Friday, July 31

A casual evil

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:19-20)

Coming home from my mission, I had an awakening. I served in Long Beach, California, where I was exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles and beliefs. There are so many good people in that area who make real efforts to love their neighbors and make a positive impact. I learned quite a bit from my brothers and sisters there. Unfortunately, the area's also one of the many parts of the world plagued with frequent acts of violence. I wasn't much of a victim to the gang violence throughout the area; the worst I'd experienced was a (less-than) friendly "hello" in the form of a sucker-punch to my right ear that nearly left me unconscious (see: "Knockout"). But I met people that had been shot, stabbed, and paralyzed by various acts of cruelty. Likewise, I met people that had contributed to the cruelty. All people can repent, and I'm happy to say that I also met many people that had changed and sought forgiveness through their Savior.

Upon returning from my mission, I had nothing to do for a while. I struggled to find work. I'm not much of a gamer, but lots of my friends invited me to play Call of Duty with them, and I regret to admit that I participated. However, it didn't take long for my conscience to take effect, and I allowed it to teach me how backwards it is that anyone claiming to be a Christian could shamelessly enjoy an activity that simulates acts of gruesome violence. I wasn't following Christ when I played that game. In fact, I was a detriment to His work. I'm happy to say that I've repented, and I haven't played a violent videogame like Call of Duty for several years. I don't intend to ever again.

I realize people tend to roll their eyes and dismiss articles that condemn violent media with a carefully prepared rebuttal of cowardly excuses, but I must argue: Why do some people jump to condemn pornography and shrug at violent videogames? Don't both classify as immorality? And who honestly believes that a simulation of sex is worse than a simulation of murder?

I know the opposing opinions: "It's a war game and war's sometimes necessary; they're just killing the bad guys; it's not real..." These are predictable responses, though I feel that such a casual attitude disrespects those that have sacrificed their mental health while defending our freedoms. There really should be no need for counter-argument, but sometimes the ability to be honest with ourselves is inhibited by pride. You and I live in a society of gross desensitization, where the lines between good and evil often appear to bleed together when in reality they do not.

Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon chose to lead the Nephites in war against the Lamanites, with the Nephites acting in a defensive role as the other party was the agitator. Under Moroni's leadership, the Nephites participated in several violent battles with their enemies in defense of their families, religion, and freedoms. An important message regarding these circumstances involved Moroni's attitude about these battles. We learn in Alma 48:11 that Moroni "did not delight in bloodshed" and that he was "a man who did joy in the liberty and the freedoms of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery". Again in Alma 55:19 we're told that Moroni "did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction". The Nephites he led "were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood" (Alma 48:23). Contrarily, the Lamanites "delighted in murdering the Nephites" (Alma 17:14) and "delight[ed] in the shedding of blood" (Alma 26:24).

What more prevalent modern example do we have of delighting in bloodshed than playing violent videogames? It's dishonest to deny that this is an inherently evil problem, not only throughout the world but within the Christian community - even among those of my own faith.

We have a modern group of Lamanites in the Middle East proclaiming themselves as an Islamic State. This army of bigots and antichrists openly delight in real bloodshed. The difference of attitudes between what they do and what the kid with a controller does is remote.

But the conversation goes beyond videogames. Violence permeates all modern media - film, music, and literature. Sometimes I'm guilty of taking too long before deciding whether or not something damages my soul. Whenever I'm watching a movie or reading a book, I try to ask myself: "Does this glorify violence?" There's a big difference between glorifying violence and teaching a lesson about violence, but sometimes it's hard to tell which is happening. However, when I remember to be honest with myself the distinction becomes clear.

I'm not perfect at this, but I have made some real progress with resisting violent media. My strategies include avoiding all R-rated movies and never playing "shoot 'em up" videogames.

No one is too far away from Christ's outstretched arms to return and repent. His good news is that we can be forgiven of our sins and transformed by His grace if we choose to invite Him into our lives. I wanted to open up about this topic today because it has become a casual evil, an obvious sin our society views with remarkable indifference. It will be a huge victory for Christians when we truly begin talking about violence with at least the same gravity we tend to express when talking about sexual misconduct.

In conclusion I'd like to invite you to consider the scripture we were asked to study during the Primary class I had the joy of attending last Sunday. We discussed Christ's "new" commandment to "love one another" (John 13:34-35). Consider what a child's response would be to the following question:

Do we keep this commandment when we pretend to kill people? 

