Friday, May 27, 2011

On Newton's Third law of Motion

Today, I'm going to blab a lot about physics.  Should you desire to tune out, as so many college students do to their professors, I won't mind.

Isaac Newton, as I said in a previous post, was a scientist back in the 1600s.  He had a lot to do with math, space, and figuring out some of the basic laws of science.  He's famous for his theory of gravity, his discovery of the laws of Calculus, and some of the basic laws of motion.  See that Youtube clip up there?  That's some science guy talking about Newton's third law of motion, which basically says that every force has an equal and opposite reaction.

Basically, that means that for every action, something else exerts a force exactly equal, but in an opposite reaction.  That's why rockets fly: all of the thousands of pounds of fuel exploding down exerts a force, Force A, for simplicity.  Force A also causes a force equal to Force A facing the opposite direction, Force B.  Force B lifts the rocket.

This is one of the basic laws of motion.  It is universally observed, because that's just the way it is.  If you're sitting on a chair with wheels and throw a weight across the room, you'll scoot back a few inches as a result of this law.

This always happens.

Luckily, we human beings are a bit different.  While the third law of motion acts upon us without our even doing anything, there are also different laws that I've thought up.  I've decided to call them the laws of Emotion.

The laws of Emotion are a bit weird, in that they aren't so much laws as suggestions, my observations on how to be happy.  The first one is, "Happiness is determined by you."

We are in complete control of our emotions.  We often hear people say, "He made me sad."  Truth is, you decided that you were sad because of something he did.  We often react, instead of simply acting.

The most difficult thing to do is just be happy, regardless of your situation.  If we are focusing on the things that truly matter, we can be happy no matter what happens.  It may be difficult, but it is possible.  We can be in pain, have nothing, or be mourning, and still be happy.  It's all a matter of attitude and desires, and whether we are focused on Jesus Christ or not.  Jesus will help us be happy no matter what.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why did it have to be snakes?

So, who here hasn't seen this movie?  If you haven't, I highly recommend that you crawl out from under the rock and get yourself to a Blockbuster.  It's taken from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie.  Steven Spielberg in his prime.  We won't go into the monstrosity that is the Crystal Skull.  I mean, come on.  Aliens?  What's more, he's still fighting Nazis twenty years later?


In this movie, Indy finds himself in a bit of a pickle.  He's looking for the Holy Grail, a cup that supposedly gives eternal life to he who drinks of it.  However, the Nazis have shot his father, and sent him in to try to beat the trials guarding the grail.  He's beat two of three, and that's when this clip starts.  His father's notebook gives him an impossible task: leap the gorge.

"It's a leap of faith," Indy mutters.

That's kind of what we have to deal with in our own lives.  I've seen it so often.  How can I possibly pay tithing?  I don't have much money, so I have the choice between paying tithing or buying food.  I remember one time, I paid what the Lord asked, and found a twenty dollar bill when I went to give the money to the Bishop.  I know that God makes a way to do what he asks.

We come to a place where we don't know what to do.  We've gone as far as we know how to do, and come to a wall of darkness.  We hear a voice that says, "There's light on the other side of this darkness. Come."

May we all leap, and trust in God.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Christian means...

Recently, I've been a bit puzzled by some of our critics.  By 'our critics,' I mean people who choose to slander the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, accusing us of not being "Christian."  I'm puzzled, mainly because the name of the church is the church of JESUS CHRIST.  Note that it's not the church of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, it is the church of Jesus Christ.

I can only wonder why it is that people would fight this church.  Mainstream christianity, as I understand it, teaches that in order for people to go to heaven, all they need to do is depend on Jesus Christ, to profess belief, and to pray that Jesus apply his merciful grace.  If there is any church that teaches people to believe in Jesus Christ, and to rely wholly on His merits, we are it.  Surely it is a good thing that we teach people this?  Surely people cannot object to our helping people go to heaven?

I've been told many times that we believe in a "different Jesus."  Yet nobody has ever been able to explain to me exactly how.  Let's see, Son of God? Check.  Born of Mary? Check.  Did many miracles? Check.  Died for our sins? Check.  Only way to ever get back to our Father? Check.

