Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm Moving

I really don't like change. In fact, I'm probably one of the most predictable creatures that has ever walked the planet.  So my switch from Blogger to Wordpress is a big deal for me. But my publisher has persuaded me to move the blog once and for all to an author site in anticipation of my book's publication next year. Everything needs to be in one place . . . easy to find and easy to maintain.  Sounds easy.

There's no point in getting nostalgic about it.  From here on out you'll find Indubitable at  All the old posts have been moved with new ones on the horizon. 

I'm gonna treat this like changing a BandAid. Grit your teeth and get it over with. 

One . . Two . . . Three . . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 List of Banished Words

Originally Published August 26, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Lake Superior State University has been publishing an annual list of banished words since 1977. Their website catalogues all the entries over the years, but be forewarned: reading too many of these lists will put your hate-coefficient into the red zone very quickly. There is a lot of painful memories buried in these archives. Though its difficult to admit it, I'm as guilty as the rest of you in creating this sad legacy.

The 2014 entries are indeed worthy of banishment from our vocabularies forever. Each of us would do well to read this list annually and use it as one of your home teaching lessons. Trust me … people will thank you.

2014 List of Banished Words (in descending order)

3. Hashtag
I thought it was just me, but apparently I'm not the only one annoyed by the hashtag craze. Actually it's call an octothrope, but either way it's best if you part ways. If you insist on continuing to use it on Instagram or Twitter then let's just try to use a little restraint. No one will complain if you never say it or use it again.

2. Twerk/Twerking
I hope you're happy, Miley Cyrus. I can never unsee that. You've ruined it for everyone.

1. Selfie
It seems that most of the world is under the mistaken impression that other people care about seeing a picture you take of yourself (or rather retake eight times before publishing) every day. It's a lie.  I think we should employ Elder Uchtdorf's advice on this one: Stop It!

 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Paško Tomić (used with permission).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Conform Or Be Cast Out

Initially published August 15, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

It's a well-documented fact that Rush is the greatest rock and roll trio that ever toured the planet. Neil Peart not only has superhuman abilities as a drummer, but he's a gifted lyricist as well. In the chorus of Subdivisions (Signals, 1982; music video here), he captures that all-to-familiar pressure to conform to those standards established by our peer group, or risk being cast out. It makes for a another excellent Rock & Roll Parable.*

(Lyrics by Neil Peart)

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 ...


Since humans are innately social creatures, they feel pressure to conform to the standards of the peer groups to which they belong. Every day, virtually every sentient person feels this pressure to some degree. It is not limited to young people with tattoos, stupid haircuts or ridiculous fashion statements; it goes all the way up the food chain. When an older generation describes this phenomenon in a younger generation, they call it peer pressure. It is usually (and often rightfully) portrayed as bad. Non-conformity is frequently generational, with the younger generation rejecting conformity with the older one. Accordingly, themes of non-conformity are extremely common in Rock and Roll. Watch Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) for Roger Water's bold rejection of conformity over thirty years ago.

An honest look in the mirror confirms that we are all conformists at some level. I guess there would be total anarchy if it weren't so. Even so, conformity is almost always painted in a negative light.** Non-conformity, on the other hand, is celebrated—or at least given lip service. But even non-conformists feel the pressure of their peers to adhere to the code of standards dictated by their fellow non-conformists. While pop culture says 'be yourself' and 'anything goes,' it simultaneously snarks 'you're still a virgin?' or 'you don't have a tattoo?'  It has all become very predictable: boob jobs, glabrous pecs and abs, regulation tattoos (tribals and sleeves for guys; florals and butterflies for ladies) and only the sanctioned name brands. Though this is supposed to be a celebration of individuality, it is mimicry and conformity taken to astonishing levels. Our public self is often only skin-deep. Neil Peart nailed it in 1982 and it's still true today:conform or be cast out.

Over the last decade the volume of the long-standing dialogue about non-conformism in the Church has increased. Pressure to conform for some has been so intense that they part ways with the Church. In most cases they leave; in some cases they are sent on their way. Either way it is tragic. It is the duty of every disciple of Jesus Christ to try and follow His example. If we can see others as He sees them, then non-conformity won't be such a big deal. In fact, it would largely become irrelevant.

