Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New page for first timers!

This is a quick post by way of announcement. In a bout of insomnia I decided to add a new special page to my blog, as you can see on the tab above, for first-time visitors. It basically summarizes the intent of the blog and also lists my favorite posts, as well as the most popular posts.

I've been fortunate to have a lot of new readers as of late and have had some great online interactions as a result. :) Love you all!

My best,


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Judging (Matthew 7:1-2)

This post is going to try to put into words some muddled thoughts on a difficult subject. I got some interesting emails after last week's post on male modesty. Most troubling were some of the bitter accusations I got about being judgmental. Anyone who had also read my earlier post on modesty from February would realize that my intent has never been to "judge" or condemn anyone. But I feel like we are starting to live in a world where to stand for any value or standard has begun to be interpreted automatically as "judging" anyone who doesn't agree with that standard. Just because I don't drink coffee is no reason to assume that I am constantly shaking my finger at anyone I see who does drink coffee. In fact, I don't even drink soda! That is a personal choice on my part, but I've never seen someone drinking a soda and think, "boy, they sure aren't as good of a person as they could be if they'd stop drinking soda." Likewise, my choice to not run shirtless should not be interpreted to mean that I think I'm a generally better person than those who do or that they are evil.

2 weeks ago Elder Holland gave a CES fireside address which discussed, among other things, the difficult subject of JUDGING. It is a fantastic talk, and if you didn't see it, you can by clicking here. This post will manage to address, however feebly, my own thoughts on this difficult subject.

It seems to me that one of the large problems that arises with this subject is a fundamental ambiguity regarding the use of the term "judging." What do we mean when we say that we feel others are judging us? The most primitive Hebrew and Greek root forms of the words translated "judge" in the Bible basically mean to discern. In other words, if I see you do something and cognitively process that you have done that thing, I have just made a judgment. This is automatic and often a necessary part of interaction which is essential to our understanding of the world and cannot/should not be avoided. I don't think this is what is meant when someone feels they are "being judged" by someone. In fact, I've been thinking all week about what we DO mean when say that. It is harder to define than we may immediately think given how often we throw the term around. The best I can conclude is that the person who feels like they are being "judged" feels like they have been assessed some form of disapproval from the other person. This may or may not be true, but it is certainly what the allegedly "judged" person perceives to be the truth. Ironically, as a result, the "judged" person often does in fact return an actual disapproving assessment of the supposed judger. In other words, when most people complain that others are judging them, they are in fact judging those other people. (I know that was complicated. Hopefully it made sense.)

Here are some additional questions I've pondered this week on the subject of judging. I don't have answers to all of them, though I certainly have opinions and thoughts on most of them. Mostly, I think they are simply important questions to ponder regardless of whether we can pin down a concrete answer for all or any of them:

*Is it possible to disapprove of an action we observe without negatively assessing the person who does the thing?

*Is making a personal decision about what we consider right and wrong the same as judging that action for all other people when we observe them doing it?

*Can we truly believe in the concept of moral law without believing some actions are wrong?

*How much does our assessment of others' actions matter?

*How much does others' assessment of our actions matter?

I hope you had fun pondering those. I imagine I'm going to continue to ponder them for some time now. Another thing I've pondered and tried to understand is the well-known and oft-quoted passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. 7:1-2)

Note that these are among those verses which are not altered at all in the 3 Nephi retelling of the Sermon on the Mount (albeit there is a narrative transition added to the beginning of the first verse).

From the ancient source texts, forms of the Greek word krino are used 5 times in those 2 verses. This is that primitive verb meaning "to discern" and a far greater number of both Old and New Testament passages tell us that is is something we SHOULD do. But the word "judgment" in verse 2 is actually a more specific noun form (krima) which denotes an actual pronouncement of condemnation. As this is the only connotation we can assign to the other 4 neutral krino forms in the verses, it seems like the best interpretation looking at it from this perspective would be "Condemn not, that ye be not condemned." Elsewhere, of course, Christ tells us that we SHOULD "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This Greek basically connotes to discern the good that people do.

Ultimately, the more I study this subject, the more it seemingly increases in ambiguity. There is a bit of a contradiction in Christ's commands that we both should and shouldn't judge, but I *think* (and this is certainly a fluid opinion on my part) that the point He's trying to convey is this: we should not occupy ourselves thinking about the bad others do, but we should take note of the good they do. That being said, it would be unwise for us to never discern whether an action is good or bad. We simply needn't preoccupy ourselves with those actions we deem inappropriate and we should never neglect to see the good in everyone wherever it is found.

