Musings on Mormonism


Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Faith category.

Thoughts on Prometheus and, surprisingly, faith

(Spoiler City ahead)

This…

In my life, I’ve only ever seen two R-rated films at the theater; ironically, one was Alien:Resurrection, while on a summer trip in Japan (a friend there treated me, and I didn’t have the heart or the language skills to say “no”…plus, it looked fairly cool), and the second was Prometheus, a prequel of sorts to the Alien films, last weekend. Because my parents sometimes read this blog, and because I don’t want readers to get the false impression that I’m anything but cautious about the content of the movies I watch, I’d like to note that I first scrutinized the reasons behind Prometheus’ rating (“sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language”) as well as peeked at the content advisory at imdb.com (which is a fantastic resource for all things movies, btw). Anyway, the R-ness was basically what I expected; if not for a certain particularly intense scene, it probably would have been a PG-13.

The movie itself was good. Sadly, it was not great, just good. Like a lot of people, I had some big expectations for Prometheus: Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof, a decent franchise to build on, a big budget, and some big, intriguing ideas all seemed to suggest the possibility, perhaps even likelihood of movie-making greatness. However, I should point out that the visuals and sound were fantastic, with some great sets, impressive sights, an interesting, multi-faceted score, and unobtrusively good CGI (as in, you weren’t reminded that you were looking at CGI). In fact, I suspect that the emphasis on visuals, in concert with what was no doubt a deliberately light touch on exposition, contributed substantially to the lingering sense of, well, “Huh?” which I and my friend experienced as we left the theater and began reflecting on the movie’s numerous apparent plot holes/calculated, sequel-friendly mysteries (such as, what exactly was that smoke monster? No wait, I mean, what exactly was that black liquid?).

…not this

For those lacking context, the movie is about a team of scientists whose search for the origins of human life on Earth leads them to a distant planet. The protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw, well-played by Noomi Rapace, is one of two lead scientists, specifically recruited by their corporate sponsor, we find out later, for her particular religious devotion, in the simple sense of being “a believer”, and which is outwardly evidenced by the small cross necklace she wears. These scientists come to this planet with the bright-eyed notion of either discovering their noble beginnings, or else disproving the whole idea of life having come from extraterrestrial sources. What they find there, instead of a glorious civilization of benevolent progenitors, is a decrepit, corpse-ridden biological weapons installation. Also, there is still alien life there – possessing varying degrees of sentience, but uniformly hostile. Oh yeah, there’s also an android among the crew who seems to be carrying out a hidden and, frankly, largely incomprehensible agenda, which puts them all at risk.

She’s cute (when she’s not running and screaming for her life)

What I found particularly interesting about this movie is that it didn’t make a big spectacle of religious faith and big scientific questions clashing. It so easily could have, but it didn’t, which I appreciated. Although doing so would have even further muddled an already hard-to-follow sequence of events, I like to think that the writers also recognized that this kind of conflict has been done before, and done well (such as in Contact or Signs, the latter of which I liked a great deal even though the rest of my siblings thought it was ridiculous). But perhaps more importantly, I imagine the writers felt that only a light touch on the subject was warranted for the purpose of telling Shaw’s and the film’s story. This is not to say that the inevitable contradiction of religious belief and worldview-altering discoveries was ignored completely; at one point in the film, one of the characters essentially poses to Shaw the question of how she can still believe in religious things (provided that late-21st-century Christianity has not become radically altered, this would include things like the creation of Earth and its inhabitants by a divine being for wise and benevolent purposes) even while their scientific paradigms are rapidly being dismantled. Taking a cue from her own father’s answer during her childhood, she responds that she simply chooses to believe.

