Monday, September 29, 2014

Closing the Dopamine Highway of Addiction

"It starts out as a little trail in the weeds, but every time we walk down the trail it becomes more clearly defined." My doctor friend said this as we discussed a topic that many would probably rather avoid discussing in a church meeting: addiction.

According to the doctor, the destination to which the trail leads is dopamine, "a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers." In reality, dopamine's role in our brains is much more complex than this (see 7/2013 Slate article).

But the doctor's point is well taken. Walk down the trail often enough and it eventually turns into a broad and well worn highway, with dopamine acting like flashing multimedia billboards signalling the way to the desired pleasure response. When this pathway becomes enslavement to self destructive or harmful behaviors, we call it addiction, regardless of which negative behaviors are involved.

In this instance we were discussing an April 2014 general conference address by Linda S. Reeves about pornography, a topic that some find uncomfortable in any setting, especially at church. My doctor friend is grateful that the church is addressing this topic, but he felt that the talk was inadequate. It smacked too much of traditional tactics that have amounted to saying, "Go home and don't do that anymore, brother;" an approach that fails to appreciate the essence of addiction.

My doctor friend said that we are experiencing a pornography addiction epidemic. "When you have people continuously falling off a cliff, doing first aid on those at the bottom of the cliff isn't enough; you put up a fence at the top," he said.

In fairness to Sister Reeves, she had 12 minutes to address the topic of pornography for a very broad audience of millions of people of all ages and spiritual levels. She was mostly addressing prevention in her talk, so maybe she can be excused for inadequately discussing recovery. After discussing the importance of filters on devices she said:
"Filters are useful tools, but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us."
Statistics tell us that virtually all young people will be exposed to pornography by age 12 regardless of our best efforts to shield them. So it is important for them to learn what to do when these encounters happen. It is important for them to develop their own resilience in dealing with porn.

Prevention resources can be found on the church's Overcoming Pornography website. Primary In Zion offers this list of resources (2011). It is clear that society's trajectory is away from imposing cultural filters that would buffer family members from pornography, so families and private organizations must undertake this effort on their own.

The church has also undertaken a number of recovery measures. It currently offers a professionally designed addiction recovery program that is available to people dealing with addiction, family members of those dealing with addiction, and church leaders that need to know how to help people. In some areas you can anonymously attend meetings where you can get help. There are even call-in meetings.

A program known as Fortify is available for free to teens. Adults pay a one-time fee of $39. Part of this subsidizes teens in the program. Fortify is run by a nonprofit organization called Fight the New Drug that also offers a variety of (free) help methods and ways for volunteers to help others.

Your Brain On Porn is far edgier than church sponsored or related offerings. It lacks the kind of spiritual aspects seen in church resources, but it addresses everyday issues faced by people (especially guys) that habitually view porn.

As we discussed pornography addiction in church, a sentiment was expressed that men might turn to pornography if they find their marital sexual life unfulfilling (or even absent). I raised a strong voice against this idea. Marital health is tremendously important and it requires the active involvement of both partners. But it is completely inappropriate for anyone choosing to engage in destructive behavior to blame their spouse for this choice. If a marriage is having problems, it is important to get help. It is inappropriate to resort to porn for a dopamine fix. This is a way to introduce additional problems; not a way to fix existing issues.

Many people are still in denial about the negative effects of pornography. But it is easy to see the flotsam of wrecked lives and families that gimbal in the churn of its wake. It is not benign, nor is it a victimless form of entertainment.

Many people feel trapped, but there is help, hope, and healing available. The dopamine highway of destructive behavior that a person has developed may never go away in this life. But it can fall into such a state of disuse that it becomes overgrown and broken up. It's not an easy thing to accomplish. But there are many that have done it and that will tell you that others can do it too.

There is hope for preventing and dealing with pornography addiction.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pulling Down My One-Upmanship

"Latter-Day Saints are among the most generous people on earth," said the instructor in a church class I was attending. A brother in the room then called out, "And also among the most judgmental!" I could tell that the jibe was intended in all seriousness.

The comedian in me wanted to lampoon the irony of the man's statement by saying something flippant like, "In my judgment, that comment was rather judgmental" or "I see you have plenty of experience with being judgmental." But I restrained myself, realizing that anything I said in that vein would further detract from the lesson and would invite contention.

