Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poppies and Crosses

Normandy American Cemetery - August 2012
Normandy American Cemetery - August 2012
Utah Beach - August 2012
The English Channel from Pointe du Hoc - August 2012

It's just over a year since I had the opportunity to visit the invasion beaches of Normandy. As I dug out my poppy today, in anticipation of Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day here in the US), I couldn't help but be reminded of that day.  It was stunningly beautiful, yet deeply disquieting.  

We visited Omaha and Utah beaches, Pointe du Hoc, and the hedgerows of the surrounding countryside.  We finished the day watching them retire the colors at the Normandy American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach and the English Channel. I will not forget the palpable sense of sadness and gratitude I felt there, as I looked at 9387 white crosses and stars on the graves of strangers with whom I felt connected. Engraved in the white stone was a name, their home, and the day they died in June 1944. I am not so naive to think that every man interred there was a hero, but I am certain that their sacrifice for their country, their families, their brothers, and a continent of strangers will not go unrewarded in eternity. 

Having grown up in a town of 5000, I have always had a tendency to think of these kinds of statistics in terms of the size of my town.  Everyone in my town would fit in that cemetery--twice.  And that was just the US forces lost in the battle of Normandy.  There are other cemeteries for the British and Canadians, for the French and the Germans.  I have read estimates that 60,000,000 people (2.5% of the world's population) lost their lives in World War II. It would take 6,000 cemeteries like this one to hold them all.  It is staggering.  

When November 11 comes around, put on a poppy, or fly a flag, or take a few moments to pray and be grateful--lest we forget. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Faith in Picogram Quantities

The proverbial mustard seed
In a footnote to the account of Jesus healing the afflicted child that his disciples failed to heal (here for my post; here for Elder Holland's talk), Jesus said: 
If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.      Matthew 17:20
There are 90,000 mustard seeds in one pound of seed.  If you do the math and convert to grams, 1 mustard seed weigh 0.005 grams or 5 mg.  It makes me wonder how many grams of faith it took to heal that child.

I spend my days looking at laboratory measurements of a variety of hormones, which when deficient or present in excess result in disease. Hormones are incredibly powerful molecules that have dramatic effects on human physiology.  Even picogram (1 trillionth of a gram, or 1 x 10-12) or nanogram (1 billionth of a gram, or 1 x 10-9 grams) quantities of hormones can cause dramatic changes in physiological parameters like blood pressure, heart rate and glucose utilization.  Adrenaline and noradrenaline are some of the best examples, but cortisol and thyroid hormone are also impressive in this regard.  The pituitary and adrenals especially have a dramatic ability to respond almost instantaneously to situational demands brought on by illness or circumstance.  By secreting minute quantities of highly potent chemical messengers, these glands adapt physiologic activities to  keep us going in the face of stresses that would overwhelm us.

It is interesting to speculate what kind of effects would be generated by a picogram of pure faith. I'm certain it would be more than enough to get us through the trials and tribulations on even our worst days. It's a shame we haven't figured out a way to synthesize faith in a test tube or genetically modified E. coli so we can supplement people with hypofaithism as if they had hypothyroidism or hypogonadism.  I guess we're pretty much forced to manage this deficiency state with lifestyle modification.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Eritis Sicut Deus: You Will Be Like God

Faust in his arrogance, as Mephistopheles patiently waits.
An etching from page 4 by Harry Clarke in
Faust - by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (translated by Bayard Taylor)
I'm stuck on and struck by many nuanced messages that fell out of the tragedy of Faust, which I just finished reading (here for quick a summary of the story). For example, in what seems to be an unimportant filler scene from Act IV, Faust leaves Mephistopheles (the devil) alone in his study. A young student comes to Faust seeking direction in what to study. Mephistopheles, pretending to be Faust, immediately seizes the opportunity to ensnare the young man. The devil deceives the student with his feigned wisdom and great knowledge. He directs him away from the study of theology and directs him to study wordsConvincing the student that he was sharing a great secret of wisdom, Mephistopheles writes the following in the young man's notebook: 
“Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum"
(You will be like God, knowing good and evil). 
The trap of Mephistopheles was hauntingly familiar, and it certainly was one that had worked before.* As the young man leaves awestruck, Mephistopholes says under his breath: 
Follow the ancient text, and the snake thou wast ordered to trample!  
With all thy likeness to God, thou'lt yet be a sorry example!
The student naively believed that words from his renowned teacher could save him. In reality Satan exulted in knowing that by using a catchy phrase, he had persuaded the student to follow the same serpent that was climbing the trees in the Garden of Eden. This old, but simple formula worked: this young student was now less like God that ever before. 