I found this to be subtly profound. I have come to view faith, at its fundamental level of belief in something initially unverifiable, as analogous to a person’s experience of a film. Filmmakers try to tell a story, and they do so with techniques which are meant to make their story more believable and meaningful to their audiences; they may succeed or fail at this to varying extents (or, in religious terms, they may inadvertently introduce stumbling blocks which lead people away towards sin, or which make efforts at righteousness unnecessarily difficult). However, the individual audience members have the final say on how they personally receive a film, whatever its flaws or merits. This is why we use the phrase “suspension of disbelief” when talking about films; while we may find disbelief more natural or just more preferable when approaching films (certainly, such a tendency has value for differentiating quality), we can be persuaded by the virtues of a film to let go of these doubts and embrace it. If this is true for films made by fallible humans who scarcely know or care about us on any deep, meaningful level, then it is extra true for doctrines, principles, and guidance originating from a God who knows and loves us completely. When these things are presented to us in completeness and purity (a most significant premise!), it is us up to us to choose to believe these things or not. In fact, in LDS scripture, we are taught that even “a particle of faith” and a “desire to believe” are enough to get the ball of faith rolling, if they are all we can muster; in contrast, I have seen some movies whose barriers to appreciability were so great that perhaps no amount of film-faith could have allowed me to move past whatever doubts and uncertainties I had to fully embrace them in a gesture of complete acceptance and trust (recognition of this limitation is the main reason I no longer watch Michael Bay films, after the pain and angst of Transformers).

Anyway, Prometheus was good, but it got me thinking about faith, which is even better!

P.S. This is probably the most inaccurate movie summary ever written – although whatever film it is actually describing sounds pretty cool!


On conquering depression, or any other flaw which troubles the soul

My sister at Mishtown has been expanding into my philosophical turf for some time now, and with this quote by Andrew Solomon (whoever that is) has truly upstaged me:

“People around depressives expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room in it for moping. Spouses, parents, children, and friends are all subject to being brought down themselves, and they do not want to be close to measureless pain. No one can do anything but beg for help (if he can do even that) at the lowest depths of a major depression, but once the help is provided, it must also be accepted. We would all like Prozac to do it for us, but in my experience, Prozac doesn’t do it unless we help it along. Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. These fortune-cookie admonitions sound pat, but the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not to let yourself grow accustomed to it. Block out the terrible thoughts that invade your mind.”

As one who has trodden through the bleak, black wasteland of depression, so much of this quote rings true for me! Conquering depression is an act of faith like no other. It requires one to assess their current state and ability to feel and think, which are most likely horrifically impaired, and then, in courageous defiance to say “I don’t care. I am going to choose to believe otherwise, and I am going to move forward, and in the end, I am going to win.” Is such courage easy or inexpensive? No, it requires one to step into the dark of uncertainty and away from what is already known and which may even be comfortable, in spite of the unhappiness it brings. Yes, I am suggesting that things which make us unhappy may, paradoxically, also be or become more familiar and comfortable to us than the prospect of fighting against them. Solomon seems to imply this when he says “the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not let yourself grow accustomed to it.” Although mental illness is just one of a host of conditions which may ail the human soul, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that this principle can be applied to most if not all other things about our characters or circumstances about which we feel inadequacy, dissatisfaction, or unhappiness.

Life is about faith, and faith, I think, is about having the courage to believe on the words of others who have gone before and had authentic experiences with the divine or the formerly unknown, and then individually having the courage and resolve to do likewise, even when a thousand voices cry out that doubt is so much more reliable and safe. In time, we will find that the effort, quite possibly even herculean, to believe, to do, and to persevere pays off in ways which previously were unimaginable.

Mercifully, there is never a point at which it is too late to choose this path!


“Full Conversion Brings Happiness”

I’ve been studying and thinking about conversion lately, and I found this talk by Elder Richard G. Scott to be quite elucidating. Below is an excerpt:

“With characteristic doctrinal clarity and precision, President Marion G. Romney explained conversion:

“Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.”

To be converted, you must remember to apply diligently in your life the key words “a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.” Your happiness now and forever is conditioned on your degree of conversion and the transformation that it brings to your life. How then can you become truly converted? President Romney describes the steps you must follow:

“Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.”

For more great insights and explanation, check out the entry in the Church’s gospel topics section.


Gordon B. Hinckley, on optimism

Who could have felt gloomy or discouraged around a man such as this? No one – that’s who!  🙂

“I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course.

What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve (from Ensign, Apr. 1986, 2–4).

