Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thoughts on the Temple

The Washington, DC temple the morning of November 24, 2010, the day Susan and I entered it and were sealed for time and eternity. According to the photo's time stamp, this picture was taken during the time our sealing ceremony was actually taking place. 

So, in case you didn't notice from the video from my last post, I've shaved my beard. Yup. I'm now officially an ordinance worker in the Washington, D.C. temple, so the beard had to come off. That has its advantages. One is that I look younger. Classes started this week, and the first day the professor in the classroom before me told me I would need to wait for my professor to open the door; he couldn't let me in without the teacher. I informed him that I was the professor. I'll take that as a compliment.

But back to the subject at hand, being a temple ordinance worker is an unusual calling in the church, since you sort of have to volunteer for it, as opposed to all other callings in the church which are decidedly not volunteer, but I look forward to my time serving in the House of the Lord.

My first official shift was last week, and not only are the shift coordinators the parents of one of my good friends here in the area, another friend of mine was in the temple being somebody's escort, so literally my first assignment was with someone that I've known for years. It was a nice way to ease into the work, to be surrounded by people I already had a connection to.

Also, of late I've been actually going through the temple for people that I'm related to. My sister-in-law has been doing family history, and has a nice big google doc full of people whose work needs to be done. I feel that I have a better experience at the temple when doing work for my own honored dead, as opposed to somebody else's. Of course, any temple work is good, but doing names for your own family is the "right" way to do everything in wisdom and order. Also, with the new familysearch.org, it's very easy to find people whose work has not yet been done. I'm starting my own google doc to find some of my side of the family's honored dead.

See, when Wilford Woodruff first started doing his own genealogy, he discovered that the task of doing all of his ancestor's names was monumental. Far too large for just him to do. So he called upon other saints to help him.

"I have gone to work with the assistance of my friends and redeemed my father's and my mother's house. When I inquired of the Lord how I could redeem my dead, while I was in St. George, not having any of my family there, the Lord told me to call upon the Saints in St. George and let them officiate for me in that temple, and it should be acceptable unto Him. Brother McAllister and the brethren and sisters there have assisted me in this work, and I felt to bless them with every feeling in my heart. This is a revelation to us. We can help one another in these matters, if we have not relatives sufficient to carry this on, and it will be acceptable unto the Lord." 
Wilford Woodruff
"The Law of Adoption," Deseret Weekly, April 21, 1894, 544 

So the rule of thumb was, and is, that you should do the work yourself. If you cannot, then others can help you with it. Over time that's just evolved into our general practice of going to the temple and getting a name. It's somebody's family, so you're helping them do their work even if you don't know who they are specifically. But doing it for my own family members has felt more proper and right. 

My Dad recently said something that I think is true. We in the church actually have five standard works–the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and finally, the Temple. I like that description. Recently I've discovered that general idea to be true in my own life, and I suppose in some ways my wanting to be a temple worker is to more thoroughly explore and understand the ordinances of the House of the Lord for my own edification and knowledge. 

Even if I look like a child now. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge-Write Your Representatives Edition

Well, I was challenged to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by my brother N (who screamed like a little girl when he did it), Derek Downey, and Steve Peterson.


The problem, of course, is that to do a proper ice bucket challenge, you need to have enough ice, and Susan and I only have two ice trays. That is insufficient. It wasn't until Sunday night that Susan stumbled upon the solution . . . using a freezer bag to keep the extra ice cubes around while we fill up the trays again. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't think of it first. In any event, now I have enough ice to do it properly.

The question arises, of course, who should I challenge? Should I pick people I would like to see get soaked in freezing water, just because they deserve it . . . I mean, for my own amusement? Rich friends who can donate lots of money (presumably)? Some celebrities, to try to get more cool videos like these from Patrick Stewart (most class), Benedict Cumberbatch (most never-ending), and Lindsey Stirling (best "that is cold" voice catch and screams)?




In the end, I decided to challenge people who are good friends, yet whom it would be amusing to see get soaked in ice water (as opposed to people I actively want to get soaked in ice water, and there are a few of those even if they will remain nameless). I challenge Mark Wright, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and specialist in Mesoamerican anthropology, Russ Bowers the Jolly Giant, and Heidi Johnson.

