Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Now Hiring: Mansion-Owners

I had a job interview yesterday, and it got me thinking about the Final Judgment. (Lest you think the interview was incredibly harrowing, it actually went quite well, but it still got me thinking.) Judgment Day will be a lot like a job interview, I think, with a few major differences. It will take a lot of preparation to do well (a lifetime, in fact). We'll review our qualifications and experiences with our interviewer, and He will ask us several important questions to test our knowledge and understanding.

But we won't be able to stress our strengths and downplay our weaknesses, for He will know us perfectly. We won't be selling ourselves, for we have already been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). We won't be relying on the confidence of our handshake or the quality of our suit to make a good impression. The impression will already be made--an impression upon our countenances, in our hearts, our very beings. And our interviewer, even Jesus Christ, the perfect Judge, will be able to read that impression, for "for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Whatever the verdict of that intensely personal interview, we won't be able to complain of bias or misunderstanding. His judgment will be undeniable and inescapable, and in that day "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him...at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God" (Mosiah 27:31), "and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just" (Mosiah 16:1).

With such a final decision hanging in the balance, what can I do to prepare? Career centers often recommend that you practice sample interview questions before an interview--What is your greatest strength? How do you get along with groups? Are you willing to relocate? What qualifies you for this job?

The fifth chapter of Alma gives a great list of questions for preparing for this crucial interview--Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Are ye stripped of pride? Do you make a mock of your brother? Can ye look up to God with a pure heart and clean hands, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? Have ye spiritually been born of God?

They're hard questions, and reading them made me realize that I'm not at all ready for that particular interview. But it also gave me hope. This interview is ongoing, and the interviewer isn't looking for only one candidate to hire. Alma says, "behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33). Christ also told His disciples that there was room in the kingdom for all who would receive Him: "In my Father's house are many mansions...I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). My interviewer is loving, and He wants to make room in His organization for me. He tenderly makes up for my failings when I fall short, when I in humility accept His help.

I want to pass that interview because I love my interviewer. He is the perfect boss--my Savior, my Redeemer, the Great High Priest, the Lord Jehovah, the Anointed One, my Friend. I want to be ready, not because I'm scared of hell, but because I don't want to disappoint the Lord I love.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thankfulness in All Things

Some murmur when the sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue:
And some with thankful love are filled,
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God's good mercy, gild
The darkness of their night.

How Different, by Richard Chenevix Trench, quoted by Henry B. Eyring in "To Draw Closer to God.")

I've been thinking lately about how easy it is to get upset when things don't go our way. It's easy to expect everything to be perfect, and to forget our many blessings when even the smallest thing goes wrong. I remember being really frustrated a few years ago, and praying about which major I should choose. Amidst all this frustration, I caught myself and chuckled--here I was, at a world-class institution, with a good mind and a supportive family and a thousand opportunities to learn and improve and study under experts in almost any field I could want--and I was complaining about it, because I had too many wonderful opportunities to choose between! How ridiculous!

Our culture today is one of entitlement instead of empowerment, of rights rather than responsibilities. Maybe that's why the scriptures repeatedly stress the importance of remembering our blessings and showing gratitude for what we've received. The Lord tells us one of the ways to keep ourselves unspotted from the world is to "thank the Lord thy God in all things" (Doc. & Cov. 59:7). Maybe that's because thankfulness is so antithetical to the world we live in that it provides an effective shield against worldliness.

"I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice...I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants" (Mosiah 2:20-21).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ode to "Evil" Drug Companies

I've been sick this past week, to the point that I almost lost my voice. Granted, I wasn't as sick as Ben, but then again, I don't work myself nearly as hard as he does. My roommates threatened to spray me with Lysol in my sleep to keep me from infecting the rest of the apartment. I took (I think) seven different varieties of medicine--some herbal immune-boosting and others pharmaceutical symptom-reducing. I'm sure it did a number on my liver. Luckily, I'm not an alcoholic, so my liver can probably take it.
It made me think of that bit in the book of Alma:
"And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate"
(Alma 46:40).
And I, for one, am thankful for whatever part God played in the development of DayQuil.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Lonesome and a Solemn People

