Monday, May 20, 2013

Christianity's Role in Western Civilization's Rise

The excerpts that I will share come from a book that I have been reading, entitled "The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World." The authors, Chris and Ted Stewart, outline 7 events from world history that preserved the growth and influence of freedom in society. One of these details the establishment of Constantine as the emperor in Rome and his subsequent conversion to Christianity. Constantine's decision to adopt Christianity as the state religion greatly altered the course of world history, and it is here that I will share their arguments for why Christianity's role in the rise of Western civilization has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • It is impossible to overstate the enormously positive impact of Christianity on the West's advancement in technology, wealth, and political thought. But that is not the popularly understood view. Indeed, it is just the opposite. If one were to try to gauge the average person's opinion of the role of Christianity in the development of the West, that person would likely say that it was an obstacle that had to be overcome---that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, stood in the way of progress at every opportunity. As just one example that captures this intellectual sentiment, Phillip Jenkins, a noted historian and writer who is considered a moderate voice in evaluating Christianity's impact on world history, wrote: "Between 450 and 650 AD, during what I have called the 'Jesus Wars,' inter-Christian conflicts and purges killed hundreds of thousands, and all but wrecked the Roman Empire." For more than a generation, sentiments such as this, and many others much more harsh, have been taught in most high school and college history classes, repeated by public figures, emphasized by intellectuals, and accepted as fact by many cultural and media elites. But in many cases, that assessment oversimplifies what happened. And some of the cases of the most severe criticism simply aren't true.
  • Professor and author Thomas E. Woods has mustered convincing evidence to establish the overwhelmingly positive role of Christianity (as it was then personified in the Roman Catholic church) during the era after the fall of the Roman Empire. The church offered major contributions in the development of civilization, science, and free governments:
  1.   It was the Catholic church that was responsible for what has become known as the scientific revolution through its creation of the university system.
  2. Catholic priests were pioneers in the fields of geology, Egyptology, astronomy, and atomic theory.
  3. Medieval monasteries were responsible for either preserving from classical times (generally accepted as the era of the Greeks and Romans), or initiating on their own, significant advances in agriculture.
  4. Medieval monasteries pioneered the use of water power, factories, and metallurgy.
  5. The church was pivotal in the preservation of the written words of the ancients---perhaps even literacy itself.
  6. Early Christian theology was the foundation of the Western legal system (the rule of law) as well as international law.
  7. Christian philosophy led to challenges to slavery in both the Old and New Worlds.
  8. And, of great import, the moral code of the West, including belief in the sanctity of human life and marriage, derived from Christian teachings.   
  • Despite these achievements, great negativity has crept into modern thinking when it comes to evaluating the influence of Christianity in human progress. Many contend that religious faith is at the root of most of the world's historical woes, blaming it for poverty, war, atrocities, bloodshed, genocide, slavery, and even the most subtle intolerance or personal bigotry. How many wars have been fought, how many people killed, in the name of religion? The question is frequently asked. Woods responds to this viewpoint: "That Western civilization stands indebted to the Church for the university system, charitable work, international law, the sciences, important legal principles, and much else besides has not exactly been impressed upon them with terrific zeal. Western civilization owes far more to the Catholic Church than most people---Catholics included---often realize. The Church, in fact, built Western civilization. Western civilization does not derive entirely from Catholicism, of course; one can scarcely deny the importance of ancient Greece and Rome or the various Germanic tribes that succeeded the Roman Empire in the West as formative influences on our civilization. The Church repudiated none of these traditions, and in fact absorbed and learned from the best of them. What is striking, though, is how in popular culture the substantial---and essential---Catholic contribution has gone relatively unnoticed."
  • Another scholar who has devoted much of his career to writing on this subject, Rodney Stark, explains in a number of his works how Christianity affected the development of the West. He argues that is was Christianity's devotion to reason that distinguished it from other religious faiths and allowed its adherents to progress as they did: "While the other world religions emphasized mystery and intuition, Christianity alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth....From early days, the church fathers taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation....Encouraged by the Scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice."
