Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Forgiveness

 I gave this talk last Sunday in church, and thought I'd share it here.

In the scriptures there are two accounts of a group of people creating a Zion here on this Earth.

One story is in the Book of Moses, where we read about Enoch and his people, and the second is in the Book of Mormon account of the followers of Jesus in the first years after his visit to the Nephites. The account of the Nephites in 4th Nephi is somewhat more detailed than the account of the City of Enoch in the Book of Moses. I'd like to read a bit from 4th Nephi about Zion:

4 Nephi 1:2-3
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

Since the beginning of this church we as members have been striving toward the ideal of Zion.

From the scriptures we can identify some of the characteristics of a Zion society. Here are some of them:

1. There were no contentions or disputations
2. Every person did deal justly one with another
3. They had all things in common among them.
4. There were not rich and poor, bond and free
5. They were all partakers of the heavenly gift

Prophets have clearly and repeatedly taught that we should be working toward a Zion society. They have taught us what we need to do to create that society among us.

King Benjamin taught the Nephites:

Mosiah 4:15
But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.

Alma the Elder also taught:

Mosiah 18:21
… that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.

This is our baptismal covenant. These are the things that we study and teach every week in church. It’s so simple. Right?

So why do we get it wrong?

Why is it that I still get in fights with my wife, or get angry at my children, or hold a grudge against that guy from high school, or hate Pepper because is more handsome and can shoot a basketball? Why is it that I don’t want so and so as my home teacher, or I don’t want to go to the ward activity if we have teriyaki burgers? (Or whatever.)

We are biologically, physically, mentally incapable of being perfect. As King Benjamin said it, the natural man is an enemy to God. No matter how hard we try we are all imperfect, and will hurt other people, and be hurt by others.

I recognize that I'm imperfect. There are many times when I say to myself, "What was I thinking?" And this helps me understand that everyone else probably says the same thing sometimes. Just as I hope others understand that I am imperfect but trying to be better, I understand that others are imperfect but trying to be better.

There are a couple of guys from high school that I was physically hurt by. For a long time I hated both of these guys. After some years I have come to like one of them, or at least respect. Him I think I can say I’ve forgiven. The other, I still daydream about punching him in the face.

Forgiveness is hard, especially when we have been seriously hurt.

I try to practice forgiveness at home with my family. When my wife and I argue, I think I do well at forgiving her. Unfortunately, I usually forgive her in the same way I forgave the person from high school, which is by waiting long enough. I think that I'll forgive my wife -- tomorrow, after I've calmed down. Or, later, I just need to be alone for a while.

Forgiveness later is good, but not best. To truly be like Jesus we should forgive one another in the moment, when it matters most. I think of Jesus' example when he was on the cross, being killed by the Romans. Luke said,

Luke 23:33-34
33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
34 ¶Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Jesus provides the example to us of forgiving others, even as they hurt us.

There is one story of Jesus that for me teaches the importance of forgiveness.

Luke 5:20-24
20 And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.

21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?

22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?

 23 Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?

 24 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.

For a being that can walk on water, turn water into wine, or feed the multitudes with a small number of loaves and fishes, saying, "Arise, and take up thy couch" is easy. What makes Him a God is His ability to forgive, and build up, and build a relationship with.

There will come a time when for us also it is easier to say, "Arise, and take up thy couch." Humanity's coarse medicine and methods of healing are slowly but surely becoming more refined and powerful. My children can talk with me from half a world away. In a few decades we may have a permanent settlement on another planet. But one of the most important measures of our divinity is how well we, like Jesus, can say, "I forgive you."

If we can forgive others as Jesus does, then we can have Zion here in this life.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Parable Of The Man And The Immovable Rock

One day a man knelt in prayer to ask God what He would have him do. To the man's surprise God appeared to him and, pointing to a large boulder nearby, said, "I want you to push this rock."

Obedient to God's request, the man immediately began to push against the rock. But no matter how hard he pushed, the rock would not move. The next day he again pushed with all his strength to move the rock. He tried all he could think of, yet still he was unsuccessful.

Days passed, and the man continued to try unsuccessfully to move the rock. Each night the man returned home exhausted. Seeing his struggle, Satan came to tempt the man.

"Have you had any success moving this rock?"

"I have not."

