Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Adverse Effects of the Improper Use of Magic

Those who have unlocked the secrets of the universe have discovered a number of magical hand signs - gestures that virtually anyone could make and that would activate powerful magical effects. One such hand sign is made by putting the fingers of one's right hand together and keeping them straight, all but the thumb and the pinky finger; the little finger is held curled by the thumb, which diagonally crosses the palm. The three longer fingers are aligned with the forearm, which is held vertical while the upper arm is held horizontal. This hand gesture channels cosmic energy to entrance most people who see it, causing them to fall silent. In addition, those who see the sign are compelled to make the sign themselves and to hold still and silent until the original maker of the sign lowers their arm. This mystical gesture is called the Scout Sign because it's most particularly effective on members of the Boy Scouts of America.

However, this magic has its limits. Though it can impose a profound silence and stillness on those who are normally noisy and rowdy, if an individual is exposed to the sign too frequently or too long, they can become resistant to its effects. I've seen this happen before. I was recently traveling with a camp of young and older men, all of whom were susceptible to the magic of the sign. Those with whom we were camping knew the secret of this sign, and they used its magic often. For the first few days, the power of the sign frequently held us in thrall, but gradually, its power over us began to weaken. Over time, the young men were able to resist the sign's magic for successively longer periods of time before falling silent and returning the sign. By the end of the week, we had become so desensitized to the power of the Scout Sign that when we were exposed to it one final time, by a powerful arch-mage, a respected member of our own clan no less, we all completely resisted its magic without even trying.

This cautionary tale is given to serve as a warning to anyone who would use this sign, or any other magical power, improperly. It was because the camp leaders used the sign too often that we developed a resistance to it. Similarly, there are many other magical powers that stand to face far harsher penalties than eventual ineffectiveness if they're used incorrectly. Magic, if not carefully handled, can have devastating, destructive, and even damning effects on those who use it, if they use it poorly. We must use the powers we've been given wisely, or we'll be stripped of them - or worse.

Thankfully, I believe that no permanent damage has been done. Over time, our resistance to the power of the Scout Sign will fade, and it will once again be as potent as it had been. However, when other powers are used equally badly, the results can be far more terrible and far more permanent. There are other gestures, actions, and words of power that can bring about powerful effects, for good or ill, depending on how you use them. So be cautious of what magic you use, and how and when you use it. If we use it properly, such magic can do a tremendous amount of good. If we use it improperly, we will be lucky if failing to function is the magic's only adverse effect.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Post-Camp Shower

This afternoon, I came back from Scout Camp. Scout Camp is an adventure, five to seven days long, in which one usually gets sweaty, dirty, and generally filthy. Naturally, the first thing I did when I got home, after setting down all my camping gear, was going into the bathroom to take a shower. The shower itself didn't last long, especially compared to the length of my camping trip, but that brief shower washed a whole week worth of dirtiness off of me and left me feeling fresh and clean.

As I sat, clean, at this computer, I thought "If one quick shower can wash away over 100 hours of dirtiness, imagine how much sin a few minutes of sincere repentance can wash away." I was reminded of a quote Elder Holland gave to a group of BYU students in his May 18, 1980 devotional, For Times of Trouble:
You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. That’s another satanic suckerpunch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, “I’ll change”—and mean it.
This is one of those quotes that I remember hearing and liking, but couldn't confirm its authenticity until now. It's an encouraging message - one that we all need to hear from time to time, but it's not complete. Only looking at the passage above, one could get the impression that repentance is something one could do quickly at the last minute and expect to be forgiven of all the bad things they've ever done. Though repentance is faster than you might think, it may also be harder. Elder Holland continues:
Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as for Alma and the sons of Mosiah.
I just spent a whole week getting dirty, and it only took me a few minutes to get clean again, but if I go outside again, work up a sweat, and get myself all dusty and filthy again, that shower I've taken won't have meant much. Similarly, repentance doesn't take an eternity, but proving the sincerity of one's repentance does. Yes, we can repent quickly if we really mean it, but if we go back to our old ways immediately after "repenting," then that repentance won't have had a real, lasting effect on our souls. Repentance can be instantaneous, but it has to be sincere.

