Sunday, October 2, 2011

Drinking from the Fire Hose of Spiritual Knowledge

It's finally General Conference weekend.

I've been needing this week for a long time. It's a week when members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend 10 hours over the course of two days to drink from the firehose that is continuing revelation on Earth.

Imagine you live in ancient biblical times. Now imagine that Moses was coming into town. Moses, like all prophets of the Lord anciently, spoke with God face to face to receive guidance, instruction and authority to relay to the rest of God's children of the era.

Now image that you have the chance to meet Moses. It may be direct interaction. Or it may just be a handshake. Perhaps a wave. He might even nod at your, or tip his staff to you. But there will assuredly be some small morsel of special direction just to you, a sign that you are not forgotten by a loving Heavenly Father. Would you not drop all your appointments so you could go meet him?

That's what General Conference is.

What was good for God's children in ancient Israel is still good for his children now. We have prophets, seers and revelators on the Earth today. Should we not rush out and proclaim the words these prophets speak to us? General Conference gives us the incentive to do just that.

What better time do we have to share what makes Mormons so special than now? We are fast approaching an election year, with two GOP hopefuls from within our own faith. There's a Broadway musical based (sort of ... OK, not really) on a holy volume of scripture from which our nickname is derived. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are everywhere — in politics, television, movies, media, pop culture, sports and anywhere in between.

But most important, they are all around you. They might live next door. They certainly live on the same block. They definitely live in your hometown. So get to know them. I promise, we're not as weird as you think.

Elder L. Tom Perry said, "The growing visibility and reputation of the church presents a remarkable opportunity to as its members ... More importantly, we can share who we are."

Elder Perry, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, also shared several tips to help Mormons in their gospel and belief sharing habits. If you're a Mormon, review this list and make sure you know it, for it is inspired by God. If you're not a member, know these tips so that you can remind us if we stray from it.

1. We must be bold in our declaration of Jesus Christ. We believe in Christ as our Lord, our Redeemer, our Savior. There is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved.
2. Be righteous examples to others. Mormons are taught higher standards than many professed by the world. It's not because we are better; it's because we are striving to be like God.
3. Speak up about the church. Others invite us to share more than we know. Accept those invitations.
If you're not a member but want to know more about what we believe, just ask. It's not hard. And we'll appreciate it, I promise. If you are a member, don't run in shame and fear if somebody asks you about your beliefs (even if the questions range from obscure to uncomfortable). We cannot hide our light forever. Testify of what you know; it can always make a difference.

I'll be back with more tomorrow from the final two sessions of Conference. In the mean time, follow me on the Twitter widget in the column of this blog. Or check in with me on any other social networking site you used to navigate here (Who uses search engines anymore, right?)

Here's an example of something one of the Apostles taught us at this most recent session. Elder David A. Bednar spoke on a subject that is incredibly special to me, because it was once a university major of mine: Family History and Genealogy. I hope you learn from it as much as I did.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why the World Needs More LDS Journalists. And Why It Probably Won't Get Them.

Some things are perfect for each other. Peas come in pods. Roses come in bouquets (and with thorns). Bees come from hives that make delicious honey.

Add Mormonism and journalism to that list.

Journalism is an essential branch of society, often dubbed The Fourth Estate by those in government and other political positions. It's a watchdog that alerts us when government is running amok, when society is on the verge of anarchy, when dishonesty is the norm and morals are decaying.

It provides us a safety valve so that we, the valued system, can stand up and make a change.

It's a warning voice. It was so important that, even as early Saints in the modern era of the church were driven from state to state, the prophet Joseph Smith established a printing press in several cities — stressing an ability to communicate the church's message to the masses.

Theology inherent to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has as an essential tenant of its faith, the need to rise up and raise a voice of warning to the masses. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, the true gospel of our Lord and Savior, the kingdom of the true and living God.

Journalists who have a sense of purpose, a clear distinction between right and wrong and a desire to effect change in a broken system are essential to the process of the Fourth Estate. Watchdog journalists work best when they are constantly alert to the dangers and moral ills of society, ready to alert the spread of contagious malfeasances so that medicine can be prescribed in an efficient and timely manner.

