain language that is not easy to misconstrue, as well as addressing the different roles that men and women play in the church, in the home, and in the eternities.   As soon as this talk becomes available on gc.lds.org (Video already available), I encourage everyone who has any questions or doubts about this subject to watch and listen and prayerfully study it, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in understanding.

I am extremely grateful for the words and feelings and impressions that came to me as I sat and listened to General Conference today with my family and I am definitely looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.   I cannot wait to hear what amazing old doctrines will be retaught to us in new ways so that we can learn and apply them into our lives and strive to become what our Father in Heaven desires for us.   “Come listen to a Prophet’s voice and hear the word of God”  Come join with us and see if you can hear and learn something that uplifts and inspires you and helps you to be better than you were and draw closer to Jesus Christ.   Follow along at gc.lds.org, and on Twitter with #ldsconf.   It has been an amazing day and tomorrow is sure to be just as good.

 

 

Posted by: dteeps | March 12, 2014

My thoughts on Politics, March 2014 edition

I read a tweet the other day that really bothered me. It actually made me pretty angry and upset and I have been stewing over it ever since. It deals with that great two-edged sword of Politics, which is both the bane of my existence and yet a topic I thoroughly enjoy enjoy discussing and debating. I try to be open and I follow both conservative and liberal individuals on Twitter, both Republicans and Democrats, and anyone else who tweets interesting things about politics. I will not unfollow or choose not to follow a person simply because their ideology does not match mine completely, but sometimes it is hard and infuriating to read some things that people post.

The tweet that really set me off this time was:

There is no conservative bias. How can you be bias when your beliefs are in harmony with the founders? Liberal bias is a destructive malady.

For whatever reason, this tweet and its asinine assumptions extremely bothered me. I immediately started composing mock-tweets in response to this statement:

“There’s no conservative stupidity. How can you be stupid when you think the same things as people over 200 years ago? Liberal thinking is a destructive malady. ”

“I’m not racist.  How can you be racist when your beliefs are in line with all of these old, dead, white guys?  Liberal thinking is a destructive malady”

“I’m not wrong. You are. ”

In essence, his ‘argument’ is that he is right and liberals are wrong, just because they are liberals, which is completely ridiculous. And it is this type of thinking that has increased so much in recent years and is destroying not only politics in this country but civility and normal human interaction. We used to be able to discuss and debate and argue issues and make points and concede that our opponents had points to make. Lately, though, it seems like everybody, liberals and conservatives alike, are stuck with political blinders on, only seeing an extremely narrow slice of the political spectrum and anything that falls outside of that is wrong, evil, and un-American. We have lost our ability to come together and compromise, our ability to recognize that even if we do not agree on every point, we can still agree on some points.

And this tweet makes the huge error of misusing the word bias. He doesn’t even know what the words he is using mean. “There is no conservative bias, but liberal bias is a destructive malady” Do you not see the irony in that statement? Or if it’s not exactly irony, it’s at least contradictory.

Bias means, “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. ” And to say there is no conservative bias, only a liberal bias, which is a destructive malady, is itself evidence of conservative bias. This is almost a perfect example of conservative bias. Or, to use the Bible, as many conservatives love to in order to prove one point or another, this is a great example of seeing a mote in your brother’s eye but not the beam in your own.

I don’t mean to sound too harsh, or to criticize too much, but this, as I’ve said, is exactly what I see wrong with politics in America today. A predilection to assert that all problems are caused by the other guys, and to refuse to see any of the same problems with one’s own views. Liberals are not perfect, they do not have all of the answers to every problem facing America. Conservatives do not either. Politics should not be about beating the other guy so that you or your party can get into office, it should be about doing the right things for the people whom you represent, or hope to represent.

And what does he mean when he says his ideas are in harmony with the founders?  Which founders is he referring to?  Because, if you read the documents written at the time of the Revolution, the founders were not in harmony with the founders.  There was much debate and discussion and arguing back and forth.  Conservatives seem to have this idea that there was a group of men called “The Founders” who were completely united in all aspects of conservative thought, who got along perfectly and designed a veritable Utopia, and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those pesky liberals!  In truth the founders were no more united than the Republican Party is today.  You cannot stand up and say “Republicans believe ______” or “Republicans think _____” .  Sure, some may and some do, maybe even most may and do, but we are talking about people and you cannot get a group of people larger than one to think and believe exactly the same things all the time.  That’s called a cult.

