Inspiration is all around us

What I learned from 9-11

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/what-i-learned-from-9-11

New Mormon Meetinghouse locator

URL:  maps.lds.org

In case you haven’t noticed, the church has been rapidly building and deploying all kinds of exciting new technologies.  I intend to cover a few of these over the next little while (as infatuated as I am with technology).  It’s wonderful to see the church leveraging the powerful technology available to us today in order to move the work of the Lord along.

The first that I’ll cover, is a new (and upcoming) way of locating places of worship anywhere in the world.  The site is actually a “mashup” (a site that merges technology/information from disparate locations) and works wonderfully.

This new interface creates a far more visual, interactive way to find meetinghouses.  It lets you toggle between Google maps or Microsoft maps, depending on your preference, and lets you switch between the two at will.  Doing this lets you use the great pan/tilt/zoom features of Microsoft, including their Aerial mode for satellite imagery (birds-eye view doesn’t seem to be available yet), or use Google’s satellite or map view (or merge the two).  Interestingly, the Google Maps view doesn’t currently work in Google’s new Chrome browser, but I’m sure that’ll be fixed soon, but Microsoft maps do work (PP, that’s a paradox).  Still it’s in beta, so some bugs will likely exist.

What’s cool though, is if you know of a chapel that’s not yet shown on the map they even give you an interface to add one.

Searching yields results divided into two categories “closest meetinghouses”, showing the three nearest locations, and “Assigned Congregations” showing a list of locations you can attend living in the selected location, along with language-specific worship services, young single adult wards, and student wards.

It even contains local leader contact information, and will give you directions.

If you haven’t yet seen it, check it out.

Rusty

Understanding the Plan of Salvation

For those of you who follow my blog and the comments closely, you know that I’ve mentioned a couple of times a project that I’m working on, a full-blown online presentation of the Plan of Salvation.

In so many of the doctrinal discussions that we have here, particularly with those that are not LDS (or Mormon), there is the need to fall back on the core understanding of the principles of this plan, and how they relate to the beliefs of Mormonism.  The topics of salvation, for instance (as the most recent example), the nature of God and Man, the role of Christ and the atonement, the role of the resurrection, what happened before earth, the judgment, and what happens after.

The longer we discuss these things the more I realize that to truly understand Mormonism, you must really understand the sweeping panorama of this grand plan.

But, at the same time, it’s doctrinally drenched, and can be tedious to articulate with words alone.  Consequently, I’m taking a highly visual approach.  Building a professional-level illustration of the primary components of the plan, with a summary explanation behind each component along with links to a full post dedicated to its description, and for further discussion.

Not only will this visual, interactive layout facilitate Latter-day Saints with their understanding and appreciation of God’s great plan of happiness, but it will serve as a fantastic visual overview for non-Mormons who can dive in where they wish for more information and further discussion.

Now, here’s where I’d like your help.  As a part of this presentation, I’d like to include with each component a full reference of scriptural sources to which viewers can look for additional study.

If you have favorite scriptures pertaining to the components of the Plan of Salvation (or the plan as a whole), in any of the Standard Works, please email me.  Let me know what they are so that I can be as inclusive as possible.

If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the results of this project.  I’m rather excited about it myself.

Rusty

P.S.  This kind of visual representation will be particularly valuable when I build the translated version in Chinese, since most of the concepts are entirely new to non-Christians.

Michael Phelps – setting and achieving goals

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/michael-phelps-–-making-your-dreams-come-true/

Celebrating 50,000 page views

Speaking of setting goals, in January of this year, inspired by a call by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, wherein he encouraged Mormons to take a more active role in building a voice online, I had set a goal to build a blog.

My first post was on Thursday, January 31st (Simple acts of kindness and caring).  It was short and simple, and not very original, but it was a start.

193 days later I have created 152 posts and 5 pages.

My first full month (February), my blog averaged 75 page views a day.  By the third month online, that average climbed from 75 all the way up to more than 350 page views a day. 

This month, the average is 508, and on Friday, we reached 50,000 total page views… and then blew right on by as Saturday we had almost 1,000, and Sunday we had almost 1,200 (1,190 to be exact).