Such ethics in journalism are being replacing by a moral relativism like few other fields in the world.

John C. Merrill has stated, "Most journalists view ethics as relative, varying from press system to press system, ideology to ideology, culture to culture, and country to country. In fact, many journalists see ethics as relative to news medium, time and situation even within the United States. It is easy to succumb to what has been called in philosophy the 'naturalistic fallacy' — the idea that whatever is, should be. The fact that journalistic ethics vary from place to place and time to time does not prove that such ethics should so vary."

The world of journalism is changing. Declining circulation, loss of advertising revenue and more readers who prefer to consume their news for free from online news aggregators and blogging sites have led to dramatic cuts and changes in the news world as we know it today. Not only have those changes shaped the modern newsroom, but it's also shaping the modern journalist and his view on society. A 9-5 news reporter is no longer viable. A watchdog journalist must be ever-vigilant, ready to break a story wide open at a moment's notice, and willing to drop everything to pursue a scoop — even if at an inconvenient time of day.

Why is that a problem with Mormonism?

Mormons are taught to prioritize life. God, family and an effort to perfect oneself individually are dominant factors in that life. This takes time. And it's time that many journalists don't have. In the new journalism of 60-hour work weeks and erratic schedules, there is little room for three-hour worship every Sunday, a weekly family night to teach gospel principles to children, and an active involvement in the lives of children.

It's driven many practicing journalists away from the industry. And it's pushing active Latter-day Saints away faster. The excuses are tolerable, even noble, and cannot be discounted as "petty:" the need to raise and provide for a family is too great; the desire to enhance one's relationship with diety, a loving Father in Heaven; the priority on marriage and exaltation (as well as the heavy investment required in achieving the above-mentioned goal). All are priorities that should come before an employer, because they matter much more than keeping an employer or publisher content in his pocketbook in one's eternal progression.

I'm a journalist. I'm a Mormon. And despite my brief career in the industry, I find it increasingly harder to rationalize myself as both. The world in which I work is negatory — often downright derisive — of values espoused by most religions, but especially those of the Latter-day Saints. Meanwhile, members of the church to which I belong are often toothless — and yes, even derisive — of the values espoused by working members of the media.It's created a duo-persona in my life, with one side that reflects journalism and objectivity and another that reflects service to God and man, as taught by my religious dogma.

But no man can serve two masters. One will eventually wear down over time, and leave a relationship devoid of personality, defunct of values and difficult to maintain.

The only question is: which falls first?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Look Back. Never Forget.

I celebrated 9/11 today.

But I didn't hang a wreath on a soldier's tomb. I didn't visit Ground Zero in New York City. I didn't salute the troops at the VA home, or take a moment of silence at halftime of a live football game.

Instead, I continued my life.

And I don't think that's a bad thing.

I've been away from home a lot on Sunday. Between calling duties (second one received last week!), family history, firesides, missionary work and other appointments, the Sabbath day is also one of my busiest days.

Today was no different. I left my house at 10:30 a.m., and returned at nearly 9 p.m. It was a day filled with amazing talks, fabulous music, Sept. 11 inspiration and remembrances, football (well, a little bit) and CES Firesides.

Those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as those who have given their lives in defending freedom in the decade since wouldn't have it any other way. They died so that we could live. And not just go on with life — but truly live. They want us to experience the best of life, to be anxiously engaged in building the kingdom of God, to foster love and faith in our families, to show love and forgiveness to our neighbors, to give service to a stranger, to say 'I love you' to the honey as he crawls into bed after midnight, and to spend a day playing with your children.

If we don't live, but only live after 9/11, then we haven't lived up to our potential. I will never, ever forget, but I also don't want to live so much in the past that I become afraid to face the future. My life is not an ever-increasing number of pasts with a dwindling supply of futures, but a constant number of presents. That's where I want to live my life.

We must never forget where we were on that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001. Ten years later, and the United States of America has not forgotten. But we have moved forward. Like the constant streams of light that sit where two towers in NYC once did, we will continue to shoot onward and upward, stretching into infinity until the day when every tear shall be wiped away, every knee bowed, and every tongue confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Until that day.