Yet at some level strict conformity has to be part of the discussion of those that would be members of this Church. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's 2003 General Conference talk is a masterful plea for conformity on things that matter most. His talk was primarily about the responsibility of parents to be conformist when it comes down to the foundational aspects of the gospel. When speaking of such things as devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and the reality of the Restoration of His Church and His continued direction of its leaders, Elder Holland said:
In such basic matters of faith, prophets do not apologize for requesting unity, indeed conformity … To lead a child (or anyone else), even inadvertently, away from faithfulness, away from loyalty and bedrock belief simply because we want to be clever or independent is license no parent or any other person has been given. In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart.
Let's face it, we all need to realize that the world is a diverse place. If the Church intends to be relevant globally we need to change some of our views about people that are different from the stereotypical Mormon. At the same time, there isn't any room to compromise on the foundational principles of faith that define who we are as Latter-day Saints. Both conformist and non-conformists alike need to meet somewhere in the middle.


* We're always looking for more Rock & Roll Parables, so submit your own as a guest post. The Bible Dictionary says: "In parables divine truth is presented by comparison with material things." We're going with this definition of parable, so let this be your guide in your submissions.

** The Urban Dictionary defines a conformist as "Society's Bitch."

 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gif
Reid is an endocrinologist from Henderson, Nevada. He's blessed with wonderful wife and three great kids. His interests are charitably characterized as eclectic: cycling, fly-fishing, history, travel and the coinage of the Flavian dynasty of Imperial Rome. With a deep-seated belief that people habitually do dumb things, he's trying really hard to keep things positive. People are not making it any easier these days. The gospel has helped a lot. Blog:
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gifImage credit: Patrick Brady (used with permission).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lessons From a Tibetan Buddhist

Originally published August 11, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Tibetan Monk - Sera Monastery
Lhasa, Tibet
We recently returned from a trip that took us to a number of cities in China. Without a doubt, our stay in Lhasa, Tibet was a highlight. The contrast between one city teeming with 32 million people and another nestled in a valley surrounded by the Himalayas could't be more dramatic. The blue skies, towering slopes and clean mountain air make you realize very quickly you're not in Shanghai anymore.

Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world at 11,800 feet above sea level. With only 68% of the oxygen found a sea level, you really feel the difference while hiking around. But I could also feel a difference in the spirituality of the Tibetan people compared to their Han countrymen. Tibetans are deeply religious, with 98% of them being Buddhist; they seem to wear it on their proverbial sleeves.

Our guide, Gyatso, was a devout Buddhist. He was determined to teach me everything there is to know about Tibetan Buddhism in three days, including the pedigrees of all 14 Dalai Lamas, 11 Panchen Lamas and each of the incarnations of the Buddha. It was all quite overwhelming. Most of it is now lost to me. But something Gyatso said was so spot-on that I wrote it down as soon as I heard it. It relates to what Buddhists call the three poisons.

These three poisons are the root of all human suffering and are toxic to both body and spirit. They include ignorance, greed and anger. Interestingly, ignorance is considered the root poison from which greed and anger arise. To Buddhists, one of life's principal struggles is to eliminate the three poisons. Gyatso said that as we succeed in eliminating the three poisons we will be "close to enlightenment."

Gyatsu impressed me with his commitment to be a good Buddhist and live with tolerance and compassion for others. When we encountered bad Buddhists I was impressed by his patience. Gyatso seemed to see the effects of poison, rather than a bad person in the bad example before us. He was quick to excuse them given his perspective that enlightenment was a process that took a long time to attain (several reincarnations in his mind).

Several things have impressed me since our discussions. First, I was humbled by Gyatso's ability to blame the poison and not the person. Gyatso reminded me that enlightenment is a process that takes a long time. It's certainly something the Lord is perfect at doing.  During his mortal ministry Jesus choose to spend his time with sinners and love them in spite of their contamination by sin. He perfected the ability to discern between the sin and the sinner. Thankfully, He seems content to wait for us to take whatever time we need to eliminate the poison of sin from our lives.

Secondly, I've realized that if ignorance is the root poison, then eradication of ignorance should be a primary objective of our lives. Herein lies at least one point on which tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and the LDS faith agree:
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake the evil one. (D&C 93:36-37)
This revelation goes on to teach us to raise up our children in light and truth (D&C 93:40), and to individually obtain "knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man" (D&C 93:53) for the salvation of Zion. It seems that this process will go a long way to eliminating some of the poisons that contaminate us in the Church as well.

Obviously there are some pretty big differences between the religious traditions that Gyatso and I individually follow. But I find a lot of common ground in the concept of the three poisons and their toxic influence on individuals and families. I'm certain that they are major contributors to human suffering. As we succeed in eradicating them from our lives, I'm confident that we will become happier, healthier and a little closer to enlightenment.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Searching For Help: Google or God?

