Carried Away Captives: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

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A prominently displayed phrase around the campus of Brigham Young University (BYU) is “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” I’ve always loved this phrase as a reminder of the goal of a BYU education – to serve others and spread light, truth, and knowledge.

Four verses in Jeremiah reminded me of that phrase: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Now what exactly do those verses have to do with that phrase seen often at BYU?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter (an epistle in the terminology of the New Testament) to “the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1). This letter was sent to the diaspora Jews and other descendants of Israel. Jeremiah counseled those who were taken away captive to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children, and so forth. They were to live their lives, just as the Israelites did in Egypt. Further, they were to “seek the peace of the city…and pray unto the Lord for it.”

So they were to put down roots. Captive Israelites were to prepare for their return but plant symbolic and real fruit trees. They were to strive to be good citizens and even pray for their captors – their enemies – for if their captors were at peace, they would have peace.

Now for our modern application. We should bloom where we are planted. We should build Zion wherever we are – good, bad, or mediocre. A BYU education is a call to service. Graduates have an opportunity, a responsibility, to go out and strengthen the stakes and enlarge the tent of Zion wherever they (we) are. If we are in a land of wickedness, if we are in a city full of oppressors, we should pray for them and pray and work for peace. This reminds me of a quote ascribed to Joseph Smith: “If we [the Saints] go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, chapter 45).

Wherever we are, we should have sons and daughters or risk being “diminished.” Wherever we are called to be in life, we can strive for peace around us and improve the shining moments. We might not be able to bid Babylon farewell to dwell in the mountains of Ephraim but it we merely wait for a Moses, we might be waiting a long time. Instead, we should build our houses upon the rock of our Redeemer and find peace in Babylon without becoming of Babylon. We can dwell in Babylon without it dwelling in us. That is the essence of a consecrated life – a life a holiness, dedicated to God, and separated (set apart) from the things of the world with Zion in our hearts and homes. We can build our own personal gardens and eat of their fruit rather than live on the fruit of the Assyrian gardens, impressive though they may appear, that do not produce the fruit of the Tree of Life.

"Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg

“Hanging Gardens of Babylon”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg

In Which I Choose a Career

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Forgive me for a personal post but this is one dear to my heart and to the overall theme of this website, namely education. As I near the end of my schooling (finally!) and continuing to figure out what my career goals lie on I’ve reflected on what what led me to this point in life. Below is part of the story of this journey. I share this because it is a story of the importance of trusting God.

I was not the most socially adept individual growing up. I got along fine with nearly everyone but talking to people was never a strength. As a freshman at BYU I made progress; I continued that progress as a missionary. However, even now, many years later, I’m still only partially broken out of that shell – a place I’m content to be. What I find surprising given my past is that I happen to have a degree (nearly) that seems to be at odds with my personality and background. This is the story that explains that process.

When I was young I did not have a strong idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The earliest educational or career goal I remember is wanting to earn at least a Master’s degree (a goal I reached a number of years ago and then continued on with more school). I had some of the common childhoods desires – to be an astronaut or a pilot. I thought briefly of being a professional musician but accurately realized I didn’t really have the skill or drive to become one. I also thought about being a theoretical physicist but never seriously pursued that. I moved into a stage where I wanted to be an engineer, which was driven in part by brothers-in-law who were or were studying to be engineers. Then in high school I settled on a career in the Air Force as a pilot. I stuck with this, applying for and receiving an ROTC scholarship for college. As part of receiving the scholarship I had to pick a major before college; there was a limited list of approved majors but I settled on electrical engineering because I loved electronics, math, science, and computers. I also chose electrical engineering in part because there were other engineers in the family (brothers-in-law) but no electrical yet.

As a freshman at BYU I jumped into Air Force ROTC and my engineering classes. I loved my ROTC experiences but was not enjoying engineering much. Part of the problem was my own difficulties managing my time well (somewhat ironically, I currently teach people time management skills).

After my first semester, when I had struggled in a couple classes, I took the Christmas break to re-evaluate my career choices, including one in the Air Force. One of my engineering class grades was such that my scholarship with the Air Force was in jeopardy but separately from that I had come to the realization that I was not on the right career path. This realization came as spiritual insight as I thought and prayed. I did not know what I wanted to do instead but I started thinking of going to medical school but I wasn’t settled on anything. I went back for the next semester, resolved to give ROTC a week or two, but I did not feel right continuing with it so I gave it up. Ending my involvement in ROTC was a difficult decision because I loved it so much. Giving it up meant giving up the possibility of being a jet fighter pilot and getting to fly through the air at supersonic speeds, strapped onto a huge jet engine. I’m not a thrill-seeker but that would be really cool. stuck with electrical engineering for the rest of the semester but still did not really enjoy it. I remember thinking one night as I was in the engineering lab trying to get my homework in before the midnight deadline that I really didn’t want my entire career to revolve around computers, having limited social interaction – a perhaps somewhat unfair assessment of the work electrical engineers do. It was a surprising conclusion I came to, given my own social weaknesses.

