21 October 2011

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BYU and the Sunday Compromise?

I read an article by Brad Rock this morning where he quoted heavily from Dr. Thomas Forsthoefel who was giving his opinion on religious institutions being involved in sports. BYU, of course, came up.

I think Forsthoefel came off sounding a bit misinformed about the culture, drive, mission, etc. of BYU. Below is the email that I sent to Brad Rock this morning after finishing the article:

Brad -

That was an interesting article. I tend to disagree with Forsthoefel, though, or at least disagree with what I may have read into his comments.

A quote in your article says:

"There may be a kind of growing pain. BYU is in the real world and the real world works on Sunday. Can we (BYU) live with the adjustment? I'm empathetic with that, whatever decision is made, people are going to be unhappy.… Some will say get with the program, we'll be OK at the next level, others will say we've sold out and we've made a deal with the world."

This seems to suggest one or two things; first, that in order to get to the next level, BYU will need to be willing to play on Sunday, and, second, that BYU will pay that price instead of staying where they are at. I half-disagree with the first and almost completely disagree with the second.

A lot of people consider that their allegiance to a faith is mostly to help them be better people, feel better about their problems and the world's problems, etc., and I think that is missing the mark a bit. Certainly, all people of faith are comforted by what their faith assures them of, but Mormons (and certainly some other faiths) tend to see this as less of a factor. I find that the character of Latter-Day Saint institutions is definitely that adherence to their faith, above all, serves God, obeys His will, and molds them to Him, not Him to them.

The first approach makes it a lot easier to justify "compromises" because really in the end if the faith is supposed to just help those who claim it, why not make concessions in order to better serve the whole? The second approach, while still allowing for change, gives a much lower priority to whether these kids have a super-high-profile college career.

Another quote:

"the institution itself, be it BYU or Mercyhurst, has to attend to the overall needs and make some compromises. If your A.D. (athletics director) can't do that, it's probably not a good place to be."

I agree with this, if maybe interpreting his comment differently than intended. BYU does have to attend to the overall need which is to create an institution that adheres to God's law. If the A.D. at BYU can't do that, then I wouldn't want to be there either.

Last one:

"It's not all bad, because it's forcing the BYU community to really gaze at themselves and sort out who they are and what they're about and how to take that and move into the next 15, 20, 30, 40 years. It's anxiety-provoking right now."

This sounds pretty trite (and Disney-like) and a bit misunderstanding to me. I could be misinformed--maybe BYU's recent rise in notoriety really has created an identity crisis for the BYU community; however, when I hear "forcing the BYU community" in the context of how they run their institution, I implicitly hear "forcing the Brethren". You've got to be kidding me that those that run BYU as an institution don't already know "who they are" and "what they're about!"

Anyway, Forsthoefel may have just been trying to be ecumenical/diplomatic, and I can respect that. The reality is, though, that the honor code and the no-Sunday play are seen much more as God's direction than men's ideas on how to best mold college kids into upstanding adults. He may also be right that ultimately BYU's hand will be forced by the invisible hand of economics. Personally, I believe that BYU would forfeit their football program before doing that.

Thanks for the article. It made me think.

Josh

So what do you think? Will BYU inevitably allow its football team to play on Sunday one day, maybe even relax or drop the honor code, in order to accommodate a continued rise in notoriety?

13 June 2011

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On Spiritual Inflation and the Parable of the Talents

I love it when people ask "learning" gospel questions.

What I mean by that is that there are devil's advocate questions, leading questions, questions asked under a hot lamp while hooked up to a polygraph, etc., etc. But sometimes, every once in a while, someone asks an honest "I'm just trying to figure this out here, I'm sure there is a sensible answer and I just need help finding it" gospel question.

I'm not completely sure, but these questions might surface less often now because the Internet knows everything, and we tend to ask it instead.

Or, maybe we all have lots of gospel questions, but we guard them carefully, just in case there isn't a good answer or in case we feel silly afterwards.

Whatever may be the case, questions like these have a tendency to make us think more carefully about the scriptures, about our beliefs in general, etc., and so I love it when one comes up in a gospel discussion.

Yesterday's Gospel Doctrine Class

So, in yesterday's class Brother Brown was teaching about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. We asked the usual questions about what a talent is, what it means that they each received a different amount, etc. Right at the end, though, another brother asked the question "how does a talent get taken away?"

I'm a real stickler about ending on time, and the initial answers to his question (spiritual muscle kind of answers, Alma 12:10-11) put us right at the top of the hour. This was such a good question, though, that I raised my hand to make a contribution.

What does it mean to lose a talent?

Imagine if you took all the money that you earned and stuffed it under the mattress. What would happen? Of course, inflation would cause the money to depreciate. (I'm not an economist--there might be a more "economist"-friendly way to say that.) If you let it sit under your mattress for 50 years, then its buying power would be less than half what it was when you put it there.