I'm grateful I went to Scout Camp. It was a fun experience and I also think that I learned and grew while I was up there. Yes, I got dirty, and there were times when it was unpleasant, but that's exactly like life. In our lives, all of us will face challenges and learn from them, and all of us will get dirty and sweaty along the way. Thankfully, we can bathe as often as we want to, both literally and metaphorically, so we can have those growing experiences and still keep ourselves clean.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"En la Causa Celestial"

This morning, I had the great privilege of singing the first verse of the hymn "Called to Serve" in Spanish. I cannot read or speak much Spanish, but I know it well enough to know that there are some differences in meaning between the English and Spanish versions of the hymn. Eager to find out what the differences were (and blog about them), I asked Google Translate to tell me what the words of the Spanish version mean in English.

Of course, Google Translate disappointed me. Anyone who has heard the name Malinda Kathleen Reese, or seen my blog post Mistranslations and Misinterpretations, or has any experience with Google Translate at all, could probably tell you that Google Translate isn't always perfectly accurate. Case in point, it translated "Todos cantaremos nuestro alegre son triunfal" to "All are cheerful sing our triumphant." That might be close to what the phrase really means, but I get the feeling that it's not quite there. I'll have to do a more careful translation when I have time. When I do, I'll make sure to pay special attention to "prestos" and "listos," both of which Google Translate translated to "ready."

However, even with just a brief look at untrustworthy translations, I found a phrase who's translation which (whether it's correct or not) is rather inspiring and highlights a spiritual truth the likes of which I am especially fond. The last two lines of the Spanish version of the chorus, the last two lines you hear when anyone sings this song, are "Dios nos da poder; luchemos en la causa celestial," which, according to Google Translate, translates to "God gives us power; we fight in the heavenly cause."

We, especially the missionaries among us, do indeed "fight in the heavenly cause," and it is God who gives us the power to do so. The fighting is almost always figurative, but whether we're battling temptation or misinformation, it could certainly be said that we are at war. The good news is that we are on the right side of this war (I know no one ever thinks they're not, but still). We fight for the heavenly cause. This is God's fight as much as it is ours. And we are on God's side, which means that He is also on ours. This means that God is likely to (and does) grant us divine favor in these battles. Since we are helping to fight God's battles, God gives us the power we need to win.

This is an encouraging thought when we're faced with temptation, fierce opposition, and discouragement. Though it's hard to defeat such enemies, we know that we never have to face them alone. This is God's war too, and He wants us to win it, so He strengthens us and guides us so we can overcome our enemies and all the other challenges of life. We don't have to worry that we may fail because God is helping us. Because we are fighting in the heavenly cause, God will give us the power we need to win

PS. I'm going to Scout Camp this week, so you won't hear from me again until Saturday. See you then!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Guidance and Resistance

In Dungeons and Dragons, each spell has a numeric level. There are weak, 1st level spells, like Comprehend Languages and Detect Magic, and there are powerful, 9th level spells, like Miracle and Time Stop, and everything in between. Each spellcaster can only cast a certain number of spells of each level per day, and when you've used up your day's allotment of spells, you can't cast any more spells for the rest of the day. For example, a 1st level Cleric can cast only two 1st level spells per day, while a 5th level Cleric can cast four 1st level spells, three 2nd level spells, and two 3rd level spells per day. The higher level a spellcaster is and the lower level a spell is, the more times that caster can cast that spell each day. However, there is one spell level so low that (in Fifth Edition) even a 1st level caster can cast spells of that level as many times per day as they want, even if they've already expended all their other magic. These infinite-use spells are called 0th level spells, or cantrips, and they can be very useful.

Two of my favorite 0th level spells are Guidance and Resistance, which each provide a small bonus to almost anything you could want to do while playing D&D. Are you looking out for traps? You might pray for Guidance. Do you need to overcome the effects of a disease or poison? Pray for Resistance. Want to jump across a chasm? Pray for Guidance to help you time your jump. Is someone trying to manipulate you with magic? Pray for Resistance to help you retain or regain control of yourself. I'm currently playing a Cleric character who regularly prays for Guidance and Resistance to help him and his companions tackle nearly every challenge that they face, but he's not the only one who can do that.