Jacob, the brother of Nephi, gives a short summation of his life at the end of his epistle:
"Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days" (Jacob 7:26).
Nephi was careful to never complain about leaving Jerusalem, the city of his nativity. But Jacob mourns the loss of a place he never knew, with so much pathos that it's hard to imagine they were related.
How can you miss a place you've never seen? Jacob's attitude toward Jerusalem makes me wonder what sort of stories were told around the campfire. Which older brother's stories and attitudes gave rise to his longing? Nephi calls the people of Jerusalem "murderers," and Laman and Lemuel say they were "righteous." Nephi focuses on the Lord's blessings along their journey, while Laman and Lemuel complain about their trials. Jacob was born in the wilderness, and crossed the ocean while still very young. One would think he would rejoice upon reaching the promised land.
Of course...then the fraternal squabbles (and wars) got worse. Jacob must have led a sad life, to watch his family torn apart as they were. I guess that would explain why he talks so much about the restoration of scattered Israel...it seems that he was looking forward to going back to his people.
"Next year in Jerusalem!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ding, Dong, The Monk Is Dead!

I don't like Valentine's Day.
I'm not bitter--I don't like the day whether or not I'm dating anyone. Even when I am, I give very specific instructions that I'm really not interested in celebrating Valentine's Day (and no, that's not a mind game). If a man wants to make a big deal over me, he should do it on some day other than a manufactured holiday celebrating the execution of a Catholic monk--like my birthday, or when I just took a hard test, or when I'm stressed or down, or for no reason at all.
I don't like red and pink and sampler heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and candy hearts that look like antacids with generic messages stamped on them. I prefer lilies to roses. I feel guilty getting flowers on the day when every florist jacks up the prices astronomically. And I don't find it remotely romantic to buy something red on February 14th out of guilt, or because Hallmark and Kay's Jewelers think it's essential.
When I tell people this sort of thing, they call me a cynic. I don't think I'm a cynic (see picture) --not really. I'm more of an idealist--a hopeless romantic, really. I believe in a love that is so deep it makes the glitz and glitter of Valentine's Day look cheap and empty. I believe in love based on deep and abiding friendship and care, mutual interest and affection. I remember President Hinckley's definition of true love: "anxious concern for the well-being of one's companion."
I have nothing against a day to celebrate that love--I just don't like what it has become, namely, a day when attached men stress out about elaborate plans and exorbitant sums of money that will convince their significant others of their undying affection and love for them, attached women measure their worth based on how many dozen roses they got, and everyone else sits at home and mopes and feels jealous and unloved. What kind of twisted holiday is that?
A (fairly recent) trend calls for referring to February 14th as "Singles Awareness Day," in some sort of strange attempt to reclaim the holiday for single people. That still comes off as awfully sad, on at least two counts:
1. Single people are already excruciatingly aware of how single they are, and most of them would rather give up that single status. We don't need another day to draw awareness to singleness.
2. It sounds a bit like "Cancer Awareness Week," or some such drive to eradicate a dreadful illness or show solidarity against a common enemy. Some people have AIDS, others are single--but be brave, I'm sure we'll find a cure.
Anyway, for all the cynics, romantics, and Hallmark executives out there-- happy... you know...whatever.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Arise From the Dust

Dirt is used in our lives and throughout the scriptures to illustrate a number of important concepts. It represents mortality and our dependency upon the earth to which we will someday return. It reminds us of the humility required of us as children of God. It is used as a metaphor for sin and defilement. Dirt, with its multiple meanings, teaches us a powerful lesson about the Savior’s role in our redemption.