I was preparing a lesson for priesthood recently in which we reviewed a General Conference talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson entitled Let Your Faith Show. His talk highlighted a perspective that is increasingly prevalent in our society. It is the notion that religion has become irrelevant in modern life. This message is broadcast a thousand times a day in a myriad of forms that range from overt rejection of God to the more subtle ideas (such as the belief that government, when properly constituted, will achieve the same results as organized religion [here for an old post]). It occurred to me that this phenomenon is demonstrated even more subtly by considering where we search for help when we need it: Google or God. 

I'm not suggesting that we ignore the wealth of information (and misinformation) that exists on the web when we have questions or problems. In fact, I'm certain that the web represents a gift from God to further His work. Furthermore, I believe the Lord wants us to use every resource at our disposal to work out our problems (D&C 9:7-9) before troubling Him with them.* But, for all its good, the Internet certainly drags along its share of problems as well. Google has literally changed the way we solve problems and perceive the world. Though it brings a wealth of resources to our fingertips in an instant, Google makes the ultimate source of knowledge, guidance and direction just a little more elusive.

As members of the Church we have the privilege of having the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost--if we use it.  That means we have the opportunity of having God with us all the time. That presence is like spiritual 4G--even when you're stuck on an airplane, in the wildness, or are subject to international roaming. Brigham Young pointed out that most of us don't use it:
There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him His will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.  (Journal of Discourses, Volume 12; page 104)
Who do you turn to when the chips are down?  Its a question that is cause for some personal introspection. As we become habituated to going to Google for answers, we are less inclined to go to God in prayer, to visit the temple, to open the scriptures, or to listen to the God (i.e. - the Holy Ghost) that is patiently waiting to for us to spend more time with Him. 

Google is great--but we are wise to remember it is one more way to persuade us to put our trust in the arm of flesh--in this case digital flesh. Caution is advised, lest we fall into the increasingly prevalent trap of worshiping the creation, rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).** 


*The Prophet Joseph Smith is an example of a man that knew where to go for help.  His history and the Doctrine and Covenants are replete with examples of how his instincts and experience taught him where to search for answers (JS-H 1:11-13, 1:29-30).  In fact, he was so comfortable in going to God with questions that the Lord sometimes had to say "you're bugging Me . . . knock it off" (D&C 5:29; D&C 59:22; D&C 130:15). 
** See also Isaiah 10:15

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Persistence (Finally) Pays

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images

Mick Rogers - 2014 TDF Stage 16 
Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon
At the end of stage 11 in this year's Tour de France, Michael Rogers' advice to Andrew Talansky was "persistence wins all races."

Mick Rogers knows a thing or two about adversity.  In 2007 he was thought of as a GC contender when he rode for T Mobile, but crashed out of the Tour with a broken collar bone.  Immediately thereafter a protracted battle with mononucleosis made him barely able to ride his bike for more than a year.  Late last year, with his form having returned, he tested positive for clenbuterol after winning a race in Japan. He was suspended by the UCI but steadfastly maintained his innocence. He was able to prove to the governing body that the positive test was the result of eating contaminated meat while competing in China, where it is commonly used in agriculture.  He was exonerated this Spring and has gone on to win two stages at the Giro d'Italia.

Mick has as been persistently working for a stage win at the Tour de France for more than a decade and it has always eluded him. He is such a classy guy and someone that I've always loved to watch compete. Today it paid off in spades.  Mick threw caution to the wind and rode flat out down a dangerous mountain to the finish against Tommy Voeckler and three others.  In his post-race interview he said:
On that descent ... I just said I've been in this position too many times not to win. [Either]  I'm going to crash or I'm going to win.
He won.  It was beautiful. I hope Andy Talansky was watching from his couch at home while he recovers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

True Grit and the Tour de France

Andy Talansk off the bike in the stage 7 sprint finish
Every summer I have a fight with myself that I predictably lose.  The ever-present doping scandels and scoundrels of professional cycling make me vow to stop watching.  Then the Tour de France begins and I cave in like a house of cards.

Andrrew Talansky breathed a giant breath of life back into US hopes in European pro peloton when this promising young American stood on the top step of the podium last month as the winner of the Criterium du Dauphine. Winners of the Dauphine are always competitive at the Tour, and frequently gone on to win it.  Andy had horrific crashes in stages 7 and 8 which forced him to abandon the race after stage 11.

It was pretty evident early in stage 11 that Andy was in rough shape. He fell off the back of the peloton and was losing time to the leaders at an alarming rate. He was in very real danger of being eliminated from the race for finishing more than 8% behind the stage winner. His earlier crashes had left with with massive amounts of road rash and severe back pain. At one point in stage 11 the pain was so bad that he had to get off the bike and sit on a guard rail for 4 minutes. At that point he had 40 miles left in the race. French TV cameras were hovering like vultures and everyone was certain that he would abandon. To my amazement he climbed back on the bike and finished the stage. Somehow, he found the inner strength to finish the stage and make the time cut.