  • Early Christians campaigned against the totalitarian powers of Roman emperors and European kings. Later Christians would act as emissaries for peace, fighting against the horrors of slavery and for the rights of the "Indians" found in the New World. Women's suffrage found a home in Christian churches. Many of the civil rights movements of our modern time were supported by Christian organizations, and, for generations, Christians have worked to alleviate hunger and disease. Even today, hundreds of millions of dollars are raised and dispensed by Christian charities.
  • Christianity led to capitalism. Capitalism emphasized individualism, hard work, personal reward and failure. This allowed for the creation of wealth and economic opportunity, which then led to technological advancements in the West. Two other things to consider: First, capitalism could emerge only in cultures where individual freedom existed. Such places only existed in the Christian West. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Second, it was Christianity's devotion to reason and logic that resulted in the pursuit of science and technological advances. Some cultures may have dabbled in scientific discovery in very narrow fields, but it was only in Europe that science truly developed. For example, while other civilizations may have taken baby steps into alchemy and astrology, it was only in Europe that these musings evolved into chemistry and astronomy. The fundamental belief structures of other faiths and cultures, with their focus on mysticism or polytheism, simply did not motivate their followers to develop scientific knowledge, as did Christianity.
  • Christianity was devoted to an attempt to understand the purpose of God's creations. If God created the world, the Christian asks, for what purpose? If God is bound by certain natural laws, what are they? Stark explains: "The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of His handiwork. Because God is perfect, His handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles."
  • Christians taught that there was such a thing as agency, or free will; that we are responsible for our own conduct; that God rewards and punishes based upon the exercise of our free will, not on fate or luck or whim. This distinctive belief---extraordinarily rare in other world religions---is one of the most fundamental of all Christian beliefs. It was belief that led Christians to contend that all should have the right to exercise free will, and that depriving one of the right to exercise free will through slavery was wrong. That is why, by about the tenth century, slavery was almost obliterated in Europe, then eventually throughout the New World colonies as well. This is important to recognize, especially in light of the fact that moral opposition to slavery is not universally the teaching of other faiths.
  • Another of the most important foundations for Western political thought is the belief that certain rights are derived from God, not from man. This principle of "natural rights" is most eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Some contend that this idea was the product of the brilliant political thinkers of the seventeenth century, John Locke being the most masterful and eloquent of them all. But the concept of natural rights dates much further back than that, deriving almost exclusively from original Christian theology. Long before the European philosophers and the Founding Fathers, early Christian philosophers contemplated and wrote about these concepts, exploring agency and the rights of the individual versus the role of government. 
  • Locke's own views on equality and freedom were so thoroughly the result of his Christian beliefs that one commentator suggests that Locke's Two Treatises of Government is "saturated with Christian assumptions" and that "Jesus Christ (and Saint Paul) may not appear in person in the text of the Two Treatises but their presence can hardly be missed."
  • The teachings of Christian scripture supported other concepts that became essential foundations of Western political thought, including the recognition of private property rights and limitations on the power of kings. Limiting the power of the monarch results in the ascendancy of the rule of law---that is to say, when the king himself must abide by the rules, everyone else must, and the rule of law is established as supreme.
  • In discussing the impacts of Christianity upon the emergence of Western culture, it would be foolish---and painfully obvious---were we not to acknowledge a disappointing historical fact: Those who professed belief in Christianity were far from perfect. For ages, Christian churches have been the home of many corrupt men and women, and, far too often, sinful conduct has been displayed in the name of Christianity. Too many governments, church officials, and individuals have, in the name of Christianity, been responsible for historical episodes that cannot be called anything but evil. Some professing Christianity have displayed grievous examples of extravagance, lust, gluttony, greed, and every other of the seven deadly sins. For too long, the Christian church attempted to keep the people under its control by withholding the holy scriptures from them. In the name of Christianity, some scientific and technological advances have been blocked.
  • Yet while it is true that the professed followers of Christianity have not always been a source of advancing the common good, we should not let this tragic fact blind us to the overwhelmingly positive impact that Christianity has had upon the world. The irrefutable fact is that Christianity and its biblical teachings created the foundation that led to the establishment of Western civilization and all of the good that has flowed from that civilization.
                 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The case for Marcus Mariota over Johnny Manziel