So I ended my freshman year of college having no idea what I wanted to be. Thankfully, I had 2 years as a missionary to think more about it. Over those two years some of the edges of my social ineptitude started to rub off. When talking with and teaching people is much of what you do for 2 years, you are bound to gain a little skill at it (and in my case that skill was very little). I gained a love of teaching people during those two years. Reflecting back, I always had a love of teaching. I used to enjoy helping other students in elementary school finish their classwork after I had finished mine. Knowledge is only really good when it is shared with other people. Knowledge hoarded selfishly like shiny baubles is worthless. The good of knowledge comes by sharing it with others and hoping that they take it to new places you’ve never dreamed about.

It was during this period that I started to become interested in psychology, in understanding people and behavior. I was interested in part because I felt I was fairly clueless about people and behavior so it would be interesting to learn. I also thought about going into economics with the goal of setting up micro-loans for people around the world, to help them improve their situations. The more I thought, I realized I kept hovering around psychology and wanting to understand the brain so I registered for an introduction to psychology at BYU for after my mission.

One week into that class I knew that I wanted to study psychology. I changed my major from engineering to psychology and never looked back. What really drew me in was the brain, something that had been fascinating to me for years. I did not really know what I wanted to do with psychology but the one thing I knew I did not want to do was go into clinical psychology, to help people struggling with depression or personality disorders or other difficulties. That was the last thing I wanted to do. So naturally what do I (nearly) have a PhD in now? Clinical Psychology.

This path came about by talking with a teacher’s assistant in one of my courses. He was in BYU’s clinical psychology program, focusing specifically on neuropsychology. This meant that his specialty was going to be studying the brain and brain-behavior relationships. I realized that what I really liked in psychology had to do with understanding the brain more, particularly as it dysfunctions such as in dementias or Parkinson’s disease. While there were non-clinical paths I could have taken to do research in those areas, I liked the applied clinical side; it has direct implications and benefits in people’s lives.

So I decided on clinical neuropsychology, still really not wanting to deal with people’s depression and other psychological and psychiatric issues. This decision turned into a long path of schooling, one finally nearing its close in about 2 months. Even though I was so opposed to clinical psychology initially part of my decision to study clinical psychology was because I thought I would finally learn a bit about people and social behavior, something that has proven to be true. I knew what I would learn in clinical psychology were areas of weakness for me, which made it important to work on them. Our weaknesses cannot become strengths without effort.

Never when I was younger would I ever thought I would be where I am now with the degree that I (almost) have. I would have found the idea ridiculous. I, who was at times painfully shy and at best socially apathetic, spend nearly every day talking and working with people. Yes, I also provide psychotherapy, helping people cope with depression and anxiety and other issues, although that’s not really where my interests lie.

I share all this because this process serves a testimony of the truth of the Lord’s words to the prophet Moroni: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27; emphasis added).

Through many years of effort and excellent training, what were before chasms of weaknesses are at least smoothed out. Valleys of weaknesses have been elevated. The fact that I am doing something I never even imagined doing is evidence of God’s guidance and grace. There is still much to learn and many weaknesses to work on but the Lord has promised that our weaknesses can become our strengths, which I find encouraging.

One additional thing I’ve learned is that I’m not particularly good at knowing what is best for my life. Thankfully, I have a loving Father in Heaven who knows more and better than I do and who is willing to be patient with me when I’ve tried to walk on paths that did not lead to where I needed to go. I’m also grateful for Him letting me walk on those paths long enough to discover that for myself.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 5

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Joseph Smith was born and lived much of his young life in the New England states. Calvinism had a strong influence in his day. Puritanism in practice was not strong during his life but Presbyterianism and other Calvinist religions were. Joseph’s mother and a few siblings had joined with the Presbyterians before Joseph’s First Vision. However, some of these Puritan doctrines had strayed from the truth; in fact all Christian religions had strayed to varying degrees from the truth – they all had much of the truth but the fullness was lost. Further, the organization of Christ’s church was no longer on the earth. Because of this, it was necessary for a restoration to occur. The Restoration was not a reaction to Puritanism or any other contemporary religion. That’s what the Reformation was – a reaction to the prevailing church and dogmas. The Restoration was something new; it was putting new wine in new bottles, or rather, old wine made anew and poured into new bottles.