Sometimes it is our job or stewardship to judge the deeds of others and even to offer correction. The role of parents is often to help correct a child in order to help them become an upstanding and morally concerned contributor to society. Teachers cannot truly help a student grow if they aren't willing to assess weaknesses and points for correction. In these and similar instances, discerning weakness is necessary, including even commentary and feedback on those weaknesses. If our focusing on a weakness is not for the intent to lift someone higher or is not appropriately within our stewardship, it probably isn't a wise thing for us to make public or to dwell on.

I know this post hasn't been very logically ordered thus far, perhaps because it reflects my disjoint and inconclusive thoughts on the subject. But overall most of my advice and thoughts have focused on those who judge. Now a few thoughts for those who feel judged by others:

First of all, for the most part it doesn't matter what others think about you, and you may not be correct anyway. You are not a telepath. We desire acceptance and fear losing it, so we often jump to the conclusion that the absence of a positive affirmation of our actions automatically assumes a negative assessment. Second of all, sometimes our assumptions about the judgments of others are actually a reflection of our own arguments with ourselves. Change is difficult and when we don't want to change (even when deep down we know we need to) we build walls of justification that can also involve assigning blame to others who are "judging us" as a defense. They may not have thought about anything you've done, but regardless of whether or not they have, your perceptions of their thoughts are more likely a manifestation of your own argument with yourself about the relative good or bad of your own actions. Sometimes this might mean that the correct course is actually to humbly listen and look for ways to improve rather than to fight back. And if you know you are doing the right thing, then it doesn't matter what others think about you. Let them think you are evil if they want to; if you are a good person then God will take note, regardless of the opinions of others around you. He's smarter than they are. And don't judge them in return. If they are judging you, their underlying intent is most likely to safeguard themselves from doing things that are wrong. That isn't always the case, but quite often a person may judge even inappropriately with the best of intentions because they, like you, are also imperfect.

Anyway, I hope this made sense. It has not been my first post on judging and I'm sure it won't be my last. Commentary is welcome.

My best,


Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Manifesto on Male Modesty (1 Peter 2:9)

Provo has an inordinate amount of shirtless men. They are always out running, or playing basketball, or playing tennis, or just walking around the apartment courtyards. If you are an average Provo-dwelling guy, you are probably not as keenly aware of this fact as girls (and guys like me) are.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be an air of hypocrisy in this? BYU's campus newspaper is constantly running letters to the editor from men on campus complaining about the general lack of modesty of some of the girls on campus. I know of at least one instance of a guy who has made such complaints and who I regularly see running shirtless. And how many letters does the newspaper get about the modesty of men? I have yet to read one. So this is my own declaration of what I feel is an important but oft-neglected component of the modesty discussion: the need for increased modesty among men.

Elder Robert D. Hales of the quorum of the twelve taught the following in an article from the Ensign Magazine, August 2008:

"Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us."

He also taught in that same article that modesty was one of the first lessons taught to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where God made coats of skins for them to cover their nakedness. "Like Adam and Eve," he continues, "we have been taught that our bodies are formed in the likeness of God and are therefore sacred."

 When I was younger, before I had faced and confronted my attractions, I used to think it was silly how many guys turned their heads and really struggled when they saw immodest girls. I thought it was just a lack of effort on the part of the guy to keep his heart and thoughts pure, mostly because I didn't experience much of the same sensation and it thus wasn't very hard for me to not look. I just thought they needed to try to be more righteous or something. Confronting my attractions though has made me realize how much harder it is for me to not look when I see an attractive guy running by with no shirt (and for whatever reason, the inordinate amount of shirtless men in Provo all seem to do an inordinate amount of working out). I now empathize much more with my non-SSA peers who struggle when they see an immodest girl and actually respect the great effort they are making evident in their struggles.

And yet, it seems that more and more I hear related to the topic of modesty a refutation of the effect on others as a valid reason for modesty advocacy. I hear people claim frequently that if a guy can't keep his thoughts clean when he sees a less-than-modestly dressed girl that it is HIS fault not hers. There is actually a lot of truth to this, and it is something that is important to consider. New York Rabbi Dov Linzer has said the following wise words on the matter: “By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.” This is a very important point to consider, for the great object of modesty is to de-objectify individuals, and we thus need to be careful to be sure that our very discussion on modesty doesn't in fact objectify anyone all the more. And it is true that it ultimately IS the responsibility of each individual to "watch [them]selves, and [their] thoughts" as King Benjamin taught (Mosiah 4:30). Nobody is responsible for your thoughts but YOU. Admittedly, it isn't always very easy to control them and sometimes they control us instead, but I've addressed that in greater detail in other posts.

