Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilych and personal reflections

I decided to write an assignment in blog-post form; here is the result.


I had the pleasure of first reading ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” immediately after reading the “What I Now Believe About a BYU Education That I Wish I had Believed When I First Came” selection. Perhaps because of their proximity in time, the two readings gained a proximity in my mind; as a result, I now view the impending conclusions of my undergraduate career and my current romantic relationship from an amalgamation of Ivan Ilych's perspective and my own.

Ivan Ilych's social weakness formed the core of his life. As Tolstoy describes, it was the foundation of “his professional duties, and the whole arrangement of his life and family, and all his social and official interests” (Tolstoy 40). Fortunately, I do not find myself in such a blasted state; however, Ilych's self-deception certainly has younger siblings in my university existence and in my romantic sphere. Without divulging too much information, I discover upon review that, in many cases, my romantic attitude has served to mask the questions of eternity in my dating and courtship. Although dating and kissing are fun and appear socially acceptable, and though I always remained in the bounds of spiritually and morally appropriate behavior, I feel that I have many times rejected the still, small voice in pursuit of flippant pleasure or general approval in my dating relationships.

Similarly, my attitude towards my university experience has often been to play the “game” (Richards 6) that Prof. Richards warned about. I have, on many occasions, danced through academic hoops at the expense of using my education to change who I have become. A course where I sacrificed learning to speed read for an “A” grade, and my current habit of skipping readings from the Doctrine and Covenants so that I can get better grades in my other classes, serve as two examples. The combination of Bro. Richards' text and ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” has helped me understand my BYU experience differently.

I intend to graduate in August of the upcoming year. Like Ilych, my time is running out; like Ilych, I have not achieved the moral and intellectual development or romantic success I intended. To some degree, I must confess with Ilych concerning my behavior, “Yes, it was not the right thing” (Tolstoy 42). I do, however, have the benefit of time: “though his [time at BYU] had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, 'What is the right thing?'” (Tolstoy 43). I have a few months left and a little less than two and a half semesters to discover and demonstrate the answer.

The quest for the answer, and the process of review itself, have been cathartic. Ilych's realized “what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides” (Tolstoy 43). Similarly, my introspection is causing the painful stress - to date, marry, and graduate with a high GPA, at almost any cost - to be loosed from my mind and soul. I still need to do all of those things to accomplish what the Lord would have me do, but I know also that “He whose understanding [matters] [will] understand” (Tolstoy 43). Again, this does not justify laziness; I am accountable before God for “how well [I have] used my time, talents, and energy to prepare [myself] to serve the Lord” (Richards 10) and “no mortal standard, no matter how rigorous, is high enough” (Richards 11). Even so, I find “in place of [fear], a light” (Tolstoy 43) in the knowledge that whatever my GPA or marital status becomes, my imperfect efforts to consecrate my life can be acceptable.


Autumn is here, and I love it.

One of the last two pictures taken of me before I got braces.

This little guy was really slow from the cold, so I was able to try and take a lot of pictures of him. This is the best result, though it's probably 1/32 of an inch away from what would have been an ideal focal length; I was almost literally a hair too close.

I was surprised at this one - not that it's a stunning piece of photography, but of how messy a rose is before it has blossomed. Zoom in on the picture, and you'll see what I mean: little random jagged bits, fiber-like threads dangling, poky looking things everywhere, and two little bugs crawling around. This gives me hope: if a rose is this messy when it has not yet matured, some of the messiness of my life is at least understandable.

In contrast, here is a rose that has come most of the way. Much smoother, much more polished, much prettier - but it had to start as a blossom.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Distant thunder, days ahead

Distant Thunder Mojave


Que Sera! and no regrets.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First multilingual post.

Det som det blir äntligen är detta: Jag är en viktig, utvald son till min Himmelske Fader. I SydAfrika, den positionen attakerades gång på gång på gång. Men det beror inte på andras tankar om mig; det beror på hur jag handlar. Och jag handlar för det mesta som en Guds son, och jag försöker handla som en Guds son. Jag gör fel, det stämmer. Ibland gör jag dumma saker – men det ändrar inte det jag har kallats till, det jag försöker göra, och den Guden i vilken jag har förlitat mig och i vilken jag kommer att förlita mig.

Min relation med mig själv och med andra är inte så bra just nu; jag handskar mig själv med råhet och vrede, och jag tillmötesgår andra med ovisshet och osäkerhet, en brist på förtroende. Men Gud är trofast, och Han har hjälpt mig, och ska fortsätta hjälpa mig, och genom Hans hjälp börjar jag se det goda inom mig själv, och inom andra. Lyckligtvis, har jag också en bra relation med mina föräldrar och systrar, vilken är en dyrbar ägodel.

