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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Neil Peart On Conformity

Conformity: Another Brick in the Wall?
I saw a statistic the other day indicating that Las Vegas is the 2nd most tattooed city in America. 40% of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least 1 tattoo. And, the latest trend is that women are slightly more likely to get a tattoo now than men (23% vs. 19%). I'm not surprised, and if anything wonder if the statistics may be erring on the low side. 

In my line of work I have occasion to see all sorts of body work meant to celebrate individuality.  I stopped being shocked by what I see a long time ago. But I can't resist the impulse to point out the irony of so great an investment in demonstrating one's individuality, through the process of mimicry. Nowadays, this particular expression of individuality is fundamentally driven by the overwhelming desire to be like everyone else. Pop culture says 'be yourself' and 'anything goes' while simultaneously snarking 'What! You don't have a tattoo?'. Whether it's full sleeves of tribal motifs interspersed with skulls and other angry imagery, or the regulation floral print of a sassy lady, it's all very predictable. I will freely concede that the brick wall right below the skin on the back of your head tattoo is clever. But it saddens me to think that our expressions of inner self are increasingly determined by things so superficial.  This is the epitome of 'skin deep' identity. 

In 1982, RUSH released Signals.  Neal Peart is probably the greatest drummer that has ever lived; he is also a gifted lyricist. His chorus in the lead track Subdivisions captures the fear of being cast out for failure to conform (listen here). Call it peer pressure or whatever you want, but it creates a willful surrender of our individual will to the will of the herd.  Frequently, the herd leads us to places to which we would not otherwise tend to go. 


Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone

In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights...


Tate once told me that he called a friend who was showing off his new tattoo 'a conformist'. The guy was outraged. I thought it was brilliant commentary.  Conformists never think of themselves a such. They somehow see themselves as innovators, independent thinkers and having a style all their own. But somewhere along the way they lose objectivity when it comes to how they see themselves. Ironically, most still retain the ability to spot mimicry and conformity in everyone else. I guess in reality, we are all conformists. It's therefore worthwhile to spend a little time thinking about what you want to be like when you grow up. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Sons of Perdition and the Gates of Hell

La Porte de l'Enfer (The Gates of Hell)
Auguste Rodin

Detail from The Gates of Hell

I guess you could say I visited the gates of hell and lived to tell about it. When I was in Philadelphia last year I made a visit to the Rodin Museum where I saw La Porte de l'Enfer (The Gates of Hell). Thankfully, the number of mortals that will actually visit the literal gates of hell* are extremely few.  In fact, the club is so exclusive, that we will probably live out our lives and never meet a member of it.  But while reading D&C 76, I was impressed with the details describing the fate of those souls banished to eternal hell:

32 They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born

33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity

34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come— 

35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. 

36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels— 

37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; (D&C 76:32-37; emphasis mine)

For the Lord to say it is better that they had never been born is saying something. Birth and mortality are part of his great plan to bless his children and crown them with glory (see the rest of section 76 for this). Therefore suffering the wrath of God for eternity is very much out of keeping with his nature. But agency is such a central part of God's plan that he is bound to honor it. For the sons of perdition, their recalcitrant refusal to be saved—even in the face of irrefutable evidence of God's power and grace to redeem them—is respected.

CS Lewis is my favorite Christan apologist. He had quite a lot to say on the subject (here for a good summary). 

“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”   – The Problem of Pain

"A man can't be taken to hell, or sent to hell: you can only get thee on your own stream."    – The Dark Tower

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”    – The Great Divorce

“A damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see.”  – The Great Divorce

If the sons of perdition are the only ones that will not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, it follows that everyone else will be. All but the sons of perdition will eventually receive forgiveness. Hopefully we apply the atonement and realize that forgiveness it in this world rather than in the world to come. But either way, the Lord intends to redeem the works of his creation (D&C 76:43).

For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made.   D&C 76:39

There is a difference between inheriting the kingdom of heaven and inheriting glory.  Though exaltation in the celestial kingdom is a lofty goal (see Matthew 7:13-14; D&C 76:109), it is well within our reach (see Alma 7:14).  For those that fail to seize it, the consolation prize is not too shabby:

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. Zephaniah 3:17


* I'm referring to the gates of hell that lead to the lake of fire reserved for the devil, his angels and the sons of perdition, not the temporary hell where captive spirits suffer for their sins prior to resurrection (here for a good overview).