Online Commentary

Standard

I occasionally skim through comments on internet news sites, almost always to my misfortune. My general reaction, particularly on politically- or religiously-tinged articles, is one of frustration. The words of Isaiah come to mind:

Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight! Wo unto… [those] who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! (2 Ne. 15:20-23; these verses quote Isaiah – see Isaiah 5:20-23).

Many online comments are toxic (this is the case for most social media sites). They are not helpful or uplifting. “Who is my neighbor?” the Savior was asked. He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan – a story about being filled with charity for all. In the community of the internet where neighbors can live as far as Tulsa, Tunisia, or Tehran, instead of reaching out in charity and understanding, too many people comment with bitterness and hate. Online interactions have the great potential to be positive and uplifting but too often they are worthy of Isaiah’s condemnations.

Hope springs eternal for me so I infrequently skim through comments to look for uplifting comments that defend good and right and are full of kindness and charity but most of the time my hopes are swept away by the swollen and swirling streams of comments and dashed on the jagged rocks of disappointment.

However, generosus equus non curat canem latrantem (meaning: “A well-bred horse doesn’t care about a barking dog”). All we can really do is make sure that we do not add to any of the toxicity of commentary.

Anti-Mormonism and YouTube

Standard

One obvious but relatively benign example of anti-Mormonism online is found on YouTube. Below are a couple examples from the “I’m a Mormon” videos. Just because I’m Mormon doesn’t mean I have to like a particular video (although I’ve yet to watch one I haven’t liked but I like lots of things in life); I as a Mormon might even dislike one or all of the “I’m a Mormon” videos and give it a thumbs down. Being Mormon doesn’t mean I have to like them and not being Mormon doesn’t mean I have to dislike them. However, almost every video uploaded by the LDS Church receives a significant number of thumbs down. After a while the thumbs up sometimes overtake the dislikes and some videos never receive a majority of dislikes but most do – simply because they are videos by the Church.

Now, not all the thumbs down are necessarily by people who are anti-Mormon, some are by people opposed to religion in general, but I’d venture to guess that most of the thumbs down are people who are specifically anti-Mormon; they might even think that disliking the videos has any consequence, such as the Church might stop posting videos – they won’t until they are ready to move on to some other way of spreading the gospel. That’s why I said this is relatively benign anti-Mormonism – it doesn’t really matter whether or not a video gets a lot of thumbs up or thumbs down. Sure, we’d like everyone to like the videos but that’s not going to happen. Disliking them won’t stop the Church from posting the videos. Besides, anti-Mormons don’t bother us Mormons very much because we (as a church) have been dealing with them since 1820 (or, 1830 if you want to link them to the year the church was founded in modern times). Most of us try to ignore the tinkling cymbals and sounding brass – they will eventually run out of energy and wind. People hated and persecuted and killed the Savior but He rose triumphantly from the grave and will eventually return triumphantly to the earth where He will rule and reign. People hated and killed Joseph Smith but doing so only gave his testimonies greater power. The Church did not die with Joseph Smith, nor will it ever be lost from the earth for it is the Lord’s Church.

I just think it’s sad how much time and energy people spend hating other people or hating the Church (in the U.S. the LDS Church is one of the least favorably viewed religions) or hating Mormons; I’ve never understood hate in general though. I’m not saying that the people disliking these videos on YouTube necessarily hate Mormons, but it’s largely driven by anti-Mormon sentiment.

I know there are many worse anti-Mormon actions out there, including a number of videos on YouTube, but they’re not worth mentioning or addressing. A number of years ago I decided anti-Mormon literature and videos were not worth addressing or trying to correct because I don’t like dealing with the evil spirit associated with such material. That’s why I said these dislikes on YouTube are pretty benign – even if they are driven by negative prejudice – because they aren’t lies about the Church or half-truths; they are simply actions of people who have lots of better things they could be doing but don’t.

BYU Devotionals, the Friend Magazine, and Internet Safety

Standard

Yesterday my 6 year old and I were watching a recent BYU Devotional address by Parris Egbert, a BYU professor. I was surprised my daughter wanted to watch the devotional (“This seems interesting; I want to watch it.”). During the talk he spoke about technology and how it can further the work of the Lord. Near the end of the address my daughter started looking bored so I asked if she understood what he was talking about.

“Not really.”

So I explained that part of what the speaker was saying was that technology is a blessing from the Lord so that His work might be better accomplished. So technology can be used for good. Then my daughter chimed up and said, “It can also be bad. There are some bad websites with bad pictures.”

“Yes, there are. Where did you learn about that?”

She then showed me the most recent Friend magazine, which had an article about what one boy did when he came across a bad website. She had just read that article earlier. I was happy that she remembered and understood what she read.