However . . . you three don't have to donate anything to the ALS Association. They're doing fine.

In fact, donating to ALS research certainly isn't the most efficient use of our money.


So I'm amending the challenge. Mark, Russ, and Heidi, you can donate to any medical research charity of your choosing. I myself am going to make a small contribution to the American Heart Association, and to write my senators and congressmen to make sure that the NIH is properly funded (because that's where most US medical research, even for ALS, is done, and their funding isn't doing so hot due to recent budget cuts.) Shout out to Brady and Galen from my ward for that additional idea. Galen donated his money to Autism research in honor of his autistic son. That's why mine isn't the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it's just the Ice Bucket Challenge.

And now what you've all been waiting for . . .



Thanks to Susan for not dropping the bucket on my head. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Musings on the Light Side, or Why I Hope JJ Abrams Goes Christian

The cover from the comic book where Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade get married. 

A little over five years ago, I wrote a post on this blog titled "Musings on the Dark Side, or Why George Lucas Shouldn't Have Gone Buddhist." It might be worth reviewing, but my basic thesis is that, in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Anakin's fall to the dark side is framed in Buddhist terms, and in my opinion Buddhist evil isn't actually evil. Simply put, Anakin has too much attachment to his wife, and this leads to his becoming a Dark Lord of the Sith. Because loving your wife is evil. Or something. Anakin suffered from many flaws with regard to how his character was written. This is my major complaint.

Today I would like to talk about the opposite topic, namely, the light side of the Force. In the original trilogy, the light side is never explained at all, although the dark side is. "But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight," says Yoda.

So the question then becomes, if that's the dark side, these negative emotions, then what does the light side consist of? In the prequel trilogy, and even in some of the expanded universe, the answer to this question is "no emotions." The Jedi are more buddhist monks than samurai warriors, more placid and emotionless than upholders of truth, justice, and the American way (or whatever).

Anakin says, in Episode II, "Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love."

So you can have a vague, undefined form of love, but it can't actually be aimed at anything. I argue that love that isn't actually aimed at anything isn't actually love, but that's perhaps a more technical discussion about emotions that we'll pick up another day.

And then there's the Jedi code from various sources in the expanded universe:

There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.

There it is, right in the first line: There is no emotion.

Or from the third line: There is no passion.

Hogwash.

In a comment on the above post, my former roommate Adam said this:

"Remember the final fight scene where Luke is hiding and Vader begins to taunt him? Apparently Luke's emotions are pretty close to the surface because it doesn't take long for Vader to discover he has a daughter and then threatens to corrupt her. Suddenly, Luke jumps out, light saber ablazin', the musical score really picks and the movie goes into what I like to call 'epic mode.'

The first time I saw that, I loved it. I felt like Luke was finally fighting for the most noble cause, protection of the innocent and family. Isn't that a very Capt. Moroni thing to do? Imagine my surprise when George reveals that Luke was never closer to the Dark Side than at that moment. Hand slice, wild look in his eyes, the emperor gets really excited to see Luke go berserk like that. I guess Lucas was already trying to show that attachment to anything, even immediate family, can be dangerous."

And you know what, Adam is right. That should be the moment that Luke is closest to the light side. Fighting for family? There can be no higher cause, no motivation more noble, no justification more clear. Now, you can still fight for family in the wrong way, which is what I had taken Luke's actions to be, that he was enraged by the thought that Vader would corrupt Leia and therefore went hog wild on his father. It's the question there of how to fight a war against the Dark when war itself is one of the Dark's most effective tools. (And now we're into just war theory, which is also another sidetrack technical discussion that we'll pick up another day.)

A great moment recently in cinema that illustrated what the light side should be came from Frozen, which I liked a lot. In the movie, Queen Elsa's cryokinetic powers are obviously linked to her emotional state. "Conceal, don't feel," is the mantra she was taught by her parents, even though that's a stupid way of dealing with such things. See this HISHE for a hilarious take on Frozen.


