Sunday, December 26, 2010

A weekend to end all weekends

First of all, I wanted to wish everyone a Merry (late) Christmas! This has certainly been a great one for me so far, especially considering it was my first one at home since before my mission. I'd have to say that the two Christmases I spent in the mission field were unique and remarkable experiences. Nothing can compare with them, and likewise there is nothing that compares with Christmas at home. I received several new books, including Pres. Monson's biography and an NBA Coaches Playbook, which should help me a great deal in my future coaching aspirations. I also pretty much quadrupled the number of Oregon Duck's apparel that I own, meaning that I can now probably where a different shirt practically every day for a month! OK, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Also had another excellent Christmas dinner prepared by Mom; all I can is that roast was WAY good! A definite highlight of the day, which came as a great surprise, was being called by Shawntae Stone and her kids, a remarkable family that I had the privilege of teaching and baptizing while in Cincinnati. We talked for well over an hour, and I found out that they have not missed a Sunday since they joined the Church and remain active and involved in many ways! I was also called by another Cincinnati investigator named Michelle Baker, who called to wish me a Merry Christmas and tell me that she was doing well and going through rehab so she can get baptized! Elder Kirk and are worked for countless hours with these beloved individuals and families, and it was a tremendous blessing to hear how well they are doing. Isn't the gospel just great?! Today was a very busy Sunday! I had the opportunity of speaking with my Dad, who is on our stake high council, in 3 different wards! I've obviously never spoken that many times in one day, but I enjoy speaking and it was a very spiritual experience each time. We both spoke on the subject of agency and choosing to follow the example of the Savior. We received many handshakes and compliments from the congregations afterwards, and I spoke with many individuals who were familiar either with elders who served in my mission, the areas in Ohio and Kentucky, or were directly related to members that I knew. One of them introduced himself as Bro. Fish, who was related to the Bang Family that started the Church in Cincinnati! He is also the first cousin of Ralph Blackwelder, who's family lives in Cincinnati and is very well known and whom I spent lots of quality time with. I know all those names pretty well, especially considering I own a book that details the history of the Church in the Cincinnati area. Small world, isn't it? The capstone to the day was spending the evening with the Heaton family, members of our ward who we have a great friendship with. Bro. Heaton was my YM President when we moved into the ward, and he likes to invite returned missionaries over to share their experiences, and that's exactly what we did. It was an awesome experience and certainly had me longing for my mission BIG TIME. There's just not enough good things I can say about what my mission has done for me, and I won't attempt to summarize them here. Boy, after a weekend like this, I have so much to be reminded of and grateful for! What a wonderful thing the Church is!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Heroic Journey

For my Humanities class, our final essay asked us to summarize 4 different subjects that we discussed throughout the semester, and how they relate to what is known as the Heroic Journey. The following is my best attempt to describe this. Hopefully you learn something. :)

I would like to begin with a story that I often used on my mission to illustrate the importance of how we can move forward in the journey called life. I hope this may be a fitting introduction into the topic of how the Heroic Journey has applied to me, and specifically a focus on Creation, Abraham, Sacred Spaces, and Temples.
A man hired a young boy, whose father owned a small boat, to row him across a lake. About halfway across the man noticed a “W” painted on one oar and an “F” on the other. When he asked what the letters meant, he was told that F stood for FAITH and W stood for WORKS. The boy explained, “If you just row with faith, you go in circles to your left; and if you row only with works, you go in circles to your right. In order to go straight ahead you have to use both of them.” The same principle applies to life. If we just use faith, or only works, we will go in circles. We must use both to make progress! I love the quote from Stephen R. Covey when he said, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

All of us are undertaking that journey even now, regardless of whether or not we all understand that fact. When we discussed the concept of Creationism and the accounts from other belief systems, for me it only reinforced my belief in who I am and where I came from, as well as why I am here. Too often we tend to throw up our red flags whenever some different idea is presented to us, and that’s probably just part of our “natural man” tendencies. However, I don’t think it’s possible for us to completely understand our own beliefs without first understanding the beliefs of others. We don’t have any obligation to prove what is right and what is wrong, but as various leaders in the Church have said, “We accept truth from whatever source it may be found.” I enjoyed seeing what relations our account of the Creation had with others rather than the differences. The same could probably be said for the other things that we talked about in class.

