Monday, August 20, 2018

The Empty Pot

I recently read a "Chinese Folktale" titled "The Empty Pot" "written" by "Demi." I put "Chinese Folktale" in quotation marks because I don't know whether or not this actually is one. I put "written" in quotation marks because I'm not sure if any one person can truly claim to have written a folktale. These stories seem to evolve through retellings and reinterpretations. Often, the person who first commits the story to paper isn't the person who told the first version of the story, so I'm not sure which person should be considered the author. And I put "Demi" in quotation marks because the person credited with the authorship of this story is actually named Charlotte Dumaresq Hunt and "uses her childhood nickname, Demi, as her pen name," according to the "Meet the Author and Illustrator" blurb at the end of the story.

And I put "The Empty Pot" in quotation marks because it's the title. But I digress. I'm here to blog about the story itself.

In this story, the Emperor decided to hold a contest to decide who would be the next Emperor:
All the children in the land were to come to the palace. There they would be given special seeds by the Emperor. "Whoever can show me their best in a year's time," he said, "will succeed me to the throne."
Our main character, Ping, who was famously good at growing flowers, entered the contest, as did basically every other child in China. However, try as he might, Ping could not get the flower to grow. He used good soil and a good flowerpot, and he watered the seed regularly, but it just wouldn't sprout. A year passed and all the other children were eager to show their beautiful flowers to the Emperor, and Ping felt ashamed that he hadn't been able get the flower to grow. Still, Ping's father told him "You did your best, and your best is good enough to present to the Emperor." So, Ping took his pot of dirt to the palace.

The Emperor examined all the flowers. When he got to Ping, he asked "Why did you bring an empty pot?" Ping explained:
"I planted the seed you gave me and watered it every day, but it didn't sprout. I put it in a better pot with better soil, but it still didn't sprout! I tended it all year long, but nothing grew. So today I had to bring an empty pot without a flower. It was the best I could do."
Naturally, because this is a folktale, Ping won the contest, partly because the Emperor was impressed at Ping's courage in presenting his best, even when it didn't amount to much, and mostly because all the other children had essentially disqualified themselves. The Emperor explained that all of the seeds he had handed out had been cooked, so it was impossible for them to grow. The test was not who could produce the best flowers, but who would be honest enough and brave enough to admit that they hadn't been able to grow anything and to present "their best" anyway. Of course, I have no idea what the Emperor would have done if multiple children showed up with empty pots, or if none of them did, but again, I digress.

Life is a test. That is a truth that I have known for years. But what this story taught me is that the test might be rigged or rather that it might not be the kind of test I think it is. We are all trying to achieve perfection, at least, that's the long-term goal, but this test might not be a test of how close to perfect we can become but a test of how hard we try to improve ourselves and how well we cope with our own lack of progress. Many of us try so hard for so long and have so little to show for it. So, we will have to decide how we are going to respond when the year ends, and we've grown nothing, and we have to stand before the Emperor holding an empty pot. What will we say to Him? What will we be able to say for ourselves? Will we even have the courage to stand before Him at all, knowing that we are still so far from the goal He asked us to strive for? Ping's dad said "your best is good enough to present to the Emperor," but will we feel that way when we have to present "our best" to God?

Now, I don't think God cooked our seeds. At least, not completely. He knows that life is hard enough that He doesn't have to sabotage us. We will still make painfully little progress whether He helps us or whether He hinders us as part of the test. No honest person will be able to present a beautiful, flawless, full bunch of flowers. The best of us, the "Good People" I blogged about recently, might manage to grow a few tiny flowers. The rest of us will be lucky if we can produce sprouts. But the real test for some of us is not how well we can grow flowers but how long and hard we keep trying to grow flowers and how well we deal with the frustration and shame of our failure to do so.

God knows we won't become perfect in this lifetime. What He wants to prove is how hard we'll try, how good we'll become, and how well we'll respond to the knowledge that "our best" doesn't even come close to measuring up. So, keep your head up and keep watering your seed. You're probably doing better in this test than you think you are, even if all you have to show for it is an empty pot.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A D&D Analysis of David vs Goliath

As I listened to Brother Dahm teach his lesson on David and Goliath, I could hardly help analyzing this fight from a D&D perspective. I hope you'll indulge me in sharing this analysis.