Mormons are far from perfect. We can learn much from criticisms of our culture and behavior. Joseph Smith admonished us to consider whether there is any truth in criticisms spoken of us. If so, we are to work to improve.

Moreover, the Lord has admonished us to "revile not against those that revile" (D&C 31:9). Nor are we to contend with those that contend against us (3 Nephi 11:29):
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
I heard a fellow tell of his anger against anti-Mormons that accosted him and his family on the sidewalk as they were heading to the open house of the recently dedicated Ogden Temple one hot summer day. Later as the man and his family were leaving the temple, he was humbled when he noticed smiling open house volunteers graciously bringing cool drinking water to the anti-Mormons in a literal demonstration of loving one's enemies (Matt 5:44).

The criticisms that sting the most are those that include a fair amount of truth. The natural man (Mosiah 3:19) in us wants to respond to such barbs by raising hackles and giving the critic a piece of our mind — naturally.

I have seen and taken part in plenty of unrighteous and self-righteous judgment of my fellow beings. Thus, when my friend unwittingly displayed his own judgmental attitude by projecting it onto his fellow church members, I felt to respond by mocking him, a sentiment that Alma2 warns us is cause for speedy repentance (Alma 5:30-31).

This is not to say that wrongs should not be corrected or that truths should not be boldly proclaimed. But it does mean that these activities should be undertaken in the spirit of humility and love. (Consider Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's balanced discussion of Christ-like love from the April 2014 general conference.)

Mercy is one of the Lord's most commonly mentioned traits, which he exercises according to his omniscience. Lacking his grand perspective, we are commanded to forgive everyone their trespasses whether we think they are deserving or not (D&C 64:9-11), even as we impose necessary consequences for misbehavior (D&C 64:12-14). Forgiveness in a spiritual sense does not necessarily mean removal of temporal consequences.

A few weeks have passed since the aforementioned judgmental comment was made. Yet despite my knowledge of the principles I have mentioned, part of me would still like to get the last word in on the subject. The natural man in me somehow thinks that acting in a judgmental manner will get my friend to reconsider his own judgmental attitude. In reality, it would likely just make my friend think that I'm a jerk without awakening the kind of self awareness I think he ought to develop.

Maybe I'd better get to work casting the beam out of my own eye before trying to remove the mote from my brother's (Matt 7:4-5).

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Won't Dessert Desserts

I have noticed that food has been mentioned a quite a bit in my blog posts over the years. I'm not obsessed with food. I just want to drive by food's house to see if food is home. (That's a riff on a Jim Gaffigan joke.)

OK, let's be honest. I am obsessed with food. It's the only way I have found to be successful in keeping the 60+ lbs off that I lost a couple of decades ago. (Please note that I'm not saying that this is true for everyone that has successfully lost weight. I just know how it works for me. Professionals would say that I have an eating disorder.)

While I am generally quite strict with my diet, I do take dietary vacations. And when I do, it often involves dessert foods. I think this puts me in pretty good company with my fellow Mormons. If actual practice were any indicator, researchers might easily conclude that dessert foods are central to Mormon life. We rarely hold any kind of activity where treats are not served. We often go so far as to turn treats into an art form.

I mean, we Mormons have a revelation on diet that very few of us bother to follow very closely. Oh, we're all over abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and illicit drugs. But we're not too hep on otherwise eating very healthy — except for a few of us that annoy everyone around us by incessantly noting how righteous our diet is. You know, kind of like being proud of how humble we are.

So, like most Mormons I know, I think about and sometimes even celebrate dessert foods. I sometimes even eat such treats. But I have my favorites, as do most people. This is one of those areas where diversity of opinion is perfectly acceptable. You can like what you like and I can like what I like. After all, there are so many options available.

A couple of years ago the Primary pulled me in for a Father's Day event where children guessed answers to questions about their dads. I was stunned when my kids failed to recognize that my ultimate favorite dessert item — first, last, and always — is ice cream. While I like a wide assortment of desserts, I will always opt for ice cream given the choice. (Unless it's got coconut in it. Then I'll pass.)

And, yes, I do have my favorite flavors and types of ice cream. Fine ice creams are delicious and wonderful. But there's nothing I like better than a thick ice cream milkshake; the kind that is so thick that it sticks up higher than the rim of the cup and can't be sucked through a straw.