The answer's obvious, isn't it?

See also: It's "Only" Violence by Brad J. Bushman

Thursday, July 30


Years ago I dreamed that I was fishing in a river. The water was clear yet colorful, the sun was shining; everything was vivid and easy to remember. It didn't take long to get a bite. Determined, I started reeling in this huge fish that wasn't going to give up without a fight. Suddenly the fish managed one particularly aggressive tug and my line snapped. At this point the dream switched perspectives and I became the fish. I swam away with the hook caught in my mouth and the line trailing behind me. I remember thinking, "I don't have hands. How am I going to get this hook out?" Upon asking this question I felt the presence of the Savior immediately above the water. Then I woke up.

Reflecting upon the dream-parable, I quickly realized that I was being taught that we can't take care of our own sins alone. We need Christ's hands and often the hands of His servants to catch us and help extract our "hooks".

Sometimes our "hooks" aren't sins. Uninvited trials negatively affect our souls when we respond with despair. As with sin, we need hands other than our own to help us when unfortunate events threaten to crush us. The Savior offers healing and refuge for all of God's children. He also employs his servants and angels to help carry His work of love forward. 

Service is a vital force in our spiritually-thirsty world. Without it there would be no hope, healing, or true happiness. There would be no real purpose for our existence. Christ's ultimate act of service is the source of healing for all spiritual wounds. He's ready to run to our aid. We need only to have the faith to call for His saving hands when, as Peter, we begin to drown in our struggles.

Scripture study:

Matt. 14:22-33

Ether 2:24-25

3 Nephi 9:14

Alma 7:11-13

Saturday, July 18

One among them

The Book of Mormon has been a nutrient for my soul. It is a springboard for revelation. That's one of its main purposes: to help us learn how to receive revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Anything that invites the Spirit is worth pursuing.

Some of my favorite scriptures include Mosiah 11:20Mosiah 17:2, Alma 19:16, and Helaman 5:35. These verses introduced me to four missionaries, all from different circumstances, that share a common thread (besides the fact that all their names start with the letter "A"). Abinadi, Alma, Abish, and Aminadab were courageous individuals that helped others come unto Christ. They were each alone in an opposing crowd; they were each "one among them". But despite their circumstances they chose to become instruments in the hands of God. Abinadi was a righteous prophet whose death helped save one wicked priest. Alma was that wicked priest, and he left that experience to become a righteous prophet who established an entire church. Abish was a silent believer* that became a zealous missionary; once she found her courage she ran from house to house, energized by the opportunity to share God's word. Aminadab was a dissenter from the church who had his faith restored and was able to teach his friends how to repent.

There's hardly any background to Abinadi's story. We know nothing about who he was before being introduced as "a man among them" who preached the truth and started a chain of events that led to the salvation of countless souls. Who was he before? Was he a sinner? Was he silent? Did he have doubts? Had he ever fallen from church activity, whether publicly or privately?

Have you ever struggled with sin, inactivity, or disbelief? Have you ever been an Alma, Abish, or Aminadab? I have, so you're not alone. Is their past your present? Again, you're not alone.

All people that feel alone in their spiritual battles could benefit from remembering that the Savior came to this world as "One among them" (Abr. 3:24) to save us from being alone. He provided a way for us to become clean from our sins so we can receive guidance from the Comforter. He taught us that everyone has the capacity to do good, even when they feel outnumbered.

This blog is one way I'm choosing to share my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I've found that it's hard to find effective ways to share my beliefs . But whenever I prepare a lesson or a talk for others, my dormant spirit awakens. Those preparations tend to be the most helpful study experiences for me. Now, with this site, I can prepare lessons and talks whenever I'd like. I want to try to share something valuable for other people that thirst for spiritual knowledge and conversations. I hope that together we can engage in meaningful study that will invite the Spirit into our lives.

This is my way of being "one among them".

*Note: Abish's silence before Ammon's visit may not have been a sin of omission. Her story reminds me of Mormon's unfortunate reality when he was commanded to "stand as an idle witness" (Mormon 3:16) because his people weren't even remotely receptive to the gospel (but even he found a way to share his beliefs with millions of people several centuries later through the Book of Mormon). Abish may likewise have received a prompting to withhold her testimony for a period of time until the right opportunity came. Regardless, resisting the urge to share the gospel can be depressing, whether it's by choice or constraint of the Spirit.