This led to a nice teaching moment where I taught her how to turn off the computer screen, or the computer if necessary, if she couldn’t close the bad website. Then I made sure that she knew what the most important thing to do was: tell Mom or Dad.

I thought that this was a great teaching experience for me, thanks to a BYU Devotional and an article in the Friend magazine. It was more powerful because she brought the issue of bad websites up as a counter to some of the positive uses of technology I was teaching her about.

I have to echo Bro. Egbert’s most important point from his BYU Devotional address – that as great as technology is, the best thing is reliance on the Spirit of the Lord. We need to live so that we are sensitive to His promptings. I’m grateful for a sweet daughter who is learning to listen to what the Spirit teaches.

Exploring the New LDS Website

Standard

I’ve had some time to explore the new LDS website (new.lds.org for the time being). I love the look and the overall layout. It is more image-heavy, which is a positive move that follows the general Web trend. Most people have access to high speed internet now, which allows for higher quality and more elegant websites. Navigation of the site is simple with the main destinations within a few clicks.

Here are screenshots demonstrating a few of the features:

Here is the new homepage. It is a “magazine layout” design with a rotating set of featured news stories. In the upper right is the link to take you to your LDS account sign-in. If you do not have an account you will need to create one, which requires your membership record number (ask your ward membership clerk) and your date of birth. However, people who are not members of the LDS Church can also create an LDS Account that will provide them a way to utilize a few of the tools of the site (scripture notes, highlighting, and so forth). Once you are logged in to the site, you will have access to some of the tools. I’ll briefly discuss options.

First, don’t forget to look at the footer for popular content as well as some other resources. Everything is self-explanatory.

Let’s move on to one great feature: instant search results. As you search you get some results instantly; there is the option to do a more advanced search but the recommended (instant) results should be a great place to start.

Here is a screenshot of the Menu toolbar; it is the main navigation center of the site:

Then, under Tools LDS Church members see the following:

One thing to note is the link to order you a copy of your Patriarchal Blessing. You can also order a copy (sent via postal service) of any blessings of deceased direct line ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents, etc). This is something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I found out the Church was planning on this feature.

Another Tools feature I like is the updated maps and church directories sites. You can see an outline of your ward (and stake plus other wards in your stake) boundary. Here is an example of my stake (with LDS church buildings designated by markers on the map).

The other feature I’m excited about is the online gospel notebook. You can highlight, underline, and add comments as you read the scriptures or other other gospel resources online. See the following screenshots. You can add notes and tags as well as store your notes in different folders.

There are many new features. All these advances in technology allow the Church and Church members to have greater access to the words of the Lord through His prophets. The Church’s technology team has also included social media aspects – sharing verses on Facebook or Twitter or via email. Some of the Church’s missionary efforts have been through technology already but they are continuing to be even more technology-heavy. This is because many of us are around computers a lot, whether they are in front of us as laptops or desktops or in our pockets as smartphones or iPods or internet tablet devices (which do not necessarily all fit in pockets). We can watch General Conference just about anywhere now. Audio and video recordings of sessions are posted within hours. Text is posted within days (it is posted online on the Thursday following Conference).

Technology is a means to an end. The end in this case is the eternal life of all humankind. The Church embraces all technological advances that the Lord gives unto us if they help the message of the Restoration reach more people in more meaningful ways. The Church for the most part uses existing technologies; there is no need to recreate the wheel, so to speak. Sites like YouTube already exist so the Church uses YouTube. All science and technology are inspired by the Lord and all are given to advance His work. They can also be used for evil purposes as well, which Satan is quick to tempt people to do, but Satan always tries to distort everything good. He delights in twisting truth and purveying perniciousness and unhappiness. We need to flood the earth with that which is good and positive and godly. The new LDS website and the new Mormon.org site are part of that goal.

New Mormon.org Beta Site

Standard

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continuing its expansion into social networking and the social web with its beta of its new Mormon.org website. Members of the Church are able to create profiles that allow them to share their testimonies and personal experiences with those who visit the website. These profiles will start to go live later this year. Here is a sample profile from the website (click on the image to enlarge it):

I think it is great the Church is trying to personalize its websites. After all, mormon.org specifically is designed for people who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so it is part of the missionary work of the Church. Missionary work is always more effective when general members are involved rather than just full-time missionaries. Soon people who are not members of the LDS Church as well as those who are will be able to connect with each other through these profiles. Those who have profiles are able to link to their Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts or personal (non-business) blogs if they wish to share these links. The purpose of these new profiles is to demystify the Church by allowing normal people to share their testimonies of the Savior and of His restored Gospel.

I think it is great that the Church remains current with the times and engages new technology in ways to share the gospel and expand the habitations and tents of Zion (see Isaiah 54:2).

