Friday, August 14, 2015

Pagan Christmas?

This morning while running I listened to a podcast about the history of Rome. The podcast's Christmas special (yeah, I know, Christmas in August--bear with me) explained how the date we use to celebrate Christmas probably stemmed from the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, or the unconquered sun. The celebration recognized that, after months and months of shrinking days and growing nights, the light was finally going to push back the darkness.

I've sometimes wondered about our decision to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, which really wasn't the day that Christ was born. However, I today I decided that I'm okay with it. Even if it isn't Jesus's literal birthday, the symbolism is stirring. The coming of the sun, or of the Son, will push back the darkness and save us from the bitter cold.

He is risen! He is risen!
He hath opened heaven's gate.
We are free from sin's dark prison,
Risen to a holier state.

Mike Duncan, "The History of Rome Christmas."
"He Is Risen!" LDS Hymns No. 199.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Clouds and Stars

A few days ago, I looked up at the night sky and had my breath taken away by the hundreds of stars that, even from the center of the city I live in, I could see.

Photo cred--Hubble Space Telescope
Today, the sky is so cloudy and grey that at times I can't even make out the mountains only a few miles away. Seeing stars would be completely impossible; looking up at the mass of grey, I could make myself imagine that there are no stars.

At times, I feel like I am able to look up into heaven and see God's promises for me shining as clearly as the stars. I am able to feel the peace of His assurances, and know with an eternal perspective that everything really will work out alright. Those are beautiful, sacred moments which I treasure.

At other times, as much as I strive to feel the way I do in those precious moments, all I can see is a wall of clouds a mile thick. If I let myself, I could start thinking that I had imagined those sweet assurances.

Metaphorically speaking, then, do the stars stop shining when I can't see them? When my temporal, earthly viewpoint isn't a good enough vantage to enjoy their light, are they still there?

I think the answer is yes. No amount of fog, smog, or anything else that might cover the sky could possibly dim the light of those fiery giants burning billions of miles away, unaffected by any of this world's climate changes and weather patterns.

In much the same way, no amount of worldly confusion or uncertainty could ever affect the promises God has made. The stars cannot be dimmed; their creator is even more sure.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sister Missionaries and Dating Decisions--My Story

This article was inspired by two things. First, a great blog post about the decision for sisters to serve a mission or not that you can read here. Second, a conference talk by Elder Cook that mentions being authentic and admitting your faults online. You can read that one right here.

A while ago, shortly after getting home from my two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Chile, I was talking to my older sister about my dating life. I mentioned that I had some interest in a certain girl. We had been on several dates, and I saw potential in our relationship. However, I had one concern, which I expressed to my sister: “Maybe,” I said, “I shouldn’t date at all right now, when the only girls around are the ones who stayed behind from missions. Maybe I should wait until the wave of missionaries gets home so that I can date and marry a Returned Missionary. That way I can be sure she’s really a good girl.”

My comment was motivated by my own extreme love for my mission. My mission was invaluable to me—it changed me for the better, and still, to this day, I thank God every day for the privilege he gave me of serving.

Luckily for me, my sister wasted no time at all in slapping some sense into me. Once the physical abuse was over*, she said something I’ve never forgotten. “Jason, it doesn’t matter if a girl has served a mission or not. It matters if a girl is following God’s plan for her. That’s what you should care about.”

She then went on to point out that not only had she not served a mission, but my mother hadn’t either. As I thought about what a fantastic mother mine was, and what a great wife she was to my dad, and what a great woman she was in general, I began to understand. As I thought about the intense, deep relationship that my sister has with her Savior, about the many times her testimony and habits had strengthened and improved mine, I understood a little bit more. And as I thought about other women in my life who I looked up to, including a close cousin and a seminary teacher, to name a few, I finally got it.

God matters. Missions, in and of themselves, don’t. Missions only matter when God says they matter—He is the one who gives them power and importance. And God, speaking through his prophet, President Thomas S. Monson,has said, “We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.”

Once I accepted that not every girl I knew was under orders from God to serve a mission, I became incredibly interested in learning about individual girls’ experiences in deciding if they should go. As I listened to the stories of my friends who had stayed home, I was impressed by their maturity and spirituality. Without exception, they spoke of periods of prayer, scripture study, and temple attendance before accepting that it was not God’s will for them to go on a mission. Some of them even mentioned how disappointed they were that God didn’t want them to go, and how they begged and pleaded to be allowed to before humbly accepting God’s personal commands. I felt chastened as I considered that every time I criticized a girl for choosing not to serve a mission, I was pridefully acting like my will was more important than God’s. 

I also began to ask my friends in the mission field, and returned sister missionaries for their stories. Their stories, too, involved prayer, scripture study, and temple attendance, and culminated either in a feeling of acceptance with their decision to serve a mission or in an unmistakable feeling that God wanted them to serve. As I listened to all of these stories, my respect for women in general grew.

In the end, then, I decided I did not need to date only Returned Missionaries. Instead, I have decided that the most important characteristic of the girls I date is that they love God above all else, and are actively trying to seek out and follow His will. I will respect and admire them whether they have served a mission or not.

*Because this is the internet, I feel duty-bound to point out that this was a sarcastic statement, and the only physical abuse my sister has ever inflicted on me was feeding me so much that I felt like I might explode.