"I would hope that we can never forget the principles of freedom that we enjoy here," a source on BYUtv said. Let us be grateful for all we've been given, and all we have. Remember those who were lost on that fateful day a decade ago.

But do it while keeping an eye on the future. It is what has made America great to this point. And it's what will keep making us a leader in the world.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Marriage is a Place of Service

I found a reason.

Past and former readers of this blog know my strong reluctance toward marriage, mainly because I'm disgusted with the dating game. It seems fruitless to spend money on another man's wife, and I simply haven't felt the desire to be married or slog through the moments that capture perpetual YSA-hood (especially in the church).

I felt a slight change this week, though.

I've been on a cooking binge lately, trying to find new ways to use the various appliances I've purchased or received as gifts in the past few months (Yes, friends; I am a single Mormon guy and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen using cooking aides that I asked for as gifts on holidays). The experience has been a mixed review; I am by no means Emeril or Martha Stewart, but I've come to adequately use a crockpot and can grill with the best of 'em.

It just sucks not having anyone with whom to share it.

Maybe that's why marriage is such a vital institution: it gives man and woman the opportunity to serve.

President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of the necessity of marriage in acquiring Christ-like attributes:

"There is no other arrangement that meets the divine purposes of the Almighty. Man and woman are His creations. Their duality is His design. Their complementary relationships and functions are fundamental to His purposes. One is incomplete without the other."

Service is vital to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without it, we cannot acquire the qualities of love, hope, charity or even (to some extent) faith. By serving our fellow men, we are serving the Lord. And him whom we learn to serve, we learn to love.

I don't want to get married out of an incessant desire to be with a particular woman. I don't want to get married so that I can multiply and replenish the Earth, fulfilling one of the great commandments of the Lord. I definitely don't want to get married to aspire to leadership positions, both in a career and in the church (trust me; I abhor leadership — some might even say, fear it).

But service to your spouse should be a foundation of any marriage. Again, from President Hinckley:

"If every husband and every wife would constantly do whatever might be possible to ensure the comfort and happiness of his or her companion, there would be very little, if any, divorce. Argument would never be heard. Accusations would never be leveled. Angry explosions would not occur. Rather, love and concern would replace abuse and meanness."

How does this affect me, a Single Vegas Mormon? By preparing to serve in this capacity, I find myself desiring marriage even more. By refusing to take for granted the institution of marriage, I can avoid the pitfalls that lead to so many difficulties in early married life. By learning to serve now, I can better transition to serving my future spouse.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks counseled against a "me-first" attitude when approaching marriage:

"Modern prophets have warned that looking upon marriage “as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure … and severed at the first difficulty … is an evil meriting severe condemnation,” especially where children are made to suffer."

I feel this is a good time to share the church's latest "Mormon Message." In a world where marriage and family are denigrated for personal fulfillment and achievement, remember the words of an Apostle of Jesus Christ. If you have strayed from the happiest levels of marriage, you can come back. The Lord wants you to "keep our love, and our marriages, our societies and our souls, as pure as they were meant to be."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We're hiatus-ing

I'm on vacation.

I still have to work, and I have several other events taking placing in town that will require my attention. I won't leave a lengthy explanation of vacation on my work voicemail, and I will be responding to calls on my cell phone and emails to my various accounts.

But I need a break. From Twitter.

If you haven't heard by now (likely from me), Twitter is the 140-character nanoblogging service that has revolutionized the Internet and social media, with news services, athletes, celebrities and the common man counting themselves among its millions of users.

And I've been very active with it. I use Twitter during football (er... soccer...) matches, college football season, college hoops smorgasbords, LDS General Conference, sacrament meeting snoozers, planning and coordination of events, breaking news and anything else for which you can use the outlet.

But I've had enough.

L.A. Galaxy and U.S. men's national team star Landon Donovan (via his Twitter account) said he was stepping away from the popular service because "there's too much negativity on there." Likewise, I've had a few friends comment to me similar things, stating that Twitter has become its own version of high school — except with 24-years-and-older versions of their teenage selves. It's a popularity contest where the medium has taken over the media it once broadcast.