What’s more, there have now been 987 comments.

That’s fantastic.  So, in celebration of reaching 50,000 page views, I wanted to pause and say thank you.  Thank you for helping to make it all possible.  Thank you for your interaction.  Thank you for the many marvelous discussions we have had.  Most of all, thank you for being interested in the gospel.

These numbers represent an ever-increasing consumption of religious views and discussions online, and I’m happy to play a part in that endeavor.  Most of all, I’m grateful for the opportunity, the medium, the time, and the ability to host and promote discussions centered around the gospel of Jesus Christ, and an effort to encourage people to live just a little better, and experience just a little more.

Now, that said, this is still just the start.  If we reached 50,000 page views in just over 6 months, I want to shoot for a total of 150,000 in the next 6.  You can help (find out how).  At the bottom of the blog there’s a little counter that tells you the current number.  I hope you’re here to watch with me as the exposure of these Christ-centered discussions continues to climb.  I hope you play a part.  And for the part you play, thank you.

Rusty

A Christian call to action

Fighting has broken out between Georgia and Russia, and is taking place right in the Georgian capital.  CNN is reporting that heavy casualties have been reported on both sides.

Lyudmila Ostayeva, who lives in the capital, said “I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars.  It’s impossible to count them now.  There is hardly a single building left undamaged.

Sarmat Laliyev told AP “They are killing civilians, women and children, with heavy artillery and rockets”.  You can read the full story here and click here for photos.

The Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili tells about how the Russian warplanes are targeting the civilian population and residential areas.  He’s now putting political pressure on the US for to get involved and send in troops to fight Russia.

How can we get involved?  There are likely many ways, not the least of which (but perhaps the most simple and immediate, if not the most powerful) is simply through prayer.

It’s easy to watch these events happen on the news, and simply turn off the TV to return to our lives of luxury and comfort.  But as Christians we have a responsibility, a responsibility to be filled with charity, and to let our genuine concern drift to all the peoples of the earth, especially those in war torn areas of the world.

But prayer is a real and mighty power, allowing us to draw upon the powers of heaven to intervene in the lives of man, that the souls of those affected might be comforted, strengthened to shoulder the burdens placed upon them, and that the hearts of those directing the conflict might be softened, that a resolution might be reached speedily.

For are we not all sons and daughters of God?  We cannot simply sit unfeeling as our brothers and sister perish and suffer.  May we all cast our voices heavenward in unity, and be one in might, mind, and intent, our voices lifted up together to pray the help of an all-powerful Father. 

Rusty

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Earthquake in Los Angeles, California

My CNN Alert just notified me that there has been a magnitude 5.8 eartquake in Los Angeles, California.

I’m searching for details, and will post more about possible ways to help as soon as I can.  In the meantime, may all our prayers go out to them.

As I mention here (Looking through the lense of God), the power of united prayer is magnificent and real.

Rusty

Update:  The Red Cross has opened a “Safe and well” website for CA quake victims, and urges those affected to register.  Instructions are here.  Click here to register as safe and well.

For insurance claims, you can contact CEA (California Earthquake Authority) here.

Other Articles:

Twitter:  Reporting on massive use of Twitter to report quake, even for victims.

CNet:  Los Angeles earthquake chokes phone calls, not twitter

CNN:  Expert:  L.A.’s 5.4 quake ‘small sample’ of one to come

iReport:  Did you feel the quake?

Associated Press:  Southern California earthquake causes phone jam

Some photos of the damage are here.

Advice from Gizmodo:  In earthquake, don’t make phone calls, use Text or IM instead

USGS (US Geological Survey site) for specific detail on this quake is here and here, for general CA earthquake info go here.

CNN:  http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/07/29/earthquake.ca/index.html

MSNBC:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/22886841#22886841

Can Mormons swim in a public pool?

A lot of the traffic that I get comes from search engines, usually people searching about Mormonism, and sometimes I get some really strange search phrases.

Over the past while I’ve gotten a lot visits from the search phrase “Can Mormons swim in a public pool?”, or some variation on that. 

So, let me answer your question…  Yes.