"Of course you haven't. This rock is clearly too big to move. You have failed. You have wasted your time. Give up. To continue would be folly."

Troubled and discouraged, the man knelt in prayer to God. Once again, God appeared to him, and He asked the man what was wrong. The man cried, "You asked me to move this rock, and in spite of all my strength and all my intellect I have not moved it one millimeter."

Lovingly God replied, "My son, my friend. I never asked you to move the rock. I asked you to push it. You have done all that I have asked of you. For your faith and obedience you have been and shall be blessed.

Years later the man's daughter read through the journal which the man had kept as he tried to move the rock. She could see and understand all of what her father had tried to do, and how faithful her father had been. In a moment of divine inspiration she saw how close her father had been to moving the rock, and what her father had not yet understood.

She moved the rock.

And God saw that it was good.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Response to a Friend's Questions on Life Extension

In response to my previous post, "What Life Extension Actually Is", my friend posed several more questions. I responded to them on Facebook and I'll reproduce them here.
Here are his questions:

I am curious though, ... do you think it would be sustainable to have everyone on the planet live indefinitely? I'm trying to imagine what would happen if no one died of age-related causes but the world continued to procreate. Do you see there being any economic and/or population challenges there?

Also, I would imagine that the technology needed to make this possible would be extremely expensive (e.g., you cited a Russian billionaire who is heavily invested in the project). Do you see this technology being made available to the common man?

Here are my answers, with a few minor tweaks:

Good questions.

Your first: Will it be sustainable? Honestly I can't see that far into the future, though I can envision some possibilities and see some trends.

I think it's an important question to ask, but it is less important than eliminating the suffering of aging and dying. Essentially, letting people get sick or die when we have the capability of stopping it is a bigger sin than overpopulating the Earth, especially considering there are things that we can envision now to address overpopulation, and surely new ideas would come to us once we get to that point. We don't sit idly by as someone drowns, or dies of pneumonia, or infection from a simple scratch. I'm sure we all agree it is wrong to do so. Address the most important problem first.

Like I said, there are some trends that I think are working in our favor. The biggest of these is the strong negative correlation between education, most especially of women, and birth rate. The United States actually has a birth rate below the replacement rate, and would be declining in population were it not for immigration. Just a few days ago there was an interesting RadioWest interview about this. Our birth rate is around 1.9 births per woman, which is below the (current) replacement rate of around 2.1 births. Other countries are much lower, including Japan, as I'm sure you're aware, which is around 1.4.

So this has led social scientists to predict that the world population will peak at about 9 billion people around 2050, after which it will begin to decline. So we've already begun addressing the problem naturally.
Second, I don't think we're near the carrying capacity of the Earth. We have become much more productive and efficient in farming, energy usage (in spite of using more), resource usage, etc. I don't think we're near limits on any of these, though gains will grow harder to get to. But we can hold many more people than we currently do.

I strongly believe we will colonize other worlds throughout space. I think this will be very challenging, though, due to the vast distances and timescales involved, and the amount of energy required, and there are some disincentives to being the person leaving the Earth. Still, there are important reasons to become multi-planet, the most important of which is to make the human species more resilient to natural dangers. Besides, who wouldn't want to be the first missionaries to preach the gospel to other worlds. :-)

I am worried about economic disparity, especially considering descriptions of the Nephites at their best, or the city of Enoch, or the United Order. There is a pattern that has held pretty well, though, that at first new technologies work poorly, are expensive, and few have access, then they become mainstream, and eventually it becomes reliable and everybody has access to it cheaply. Think cell phones for a good example. I can see rich people monopolizing access to important technologies. Yet healthy, biologically young people are more productive and so make better workers, and contribute more to GDP, they get sick less, they are less of a burden on others such as children, they can buy more stuff. I wonder if it would even make sense to give free access to aging medicine for the economic benefits that would result from a productive, purchasing society.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Life Extension Actually Is

I posted the picture below on Facebook, and I got a comment from a friend with questions about my thoughts on the subject. I got so excited, then spent the next bunch of time writing down my thoughts and getting burned out (it's bedtime -- actually after) that I figured I should post them here.

Here is the picture:

So-and-so (you know who you are), thanks for your question. As you can probably tell, this is a subject that I'm excited about, and anytime someone expresses interested in it I have to pounce.