Andy knew at that point that he hopes for any positive outcome in the race were completely blown.  But he finished the stage--even though it was all alone out there and ended up more than 30 minutes behind the leaders and dead last. It was a clinic in courage, heart and perseverance. It reminded me of one of my favorite John Wayne movies as a kid: True Grit.

At the end of the race another cycling champion talked to the race commentator and used the opportunity to speak metaphorically to Andy Talansky (who was then still out there suffering alone on the road):
"My advice is: persistence wins all races." - Michael Rogers
Maybe Mick Rogers was speaking to Andy.  Probably he was speaking to the rest of us as well.

Andy Talansky: Courage and True Grit

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blue Lobsters: Standing Out in a Crowd

Originally Published July 14, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

I took a tour of the Sydney Fish Market a few years ago when I was in Australia. This fella was begging to be noticed. Blue lobsters occur at a rate of 1:2,000,000 as a result of a genetic mutation that results in an abnormal protein complexing with naturally occurring carotenoids. The resultant complex, known as crustacyanin, gives the lobster’s shell it’s cobalt blue coloration. Though truly impressive to look at, they say this peculiar lobster* tastes just like the others (and was even priced the same as his mates).

In my clinic, I have often marveled at how Mormons tend to stand out in a crowd as sharply as if they were laden with crustacyanin.  This is particularly true of the females of our species (but males are also conspicuous after just a few minutes of interaction and close observation). The complex gemish of dress, grooming, and patterns of speech are part of it; but there is also a certain presence that somehow betrays them.

 Scott Heffernan put together a pretty good list of thing that make us stand out in a crowd. Peter and Paul also described the saints as peculiar compared to the rest of the world:
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shed forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) 
[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14) 
A closer look at the phrase translated from the original Greek as ‘peculiar people' in both of these Biblical passages is interesting. This phrase is probably more accurately read as 'people owned by the Lord’.  We must concede the point that part of what makes us different is who we are. But both Peter and Paul suggests that part of what makes us different is whose we are.

We (and all true followers of Christ) became the Lord’s people when he purchased us with his blood. That (and possibly a very slight blue tinge to the skin) makes us rather conspicuous. My mother used to always say ‘don’t forget who you are’ as we were going out for the evening.  Both Paul and Peter build upon that concept by saying ‘don’t forget whose you are’.

If that’s not enough to make us stand out in a crowd, then we’re doing something wrong.


* For you triviologists out there, the yellow lobster is seen at a rate of 1:30 million, split-colored lobssters 1:50 million and albino lobsters 1:100 million. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Opulence . . . We Has It

Originally Published at Modern Mormon Men on June 24, 2014

During our recent trip to Lithuania I discovered that Vilnius has more churches than Thailand has Buddas (… not really). The beauty of these churches was truly impressive. Their sheer opulence, along with the unmistakable Russian accent that you hear everywhere, made me think of this classic commercial from a few years ago.

St Anne’s Church - Vilnius, Lithuania
Easily my favorite (Catholic) church
The Vilnius, Lithuania LDS chapel on the left vs. St Anne’s Church on the right
Let’s face it, there is a noticeable contrast between the interior of the LDS chapel in Vilnius with the interior of even a second-rate Lithuanian church.  To compare our little chapel with something like St Anne’s Church wasn’t even close.  But what our chapel lacked in opulence we had in spirit.  You can keep the gold-encrusted religious icons, the candles, the works of art and the elaborate altarpieces. I’ll stick with the feeling I got while hearing a Lithuanian Branch President with a strong Russian accent testify of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.  So when it comes to real opulence, I can confidently say: we has it.

here for the background story on the making of this funny commercial

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rock and Roll Parables: Queen

Initially Published at Modern Mormon Men on June 3, 2014


In 1984 Queen released I Want To Break Free along with a music video that was initially banned by MTV (… look how far MTV has evolved since then!). Though the MTV ban undoubtedly limited the popularity of this song in the US, it was a huge international hit. Thirty years later, it stands the test of time of being one of the band’s greatest hits. It therefore seems like a good choice for launching the ongoing Rock & Roll Parables series at Modern Mormon Men.

I Want To Break Free
(Lyrics by John Deacon)

I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You're so self satisfied I don't need you
I've got to break free
God knows, God knows I want to break free.