Let us go forward in this glorious work. How exciting and wonderful it is. I do not know how anybody can feel gloomy for very long who is a member of this Church. Do you feel gloomy? Lift your eyes. Stand on your feet. Say a few words of appreciation and love to the Lord. Be positive. Think of what great things are occurring as the Lord brings to pass His eternal purposes. This is a day of prophecy fulfilled, … this great day in the history of this Church. This is the day which has been spoken of by those who have gone before us. Let us live worthy of our birthright. Keep the faith. Nurture your testimonies. Walk in righteousness, and the Lord will bless you and prosper you, and you will be a happy and wonderful people (from Ensign, Aug. 1996, 61).”

Link to full article here.


Time for an awesome quote

So, I like to collect profound or otherwise impressive things people have said, and I am in favor of, in the words of a friend of mine, promulgating truth. So, without further ado (or is it adieu?), here is something Dr. Murdock, one of my favorite BYU professors, had to say about our educational and cultural pursuits (brace yourself for a quote within a quote):

“Some feel that if a movie or book does not leave them refreshed, uplifted, and joyous, it has no value but cankers their soul. Like monks in a monastery, they prefer to sever contact with the “world”. Consider the following prophetic comments concerning education and progression:

‘Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?” says one. Yes, if you please and when you have done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth in addition to reading those books. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil and its consequences.’

-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:93-94″ (he also included some great quotes from Joseph Smith, which I’ll save for another time)

I think Dr. Murdock and Brother Brigham both make excellent points here. Obviously, one could take this sentiment too far, justifying willing exposure to ideas, events, and media which carry little value for the nourishment and enlightenment of the human soul and mind. However, if we shut ourselves in from the world completely, even if that means metaphorically, such as in keeping to our favorite circle of friends or neglecting to engage in civic society, I imagine that we will find ourselves missing out on fantastic opportunities to truly be the salt of the earth, helping spread much-needed good in the world. Simultaneously, we will find our own personal growth stunted.

But back to the original topic, I agree that there is value to becoming acquainted with kings, nations, principalities, history of things that have past and things to come, and so forth, and also to become acquainted with evil and its consequences (although I’m sure neither of the two was arguing for personally experiencing evil). The Book of Mormon, for instance, is absolutely filled with unhappy recollections of horrible things which befell people as they turned their backs on the Lord. You could call that the “Scared Straight” method of promoting obedience, or you could call it a simple warning and declaration of cause and effect. Either way, it is good to know the quality of life one can expect without God’s good graces.

…and, without any intended message of whether it is a worthwhile movie (I haven’t seen it yet), here is a picture of Star Trek to try and generate some hits 🙂

Star-Trek-Chris-Pine-web

Copyright 2009 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved


Yet another reason why I love my Church!

Check out The Publicity Dilemma at the LDS Newsroom site.  I simply cannot envision a better summary of the issue. Go Church!


A few songs I’ve been listening to lately (with discussion)

I can picture my dad’s first response upon reading the title: “What, Bryce’s jungle music? Sorry, I’ve got my Wagner. I wonder what’s going on at The Beaglespot…” In truth, I don’t really blame him – sharing what music we’re listening to with the entire world strikes me as a particularly self-indulgent internet activity (am I being too cynical here? Probably). However, I manage to justify it by thinking:

a) I’m just promoting music that I think is praiseworthy and of good report (obviously an extremely subjective thing – again, Dad’s probably thinking “Praiseworthy? Dvořák is praiseworthy, not whoever this Travis fellow is”)

b) beyond aesthetics, such as a good melody or harmony, it’s possible for music to communicate worthwhile messages and ideas in a unique and powerful way. Perhaps someone reading this post might come away with something of value.

c) maybe people find my interests more interesting than I think

and lastly,

d) who knows? Maybe I’ll help introduce someone to some music they end up liking, and also have something new to bond over (that’s what happened with Bob introducing me to Rush. Now we can always reminisce about Rand-inspired lyrics and Geddy Lee’s oh-so distinct voice)

So, here are some songs I really like:

Mates of State – My Only Offer

The two band members of Mates of State are a married couple, which I think is, if you’ll pardon me for being sentimental, incredibly cute and romantic. I’m not sure what this song is about – something along the lines of feeling stifled by suburban family life, I’m guessing – but regardless, I really like the music, especially their harmonies.