Fundamentally, Faust made the very same mistake. Supremely arrogant, he trusted solely in his own intellect, his knowledge and his power with words.  He no longer feared the devil and considered God unnecessary. He just needed one favor, and that's where Mephistopheles factored in. It was the perfect storm. 

When I first met Faust in Act I, I was struck by his Abrahamic ambitions for knowledge.** Tragically, in his hour of desperation, he summoned a devil to help him. Contrast this with Abraham who called on the Lord in his hour of desperation. Where Faust was enslaved, Abraham and was delivered and enlightened.*** 

Seeking knowledge is an essential part of becoming more like our Savior. But in this quest we must ever remember that knowledge of good and evil is not enough to make us like God.**** And it is certainly not our intellect or our clever aphorisms that will save us in our moment of terror.


* Genesis Chapter 3
** Abraham 1:2 describes Abraham's desires for happiness, peace, rest and great knowledge in a way that resembles the inner yearnings expressed by Faust in his study.
*** Abraham 1:15
**** Even knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ is not enough to make us like God: Mark 5:1-14; Acts 19:13-16

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Faustianity and the Battle for Souls

Justifying the Means
"Faust Painter"

I just finished reading Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  It is touted as one of the greatest works in German literature, and is full of themes about heaven and hell. I liked it, but knew very little about what I was getting in to.  This play puts the "T" in tragedy. Here's a quick overview:

In heaven, God agrees* to allow Mephistopheles (the devil) to try and foil Faust, a brilliant physician that was restlessly searching for inner peace and infinite knowledge. Frustrated, Faust resorts to magic to conjure up a spirit to help him in his search.  Unwittingly, he summons Satan. Mephistopheles initially appears in the innocuous form of a poodle, which Faust brings home to his study. The poodle transforms into Mephistopheles and Faust recognizes him as the devil. Faust is titillated and invites him back not once, but three times. Mephistopheles then persuades Faust to a wager, which he signs in his own blood. The devil will serve Faust and bring him knowledge and power, but at the moment Faust wishes to stay in the moment forever, he will die and forfeit his soul.**

Faust falls for Margaret, a beautiful and virtuous god-fearing girl. With the assistance of Mephistopheles, Faust makes use of magic potions, bribery, lies and flattery to seduce her—and impregnate her.  To make things worse, the potion they used to make Margaret's mother sleep ends up killing her. Things continue to unwind when Faust kills Margaret's brother, who finds out about the sordid affair.  Faust and Mephistopheles flee and when they return, find that Margaret is in prison and sentenced to death for drowning her illegitimate child. Faust immediately offers to free her. But, racked with guilt, Margaret refuses and calls on God for forgiveness.  We hear a voice from heaven announce that Margaret is saved as Faust and Mephistopheles simply run away. It's not exactly a Princess Bride ending.

In the beginning, Faust wanted good things: knowledge and understanding. Yet, he was so desperate to get them that nothing was off-limits. Faust actively conjured up a devil and sacrificed his spiritual values for power and knowledge—things he deemed good. But his methods caused him to rapidly lose sight of his lofty goals.  In no time he was bogged down in things that he would have found abhorrent before his compromise. Nothing good ever happens in this story.

This is by no means the first Faustian pact, but Goethe's story is so memorable that it now defines the genre. Though we may not conjure up a devil and sell him our soul, it is very easy to place ourselves in his company. Our choices and compromises so easily force away the Holy Spirit, leaving us alone with the likes of Mephistopheles. It's not long until we find ourselves comfortable in his presence, and repeatedly inviting him back for a visit.  As Cervantes*** wrote:

"Tell me thy company and I will tell thee what thou art."