In the movie, the troll shaman also says "an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart." When confronted with her inability to unfreeze the land from the eternal winter she has inadvertently set off, Elsa despairs. She can't control her powers that well. Until, at the end, after hearing once again the shaman's saying, she shortens it to "love will thaw." With this new insight, she is able to not only control her powers but to undo what she has already created, returning the land to the summer it should have been having all along.

Love is the opposite of the fear and shame that Elsa feels. It's what allows her to undo the damage her powers have caused. And you know what . . . this isn't Buddhist. This is actually Christian. "God is love," says 1 John 4:8, and whether you have a Mormon view of God as a Father in Heaven (with a Mother in Heaven and us as Their literal children) or the inner complexities of the traditional Christian Trinity (where God is lovingly relational even within Himself), you are very very far removed from the Buddhist ideal of non-attachment. Of course, sometimes the Christian God is portrayed as an omni-benevolent computer program incapable of having genuine emotions (I would argue), but that's yet another side-track discussion we'll pick up another day. Ah nerd theology. So much to do! So little time!

So I hope that some form of love and attachment, positive emotions, are what we see more of in the upcoming Star Wars films. I want a more robust understanding of what the light side actually is. It should not be the absence of emotions. It should be an overabundance of positive emotions. Perhaps it would be nice if we had more terms for what we in English call love. The three greek terms, eros-erotic love, philos-friendship, and agape-unconditional love, usually translated "charity," would be a good start). Perhaps Lucas just didn't have the vocabulary to articulate different kinds of love, and so threw it all out. So whatever form the Jedi take in these next movies, I hope that JJ Abrams is able to articulate a better version of the light side. In the expanded universe, that is no longer going to be used as canon, Luke was actually married to another Jedi, Mara Jade, and they had children. I hope that sort of thing continues. Family is arguably the best way to show love and attachment and to cultivate the positive emotions (which do not flow quickly and are not as easy to fall into as the dark side emotions).

In short, the opposite of anger, fear, and aggression isn't to eliminate all emotions, like George Lucas says.

The opposite is the positive emotions, chief among them love! I hope JJ Abrams goes more in that direction. Time will tell.

After all, there are other things that Disney is getting right.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Diet Plan


For the Cranney family book club last time, we read Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman. His website is here. I won't go into a lot of details other than to say that you really should read the first few chapters, where Dr. Fuhrman details all of the goods and bads of the standard American diet (spoiler: we eat poorly) and introduces his basic diet plan, which can be broken down into a single equation.

Health=Nutrients/Calories.

In short, eat foods that have a high ratio of nutrients per calorie consumed. Those would mostly be vegetables and fruits. Also, eating vegetables and fruits is good because of all the micronutrients and other things they come with. In short, there are many benefits from eating them, more than by even taking a nice multivitamin every day. So I read the book, and was sold on his basic premise. We need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

You know that rule that you should never go to the store when you're fasting, because everything looks good, and you buy too much food? Well, you should also not go to the store the day you finish this book. I did, and was paralyzed by indecision about what kind of fruits and vegetables I ought to buy! I ended up just buying some bananas and strawberries, and making smoothies, except that we don't have a great blender. Also, I finished the book at a point when I had simply bought a lot of food already, and I wasn't going to waste it, so we've been eating our regular fare for the past month or so since I finished the book. We worked our food supply down, not replenishing it, until our vacation last week. (During the vacation, I was pretty good about eating fruits each day, but alas, apparently the Mikkelsen side of the clan doesn't like salads, so there were few opportunities for vegetables.)

However, I'm going to the store now. And that means I'm going to buy lots of fruits and vegetables. Dr. Fuhrman has 10 easy rules to follow for his six week plan, and I'm just going to follow 3 of them. Maybe I'll add more in as we go, but for now:

1. (His Rule #10.) Keep it simple. To that end:

2. (His Rule #2.) Have as much fruit as you want. I'll be getting oranges, pears, apples, bananas, pineapple, and cantaloupe, and eating them for breakfast and snacks.

3. (His Rule #1.) The salad is the main dish. Eat it first at lunch and dinner.