That is what makes America great, that is what makes people great, our ability to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions and develop our own beliefs.  And it is precisely this diversity of thought that is needed to come up with the next great idea to further business and education and industry and even politics in this country.  It is nice to look back at great men and women who have gone before, to learn from them, to admire what they thought and believed, but ultimately what they believed is irrelevant in a modern world.  There is a constant growth of information and knowledge and we need to make decisions based on the most recent information available.  What I thought and believed a year ago is different from what I think and believe today, because I have learned and experienced new things.  This is also why I don’t get the huge political insult of calling some a “flip-flopper” or a “waffler” just because they changed their position.  I would hope that all politicians would feel that it is right to change your position on an issue when you have encountered new information.  We usually call that learning, and it is generally considered a positive thing.

We are once again looking at an election year. Here in Ohio the primary election is only two months away, with the general election in the fall. All members of the House of Representatives are up for election, and in Ohio we have a Governor’s race as well, but then you also need to pay attention to the local elections that do not get much, if any, airtime on the news. Those local elections affect you more closely than your Representative, or even Governor. Those are the people who make decisions about your neighborhood and your city, decisions that can affect you every day. But, unfortunately, they get largely forgotten, or ignored in favor of the more ‘interesting’ national elections.

As we consider again whom we want to elect to various political offices, please let us be mindful of biases. At least admit that we, too, have biases in our views, and that others do as well, but that does not make them wrong or evil nor our enemies. I would like to believe that all politicians who run have the same goal — to represent their constituents well and to make the good decisions that will benefit America. Naturally, there are fundamental differences between candidates as to what they believe best represents their constituents and what the right decisions are to benefit America, but hopefully, we are all trying to work toward the same end, and in that case, we can work together.

Politics is a tricky subject to debate, but we need to at least recognize that there needs to be a debate. We need to share our ideas and listen to the ideas of others. We cannot simply label the other guys and immediately reject everything they have to say. Conservatives are not evil. Liberals are not evil. Both sides are biased, everyone is biased. Everyone has their own beliefs about what is right and best which naturally biases everything they do, but as long as we are all trying to do what is best for the country, we can hopefully find common ground and compromise to accomplish something.

There was a question posed on Twitter that I found very interesting and I have been thinking a lot about.   The blog By Common Consent posted, What was the best advice you received before attending the temple the first time?  There were some good responses, and some silly responses, but it got me thinking about my own experience attending the temple for the first time. (Responses can be read here)

I have two friends who are just a few months older than I am and we had all received our mission calls and were entering the MTC each of us a week apart for three weeks.   So, we decided and organized it so that we would all attend the temple for the first time during the same session.   That was a great comfort to me, really, not only having my two best friends there, going through the same thing I was, but also the fact that the ordinance room in the temple was filled with our families and friends from the ward and stake — parents and leaders and teachers we had known.   I distinctly remember thinking at one point that I did not know what was going on or why, I was confused and not sure if I really wanted to understand what was going on during the temple ordinance, but I looked around and I saw my father, my friends’ fathers, my Scout leaders and Priesthood leaders, our bishop and a former bishop all sitting there during the session.   I can remember feeling calmed and comforted as I thought of those men whom I trusted and admired, and I remembered various times when they spoke of going to the temple regularly.   I thought that if these men, whom I trusted and admired, could sit there and come back again and again and enjoy attending the temple, then it must not be as bad as I was imagining it to be.   There must be something more to this whole temple ceremony and endowment ordinance than I was understanding at the time.   I trusted their belief in the temple until I was able to build my own belief in the temple.

This was a Saturday morning session and afterward there was a get together with food at one of my friends’ houses and we enjoyed the rest of our Saturday.   The next day at church I remember meeting with one of my Young Men leaders who was not with us at the temple the day before.   I still remember the advice he gave, which is what I tweeted at By Common Consent when they posted the question.