So what is my point? It seems that our Christianity is increasingly replaced by Faustianity: the relentless pursuit of our selfish goals without regard to ethics or spiritual values. We take little heed of the casualties we create along the way—so long as we are able to get away safely. I see it as supreme selfishness and blind ambition, and it is very much the up-and-coming thing. It may be the fastest growing religion on earth.

* Shades of Job 1:6-12
** This is one of most famous parts of the work:
When thus I hail the moment flying: 
"Ah, still delay--thou art so fair?" 
Then bind me in thy bonds undying, 
My final ruin then declare
*** Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha, LVI:1021 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

To Blave

I have always been puzzled as to why two people can witness the same seemingly divine manifestations and one walk away changed forever while the other remains completely un-phased.  The miracles of Jesus are one example, but there are so many more, including this classic scene from The Princess Bride.

I you haven't seen seen the movie, then put this blog aside and go watch it. Better yet watch it for your next FHE because it's that good!  If you have seen it then you can refresh your memory of this scene here, or just read the script below.

Miracle Max:  Hoo hoo hoo! Look who knows so much, heh? Well, it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Please, open his mouth. Puts the bellows to Westley's mouth, and blows air in.  Now, mostly dead is slightly alive. Now, all dead... well, with all dead, there's usually only one thing that you can do. 
Inigo: What's that? 

Miracle Max:  Go through his clothes and look for loose change.  Removes the bellows.  Hey! Hello in there! Hey! What's so important? What you got here that's worth living for? Pushes on Westley's abdomen. 

Westley:  t-r-u-e  l-o-v-e. 

Inigo:  "True Love", you heard him? You could not ask for a more noble cause than that. 

Miracle Max:  Sonny, True Love is the greatest thing in the world, except for a nice MLT--- mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, when the mutton is nice and lean, and the tomato is ripe.  Makes puckering sound.  They're so perky. I love that. But that's not what he said--- he distinctly said "To blave" and as we all know, to blave means to bluff, heh? So you were probably playing cards, and he cheated-- 
A little old lady storms into the room. 

Valerie:  Liar! Liar! Lia----r! 

Miracle Max:  Get back, witch! 

Valerie:  I'm not a witch, I'm your wife, but after what you just said, I'm not even sure I want to be that anymore. 

Miracle Max:  You never had it so good. 

Valerie:  True Love, he said "True Love", Max. 

Though Westley was mostly dead,* true love gave him a noble cause to live on. Everyone heard him say it and were amazed and inspired--except Miracle Max.  Why?

You could argue he just needed a hearing aid (Rob Reiner had Billy Crystal made-up to look older than Methuselah in this scene). More likely, this scene is teaching us about not hearing something because you don't want to hear it. Jesus Christ had plenty to say about this as well:
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive 
For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.   (Matthew 13:14-17)
What Max heard, speaks mostly about Max. He accuses Westley of bluffing. Yet in response to hearing something that, deep down inside, he knows is truly remarkable, his personal response is to blave.  He pretends he doesn't hear it and explains it away until he hears something more to his liking (which in this case is revenge).  

Our world is perpetually listening intently for things we want to hear--things that will inspire and lift us and make us better.** Though much of it is good, even more is just distraction and filler, and far less transformative than it pretends to be. Yet so often we blave when hearing the words that are legitimate game-changers, like the words of eternal life.  Let's not forget that those who watched and heard the miracles of Jesus were there because they were searching as well.  Sadly, what they heard wasn't what they wanted to hear. It's worth keeping in mind as we get ready to "listen" to General Conference in 2 weeks.

* Mark 9:26
** [Insert here your favorite distraction: sports, social media, the blogosphere, TED talks, The Great Courses lectures, Netflix or your carefully planned DVR recordings]

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Perspective and the Tripod Maneuver

Turret Arch - Arches National Park
August 2013
Perspective: A 180-degree view of Turret Arch and the adjacent Windows Arches 
Arches National Park - August 2013

M is an eccentric 72 year old Russian lady that spent her life working as a stripper. She's one of my favorite patients, and recently came to see me. She never had children and has lived alone for as long as I've known her. Many years ago she had pituitary surgery for a large tumor and now sees me for panhypopituitarism.  Let me assure you she is a gem of a person—far better than she is bad—former profession not-withstanding. But she lacks perspective.

