Posts Tagged choice

Self selection in Church attendance and membership

Spend any amount of time reading the various Mormon themed blogs and you will see any number of reasons people are dissatisfied with and/or have been hurt by the Church and its members. There have been a few attempts to understand the reasons for these things, but mostly there have been unfeeling lists of simple points, trying to codify “why people leave”. To me, aside from the excommunication or removal of those who have shown themselves to be physically or spiritually dangerous to others in the community, coming to Church and being part of the community are mostly a matter of self selection.

People join the Church and attend their meetings because they feel that they have learned the truth of how this life, the next life, and the previous life fit together, want to learn more on how to progress, and want to join with others who have the same goal. There is both power and safety in numbers, and it helps our own growth to work with others with the same goals. Those who fall away do so because the community is no longer a place of peace, but has become, for one reason or another, a place of pain, confusion, or distaste.

This is where self selection comes in. Ultimately, it is that persons choice to stay or go, no matter how deep the dissatisfaction or pain. The question then becomes, what can we do to help them stay, heal, and grow together with us?

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Who will we be when we wake?

One of the best episodes of Start Trek: The Next Generation is entitled “The Light Within”. In it, Captain Picard finds himself thrust into a life completely foreign to what he had known. During this new life, he had the knowledge of where he had come from, but nothing else to connect him to his old life. There was no communication possible with the world left behind, nor knowledge in anyone in his new life that any other world even existed. In time, the new life had become his full reality, the past being only a vague memory. When he returned, it took some time for him to get used to the idea that 50 years had not really passed, but only a brief amount of time. To him, however, a full life of 50 years had passed, with a wife, children, and grandchildren. Those memories became a part of him, deeply effecting his life after.

Our life is similar. We came from a place of happiness, with loving parents, brothers, sisters of varying levels of closeness. We have been thrust into a body we have no idea how to make work, into a life completely foreign to the life we knew before, until our previous life fades to a vague memory that we soon forget. We live a full life, hopefully with a new family and friends, getting only impressions of where we were and where we are going after. When this life is over, we will return to the life we had before.

What will we find when we return? We know it will seem we were gone but a brief time. We will know the parents we left, the close brothers and sisters we left behind. We will remember every detail of both of the lives we have lived. Once again using our first life as a baseline, how will we see the new life we have lived? Joy? Horror? Tears? Outrage?

Who will we be when we wake?

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No such thing as random

Think of a number between one and ten.  Got it?  Odds are good you picked 5.  Also good you picked 7.  Most of us already have a favorite number picked, just waiting for someone to ask for it.  One of the big misconceptions about computers is that they can create random numbers.  They don’t.  They aren’t physically able to.  When we ask a computer for a random number, what it does is takes the date/time of the request, runs it through a complex mathematical algorithm, and returns the result.  If the time is set when the program is compiled, the request for a random number will give the same number every time it is run.

When we roll a 6 sided die, we would not have any chance of knowing the outcome of the roll with our un-enhanced, physical senses.  For the sake of any dice game, we call this random.  But, if we adjust the weight of the die so that it will more often come up with a six, it may still appear random to others, but we know it will not be.

Now then, if you could know the exact makeup of every surface of the die (not just the six obvious sides of the die, but the positioning of each atom), and also the makeup of the surface it will be landing on, as well as the rotation of the die, minor air currents, air temperature, lighting, various other substances on the die (sweat, skin, etc), and a number of other variables I’m not thinking of right now, you would be able to predict, with 100% accuracy, the result of the roll.

In the film “Jurassic Park”, they described this (rather badly) as chaos theory.  For them, in a nutshell, you can’t know all of the variables involved to predict any outcome.  As a limited human being, I agree with this sentiment.  There are people who are better at subconsciously taking account of these variables, but none of us is able to handle the sheer amount of data involved in predicting the outcome of even a simple flip of a coin.