I also am quite fond of cones dipped in candy coating (usually chocolate) that gets hard. Nobody in the universe (that I know of) makes these dipped cones better than Dairy Queen. If you think I'm wrong on that point, please direct me to anyplace you think is superior and I will do my own personal taste test if possible.

I believe dessert foods to be fine when eaten in moderation. I don't indulge in dessert foods with enough frequency to appreciably harm my health. If I were eating this stuff everyday it would be a different story. When it comes to dietary health, how you eat on a daily basis has far greater impact than how you eat on rare occasions.

Humans have a multifaceted relationship with food that is not well understood. It has always been thus. But today our economic conditions allow vast swaths of people access to wide varieties of food options. I am amazed by the selection in the town where I live of 300+ restaurants that cater to a tremendous variety of tastes and budgets.

My brother was once talking with a coworker that had managed to lose quite a bit of weight. He told my brother that his secret was to sever his emotional relationship with food, seeing it purely as fuel. Most people could only endure such a dreary view of food under conditions of extreme hardship. After all, it pleases God to bless his children with food to please the heart, gladden the eye, strengthen the body, and enliven the soul (see D&C 59:15-20).

A few years ago I read an interview with a nationally renowned dietitian. The interviewer wanted her to specify which foods should never be eaten. The dietitian refused to take the bait, insisting that there are no bad foods, only bad diets. She said that many foods that we perceive as decadent are perfectly fine in the proper amount as part of a balanced diet.

So I figure that it's fine and even psychologically healthy to enjoy dessert foods. As a measured part of a healthy diet, of course.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

If I Like Something, You Have to Like It Too, Right?

Years ago I became alarmed when I found myself on a seemingly nonstop weight gain trajectory. I radically altered my diet and began exercising. I opted for a diet focused on complex carbohydrates, a little protein, and very little fat. (This was all the rage at the time.) I also started doing aerobic fitness walking for an hour each day. The excess pounds melted away so that I dropped 60 lbs over the space of a year.

I was so pleased with my results and so certain that my diet regimen was the best thing on the face of the earth (and certain that it was divinely approved — see D&C 89:10-16) that I became convinced that everyone else should eat as I did. I mean, why wouldn't they?

In fact, I made quite a pest of myself to family and friends as I evangelized about the dietary regimen that I was convinced was the right diet for everyone everywhere. My good wife gently and patiently (with great care over the space of many months) helped me understand how obnoxious I had become. I eventually backed off. But it still took a long time for family and friends to relax their guard around me.

We currently have some family members that refuse to understand that others have different tastes than themselves. Or if they do understand this, they think that those with differing tastes are on the wrong path and need to be redeemed. This can frequently be seen in matters such as food or music. For example, one child that dislikes cheese is frequently harangued by several others that think that it is one of the greatest foods ever invented. Why can't they leave him alone?

Why is it that we sometimes badger others over matters of simple preference? Humans seem to have a boundless capacity for failing to appreciate diversity of opinions about what ought to be mundane matters.

Perhaps our unrecognized insecurity makes differing points of view seem like a threat to our own thinking on a given matter. We are so subconsciously horrified by the idea that we might be wrong that we insist that others that don't adopt our views are misguided or even evil. This sentiment can regularly be seen among sports fans that support rival teams.

Rational people ought to be able to recognize that very rarely do any of us operate on anything close to perfect understanding on any matter. Even all of us together often lack a complete understanding most matters. We all have only bits and pieces of any issue well nailed down. Isn't it possible that different opinions often result from the blind men describing an elephant paradigm? In many (most?) cases humility should rule.

Of course, there are limits to the 'to each his own' line of thinking. While it may be perfectly acceptable for different people to prefer different automobile brands, musical styles, fields of study, clothing styles, hobbies, and occupations, it wouldn't do to consider a penchant for murdering other people to be an acceptable method of self expression. Those that inflict real harm on others must be dealt with.