That's the basic plan. Susan has also agreed to make soups more of the base of our diet, because soups are good for you too, but these are the three rules. I'll still be sticking to the 2000 calories a day resolution (so far I only owe the NRA $.50), which has helped me lose about 20 pounds so far this year and about 4 or so inches off of my waist. The last few months I haven't been dropping as much, and I'm not where I wanted to be in August, so hopefully this will also help. Dr. Fuhrman recommends going completely vegetarian. That isn't going to happen for me and Susan (I still have memories of my former roommate Adam eating peanut butter out of a jar with a spoon because he was craving the protein so much when he was vegetarian for a few months), but I'll be eating better from here on out. I'm not big into diets or fads, but his science convinced me that I could, with small changes, do much better. So when I say this is a new "diet" plan, I don't mean that I'm "going on a diet" with the connotations of losing weight that phrase usually entails. I mean that I'm going to change my diet.

Wish me luck.

Edit: You know what, I'll add a Rule 4. Don't drink calories. (After I've gotten rid of the juice I've already bought.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

iPad

I've wanted an iPad since the 80s, when I saw them on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Theirs are called PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices).


So when Steve Jobs held this up back in 2010, he was once again fulfilling a wish that I didn't even know I had. (He was good that way.)


My desire to own one was tempered in that the original iPad, and several of the subsequent generations, didn't have all of the features I wanted. However, eventually the newer ones did have those features, and especially recently seeing everybody in my ward council meetings using them has just increased my appetite for them. Even the missionaries have them! (Back in my day, we didn't have cell phones on our missions, let alone iPads. We also walked uphill in the snow to church. Both ways.) 

Well, yesterday we finally got an iPad. It's been a while in coming, since I had to earn the money in ways other than the traditional salary approach. So between winning at my family's monthly exercise competition, selling my body for plasma donations, doing various odd jobs, making deals with family members to keep them honest and productive (like my deal for this year), a few birthday gifts that were monetary in nature, and the fact that it's cheaper for me since I'm a student, as well as the $50 Apple Store Gift Card, I finally got enough to buy the iPad that I wanted (the cheapest model with retina display). Actually, I'm $24.50 short, but Susan was kind enough to say that was good enough. I'll probably win the exercise competition this month again, which means it'll be down to $14.50, and I'm sure I'll scrounge up the last bit somehow soon. 

Susan and I got it engraved with our names and the reference of D&C 88:118-120, which we felt was fitting for what it will be used for (organizing our lives and reading out of the "best books," which we've expanded to include news apps and PDFs, of course). We memorized the scripture on Monday for FHE in preparation for the joyous day that was then soon-to-come. 

Anyway, here I am with my new toy! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Elysium, Isolationism, War, and Matthew 22:39

I finally got around to watching Elysium. I rather enjoyed Neil Blomkamp's District 9, and looked forward to any future projects he did in science fiction. I found the movie to be good, but not as subtle as District 9 in its exploration of themes. 

One of the themes it explored is class difference, and the different opportunities that arise from the circumstances of one's birth. In this dystopian future, much of humanity lives in space on an orbiting habitat, Elysium, where they have all their cares and needs met, including medical bays that can instantly cure any disease, leading to lifespans that stretch into the hundreds of years. Of course, on the ground back on overcrowded, stripped, spoiled earth, is the rest of humanity, in the science fiction equivalent of a slum. (Or more obviously the U.S.-Mexican border. Again, it's not a very subtle movie.) Of course we're to side with the desperate earthlings over the arrogant Elysium citizens.

Something else that's also been going through my mind is that this planet is terrible. Passenger planes getting shot down (probably by Russia or at least by someone trained and probably tacitly condoned by Russia-more on that as it develops), Israel and Hamas going after each other (again!), of course women have serious problems everywhere, and those are just the items that stuck out to me in the news articles I read just today, in the one hour I have allotted to internet. (Yes, that's a verb now.)