There's actually a lot of thought going on now among different groups and public figures about living forever. Just a few days ago in the news there were a number of articles about a Russian multi-millionaire Dmitry Itskov's quest, plan, and timeline, to live forever. Here is one, from a quick Google News search, that unfortunately doesn't seem to contain his timeline, but gives a lot of the story. And I know you've heard of Ray Kurzweil, who has been a champion of living indefinitely for quite a while, who now works for Google. Ray Kurzweil is a co-founder of the Singularity University. I bring these up to illustrate that there are smart people thinking about, as well as money going into, this subject.

Aubrey De Grey is another influential individual in this area, having helped start the Methuselah Foundation -- fitting because he famously sports a Methuselah-style beard -- and later the SENS Foundation, short for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. As far as I know he is not a theist, but he gave one of the keynote talks at the 2013 conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, and was quite friendly towards us Mormons, and seems generally respectful of religion in general. (Video)

(Bunch of links. I'm not necessarily endorsing any of them. Except the MTA. ;-) )

If you look in to what some of these various people envision as humanity's future you'll find that there are different, perhaps complimentary, visions. I think that Aubrey De Grey's approach may be more near-term in terms of both achieveability and, importantly, public acceptance, so I'll kind of focus on that. I really recommend looking up some of his videos -- a YouTube search gives plenty, and some of these are short and sweet. If you're interested in a longer video, I'll push you towards the MTA conference keynote video. It was a great talk; he gave a good overview of the subject, and tried to create a shared vision with religious people.

Aubrey De Grey's number one goal is to prevent the suffering that people experience from diseases of old age. And when we describe this as our goal it makes a lot of sense. As he describes in the MTA video, if we eliminate the causes of damage to our bodies experienced during aging, or repair the damage before it becomes pathogenic then we prevent the diseases of old age. This bring us back to the original graphic. If we can stop or repair the age-related damage done before someone gets Alzheimers, or wears out her knees, or (hopefully for me) loses his hair, then we haven't lengethed the older years of reduced capacity and suffering, but we have added years of capability and vigor.

As a side effect, De Grey would say, people stop dying from getting old. Of course this doesn't stop people from dying of accidents or germs, for example; but humanity has been addressing these problems, too, by things like self-driving cars, airbags, building codes, vaccines, and basic sanitation. I expect that as we continue to lengthen lifespan that human life will become more valuable to us, and we will continue to look for better ways to prevent these other causes of death. Or we'll all get so bored of living so long that we'll all commit suicide. But I also hope that life will get more interesting as we progress.

I know many people hold to the necessity of dying, even suffering. I admit there's something kind of romantic about holding one's head high as one enters the twilight of one's life and prepares to meet the inevitable. But I think we have to be honest -- aging sucks. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lying. I've been lucky to not have seen much death in my life, but I watched both of my grandfathers in the last years of their lives. One, whom I lived close to before his death, I was able to see in just the last few days before his death. No. There's really nothing romantic about it.

I've become old enough and aware enough to learn of friends' parents and others dying from things like cancer. No. There's really nothing romantic about it.

So, back to Aubrey De Grey: If we can achieve what he and others are *right now* trying to achieve, then we will be able to prevent dying from old age. Which means that we would be able to live indefinitely, meaning we could have reasonable confidence we wouldn't die from old age, but we never could be sure the Sun won't blow up and kill us, or aliens won't try to colonize our planet, or a piano drops on our head, or our neighbor gives us an anthrax letter. We will just have confidence that nothing in particular *has* to kill us.

Probably he is too optimistic. Probably the causes and required fixes for aging are more complex than anybody realizes, and we won't cure aging anywhere near when people like Aubrey De Grey think we will. But I feel compelled by my Mormonness to believe that we will eventually get to this point, because of the principle of Eternal Progression, or what Ray Kurzweil might call the Law of Accelerating Returns.

If we never can repair damage to the human body then that must mean that there is some barrier or filter that prevents us from getting to that point, whether man-made or due to complexity (which I think is finite, though I'm no mathematician nor philosopher). The scriptures are full of stories of people who were damned at some point, due to their wickedness. And this is always a possibility. The natural man can prove to be the great filter that damns us. But we must always have faith that if we keep God's commandments and use the means that the Lord has provided for us that we can continue to progress beyond the level we are at, which tells me that no matter how complex the problem, it's just a matter of time and faith.