I just don't understand.  It doesn't make sense, and it's not true.  We are Christians.  By that, I mean that we believe that Jesus Christ is our savior, and the only way to be happy in this life or the next.  He was the only person, past or present, to live a sinless life.  He paid for our sins, suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and dying on the cross.

I know this to be true.  I wish everyone did.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

True or False?

I've always loved True or False quizzes.  Even if you didn't do anything to prepare, you still have around a fifty-fifty chance with each question.

Nowadays, I've found a new appreciation for the word truth.  It's a common word, bandied around like a cheap paperback book.  However, it actually goes much deeper than most people realize.
So, to start with, what exactly is truth?

Walter Cronkite is one of the most famous newsmen in the world.  For years, at the end of each broadcast, he would sign off, saying, "And that's the way it is."
I like that, and I've decided to steal that phrase for this blog.  Truth is "the way it is."  It doesn't need support from anything or anyone, and whether or not someone believes it has no effect whatsoever on it's truthfulness.  It's just the way it is.
The Oxford dictionary agrees; it defines truth as "that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality."
Let's say that someone comes up to you in the street, and tells you that two plus two does not actually come up to four.  Instead, it is actually five.  Is this man correct?  Is it true?
Of course not.  It's not true.  It just isn't the way it is.  It is an established fact that 2 + 2 = 4.  Nobody thinks to argue it, because to do so would be lunacy.

Unfortunately, there are very few things that are as clear-cut as the world of mathematics.  Rather, let us say that everything is that way, but that very few people realize it.
Let us take the question of God's existence.  Is there, in actuality, a God who is our Father, who loves us, who wants what's best for us?  Believe it or not, this is a true or false question.  Either he exists, or he does not.  If there is a 'higher power,' but is not God as most Christians imagine him, then that definition is not true; it does not accurately define reality, and should thus be discarded.
If we go back in time, we find Plato and other Greek philosophers.  They looked at all the evidence, looked at the sky, thought for a long time, and came to this conclusion:  We see the sun.  We see the stars.  They all move around us.  This earth goes on for miles and miles in every direction.  Therefore, the earth is flat, and the sun, planets, and stars all revolve around us.

I ask you, was this true?

Turns out, it wasn't.  In 1492, Christopher Columbus conned three ships off of the Queen of Spain, and sailed off into the sunset.  He believed that the world was round, but not in the traditional sense.  Instead of a humongous disk with water endlessly pouring off of the sides, he theorized that the world was actually a sphere.  If he sailed west far enough, he'd come out in the East.  It's too bad he didn't count on there being a new world in between Spain and the coveted Indies.  Either way, he disproved the flat-world theory.  It wasn't true.  It didn't accurately represent reality.  Saying that the world is flat just is not "the way it is."

Later on Nicolaus Copernicus published a book, On the Orbits of the Celestial Spheres, stating a theory.  Perhaps, the truth was not that the universe revolved around the earth.  Maybe, the earth and all the planets actually revolve around the sun, and then the stars revolve around that.  His theories caused so much stir among the intellectual elite that he almost did not publish his book.  This heliocentric, or sun-centric, model then became the accepted version.  Was it true?
Turns out, it wasn't.  The stars do not revolve around the sun.  We are a speck of blue among many other stars, each moving in its own motion.  This is the truth, as we know it.  However, even this could turn out to be a false representation of reality, "the way it is."
Should we be surprised that sometimes things are not as we think they are?  Plato, Copernicus, many scientists, all thought with all their soul that they were correct.  Isaac Newton invented calculus, to the dismay of college students everywhere.  His mathematics explained why things behaved.  It made sense.  However, his explanation and some of his mathematics were proven to be inaccurate by Albert Einstein.

I bet you're kind of wondering why I'm going off on all these tangents.  After all, what do Copernicus, Columbus, Newton, Plato, and all those other dead guys have to do with the Gospel?  As it turns out, everything.
Just as things are either true or false in mathematics and science, things are either true or false with religion.  Either Jesus was the Son of God or he was not.  Either he died for our sins, or he did not.  Either he came back from the dead, or he did not.  There is no middle ground.  It is either true or false.