Marcus Mariota - Oregon v Oregon State

Before they took the nation by storm as redshirt freshmen QB's, both Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel were committed to Oregon. Eventually though, the native Texan Manziel switched to Texas A&M, and has been the talk of the country this season. The attention is largely warranted. His numbers have been pretty darn good. He has more total yards this season than two previous Heisman winners from the SEC, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, had during their Heisman years. It's highly likely that Manziel will become the first freshman to hoist the coveted trophy this coming Saturday....but he doesn't deserve it, at least not this year. I'm not knocking his talent or the season he's had. He's a great player and definitely at least deserves to be a finalist this season. However, I think that the Heisman trophy has sort of turned into a popularity contest that goes to the player who is the most hyped on one of the nation's top teams. It rarely goes to the actual best player anymore. Even though I'm not arguing about who deserves it this year, I will say that Marqise Lee should win it, but he won't because he isn't a finalist. Although I despise USC, just think about how good he's been this year. There wasn't a defense that shut him down this year, and if Matt Barkley plays against Notre Dame, the Trojans win going away. All he'd have to do was drop back and chuck it deep, because he knew that Lee would come down with it 9 times out of 10. Alas, this is merely wishful thinking and not relevant to the subject I'm trying to get at.


Johnny Manziel is going to win the Heisman based off his performance in ONE GAME, and you already know which game I'm referring to. Yes, his numbers throughout the course of the season have been really impressive, but don't forget the LSU game where he threw 3 picks and lost his team that game. Losses are supposed to derail a candidate's Heisman train, but maybe it's because the 'Bama game was after LSU that this didn't negatively impact Manziel. Still, if we're going to talk about statistics, then this one needs to be mentioned: Texas A&M had a 44-10 lead against a bad Arkansas team, and Manziel was still playing deep into the 4th quarter. Not only was he playing, he was still running the ball into their defense. It's just stupid why any coach would accept such a risk on their quarterback. I'm glad Chip Kelly isn't that irresponsible. Manziel also benefits from a sketchy Texas A&M defense. They gave up 56 points to Louisiana Tech. He was in the game far longer in quite a few games that Mariota wasn't, because Chip pulled him and the other starters when they got a big lead. For the record, I don't think Mariota should be a Heisman candidate this year, but most definitely next year. 

For those arguing in favor of Manziel, you could make the case that he's played some tougher teams than Mariota has, and I don't think even the most diehard Oregon fan like myself could dispute that. Certainly, playing well against top teams helps your Heisman case, and both QB's have done that. They have also had subpar or merely average outings when their teams lost, Manziel against the aforementioned LSU and Mariota against Stanford. By and large, though, both QB's have been spectacular throughout the season. However, using projected statistics, I discovered something that I already believe to be true: Marcus Mariota is every bit as good as Johnny Manziel, if not better. To be honest, I'm really glad that we have a classy head coach who instills in his guys that it's not about individual honors, because we definitely have some of the best players in the country, but they don't get as much attention as they deserve because they routinely get taken out of games in which the Ducks have built an insurmountable lead. With that being said, below are the projected stats that Mariota would have put up if he'd played as much as Manziel:

PASSING

Mariota: Comp/Att/yards: 327/468, 3767 yds 
                  Yards per play: 8.0 
                  Comp%: 69.9% 
                  TD's: 45 
                   Int: 9


Manziel: Comp/Att/Yards: 273/400, 3419yds 
                Yards per play: 8.5yds 
                 Comp%: 68.3% 
                  TD's: 24 
                   Int: 8

RUSHING

Mariota: Att/yds: 147/1035 yds 
                Yds per carry: 7.0yds 
                Long: 86yds 
                TD's: 8

Manziel: Att/Yds: 184/1181yds 
                Yds per carry: 6.4yds 
                 Long: 72 
                 TD's: 19

TOTAL YARDS

Mariota: 4802
Manziel: 4652


Pretty scary how similar these kids are. Mariota seems to be the better passer and Manziel the better runner, but you have to take into consideration that Manziel was A&M's leading rusher, and Mariota had perhaps the best RB unit backing him in Barner, DAT and Marshall.
So obviously, Mariota did not have to carry the rock nearly as much as Manziel. Unfortunately, the Heisman commitee doesn't crunch numbers like those above, but I think it's clearly obvious Mariota should've been in the Heisman conversation more. What's clear is that both these guys are incredibly talented and are going to be fun to watch in the coming years. Clearly, LaMichael James knew what he was talking about when he said that Mariota could end up being the best quarterback to ever play at Oregon. No disrespect to Johnny Manziel, but I'll take Marcus Mariota any day. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Girl Who Changed My Life (and is still changing it) Forever





I don't know why I'm doing this now, but it's long overdue. I really ought to be sleeping, since I have a job that starts at the unearthly hour of 4 am, but I can't sleep with a restless mind.  Check that: A mind that is overflowing with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for sending into my life the most incredible girl that I will ever know. I kid you not when I say that just minutes ago, as I was lying snug in my bed, I just started crying for what might seem like no reason. I hardly cry at all, as those who know me best will agree. Oh, but there was a reason for this one, but it was a good reason. It's the same reason that's been in place since October 29, 2011, when my life began to take the greatest turn for the best that it's ever taken before. That "reason" is a certain Anna Marie Hansen. And yes, she is that "most incredible girl" that I just mentioned, if you hadn't already figured that one out on your own. Not a day has passed since I met her that I haven't thanked God for bringing her into my life, even on that first day when we talked for 4 hours, and I left feeling like I'd just gotten reacquainted with a long-lost friend. Yep, we hit it off that well the first night. To this day, my only regret from our initial encounter was that I didn't hug her when I wished her a good night. Luckily, we've shared many hugs since then that I feel confident have filled in that one gap. It's not everyday that someone walks into your life and changes it in a profound and lasting way. Anna has done that for me, and she is still doing it one day at a time.