I've fallen in love
I've fallen in love for the first time
And this time I know it's for real
I've fallen in love, yeah
God knows, God knows I've fallen in love.

It's strange but it's true
I can't get over the way you love me like you do
But I have to be sure
When I walk out that door
Oh how I want to be free, baby
Oh how I want to be free,
Oh how I want to break free.

But life still goes on
I can't get used to, living without, living without,
Living without you by my side
I don't want to live alone, hey
God knows, got to make it on my own
So baby can't you see
I've got to break free.

I've got to break free
I want to break free, yeah
I want, I want, I want, I want to break free.

Sometimes a song is just a song.  Then again, sometimes it is a statement about something bigger.  It is pretty clear that the music video that accompanied I Want To Break Free was not making some grand statement.  It was a spoof on an English soap opera (Coronation Street) that was conceived by Roger Taylor, the band drummer.  Of the music video he said:
We had done some really serious, epic videos in the past, and we just thought we’d have some fun. We wanted people to know that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously, that we could still laugh at ourselves. I think we proved that.
The meaning behind the lyrics is much more mysterious, and speculation about what the song is really saying has been rampant for decades. The song was written by the band’s reclusive bassist, John Deacon. Deacon withdrew from the limelight after Freddie Mercury’s death. Rumor has it that he said the inspiration behind these lyrics ‘came from frustration’. He has never expounded further.

It is interesting to read various people’s interpretation of the lyrics. These theories range from this being a song about a bad relationship, the women’s movement, and the LGBT community which Freddie championed (John Deacon was then married; he and his wife are still together and have six kids). I think themes of addiction or mental illness could easily be added to this list.  We may never really know what frustrations spawned the lyrics. Undoubtedly they speak to people based on their individual circumstances.

When I listened to this in the car the other day, I was struck by thinking of this song as if it were a parable. The protagonist feels trapped and enslaved.  Though he is in some kind of a relationship, he knows it isn’t real love. Someone has opened his eyes and given him a taste of how it feels to be truly loved. But insecurity and separation anxiety mysteriously draw him back to the dark place from which he longs to escape. In the end, we are left wondering if he ever truly breaks free.

An argument could be made that this is a pretty good fit for the enslaving power of sin.  Satan convincingly makes grand promises which we eventually recognize to be lies--but only after we are trapped. The Savior and His atonement help us to realize that we don’t need Satan; that freedom is a real possibility.  To know Christ is truly to fall in love for the first time--once and for all. To feel His love in return is liberating. Yet for some unknown reason, we still feel drawn back to our old master and the old ways. To long for something is one thing, to truly do what it takes to realize that desire is another.

Most of us have felt the joy of God’s redeeming love in the past (see Alma 5:26). But like the guy in the song says: “life still goes on.” The great challenge is to retain that change of heart and fight off  the desire to return to our old master and his enslaving ways.

What is your take on this song? Share your own Rock & Roll Parables* as a guest post to make this an ongoing series at Modern Mormon Men.


* The Bible Dictionary says: "In parables divine truth is presented by comparison with material things." We're going with this definition of parable, so let this be your guide in your submissions. Anything is fair game except Harry Chapin’s The Cat’s In the Cradle (we have enough to feel guilty about already).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is It Ever Too Late?

I was recently going through my phone pictures and deleting stuff because my memory was full. I guess it’s a consequence of my document everything philosophy. In the process, I came across this beauty and just couldn’t delete it.

file this under 'too short for this weight'

It’s a screenshot of my electronic health record for a new patient I was seeing about a month ago. Check out the weight and height data: there isn’t a misplaced decimal or typographical error here. As part of my evaluation of her, I asked her why she was here. She said it was because of her weight and wanted to be evaluated "before it got out of hand”.  

She easily won the “understatement of the week” award. Maybe I should have just stood up and said “Elvis has already left the building” and walk away.  But this lady still had hope that her disease could be treated. It’s hard to walk away from that kind of courage--even if the BMI is 70.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one that can’t turn my back on the hopeful penitent.
Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. Mosiah 26:30
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. D&C 58:42
As I read it, this is not a “limited time only” offer.  Joel, a prophet of Judah, foretold some pretty awful things that would  accompany the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that, while describing the war and desolation that would precede the great and dreadful day, he also gives us cause for hope. Joel points out that the Lord would be there waiting until the last possible moment for men to turn to him:
. . . rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for his is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness . . .  Joel 2:13

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Idolatry: To Each His Own

Originally published on May 19, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Photo credit: Reid’s iPhone 
When I saw this gypsum wall panel from the Ancient Assyria exhibit at the British Museum last year I was absolutely blown away. How could you not love this guy? He's got the full package including a flawless fauxhawk, perfectly man-scaped facial hair, exaggerated upper body musculature and a steely-eyed stare that would intimidate anyone and everything.  Even his accessories are spot-on: custom robes, choker, wrist bands, biceps bands, and a pair of sweet daggers.

