Thursday, November 23, 2017

Focus on Faith

My next Primary lesson is about the pioneers travelling to the Salt Lake Valley. However, I won't be talking about all of them. The pioneers travelled there in several groups. I talked about the first group last Sunday. This Sunday, I'll talk about the pioneers who use ox-drawn covered wagons, leaving the lesson on the handcart pioneers to my teaching companion. Considering how much time we're spending on the pioneers, it will be difficult not to grow repetitive. Thankfully, I've discovered a solution. Rather than covering the breadth of the subject, relating the various trials, challenges, and miracles the pioneers experienced, I'll focus on one element: their faith.

The specific lesson I am to teach shares several stories of pioneers who showed their faith by following (or ignoring) the counsel of their church leaders and facing dangerous odds in order to reach the Salt Lake Valley. Some of them expressed faith by requesting unorthodox miracles and following the spirit. While perhaps not all of the examples set forth by the pioneers are worth following, I will encourage my primary kids to exercise the same faith that they had. They were confident that they were headed toward a better place, and whether that "better place" was the Salt Lake Valley or the spirit world, they all made it. The determination and endurance of the saints is next week's lesson; my lesson will focus on the faith the saints must have had in order to make the journey in the first place.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Sins of Another

One thing I don't understand about the Atonement is summed up fairly clearly in Alma 34:11.
Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
Yet, God's law, which is more just than any earthly law, takes the blood of our spiritual brother, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins. How could that possibly work? Amulek goes on to say that this is possible because the Savior's sacrifice was an infinite and eternal sacrifice, but I still don't get it. Even an infinite sacrifice from one person wouldn't satisfy the demands of justice from another. If I commit a crime, I have to serve the sentence, no matter who else is willing to do it for me.

Yet, we know that the Atonement works somehow, and thank God that it does! I may not be able to wrap my head around it, but I know that the Atonement is a vital, redeeming force in everyone's lives, especially mine. I have been richly blessed by the miraculous, vicarious power of the Atonement. I don't know how it works, but I know that it does. I suppose I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. I don't need to be smart enough to understand how the Atonement satisfies the demands of justice. I just need to be wise enough to use it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Other Glitter Paintings

Good news. I did a little bit of research and discovered that Jamie Vasta, the creator of Deposizione, 1602, the "glitter painting" I mentioned the other day, also adapted several other works by Carvaggio, the painter of the original, more sober Deposizione or The Entombment of Christ. She adapted both religious and secular paintings, giving them all a more modern, more casual look, and they were all done in glitter.

So it seems clear that she wasn't singling out The Entombment of Christ in order to mock it with a dressed-down, glittery rendition, and I would guess that her goal wasn't mockery anyway. She gave many of Caravaggio's paintings the same treatment, and it seemed to me that she was doing it to pay homage to the original artist while putting her own, fun spin on each piece.

Of course, I would rather that she hadn't done that with such a religious and somber subject, but I can't really fault her from having fun with her art, especially since it now seems clear that she wasn't going out of her way to try to be sacrilegious.

To me, this goes to show that one shouldn't judge another person or their actions too quickly. It can be difficult to know what a person's motives are, so it's hard to be sure why they do what they do. It would have been easy for me to assume that Jamie was making light of a sacred subject, but in light of recent evidence, I'm not so sure she was.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gaining Strength Through Service

In Sacrament meeting today, the first speaker spoke about service. He said that, in the church, we gain many opportunities to serve each other and others outside of our wards. We get so many service opportunities, in fact, that we often feel spread thin, and we think that it is important to our physical and spiritual welfare that we pass up on some of those service opportunities and we spend that time on ourselves instead. After all, you can't pour water out of an empty jug. There comes a time when you have to stop pouring and refill the jug.

Yet, the speaker's talk wasn't about the wisdom of avoiding service opportunities but the strengthening effects of taking them. The previous analogy, with us being us being represented by jugs of water, doesn't actually hold water itself. It may seem like we only have finite resources, and that may be true, but we have a potential for an infinite capacity to carry and use those resources. We are composed of sets of muscles. the more you use muscles, the stronger they get, and the easier it gets to use those muscles without tiring out. If a person who has never exercised tries to jog a mile, they'll burn themselves out fairly quickly, but if that same person keeps exercising, eventually that mile-long jog will be a piece of cake to them.

Of course, we can burn ourselves out doing too much service, but the more service we do, the easier it'll become for us, and the less energy it'll take for us to do it. So maybe I shouldn't focus so much on how difficult it can be to have so many obligations, including the obligation to take on more obligations when church leaders ask me to, and instead focus on developing my service muscles so I can handle of the obligations I currently have, plus any more I gain as I move forward. Doing service can be exhausting, but, ironically, the more service we do, the less exhausting it gets.