Before I met her, I thought I was pretty good guy overall; I tried not to do anything stupid, I treated my fellowman with respect, I spent time with family, I worked hard at my job, I stayed in shape by playing basketball and exercising regularly, I attended all my Church meetings....things like that. Still though, there was a gaping hole in my life which had never been filled in before, and you could attribute that to fear, lack of desire, lack of effort, or just plain laziness. That area was dating, something I never took seriously, even though I knew in the back of my mind that as an RM, I should have been more serious about it. That's why what happened on October 29th still amazes me. My childhood friend Ben had become friends with Anna that semester while they were in the same family home evening group. After getting to know her some, he determined (I now call it revelation) that Anna should meet me when I came to Rexburg on a visit at the end of the month. The initial aim of my visit was simply to spend time with Ben and my other close friend Aaron, and partake in our weekly fall ritual of Oregon Ducks football that Saturday. Well we did, but the Lord had other more important plans in mind for me. When Anna came into the lounge that day, and this is her account of the story, I turned to look at her and my mouth promptly fell open. I'm still somewhat surprised that she didn't turn and walk right back out of the room. In fact, she said that she was quite flattered and felt good inside. Must have been divine intervention on that one, because I easily could have been perceived as yet another of the many "creepers" who roam the streets and apartment complexes of Rexburg in an often desperate search for a significant other. I'm not going to open the can of worms on that sideshow, so don't ask.

Back to square one: I can honestly tell you that when my eyes first beheld Anna Hansen, I felt she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. I know that more and more now as the days go by. Not only that, but I knew she was completely pure, worthy, sincere, and humble....and this was before I'd even said one word to her! Well to make a long story short, it was the beginning of a friendship that now has us happily engaged and preparing with excitement for our wedding in the Reno Nevada Temple on August 4th. I didn't see this coming AT ALL back in early October, and anytime before that, but the Lord did. He has given us numerous experiences that have prepared us for one another, and He will be the foundation of our eternal marriage. Eternal!! I can't fully comprehend the significance of that word! To know that I will be spending forever with my very best friend is really what caused me to randomly start crying this evening. She is the love of my life, my biggest fan, my spiritual superior, my shoulder to lean on and cry on, my voice of assurance when things are tough, my whole universe. Everything that Anna does, she does for others. There is not a selfish bone in her body. For a guy that can count on one hand the number of dates he's been on, I consider myself pretty darn lucky that I've got her in my life now. I am a better person in every way because of her; because of her, I know more than ever before what it really means to honor the sacred priesthood authority which I hold, and I do that by honoring and respecting her for the angel and choice daughter of God that she is. It's not easy being in separate locations right now, but we know that it's only a blip compared to the number of days, months, and years that we'll be together. They say that everyone is superior to you in at least one way. Well, in the case of my Anna, she is superior to me in pretty much every way that matters. There is nobody in this whole universe that I would rather share the journey with.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gifts that need Giving

Can I just first say how terrible I am at blogging?.....okay, got that out of the way! On to the main event! I've reflected lately on the Christmases that I spent in the mission field, and I can honestly say they were the most unique and probably most spiritual ones I've ever experienced in my 23 short years. In reality, we are supposed to carry that special spirit with us EVERY DAY, and not just during the holiday season. Not an easy thing to do, but is anything that's worth it supposed to be easy? I have certainly been blessed probably more than I deserve, but this blog isn't going to be about me. If it was, then it would be painfully short. Instead, I would like to share some gifts that I would give to some of my fellow missionaries from our days in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission.


   
To my esteemed trainer, Elder Nathan Hall: I have two gifts for you. The first is a pie, because everyone likes....oh wait...you spilled it. Well maybe some napkins instead. The second is a BLACK Santa Claus, 'cause everyone knows that Santa has always been black and if you think he's white, you're colorblind!

  
To my Canadian sidekick, Elder Luke Allred: Some better-looking shorts to go with those tights. The Lakers just aren't cutting it for me. You could also use some ties, since you had only a few when we served together.


To Elder's Dillon Durfey and Chad Durling: I honestly don't know what to give you guys, since you already have everything it takes to be cool. And gangster.

  
To Elder Nathan Scholes: There are many gifts that I would love for you to have, but I'm gonna start with something simple. You need a bigger pillow to kneel on whenever you fall asleep during prayers. You also need to get a totally awesome Coldplay shirt like mine.


 
To Elder Feleti Mataele: A real gun so you can be a Polynesian hitman. "Children, he has a gun!"



To Elder Eric Ficklin: An AK-47 would complete the ensemble



   
To Elder Jared Lunquist: I certainly think you could use a healthy does of good luck, for a change. Between exploding bags of peanuts, to kerosene infested rooms that make you gag, to crafty members who pull April Fool's Day pranks, you are due for some sunshine.