With M, you never know what's coming your way: she throws more curve-balls than an all-star pitcher. We had what I considered a pretty successful visit. Her labs were great and her meds stable. I was reaching for the door and about to walk out of the room when she said "Doctor, there's one thing that has me worried".  When I turned to discuss things further, she abruptly stood up in front of me, straightened both her legs and bent over at the waist and placed both her palms flat on the floor.  I was impressed by her dexterity. To my amazement, she then raised her right leg straight up in the air with her heel at the level of my head--and held it. I was absolutely dumbfounded. 

When she finished her 'tripod maneuver' and stood up, her face was beet-red and her neck veins bulging like someone had just tried to choke her out.  She looked me in the eyes and in all seriousness asked "What's wrong with me? Why is this [her red face] happening?" 

How do you politely tell someone that they are old, when, in their head they still feel like they are still in their prime?  How do you persuade someone that it isn't the end of the world when they realize their body is in a state of slow deterioration? Though it would have been easy to say, 'you're not a spring chicken anymore', it was not the answer. I really didn't have one for her then, but as I think back on the incident now, I'm increasingly convinced it's about perspective.

"Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had ether bother a out very seriously if I am going to live for ever." C. S. Lewis

Proper perspective about the immortality of man, and our capacity for eternal life does wonders for the disappointments and frustrations that accompany each passing year. Without the perspective that C. S. Lewis masterfully captures, life can degrade into a lament about diminishing capacity and progressive decline.  And that is where M is at right now. She has always been hyper-vigilant about her body, partly because of her medical history, partly because of her trade. In spite of this vigilance, she IS getting old. Sadly, everyone seems to know it but her.  She has become my modern-day Ugly Duchess.

My recent trip to Arches struck me with how very old the Earth is.  Our mortal life comes and goes faster than the wink of an eye on a geological scale. Though the experience could have left me feeling small, insignificant, and defeated, my perspective left me with a profound sense of gratitude for and understanding of the eternal and divine nature of man. Perspective is power. When M comes in next time, I think I'll have better answers for her.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I caught myself saying it this week, and I was very disappointed in myself. A moment's indiscretion and it was out: "It is what it is." It's a phrase I dislike greatly. I was talking with a patient about a benign medical problem that couldn't be prevented or reversed and I said "IIWII". I don't want to make excuses for myself. I'll do my Hollywood mea culpa right now: I deeply regret the incident and take full responsibility for my actions. It just goes to show what happens when you let your guard down even for a minute. 

If we could cast a vote for our least favorite phrase of 2013, mine would be for IIWII.  I would've voted the same way in 2012 as well.*  I've thought about what makes the phrase so annoying.  Part of it may be the fact that people seem to stand around waiting to interject IIWII it into every conversation--whether it's relevant or not. Another reason may be summed up in one word: banality. But for me the real problem with the phrase is more subliminal.  

I will grant that IIWII works when when you just lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in overtime.  But in this context it is almost always followed by "we'll be back next year and win it all". It irritates me when IIWII is used with a sense of helplessness or apathy that equates to "I choose to surrender, because this is too hard." It  reminds me of the advice Homer gave Bart on an episode of The Simpsons, right after Bart decided to quit guitar lessons.
If something is to hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your shortwave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV. --Homer Simpson
Kind of funny how much we have to learn from Homer.  By contrast, you didn't hear Mormon tell his son "This is not working! These Nephites will never repent. We gave it our best shot and IIWII. Let's call it a day."  Instead he said: 
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9:6)
Mormon was not an "I choose to surrender" or "I'm over this" kind of guy. He was the original Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never give up." It's a big part of what makes this guy so heroic in my mind. His spirit inspires me to try to banish IIWII from my vocabulary. 

* Here for some very funny commentary on worst words of the year. Just be warned, you'll probably find that some of your favorites make the list.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The YOLO Spirit

8th Inkblot
Rorschach Inkblot Test
Hermann Rorschach - 1921
I came across an acronym the other day which I had to look up: YOLO. It means you only live once. Reading the definition was a veritable Rorschach Inkblot* which caused me to immediately associate YOLO with the stupidity of the generation to which my kids belong.* Invariably, it seems that YOLO is the final words uttered before someone throws caution the wind and does something very regrettable at best--or disastrous at worst.  It is the credo of the entire Jackass genre of videography.