Let's start with Goliath, beginning with his size category. Arguably, Goliath's most noteworthy trait is his size. 1 Samuel 17:4 says that Goliath's height was "six cubits and a span," which is roughly nine and a half feet tall. This is very big for a human, about three feet taller than the 5th Edition rules normally allow a human to be. He's even bigger than a typical member of the fictional Goliath race, which stands between seven and eight feet tall. Goliath's height is almost great enough that I would consider him a Large creature, which is roughly the size of a horse. It's a close call. There's one factor that makes me think that Goliath would be officially considered "Large": the weight of his armor.

1 Samuel 17:5 says that Goliath wore "a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass," which converts to 126lbs. The closest D&D equivalent to a "coat of mail" would likely be Chain Mail armor, which normally weighs a mere 55lbs; however, armor for Large creatures weighs twice as much as armor for Medium-sized creatures like normal humans. This would put the Chain Mail's weight at 110lbs, which is much closer to our 126lb. target weight. Plate armor, with a normal weight of 65lbs., would get us even closer to our target weight, and would offer Goliath more protection, but I think that if Goliath wore Plate armor, the scriptures would've said so. 1 Samuel 17:6 does mention a few metal plates that he was wearing, but I don't think it's enough to say that he was wearing full Plate armor, and I think I know why he wasn't. In addition to weighing more than Medium-sized armor, Large armor also costs more than Medium-sized armor. Four times more, in fact, and Plate armor is already the most expensive nonmagical armor in the game at 1,500gp. A Large set of Plate armor would cost Goliath 6,000gp, the equivalent of 120lbs. of gold, whereas a Large set of Chain Mail would have cost Goliath only 300gp or about 6lbs. of gold. Arguably, adequate protection is worth any price, if you can afford it, but at such a steep price, I'm not entirely sure Goliath could afford Large Plate armor.

Goliath's other equipment is fairly straightforward. His shield grants +2 bonus to his Armor Class, bringing his AC up to 18, and his spear is probably just a regular spear. I'm not 100% sure what type of sword his sword would be. My two top picks would be a Longsword and a Greatsword (I somehow can't picture him wielding a shortsword or a rapier). The Greatsword deals more damage, but it's a two-handed weapon, so if he used that, he couldn't also use his shield. With a Longsword, Goliath would be able to use both his sword and his shield at the same time; he just wouldn't be able to dish out as much damage as quickly. However, even with a weaker weapon, Goliath could still deal a lot of damage with his considerable Strength. His exact Strength Modifier is difficult to estimate. It has to be at least +1, but it could be as high as +5. He also probably gets some kind of damage bonus based on his Large size. The Enlarge/Reduce spell gives an enlarged target a +1d4 bonus to damage, so we'll go with that.

All told, Goliath would be a Large Human Fighter with an AC of 18 and attacks that deal 1d8+1d4+at least 1 per hit. There's still a lot we don't know about him. We don't know how many Hit Points he has. We don't know what level he is. We don't even know for sure that he's a Fighter, but I'd say that's a pretty safe bet, especially since Saul said that he was "a man of war from his youth" (1 Sam 17:33). We don't know how many Fighter levels all that warfare would've gotten him, but still, we know enough to establish him as a fairly formidable opponent, especially compared to his challenger.

David did not have much going for him going into this fight. His size was Medium, perhaps even on the smaller side of medium. In 1 Samuel 17: 39, David demonstrates a lack of proficiency in armor, and his best weapon was a Sling, which deals pitifully little damage.

However, if David was using a high Dexterity build, he might have had a decent shot. A high Dexterity modifier would have improved his Armor Class, especially without Heavy Armor weighing him down, though some Light Armor still might've been nice. A high Dex Mod would also have increased his accuracy and damage with ranged weapons, like the sling, though a bow still would've been better. We don't know David's HP or level any better than we know Goliath's, but we do know a few things about David that might help us figure it out. Namely, we know that he slew a Lion and a Bear.