  
To Elder Zach Janiec: That whole piece of land to use at your pleasure for driving golfballs. Oh, and don't let me use your golf clubs under ANY circumstances. Oh yeah, and you need a package that has more than just chips in it.


 
To Elder Ryan Remington: Some corn that tastes a million times better than that other kind, which isn't for people, as we found out. You also need a better looking cape than that nasty, smelly animal skin. Although, you fly pretty well regardless.

 
To Elder Frank Parker: Some real shorts, 'cause those just aren't right. And a bodybag to hide the evidence.

  
To General...I mean Commander...no, Elder Fred Bittner: ................you know, I think you have everything you need. Not sure that anything I give you could compare to your other possessions.

   
To Elder Carson Rush: First, you need a shirt that has some kind of logo on it. I mean seriously, that shirt has NOTHING! It's so plain. Second, a rain jacket of some kind so you stay dry...in a car wash. And third, a new and improved truck that is "black ice proof."


To Elder Cory Loveland: You could probably use some protection from that angry looking storm cloud...oh, and something to shield your eyes from the "Price Hill Prostitute." Ba-dow!!

  
And last but not least, to Elder David Kirk: You need a haircut, plenty of "priceless junk," and a port-a-potty. Other than that, you are all set.



In conclusion, despite the "value" of these gifts, the greatest gift that these missionaries gave me, as well as all the rest in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission, was the chance to stand with them in testifying of the Savior Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. Nothing on earth could compare with that knowledge. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the other side, but still there




First off, this is pathetically late. My excuse, however, is that I've spent the last couple weeks thinking about how I would be able to do this justice. I suppose that now is as good a time as any. July 18th was a day that I'd like to erase from my memory, but that's just not possible. It's never a good thing when you get an unexpected call from your mom in the middle of the day, and you can barely understand her because she's crying. To then learn that Brittney Knouf, one of the greatest friends you've ever had---someone who you confided anything and everything to---decided to end her life....well, there isn't anything you can do to prepare yourself to receive such heart-wrenching news. Since it happened, my emotions have never really shown on the outside, but inside has been a different story. And yet, as soon as I got off the phone with my mom, I was overwhelmed by the Spirit prompting me to pray RIGHT THEN. The prayer had nothing to do with me or my needs; it was all about comforting Britt's family and helping them come to understand, in the Lord's time, where their amazing daughter is right now. It was also a prayer of gratitude for the close friendship that we enjoyed, and I was promised at that same time that this friendship was not over. When I went to the temple the following morning, this promise was confirmed by a sweet and peaceful feeling. I won't go into details since it was sacred, plus I can't really describe it in a way that anyone but myself can understand. The Lord works that way with His children; we each have moments and experiences that are personal only to us. Cherish those moments, because they can be some of the most sustaining things to hold onto as you journey through life. Even during my times of mourning and sadness since Britt left this mortal life, that feeling of peace has never left me. I don't think that it ever will. I was devastated that I couldn't attend the funeral, but I have no doubt that those who were there had a memorable experience. Several of them told me so, and I was grateful for that. I don't like seeing those who I care about suffer in any way, but I understand that it's part of life. Still though, it's a wonderful thing when peace and understanding comes to the mind.

I would like now to share the memories and experiences that Brittney and I had, which are really almost too numerous to remember. I don't say that to brag, but rather to show how strong our friendship became. I still remember the first time that I saw Britt; it was in the early-morning seminary class taught by my mom during my sophomore year of high school. She was with Liz Stewart, but I had no idea whether or not she was a member of the Church. That hardly mattered of course, but try telling that to a thick-headed 16 year-old. I assumed that she was a new member of the ward, and by the way she payed attention and followed along with what my mom taught( she even had her own scriptures!!), I felt pretty confident in my short-sighted assumption. Right from the start, Britt impressed me, and I felt that this was someone who I not only wanted to become friends with, but I sensed that I NEEDED to become friends with her. This was pretty new territory for me, since I hadn't done much to that point to go out of my way to befriend girls. I soon found out that Britt was, in fact, not a member of the Church. This brought my level of interest in getting to know her to a higher level. When I initially started getting to know her a little and finding out what she was like, I felt so unsure of myself in terms of my ability to talk to girls, and I told her that. I'll never forget her kind reassurance and understanding; she never laughed at or turned her back on me. The tiniest spark inside me began to burn, and our friendship took off from there.