But thankfully, it didn't take me too long to climb down off my high horse and admit that my kid's generation doesn't have the YOLO spirit cornered any more than the preceding 10 generations did.  The YOLO spirit has been around for a very long time. 

The 28th chapter of 2 Nephi is powerful doctrine that describes the operational tactics of Satan in his plan to deceive men and subvert the doctrine of Christ (which is a broader theme in the final chapters of 2 Nephi and the book of Jacob).  One of the fundamental tenets of Satan's doctrine is YOLO.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. 2 Nephi 28:7
It is positively false doctrine in that it confuses our 'one life' with the brief span of mortality. 

Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life—that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity … Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality. George Albert Smith [“Mormon View of Life’s Mission,” Deseret Evening News, June 27, 1908, Church section, 2]

 In reality our mortal life is like a still-frame image taken from a full-length movie. A still image can never hope to adequately convey the message of the entire film. Yet, to continue the metaphor, one poorly-focused snapshot is often all we see of this life. 

The Neal A. Maxwell talk that I recently cited taught that because of the veil that limits our perspective, "the tests we face [in life] are real" and mortality will be no cake-walk. Because of this limited perspective, the YOLO spirit it is incredibly useful to Satan. Satan uses YOLO to artfully persuade men that if they don't seize the moment, it will pass forever and leave them unfulfilled and somehow cheated. It's very effective, but remains untrue.There is nothing like the perspective that the gospel provides in illustrating the pointlessness of the YOLO spirt, and the futility of trying to experience eternal life by living in the moment.

* For the record, my kid's generation really isn't stupidI just like to carry on like it is

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Life Lessons from the TDF: Praying to Get Caught

Dan Martin of Ireland & Team Garmin Sharp
100th TDF - Stage 9
What a great stage win for Dan Martin today. Such a nice guy who had a big win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year as well. He attacked the peloton on the last of 4 big mountains today.  He was then joined by Jakob Fuglsang and, by working together, they stayed off the front on a harrowing 30 km descent down the mountain.  

At the end of the day, it's just a bike race and I don't want to make too much of it. But for me there were more than a few powerful life lessons from Dan Martin's post-race interview.

Life Lesson #1: "I don't think one guy would have survived alone."
  • cycling is no more an individual sport than is the race of life.  We won't survive if we try to race alone
Life Lesson #2: "We were both giving it everything we could."
  • anything less than a 100% effort will be insufficient to succeed in the race of life.
  • "Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength (D&C 4:2)
Life Lesson #3: "I was actually praying to get caught with 20 km to go. My legs were hurting so much."  
  • Neal A. Maxwell's provides amazing insights on this subject (here*): "We may at times, if we are not careful, try to pray away pain or what seems like an impending tragedy, but which is, in reality, an opportunity ... If we were allowed to bypass certain trials, everything that had gone on up to that moment in our lives would be wiped out." 
  • Though he longed to be caught and fail so his suffering would end, he would not quit. "I just had to finish it off for the guys in the end."
  • His perseverance paid off.
Dan's brilliant strategy in the last 1 km allowed him to sneak by Fuglsang for the win. He refused to go to the front, and instead stayed in the slipstream of the other rider. Then with 200 meters to go, he launched his sprint, just as they headed into a difficult left-hand turn.  It was obvious that Dan knew the course, having studied it beforehand. He was prepared. He knew when to make his move.

Life Lesson #4: "I knew what I was doing. I was very confident. That comes from the victory I've achieved this year ... It's a self-belief and a calmness that I enjoy now."  
  • Those that persevere in the faith have similar confidence and calmness with comes as as we study and prepare ourselves. It is doubly rewarded by the small victories we have along the way in overcoming sin, hardship and adversity.
  • "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

* I think these are some of the best teachings on adversity I have ever read.  This is a long talk, but so masterful and worth reading.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Persistence vs. Perseverance

"The Subway" in Zion National Park - 2006
Nothing exemplifies the power of persistence like the slot canyons of the Southwest.
"The Subway" is a very hard hike, but undoubtedly my favorite. This place makes you feel small and insignificant as you stand below 800 foot cliffs that rise up vertically on both sides. 