We don't need to be able to channel holy magic in order to be able to pray for help. Anyone can pray for assistance with the hope of getting it. Often, the amount of help we get is small, almost impossible to notice, but sometimes, it's enough to make a difference. And best of all, it's free. We can pray for help as often as we need to, as many times per day as we want. There are no limits to the amount of help we can get from God each day.

It may seem like a waste of divine power to pray over simple things, like asking God to bless our meals or grant us safety as we drive from one place to another, but the power of God is infinite. It can't be wasted because it never runs out. The source of God's power is inexhaustible, no matter how frequently we pray for aid. Also, even if it was a waste of God's power, it's completely within God's power not to grant it to us. We can ask for help as much as we want; God can always say "no" whenever He needs to, even though He usually says "yes."

However, God usually only grants us such aid when we remember to ask for it, which prompts two questions: Why does God make us pray for help that He's already willing to grant us, and if He usually grants us aid just for our having asked for it, why do we ever forget to ask? It may be that God requires us to pray for aid so that we know that our blessings come from Him, rather than from mere luck or science. By praying for aid and getting it, even our everyday actions can bring us closer to God. So why do we forget to pray for aid? Why indeed.

Maybe we think it'd be a waste of God's power for Him to lend us a hand from time to time, but we should let Him be the judge of that. He has invited us to ask for His help. If He (for whatever reason) chooses not to grant us the aid that He's invited us to ask for, He's still free not to. We don't have to worry about asking too much, because God can always say "no."

Maybe we think it's not worth the time it takes to pray for help. I'll admit, a +1d4 bonus to your d20 roll sometimes isn't worth using a Standard Action to get it, but it only takes a couple of seconds, and praying for help is even easier in real life than it is in D&D. In fact, we can pray for God's help while we're in the act of doing whatever it is we want God's help in doing, so it really takes no time at all.

I think the real reason we sometimes don't ask for heavenly aid is that we simply forget to. Maybe we forget that help is available to us if only we remember to ask for it. Well, consider this your reminder. If you find that you need another reminder later, reread Alma Chapter 34 and ask yourself if there's anything so trivial that God doesn't want you to pray about it. As for me, I get a reminder of how easy it is to pray for guidance and resistance every time my Cleric character does it.

The Unspecified Deadline

I have about 30 minutes to think of something and blog about it, but having just spent a few hours doing math homework, the only things I can think about right now is how much I still have left to do and how little time I have left to do it in.

I wonder how much our lives would change if we knew how much, or how little, time we had left to live. Would we still squander our time, as some people do, or would the looming deadline (no pun intended) fill our lives with a sense of urgency? I'm inclined to expect the latter, mostly from my own experience with schoolwork and deadlines, but sometimes, knowing the exact date a project is due can foster procrastination. If I know that I have a paper due next week, I'll probably start working on it right now, but if I know the paper won't be due for a month or two, depending on the length and difficulty of the paper, I'll probably still wait for the week it's due before I start working on it. If I knew I was going to die next month, I'd spend the next few weeks far differently than I would if I knew I would live for a thousand years after that.

The trouble is that I know that I won't live for a thousand years. At maximum, I'll live to be 100, but I'll probably die a few decades before that. Given that I can expect to live several decades, that gives me a framework on which I could build a plan for my life. Then again, even if I take all the precautions necessary to live a long life, I may still die sooner than I should. The truth is that no one really knows exactly when they're going to die, and that lack of knowledge either fosters a sense of urgency, or it doesn't.

Some people, understanding that they could die at any moment, live each day to the fullest. Maybe they plan for their future, or maybe they won't, but they'll certainly prepare to cross the threshold. They make sure they have their ducks in a row, and they spend as much time as possible with their families. It's not a bad way to live, except that those who live that way tend to be short-sighted.

