Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Torture and Mormonism

This past week I had an interesting exchange on Facebook. I found out that one of the psychologists that designed torture techniques used under the Bush administration was called to be a bishop. This confused and concerned me. While I do believe strongly in the principle of repentance and change, I am very concerned that someone who had broken the law of the United States so severely could still be considered for a leadership position. How could this man have been involved in such an endeavor? And to call him to a leadership position seems risky; it was sure to call media attention to this man. This man may feel regrets for his actions. I do not know him. It is not my place to say what he feels or what he does not feel. I think, however, that this does raising interesting questions about morality and Mormonism. 

After saying all of this, I was (ironically) attacked for judging this man. I will post some disturbing and sad comments below.

"I'll keep my opinions of Joanna Brooks to myself. I see your points, but I think your selection of article makes a difference in how people perceive your initial argument. If you brought up an article simply about "hey, this Mormon guy helped design controversial torture tactics", people would focus on the morality of Mormons and torture. But the article you found was one that was casting aspersion onto his divinely-inspired calling because of his past involvement in torture. For me, that changed my interpretation of the issue from "ethics of torture" to "ethics of divine inspiration," and thus changed my response. There are probably a few reasons we don't have official Church positions on every possible moral dilemma: allowing people to seek their own inspiration to not be "commanded in all things," because there are SO many unique scenarios to address, or maybe because sometimes there are righteous exceptions (like Nephi and Laban). Personally, we can all pray for personal inspiration or seek advisement from priesthood leaders when we have questions and when the Church's position is unclear. Publicly, does it matter? Those who tout their to-the-letter religious devotion in the public arena, looking for approval of their image, were rebuked by Christ for being prideful. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what other people think of us. What kind of change are you calling for? If administrative changes need to happen, God will inform those who have responsibility for those changes - they're the men that we sustained less than a month ago in General Conference. I don't know enough about the situation on interrogation techniques to offer any answers there; maybe it was somehow like a Laban experience where Nephi didn't think the cost of a life was more than the benefit of escaping Jerusalem with a copy of the scriptures, but God approved (and commanded, that time) anyway. People don't often seem satisfied with the answer "I don't know," but sometimes it's all God gives us right now."

"Jacob, how many people are called unqualified? Almost all. You're disregarding the Atonement entirely. Why pull a mote when you've got a beam now you know just as well as I that torture is never justified. I protested its practice during recent wars when I was in high school. But I sin too. And far be it from me to criticize the Life's judgements. Even if it is wrong, all things will come full circle in the end."

"Katie is right. And I will never put stock in the many observers and commentators of Mormonism who believe there is "grave underdevelopment in the public morality and political theology of contemporary Mormonism”. God's church and His doctrine is perfect, though his people aren't. The fullness of the Gospel has been restored, there is no imperfection in God's morality nor His theology. The world scorns the church using their imagined perception of what true morality is, but they are just plain wrong, which is why I don't heed their complaints in any way."

Grave underdevelopment in the public morality and political theology of contemporary Mormonism holds no water apparently? After extensive research, I still cannot find anything on lds.org about torture. Saints are called upon to proclaim peace frequently in articles about war (a topic closely related to torture), but there is no codified theological teaching when it comes to torture. In another sad incident, I recently read an article that touched on the issue of a young Mormon woman in Iraq who committed suicide because she did not agree with the torture techniques being used. She was told by her superior officers that this war on terror was "different" and that these techniques were necessary. Necessary? Would you lose your humanity to "gain" a sliver of protection? 

There is a moral conflict here. It cannot be ignored. What did happen to love your neighbor? Would you want anyone to torture you or your family? What were Christ's teachings about enemies? Surely we must defend ourselves when necessary, but to stoop to the level of the "enemy" makes us no better than they are. Let's remember what Christ said about loving your enemy. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Ward and Changes?

Moving into new wards at BYU is almost more of a habit for me at BYU. Since last year, I have been in three wards. I seem to luck out every other time at BYU when it comes to wards. Freshman year I had an excellent ward that I loved. After coming back from my mission, I disliked my ward for a variety of reasons that I won't discuss here. The FLSR ward was awesome. But now I am in that every other ward rut again. 

I am not typically a judgmental person, but I have some beef with maybe just people in general lately? I feel like there is this sense of entitlement that people have. They deserve certain things. Frankly, we really don't deserve much of anything.  I feel like as a fairly nice guy, I often get the short end of the stick. I often am left to do more of the work while others can play and mess around. Then again, that makes me seem like I have a sense of entitlement. Sigh. Human emotions. Hypocrisy. All so complex. Someone help me figure out this jumbled life. 