Lions are tough, especially for a single 1st or 0th level character to face on his own. I don't know how David could have defeated it, but if we accept his word that he did it, he would have gotten 200xp for that. The bear could have been either a Black Bear or a Brown Bear. Brown Bears are about as powerful as Lions are, but Black Bears are a little weaker. Either way, after defeating both the Bear and the Lion, David would have earned at least 300xp, which is enough to let a character advance from 1st level to 2nd level, so we can assume that David is at least a 2nd level character.

This is both good and bad news for David because whatever level he is, Goliath's level must be higher, and while we can guess that Goliath chose the Fighter class (and the combat bonuses that go with it), it's not clear what class David would have been. Fighter would be decent for him, but it would have granted him proficiency with much better weapons and armor than what he ends up using, including the Heavy Armor with which we know he's not proficient. There are many other classes that would have given David some help in this fight, but most of them require the character to have received some training. For a moment, I considered making David a Monk, but Monks in D&D are basically martial artists, and David would never had a chance to learn martial arts. The one combat-ready class I can think of that doesn't require training is Barbarian, and David doesn't strike me as a Barbarian. It could be the case that, despite having earned xp from the Bear and the Lion, David has no class.

So, David had no armor, and no weapons besides a staff and a sling, and he was fighting a heavily armored Fighter with martial weapons. Yet, David won with only one shot. How is this possible? First, David seemed to have won the Initiative roll, allowing him to act first in combat. Second, David's Sling attack seems to have landed a Critical Hit, judging by where the attack hit (1 Sam 17:49). Even so, slings don't deal very much damage, even on Critical Hits. On a regular hit, a sling deals 1d4 damage, plus whatever the attacker's Dexterity Bonus is. Even assuming that David had the maximum modifier of +5, that would give a regular sling attack a maximum damage of 9, which isn't enough to one-shot even a 1st level Fighter, unless that Fighter somehow had terribly low Constitution. Now, David's attack was a critical hit, which would have increased the damage, but Goliath also must have been at least a 2nd level Fighter, which would have increased his Hit Points. Fighters used a d10 plus their Constitution Modifier to determine the number of Hit Points they gain at each level. If Goliath rolled a 1 and had a -1 Constitution Modifier, he wouldn't have gained any Hit Points when he gained his second level, but if he took the average result from the d10, which he could have chosen to do, he would have gained at least as many Hit Points as the amount of damage the Critical Hit would have added, and that's assuming that David had the highest possible Dexterity Modifier and Goliath had the lowest possible Constitution Modifier, neither one of which would have been true under normal character-building circumstances.

My conclusion is that, even in D&D, David's defeat of Goliath could only have been a miracle. Sure, given enough time and enough luck, even a classless commoner could have defeated even a level 5 Fighter, but to kill Goliath in one hit, with a sling, would have taken exceptionally special circumstances and/or the allowance of some variant rules, like allowing feats or using a special table to determine the outcome of a Critical Hit. David's single-stone victory over Goliath would have been practically impossible within the normal rules of 5th Edition D&D, just as it was in real life, but with the help of God, or a generous DM, anything can happen.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Getting Help

Tonight, I attended an Eagle Court of Honor, which prompted me to think about how I had earned my own Eagle Scout rank. As I recall, I had cut it pretty close. In order to earn the Eagle Scout rank, you have to meet all of the qualifications and turn in all the paperwork before you turn eighteen. I almost missed that deadline. At the time, I felt so overwhelmed by how much I still had to do and how little time I still had to do it, I felt like giving up. But with my mother's encouragement, we pushed forward together and got everything done on time. Had it been just me, I don't think I would've earned my Eagle. I needed help. But I'm not ashamed of that, mostly because I'm confident that that's true for everybody.

No man is an island. Everyone had parents, older siblings, leaders, and/or other mentors who helped them along the way, without whom they wouldn't have been able to accomplish as much as they did, if anything. Heck, without our parents, none of us would even have been born. So I don't think any one person can take sole credit for their accomplishments. Everyone had help. In fact, getting help is part of the plan.