I've read several theories about who this guy was, but the best one says this is an image of Nisroch. Nisroch was the deity that King Sennacherib of Assyria worshipped [1] after running rough-shod over the Kingdom of Judah.[2] But I didn't need to know any of those details to be an instant fan and immediately make this image the home screen on my phone.

Call it a personal character flaw if you like, but there really is something innate that makes humans easily awed. We are highly visual creatures, and iconography is therefore very powerful. It’s not difficult to see how an Assyrian peasant or soldier would readily count Nisroch among the gods that he worshipped. Ancient Israel was just as easily impressed: the first of  the ten commandments starts with "thou shalt have no other gods before me" and the second goes on to forbid any graven images. The Israelites were expressly forbidden to "bow down thyself to them, [or] serve them."

It seems that idolatry was the great Achilles’ heel of ancient Israel. The Old Testament reads like a lengthy chronicle of the Lord trying to pull His people back from the brink of destruction brought on by this idolatry. Yet  idolatry is as prevalent now as it was in the past. The Lord was speaking about the modern era when He warned that idolatry was carrying us closer to the brink.
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (D&C 1:16)
The rituals of worship and the pantheon of gods that are being worshipped have changed over the millennia. But whether it’s Nisroch, or our latest iteration of a god created in our own image, modern idols still receive a lot  of mankind’s resources, time, energy, and veneration.  If idols insert themselves before God on our list of priorities, it doesn’t really matter if they are base idols (greed, lust, power, hedonism) or noble ones (health, education, family, etc). [3]

It is argued all the time that our God has a great inferiority complex in demanding primacy in our devotion and worship. I don’t see it that way, but instead see the simple inability of the gods of the modern pantheon to save us. In this regard, things haven’t changed at all since Assyrian times. In spite of the awesome power of the Assyrian army, the siege of Jerusalem somehow failed and 185,000 Assyrians woke up dead. Sennacherib was forced back to Ninevah to invoke his gods in ornate temples adorned with the loot of his conquests. It is intriguing to wonder about the splendor of the icon that loomed over Sennacherib in the Temple of Nisroch, when his sons interrupted his worship to kill him (2 Kings 19:37Isaiah 37:38). Though Nisroch didn’t come through in the end for King Sennacherib, his image still makes a cool home screen for your phone.


[1] There are accounts in 2 Kings and Isaiah that also refer to Nisroch.  Philological arguments link Nisroch to Nusku, Assyrian god of fire that served as the messenger of Ashur. Ashur was one of the principle Assyrian deities and also had an eagle-man form. Nusku was said to be the god appointed by Ashur to aide the Assyrian king in overthrowing his enemies. This likely explains why Sennacherib was in the temple of Nisroch rather than the temple of Ashur when he met his well-deserved demise.
[2] The Taylor Prism gives Sennacherib's own account of his spoils in this war (here).
[3] This GC talk by Dallin H. Oaks that speaks to this issue. C. S. Lewis also wrote extensively on modern iterations of the age-old problem of idolatry:
"Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is." - C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

"It's not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love, or patriotism, or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion." - C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Back to Basics

While visiting Vilnius, Lithuania we had a chance to attend church. By some stroke of luck we happened to be visiting on the day of District Conference. All the saints in the entire country gathered to hear from the Baltic Mission President/Matron as well as an Area Seventy from Russia. It was the best ‘in-the-flesh’ church meeting I’ve been to in many years--and most of it was translated into English from Lithuanian or Russian. 

It certainly didn’t take long for us to be noticed, or to be welcomed. I didn’t know this young missionary or the Lithuanian brother that he grabbed when I offered to email his picture to his mother, but the look in his eye is something rare and beautiful. One week earlier we were speculating about which of 15 capable guys in the ward would be the new High Priests Group Leader, how much the Friends of Scouting assessment for the ward would be, and when the Ordain Women movement would be creating their next spectacle.  Talk about first-world church problems! Meanwhile, in Vilnius, the saints worked like dogs to keep their beautiful branch afloat.  Their love for the missionaries, the Brethren, the gospel, and the Lord was almost overpowering. It made me miss our Branch in Boston where we were so small, so vulnerable, so over-worked but so in love with one another and with the gospel.