I have always enjoyed studying about Abraham, and not just because his son Isaac shares my name. I appreciate more the fact that he was willing to do whatever it was that the Lord asked Him to, and that made his heroic journey extremely rewarding. Of course, those rewards didn’t come without a price. I can’t imagine being asked to sacrifice my own son, and I’m sure Abraham didn’t even give any thought to the idea until the Lord commanded him to do so. Whenever I think about what Abraham had to go through, I am reminded of something that Truman G. Madsen asked Pres. Hugh B. Brown and the response he was given. The essence of Bro. Madsen’s question was this: Why did the Lord require Abraham to go through such a trying and terrible ordeal? The response from Pres. Brown was a classic: “Because Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham.” The same principle holds true for all of us. The Lord does not place trials or burdens on us to make us weaker or less capable of doing things, but actually He is hoping for the opposite effect. Of course, we tend to feel that whenever we face trials that we have done something wrong or we are being picked on, but we should instead have an attitude of humility and of asking the Lord what He wants us to learn. Abraham passed his test with flying colors, and we know what the rewards were (Abraham 2:9-11). There is no sacrifice asked of us that we will be impossible, because that is not the way God works.

On now to Sacred Spaces, or Sacred Time. Other than experiences in the temple and my own baptism, I cannot think of a time in my life where I stood in more sacred spaces than when I was on a mission. Whether I was able to recognize it or not, every day provided some kind of sacred moment. I felt that any chance that I had to bear testimony or read scripture with the aid of the Spirit became a sacred space or sacred time. It didn’t matter if the person accepted what we taught; our only obligation was to tell them what was true. I’m trying not to turn this into a sermon, but it’s nearly impossible when you’re talking about sacred things….at least for me anyway. As we learned in class, there are many places in the world that are considered sacred to different religions. I think one of the best examples can be found in the city of Jerusalem, considered sacred to the world’s three most well-known religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. While there may be political strife there, as has been the case for practically the entire history of the Holy City, there are no arguments when it comes to the sacred spaces and sacred times which have taken place there. That is one place that I have always wanted to visit, and hopefully the future holds that reward somewhere. It’s important that we respect the sacred sites and other rituals of different religions; we ourselves ask for it, so we should be more than willing to be courteous to others’ similar requests.

Lastly is Temples, which is probably a fitting capstone in the concept of the Heroic Journey. I really enjoyed the video Between Heaven and Earth because it showed how temples are important not only to Latter-day Saints, but to other religions as well. In a gospel perspective, the Heroic Journey must pass through the temple. There is no way back to heaven that goes around it! It is the way by which we develop a more personal relationship with God, and likewise make covenants that sustain us when we are passing through the tribulations of the world. One of my favorite things about the temple is that even when you are on the grounds, all cares and worldly issues are out the window. There is no other place that I know of except probably the home where you learn more about yourself. We should be forever grateful that we have so much access to temples in this day and age, and I believe that each element of the Heroic Journey that I have talked about can be found within the confines of a temple. To conclude, a temple represents the ultimate and desirable end for our Heroic Journey: The presence of God. If you think about it, that is where the whole journey began in the first place!

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: Most if not all journey’s recorded in history find their end at the place where they began. We’re not expected to move through life without learning anything or without striving to find our way back to our Heavenly Father’s presence. Inside each of us is a desire to become better than we are, which is only waiting for us to recognize and then fuel it. Many among us have yet to discover it, but once we find it, then our Heroic Journey has begun!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Tis the Season

How can it already be the Christmas season again?! Not that I'm complaining, but it just comes around the corner so fast! The big difference between this year and last year is that I'll be celebrating Christmas at home for the first time since 2007. That will be wonderful, of course, but I have to say that I very much miss the holidays that I was able to celebrate with beloved members and investigators in the mission field. A mission seems like 2  years of Christmas, in that you are striving to be filled with the Spirit of Christ and share that with those around you. With all the emphasis on getting new stuff these days, a mission was a time where I had never focused less on myself. Certainly, I plan on keeping that same mindset during this holiday season and many others, and really on any given day. Easter and Christmas should not be the only two times during the year that we turn our thoughts to the Savior. Salvation comes only through Christ, and He commands us to think of Him and be like Him every day of the year and not just when the calendar says to. Today was a great day for at least a couple of reasons: First was that today was the 1 year anniversary since I baptized Joey Couch into the Church in Hazard, KY. What a remarkable day that was for everyone that attended, and coincidentally it was the first snowfall of the winter that same day. White baptismal clothes + snow= Perfect! Secondly, the First Presidency Christmas Devotional was broadcast this evening. If there is anyone who can help us remember the true meaning for the season, it would be our beloved prophet and his two faithful counselors. It almost feels like a mini General Conference because their messages are as Christ-centered as ever! As the Christmas season presses on, let us be reminded of the need to reflect the Savior in our day to day lives. Just like the song from Michael McLean's "The Forgotten Carols" says:
 "3 kings found the Lord, and so can we." Certainly a worthy and reachable goal for all of us!