God knew that we wouldn't be able to make it successfully through Earth life all on our own. Beside the fact that we needed our parents' help to even get here, we would also need many guides and mentors to help us figure out the right way to live, and God knew that we would make many mistakes along the way, so we would need the help of the Savior as well. Seeking the Savior's help is the most important thing we can do in this lifetime. Perhaps that's the reason God made us all so dependent on each other: so we would learn how to seek help.

There is no shame in needing help. We all do. And there is no pride in accomplishing anything because we couldn't have done it alone. Of course, we can be proud of our contribution to the accomplishment, especially if we're directly responsible for most or all of it, but there are many others who, directly or indirectly, helped make it possible.

You can probably tie your shoelaces all on your own, but first someone taught you how, so each time you tie your shoelaces, that accomplishment, small as it is, is shared by you, the person who taught you how to tie your shoelaces, the person who taught them how to tie their shoelaces, and so on, plus the person who invented shoelaces, the person who invented shoes, the person who invented rope, the person who invented that knot, and everyone else who had any hand in helping out with any of those accomplishments. Any time anyone does anything, they have countless people to thank for helping make that possible.

Becoming an Eagle Scout is a great accomplishment. Achieving Eternal Life is an even greater one. No one in the history of existence has accomplished either of those tasks entirely on their own. Even Jesus had help at least a handful of times. So, if you need to get help, don't worry about it, and if you think you don't need help, don't be too sure. I think it's a universal truth that everyone has needed (and gotten) help with everything they've ever done.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Good People

There are some people that are a powerful force for good in the world, people like Mister Rogers, Steve Irwin, and Bob Ross, people who make you feel like a better person and make you want to live up to your potential. Those three individuals are dead, but there are others who have picked up their torch and held it up high. And any of us can do that. We can all uplift and encourage others. We can all greet others kindly and treat people well. We can all become powerful forces for good in the world. Our uplifting and encouraging messages may not be televised and may not reach very many people, but we all have many people whose lives we can touch and improve by being kind. There have been many wonderfully good people in the course of Earth's history. We can join them. We can encourage people to have a positive mental attitude. We can spread love and be kind. We can be good people. Many people are and have been. If they can do it, so can we.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

No "Higher" or "Lower" Callings

In his talk about the combination of the Elders' Quorum and the High Priests' Group into one unified Elders' Quorum, Elder D. Todd Christofferson highlighted a truth that I rarely consider.
Years ago, President Boyd K. Packer observed that “the priesthood is greater than any of its offices. … The priesthood is not divisible. An elder holds as much priesthood as an Apostle. (See D&C 20:38.) When a man [has the priesthood conferred upon him], he receives all of it. However, there are offices within the priesthood—divisions of authority and responsibility. … Sometimes one office is spoken of as being ‘higher than’ or ‘lower than’ another office. Rather than ‘higher’ or ‘lower,’ offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood represent different areas of service.”4 Brethren, I devoutly hope that we will no longer speak in terms of being “advanced” to another office in the Melchizedek Priesthood.
It's astonishing to think that the Priesthood is literally the power of God and that those who have "higher" callings in the church are merely serving in a different area. President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, "Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere." The reverse is likely also true: The calling of a Prophet is just as great as the calling of a deacon, just over different areas.

What this means to me is that no one in this church ought to elevate themselves or look down on themselves based on what callings they may or may not hold. Every responsibility in this church is just as sacred as any other responsibility, no more, no less.We don't get promoted or demoted, just moved around. Even those who are called to preside over larger areas aren't really "promoted" or "higher up." They're just serving a different, larger area.

I'm beginning to think that callings aren't all that important to God, apart from the lessons they teach us and the service they encourage us to render. God doesn't see callings as status symbols, and neither should we. We probably shouldn't be comparing ourselves to each other anyway. Every person is of equal value to God, and every calling of equal importance.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hate the Sin

The other half of "Hate the sin, love the sinner" is to "Hate the sin." Hate is a strong word, and I try not to use it often. I don't think I would have the heart to tell someone I hate their behavior, but perhaps that's not what that phrase really means. Perhaps "hating the sin" doesn't mean hating the behavior of those who sin, but rather hating the sin itself and the effects it has on people, including the sinner.