It's important to distinguish here between truth and philosophy.  Truth, as I've been saying, is the way things are.  Philosophy is a bit like an opinion.  It is a truth that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  It is a philosophy to say that Jesus is God.  Philosophy is what people interpret from the Bible about certain subjects.  It could be false, it might have some truth.  The difference between Methodists, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, it's all a matter of philosophy.  People have interpreted the Bible, and some of them have not represented the truth.

I don't want to offend anyone by writing this.  I am recording my own observations.

Surely, the thing we all want most is to have the most truth we can.  Why would we waste time with philosophy when we can have truth?  

This applies to my church just as much as any other.  Did God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ really appear to a fourteen-year-old boy in upstate New York?  Did they really talk to him?  Did they really tell him that the church that Jesus Christ established had fallen away?  All of these are simple yes/no questions, and they can be answered by another yes/no question.

Is the Book of Mormon true?  Y / N

If the Book of Mormon is true, everything else falls into place.

How can we know?  By ourselves, we could not.  We could study, and examine, tear apart and deconstruct to the best of our ability, but in the end it would still be human beings trying to find the truth.  And you know that humans are very reliable, not changing at all.

Luckily, we have a lifeline to someone who does know.  If God says that something is true, don't you think he might know?  God doesn't lie, so if he tells us, we can know for a fact that something is true.
I know that Joseph Smith did see God and Jesus, and that they did in reality speak to him.  I know it because I've read the Book of Mormon, and I have prayed about it.  God has told me that the Book of Mormon is true.  By the feelings of the Holy Ghost within me, I know that this is the path that God wants me to travel.  And I promise all within the reach of my blog that if they do the same, God will tell them.

And that's the way it is.

Oh say, what is truth? 'Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch's costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.
'Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The sceptre may fall from the despot's grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes,
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast,
And the wreck of the fell tyrant's hopes.

Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o'er.
Though the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

Monday, May 9, 2011

C. S. Says...

C. S. Lewis is a genius.  That's all there is to it.  He was so in tune with the Spirit, he knew the restored Gospel before being taught it.  He wrote some of my favorite quotes, stuff like:

"You don't have a spirit; you are a spirit.  You have a body."
"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."
The best of all is that he's very logical about his theism.  Have you ever read Mere Christianity?  It has a very logical progression.  Read it, it's one of my favorite books.
Another one of his quotes, this one taken from The Magician's Nephew.  In this quote, Aslan says,
"I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him.  He has made himself unable to hear my voice.  If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings.  Oh, Adam's sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!"
I guess I'm just talking about this because some of the people that I've talked to over the past couple days have just made me better appreciate all that I have.
The first was a man named Bill.  He reminded me of Bill Cosby, to tell the truth.  He was just cracking jokes and telling stories about his family, his daughters, how eager he is to be out of the house if all the daughters are coming over.  We were all laughing up a storm.  He told us about his wife, his grandson, and his motercycle.
"Hey Grandpa, can we start up the bike?"
"Son, you don't need to beat around the bush!  What you mean to say is, 'Will you take me on a ride?' We're men! Say it like it is!  If you want to take a ride with grandpa, ask me, 'Can we go for a ride?'"
"Well, can we go for a ride?"
Then, he got really serious and started talking about life, talking about something his friend had told him.  "Bill, your life would be so much better if you trusted Christ with your life."  What followed was about twenty minutes of him talking to us about life and hypocrisy.  All those so-called Christians at church were not living according to how Christians should live, he said.  For example, if they saw a man robbing a woman, they would call the police, but not interfere.  Meanwhile, Bill is in the middle of the fight actually doing something.
He went to church once, and a big woman ran up to him and gave him a hug.  "Oh, a new member!  Oh, I looove you!"  And what if she tripped two feet from me, he asked.  It'd be like in Indiana Jones, where Indy runs away from a giant rock!  Who are you to say you love me?  You just laid eyes on me!  What's more, he told us that he's a realist.  Even if you're supposed to love everyone, we don't.  Moreover, you certainly don't love everyone in church.  Knowing that you don't and saying that you do, that's hypocrisy. 
He told us about how most of the people in the so-called Christian churches were looking down their noses at him.  He drives an old beater to work, lives in an old, small house, and rides a motercyle on occasions.  Why would a man who has accepted Christ be driving something like that?  His answer was that, yeah, he drives an old car; a car that has been entirely paid off.  Yeah, he lives in an old house; a house that has been entirely paid off.  And what's more, he doesn't have to worry about anything in his house, because he's living well within his means, instead of having a twelve-hundred-dollar a month mortgage, all in the name of keeping up with the Joneses.
He told us about how he had been in Vietnam, and had almost died.  A twelve- or thirteen-year-old child had stepped out of a bush and leveled a gun at Bill, and then pulled the trigger.  The safety was on.  The child turned off the safety, and was going to shoot again, when Bill shot the child.  He asked us, "Blessing? Or curse?  Why would God make me shoot that child?  I don't know.  The only thing that's keeping me going is the knowledge that eventually, I will know."
It just makes me hurt, because I know that the restored Gospel has the answers for him.  If he would listen, he could know all the reasons why bad stuff happens, why there is suffering, whether God really exists, why we're here.  All these things could be his, but he doesn't seem to be that open to listening to us.
Another person that really made me grateful for what we have is a man named Huey.  He's a friar at a Church of England, recently retired.  We got talking churches.  He explained about how he doesn't really thing that any church has all the truth.  We all have different pieces.  The Anglicans have a piece, the Catholics have a piece, the Mormons have a piece, and all the other denominations.  When we asked him whether Jesus might have an idea which church has all the truth, he said to be careful with our words; no church has all the truth.  He explained that he's studied all the churches, and he's convinced that the only way that we'll know is when Jesus comes, he'll tell us.  It's not possible to know the truth.
It really made me grateful for what I have.  I am able to tell everyone I meet the things that I know.  I know that this is the truth, the true church of Christ.  If we are willing to listen to him, we will know the truth.  Isn't that really what we're all looking for?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Satan's Breakout