But in many cases we insist on being tyrants over far lesser matters. Our perceived good intentions blind us to our own infringements on others. Christian thinker C.S. Lewis famously wrote:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
It is one thing to invite others to willingly accept our views. It is quite another to insist that our views are so correct that others must alter their own thinking to conform with ours. Especially reprehensible is when we seek to enforce our views through coercive power. While there are certainly times when this is necessary (such as when locking up murderers), appeal to coercive control is far too often undertaken in cases where diversity of opinion and/or action ought to be accepted, even if it annoys us.

Regardless of how right we think we are and how much we think that our ideas would benefit and/or protect others, improper use of coercive action to get others to conform to our ideas constitutes unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39). Our desire to help others turns into an exercise of power. Why are we so blind to the insidiousness of our personal evil in such situations — even to the point of believing ourselves to be doing good as we act wickedly?

This is one of humanity's great deceits. It is the reverse of the Savior's pattern of inviting others to "come and follow me" (Matthew 19:21). And we all suffer from it on occasion. Sometimes we insist that such an approach is morally acceptable if we can get enough people to vote as we wish. We may fool ourselves, but might does not make right.

May each of us become more aware of the times we seek power over others, even (especially?) when we think we are doing it for their own good. And may we then choose better.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Could a Dynamic LDS Hymn Selection Enhance Worship?

As I wrote in this 2010 post, I very much enjoy many Mormon hymns. I also mentioned in that post that there are some songs in the LDS hymnal that I don't much care for. But mine is just one opinion among millions.

Although I don't currently serve in a church calling that directly involves music, I am often the go-to guy to substitute leading the music in meetings. I get to accompany on the piano with some regularity. And when all other options have fallen through, the opportunity to play the organ in sacrament meeting sometimes falls to me as the ward's unofficial fourth string organist.

Sometimes when I lead the music all I can see from the podium is a load of somber faces with about a third of them not even bothering to try to sing. Elder Dallin H. Oaks once described a similar experience. I try to be warm and enthusiastic when I lead the music, but some hymns don't evoke much passion.

This D-News article says that "The trend toward informal and entertaining and exuberant worship services ... continues to climb" in the US. The number of churches where "people jump, shout or dance during the main service" is steadily increasing. Not so much (if at all) among Mormons. Nor do I expect to see much variation in this pattern during my lifetime.

Latter-Day Saint worship services are firmly rooted in the church's early pioneer cultural heritage. Many early leaders and saints came from New England where puritanical protestantism reigned. Most of the early converts from outside of North America came from conservative northern European protestant cultures where solemnity was seen as properly pious behavior for worship services, while any type of exuberance in a worship setting was seen as a throwback to degenerate hedonistic paganism.

The patterns established by early saints continue to strongly influence Mormon meetings. Consequently, we Mormons don't get too excited about anything during our worship services. Although people claiming to have the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ ought to be the happiest people on the face of the earth, Mormon congregations tend not to look very happy during meetings. Or even very alert. Our music lends to this. But is it possible that we could see this pattern change somewhat in the future?

In this LDS Living article, well known entertainer and Mormon convert Gladys Knight (the "Empress of Soul") says, "Our congregations are filled with a growing diversity of people from different races and cultures. I look forward to the day when we embrace their music without feeling uncomfortable." When I read this I felt like uttering a soulful "Amen!" I'd love to see this happen.

There have long been some cultural variations in Mormon worship services around the globe. In Norway where I served as a missionary, congregations could sing The Spirit of God so sedately that one could easily doze off mid verse. While in Central America where my wife served, congregations tend to sing Secret Prayer with gusto.

Wouldn't it be great to see more cultural diversity encouraged in our worship patterns? One way this could happen is through our hymns. But the slow adoption of new hymns presents a significant roadblock to this goal. Our current LDS hymnal was released almost three decades ago. The previous hymnal was released three and a half decades earlier.

Last Sunday I didn't see a hymnbook nearby as we prepared to sing. So I whipped out my phone, pulled up a hymn app, and quickly navigated to the correct hymn. My daughter and I used the phone to sing. Given that the church has gone heavily into online and mobile multimedia, wouldn't it be relatively easy to release new hymns without waiting for a new hymnal to be published three times per century?

I realize that many church members do not have electronic devices that could display hymns. Some that have such gear can't fathom using it that way. And maybe it's too early to stock screen devices in chapels in highly developed regions, let alone in less developed areas. But maybe the church could try a pilot program, as it often does with other things. It seems like technology should allow our hymn repertoire to be much more dynamic than it is.