My last post (here) about beginner's luck has me thinking about persistence as useful remedy for life's challenges. In doing so I came across a fantastic talk by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on perseverance.To make things potentially more confusing is the related word perseveration.** Perseverance is often considered to be synonym of persistence; perseveration is a derivative of it. But there are very important differences between these words, and they have me thinking about persistence vs. perseverance in particular.   

Since it's very easy to confuse the terminology, here are the formal definitions:

Persistence: the act of persisting; enduring tenaciously.
Perseverancesteady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
PerseverationUncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus, usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder.
Since perseveration is a mental illness, it's differentiation from persistence and perseverance is less nuanced. Not so with the differences between persistence and perseverance.  Perseverance can be thought of as persistence in a noble or just cause in spite of hardship or opposition. Where perseverance has connotations of things noble and good, persistence has connotations which are more mechanical and less principled. While persistence isn't necessarily always bad, perseverance is almost always good. 

I've seen the following quote used to exemplify the fact that persistence is not always a good thing.
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.
This quote is usually misattributed to Albert Einstein (or Benjamin Franklin, or Mark Twain). It actually comes from the 1981 Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. In his Psychology Today article (here), Ryan Howe, PhD shows that although the aphorism is clever, it is a lousy definition for insanity. The idea does, however, illustrate that persistence in an of itself is not necessarily enough. Dr. Howe's article quotes another blogger who points out that sometimes wisdom dictates that we do exactly what would otherwise seem to be insane.
Sometimes doing the same thing a second time when it hasn’t worked the first is indeed just foolish. But sometimes it’s shrewd. Wisdom consists, in part, in knowing the difference. 
I do not believe that persistence alone will be enough to see us through the tempests of life and safely into the harbor--even when guided by wisdom. The counsel of God's prophets would argue that it will require perseverance. Perseverance requires faith and hope. Paul didn't actually use the word perservere when he was telling the Philippians to hold fast, but that's what he was talking about (Philippians 1:27-28).  Elder Wirthlin taught:
I bear testimony that perseverance is essential to us in learning and living the principles of the gospel and that it will determine our progress as we strive to reach exaltation. 
With all the innuendo and subtleties that differentiate perseveration, persistence and perseverance, here's what I've taken away:
  1. Mental illness or neurological disease drive us to repeatedly speak or act with nothing good coming of it. 
  2. Wisdom dictates when we should be persistent and receive it's many rewards. 
  3. Faith and hope enable us to persevere in remaining true to God and our covenants despite hardship, opposition or temptation. 
  4. Only perseverance brings eternal rewards.

Left Fork of North Creek, Zion National Park - 2005
Persistence: a small stream within a stream cuts a channel into the bedrock.

It's neither good nor bad--just amazing.
* This topic has also been addressed by others including the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 6:18), Joseph Smith Jr.James E. Faust and David A. Bednar.
** Read this article from Psychology Today for a great comparison of perseverance with perseveration. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Finding Gold: Beginner's Luck

The St. Albans coin hoard
I've had a soft spot for stories about Roman coin hoards for a long time (here and here for my old posts; links to this story here and here).  I often thought about how awesome it would be to uncover a two thousand year-old coin. I can't fathom the thrill of finding the life's savings of a Roman Legionary carefully stashed away before he suited up to battle hoards of barbarians that simply weren't buying into the Pax Romana.  The story behind the St Albans coin hoard has to be one of the most amazing.

In October 2012, a would-be treasure hunter from St. Albans, UK took the plunge and bought a beginner's metal detector.  After watching a couple of videos on You Tube, Wesley Carrington headed for the woods near his home about 20 miles north of central London.  His first 20 minutes of treasure hunting rewarded him with a spoon and half-penny.  When his metal-detector went off a third time, he dug down 7 inches to find a gold coin with a roman figure. By the time darkness fell, he had found 55 gold solidi dating back to the late 4th century AD (Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius). He had no idea what he'd found, so paid a visit to a local coin shop.  The owner was absolutely 'gobsmacked' and thought it a joke.  Real experts, on returning to the site of his find, found 104 additional coins in what is one of the largest coin hoards ever found in the UK.  The coins are estimated to be worth $156,000.