Så, från mina studier: Om jag vill ha en indentitet som varar, måste det komma rad på rad, ett stycke här och ett stycke där. Det kommer inte från att bara gifta mig, även om att ta tid med någon som tycker om mig och påstår att jag är en bra och värdig person kan hjälpa det. Det kan fastslås genom att skriva i min dagbok dagligen hur jag har sett Herrens hand, i tacksamhet, och genom också att märka dagligen privata segrar. ”Idag, på detta sätt, var jag mer liksom ett Guds barn.” Med tid och dagligen återstärkning, kommer jag att organisera mitt liv på det sättet.

Alltså, som min grens president sade, skriv inte hur jag felar dagligen, utan skriv hur jag lyckas dagligen. Då lycka och lycksalighet och framgång kommer att vara min relation till mig själv, och inte hate och besvikelse.

Och jag tror om jag fokuserar på hur jag lyckas, kommer det att vara lättare att fokusera på hur andra lyckas. Och det kommer att vara en stor och viktig förändring.

It comes to this: I am an important, choice son of Almighty God. In South Africa, that thesis was attacked and ridiculed time and again, but its truth is not dependent on others' opinions. It is dependent upon my own behavior. For the most part, I act in the manner of a son of God, and I always try to act in a manner consistent with my divine heritage. I make mistakes and do wrong, it is true. Sometimes I do dumb things. But the things I do wrong do not change that which I have been called to do, that which I try to do, and that God in whom I have trusted and in whom I will continue to trust.

My relationship with myself and others is not at its best just now; I treat myself with rawness and wrath, and I treat others with insecurity and suspicion. But God is faithful, and He has helped me, and shall continue to help me, and with His help I begin to see again the good in myself and in others. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my parents and sisters, which is a rare and precious possession.

So, from my studies, if I want to have an identity that lasts, it must come line upon line, a little here and a little there. It won't come from my getting married, though spending time ith someone who likes me and who claims that I am a good and worthy person can help. I can make that identity secure by writing in my journal everyday how I've seen the Lord's hand, in gratitude, and through recording daily, personal victories. "Today, in this way, I acted more like a son of God." My life will come to be organized in those terms with time and daily reinforcement.

In other words, as my Branch President once told me, "Don't record your daily failures; record your daily successes. Thus joy and happiness and success will become my relationship with myself, rather than hate and disappointment.

In turn, if I am focusing on how I succeed, it will be easier to focus on how others are succeeding, and that will be a great and important adjustment.


The following come from a small photoshoot and study titled "Beauty is Everywhere," which I did while walking to campus, Friday, 22 Oct. 2010. Since I've taken the liberty of titling this little series, I don't feel at all bad adding somewhat sentimental (some might say sappy) captions. If you don't anthropomorphize your photo subjects, that is your own affair - I, however, do. And if I don't, who will? We've already established that YOU do not. Therefore, bear with me.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small...



Jupiter, expressed as a flower.
An elderly couple. The woman was a little shy.

I don't have another caption for this one.


A young couple, a few months after their wedding, still glowing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Conflict

The diametric is a common theme; light and dark, health and sickness, etc. Zarathustra had something when he drew the divide in terms of light and darkness. Unfortunately, the conflict I find in myself is not entirely one of good and evil. Relax, reader: my post this evening has nothing to do with any relationships except two - that of myself with myself, and that of myself with God.

I find in myself two beings; not one of absolute darkness and one of absolute light, but rather a sober man capable of great love, pure joy, great sorrow, and grievous sin, and an idiot capable of nothing more than superficial pleasure and pathetic folly. The first faces the world in battle: ceremony, celebration, conflict, and conflagration. The second laughs at all things, makes poor jokes, wastes his life, and knows neither that which is sacred nor fearful. He dances where angels ought to fear to tread: not the waltz, but a fool's cousin to the Carmagnole. Deadness, dumbness, idiocy are his dominion, and unfortunately through him, mine. It is as if my reason were sapped in strength and cast before swine to be trampled under foot, while I am rent from before and behind by tusks that curve only inward.

I wish I knew to make my life only the first man - a life of symphonies and silences. This is the test; nothing stops me except my own perspective. What I would give to have those scales fall from my eyes! And yet the second man, misshapen fool that he is, did not spring into being fully formed from my cloven head. He grew, inch by miserable inch, as I sought a different approach to life. I did not bear the solemn, so now I must bear the obscene, the ludicrous, and the absurd.