That school year (2004-05) and the following summer was one of the happiest for the both of us, in many ways. I was there when she was baptized into the Church, with practically our whole seminary class there to support her. Back when MSN Messenger was still popular, we'd talk to each other all the time about anything and everything. I told her that I loved sports and especially basketball, and she said that it was her favorite as well and that she wanted to play with me sometime. And we did, many times; we played basketball under the hot sun, and in the pitch black with only a porch light. We once played in a pouring thunderstorm; we were having too much fun to care. In many ways, that epitomized our friendship; whenever we talked or spent time together, nothing else really mattered. I told her many times, and she said likewise, that I'd be having a really bad day...at least until we got to talk. I remember when she turned 15 and I got her a card and a bag of tootsie pops. I snuck them into her bag at school, and she discovered them while she was sitting in class. She would come and watch me play in Church basketball games. And I'll tell ya what, there are few things that can fire you up to play your best when you know that a girl is there watching you. Man, I'm glad I didn't make a fool of myself. We took LOTS of walks together, practically all over Eugene. I could still go back there today and retrace those steps. That's how precious those memories were. We went to lots of Church dances and spent even more time talking and laughing. I was the prankster at those dances, and my friends always told me to quit messing around and dance with girls. I only ever wanted to dance with Britt, and that's pretty much what I did 99% of the time. I'll never forget how sad she was when I told her that our family would be moving in a few months back to Utah. She didn't believe me at first, but then she came over and saw the "For Sale" sign in our yard. That was a hard move for me as well; I was halfway through high school, had a strong group of friends, a nice house that we had built. Everything seemed to be going well, but it taught me a valuable lesson: There's nothing wrong with feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but always be prepared for changes. The move turned out to be the right thing for my family, but this isn't supposed to be about me. Recalculating!

I remember how excited I was when I found out that Brittney would be coming with Liz and Audrey to visit and go with McKenzie to EFY up in Salt Lake. I might have gone too, but I had a BYU basketball camp that same week. Still though, I'll never forget those days that she was there. The picture at the beginning of this blog is from the night that our family went ice-blocking across the street from the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. After a while, I got kind of bored and went to sit down on one the picnic benches (still in the same spot now) and just looked at the lights on the temple. Before I knew it, she was right there beside me. We started talking  about the upcoming week for the both of us, and about what we wanted our futures to be like. A LOT of our conversations were like that. I didn't find out until later that this picture was even taken; Liz had hidden herself behind one of the trees to snap this shot that has become one of my all-time favs. On the Sunday before she and the other girls were going to leave for EFY, I rather nervously approached her and asked if she would like to take a walk after dinner. To my great relief, she said yes. I am not the least bit ashamed to admit that it was on this walk that I held her hand. This was the first time that I'd EVER held any girl's hand, but boy did I sure feel triumphant after that! Anyway, she went off to EFY and had a great time, while I rode that surge of confidence from our walk to a very good week at basketball camp. I'll just say right now that practically any interaction that we had with each other always led me to feel like I was on top of the world. Now honestly, I want those who read this to think: How many people in your lives have made you feel like that? I'd venture to say that the list is pretty exclusive.

We saw each other a few times during the next couple of years whenever my family would visit Eugene, but it would always end on a somewhat disappointing note, knowing that my family would soon return to Utah and we didn't know the next time we'd see each other. Then all of a sudden, I was off on my mission to Cincinnati in the summer of 2008. In my talks with her before I left, she had been feeling pretty low and dealing with a lot of different stresses. She added that it didn't help that I was leaving on a mission because she felt like I was the only person (at least the only guy) who see could really open up to. However, she knew that a mission was the right thing for me to do. I thought about her a few times during those first several months and even sent a couple letters, but I never heard back from her. I was a little bit concerned as to how she might be doing, but of course I couldn't let my mind wander that far from the Lord's work. I had to dive in with both feet, and that's exactly what I did. I was transferred to Hazard, KY in the fall of 2009 and spent the next six months there having many great experiences. Then came a preparation day late that winter; Elder Rush and I made our usual trip to the library to churn out our e-mails to President Robbins and our family. As I opened my inbox, I spotted an e-mail from an address that, sadly, I didn't recognize: brit1404@comcast.net. What really caught my attention, though, was the subject of the e-mail which read: "Missing you. Hope you get this." To my great shock and excitement, I opened the e-mail and discovered that it was from Brittney! She said that she'd really been struggling with a lot of things lately and really wanted to hear from me. I can assure you that I don't remember ever writing a faster response to ANY e-mail. I also told her my address so that we could start corresponding through snail mail. There's something about written letters that just makes them special. From then until the end of my mission the following summer, we wrote back and forth. She told me that she wanted to get her life back on track, apply to BYU-Idaho, and start working towards a temple marriage. I sent her mission pictures, and she sent me a copy of one of her graduation photos...the same one that was in her funeral program. I had SO many letters to sort through when I got home, and for some reason I couldn't find the ones that she had written me. I finally found them several days ago and read through them. As I read them, I had that same familiar smile that I was always had whenever I talked to or saw her. She was beyond excited when I told her that my family was coming to Eugene the week after I got home from my mission. She kept calling my grandma's house until she finally got a hold of me and practically demanded to know what I was doing. Nothing really important; just trying to recover from post-mission syndrome. I was upstairs when she came over, and I could hear her talking to my mom. Oh, to hear that voice again! I headed down the stairs and just waited for her to turn around and realize I was standing there. As she turned and saw me, the flood of memories we'd had all rushed into my mind. Her hug was so tight, it practically sucked all the wind out of my lungs, but I could have cared less. We went for a walk on the bike path (holding hands again) and I spent practically the whole time talking about my mission. I showed her mission pictures and just watched her feel so much better than she had in a long time. We could have sat on that bench by the Willamette River and talked long into the night. We had another great walk before my family headed back to Utah, and I gave her a list of inspiring scriptures and a whole sand dollar that I'd found at the coast. She told me that I had no idea how much that meant to her. I watched her as she drove away into the Eugene night, feeling very happy inside....I would never see her again in this life.