And I'm sick of it.

I never liked the cliques and social circles of high school; I always tried to pass through several categorical listings. I was a three-sport athlete, a page editor for the school newspaper, a Thespian, a recovering ballroom dancer, a gamer, an occasional semi-professional B-boy, a budding fashionista and the only Gringo silly enough to take AP Spanish. One of the few titles I didn't inherit, it would seem was Prom King — quite possibly because I never went to a prom night.

When I graduated, I thought I had left high school behind. Sure, there were many things I would miss: weekend wrestling tournaments; theatre rehearsals that lasted through the night and well into the morning; football games where the better action was in the stands rather than on the field; all-night video game sessions with the boys where we subsisted on Mtn Dew and Cheetos.

But I never missed the cliques. And that's what Twitter has become. Cliquish. Uncontrolled. A popularity contest.

And, for now, I'm done with it. I have plenty else to optimize my time. A new high school sports season approaches quickly, and we have a Web site to outfit. I'm two weeks away from taking the GRE, which will dramatically influence my future. And I want to write more on this blog (you know, because I don't do that enough, working as a newspaper reporter).

I'll still be around. Just not on Twitter. And I'll be back; there's a good chance I'll be around before the NFL Lockout ends, and I'll have more time to tweet once I've taken The Test.

In the meantime, I'll still be "hanging out" (thought not literally) on Google+. I still have email and this blog. And I still have the old-fashion phone and unlimited text messaging for anyone who knows me in real life.

It should be enough — while I'm on hiatus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More than Treading Water

I haven't posted in several months.

It seems to be the current state of my life — full of the best of intentions, with desires to do what's right for me, my family and my current economic outlook. But I just can't see to bring myself to the final step.

I have a test in two weeks, one that will dramatically determine the direction my life takes in the forthcoming years. It's called the GRE, and it's required for admission into graduate school. I haven't taken a test, enrolled in a class or completed an assignment in two years. And so, needless to say, this step terrifies me. What if I don't do as well as I expect? What if my best efforts aren't good enough to further my education? What if I find I'm just not good enough for a goal that's been mine since junior high?

Fear and doubt are paralyzing me, making me float in a river of mediocrity for the past several months. And the interesting thing about floating is you never see yourself taking a step back. I don't feel like I've degressed in life — but I'm sure I have. Physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually; the longer I float, the more I feel myself being drained at the end of each day.

And that's when I realize I'm not the only swimmer in this pool. All around me are people doing the same thing, trying to stay afloat in a tide that is constantly changing and threatening to capsize us with every wave, great or small. Sometimes, it's all we can do to tread water, float along the pool's surface, keep our mouths inches above the element so that we may gasp for air.

But there is one who promises we can make it. The Master who walked on water in his mortal ministry is there so that we can do more than tread water, but actively swim against a current that beats, batters and belittles us at every turn. All it takes is a little faith; and, like the apostle Peter, we realize that's the hardest part.

But He is there. He stands on the water, with an arm outstretched, pleading for us to take His head and walk with Him to the shore.

Jesus Christ has borne our sins, our transgressions, our iniquities, our trials, our temptations, our sickness and our ailments. And he promises that, despite all those imperfections, we can make it to shore — if we just push a little harder, swim a little faster, have a little more faith.

And sometimes, just tread a little more water.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am more than my Marital Status

I start out by exclaiming at the top of my lungs, "I am more than a Single Mormon," even if it doesn't seem evident in the title of this blog.

As a young adult who has grown up a Latter-day Saint, I've been exposed to marriage and family since I was a 5-year-old. It's been so deeply ingrained into my psyche that I could almost express the desire for an eternal companion and lively seed over the pulpit (luckily, I will not). I have seen so many friends as they engage, endure and enthusiastically enjoy marriage (Plus-4 alliteration!) that I feel I've almost become an expert on the subject, despite have no experience of my own.

That's what makes the common question and greeting, "Why aren't you married yet?" so enraging. It's like asking a blind man, "Why can't you see that beautiful sunset?" or begging a deaf girl to "Just pay attention to the beautiful chords in this concerto."