We would all do well to take a moment and go back to the basics, and rediscover the beauty and power of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in it’s pure and simplest form. I really didn’t know what I expected to find in Eastern Europe in a former Soviet state, but it wasn’t this. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Empty Calories

Both faith and testimony are living things that require nurture and care or else they will decline and eventually fade away. We could no more sustain our bodies by intermittently eating or drinking than we can sustain our faith and testimony with sporadic spiritual nourishment. Yet frequently we do so  through laziness, distraction, pre-occupation or being over-committed. 

I recently got sucked into a 5-book, 3800 page series on Genghis Kahn. It's not exactly the kind of stuff that fortifies faith, but very interesting none-the-less.  For a couple of weeks, I read little else. I have also enjoyed reading blogs full of insight and commentary by clever members of the church. But once again, I've noticed that this material doesn't always leave me embiggened or inspired. 

There is merit in being aware of, and enriched by the world we live in. I’m a big advocate of being well-read. But recently it dawned on me that although historical fiction and the witty commentary from the bloggernacle is indeed tasty, it has limited nutritional value from a spiritual perspective. You simply can't consume enough of it to be spiritually nourished. Paul's description of people that were "ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7)" somehow seems relevant in this regard.

By contrast, I can't remember an occasion when I wasn't inspired and uplifted by the scriptures or a General Conference talk.  Accordingly, I set Genghis down and picked up the scriptures and noticed an immediate difference in how I felt. I also went through the 'blog's I'm following' list and deleted a bunch of stuff.  My snark coefficient is high enough as it is. I found a lot of it was simply bringing me down, and adding no nutritional value--spiritually speaking.  

Let's face it:  junk food is in no danger of going extinct in both a literal and metaphoric way. I just need to use a little more moderation in how much I consume in one setting.  Genghis Khan and his exploits will still be there tomorrow or even next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Initially Published at Modern Mormon Men on May 6, 2014

It has happened again.* This time it's the largest coin hoard ever discovered in the USA. A couple walking their dogs stumbled upon another coin hoard on their property in Northern California. Known as the Saddle Ridge Hoard, it contains 1427 coins in total form 1847 to 1894, with many being in mint/uncirculated condition.  It may be worth up to US $10 million. Not a bad find for just checking out an old rusty can at the side of the path.

This treasure lay hidden for over 100 years. It's secrets are long forgotten and it's richest unclaimed. I can't help but think of the account in the Book of Mormon that described how the people would hide their treasures in the earth to try and keep them safe from the Gadianton robbers.  These treasures were lost as "they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again (Mormon 1:18)."

These stories lend themselves to teaching moments as much now as they did in the Lord's day.  Jesus introduced the Parable of the Rich Fool with a warning to "beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."  This man's ground produced in great abundance--so much that he had to pull down his old barns and build bigger ones.  Having secured his wealth, he determined to 'eat, drink and be merry'.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:20-21).
I would love to have a coin from the Saddle Ridge Hoard.  It would probably be a better investment to work on being rich toward God.


* Here are links to some old posts on coin hoards discovered in Israel, Northumberland, UK and the woods north of London

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Close Encounters

Originally published April 1, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

Sometimes you run into the darndest people in this town. I don't think it would be hard for anyone to believe that Darth Vader has moved to Vegas now that's he has retired from his full-time position with the Dark Side. I captured the proof the other day on the way home from the dentist. I could tell from the wear on the decals on the back of his Suburban that he's been here in the desert a while. It was a cool encounter. 

What is truly unbelievable was my son seeing the plates of Darth's archenemy in the parking lot at Fry's Electronics. I was pleased to see He was in a domestic minivan rather than a something more exotic. It is also noteworthy that these are Nevada plates (Booyah Utah!). I guess He's putting a little time into this part of the vineyard--I just wish I knew which neighborhood He is living in. 

Undoubtedly this chance parking lot encounter would be less blogworthy if it were at the LV Temple or a Stake Center (or even Deseret Book).  But this was Fry's Electronics! He's mingling with regular people--not General Authorities or Temple Presidents. It  is sobering to think you could just as easily encounter Him at Target or Costco while loading your trunk with 3 or 4 cases of Diet Coke. It definitely throws a wet blanket on the whole what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas mantra. What's in your cart?

The revelations about the NSA's widespread surveillance of even our most mundane activities is certainly disconcerting. But if we really believe the things we claim to believe, we should expect that our lives are being scrutinized much more pervasively than just cell phone and internet communications (Hebrews 4:12; Alma 18:32; Alma 12:12-14). Encounter's with the license plates* of Darth Vader and Elohim on otherwise ordinary days certainly make you stop and think about who really is watching.  The fact that the angels above us taking notes do so silently makes it easy to forget they are there. Brennan Manning reminds us that they are not the only ones watching:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” 
Hopefully we are the same person in private as we are in public, in church as we are out of church.  It shouldn't shock anyone that we are believers. 

