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