This is where God comes in.  I do believe He is able to know all of the variables, and where needed, can make slight adjustments.  Nothing usually as blatant as knocking down a potential home run ball or goal kick, but in the setting of one particular atom reacting with others around it.  This is many orders of magnitude beyond what we can manage right now.  Even with computers, we have a hard time predicting the weather on any given day, but God knows where the rain needs to fall, down to the last drop.

This does not preclude choice on our part.  Think of it as knowing that God has the whole world in His hand, even accounting for all of the variables we introduce.  For God, random does not exist.

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Being guided to where I am now?

This week I’ve started a new job for the Church History Department, working on the library catalog systems.  As I’ve been learning more about the work I will be doing, it caused me to wonder if there wasn’t some hand in building me up to be ready for this position.

  • Five years ago, I worked as Quality Assurance for a law database called CourtLink.  It was the testing side of a process similar to this job; creating import and normalization scripts for importing library information from other libraries into our own database.
  • Four years ago, I moved to Utah (as I needed to be closer to my sons) and got a job with Ancestry.  It was my first experience as a developer, and the work I was doing revolved around tools and processes for data normalization.
  • Six months ago, I got a contract working for the Church, working with the Facilities Management system.  It got me introduced to the culture of working for the Church, and an added toe into being able to get other work within the Church.
  • Now I’m working on the Chuch History Library catalogs (which include a catalog for Family History), building import and normalization scripts to add data to the library database.

Am I just seeing patterns that are not really there, or did I end up on a path that prepared me for this job? The jobs I had before these (in telecommunications and desktop gaming) don’t really seem related, but at those times I wasn’t yet married again, and didn’t really need to provide for anyone but myself (and keep up child support).  Is this just another step leading me to somewhere I can’t see, or is it all a cosmic coincidence?

I don’t know.  I do know, however, that I will do my best to do this job well, no matter where life is taking me.

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Connecting the family

In the Doctrine & Covenants, an explanation is given to the verse in Malachi about “turning the hearts of children to the fathers”:

Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming. (D&C 138:48)

This is the reason for the work for the dead, baptism and sealings, that we do in the Temples. All the descendants of Adam will need to be bound together in family relationships. This brings up a variety of issues:

1. Forcing others to become Mormon
While we do baptize as proxy for all of our deceased relatives, whether or not they accept the baptism is their own choice. It is felt that it is better to do the work with the possibility of their rejecting it than to not do the work and have them remain clamoring for it. There was a time when the zeal for getting everyone baptized included random (and not so random) names from various lists, including places like death camps, but it has been repeatedly stressed that you should only do the work for your family, not strangers. Even for immediate family, it should be recommended to talk to those who are living about it before proceeding. If there are objections, then it may have to wait.

2. Sealings to parents or spouses you cannot accept
I’ve seen people worried that they are going to remain sealed to an abusive parent or spouse in the next life because of the sealings that were done at an earlier time. I am sure this is not the case. The Celestial Kingdom will be a place of ultimate joys, not of fear, hostility, or resentment. No matter what sealings were done, no matter what other ordinances were done, they cannot supersede the desire of the people involved. You will not spend forever with a person you cannot stand to be near.

3. Spiritual orphaning
We know that not everyone will accept the Gospel and desire to be sealed for eternity. This creates a minor problem for the others in the relationship. Since these sealings are necessary, it may be needed from time to time for people to be sealed as children to parents who were not their birth parents. I do not believe this will be done lightly, any more than the decision on your placement in your mortal family was done lightly. This should not be anticipated in mortality without all parties alive and in agreement, as we do not know the feelings of those who have passed on, no matter what documents they may have left behind.

Without a great number of records that do not exist or the personal recollections of those who are already dead, we will only be able to scratch the surface of all of the baptism and sealing work that needs to be done. It is, however, important that we do what we can now. It all needs to be done, or as it says in the scripture, the entirety of this world would be a waste.

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Time, Predestination, and God

Being a fan of Doctor Who, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the possibilities of time travel and the various theories there are about it.