Besides, tech writer Bret Swanson tells us that within a decade we can expect iPhones to cost $3 apiece. Maybe we aren't that far away from the point where technological advance will make it cheaper to stock LDS chapels with electronic devices containing a vast array of church media than to stock the pews with hardbound hymnbooks.

A whole generation of hymns has been produced since our current LDS hymnal was published. Most new hymns to which I have been exposed still sit comfortably in the staid puritanical culture of early Mormon pioneers. Is it not possible to be appropriately worshipful outside of this narrow culture? I'd love to be exposed to Mormon hymns written from different cultural perspectives. Heck, I'd love to play and sing those hymns. Is there any good reason in this day and age that we should be limited to 341 hymns?

I realize that hymn singing is a joint cultural experience for members of a congregation. It is also likely true that the average Mormon congregant living where Mormon culture is most dense has strong familiarity with fewer than 50 hymns — the same songs we sing week after week. While this familiarity has value, so could the practice of learning and singing new hymns on a regular basis.

But even the possibilities that I have suggested fall short of Gladys Knight's vision. She sees Mormons generally embracing and being comfortable with worshipful music from the cultures of those joining our congregations around the world. Indeed, she sees diverse worshipful singing as a pathway to something closer to our celestial goal. How soon can we go there?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 Becomes a Foreign Country

"Dad, what's 9/11 all about?" my daughter asked me last night. I was a little stunned. Doesn't everyone understand this? Well, no.

My daughter's oldest siblings were old enough to have some grasp of what was going on that fateful day. Her immediately older siblings have picked it up through social osmosis. Having been born after the event, my daughter doesn't quite understand it. I suspect she will never get it in quite the same way as those of my generation.

Sept. 11, 2001 was an incredibly poignant day. I will never forget it. The day started out normal. The report of the first airplane striking one of the World Trade Center towers was announced on the radio during our commute to work as most of us in the car dozed. We turned up the radio and listened as they reported the second aircraft striking another tower.

We went through the workday in a daze, not getting much work done. Nobody knew for sure what was going on. People were glued to the internet and to the TVs in the break room. More attacks. The Pentagon was hit by a plane. A plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The first tower fell around lunchtime. The second just before we left work.

Not much was said as we rode home listening to the radio. What was there to say? I remember the somber mood, the sense of helplessness, and the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The next morning American flags were flying on houses and businesses everywhere as we made our way to work, but these displays evoked little joy. We knew more, but we still felt confused, dark, hurt, angry, and powerless.

The following year scout troops in the area erected American flags throughout their neighborhoods on 9/11. I had mixed feelings about it at the time. I understood that it was a demonstration of American resolve, but it could easily be seen as a commemoration of the terrorist attacks. Why on earth would we want to celebrate such evil deeds?

Much has happened since then as our country has tried to come to grips with the reality that was roughly thrust upon us that day 13 years ago. In hindsight I have many problems with the responsive actions that have been undertaken. As each year has passed I have noticed steadily fewer American flags being flown on 9/11.

This is not without fairly recent historical precedence. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 (which became the main proximate inducement for US involvement in WWII), many people observed 12/7 for years. But observance had fallen off to a polite mention by the time I was a school child a quarter century later. I was in junior high before I gained any context on the matter.

This is as it must be. We study history to gain context that we hope will allow us to better govern our future. We study history not only to better understand our predecessors, but to better understand ourselves. We crave to know who we are and why we are who we are. We hope that the past can give us some insight into that.

But it has been observed that the past is a foreign country that none of us can ever visit. We will forever be outsiders looking in. Also, our study of the past is almost always interrupted by real time events imposing themselves upon us. History necessarily takes a back seat to the immediate moment where our lives are lived.

Besides, William E. White of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tells us in this article that "There is no truth to the adage that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. We can never repeat history. The unique combination of people, place, time, conditions and opportunity will never occur again in the same way." We can, however, learn from history, even if, as White reminds us, the interpretation of history is always up for debate.

I was trying to think of a clever way to say that 9/11 fading into history is a good thing in a way. But that's about the same thing as saying that it has both pros and cons. And that's kind of an inane thing to say. The event will fade into history as the natural order of things. It's not necessarily good or bad; it just is.