* I hesitate to call them vanity plates in the case of the latter

Friday, March 21, 2014


Illustration from Dante's Divine Comedy
by Gustave Gore
First Published March 20, 2014 at Modern Mormon Men

In the October 1964 General Conference, Sterling W. Sill made this bold assertion:
"Certainly the greatest problem of our generation is its titanism, as shown by our enmity toward the Almighty."
I have to admit that I had never heard of titanism prior to reading his talk (which immediately made it into my General Conference Classics file). In classical Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of giants with enormous size and strength that sought to rule heaven. They made war with Zeus and the other Olympians, but were ultimately defeated and thrown down. Titanism has therefore come to represent the tendency to be at defiance and revolt against tradition, convention and established order. Elder Still used titanism to represent "our unfortunate human inclination to fight against righteousness ... [and wage] war against God and his purposes."

The parallels between the War of the Titans and the War in Heaven (Revelation 12:3-14) are hard to miss. Similarly, we can't make it through an entire day without being confronted by the ferocity with which the world takes the fight to the gates of Heaven. But Elder Still wasn't talking to the world as much as he was talking to the church. The Church has always known it's share of conflict from within; perhaps the most unlikely titans that battle God do so from within His Church.

With the Priesthood Session of General Conference just around the corner, battle lines seem to be forming once more. The Ordain Women movement seems determined to press it's case, and the Church equally determined to hold the line. Not only was their petition for tickets denied, but their premise was labelled as "contrary to revealed doctrine". They were asked not to protest, but given maps on how to find "free speech zones" if they insist on doing so.

Let me be clear that I am not redefining titanism as the OW movement or any other movement in the Church. Any attempt to compile a list of offenses constituting titanism would be presumptuous; it's manifestations are highly individual anyways. Fundamentally, titanism is a state of mind that puts us at war with God on a individual level: our priorities become more important than God's priorities. Though we may agree with Him on everything else, even one point of disagreement is enough--if we feel strongly enough about it.

Though his talk was given almost 50 years ago, Elder Still's words resonate surprisingly well for us today (shades of President Benson's Beware of Pride). As a result we may immediately think he was focused on [insert the vocal iconoclast you find yourself most at odds with here]. But after reading this talk I had my own Robert De Niro-talking-to-himself-in-the-mirror moment. I realized that he is talking  to me. The rest of you might want to listen up as well. His words are not just descriptive of what ails us today, they also offer specifics on how to cure it:
"The greatest miracle ever performed by Jesus was not in controlling the angry sea but in disciplining his own will ... What a tremendous benefit we could bestow upon ourselves by calling off the war and learning to live at peace with God, not only in obeying him but also in agreeing with him."
God's requirement that we surrender our will to His, is asking a lot.  C. S. Lewis and Neal A. Maxwell have both weighed in on this with their usual eloquence.  But though the Lord asks everything of us, He has promised us much in exchange.
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. (D&C 64:34)
Periodically we all find ourselves in defiance with God. Though we may find ourselves surrounded by many like-minded souls, ultimately it's how much we share in common with God the matters most. One of the first steps in creating a lasting peace with God is deciding to "lay down the weapons of [our] rebellion" (Alma 23:7) and surrender to God. It is not sufficient to just walk away like some Zerahemnah. The gesture must be accompanied with a willing mind and followed by humble obedience. This may take a while.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Enduring Wisdom: Rudyard Kipling

Portrait of Rudyard Kipling
by John Collier, 1891
I have posted on Rudyard Kipling before. He's right up there with Ben Franklin on the quotability scale.  

On Self
“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” 

“Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves.” 

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

“Everyone is more or less mad on one point.”

“We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.”

On Others
“I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.”

“All the people like us are we, and everyone else is They.”

“It's clever, but is it Art?”

On Words
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

“He wrapped himself in quotations - as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” 

“We're all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.” 

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.” 

“Gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful,' and sitting in the shade.”

On Women
“A woman's guess is much more accurate than a man's certainty.” 

“The silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.”

“An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”

On Travel
“I have struck a city - a real city - and they call it Chicago. The other places don’t count. Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages” 

“San Francisco is a mad city - inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people whose women are of a remarkable beauty.”

“Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.”

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

“Down to Gehenna or up to the throne, he travels the fastest who travels alone.”