Yes we do swim, and even in public, though some of us might not be very good, nor look too pretty, at least speaking for myself.

But we do swim, we love to swim (at least I do), but we don’t swim on Sundays, because we feel that Sunday is a holy day, a day of rest, a day for families, a day for emotional, spiritual, and physical recuperation.

That said, Missionaries don’t swim because they are required to work full time in teaching the gospel of Christ.  They do get one day a week to prepare for the rest of the week by cleaning, doing laundry, and even recreation, but even then, swimming is not permitted for several reasons, not the least of which is modesty and the need to keep their minds single to their ministry.

We also believe in wearing modest attire, which often leads to pretty severe cases of “farmers tan”!  Not exactly what you’re looking for when you don your suit in public (which might prevent some faint of heart from doing it :-)… but oh well, so I look ugly, I can deal with that.

So to you, whoever has been searching for the answer to this question, I hope this helps!

Rusty

P.S.  Because there are lots of misconceptions about Mormonism out there, I’m embarking on a whole series of “about Mormonism” posts, where I explain some of the basic beliefs of Mormons (just look under the “Mormon Beliefs” section in my navigation or click here to read the first post.  We’ve had some great conversations there with people of all faiths, and I hope you’ll join us.  I’m posting more all the time.

D. Todd Christopherson, New member of the 12 apostles

D. Todd Christopherson

 Elder D. Todd Christpherson, was just announced as the newly selected member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church, or commonly known as “The Mormons”), in the Solemn Assembly of Saturday Morning’s session of General Conference.

Here is the biography from Deseret Morning News:

 

Sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy April 3, 1993, at age 48; called to the Presidency of the Seventy Aug. 15, 1998, and sustained Oct. 3, 1998. Former regional representative, stake president, stake president’s counselor, and bishop. Received bachelor’s degree from BYU, juris doctorate from Duke University. Former associate general counsel of NationsBank Corp., (now Bank of America) in Charlotte, N.C.; practiced law in Washington, D.C., Tennessee and North Carolina, and was volunteer chairman of Affordable Housing of Nashville, Tenn. Born Jan. 24, 1945, in American Fork, Utah, to Paul V. and Jeanne Swenson Christofferson. Wife, Katherine Jacob Christofferson; parents of five children.

  • Here is an article announcing this in the Deseret Morning News.
  • Here you can listen to Elder D. Todd Christopherson’s “When Thou Art Converted”, teaching on conversion, prayer, and service.
  • Here you can listen to Elder Christopherson speak on “Allegiance to God” and here you can download it.
  • Here you can read his talk on “Becoming a Witness of Christ” (which is very intetersting).

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Ongofu gets a facelift!

It’s not that the last design was that bad (although it really wasn’t that good either) but it wasn’t quite as flexible as I needed it to be.  Now that I’ve got more posts, I need more room to grow, and this new style (having three columns) allows me a little more of that… room to grow that is.I haven’t spent much time on the real “design” aspect of it yet – primarily focusing first on the functionality and format (conflicting with my own post about form not following function).

On a side note, I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet or not, but I’m addicted to parentheses.  It’s like they give me an excuse to interject any random thought at any time I please.  It’s almost like it excuses my schizophrenic thinking because there’s actual punctuation to permit it (it really works).

Anyhow, I normally wouldn’t actually create a post for something so seemingly trivial, but realized that if I DID create a post, it would become an outlet for feedback – which isn’t trivial (since I aim to please).

So please, give me feedback.  Is the new navigation style better?  What do you miss (if anything… there I go again) about the old style? Etc.

Thoughts?

Rusty

Recognizing the spirit, lessons from a cell phone

Have you ever really considered the typical cell phone user?

It’s quite entertaining, cell phones are just funny.  Everybody’s got to have one (I’ve got 5… no really).  And you take it with you wherever you go, because, well, someone might have to talk to you. 

First, there’s the heart stopping power of “the cell phone ring”.  I’m convinced there’s some chemical reaction that happens in our brains when a cell phone rings.  People can recognize a cell phone ringing from a mile away. You can be in the middle of grand central station, someone’s cell phone will go off and immediately everyone’s heads will turn, and everybody thinks the same thought…”somebody better get that”.  