Understanding that it is the responsibility of each person to guard their own thoughts regardless of whatever outside factors are thrown at them, we still shouldn't be making excuses for immodesty. If a person wants to quit smoking, it is much harder if others are offering him cigarettes all the time. We will never eradicate temptation, but where it exists and we can do something to lessen it, we should if by lessening it we can help more people be better. I get concerned when one person's call for greater modesty gets shot down by someone saying, "well, it is your fault that you have bad thoughts when someone dresses that way." The logic seems to be that the weakness of one person excuses the actions of another. Bob is not perfect, but that should not give Sally free reign to do whatever she wants. We have a responsibility to each other, and when Sally's actions aid in causing Bob to stumble when she could choose another option that wouldn't do so, it is the right thing to do for Sally to make the choice that better enables Bob to be better. Bob still needs to work on his own problems independent of what Sally does.

Furthermore, as mentioned above from Elder Hales, modesty is a commandment. Regardless of the effects on other people, the moral compass of a member of the covenant points towards obeying what God has asked of us. If I lived in a society of blind individuals who could never see how I am dressed, it would still be my responsibility to dress modestly because it is what I have promised to do. None of the others in my hypothetical world would ever know if I chose to walk around shirtless, and thus none would ever by stimulated one way or another, but I would know and God would know. Modesty, like wearing garments, is an "outward expression of an inward commitment." It is a reminder of where I have placed my allegiances. In that blind world, there would still be great benefit in my modesty for me personally, as it would serve as a reminder to me of my relationship with God and the fact that He has loved me enough to make promises with me.

So, thus far what I've written has MOSTLY regarded the topic of modesty generally--these things apply equally to modesty in both men and women. I conclude with a return to a specific focus on male modesty.

As mentioned before, we don't talk about this subject as much. Perhaps it isn't as frequent an occurrence as immodestly among women. Nonetheless, I think it is a bigger problem than we often realize. It seems part of the reluctance to address it also seems to stem from some misconception that for whatever reason it isn't "as bad" for men to dress immodestly as girls do. Could it just be that women are better at controlling thoughts than men are and so it doesn't seem like such a big deal? Well, while I'm sure that women probably ARE as a general rule better at controlling thoughts than guys are, I know they aren't perfect or immune (and I KNOW it has an effect on guys like me). Bob has as much obligation to Sally as she does to him.

Besides detrimental side-effects a shirtless guy can have on a girl, he also isn't doing a favor to his fellow men. From my own observations, and this does not apply to everyone, but when men parade shirtless there seems to be an increased "show-off" factor to the immodesty. As I mentioned before, an unusually high percentage of those who I see running by bare-chested everyday seem to be not only in shape, but quite well-toned physically. Once again, I'm not saying that every physically fit guy who runs shirtless has a Narcissus complex or even that he's consciously trying to impress ANYONE. But there often does seem to be pride hiding in immodesty, just as much as that earlier quote from Elder Hales tied modesty to humility (in fact, the words in some contexts are used as synonyms). The "show-off" aspect occurring in much of male immodesty harms the soul of the immodest man by pride, and can be a detriment also to the self-esteem and confidence of his fellow men. Once again, Bob is not directly responsible for the feelings of esteem in Johnny any more than he is for Sally's thoughts, but he does still serve as a negative influence rather than a help.

Finally, as I said already, the ultimate reason a Mormon man should remain modest is because he has made promises to do so. It was fascinating to me as I was looking up modesty in the Topical Guide (a study reference index of topics included in the back of the LDS edition of the KJV Bible) that after the main list of scriptures it gave on the subject, in the "See Also" section that points to additional related passages, it listed 1 Peter 2:9. I found it kind of odd to see that verse listed as relevant to modesty as that is not usually what we use that verse for. However, with some thought I began to see how very relevant it actually was to the subject and that it is particularly addressed to the men of the Church. It says:

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."

Brethren: we of the priesthood have a responsibility to SHOW (the older English form "shew" is used in the verse) the world our praises of God. There are other verses that talk about singing our praises of God or proclaiming them. This one says we SHOW them. And what greater praise can we give to God than to keep the promises we've made to Him? The actions we show publicly are the first indication the world has of where our allegiances lie. I understand the convenience of running shirtless, because I run a lot and I sweat inordinate amounts whenever I do. But by wearing a shirt, perhaps especially when it comes out as soaking wet as mine do, I leave no room for doubt that I've chosen to be modest in my appearance. I pray we may all as priesthood brethren reflect the royal army that we are. And this army has no need to show off rippling pectorals, for there is a greater need for examples of those who consistently work-out spiritually.