So it is with the gifts and wherewithal we are given by Jesus Christ. As Satan gets a greater hold upon the world in the last days, so must our light become brighter. If we leave our spiritual gifts under the mattress, even if they stayed at the level where they were when we put them there, they will not be sufficient when the time comes to use them when the stakes are much higher and the bar has been raised.

The reason the investor was upset was because, at the very least, the unfaithful servant could have put the talent in the bank where it could have gotten a small amount of interest! As it was, he stuffed it under the mattress and it was worth less than when the investor gave it to him.

We have the responsibility to increase our spiritual gifts, so that as the need for them becomes greater, we can have them ever at the ready.

P.S.: A couple books come to mind about provident living, which I believe has a strong correlation to God's gifts to us. The first is Scratch Beginnings, which I consider an good example of provident living and the second is Nickeled and Dimed, which I consider a bad example of provident living. If you live near by, come borrow the books!

08 April 2011

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Is Bread Meet?

Yes, pun intended.

With that out of the way, I've been thinking about Christ's various injunctions about bread, both the temporal and the spiritual, found in the scriptures.

On the one hand, he teaches us of our dependency on it and the provisions He makes for us to fill that need. First, he provided us the ability to work. In the garden of Eden, Christ taught Adam: By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread all the days of thy life. Second, he provided prayer. In the Lord's Prayer, he reminds us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."

We probably don't think a whole lot about our dependence on food, it being such a key part of human sustenance. I know that I don't unless I'm writing a blog post where our mutual dependence on food is a key point within it. When dinner rolls (pun intended) around, I want food, but I don't often separate myself Josh from being myself the eater of food. Perhaps someone who is dependent on smoking might have a mental separation between they the smoker and they the person, but I believe few conceptualize themselves as food-eating humans verses that non-food-eating variety.

Such a dependence is built into human nature, but Christ asks us to overcome it just like all natures intrinsic to our mortal probation. Sometimes He does this by direct schoolmaster-type commandments. The two that come to mind are fasting and the Word of Wisdom. These indeed have direct health benefits, but there is a much more fundamental reason that they are given. Indeed, one might imagine a number of people who regularly fast and devoutly obey the Word of Wisdom, but still don't "get it", whether by looking beyond the mark or by drawing their lips nigh but not their hearts.

This brings me to the other hand. The Lord, after fasting himself for 40 days, is tempted by the adversary to turn stone into bread. (In fact, he says "***If*** though art the son of God...," which is one of the most potent lessons in the New Testament, compare this "if" with the "if" in Daniel 3:18. Which "if" is yours?) Christ answers with utmost meekness, deferring not to his divine authority as the son of God which Satan had just drawn into question but instead to the written word (you think you should start keeping a journal now?), "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God".

Wait? Not by bread alone? This comes from the Man that knows full well that the mortal vessels in which He placed the spirits of men need food to survive. Indeed, the Lord isn't advocating fruits and vegetables nor the Atkins diet. Nor is he referring to "live" as "maintain the vitality of our tabernacle of clay". He is teaching us the eternal rule that life cannot be limited to the meaningless biological and chemical processes of self-sustaining; hedonism doth not a child of God make.

Which is an interesting point at which to find ourselves. I have already admitted that I don't naturally separate myself from my eating self, yet Christ asks me to do just that. He gives us a slight out with the word "alone," but there is more to it as He clearly juxtaposes the temporal with the eternal in His answer to Satan.

We get more on the topic from Him in the Bread of Life sermon. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes--the living by bread part--many begin to follow Him a little bit more persistently, probably wanting to live a little bit more by bread. (Do we do this, by the way? Do we sometimes treat Christ as a glorified butler, fetching for us the temporal and materialistic desires of our hearts? Or, have you ever gone to a meeting *because* refreshments would follow?) He calls them out in John 6:26: "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled."

He teaches them rather pointedly (though not as pointedly as the pharisees! =]) that if they are going to follow Him, they have to learn to seek him for spiritual reasons and not just for materialistic ones. When they see Him as the bread of *real* life, then will their physical desires for sustenance not be misdirected.

What's the big picture, then? Christ teaches that there is a distinct difference between ends and means and that while our mortal coil is desperately dependent on bread, bread can in no way be an end unto itself any more than preserving our own life is an end unto itself. These things are means by which we can accomplish the things that are the ends of mortal existence: To build a faith-based relationship with God (Hosea 6:6), to strengthen the feeble knees (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5), to prepare to meet God (John 17:3).

This is, of course, a principle for our entire lives. We are left with temporal (insufficient and meaningless) means to accomplish eternal (sufficient and meaningful) ends. We are given our ears, but then are asked to listen instead to a still small voice. We are given hunger, but then asked to not be driven by it. We are given sight, but then asked instead to walk by faith.