Somedays, when I wish I was the president (or dictator-for-life, whatever) of America, I have fantasies of basically saying, "you know what, we're going to take the trillions of dollars we've spent on the military, and stop spending it on the military. Mothball all of it. We should have a smallish navy, and a smallish air force, and a smallish army, and that's it. Let's see if Canada or Mexico invades us?" I'd like to see the world in which we took that trillions of dollars and put it into education, infrastructure (because who wouldn't want Solar Freaking Roadways everywhere?), and most importantly, NASA, because SPACE!! Basically, there's some decently large part of me that wishes that we could just be isolationist and tell the world they were largely on their own, and that we're not going to police you all anymore. It's not like we're going to solve the middle-east problem.

But the problem is, that precise attitude is exactly what leads to an Elysium-like dystopian future. If we Americans were to do what I've outlined above, then maybe in a few hundred years we would have our own space station and little machines that fixed all our illnesses and diseases. But where would that leave the rest of the world? Maybe we would be boldly going with our Alcubierre warp drives where no man has gone before. But what about the people who, through no fault of their own, were not born in America? Heck, once we can create holodecks and replicators, then it's all over, man! But then what about those with no access to even clean water?

So even though Elysium as a movie wasn't that entertaining, and too heavy-handed with its "free healthcare for all" and "open the borders" sentiments, when combined with the terrible news this week, it did get me to think. We're already getting to the point where one reason the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer is because of automation. And if that keeps happening, according to one NASA study, that would lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it.

So as much as I like to, in my culturally imperialistic way, look at the rest of the world and just say "you guys come back to us when you've figured out how to stop killing each other over stupid stuff" (because anything, valued against a human life, is stupid stuff), that's not actually a viable system. Nor is it, I think, an ethical one. Because to actually do so would be to give up on the rest of humanity. I think the Savior would take issue with that, as the 2nd great commandment is to love our neighbor, and I think he's pretty clear that everybody is our neighbor. So we cannot give up on them. We are all in this together.


A comment on reddit (where there are occasionally very good comments and discussions), said "We have two options: A Star Trek styled universe where all of humanity is equal and can spend their time creating art, exploring, researching, reading, gardening and raising their family; or Elysium, where the rich have their own space station that functions as an automated permanent resort while the impoverished who were left on Earth have to clean up the irradiated trash they left behind."

Of this false dichotomy, I would choose the former. Which means that all of our collective problems, messy as they are, should be dealt with. All of our collective solutions, which are sometimes even messier, should be entertained. All of humanity, together, needs to get its act together. I think that America has its act together pretty well in many ways. How to get those parts of its act to spread?

No idea.

But that's a discussion worth having. Because, in the end, "if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction."

So when I despair at the state of the world, I also think that the alternative-giving up on them, is actually the worse choice. Because I don't want to live in a world where this is the outcome.


Because in some ways, we're already well on our way. And that's not good.


Though, if we ever do invent replicators and holodecks, and can basically live wherever we want, I'm going to live in a place like this. 


Because hobbit-holes mean comfort. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alone With My Thoughts? Fine by Me!

A recent study demonstrated that most men (and a large, but less substantial portion of women) would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts, because they need stimulation and can't stand just sitting there and . . . thinking.

How utterly boring their thoughts must be. They should be more like Calvin.



Or more like me.

My nightly ritual to fall asleep involves me just sitting there with my thoughts. Sometimes it takes me hours to do so (there is no pattern to the times I will have insomnia, but I do get a pretty bad case once night every few months). And what do my thoughts involve when I'm trying to relax and let my mind wander (I do not focus on theology or scholarship because invariably I'll have a thought that I need to get up to write down)?




Also, lightsabers are cool.


Sometimes you can even mix and match, to great effect!



Because who wouldn't want to fantasize about being an immortal, rapid-healing warrior with adamantium claws who can only be killed by having your head chopped off by a lightsaber who roams the galaxy on an ancient spaceship with its own artificial intelligence having adventures on myriad planets with myriad cultures and varied levels of technology, even?

Not that I've ever had such fantasies, myself.

Yeah, I'm just fine being alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are friggin' awesome, probably because, in some ways, I've not grown up from the kid who sat on the soccer field and pretended he was flying. I hope that I never do grow up entirely.