I have faith in a future resurrection. I really do. It takes a lot of the fear out of growing old and dying, because I believe that it's not the end of me, or the end of my family and friends. I hope I will not die. I think it's possible I will not die. But if I do, well, c'est la vie, and I hope my kids never die, and they will seek after their dead, and I will be resurrected to be with them, and my parents too, and my grandparents too.

OK. Whew. I think I addressed the first two lines of your question. Let me take a breather.

Do we have to die? Or, in other words, is it necessary for us to experience death?

My first thought is no, because I can envision myself living indefinitely, or if not me, at least someone. But I can still die in 100 years, or maybe 1000, or maybe a billion or something, but maybe eventually I'll die. I do wonder what a billion-year-old me would get out of the dying experience, and I'd hope by then I could make it painless.

Related to this I want to ask, is it necessary to suffer? I don't think so -- though I think that suffering is unavoidable. But I don't go around flagellating myself to increase my suffering, or wish that everybody could be born with genetic abnormalities or get hit by a car or something. I think it's wise to reduce suffering wherever and whenever we can, even though we learn by suffering and can have joy in painful situations. We Mormons believe in a God that weeps. God weeps because God cares, so as long as we care we have the potential to suffer. But God overcomes, and so should we.

Mormons believe that there are a number of people who never died. For example, "Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death", or the Three Nephites who, "shall never taste of death" and "shall never endure the pains of death", or John the Beloved, who, "shalt tarry until I come in my glory". So it seems that maybe death isn't a necessary experience.

Well, actually it depends on your definition of death. When Jesus pulls back the veil of the covering of his temple, and all flesh sees him together, "there shall be no sorrow because there is no death." Yet in the very next verse it says that, "An infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; and when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye...". And the death of an infant who has grown up is described quite differently than what most deaths today are.

It seems to me that these verses are describing a radical change, and not death. Or maybe we could say that death is necessary, but death only has to mean some kind of a change from our current state, not a ceasing to be alive.

I feel closer now to Mormonism and to the LDS church than I've felt for a long time. I've come to appreciate more the Book of Mormon's teachings about the natural man and its admonitions to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness of God, though I usually am more on the natural man side.

So I want to emphasize that trying to eliminate aging doesn't trump charity, or take the place of keeping the commandments; it is being charitable, it is keeping the commandments.

We must not build a tower, but an ark, not a Rameumptom, but a ship to cross these great waters. We have to overcome the natural man, which is an unnatural thing, but the pattern lies in John the Beloved, when he said, "Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee." I'm mixing multiple stories here, but I hope I'm conveying my point.

Thanks for asking me questions, and getting me worked up enough to blog about something. I'll see you later.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How To Give A (Bad) Sacrament Meeting Talk

Some years ago while I was in college I began struggling with attending church. I never wanted to stop going to church -- years of habit and the socialization ensured that -- but I often didn't enjoy my time there on Sundays.

To be truthful, the struggles I had with church enjoyment were really just one aspect of a larger whole. The bishop we had was wonderful, and I had a lot of respect and admiration for him. I had good friends with whom I attended church. Still, church was an easy focus for an outlet of stress.

Talks given in church were especially unenjoyable. Often enough things that people said, or the way they presented themselves, or how they structured their talks, would grate on me. I found little things here and there to keep myself busy, such as counting to 1023 on my fingers in binary.

One day I got the idea to write down the things people did in their talks that I didn't like, in the form of a sarcastic how-to outline for giving talks. I named it the Speaker's Bible. I enjoyed the activity so much that I folded the paper and kept it in my suit pocket for next week. Then, for the next weeks or months, as things would grate on me, I would add another line to my outline.

Eventually I moved on. Church is much more tolerable now. Enjoyable, actually. For a few years, though, I kept that paper in my suit pocket, and brought it out for the personal chuckle. It disappeared for years, though.

Recently I found it in a box or something around the house. It is kind of special to me, not because I want to refer to it to be a better speaker, but because of the period of my life that it represents. On the whole I make no statement whether I now agree or disagree with anything in particular in it. I feel like posting it, anyway, just for fun.