You've seen how I feel about various counsel from the Brethren regarding marriage and family. President Monson has implored us. Elder Scott has mercifully deluged us. It seems to be a reoccurring them — not just at General Conference and weekly sacrament meetings — but in CES Firesides, Institute devotionals and other forums of religious learning.

It was even the issue of a marvelous submitted Editorial to the Salt Lake Tribune. And that a  Mormon from outside the Mormon Corridor would take the time to submit his prose to one of the two most influential newspapers in Utah says this is becoming a hot topic of interest around the worldwide church.

My married friends constantly wonder how they can help me "to become married." That's not something I like discussing. It makes me feel inferior to them, simply because I have not yet had the opportunity to seriously court, engage and wed an eternal companion. But I am so much more than my marital status, and so is every young single adult in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Acknowledging us for what we are not diminishes the qualities that we currently possess. Many of us are career-laden, active in charitable and community organizations, and important pieces of various networks in our cities and towns. I've seen lawyers, doctors, teachers, athletes, homeowners, businesspeople and even — gasp — journalists, who are still in bachelorhood.

In other words, we are not all social miscreants who play video games all day, live in our parents' basements and gorge ourselves on Cheetos and Mountain Dew.

If you really want to know how you can help us, this is a good place to start. I know the publication is from an eternity ago (aka 2004), but Bro. Brough's advice is still relevant today.

The following statement made it past church curriculum, so I'm assuming it to be doctrinally sound: "Because many married people found their spouse at an early age, they might not fully appreciate the fact that for others, finding the right partner does not come so soon or so easily." 

Do not assume that what worked during your days of dating and courtship will translate to your single friend or family member; the beauty of the gospel is that God has a plan for each individual. The value of living Prophets and Apostles is that the Lord can continually re-evaluate the counsel He has given to His people. The glory of personal revelation is that we can all receive answers to our soul-burdening questions in our own ways and in their own time.

My single status is not a communicable disease, like leprosy or skin boils. Singles of the church do not need to be ostracized, but rather loved and embraced, regardless of how long it may take us to receive the full blessings of eternity.


Here's a great story from a single convert to the church. This young man is more than a number, more than a statistic, and most importantly, more than a marital status.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

'He is not here: for He is Risen.'

It's Easter morning as I type this, but I can't see bunny rabbits, tall strands of green grass or hidden eggs in front yards, waiting for delighted children to find them and crack them open for candy hidden inside.

Instead, all I can hear is silence. The silence, as if of a graveyard, with none around but those who slumber and wait for that greatly anticipated day of resurrection.

Fitting, I suppose.

For on this Sunday, the world celebrates the greatest miracle ever known. On this special day, exactly 1,979 years ago, the Son of God was raised from the dead — his mortal putting on immortal — in power and glory, that we might be able to follow him and do the same.

Many look for signs of Christ in remembering his suffering in a garden called Gethsemane, or on a cross overlooking a hill named Golgotha — 'Place of the Skull.' But just as an angel of the Lord announced on this day more than two millenia ago, "Here is not here: for HE IS RISEN." Christ is not in the cross; he is not on Golgotha; he doesn't not wait for us as the spirits which look "forward with an eye of faith, and view this body being raised in immortality." Rather, Christ lives; He is not in the symbols of death that enshroud the Christian world's concept of this sacred holiday, but rather in the symbols of Spring time — rebirth, resurrection, and new beginnings. Even as a caterpillar emerges from its cocoon as a butterfly, or a duckling breaks free of its entrapment from within that which once held its form, so too has Christ broken free of the shackles of sin and death.

And he has promised us that we can, too.

The miracle of Easter is not only in His returning from death and sin; it is that we all may do likewise. Even as we try to follow and emulate the Savior, the Son of God and the Master, we can do as He did. Where is the sting of death? Yea, it is swallowed up in Christ Jesus.