It is reflected in how I spend my time. How much waste, these past days! How much laziness! How many words dropped carelessly, stupidly, without thought or effort! Rather than an examined life, I live a caricature. Though the better man struggles for egress and urges me to seek obedience and valiant effort, I stumble about blindfolded in the fog of my foolishness. My tools are blunted in the hour of my labor; I lack the self-respect that the Lord of the Vineyard and his servants embody.

"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor. 6:16) Pursuit of God brooks no stupidity, no foolishness, no absurdity; I cannot serve the God of Counsel and Holiness and play the fool.

I speak not here of joy, nor laughter, but of mania, of nervous fear, of foolish pride, of vain ambition, and of setting the things of the world higher than the things of God. Let virtue garnish my thoughts unceasingly, that my breast may receive light and knowledge from the most High! Let the noise be silenced in praise of my Creator!

I find comfort in this promise, given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the latest General Conference:

"Elder B. H. Roberts once expressed the process in these words: 'The man who so walks in the light and wisdom and power of God, will at the last, by the very force of association, make the light and wisdom and power of God his own—weaving those bright rays into a chain divine, linking himself forever to God and God to him. This [is] the sum of Messiah’s mystic words, ‘Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee’—beyond this human greatness cannot achieve.'" (Reflections on a Consecrated Life, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference October 2010. ) http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-6,00.html

If I come closer to the Man of Holiness, the nonsense must be burned out of my life. Let that fire commence now; let its greasy smoke bear a petition to my God for forgiveness for my "levity, and for my [sometime association] with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God" (Joseph Smith History, 1:28). Again, I do not discredit humor, but poor taste; not joy, but vapidity; not a smile, but a slack jaw.

I am sustained in this by the idea, felt and stated, my Father has communicated to me: "I know what you can be. I will help you become what you can be. I will help you be worthy of your self-respect. I will help you be more than you have become. I will lead you back into what is true."

I know He will. May my behavior demonstrate my belief. Amen!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Freedom

Doubt is the strongest prison any man struggles within, and the walls of the mind are far more formidable than any structure of stone or steel. - Journeys

And enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard, their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. Soft you now, Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons are all my sins remembered.
- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark III : i.

Doubt and fear are opposed to faith. - Preach My Gospel

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
- JST Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is a principle of action and power.
– Elder Richard G. Scott, October General Conference 2010

Therefore, let us choose faith.
Bishop Richard C. Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric, October General Conference 2010


O God, my help in ages past!


While preparing for sleep last night, I found myself singing a song of my heart. My roommates were all gone; my audience was primarily God. Fear had no place in me, and I was free.

Amidst the swirl of the previous week, I have found peace and power in the assurance of something not seen. This faith in the promises of God has made me free.

In years past, while serving a mission as a representative of God; while turning to God in preparation to serve; while seeking Him for forgiveness for my sins; while crying out to Him in fear as a child; while learning to pray: the powers of darkness have been dispersed from before me, I have been loosed from the chains wherewith I have been bound, and I have been released from oppression. Through Christ, I have been set free.


My hope for years to come!


There is hope, and help, and happiness ahead. Trust in God, and believe in good things to come.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,

So long thy power has blessed me, sure it still will lead me on! O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent till the night is gone! And with the morn those angels faces smile … (“Lead Kindly Light” Hymns no. 97)


There will be family, and success, and joy, and love for all the years to come, if I but act in faith.


“I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him … but because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith. Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God. Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled. For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.”
- The Book of Mormon, Ether 12:6-12


My shelter from the stormy blast!


I have witnessed this week, these past weeks, the power of the Savior to comfort. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest” - Matt 11:28. It's true – for wounds of the heart, and for wounds of the soul.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. but woman can inflict no torment greater than a man can give himself. A woman's tears teach men lessons of suffering they otherwise could not know. But there is a balm in Gilead, and it soothes the pain of loss and cools the fever of doubt.


And my eternal home!


For me, the ultimate promise of the Savior is to become like my Heavenly Father; parent of the heavenly host, Father of our spirits. My eternal home is with Him, like Him. I will not be alone in the eternities; this is the promise of exaltation.

And so, through faith I can say: Halellujah! The Lord reigneth; His hands are over my life, and blessed be the name of my God for it.

“O God, our help in ages past!
Our Hope for years to come!
Our shelter from the stormy blast!
And our eternal home!”
(“O God, Our Help in Ages Past” Hymns no. 31)