I've reproduced it pretty much exactly, except for a few capitalizations, and one misused apostrophe, which I just noticed. Apostrophes are not used for pluralization.


  1. Introduction

    1. "For those of you who don't know me..."

    2. Describe how you had a hard time preparing your talk

      1. "Bro X asked me to speak on..."

      2. Express your feelings of inadequacy

      3. "This topic is hard because..." / "This topic is broad..."

      4. Recite talk preparation story

      5. Give the Webster's definition for your talk

  2. Give Talk

    1. Ask people to follow along

    2. Tell stories

      1. "I think this story is good because...."

      2. Make stories very long. Long stories keep the audience's attention marvelously and mean you have less to prepare and mess up on.

    3. Intersperse periodically that you feel inadequate

    4. Do NOT take consideration for other people's positions and dispositions in life. If they think differently or have different struggles that is their problem... Deal with it.

    5. Do NOT let people recognize their potential. If they do, they may not think you are so far above them.

    6. Make sure you must turn many pages to find a quote in a book. This uses up time you are forced to speak.

    7. Use the word "just" ubiquitously.

      1. "I just want to...", "I just think..."

    8. Use the word "um" like it's going out of style.

    9. Play on people's emotions

      1. For girls - put our hand on your chest to emphasize how emotionally messed up you are.

      2. For guys - give long pauses for the same effect.

      3. This makes the audience think that they need to be emotional too. That's what we want.

    10. Make up dumb, long analogies.

      1. The ward members don't understand the Gospel without monopoly or football analogies.

  3. Conclusion

    1. Thank your friends for coming to hear you speak.

    2. Go Overtime!! (Important)

    3. Bear testimony about something totally unrelated.

    4. Make sure Christ isn't explicitly mentioned.

      1. If the ward members can't make the connection, they are too dumb.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Facial Hair

I have a beard.

I don't like having a beard.

Every once in a while I get the idea that I want to grow out my facial hair into a beard. Currently it's just a straight beard, nothing fancy, though I have grown goatees in the past. I never grow them very long, though, because I always pull at and play with the hair, and it is irritating. Invariably I shave before too long.

I like facial hair on other guys. Not all the time. Plenty of guys look great without hair. Some facial hair just doesn't look good. But there are a lot of guys with a lot of beards and other that look great.

Last week in church we had a high councilor come to speak. He came in sporting a nice looking beard, and as I've been letting mine grow out I felt some kinship with him. We were the only two with facial hair in the room. Just a short way into his talk he stopped and said he should apologize for his beard, that the stake presidency was not in the habit of sending high councilors on speaking assignments with facial hair, and that he only had it to get in the spirit of a planned pioneer reenactment trek he was going to participate in soon.


Why did he feel he needed to apologize for his beard? What's wrong with having a beard? It was neatly trimmed, and looked just fine on him. And what did the stake presidency have to do with his beard?

I've heard from several people that people in some callings, such as bishop, or temple worker, are asked to be clean shaven. I don't understand the policy. I don't even know if it's a policy, or just some guy's opinion. And I'm saddened by it.

Some people like to say, "Well, Jesus had long hair.", or, "Brother Brigham had a beard." It's a fun argument, but I think this misses the point. The point is not that so-and-so looked a certain way and so I can too. The real point is that I am the one who can choose how I want to groom my body. When I groom myself in a modest way, in a clean way, in a neat way, and in a non-prideful way, why should anyone think there is a problem with that? And why should that person tell me to change -- or revoke privileges if I don't?

Today at church the bishop (who is a great guy and a great bishop!) came up to me to say hi, and asked about my beard. I like the attention of people asking about my beard. But now I'm starting to wonder what people really think. They smile, but I wonder. Two years ago when I grew a beard someone asked my wife if I was OK.

(Could have asked me, by the way. Beards don't make people bite.)

I was going to shave last week. My beard is long enough that I've been annoying myself by pulling and stroking the hair. Now I don't want to shave it. I think I want to grow it a while longer to let my kids know that it's OK to have a beard.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thank You, LibreOffice!

Thank you, LibreOffice -- to all the developers, infrastructure maintainers, et al. who have given us your office suite.

I hope you continue to find success and enjoyment in your work.