I cannot say how much I love the Swansons.  They are the funnest family I've found on my mission.  (Close second would probably go to the Guzmans over in Lindenwold.)  It just feels different coming into a house where you know that you'll be accepted no matter what.  Sister Swanson makes some of the best empanadas I've had on my mission, and it's fun to talk smack on Brother Swanson when we're playing board games.

Speaking of games, I had a thought recently.  Have you ever played the game Breakout?  You know, that old Atari game where you bounce a ball into a wall of bricks to try to break it down?  You have to be careful to maneuver the shield at the bottom of the screen, because if you don't you'll lose a ball.  It was a game so successful and so simple that there have been dozens of clones of it.  (If you don't believe me, go to Wikipedia and search "Breakout Clones.")
Yeah, something like that.  Basically, the goal of the game was to get rid of all the bricks before you ran out of time.  I got to thinking lately about how the Gospel is in the most random things.  Even Breakout!

See, you might compare the things we do to the bricks.  We're trying to defend ourselves from the attacks of Satan.  His goal is to get us to do the bad stuff.  If he's able to get us away from the little things, the little fragile bricks like prayer and scripture study, it's going to be a lot easier for him to get us to do the big things like adultery or murder.

Now, imagine that every time you pray, a new brick appears.  The same thing happens for reading your scriptures and coming to church.  No wonder Satan is so frustrated!  He's playing a never-ending game of Breakout, and the bricks keep regenerating!  So long as we're doing the little stuff, doing all we can to be guided by the Holy Ghost, Satan can't touch us!

I'm constantly amazed that all the 'little things' in life turn out to be the most important.  Family, scripture study, prayer, all we need to do is focus on them.

I have to go now to help a man get baptized.  However, I encourage all of you to think about the little stuff in life.  That's a little thing too, you know.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

El Cinco de Mayo!

So, happy Cinco de Mayo for everyone!  Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July, is a big thing for Mexicans everywhere.  So I'm told, anyway.  I've never really seen any big parties being thrown on the 5th of May.  Maybe I'm just hanging around the wrong mexicans.

Either way, I've got some big news fresh from Salisbury.  Because of something that happened in the mission, one of the english elders serving in our congregation had to go to Philadelphia.  That means that Elder Curtis, the other english elder in our congregation will be staying with Elder Milstead and myself.  That means that we will officially be covering both areas, boarding in our old apartment.