“You knew the Church was true yesterday.   It is still true. ”

That advice stayed with me as I pondered the temple and the Church.   He was right.   What I knew about the Church was independent of my experience in the temple.   I knew the Book of Mormon was true because I had read it, I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet because I had done what he had done and pondered and prayed to know the truth, I knew that Jesus was the Christ and my Savior because I had felt his love.   All of this was unaffected by anything that happened in the temple.   These things were still true.

I believe this is the sort of situation that President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was describing in October’s General Conference when he said, “my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith”  He was not saying that you should never doubt but he was saying that you should first doubt the doubt, and instead remember all of things that you do not doubt.   Remember all of the things that you have already experienced and come to believe.   Hold on to the truth you already have and do not throw it all away because there is one aspect of the Gospel that does not make complete and perfect sense yet.   Return to the basics of the Gospel, have Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and apply the Joseph Smith Story and the Moroni Promise again and again.  “Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.”

And so, this is the advice that I would give to one attending the temple for the first time:  You knew the Church was true yesterday.  It is still true.  Remember what you believe to be true and how you came to believe it to be true.  Apply the same process to what you learn and experience in the temple.

Though, there was another piece of advice mentioned as a response to the Twitter question that I feel should also be mentioned: “You don’t need to memorize everything; people will be there to help you.”  There are certain parts of the endowment ordinance where some things are recited, and it can be overwhelming for someone attending for the first time who is not familiar with what is going on.  Even worse, though, I feel is the person who decides to attend the temple for the second time.  The first time you have an escort, and you have a little slip of paper pinned to your shirt identifying you as a first-time attender, and everybody is extremely willing to help.  But the second time you attend, none of that is there, and you appear just as anybody else attending the temple, and it is often assumed that you have years of experience and understanding.  Do not be afraid to ask for help, help is available and will be given.

The very first line of the endowment ordinance is, “Brethren and sisters, we welcome you to the temple and hope you will find joy in serving in the house of the Lord this day.”  I don’t think there is anything in that sentence that would indicate that I should not share it here, and I feel this sentence, itself, is a good piece of advice for someone attending the temple for the first time.  “We hope you will find joy in serving in the house of the Lord this day.”  Attending the temple should be about about finding joy and serving and we need to remember that we are in the house of the Lord. Keeping those three things in mind during one’s first few experiences at the temple should help one feel the influence of the spirit and learn what one needs to learn at the pace that one is able to learn it.

One final piece of advice I would give is: Keep coming back.  The best way to become familiar enough with the temple ceremony and the endowment ordinance so that it no longer seems scary is to keep coming back and attending the temple regularly.  The more you experience it the more it will make sense, and as it becomes familiar you will be free to focus on other things during the ordinance, to listen to the spirit and learn directly from our Heavenly Father.  The first several times you will be much more focused on doing everything right, but once that becomes natural, once you are familiar enough with the process, you will be able to concentrate and learn from the doctrines presented.

The temple is the purpose of our life here on earth, or, I should say, the ordinances performed in the temple are the purpose of our life here on earth.  We live so that we can learn all that is necessary to enable us to return to our Father in Heaven, sealed together as families by his holy priesthood.  Family is what it is all about, and ensuring that families can be together forever.  When I saw my wife (before she was my wife) dressed in her beautiful white temple dress sitting in the Seattle Temple, I knew that she was the one I would marry and spend my forever with.  I have also had wonderful temple experiences with my mother and father together, as we performed vicarious sealing ordinances so that my mother’s parents could be sealed together as an eternal family, and my mother sealed to her parents.  I strongly encourage all who desire to know more about who they are, where they came from, and where they can go to study the Gospel of Jesus Christ, read and ponder the scriptures, and develop a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father.  And then, come to the temple, where you can feel more closely his presence, where you can learn more fully about his plan for you, and where you can assist in his work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

I hope this advice has helped any looking for such advice.  And for those reading who have attended the temple, I pose the question now to you — What was the best advice you received and what advice would you give?  Please, leave a comment.

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