Distinguishing between our mortality and our immortality is the very challenge given to fallen man, and it is encapsulated in Christ's teachings about bread. It is a challenge only to be superseded by the higher laws of resurrection--where our temporal and atemporal natures are combined forever--and exaltation--where we ourselves become the end.

P.S.: A note on the word "meaningless". The words from "For the Beauty of the Earth" hardly seem to support the idea of meaninglessness when it comes to the Lord's creations. But, if God weren't really there and this were all a cosmic accident, wouldn't it be pretty meaningless in the end? I think so. Those things are meaningful not because they have any meaning on their own but because God's existence gives them meaning. Kind of like how we ourselves are nothing without God and everything with Him.

14 March 2011

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Twas the Night Before Pi Day

Twas the Night Before Pi Day
by Joshua Cummings

Twas the night before Pi Day, when Archimedes, the muse,
Went to pay me a visit whilst I took a snooze.

I'd visions of carrot cake, candy, and cheese
When dashed open my window and entered a breeze
That stirred me to consciousness, albeit in time
To see my face plastered in pie of key lime.

And once I'd removed the fruit from my eyes
And put on my spectacles did I realize
That before me presented a most divine spectre
Who clearly possessed the Key Lime Projector.

"It's a fulcrum, you see!" he began to explain,
"All I use is this crank to cause the right strain,
"Then releasing its fetter it launches sky high
"The juiciest pie of key lime in your eye!"

I sat there immobile for what seemed a year,
As the spectre protested I his genius revere,
When clearly it came, the fine revelation,
Of his piety, honor, achievements, and station.
With his little old catapult, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment that this must be Saint Archimedes.

Not losing just one of St. A's precious seconds,
A whiteboard and green Expo marker he beckoned
And drew a fine circle, and through it secanted.
"Hmm, a chord would be better," the math geek recanted.

And so, with his elegant drawing corrected,
He turned aft to see what reaction affected.
I hesistated, worried to offend the deceased,
"It's pi!" were the words that St. A released.

"Pie?" I asked meekly, now wiping my brow,
"No, pi!" he expressed, with more fervor now.
Thence, he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Drawing circumscribed dodecagons with a smirk.

Steadily working towards sides 96,
He'd calculate ratios twixt perimeter and width.
When, at once, he shouted "Two-hundred-twenty-three
"Over seventy-one is the lowest you see!"
"With the maximum being twenty-two over seven!"
And with that disappeared he again to the heavens.

My mouth still agape at this choice visitation,
I stared at his peculiar mathematical creation
And wondered if infinity was really contained
In a ratio of circuit to score preordained.

I laid down my brain, though still somewhat limed,
With no hope of rest with it being so primed.
When in the echoes of eternity, I heard:
"Give me a lever, and I'll move the whole world!"


Happy Pi Day to all and to all a good night!

27 February 2011

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Grayden Christopher: How do we always end up naming our kids after firearms?

If you have known Kristi and me for more than five minutes, you know that we value the meaning behind a name *a lot*. So, here is the story about why we chose the simple but powerful name Grayden Christopher.

First of all, I have a grievance. With Remi, I must say that it didn't occur to me that we were naming Remi after a gun until someone pointed it out a couple weeks after he was born. We all joked about naming our next boy Colt, etc.

And, actually, we talked about the middle name "Browning" for a while, but we ultimately decided against it since that would definitely give more of a Second Amendment flair to our family names than we had originally planned.

Enter "Grayden". Actually, "gradan". In Gaelic, "gradan" means "gunfire". Sigh. I suppose it was unavoidable.

Alright, so what does "Grayden Christopher" really mean to us?

Executive Summary

I learned this term the other day and think it makes things sound really important, so I am using it here. Since I'm the Executive Secretary in my ward right now, it seemed appropriate anyway.

Gradyen Christopher means "Born of Nobility, Bearer of Christ".

Non-Executive Summary

So, for all you non-executives out there, here is the nitty gritty.

For me, life is about what you bring and what you leave. What did you bring to the table for the task at hand? What did you leave behind when you were done to further the work for the next guy?

That is what Grayden Christopher is about.

Grayden

As it is spelled, it would be easy to think that this gains its meaning in a similar way as Brayden (O.E.: broaden, widen; Gaelic: Salmon) or Hayden (German: heathen) does, but it doesn't. While it does have Old English roots as well as Gaelic like Brayden, it's not as easy to see the connection literally ('Brayden' looks a lot like 'broaden').

First, let's take a look at Gaelic. Grayden is a variation on the Irish name Grady. How do I know that? We decided it when we wrote down the name. Now, the Irish name "O'Grady" relates to the Irish "Ghraidhiaigh" and literally means "Old Tree". To understand the context, it is important to know that trees were so important to the Irish that the letters of their alphabet each refer to a tree. To be given the name Grady in an Irish setting is to be ascribed with a great deal of importance. Thus, the modern translation of Grady is "noble" or "reknowned".