This story is the sine qua non of beginners luck. Such stories always strike a cord with commoners as we realize 'that could be me!'  Even as I write this, I have to suppress the overwhelming urge to look on Ebay for metal detectors.

Alas, reality demonstrates that most great things only come at the end of great effort and dogged persistence.
"Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labor." Leonardo da Vinci
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."" Calvin Coolidge
"In the sweat of thy face shalt though eat bread, till though return to the ground." Genesis 3:19 
Though Wesley Carrington has joined a local metal detecting club, he hasn't found anything else since October. With his beginner's luck having run dry, it looks like he will have to rely on hard work and persistence for his next find. Apparently it's not supposed to be easy. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

First Win = Yellow

fighting off the charging peloton

Is this really happening?

Woo Hoo!

I hate that I still love watching the Tour de France given the last year of doping scandals.  I just can't help it.  It is such a great sport.  Stage 2 of the Tour was set in Corsica, and had some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in a long time. It's finish was the stuff that fairy tales are made of. 

Jan Bakelants is a 26-year old Belgian that rides for RadioShack. I'd never even heard of him before. He had never won a professional bike race.  On stage 2 he broke away from the peloton with 7 or 8 other riders with about 8 km to go.They had a small lead of up to 30 seconds but were slowly being reeled back  in.  When the peloton came charging up and swallowed up the others he refused to quit.  Somehow he hung on stayed ahead of the raging peloton to win by 1 second.  Not only did he win the stage, but he took the yellow jersey.  The look of disbelief as he crossed the line is priceless. His yellow jersey picture is pure jubilation.

After the stage win, he was thronged by reporters wanting to capture his reaction.  I found it fascinating that he said when he looked back with 500 meters to go, he knew he would win. As I watched I was certain he would somehow be caught by Peter Sagan at the line and lose.  Thankfully he was right and I was wrong. 

Another relative nobody on the tour has his unbelievable moment of glory and reward for such a great effort. It reminds me of another racer that was also confident of victory.
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. NLT 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Sometimes one big win is all you'll ever get in life. These big wins don't just happen. They happen to people that are willing to go for it in spite of all the adversity and negative odds against them.  

Once TDF starts, I find myself having weird dreams of me riding the Tour and occasionally winning a stage.  It's great stuff but just dreams.  I need to somehow focus more intently on the real race that Paul was racing and won.  He knew he would win before he reached he finish line. It's a race I can win, and the prize will be far more glorious.  Somehow, I think I'll probably keep dreaming about stage wins at the TDF.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Essential Ingredient: If You Can

Christ and the Young Child
Carl Bloch, 1873
Carl Bloch - The Master's Hand 

BYU Museum of Art - December 2010

A talk that will almost certainly go down as a General Conference Classic is Elder Jeffrey Holland's talk 'Lord I Believe'. The foundation of his talk begins with the account of the desperate father of a disabled boy* in Mark 9:14-29. The boy was subject to fits, which were deemed to be caused by an unclean spirit.  The boy was unable to be healed by the Lord's disciples.

Elder Holland describes this exhausted father's desperation and hope that the Savior may be able to help them. Jesus, used the moment to teach that he could help, and that all things are possible to those that believe

In reading this account, I found a fascinating detail that drops out of the story by comparing the ESV to the KJV translations of this story (BLB here).

Both translations teach the quintessential truth that all things are possible to him that believes.  Yet in the ESV, it additionally teaches that it is not the Lord's abilities that are being tested here. It is our abilities. 

So often we go to the Lord and ask if he can do something for us.  I suspect that in many cases his reply is: "I can if you can". 
This is not to suggest that we can over-ride the will of God with the desires of our heart, nor is it to suggest that we are at fault when our prayers aren't answered the way we want.  It's pretty evident that this is simply not the case. But to the extent that a given blessing requires faith to be realized, it is not the Lord's faith that is the essential ingredient in this recipe.


* Whether this was in fact demonic possession, or epilepsy (more likely in my estimation), it was clear it was a refractory case that nobody had any solutions for.