And all you hear about these days are cell phones; plans, rates, minutes, coverage, new phones, etc.  A new phone will come out, and I’ll literally think “I’ve got to go get it!  I could get better reception!  I could get better battery life!  People will be able to get a hold of me better!”  I could be cooler.  It’s insanity.

And it’s all about reception these days, reception and coverage.  Have you ever been driving down the road when someone calls you?  First, you have that unmistakable feeling of being important.  And if you have a flip phone you feel extra cool as you open it crisply with the well practiced flip of your thumb. 

But have you ever picked up the phone and realized you can only hear two or three words a sentence?  You’ve got a bad reception! 

I don’t know about you, but in instances like that, I’ve actually panicked.  I mean… what if I miss something!

So what’s the first thing that you do?  You take your eyes off the road to see how many bars you have.  Now this is a scary moment.  Not because you’re concerned you might crash as you take your eyes off the road, no, it’s because in that critical 2-3 seconds while you’re looking at your phone the person on the other end just might say something that you’ll miss.  You end up doing this funny little jerk-motion to see how quickly you can look, then get the phone back to your ear.

So you take the risk and look at your phone, and realize you’ve only got one bar.  There’s something strange that takes place when you realize you only have one bar.  It’s like an autoimmune response of the body.  Immediately those chemicals flow from your brain and you begin frantically searching for any way possible to improve reception!

In times like this I’ve found myself suddenly accelerating, somehow trying to get out of this “dead zone” as fast as possible.  Yes, call me an idiot, I’ve even found myself changing lanes!  Somehow thinking “you know, maybe if I move 10 feet in THIS direction suddenly it’ll get better”!

But even if you’re not in your car, you still find this autoimmune response active.  You see people ducking and weaving their heads, hurrying out into the open, all the time repeating “can you hear me now!?!”

The bottom line is this…we spend a lot of time worrying about our cell phones, worrying about coverage and reception, wondering how many bars we have.  But how often are we even considering our spiritual reception?  We’ve got these finely tuned autoimmune responses that detect and react when our phones go choppy, but we’re not nearly as sensitive and quick to react when we lose connection with the Holy Ghost.

Otherwise we’d hear people walking around saying “can you feel me now?”

With a cell phone, there are simply places where the signal from the towers just won’t penetrate.  Similarly with the spirit we go places, or find ourselves in situations or conversations where our spiritual reception drops, or where the spirit just can’t get through.  How crucial it is to be as sensitive to that dropped connection with the spirit, but it’s just not something we’ve “dialed” in to.  It’s somehow less real.

I hear people asking each other strange questions like “how many bars do you get in the delta center?”, like it’s some sort of universally understood trivia game, and people will know.  “How many bars do you get in up at Snowbird?” or even more specific, “You know that stretch of freeway on I-215 East side southbound, by the airport?  How many bars do you get there?”  People can answer that.

We need to be equally adept at knowing and recognizing the instances of the spirit in our lives; equally concerned when those instances become infrequent; and equally sensitive to feeling when that spiritual reception drops.  We need to ask ourselves, with much more regularity with regards to our spiritual sensitivity…”how many ‘bars’ do I have right now?”

So how DO you acquire this spiritual sensitivity?  How do you increase your familiarity with the spirit, and become agile in getting it back when it leaves?

Frequent Use

One method, I’d say, has a lot to do with frequency.

I travel a bit, and it never ceases to humor me, how often people will talk on their cell phones.  It’s not uncommon when I’ll hear people walking into the airport on their phones saying “Okay, I just got to the airport, I’m ‘gonna go get checked in”.  Then, moments later, they’re back on the phone “okay, I just got through security”. Then later “my plane just arrived, we’re boarding now”.  Then “Okay, we just landed, I’m going to go get my luggage”, and then yet again when they finally get out to passenger pickup.