U2 – Miracle Drug

(unfortunately, this video refuses to be embedded, so here’s the link)

Although my musical tastes have shifted away from U2 and become somewhat more sophisticated over the last few years, I’ve still got to hand it to them for writing songs with heart and soul. I’d heard this song many times before, and just assumed it was about Africa (Bono being quite the advocate for aid and development in Africa), but really didn’t know anything else about it. But just today I discovered their explanation for the song, which, if you didn’t catch it in the video, is this:

Bono: “We all went to the same school and just as we were leaving, a fellow called Christopher Nolan arrived. He had been deprived of oxygen for two hours when he was born, so he was paraplegic. But his mother believed he could understand what was going on and used to teach him at home. Eventually, they discovered a drug that allowed him to move one muscle in his neck. So they attached this unicorn device to his forehead and he learned to type. And out of him came all these poems that he’d been storing up in his head. Then he put out a collection called Dam-Burst of Dreams, which won a load of awards and he went off to university and became a genius. All because of a mother’s love and a medical breakthrough.”

Totally awesome. “Of science and the human heart, there is no limit” – I really believe that, especially because I think God is involved in both. And with God in the picture, there are truly no limits.

Eisley – Telescope Eyes

No big story here, I just really like the song. Like with Mates of State, Eisley has some great harmonies. Also, I love the drum fill at 2:09 – simple but cool! The words seem to deal with alienation as a nerdy kid, something I totally cannot relate to!

…ok, I was a nerdy kid (and in some ways I still am), but I was fortunate to grow up in a great place with lots of great friends.

and last on the list,

The Fray – You Found Me

(ditto on embedding issues – here’s the link)

Singer Isaac Slade’s explanation:

“You Found Me” is a tough song for me. Its about the disappointment, the heart ache, the let down that comes with life. Sometimes you’re let down, sometimes you’re the one who lets someone else down. It gets hard to know who you can trust, who you can count on. This song came out of a tough time, and I’m still right in the thick of it. There’s some difficult circumstances my family and friends have been going through over the past year or so and can be overwhelming. It wears on me. It demands so much of my faith to keep believing, keep hoping in the unseen. Sometimes the tunnel has a light at the end, but usually they just look black as night. This song is about that feeling, and the hope that I still have, buried deep in my chest.”

And in another interview:

“I kept getting these phone calls from home – tragedy after tragedy… If there is some kind of person in charge of this planet – are they sleeping? Smoking? Where are they? I just imagined running into God standing on a street corner like Bruce Springsteen, smoking a cigarette, and I’d have it out with him.”

[the following commentary is fairly lengthy]

Struggles with faith in a world of difficulty and doubt – is there anyone on the planet who has not grappled with such a ponderous topic? Having gone through plenty of my own dark days and watched so many others go through theirs, this is something with which I am well-acquainted. Incidentally, this universality of discouragement and tested faith among man is the topic of the most recent book by Michael Novak (for whom I intern at AEI), No One Sees God, which I have yet to really get into, but basically posits that believers and non-believers alike experience uncertainty and even darkness in this life. It’s not a particularly happy notion to dwell on, but the reality is that we can only hide behind good times and sunshine philosophies for so long – life, being quite long and sometimes treacherous, leaves no person untested in this regard (and that by design; more on that later) – and if we are already in the thick of it, then it is a fact of our existence which we cannot ignore, although we may try to get it resolved as cleanly and painlessly as we can (e.g. just stop believing in God*) or else busy our lives with distractions in the material world**.

“Where were you when everything was falling apart?”, or, uniquely familiar to Latter-day Saints, “Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (Doctrine & Covenants 121) The truth is that, to varying degrees, we are all separated from God. Even the Savior Himself, during the most heroic and transcendent act in human history, was left without God’s presence for a time (Matthew 27:46). But only for a time! I believe that we all have periods of time, brief in the eternities but interminable here in mortality, wherein we feel that God has taken a vacation, that somehow, even though we thought Him to be loving and omnipotent, He has somehow stopped either caring or having the means to do anything to help us. These periods of affliction may be the direct result of our own unwise choices, they may be the result of the choices of others, or they may have no clear cause whatsoever. But no matter how dire our circumstances, nor their origins, both of the above conclusions about the nature of God are, and will always be, false. God does exist, and He is involved in our lives in ways that are remarkable, although typically easily overlooked. Very often, he works through other people to send His love and assistance. And He does love us – but that is an understatement. He is thoroughly invested in us and unwaveringly dedicated to our growth and happiness, even during our trials and afflictions***.