Tools for Gospel Students and Teachers

Standard

I hold the opinion that the most important tools for teachers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the scriptures and the Holy Ghost. Sensitivity to the Spirit and knowledge of the scriptures will allow a teacher to teach powerful lessons that help those being taught have a stronger desire to live the gospel. “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C; 50:21-22). Having the Spirit of the Lord is vital in gospel teaching.

There are other tools that can benefit gospel teaching and learning. The LDS Church recently released their Gospel Library iPhone app. While there were other LDS library apps out previously, none were official apps of the Church. I use this app on my iPod to both prepare lessons and to teach my lessons. In the app you can annotate the scriptures or lesson manuals by adding your own cross-references and notes. The other boon for my lessons is the fact that most of the Teachers in our quorum (okay, 2 out of the 3 active young men) have either an iPhone or an iPod Touch. This means that not only do they always have their scriptures with them, they also have the Aaronic Priesthood manual that we use for the lesson. This allows them to follow along with the lesson (at the portions of the lesson when I’m using the manual) and find the scriptures quickly. For the one youth who does not have an iPod or iPhone to use, the lack of the device has not been an issue because I never make it one.

If everyone had an iPod Touch or iPhone or iPad then I would make the app a little bit bigger portion of my lessons but for now I’m just glad that some of the Teachers can follow along with the lesson. This will help them remain a little more focused on the lesson, or at least the gospel if they are browsing through the app during the lesson.

One thing I like about having the LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod is having scriptures and lesson manuals and conference addresses with me at all times. If I have some down time I can read the scriptures or prepare a lesson or listen to General Conference whenever I want to and wherever I am (within reason, of course!). Many times I’ve been riding the bus to or from the campus where I attend school when I had a gospel insight – or rather, when one came to me through the Holy Ghost – that I jotted down in my iPod note app. Now I can also jot down these thoughts right in the LDS Library app near an appropriate scripture. Soon these notes or highlights or cross-references will sync with the new LDS Gospel Library website. Or, if I annotate my scriptures online, it will sync with my iPod app. I’m looking forward to these tools.

Most of my gospel study and reading is done on a computer (iPod included). This has been the case for nearly two years now. While I occasionally pick up my hard copy scriptures and read them (something that I miss but not enough to make it my primary method of study), I mainly use electronic forms of scriptures. I do this in part because this blog is a large part of my gospel study. Having tools that allow me to better consolidate and correlate my study is a step forward in adding consistency to my study. Being able to sync my mobile study with my at home (or school) study allows me to transfer information to this blog better. It also allows me to have all my notes for my Sunday lessons in multiple places but synchronized between those places. This will also allow the young men that I teach to highlight scriptures on their iPods or iPhones in class or in Seminary and have that information also available online.

One issue I can see is when they go on missions but I think it is a good idea to have a new set of scriptures just for a mission that get read and annotated and cross-referenced with things that are most meaningful to the missionary at the time. I have to admit that I have not added much in the way of notes or cross references in my scriptures since I returned home from my mission almost 9 years ago. I added some notes but I haven’t generally been able to devote hours per day to scripture study like I could as a full time missionary. I figure that between studying in the mornings before we went out, studying sometimes at lunch time, and studying and reading at night before bed or at other random times, I got in a good 2-3 hours of gospel studying every day. I did not have to learn a new language (something that is both fortunate and unfortunate) so I could devote much time to studying the gospel. I cannot often devote that much time to gospel study now due to family, school, and church responsibilities. However, what having this LDS Gospel Library app on my iPod does is allow me to make better use of my ‘downtime’ (such as when I ride the bus or walk across campus). As a related note, that is also why I enjoy having the General Conference podcast on my iPod – I can listen to talks as I walk across campus or ride the bus. On weekdays I typically get through at least two talks. They are great sources of knowledge and Spirit, especially because I often miss talks the first time around due to dealing with young children.

These are all tools the Lord is helping make available so gospel study and hearing and reading the words of His prophets are more accessible than ever. While we should never let technology overwhelm our lives (not that I’m one to preach much about that because I am almost never away from a computer or my iPod – due in part to what I do as a student but also due to my preferences for leisure time), technology is a part of our lives. It can be used for both good and evil. If we spend our time with the good we will not have time for the evil (not that that is sufficient reason to not do evil – “I’m only not sinning because I do not have time to” – rather, our reasons to not sin should be because we are sanctified and have no more disposition to do evil; however, crowding out the evil with the good is certainly a start). If you are going to spend the bulk of your time using technology (e.g., computers), at least make it productive and worthwhile and do good.

Whether we are teachers at church or home or simply studying for ourselves, there are new tools that allow for easier and more frequent gospel study. I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to have access to God’s words wherever I am.