None of us can avoid hard times or challenges, because that is as much a part of life as getting up every day. We all have to face them and try our best to learn from them. Britt's challenges were not like mine, but the way to overcome them is the same: Trust in the Lord, surround yourself with good, have patience, help others with their challenges, etc. I have no doubt that Brittney was exceptional in many of these areas during her life, but ultimately, she lost confidence in herself. When this happens to any of us, the will to keep going slowly withers away. The day she took her life, my New Testament class was having a lesson about the Atonement and Resurrection. I testify with all the conviction of my soul that the Savior knows perfectly what Brittney felt during her mortal life, and that He rose from the grave!! Because He did this, she WILL be resurrected! She has many lessons to learn in the spirit world, and I hope that she takes the opportunity to learn them. I talked to her the night before she died, and among the things I told her was this:

"I don't fail to see your flaws, but instead I look past them. Everyone has flaws, but I don't define people by their flaws. The things that are great about you are something that I want to surround myself withThe world       these days needs people who embrace the right things because they are right, and who won't change that stance even when things get rough. I can see you smiling, and that is something that motivates me. There's not many people who inspire me like you do, Britt. 
Know that I love and miss you and just want you to be happy. Have a very Happy Sunday!"


That was the very last thing I told her, and I think that some of the peace that I feel is knowing that I was there for her right until the very end. That's all you can really do. As I think about that very last thing I said to her, I am reminded of something Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin once said in conference in a talk entitled, "Sunday Will Come." He shared this:




"President Joseph F. Smith said 'that those from whom we have to part here, we will meet again and see as they are. We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh.'
President Spencer W. Kimball amplified this when he said, 'I am sure that if we can imagine ourselves at our very best, physically, mentally, spiritually, that is the way we will come back.'

I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday[when the Savior died] was the darkest.
But the doom of that day did not endure.
The despair did not linger because on Sunday, the resurrected Lord burst the bonds of death. He ascended from the grave and appeared gloriously triumphant as the Savior of all mankind.
Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come."

Yes, the way in which Brittney's life ended was tragic and hard to understand in many ways. And yet, her life is to be celebrated and remembered with smiles and not frowns. That is the only way that I have EVER remembered her since I've known her. Oftentimes in life, we will find that we have to go low before the Lord can lift us high. The Savior went below all of us so that we could be eligible to join Him and His Father in the highest degree of glory. In many ways, Britt is more deserving of this than me. How far she goes will depend entirely upon her, and that goes for all of us as well. I feel like I have my own special guardian angel who is watching over me and inspiring me to keep on going and doing my best. That's what Brittney Knouf did for me when she was alive. Yep, she's still that angel even now. God Bless Brittney Nicole Knouf.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Discipleship

What does it mean to be a disciple? Is it merely someone who, as the root of the word suggests, is disciplined? Or rather, does it imply a continuing commitment to a cause? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a disciple is defined as, "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another."1 Interestingly enough, this website also informed me that the word "disciple" is currently in the top 40% of words being searched. Therefore, I can conclude that I am certainly not the only one striving to understand what this word means. However, it is not enough merely to know what a certain word means. With understanding comes an expectation of living in accordance with what you know. As James tells us in scripture, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."2 If the Savior simply wanted us to know that He existed, then all purpose for this mortal experience would be unnecessary. There is something more weighing in the balance. Notice again the meaning of "disciple" as defined by Merriam-Webster: "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another." In a nutshell, this is our commission as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We first accepted Him as the Savior in our pre-mortal life, and have been commanded to do so again while on earth. Baptism is our first sign to God that we are willing to be disciples. Turning again to the scriptures, and this time to the words of Alma the Elder, we read the following about our obligation: "Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life."3 Not only do we covenant to follow Him, but to follow Him always. This can be especially difficult in a world that is influencing society more and more to focus on themselves. The world offers many things that are enticing and easy to grab onto. While these things may be convenient and certainly can make our lives much easier at times, the truth is that nothing worth having is easy. The Savior taught us that we must forsake the world, but also introduced the idea that we must forsake ourselves: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"4 We must become selfless individuals, meaning that we focus on the needs of others above our own. Being a college student and caught up in all the personal concerns that it brings, I testify of the difficulty of constantly striving to live this principle. However, as with all other things the Lord asks of us, this is not an impossible task. In truth, the quest to become true disciples of Christ is a lifelong one that does not stop even when we pass beyond the veil.