“No One Sees God” is a mostly accurate statement – it has some very notable exceptions, however (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:11 and 33:11; Matthew 5:8; and Acts 7:55-56, to name a few) . Yet, actual visual confirmation of God’s existence ought not to be the issue, as wonderful as sight and the other physical senses are. What is important is that God chooses witnesses who can testify for themselves of God’s true nature and reality, and then share how we can each know for ourselves. Finding out for ourselves – that is the real issue! The process is not complicated, but it requires instruction in true principles, patience, and trust and confidence that God can and will give you an answer. One more thing – it require deliberate effort, earnestly doing the right things with the right motives, such as prayer, study of the scriptures, and applying true principles in your life. When we do these things, God sees our earnest efforts, however imperfect, and does respond!

But back to the original topic, wondering where God is during our hard times, I offer these concluding thoughts. First, just because we don’t sense Him right now doesn’t mean He is not still closely involved in our lives. Second, if we don’t sense Him, we ought to examine ourselves to see if we are leaving any room for Him, or if we are making a conscious, faithful effort to invite Him to participate. God respects our freedom to choose, and will not force Himself into our lives no matter how much He yearns to bless us. But, as Jesus taught plainly, when we seek and ask, our loving Heavenly Father answers generously (Matthew 7:7-11).

Finally, even if we are basically doing things right, we may still be tested and stretched to our limits. The story of Job comes to mind as a prime example (Job 1:1). Yet, like Job, we may have, or develop through our trials, the kind of faith that “when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) While a student at BYU, I saw a quote posted in someone’s office which I have not been able to find since (so I cannot confirm its authenticity, nor convey it perfectly), but which I found to be incredibly profound and thought-provoking. In essence it said this: there are certain challenges we face in this life, which, although unprecedented to us in their intensity, are absolutely essential in motivating and enabling us to truly come to Jesus Christ. This rang true for me then, and it rings true to me still. Jesus is our Savior, and through his gospel we may become bound to his infinite merits and receive the greatest of all gifts, eternal life with our Heavenly Father and our families. However, to be so bound requires faith, not a vague and passive belief or even a half-hearted commitment to basically live a “good” life and do a lot of “good” things – these are a good start, but they are nowhere near what is needed. What we need is living, active, courageous faith, where we have drawn our line in the sand and our allegiance to and trust in the Lord is so complete that it cannot be called into question, even in the midst of adversity and uncertainty. This faith takes much effort and time to develop, and it inevitably requires, I believe, the suffering of those certain particularly grueling trials, not to discourage us and make us miserable, but to show us who Christ is, what He has done, what He can and will do for us as we draw closer to Him. Such trials are unique in their potential to facilitate that deep and abiding faith which will empower us to truly follow Christ, withholding nothing of ourselves. It is my experience and testimony that Christ has the power to turn all things to our good, and that, as he passed through the dark and rose from the grave in triumph and glory, with His grace we too may rise from the gloom and ashes of our afflictions, rising to ever greater heights. Perhaps most miraculous of all, through Christ, the awful, but temporary, misery and suffering through which we wade in this life will be replaced with matchless and enduring love and joy – experienced fully in the eternities, but even found in unexpected abundance here in the present!

*to be clear, I am not endorsing this option

**I don’t recommend this either, although I am sympathetic to the plight from which it arises. It tends to promote the tragic assumption that such spiritual matters are unimportant and not worth the fight

***I have seen some glimpse of this absolute and loving dedication to one’s beloved children in my own mother. She is Asian, and thus culturally prone to heavy involvement in her children’s lives in the first place, but I can say with confidence that she has spared no effort to make her children her absolute #1 priority. And I appreciate it 🙂


Hero Worship

[This one is pretty long, and might seem a little boring or irrelevant to the casual reader. But if you’re curiosity’s piqued, please read on!]