We first read of dirt in the account of the creation, which records that Adam was created from the dust of the ground and “became of dust a living soul.” (Moses 6:59) He was told “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19) Adam was mortal, and so needed the sustenance that he would derive from the sweat of his brow, from tilling the ground. He was tied to the dirt, for it provided his food. We, his children, derive our nourishment from the earth, plants that grow therein, and animals that feed thereon. Yet even this earth, which we now so recklessly exploit, belongs to the Lord who created it, and is a symbol of our indebtedness to Him. (Psalms 24:1)

In light of this, multiple prophets have used dirt to demonstrate man’s standing in relationship to God. The Prophet Helaman and King Benjamin both reminded their people that man is not even as much as the dust of the earth from which he is created. (Hel. 12:7; Mosiah 2:25) Amulek exhorted the Zoramites to “humble yourselves even to the dust.” (Alma 34:38) He knew that in order for our worship to be complete, we must be humbly aware of the contrast between our mortal power and that of the divine. Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) The dirt below the heavens here represents our righteous humility before the Lord.

Yet we often associate dirt with uncleanliness, defilement, and sin. We speak of finding gossip and malicious stories about a person as “digging up dirt.” Very few mothers rejoice at the sight of their child covered in dirt, and most would rather that they didn’t eat it. Dirt conjures up images of filthiness, iniquity, pollution, and defilement. We often speak of the negative influence of the world as “dirty,” referring to things that will dull our spiritual sensitivity. How is it that the earth from which we derive our sustenance and through which we show our humility is also the source of our uncleanness? How can dirt stand for both good and evil?

We find the answer in the life of Jesus Christ, the only perfect man to ever walk the earth. He, the Creator of worlds without end, the very Lord of the hosts of heaven, condescended to come to this earth unheralded by the world, to dwell in a tabernacle of clay in the humblest of circumstances, a child of a captive people. He “descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in and through all things, the light of truth.” (D&C 88:6) He walked among outcasts and lepers. He ate with sinners. He went among those considered “dirty.” He loved them all.

The Savior humbled himself as a servant, for He truly was and is the greatest among us. (Matt. 23:11) And in humbling himself below all things, even to the dust, He wrought the great atonement and provided the means whereby we may each be saved if we would but follow him. He washed our garments clean in His blood. And by denying ourselves of the dirt of this world and humbling ourselves even to the dirt, we too can rise above both the defiling dirt of this world and the dirt of mortality that makes up our bodies. Through His infinite and everlasting atonement we can be free from both sin and death, and can obtain both immortality and eternal life. How grateful I am to know of the reality of the redemption of Jesus Christ, through which God enables us, if we humble ourselves before Him, to “shake off the chains with which [we] are bound, and…arise from the dust.” (2 Ne. 1:23)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?

Deseret Morning News published the words to this beautiful poem, written by President Hinckley, set to music by Janice Kapp Perry, and sung beautifully by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at President Hinckley's funeral yesterday. I include them below for those of you who enjoyed the hymn as much as I did, and wanted a copy for yourselves.

'What Is This Thing That Men Call Death'
By President Gordon B. Hinckley

What is this thing that men call death,
This quiet passing in the night?
'Tis not the end, but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light.

O God, touch thou my aching heart,
And calm my troubled, haunting fears.
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
Give strength and peace beyond my tears.

There is no death, but only change,
With recompense for vict'ry won.
The gift of him who loved all men,
The Son of God, the Holy One.

The sheet music can be found here, for free:

The Caravan Moves On

"The Church is like a great caravan—organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of tens and captains of hundreds all in place...

"Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise. The caravan moves on.

"Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, and rivers to ford? Such is life in this fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.

"Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest. Thank God that the caravan moves on!" (Bruce R. McConkie, October 1989)

I got the opportunity to attend President Hinckley's funeral yesterday. It was an incredibly moving and powerful experience. President Hinckley has been "my prophet" since I was eight years old. He taught me to be grateful, smart, clean, true, humble, and prayerful. He taught me to love the temple and the Lord whose house it is. He taught me to be optimistic about the future, not to be afraid to share my testimony with my friends, to be happy, and to stand as a witness of God. He is a great man and a servant of God, and I will miss him.

I was impressed by the beauty of the Lord's organization of His Church. There will be no infighting over President Hinckley's successor, no anxious crowds waiting on Temple Square for a puff of white smoke, no worry about whether President Monson will be a hard-liner or will take the Church in a different direction. There is a great peace in the Church, even with the passing of a beloved leader. The caravan moves on.