So, what must we do after covenants have been made to ensure that we stay on the path the Lord has marked for us? First and foremost, we must have a burning desire to do the Lord’s will no matter the circumstances. If we have no desire, then it won’t make much difference how well we keep the commandments and fulfill our various Church responsibilities. The Lord’s requirement has been, and always will be, "the heart and a willing mind."5 Anything less than this means that we are withholding a portion of ourselves to give to the Lord. Alma the Younger’s great sermon on planting the seed of testimony deep within our hearts is a preparatory course for those wanting to be true disciples.6 I return to a principle I mentioned earlier about knowledge of the Savior and why that alone is insufficient for a fullness of salvation. One of the greatest disciples of this dispensation, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, explained this concept with a depth and brevity that only he can conjure: "The more we become like Jesus, the more we come to know Him. There may even be, more than we now know, some literalness in His assertion, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matt. 25:40). We lack deep understanding of the implications of that remark of Jesus. As with so many things, He is telling us more than we are now prepared to receive. The Prophet Joseph Smith, writing redemptively to his rebellious brother, said to William, ‘God requires the will of his creatures, to be swallowed up in his will.’ The Prophet Joseph then pled with William to make ‘one tremendous effort … [to] overcome [his] passions, and please God’ (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jesse [1984], 115). Alas, William didn’t do it, just as some of us fail to overcome our passions and thereby fail to please God. We are too busy pleasing ourselves."7

Further, the prophet-king Benjamin taught that, "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."8 Herein, King Benjamin teaches that we must exhibit the qualities of a child; not childish, but childlike. Further, he states that we must also be, "willing to submit to all things which the Lord [sees] fit to inflict upon [us.]" The ability to endure and, at the same time, learn from our trials is one of the most important aspects of a true disciple of Christ. We can’t tell the Savior anything about suffering that He hasn’t already felt. Humility during trials is therefore a necessity. A scripture that always comes to my mind and humbles me when I am experiencing difficult times comes from precious counsel the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph when he was in the midst of a sore trial while in Liberty Jail. It is this: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"9 Our most common response to difficulties is to complain, to wonder what we have done wrong, and most damagingly, to cry to the heavens as if they are somehow responsible for our hard times. In a way, they are. However, it’s not in the way that you are probably thinking. The renowned author and Christian scholar, C.S. Lewis, had this to say about God’s "role" in our trials: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."10 In the Old Testament, the Lord summarized it this way: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."11 I bear witness that the best way to valiantly testify of the Savior is to become like Him. When we are becoming like the Savior, then we are truly standing as witnesses of Him and of His Father. As we do this, we will come to truly know Him. This next promise in scripture is just one of many that the Lord promises to those who are willing to pursue the course of true discipleship: "Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."12 By following these tried and true principles, there will be no trial that that can defeat us, no war against Satan and his angels that we cannot win, and lastly and most beneficial, there is no telling how many of our Father’s children will be influenced by our righteous examples. As the Savior said, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."13 The truest test of our discipleship to the Lord will be in those situations where we are not comfortable, where our beliefs and standards may be compromised. On these occasions, the Lord separates His disciples from the Pharisees. Which side do you currently stand on? What do you need to do to ensure that you will forever remain on the Lord’s side?
 
 
 
I bear my solemn witness that there is nothing the Lord wants more than for us to become as He is; it is only by reaching for this standard that we will one day qualify for the celestial kingdom. Do not be content with simply having a testimony of the Savior and His gospel. Let that testimony change you into who the Lord wants you to be. In the end, the Lord’s will is the only one that really matters. I testify that this Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, and every aspect of it is designed to help us become the disciples that the Lord wants and needs us to be. The world is moving in the wrong direction, while the kingdom of God rolls forth and will continue to do so until it fills the whole earth. I challenge each of us to stay off the sidelines and face the world head-on. This is the only way we can grow and realize our potential. I still have much to learn in the area of becoming a true disciple, but I do not regret anything of what I have learned thus far. I promise you that it is worth any sacrifice that you would have to make.