Is an airport experience really so entertaining that people WANT a blow by blow report?  I don’t think so, I’ve BEEN to the airport.  I think it’s simply because we can.  You know, in the “good ‘ol days” you used to simply send your itinerary to whoever was going to pick you up, they’d check to see if your flight was on time, and somehow, magically, when you walked out of the airport there they were!  How in the world did they do that?

You see people in meetings, in school, on vacations, everywhere on their cell phones, and when they’re not talking on it they’re “text messaging”. 

Have you ever tried text messaging, it’s one of the most inefficient methods of communication, and designed terribly.  We took a 12 button phone keypad and turned it into a 62 button keyboard.  It takes 5 minutes to write one sentence, and yet we do it!  We’ll undergo tremendous pain just to make sure we’re communicating.

How has this happened?  Somehow the cell phone has made communication real, tangible, immediate, and convenient. 

I actually think that if Heavenly Father got a cell phone, we’d talk to him more.

I can just see kids in school, with their cell phones out text messaging….”H-e-a-v-e-n-l-y  F-a-t-h-e-r,…t-a-k-i-n-g    t-e-s-t…  d-i-d-n-‘-t   s-t-u-d-y …..NEED HELP!

Of course he could set us all up on the “Family Plan”, there’d be no such thing as “weekend” or “rollover” minutes.  I can see the ad now…

Heavenly Mobile
Best coverage available
Pray as you go

With heavenly mobile you get more spirit in more places.

But why does it take a cell phone?  Does it somehow become more “real” for us to have an actual device in our hands…”This is how I talk to my Father.”  Why doesn’t prayer suffice?

It does, the only thing a cell phone has going for it, is that we use it all the time.  I guarantee that if you begin to pray with as much regularity as you talk on the phone, you’ll find yourself much more capable at discerning the spirit.  Its companionship will much more constant and durable.  And its departure will become much more easily recognizable. This is the key.  If you want to boost your ability to recognize the departure of the spirit, increase the regularity of when you feel it, so that when it leaves, you can literally feel it leave. 

Keeping your phone charged

Certainly we can increase the regularity with which we do the big things, like attend the temple, but what’s most important is the day to day things, reading scriptures, saying prayers, having family night (our kids are RELYING on us to make sure they feel the spirit), and other more common, but daily events that keep us spiritually charged (which I talk more about here, and here).

If you want to use your cell phone, you have to keep it charged.  You plug it in.  I’ve seen the terrified look on people’s faces when they go to use their cell phone, because they need it, and they find they forgot to charge it.

We’ve all been there, we go scrambling to find someone with a similar phone who may have a charger.  They’ve built these little “charger stations” in airports and other places now where those who forgot to charge their phone can pay to get a quick boost.  You can buy all kinds of “charger accessories” now, where you can charge it in your car, on the go, you can buy extra batteries, and so forth.

How much more terrifying is it to find ourselves in a situation where we desperately need the guidance of the spirit, but we find that because we’ve not invested the small daily time to pray and study the scriptures, we’ve lost its companionship?  We were not spiritually charged.

Reception – based on location.

One more way to help ensure your ability to recognize the spirit, and be sensitive to its presence, is by focusing on your location.

We’ve talked about cell phone users walking around trying to find somewhere with better reception, rushing into open areas, ducking around corners, trying to find someplace with a clear reception.

In the church we have a phrase for that…”Stand ye in holy places”. 

Certainly it’s not always feasible to literally stand in holy places, but we can also make our own holy places by sanctifying where we are with righteous works.  You can make your bedroom a holy place by making it a sanctuary of the spirit.  A place where you study and pray:  a place where you listen and learn.

By standing in Holy Places, you’re guaranteed a powerful reception, and the more regularity with which you put yourself in places like this, the more stark the difference will be when you suddenly find yourself without.  What’s more, by knowing the moment of it’s departure, you can more quickly identify what caused it to leave, and it’s far easier to retrieve right then, than hours later, days later, weeks later, or years later.

No busy signal

God lives, our Savior lives, the Holy Ghost is real, and the three of them work constantly for our benefit.  They’re always available.  You’ll never get a busy signal if you reach out to them.  We’ve been given the gift of the spirit and the companionship of the Holy Ghost as a solid testimony of the love of God and his never ending interest in our eternal welfare.