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For some reason, in fact, in the mornings I sometimes find myself waking up and thinking, practically first thing, “Man, I should really write about hero worship!” Here’s how I think it started:

I recently began interning at a think tank, where I work in close proximity with some pretty prominent people. Among the list of people I would love to meet while there are Newt Gingrich, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Greg Mankiw (whose econ textbook I found so enjoyable that I forewent a pretty generous sell-back price to keep it). The other day, while helping stuff envelopes for an event (a very glamorous task), I encountered some other famous names you’d definitely recognize if you ever watched the news.* Now, it’s pretty easy to get drunk on the thrill of celebrity (or, in my case, mere distant association to celebrity), but for me, at least, the intoxication is relatively short-lived and unfulfilling.** As Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, even US presidents are merely men: “We hire them, we fire them, they come back for photo-ops. They’re not magic.”***

Nevertheless, there seems to be a common yearning for heroes and leaders. There is an apparent demand for people who will show us the way, those we can look up to with admiration and expectation. On such people, we seem to place our hopes – hopes of deliverance from our difficulties, from danger, insecurity, our own weakness and shortcomings, purposelessness, loneliness. I do not think this yearning for leaders is inappropriate – in fact, I think it is a very natural by-product of our experience as mortals separated from our Heavenly Father. However, I think it is important, as Peggy Noonan has suggested, not to place undue expectations on people who are, notwithstanding their great talents and accomplishments as leader and role models, still just people. Furthermore, we ought to be careful not to divest ourselves of personal accountability and place it on the shoulders of these “great people”; their role ought to be to aid and encourage us and not, with one very notable exception, to save us.

That said, I’d like to laud certain people who have made, and continue to make, a huge and positive impact in my life, who have earned my admiration and inspired me to greater heights. This is not an exhaustive list – I’ve been abundantly blessed with countless wonderful people who have left their mark in my life, but these are the ones that stand out most clearly. “They’re not magic,” but by small means they have done great things for me.

1) Dr. Michael Murdock: one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and certainly one of the more strangely charismatic ones. Despite his huge intellect and exacting academic standards, behind the layers Dr. Murdock is generous and, although it may surprise some, quite gentle and kind. He helped me make big improvements in my thinking and writing (still plenty of room for improvement though!), and helped me discover that I really like history after all. Also, he went beyond the call of duty by being a very patient listening ear as I tried to chart my academic course.

2) Dr. Edwin Gantt: he did a great service for me, and continues to do a great service for the students of BYU by teaching psychology from a perspective that takes religion (particularly, but not exclusively, the religion of the Latter-day Saints) seriously. This is an uncommon practice in the social sciences, especially psychology. Along with Dr. Slife, another great professor, he helped me recognize the assumptions and perspectives (certain of which are tragically misleading, if not spiritually dangerous) currently prevalent in the behavioral sciences, and to recognize some alternative views and assumptions which are just as viable. With insight, enthusiasm, and a great sense of humor, Dr. Gantt is helping prepare LDS scholars to enter the professional world without compromising their membership in the kingdom.****

3) Bishop Kerry Morgan: it seems like he was my bishop in Oregon for a long time, but I think that is because he was a true and loving friend to me in- and outside of his tenure as bishop. He is a true Christian who has gone the extra mile for me and countless others.

4) Dr. Valerie Hudson: she, along with Dr. Bowen, another wonderful woman, not only introduced me to the complex, fascinating world of women’s issues but also to political science (I had never taken a Poli Sci course before taking theirs). Thankfully, they did it in a way that was bold and forthright, yet thoughtful, loving, and full of faith. Dr. Hudson is a big hero(ine) in my eyes – not just because she is kicking butt on a regular basis to improve the lives of women and children around the world, but because that is not even close her first priority, but rather secondary to her cherished role as a wife and mother. She has continued to work and teach not because she prefers it to the work of home and family, but unselfishly and for a different reason entirely. One who champions womanhood institutionally and especially in the home earns a place at the top of my list. Which takes me to my next person…