For others, not knowing when they're going to die means that they're going to die "later." These people expect to live a good, long time, and probably don't think very much about their eventual death. They live for the future, often at the expense of the moment. Alternatively, those who don't expect to die any time soon tend not to worry about how their everyday lives might affect their afterlives. Wickedness and righteousness mean little to those who don't expect to face their final judgement until a number of decades down the road.

Theoretically, there is some kind of "best of both worlds" lifestyle, such that one could plan for their temporal future while being spiritually ready to die at any time. Such people might live for the moment, but also prepare for the future. Perhaps that's the main reason we're not told when we're going to die. It forces us to prepare for the future we may or may not be given while forcing us to prepare for the "deadline" that may or may not come soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Escape a Monkey Trap

I just saw this quote on Facebook: "God is preparing you for new things, but you've got to let go of some of your old things." That's essentially what repentance means. We naturally pick up bad habits, frequently without meaning to, and we must learn to let them go so we can move on.

I'm reminded of a monkey trap. I've heard that if you want to catch a monkey, one way to do it is to put a piece of fruit in a heavy box with a hole that's only barely big enough for the monkey to get his hand through. When the monkey reaches in to get the fruit, he'll find that he can't get it out because he can't pull his hand out of the box while it's wrapped around the fruit. The monkey becomes stuck, not because the box had any kind of trap on it, but because he refuses to let go of the fruit.

Satan would like to trap us, but he has no real power to take away our freedom. All he can do is tempt us to make bad decisions. Over time, those decisions can become habits, and sometimes we hold onto those habits, even after we've realized that they're what's holding us back. Thankfully, Satan can't restrain us after we've made the decision to let go of the fruit and leave. We can always choose to let go. Yes, we'll miss out on some fruit, some temporary pleasures, and the empty promises that our enemy offers, but what we get instead is so much better.

God has promised us great things. We have a glorious future waiting for us. But we can't get there with our hands trapped in fruit boxes. In order to get the new things God has promised us, we have to let go of the old things that are holding us back.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

He Forgives Us Because He Loves Us

I had forgotten how good Mormon Messages are. Let's see if I remember how to share them.

Some months ago, my family watched Disney's UP, and my mom recommended that I pick out something inspirational from that movie to share on my blog. Little did she know that I had already picked something out. When the man in the video above prayed sincerely for the first time in years, acknowledging the existence of God and asking Him why He would want to help him, the Lord responded "Mark it's because I love you." That was the same reason Dug gave for returning to Mister Fredrickson after having been scolded, and as I understand it, it's the main reason why God does anything - because He loves us.

Sometimes, it's astonishing that God still loves us after all we put Him through. As Mark was crouching behind the bushes after robbing that convenience store, he felt like he had given up his second chance and that he didn't deserve to have a third one. Yet, because of God's great love for us, He is willing to give us as many chances as we're willing to take. God will never give up on us until we give up on ourselves, and sometimes not even then. As Elder Craig A Cardon, who spoke at the end of the video, said in his April 2013 General Conference talk, The Savior Wants to Forgive:
Even with the multitude of sins occasioned by the weakness of mortality, as often as we repent and seek His forgiveness, He forgives again and again.

Because of this, all of us, including those struggling to overcome addictive behaviors such as substance abuse or pornography and those close to them, can know that the Lord will recognize our righteous efforts and will lovingly forgive when repentance is complete, “until seventy times seven.”
It's incredible to me that God's love for us is so great that it endures, undiminished, despite our many failings and mistakes. A lesser man would have less patience and would become frustrated, perhaps even angry at how human we are. I'm sure we sometimes do. Yet, because God's compassion for us is so great, because He can see our divine potential, and because He loves us so much that He wants us to come home, despite all we've done, He is willing to look past our current weakness and grant us His forgiveness far more often than we deserve it.

I am very, very grateful for the enduring love of God. There have been many times when I would have given up on myself if not for the knowledge that God hadn't given up on me. Because He loves me, I know that I can keep striving for righteousness, no matter how many times I fail, and that gives me the courage to try again every time I fall short. I have a firm testimony of the loving and forgiving nature of God. He loves us, and I know that He'll continue to love us no matter how many times we prove unworthy of His love. God believes in second chances. And because He does, so do I.