Another way the Puritans helped pave the way for the Restoration was with their strong emphasis on personal Bible study, which meant that literacy was important. They had higher literacy rates than other communities within the New World. The Latter-day Saints had and have a similar focus on education; we believe education and life-long learning are important. The Puritans believed education was important for both men and women; within Mormonism, we have always placed a similar emphasis on education for all, even if it is only informal. The LDS Church today has a donation-funded Perpetual Emigration Fund that helps members around the world break the cycle of poverty by providing them with education loans that they can use to receive college or technical training. Puritanism and Mormonism are similar in other ways. The Puritans also emphasized fasting and prayer, just as we do in the LDS church. Going without food and drink helps us overcome the natural man as we pray and seek strength and guidance from our Father.

The Puritans placed a large emphasis on time. They often turned their whole houses into sundials because clocks were prohibitively expensive for most people; they could use the relationship between the sun and their houses as a means to tell time. The Puritans abhorred wasting time or being idle. People were even fined for “misspending their time” (p.158). They believed that it was best to arise early and retire early so that they waste as little time as possible. They even tried to decrease the amount of sleep they received in order to accomplish more, especially scripture studying or acting in the service of God (p.161). Does that sound like LDS teachings? “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C; 88:124). Additionally, throughout the Book of Mormon those who were wicked were often described with the following words: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Ne. 12:23). [As an aside, I want to point out that becoming a “dark” people is probably best interpreted as a reference to a darkness of countenance (i.e., not having the light of Christ shining in one’s countenance or eyes; being full of darkness instead of light)]. Within both Puritanism and Mormonism there is counsel against idleness.

Puritanism likely had some degree of influence on the culture of Mormonism (culture is not the same as doctrine), just as it had (and has) on American culture. While some doctrines of Puritanism were similar to those of the LDS faith, there were significant differences, predestination was one of the biggest differences. However, differences aside, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Experiment Upon the Word, Part 4

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Faith experiments and science experiments are similar in some ways. One of the similarities is that both seek knowledge; rather, through both, the experimenter seeks knowledge. Because knowledge is so important, learning is a major part of both. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are commanded to seek wisdom and knowledge: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C; 88:118). This verse relates perfectly to the faith experiment because it tells us that because “all have not faith” we need to seek wisdom and learning. Wisdom and learning help nourish the seed of faith, helping it grow.

Education is a vital part of life. Education is not just vital, life-long education is vital. We started learning as spirits living with our Heavenly Father. He taught us and had others teach us. We all progressed to various points, some learning more and some less than others. Then we came to earth, receiving bodies that allow us to continue to grow and progress. We also are able to learn spiritual and temporal things. Life-long education need not be formal, although receiving as much formal education as possible is a great goal. We can continue to learn and study on our own by seeking wisdom and knowledge out of the best books. We can and should study the gospel. We can and should study as many good topics as interest us.

Formal education is important because it helps teach you different ways of thinking. Learning in general exposes you to new ideas and new experiences, which help broaden your understanding of the world. Gaining a formal education also allows you to provide better for your self and your family. It also can lead to more free time with which you can do more church service. I’ve always thought it interesting how educated in general the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are. Most have higher education degrees and many have advanced degrees. Within the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, most have advanced degrees.

  • Pres. Monson has a bachelor’s in business from the University of Utah
  • Pres. Eyring has a doctorate in business administration from Harvard
  • Pres. Uchtdorf has a degree in business administration as well as being a highly respected military and commercial pilot
  • Pres. Packer has an Ed.D. from BYU
  • Elder Perry has a B.S. in business from Utah State University
  • Elder Nelson has an M.D. from the University of Utah and a PhD from the University of Minnesota – he is a world-renowned heart surgeon
  • Elder Oaks has a J.D. from the University of Chicago
  • Elder Ballard attended college but I’m not sure if he graduated – he was a successful businessman, however
  • Elder Scott has a bachelor’s degree but he also received the “equivalent to a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but due to the classified nature of the work, a formal university degree could not be awarded” (Source)
  • Elder Hales has an MBA from Harvard
  • Elder Holland has a PhD in American Studies from Yale
  • Elder Bednar has a PhD in organizational behavior from Purdue
  • Elder Cook has a JD from Stanford
  • Elder Christofferson has a JD from Duke
  • Elder Andersen has an MBA from Harvard

That’s quite a list of education accomplishments (and I didn’t even touch their other accomplishments). 11 of the 15 apostles (Quorum of Twelve plus the First Presidency) have advanced/professional degrees or the equivalent thereof. However, the greatest accomplishments these men have experienced are at home and in their church service. Every one of them gave up their careers in order to answer the call to full-time church. They do set a wonderful example of education and the life-long pursuit of learning. Contrast the current apostles’ education with that of Joseph Smith. He had little formal education but he continued to study and learn his whole life. He learned new languages; he studied the sciences; but most importantly, he studied the scriptures and the gospel; he was taught directly by angels as well as the Savior. He was one of the most intelligent and understanding men of all time.