And while I will never forget experiencing that fateful day, my memories are now informed by 13 years of additional context that alter my perception of those memories.

Last night I (with help from two of my other children) gave my daughter a 60-second explanation of what 9/11 was all about. There was no time for a deeper history lesson, nor was she asking for such. I hope to give her more context with time. But like others with no first person memory of the event, 9/11 for her will forever be a foreign country that she will never visit.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Doing LDS Scouting the Right Way

Mac McIntire addresses some profound truths in this LDS-BSA Relationships post. I encourage all to read the relatively short post because paraphrasing or repeating part of it is simply inadequate.

Brother McIntire tells how, after two stints as ward Young Men president, he still had little use for the Scouting program, which officially is the activity arm of the YM organization in the LDS Church. Why not just run a program similar to what the Young Women do?

When Br. McIntire shared his thoughts with his bishop, the good bishop responded, "Brother McIntire, maybe the prophet knows something you don’t know about Scouting. Maybe you should pray about it and find out why Scouting is the Lord’s program for the young men."

You will want to read what happened when a humbled Br. McIntire followed his bishop's counsel. Suffice it to say, Br. McIntire now loves Scouting. He offers this challenge: "I encourage you to pray for a testimony of Scouting. Pray to know what the prophets know. Pray to know what I now know."

The anti-Scouting sentiment that Br. McIntire once felt seems to be quite common among LDS Church members in North America. Even — perhaps especially — among men called to serve in the YM organization. Given that Scouting is a prophetic priority, perhaps we would do well to humbly consider what the root source of these unfavorable opinions might be.

In this July 2014 Ensign article, Christopher M. Grimes discusses the challenges he faced after being called to serve as Varsity coach, following his service as bishop. His initial experiences seem to echo what I wrote in this May 2012 post about how poorly Varsity Scouting is currently implemented in many LDS units.

Br. Grimes tells how his "eyes were opened" by becoming properly trained and working to implement the Varsity program instead of reinventing the wheel every week. He found that his love for each young man he served grew immensely. He writes, "Scout training made my calling 10 times easier, and we had 10 times the results."

I suppose that the main reason that some men in YM and bishopric positions fail to properly implement the Scouting programs is that they think it will be too hard — much harder than throwing together their own program. They think the benefit won't be worth the cost. This line of thinking is a diabolical deception from the adversary.

The Lord has put together a program that is designed to produce the best outcomes for our young men. The Lord promises to help and even carry us as we follow his plan. When we follow our own alternative plan we are on our own and have no such promise from the Lord (see D&C 82:10). Br. Grimes discovered this when he found that following the Scouting program was much easier and produced far superior results than following his own program.

I have seen a lot of mediocre LDS Scouting (see October 2007 post, June 2009 post) and a lot of Scouting done the wrong way (see February 2013 post). But I have also seen LDS Scouting done well (see October 2011 post, November 2011 post). Let me tell you that there is a world of difference between the two. No, there is an eternity of difference between the two for many of the young men that are served by the program.

I echo Br. McIntire's invitation. Seek your own testimony of God's prophetic priority for young men. Then work to implement that priority. You will be blessed as you do so.

Friday, September 05, 2014

What Will Your Obituary Photo Look Like?

Do you ever wonder what your obituary photo will look like? (See Pickles comic #1, Pickles comic #2.) Maybe, like my dad, you simply don't care. His philosophy was that posthumous cultural practices are for the benefit of the living, so he refused to give much thought to things like his obituary and funeral.

I have noticed that obituary photos tend to come in several varieties that might be represented by a grid that looks something like this:

A Few Years Old
Very Old
Mix of New/Old
High Quality

Average Quality

Low Quality

Obituary photos tend to fit into one of the boxes in this grid. When it comes to quality, some are awful (grainy or just a horrible shot) at one end of the scale and some are professional and polished at the other end. When it comes to age, some are recent while others come from a high school graduation that occurred 65 years earlier.

Occasionally I wonder why some survivors publish such lousy pictures of their deceased loved ones. It could be that the loved one was not very loved. Or maybe they were like a friend's uncle who increasingly detested photos of himself as he became older and grouchier; so much so that the most recent photo his family could find after he passed was about two decades old. Even then it was a lousy photo where someone had captured the man unawares. I guess the fellow brought his dreadful obituary photo on himself.