5) My beloved Mom! She is such a delightful, wonderful woman, that merely talking to her on the phone refreshes my spirits and gladdens my heart! Intensely and lovingly committed to her children, it would be impossible for me not to love her in return. She has been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement in my life. My mom is a born leader with an iron will (she’s mellowed out over the years, fortunately) and a heart of gold who finds her greatest joy in serving others. I was truly born of goodly parents – the other of whom is…

6) My Dad! I do not know a wiser, more intelligent man than my dad, nor one who is also as gentle and kind (if that is what fatherhood does to a man, then I want in!). Very often, my dad contributes a voice of incomparable reason to dispel confusion in my life and help me maintain my most important priorities. He’s done his best to shape me into a man (one can only do so much), and has taught me by word and deed to sacrifice for and unselfishly love his family. As a father, he has exemplified righteous priesthood leadership “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy” (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44).

7) Joseph Smith, Jr.: some people have built entire careers out of trying to assassinate this man’s character (and indeed, his message was and is a bold one, which some find threatening), but for me, it is exactly his character that I admire so much. I like to think that he and I share similar dispositions. A study of Joseph Smith’s life reveals him to have been, from an early age, prone to serious and sober reflection on the questions of the soul, yet endowed with a “native cheery temperament”. He possessed a unique blend of intellectual and spiritual depth and purpose and a certain earthy affability; some, expecting the austere demeanor of a Moses from a prophet of God, were unpleasantly surprised to find Joseph quite too approachable and gregarious upon first meeting him. Joseph Smith was no brooding introvert, nor was he merely a charismatic people-person – he was a courageous, self-sacrificing leader and prophet, entrusted with a sacred work and responsibility, but brimming with a love of all people and an eagerness for the company and well-being of all who were friends. I do not wish to stretch the comparison between he and I too far -certainly, I am not Joseph Smith-, but I see facets of myself, undeveloped as I am, in him. That gives me comfort and encouragement when I feel alone, uncertain, or misunderstood, but perhaps more importantly, it gives me an example to follow as I seek to grow.* (x5)

…and lastly, but most significantly,

8 ) Jesus Christ: All that is good and noble comes through Him. I have never met Him, and yet I see and feel His influence all around me – not always, and perhaps not even most of the time, but I have an assurance that He is closely involved in the details of our lives, whether or not we sense it (the trick, of course is to do our part to better sense and invite Him into our lives). He is my Savior and friend, who makes it possible for me to be cleaned, forgiven, and refined, shaped into someone new and holy. He has the power to heal us of all our infirmities and weaknesses, in the proper time and by the proper processes. His promises are sure: if we will simply trust and follow Him, we will have joy and ultimately eternal life. In the end, there is nothing as important as trusting and following Jesus Christ. I love Him, I want to be like Him, and I want to be with Him. He is my hero.

*One more (very distant) claim to fame: yesterday, thanks to a tip-off from a co-worker, I was able to see Mitt Romney through a cafe window, talking excitedly with some important-looking guys.

**Perhaps if I were truly closer to the action and prestige, and not just a distant intern, it would be harder to shrug off. But really, I haven’t had any substantial brushes with fame, and if I did, they would probably be pretty low-key and relatively unremarkable over all.

***My favorite quote from the article, in regards to a recent presidential photo-op: “Did you notice how they all leaned away from Jimmy Carter, the official Cootieman of former presidents? It was like high-school students to the new girl: “You can’t sit here, we’re the Most Popular table.”

****see “Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences” by Neal A. Maxwell.

* (x5) For some very accessible insights and information on the life and teachings of Joseph Smith, see Joseph Smith the Prophet and The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph, both by Truman G. Madsen.


A fantastic talk by Elder Eyring

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A Child and a Disciple“, April 2003

This talk is incredible – if you are looking for guidance about sharing the gospel, read or listen to it.