It’s crucial for us learn to recognize the spirit, to understand the way it works, and to give adequate urgency to maintaining his companionship.  Our capacity to recognize the spirit and tune ourselves to its promptings is one of the most important keys to spiritual success in this life.

Rusty

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President Hinckley’s funeral – saying goodbye to my prophet

Wow, what an event.  I’m so glad I went.  It was so inspiring.  I’ve wanted to post just a few highlights and my thoughts on them…

First of all, I loved the image of hard work that Sister Pearce, his Daughter, painted about the prophet.  She said that when his wife died, he mourned deeply, then put on his shoes and went to work.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, he mourned the loss of his good health (having been so healthy all of his life), but then he put on his shoes, and went to work.  He was 97, and every morning, he put on his shoes and went to work.  He served the Lord for half of a century, tirelessly “doing his best”.  He served as apostle, seer, and revelator for nearly 50 years.  He bore the burden of the entire church as prophet for 13 years.  Almost one third of all members baptized today were baptized while he was president.  He built 75 new temples, and never tired.  Every day, he just put on his shoes, and went to work.

That was one of the legacies he left behind, that notion of hard work in the face of hardship, despite age and fatigue, he was a strong, non-complaining, hard worker. 

When I was in college I memorized a poem that I feel encapsulates President Hinckley:

Be Strong
by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong, we are not here to play, to dream, to drift,
we have hard work to do, and loads to lift,
sun not the struggle, face it, ‘tis God’s gift.

Be strong, say not the days are evil, who’s to blame
and fold the hands of acquiesce – o shame!
Stand up, speak out, and boldly in God’s name.

Be strong, it matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
how hard the battle goes, the day how long,
faint not, fight on, tomorrow comes the song.

Sometimes I reflect on how much more diligent I can be at following in those footsteps.  Often we find ourselves complaining, paralyzed by fear, drugged by nostalgia, hindered by doubt, wallowing in laziness, or focusing on the negative, when what we really need to do, is just put on our shoes, and go to work. 

I loved hearing about the explosion of text messages across latter day saint youth, prompting them to wear their Sunday best to school the next morning, in tribute.  That kind of spontaneous unity across such a wide array of people, and over such a short period of time is inspiring and awesome.

I loved the story of President Hinckley walking into the room full of general authorities dressed in their dark, suits and saying “You all look like a bunch of penguins”, or the myriad other stories about his lightening sense of humor.  I love seeing that humor and sobriety can safely coexist.  That one bearing such burdens can look through it all and smile, and joke, and lighten the burdens of those around him, even though they pale in comparison to those weighing down upon himself.

The quote:  “Here and there, now and then, the Lord makes a giant out of men”.

And finally, after a beautiful, entertaining, and profound tribute to our prophet, the heart-felt feeling of our next prophet, President Monson, calling him by his first name – “Gordon, God be with you till we meet again”.

Rusty

Funeral for a prophet

Tomorrow morning I’ve got tickets to go to President Hinckley’s funeral.  Saying I’m excited is probably the wrong way to describe it, but it’s something like that.  With how much he was loved, I think the ceremony is bound to be touching and inspiring, and I’m fortunate to be able to be there.  The news today was saying that there are expected to be some 150,000 people coming to Temple Square to join the ceremony in any way they can, and today there were simply swarms of people, families, gathered around in unfathomably long lines, all waiting to get in to the viewing.

I personally find it inspiring that so many people would take time out of their day to pay tribute to the Prophet we all loved so much.

On that note, today my bishop forwarded to me a tribute from CNN talk show host Glenn Beck, where he paid a touching tribute to the prophet on live TV (click here to watch it).

I was so impressed that he would have the courage to speak out, to voice his opinion, and to make himself heard on something he thought was timely and important.  I think too often we don’t do that, we keep things to ourselves (often because we’re afraid of causing offense), and the world would likely be a better place if we all spoke out a little more.  (See my blog post on “why I keep this blog” for more thoughts on that…)

I’ll post my thoughts on the funeral tomorrow, and pay my own public tribute to such a fantastic soul.

Rusty