One of the more popular ideas in SF (because it provides more possibilities) is in having multiple timelines, branching any time anyone has a choice about anything. Its the whole, “What would happen if I had turned right instead of left” thing. Me, I don’t believe it works this way, simply because I believe God is perfect and the multiple timelines theory would mean there was some branch where God was less than (or even not at all) perfect.

So for me, time is linear, with no splitting. So what does this mean for the idea of predestination and free will? Well, that’s where it gets tricky.

For example, your past is set. You decided you would read this post (at least this far). If you were able to go back in time, you would know what decision you would make as far as reading this post, before you had made the decision. Wild, eh?

This brings us to one of the classic time travel paradoxes, killing your own grandfather. The idea is that if you went back in time and inadvertently killed your grandfather before he had a chance to sire your father, you would never be born, in which case you would never go back to kill your grandfather, in which case you would be born, etc, etc. Since time is static (at least the past is, from your current perspective) this really isnt possible. You can’t go back and kill your grandfather simply because you didn’t. I’ve no idea what prevented it, but since you know your grandfather didn’t die before siring your father, you will never be successful in accomplishing the killing. Maybe you got held up in traffic. If you try, I guess you could find out, but since it wont work, why waste the time?

In order for anyone to travel through time, they would have to move out of the dimension of time. (Wha?) No, I don’t know how to do it. Think of it like this. Take a 2 dimensional surface, like a desk. Moving your rolodex from one place to another in those 2 dimensions is simply a matter of sliding it. At all times, it remains in those two dimensions. If you pick up your rolodex to move it, you remove it from those specific 2 dimensions, using a third, then return to the two dimensions.

Now just add the third and fourth dimensions, within which we all live. If you want to move to another point in the fourth dimension (time) since is moves inexorably in one direction, you would need to move outside of time. Get it? (honestly, it makes my head hurt)

Because of all this, including the dichotomy of our having free will (agency) and God having absolute command of everything that happens, this leads me to believe that God can exist, somehow, outside of time. Off the desk. From this vantage, he can see the entirety of our lives just as we will be able to once we are at the end of our lives.

I know its got problems, like the idea that God could affect all of our decisions to make us go one way or another (within the confines of our personal inclinations to do such things), but this is where I am right now. This is one of those big things I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to prove, but really look froward to learning in the afterlife.

I, personally, would love to time travel, but I’ve not yet dropped off a time travel device to me yet, so maybe I will be able to later, when the time is right.

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Waiting for the "next life"

One of the common complaints about any article or talk given about marriage or families is that those who are not in that category are ignored or pushed aside with the platitude “If you do not have this now, you will in the next life”. The feeling can be that those outside the ideal of having a temple marriage and children right now are ignored or reviled by those within the ideal.

Consider the following variations on the platitude:
Don’t worry if you don’t have children by the time you are 15, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you aren’t married by the time you are 20, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you don’t have children by the time you are 30, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you have not reached the ideal of your Heavenly Parents before you die, be it at 5, 50, or 100, you will at some point afterward.

How different is the platitudes’ request for patience in adulthood than when we tell children that they cannot have babies or get married until they are adults? The solution I see to this is the same, to place ourselves in submission to the timing given our lives by God, in the same way that children submit to adults.

Yes, waiting can be difficult. It can be full of heartaches from times where you thought you had reached the goal but found that it had moved to a seemingly impossible distance. However, because of the Plan of Salvation, because we know that life goes well beyond the limited number of years we have had so far, we can have hope that our attainment of the ideal, becoming like our Heavenly Mother and Father, will always be ahead of us and fully attainable, so long as we continue to pursue it.

On a related note, to reiterate what has been said many times, we should not judge the righteousness of others based on their progress in obtaining marriage, children, the Temple endowment, or any other point of their eternal progression. All of these points are commitments between that person and their Heavenly Parents, for the specific growth of that person in that manner. Your judgments, especially in these eternal issues, can injure others, but will also stunt your own growth, no matter what blessings you have previously attained.

Encourage, strengthen, weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and rejoice with those who have joy.

No matter what you do or do not have now, have patience with your own progress, and remember your Royal potential that lay ahead.

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