Mormons are scary

(I’ve got to put this to words before my memory fades. And then I’ve got to cram for the GRE)

I like the organization I am currently working for, and especially enjoy working with the great people there. Sometimes, though, I get a kick out of the funny things that happen when people realize that my opinions and beliefs are not as mainstream as they had assumed. By “mainstream” I mean, in general, (and this is not to disparage anyone in particular – I really do love my co-workers and the organization! – but just to make an observation) politically liberal-leaning and vaguely irreligious; I, myself, am relatively more conservative, (moderate, really), and passionately religious. I usually, but not always, keep a pretty low profile about politics and religion at work (although it is only very rarely that I feel my beliefs are actually somewhat under fire. Again, I work with some really great, caring people), although I deeply value those deep and sincere relationships I have been able to form so far with certain co-workers which are amenable to discussions on such subjects (even if we happen to disagree, fundamentally, even). Truly, I think politics and, more importantly, religion could be so much less taboo in public if people approached them with more open-mindedness, understanding, and restraint, and fewer preconceptions and prejudices. This is not something I have perfected yet by any means (my dear agnostic brother once characterized me as the most aggressive theist he knew, which I don’t think he meant as a compliment 🙂 ) , but it is a true treat when two comparably respectful, open-minded people are able to connect and find common ground on matters of spirit, truth, and love. Really, I think that is what life is all about. Lest I equivocate, however, I must make it known that those same principles of spirit, truth, and love are found with greatest clarity and abundance in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ; they are not found there exclusively, but are found there with greatest clarity and abundance.

But back to my original topic. We had a pizza party today to celebrate the birthday of one of our co-workers. I have to admit, my opinion of lawyers has improved immensely from working where I do. I think public interest law tends to attract the kinds of lawyers that I would consider “cool” and pleasant to work with. Anyway, one of the things I enjoy about these lawyers (I’m sure this is true of most lawyers) is that they are very knowledgeable about the cogs of the great machine we call society, and I enjoy sitting back and listening to them talk about things which I have very little understanding of but recognize as being important, if not for society as a whole then at the very least for some individual somewhere.

So today, as they were talking about this and that while eating pizza, one of them mentioned John McCain, or conservatives, or something like that, which led to a “Hey, wasn’t so-and-so who worked here a conservative?”, and a “Yeah, don’t get many of those here”. Pretty soon, the topic of Mormons came up, as Mormonism and conservatism tend to be linked in people’s minds (for the record, NOT because membership in the Church requires any specific political affiliation, and certainly not because there are no liberal Mormons), someone said “Wasn’t such-and such person who worked here a Mormon?’ and finally, from a co-worker who knows me fairly well, “Yeah, and so is Bryce!”. Seeing the reaction was priceless. It was so awesome! The girl next to me, a 3L working as a part-time law clerk, was somewhat dumbfounded and, judging by her countenance, mildly appalled (an observation which I lightheartedly shared with her), and there was a brief, maybe 2-second-long pause as people mentally switched gears and adjusted their social filters. Again, I mean no disrespect in sharing this, and I don’t mean to make a bigger deal of this than it was, but it was just so interesting to see people’s reactions and to picture what they were thinking (“Shoot, Bryce is a Mormon, and therefore conservative. I must’ve offended him!”). Also, it made me think about how I must come across to people on matters of religion. Obviously, I am not shy about talking about my faith, and in fact it is one of my all-time favorite topics of conversation. However, I also recognize that faith can be a very uncomfortable topic for people, or at least a tender subject to open up about. Sometimes, I wonder if people feel self-conscious around me, knowing that I have strong convictions, almost as if I am silently judging them if they drink coffee or say a bad word here or there (as for coarse language, I do have my limits of toleration, but would always try to be pleasant, courteous, and diplomatic, or at least humorous, about addressing speech which I personally find offensive). While I cannot help it if the fact that I have convictions makes people uncomfortable, I believe I can do very much indeed to let people know that I don’t look down on them because of my beliefs – if anything, my beliefs ought to lead me to love and respect them more as beloved children of God trying to find their way in this crazy and confusing world. So, rather than feel smug and self-satisfied about this occurrence, I am using it as a way to evaluate how I am doing about developing and communicating love and esteem for the people I interact with daily (although I do want to reserve the right to chuckle about it good-naturedly – is that bad?).

Life sure is interesting, but it’s also so awesome!