The Glitter Painting

I'm not sure how to feel about a painting I saw today. Firstly, it wasn't technically a painting; it was made with glitter rather than paint. But that's not what has me emotionally confused. What troubles me is the subject. The "painting" is of a modern family on the beach, posing like the figures in a famous Italian painting. It looks like fun, and the people who posed for this picture probably had a lot of fun posing for that picture and spending the day at the beach. There's just one problem: The painting they're mimicking depicts the burial of Jesus Christ.

The original painting is, naturally, far more serious than the "painting" I saw today. The original painting uses serious expressions, dark tones and shades, and generally a far more reverent attitude toward the subject it was depicting. Today's painting, using glitter to show casually-dressed people represent a sacred subject as part of their fun day at the beach, showed a certain amount of disrespect for Jesus Christ.

Yet, I'm not sure they meant it that way. Perhaps, rather than mocking Jesus Himself, they were mocking the melodramatic way in which He had been painted. Or maybe they weren't trying to make such a statement at all. It could be that they were all just having fun, not thinking about what message(s) their playful pose might inadvertently send.

Then again, one should probably always assume that there's a deeper message to just about every painting or sculpture one sees. If that's the case, then what is the message here? To not take oneself too seriously? To not take art to seriously? To not take Christ seriously? This "painting" is rather casual, which is in stark contrast to the original painting, but I'm not sure what that contrast is trying to say. I don't know whether to be pleased that a group of friends had a fun day at the beach, amused that the artist made a silly version of an ultra-serious painting, or bothered that the artist and her friends seem to be mocking Christ.

This painting should be interesting to write about in my Response Paper, largely because ot the many conflicting feelings this glitter "painting" gives me.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The "Problem" of Evil

In my Philosophy class, we recently discussed something called "the Problem of Evil." Some atheists say that if God really existed, and if He really was all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful, then He wouldn't allow evil to exist (and, for this discussion, this definition of "evil" is expanded to include both "moral evil," which includes all sinful and evil acts, and "natural evil" which includes natural disasters, disease, and death). God, being good, doesn't want people to suffer or to commit sin. Being knowledgeable, He knows that evil will occur, if He doesn't prevent it. And, being powerful, God has the power to stop evil from existing. So, why doesn't He?

I believe that God has good reasons to allow evil to continue to exist. Most evils we experience second-hand give us experience. All of the trials and sufferings we experience in life, including being the victims of others' sins, can work toward our eternal benefit. As for the evils we commit ourselves, I think that they can also give us experience and eventually work toward our benefit, if we repent of them. I also wonder if it may be a greater evil for God to force us to be righteous than it is for Him to allow us to be evil.

God has an eternal perspective, and He knows things about the laws of the universe we can't even imagine. It's possible that the reason God lets evil exists because He lacks the power to prevent it, but I doubt it. I don't think that the continued existence of evil diminishes God's attributes at all. I know that God wants what best for us, that He knows what's best for us, and that He's powerful enough to make it happen. The fact that we suffer anyway may tell us more about the value of that suffering than it tells us about the nature of God. Perhaps God allows evil to exist because that's what's best for our eternal welfare. Maybe suffering through a few short decades of evil is exactly what our spirits need to grow. I'm only guessing, but it may be that the reason God hasn't solved "the problem of evil" yet is because, in His eternal plan for our eternal welfare, the existence of evil isn't actually a problem at all.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Studying Ethics

I might have mentioned a few days ago that I'm signing up for next semester's classes pretty soon. One of the classes I'm thinking of taking is a class on ethics. I really enjoyed that section of my Intro to Philosophy class, and I think I'd like to spend a few months asking myself difficult, ethical questions and trying to determine what's the right thing to do and why it's the right thing to do.

Of course, we do something similar fairly frequently. We often have to make difficult, ethical choices, and we sometimes have to study them out in our minds to determine the best course of action. Those situations test our knowledge of ethics in much the way an ethics class would, I imagine. We are given a textbook in the form of scriptures and the words of prophets, we can study the problems out and seek confirmation from the Spirit similar to how we can seek help from a tutor, and after we make our choice, we will get feedback from out Instructor, whether that means getting a good grade or a bad one.

In this sense, everyone should study ethics. We don't necessarily need to know what ancient philosophers thought about what was right or wrong, but we should certainly try to figure out right and wrong for ourselves (with a lot of help from God, of course). It may be one of the most important subjects one can study. We each have a very good reason to study ethics and try to learn how to behave ethically: There's a lot more at stake for each of us than our GPAs. We owe it to ourselves to learn how to make good ethical decisions, and I'm looking forward to spending a few months next year exploring what that means.