Sin has many negative effects. It breaks hearts, it damns the sinner, it causes Jesus intense pain, and it spreads like a disease from one victim to another. As a sidenote, I like that phrasing. Sinners aren't just vile evil-doers. They are, in many ways, victims of sin, including their own sins. Sin does terrible things to people, including both the people who commit sin and everyone in their sphere of influence. There are many good reasons to condemn and reject sin and to attempt to stamp it out. But should we really "hate" it?

Some definitions of hate refer to hostility and animosity. Hostility and animosity refer to each other, antagonism, and enmity, which, by some definitions, refers back to hatred. Underlying all of these definitions, there is a general sense of opposition, and we certainly have that. We should oppose sin as strongly and as often as we can. But does that mean that we hate it? I may be something of an idealist, but I don't like even the idea of hatred, and I believe that we can oppose things, including people and ideas, without having to hate them.

I suppose that my revulsion to "hatred" as opposed to more general "opposition" stems from my revulsion to the emotions that generally fuels hatred. When we hate something, is usually means that it makes us angry, and anger is one of the seven deadly sins. We should avoid getting angry, if we can. Is it possible to hate something without getting angry? If so, it may be that my only problem with "hating" sin comes from my own personal definition of hatred.

I have no problem with opposing sin or being antagonistic or even hostile to sin. I would love to eradicate sin and I try to make some effort to do so, at least in my own life. If, according to the dictionary definitions of those terms, that means I hate sin, then so be it. Maybe hatred doesn't have to mean what I think it means. Maybe not all forms of hatred are evil. Maybe we can "hate sin" by opposing it without falling victim to the sin of getting angry at it. Hating sin might be as delicate a balance as it is to hate a sin while loving the sinner. This is all very tricky, but perhaps I'm making it trickier than it needs to be. I know that it's good to oppose sin. If that's what it really means to "hate the sin," then I don't really have a problem with "hating" sin.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Love the Sinner

A handful of posts and articles I've read recently have reminded me of the importance of loving everyone, even if you don't love some of the things they do. The old adage is to "hate the sin, but love the sinner," and it's important to know why.

First, loving others is one of the first and greatest commandments we've ever been given; condemning sin isn't. Of course, we must never condone sin, but when we have to choose between expressing love and expressing chastisement, we should usually choose love.

Second, it's more practical. Ideally, we condemn sinful behavior mainly because we want to discourage it, but people are more likely to listen to a friend than to an enemy. If we antagonize those whose behavior we would discourage, they might grow to resent both us and our desires for them to change. In fact, some of them might double-down on their bad behavior in order to spite us or as some kind of defensive mechanism against any perceived personal attacks from us.

Third, reciprocity. If we were in the wrong, we would want others to be gentle in their approach when they feel the need to correct us. We should extend to them the same courtesy we would want them to extend to us.

Fourth, hypocrisy. We all sin. We all do things we shouldn't do or fail to do things we should. We all have room for improvement. Yet, we shouldn't let those imperfections prevent us from loving ourselves or each other. We should "love the sinner" because we are all sinners and because we should love everyone.

Fifth, it's a better way to live. To much negativity is unhealthy. Yes, some things should change, and we should identify and address the things that should change, but if we focus exclusively on the negative aspects of people, that negativity increases animosity, resentment, and even hatred. It increases the adversary's influence by encouraging people, including the condemners, to have unchristlike thoughts. Rather than demonstrating the pride and hatred Satan feels, we should demonstrate the love and humility of the Savior. Jesus condemned sin out of concern for the eternal welfare of the sinner. We should follow His example.

It is often necessary for us to speak out against sinful behavior, but we shouldn't be too harsh when we do so. Those whom we attempt to correct should feel that we are trying to correct them because we want them to be happy and safe, because we love them. That's why we should try to be gentle with our reproof and show love and concern for those whose behavior we would correct. We should express Christlike love for our fellow beings, even and especially when we feel that it's necessary to reprove them.