I'm really excited about this.  It feels a bit like Christmas came way, way early.  (Then again, I'm not sure I want Christmas to come early this year, given the fact that I go home from my mission in November...)  We get a whole lot of new friends to talk to about God, and a lot of them have decided that they want to be baptized by someone holding the priesthood authority of God.  What's more, we now actually have enough silverware and plates to go more than one meal without washing the dishes!  It's a lot of fun to get to know more.

I'm not sure how exactly this will work, since this will be a 'zebra' companionship.  (Zebra is mission slang for when one companion is assigned to speak Spanish and the other English.)  Of course, we're going to continue to study spanish in the morning, but will Elder Curtis come to language training meetings with us?  How will we teach Spanish people when Elder Curtis doesn't understand what we're saying?  Most importantly, how can we slip an habanero into his food without him noticing?

Like most things in life, this leaves me with mixed feelings.  However, most of it is excitement.  This is a good change.  What's more, this means more pictures!

Remember y'all.  Jesus is good. Satan is bad. Be like Jesus.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I was considering putting a picture of Achmed the Dead Terrorist here, but I decided it would probably be in bad taste.  Aw, what the heck.  Because, you know there's nothing as good as bad jokes the day after something big happens.  Besides, I'm probably not even the first to have that idea.

It's kind of worrying what all is going to happen in the United States as a result of all this.  We will most likely be the target of international criticism.  However, we have struck a critical blow against Al'Qaeda; they are demoralized by the loss of their leader, and we've also obtained a lot of information about them.  It will be interesting to see just how things turn out with this.

It would be really easy to let all this slide.  After all, as missionaries we do not have much contact with the outside world.  We stay focused on our area and on teaching the gospel to people.  Life is very simple as a missionary; no TV, no newspapers, very limited internet.

Then, it turns out that we aren't so isolated after all.  We went over to Golden Corral for lunch yesterday.  Every single TV in the entire place was tuned to CNN, talking about just what went down.  It was amazing.  There are pictures of people celebrating all over the place, making pilgrimages to Ground Zero in New York, the Pentagon, the place where the other plane went down, all triggered by the death of a terrorist.

I have a mixed bag of feelings.  There's a quote by Martin Luther King jr, that says that hate cannot replace hate, nor darkness light.  While it is good that he is dead, to prevent any future damage, and that we have all this information not previously available, he's still dead.  Not much change going on.  Now, once Al'Qaeda regroups, they will attack with renewed fervor.

It would be really easy to retreat now; to go back into my shell of isolation where I knew what the heck was going on.  However, that's not really an option.  We need to go forward with faith.  Really, that's all I need.  I know that as long as I'm doing what I need to do, God will do his part.  Because with faith,

Monday, May 2, 2011

Action, Reaction

I have to say, I love mornings like this.  You can barely see the sun because of all the cloud cover.  It's nice and cool, only about fifty degrees.  It's a morning that you can run in, or just sit in without being uncomfortable either way.

We had a surprise this morning.  When we went to Brother Swanson's house to use his washing machines, he opened the door before we knocked, and said, "He's dead!"

Of course, the first thing I was thinking was "...what?"  I mean, who's dead?  It turns out that not only does the US know where Osama bin Laden was hiding, they've performed a strike and he is now dead.

I'm not sure how entirely to feel about that.  On the one hand, it certainly gives a nice sense of closure on the 9/11 attack.  He helped to kill thousands of US citizens;  now, ten years later, he's dead.

On the other hand, we have one terrorrist attack that launched a circle of death and destruction, doom and despair, that have destroyed many lives.  It was a necessary evil, but it was an evil nevertheless.  Now, one more person is dead.  For what?  To make some kind of example for future terrorists?  The only thing I can think of is that this will prevent any future harm he could cause.  It makes me sad and happy at the same time.

So often, we as human beings just want revenge.  We want to hurt those who hurt us.  If you punch me, there's a good chance I'm going to come back at you with whatever I have at hand.  I want you to hurt just as bad as you hurt me.

The only problem is that this solves nothing.  I believe it was Gandhi that said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."  So, I'm going to propose something that Lennon had in the works about thirty years.  "All we are saaaaying.... is give peace a chance!"  Let's all be ready for that day when Christ shall come, and establish a peaceful kingdom here on the earth.