I suppose that more often people just get out of the habit of having professional photos taken as they age. They tend to get family photos while the kids are at home. And they can't escape being in their kids' wedding photos. Many get photos with the clan when the grandkids are young. But later in life they just don't do it anymore. This seems to be especially true during widowhood. This leaves survivors with a smaller selection of photos to pick from.

Another situation that occurs is when family members have been so focused on caring for a loved one in failing health that any thought of an obituary photo comes only after the decease. Sometimes the belongings of the decedent are stored in such a way (often due to end of life moves) that no one can find any of their good photos.

Maybe the problem will be completely reversed when members of today's selfie generation reach their demise. Survivors will have way too many photos to choose from. Of course, despite technological advances, I have seen precious few selfies that would be of the nature and quality that most folks would want to display in an obituary. So the selection might be abundant but dubious. I also wonder how well enthusiasm for taking selfies will be sustained as today's youth advance into their elder years.

It is not uncommon to see photos posted from an era that nobody living can remember. Why do people do that? Many friends and family that look at the picture have no idea who it is.

When Dad passed away, Mom decided that she wanted a picture that reminded her of when they first met along with a more recent photo. That kind of thing is done regularly as well. We had a professional photo that had been taken not long before Dad got sick. The young adult photo, however, was a problem because Mom wanted the one from Dad's passport when he emigrated from Germany to the US. The photo had some flaws (a rivet and a stamp). My brother scanned the photo and sent it to a guy he knew that was a Photoshop guru. It came back a few hours later looking pristine.

None of us wants to think much about our eventual demise. But the fact remains that the Grim Reaper will get each of us eventually. You can make it a lot easier for your survivors by getting decent photos taken of yourself on at least a somewhat regular basis. Share those photos with anyone that you think might be part of deciding what to do about your obituary. You might also want to share anything you want (or don't want) in your obituary to avoid ending up with questionable text.

Or just let it roll. You never know what kind of entertaining material your survivors might come up with.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Temples and Tender Mercies

"It had been a couple of years since I had been to the temple," the sister said. "But I had been working with the Bishop and had finally gotten a new temple recommend."

This sister had raised her hand to volunteer to respond to an invitation by the Bishop in his fifth Sunday lesson for ward members to discuss special feelings they had experienced while attending the temple. I knew that it took courage for this sister to talk about this. She has seen significant trials and challenges in her life. Quite honestly, I have for the most part done nothing to help, having no idea what I could do that would be beneficial.

Being that our local temple has been closed for renovation, this sister ended up going to a nearby temple that she had never previously attended. She arrived early to make sure that she could manage parking and getting ready for the session on time. Things went smoothly, providing her ample time to sit quietly in the chapel listening to the reverent organ music.

"I sat there alone. It's okay, I didn't really feel a need to have anyone with me. I've gotten used to it," she said, alluding to some of the family challenges she continues to face. She had told no one outside of her immediate family about her plan to attend the temple that day. She explained how the Bishop had told her to pray for and to expect to receive a tender mercy from the Lord while in the temple.

"As people were filtering into the chapel," she said, "in walked my visiting teacher, the one person that has been with me and stood by me through all of my trials over the past few years. She came and sat by me, saying that she was surprised to see me at that session. She said that she usually didn't go to that session but had come with some other sisters that wanted to attend that session."

The sister said, "I wondered why the Lord had sent this good sister to sit by my side. I didn't really feel a need to have someone with me. But then I recognized that it was a tender mercy from the Lord. It was his way of showing me that he loves me and cares about me individually, despite all that I have gone through."

So many wonderful lessons can be derived from this sister's brief comments.
  • There is value in making changes necessary to receive a temple recommend.
  • The temple allows for reverent worship apart from the concerns of the world.
  • How much more meaningful can temple service be if we attend with the prayerful expectation to receive a tender mercy from the Lord?
  • Perhaps we can even be part of providing a tender mercy for another if we are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
  • It is always valuable to know within our souls how much the Lord loves us, even when we don't feel like we deserve his love.
It was a tender mercy for me to hear this sister share her experience. I know that I will be more purposeful the next time I go to the temple.