So this is my manifesto: let us spread the word to gladly encourage our brethren to live up to the same standards we always ask our sisters to maintain. I don't often ask for you, my loyal readers and supporters, to share my posts, but I'm making a plea this time. If you agree that there is an importance in emphasizing modesty for BOTH men and women, please send this along if for no other reason than to stimulate discussion on and awareness of the matter.

My best,


P.S. Perhaps sharing this post will also scare some of the more machismo shirtless men into modesty since they may not have realized previously that in trying to impress girls they may have also been turning the heads of guys like me along the way. ;)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Can I Keep From Singing? (Psalms 100:1-5)

I haven't posted in a long time. Too long in fact. I now have heard rumors that I haven't posted because supposedly I "saw the light" and abandoned my "foolish Mormonism." Not so. If my Mormonism is my foolishness, I am more foolish than ever.

That said, the last 4 months have been an interesting emotional journey. I've learned a lot of critical lessons about managing my attractions and about the power and value of positive friendships in various forms. I cannot condense the last 4 months into a single post, so I won't even try. But I have been through one of the darkest periods of depression in my life to a current position of greater renewed faith than I have ever known. And I am happy. Very happy. I have seen the Hand of God very clearly in recent days and have now been blessed to have my eyes opened to see that Hand very evident throughout the events of this summer, even when I couldn't see it at the time.

Being humbled is hard. But worth it. That's what I learned this summer. I learned also above all to trust God above the opinions and half-truths of man. I'm always amazed at how gently and gracefully He can perform such intensive and delicate soul-surgery as He often does on us, eradicating the tumors of imperfection and personality flaw. I know I have many more such tumors to be worked out, but the schedule for the operations is always in His hands, not mine. Perfection requires patience and surrendering our time-tables to his.

When I heard that many were doubting my continued faithfulness, I could not sit back and fail to declare the truth: that I am still on the Lord's side and have to intent of leaving. For He has been so kind to me; so patient with me in my imperfections. I am filled with astonishment at His rich blessings. Two things come to mind: a psalm and a hymn.

First, the 100th Psalm:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The third verse is my favorite. It is easy to fall into a trap of self-worship, patting ourselves on the back for all our own accomplishments. We forget that He is the One who made us, and who remakes us again and again, continually perfecting us. He is our shepherd, we are the sheep. Sometimes I'm not a very good sheep, but He doesn't decrease the efficacy of His shepherding towards me. In fact, He increases it in our behalf when we are the ones needing attention. 

One of the blessings I had over this summer was a set of stellar roommates. They were guys I knew before I moved in with them and they became wonderful friends. The one with whom I actually shared a room knew about my SSA before I even moved in and was always so supportive and kind. Then, a few weeks ago the security I had in those roommates got thrown in the air when I had to move unexpectedly due to a contract mix-up. I was thrown into a new apartments with unknown roommates. I was not excited about it at all, and in fact quite worried. But you know what? It has been fantastic. It is what the Lord knew I needed. My random set of roommates has been an unexpected blessing I not only didn't ask for, but even resisted. In fact, I felt prompted and comfortable telling the roommate I actually share my room with about my attractions on the fourth day I knew him. He was not weirded out at all. In fact, he was very understanding. This was a huge relief. Over the summer for the first time ever I grew accustom to having a roommate who knew about me who I could confide in and talk about things with. That roommate was a remarkable help to me. I was very worried about not having that support anymore after growing used to it. And so I was blessed to be given a great roommate who is equally understanding, and I was blessed to be able to discern it within the first week of knowing him. None of my other roommates know, but they are all fantastic, wonderful guys as well. I've also been blessed to not find myself becoming too attached to or infatuated with any of them despite the strong friendships we are all building and the fact that they all generally happen to be rather good looking. None of that has been even the slightest problem. 

Other parts of my life, including my new semester, etc. are also all falling into place and the direction of the Lord is very clear. I am amazed looking at all the blessings He is pouring on me, far more than I deserve. The world still has a lot of problems and I am not exempt. I still have trials I'm managing, and my attractions are still a consideration. But despite all the things I face, I am happy and amazed at God's love. That's where a great traditional Protestant hymn comes to mind that has always been one of my favorites. It is not found in our hymnal, but I wish it was. It is called, "How Can I Keep From Singing?" This is how I feel. The Lord has been so good amidst my trials, that I can't hold back from sharing that message. And that has brought me back my blog after my summer hiatus. (I guess you could say I am personally feeling like, "How Can I Keep from Blogging?"). Anyway, I'll leave you with the beautiful lyrics from that wonderful hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his--
How can I keep from singing?
My best,