May we all remember the true meaning of Easter, even as we contemplate Him who first celebrated it so long ago.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Marriage is What Brings Us Here Today

'Twas a special weekend in April, and not just because the weather here in fabulous Las Vegas was gorgeous. This weekend marked another year's passing with the 181st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a special weekend for me, and more than 14 million Mormons around the globe, as we listened to the inspired counsel of Prophets and Apostles, leaders of the church who preside and guide the daily affairs of the Lord's kingdom on Earth.
This one hurt, though.
There are three talks that mentioned the dreaded 'M' word, specifically, and several more that pointedly struck me at several spots, prompting me to cower at my inabilities and wince at my many imperfections. I'm talking, of course, about Marriage (because "Marr-waige is what bwings us two-get'er today"). In particular, a Prophet of God, President Thomas S. Monson called me out.
Two of his Apostles, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Richard G. Scott, also called me out. One spoke of having a desire to marry. The other used his death-stare to subdue me into dating "those poor sisters in the church." Then, to top it off, Elder D. Todd Christofferson came out to tell me not to murmur, but to accept correction with humility and gratitude.
I know what you're thinking: there's no way he knew he was calling you out specifically. And maybe he wasn't. But in the Saturday evening Priesthood session (for male members of the church), President Monson took a dramatically obtuse tone in directing his remarks to young single adult men in the church around my age — those who had gone through life "just having fun" and "enjoying being single" without "putting any real thought or effort into marriage."
"Nothing in this life will give you greater happiness than marriage," President Monson said. Sounds simple enough, right? It gets better. He then quoted former President Harold B. Lee.
"You are not living up to your priesthood if you purposefully put off marriage to a righteous woman in the House of God."
OUCH! I was struck. I had always considered myself a solid, faithful, active Mormon who fulfilled his priesthood responsibilities (with the occasional Home Teaching gaffe, sure, but who doesn't?) and magnified his calling. Yet because of my reluctance to dive into the forbidden, scary and outright intimidating world of dating, courtship and marriage, I wasn't living up to my promises. I was — in many ways — denying my covenants, and forfeiting blessings that could be had — whether I find true love or not.
Three talks. Three specific examples in which the general church leadership admonished young single men to "get with the program" and focus on finding — or creating — an eternal family. It hurts. It stings. It's the sharpest admonition I've ever received.
I guess I have a lot of work to do. Sigh.

To lighten things up a bit, here's a video made by a BYU student ward about courtship and marriage. How long is too long? How short is too short? This answers it all (well, sort of).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Building on a Sure Foundation

It's definitely been far too long since I updated here. I'm sure both of my followers are saddened and dejected, too.

I was watching an episode of "Glee," recently (yes, I do watch that show; and yes, I do enjoy it. If you can't understand that, then it's probably best we never speak again), and I was amused by the value of the "Comeback" episode [aka the "Bieber-licious mock-up"] regarding Gospel principles.

Throughout the episode, Rachel is trying to regain her status as "Top Diva" at McKinley High, and she spends an exorbitant amount of time and energy attempting to be a trend setter. Eventually, her fashion for unicorn sweaters and librarian skirts catches on at the school, but it's not attributed to her — the rejuvenation of a trend once seen as early as the 1940's.

At the beginning of the ep, Rachel attempts to make leggings "the new fashion at WMHS." She enlists Brittany in this quest, but the ditzy-blonde cheerleader wears them on her arms — a trend that becomes "all the rage" at the high school. Interestingly enough, this trend was actually a popular fashion in the 1980's, a fact likely lost by most of Glee's target audience of post-1990 babies.

The rest of the episode droned on and on about Justin Bieber, as girls routinely went ga-ga over his "music" and guys continually obsessed over it to impress them. The cycle perpetuated, until no one was really certain how any trend began.

Contrast that to the Gospel. Although the standards professed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not as popular as Justin Bieber in the late aughts, or arm-leg-warmers in the 80's, they are nevertheless true and will bless the lives of all those who follow them.

Fashion and trendiness comes and goes. But when we build our lives on the Rock, which is Christ the Lord, we establish a foundation that will keep our houses strong when the storms come and the rains of life pelt us with an unwavering storm.

No matter what fashion or society say about it, the Gospel remains true — a sure and constant guide for all who follow its path.

One of the many fabulous videos of the church's official "Meet the Mormons" project. This one made me tear up a bit the first time I watched it.