The name O'Grady, then, is "son/descendant/born of nobility."We didn't add the "O'" because we believe that his "nobility" (read: divine nature) is implied by simply being a son of God. Besides, my wife would have killed me had I suggested "O'Grayden Christopher". Anyway, since it is my son, we'll use both basic meanings--Old Tree and Born of Nobility--in just a minute. :)

Second, Old English. Here, there are a couple of possibilities, so we'll use the one that makes my son's name the coolest. According to some sources that I don't completely understand, "Graden" comes from the Old English word "gamolfeax" or "grey-haired". In my own research, I found that "grad" (long a) means "grass", which comes from the Proto-Indo-European "ghre" meaning "to grow or make green". "Denu" in Old English means "valley". So, for me, if I were an Angle and were wanting to name my kid something relating to "growing or fertile valley", I'd name him "Graden".

"Grayden" is about what we bring into life. While he doesn't know it, yet, Grady brings with him the nobility of his origin, even our Heavenly King. He brings with him the "God potential" synonymous with the royal priesthood that Paul teaches us about in his epistles. He has at his behest the wisdom of the ages and his family that welcome him to this modern day, the "old tree" and the "grey-haired". He is the "green valley", starting at the very beginning, but teeming with life. Finally, he, like all spirit children of God, is the "old tree" that Christ bore upon his back as he made the walk towards crucifixion.

And while the original meaning of O'Grady intimates the genealogical definition of "born", we, being romantics, call on the other meanings of "born" as well--"shared" and "carried/supported"--to give a richer meaning to his first name as a reference to his important heritage.

Christopher

The origin of Christopher is much more well-known. One thing that might not be apparent though is that this is Kristi's namesake. If we had a girl this time, she was going to be Mailey Kristine. Since we had a boy, Christopher seemed like the best choice to match it.

Christopher is a Greek name. The first half is obvious: Christ. The second half, 'opher', comes from the Greek word 'phoros', meaning "bearer", from "pherein", meaning "to carry". So, Christopher means "Bearer or Carrier of Christ". In fact, there is a legendary Saint Christopher who helped travelers by carrying them across the river. (Interesting tie to Christopher Columbus, no?)

So, "Christopher" is about what you leave. President Hinckley talked about not being the weak link, Christ taught us about bringing but one soul unto him, and each scripture that I read seems to have the underlying message of "here is what the prophets did, now what are you going to do?". If Grayden is about looking back at what has been afforded to him via ancestry, divine nature, talents, and means, then Christopher is about what he will do with it.

With all that Grady brings to the table, the greatest thing that he could do is be a "bearer" of Christ. That happens in three ways: 1) to testify, 2) to bear up, and 3) to have kids.

To testify: This is the usual interpretation--to be a missionary and a teacher, but about what? About Christ and His divinity, of course, but about something else as well. Remember Christ's hints about our connection with Him. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these...", "When ye are in the service of your fellow men...", etc. Isn't to testify of Christ and His divinity also to testify of his brothers and sisters and their divine nature?

To bear up: Christ will be Christ with or without our supporting hands, but there is also that statue that says that "Christ has no hands but our hands". I believe that we bear up Christ when we bear up our fellow men.

To have kids: Grady will also be a bearer of Christ as he realizes his truest divine potential, which is to participate in the eternal progression of his own little ones years down the road. He bears Christ to them in a way that no one else will by being a righteous father and priesthood holder.

Grayden Christopher

You noticed the play on the verb "to bear" in both names. "Born of Nobility" and "Bearer of Christ" both use the same verb, though in different senses, though both senses are about who Grady is. You don't get to choose your parents (temporal or spiritual), and Grady can't change the fact that he was born of spiritually noble parentage--he is who he is. His noble birth is one that requires him to turn and be a bearer of Christ, again whether he likes it or not--he will either be a good bearer or a bad one, but he hasn't a choice whether or not to be one.

It's also meant to imply how his eternal nature has had an influence on his temporal existence today. Christ tells the Pharisees that before Abraham was "I am". While that was mostly a declaration of divinity, it is also a reminder that we all pre-existed and thus had a hand in executing the preliminaries of the Plan of Salvation which would later enable each one of us to take on a body, etc. I believe that it is valuable to see ourselves in the same eternal existence.

Executive Conclusion

"Grayden Christopher" is an awesome name and we should put the full weight of the organization behind it.

Non-Executive Conclusion

We love giving meaningful names to our children that they can reflect on as they seek out their identity in a tumultuous world. It is an additional temporal staff and stay that we can provide to our children to point them to the only real staff and stay, Jesus Christ.

I hope that you like the name.