On another note, my roommates may both be leaving. My mission companion doesn't like Utah and doesn't like living far from school (UVU). He may move next semester. Personally, I think that he won't last in Utah. Not to say he isn't a good guy, Utah just isn't his thing. And so I may be playing the roommate game again. Sigh. Two new roommates. That would be interesting. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Missions and Mormon Culture

Today my coworker that I worked with when I first started working at the ELC came in to see me today. She is a very pleasant girl and is one of the most friendly people that I have met at BYU. She's also a hard worker and seems to know what she wants. I was talking to her about the mission announcement and she told me about her experience with it. She felt that she should go on a mission.

It was obvious that today the talk of the town was the new ages for missionaries. Every other conversation that I heard on campus focused on the new ages. I heard more girls than I have ever heard talking about missions as I walked past the Benson, the JKB, the JFSB, and the library. I can only imagine in five years how BYU culture will have changed. I imagine higher average age of first semester freshman and a major influx of Sister RMs. I think to my mission in Thailand and imagine the sheer number of Thai Saints who will be serving. There's only one problem.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my mission and I wouldn't trade it for the world. This being said, however, I feel that in Mormon culture and maybe even sometimes in our teaching of Church doctrine we tend to glamorize missionary work. You don't get a blessing, put on a badge and magically become a perfect human being. Missions are full of imperfect people who are trying to do their best (for the most part). Missions are extremely difficult. There are days where you can't imagine going out in the 100 degree heat, or the negative 20 degree cold to tell disinterested people about Jesus Christ. There are other days where every appointment falls through, your companion is mad at you for some reason that you don't understand, and the food makes you sick to your stomach. You have days where you realize that you can't teach an investigator any more or that the family that you are teaching is simply เกรงใจ rather than genuinely interested. You wake up in the area where you have never had investigators and don't know how you can go on. For some on their missions, these days never end. They come back, disillusioned and tired. We have many who end up leaving the Church over this. Some people never talk about their mission because of this. I, however, am not really one of those people.

My mission was hard. Some of those memories are from my own experience during my two years in Thailand. I think, however, that the mission (and almost everyone's mission) is a defining experience nonetheless. You learn how to teach. You learn how to get along with people. You try to learn how to love other people. You learn that life never works out as planned. A mission is two years, but it feels like a lifetime of experience. However cliche that may sound, it is an accurate statement. For me (and this is just my experience), I also came to know that God really does love everyone. I remember one day, sitting in our small apartment on the West Side of Bangkok, I was talking with my companion about rejection. I told him to look at the map that bought and put on the wall. I told him to imagine how many people we talked to everyday. Imagine the rejection we got. Daily. Hourly. Every second of every day. Now imagine how God feels when God just wants to love you. God doesn't really ask much from us. We have to develop that pure and true love of God. We often hear the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin." If you are looking at someone and calling them a sinner, then you don't have the love of God. During Jesus' ministry to the Nephites, he never once used the word "sinner" in all of his discourse. The love of God, although hard for us to understand, is unconditional. God is sad when we make mistakes, but as our Father, he simply wants us to do our best. I tend to think that God knows our potential and guides us to reach it, but when we falter, He understands how hard life is. But that's another tangent for another day.

In the end, I am curious to see how this changes Mormon culture. Anyone have any thoughts?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

7-11 and Fridays

This Friday night all of my roommates were gone. I didn't really look forward to spending the night with an empty house. I hadn't made any plans because I figured I would want some alone time. I also knew that my mission would be having a reunion. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. While I loved my mission and I liked the people in it generally, there are some people that are better to avoid. Eventually, my friend convinced me to go with him. On the way there and during the reunion we talked about life, the universe, and everything in between. He is working on the campaign for Scott Howell's Senate campaign. I haven't seen this friend in a while. We also talked about the complications that one of our mutual friends is having in his life. Life is much more complicated after more than a year of being home from a mission.

After our brief appearance at the reunion, I went grocery shopping. And then, for some odd reason, on the way home I decided to stop by 7-11. I can't tell you how many memories I have of 7-11 in Thailand. Laab burgers, Thai custard buns, Lactasoy, grilled cheese sandwiches, prik phaw potato chips. The smells and tastes of certain foods bring back vivid memories of many days. Christmas in Roi Et. Songkraan in Chiang Mai.  From the one by the church in Bangkapi, to the one at the front of our street in Ubon, Seven (as Thais call it) brings back a host of memories- some positive, others more difficult to process. Life was so much easier back then. I stopped in at Seven, got some hot chocolate, and headed home.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tender Mercies

Ever since Elder Bednar's April 2005 talk the phrase "tender mercies" has entered into the Mormon vocabulary. Personally, I hate this phrase because it has become so cliché in Mormon culture. This being said, however, I like to think that there are happenings in our lives that are very much inspired by God.

Today didn't start off very well. I woke up late because I had been up late the night before doing homework and cleaning. I woke up, took a shower, had a quick breakfast, and finally left for the day, thinking that I would hop on my bike and be able to make it on time for my first class of the day. I went outside and discovered that my bike had been stolen. I walked to campus, arriving in my 8 a.m. class late. After that, I felt very groggy the entire day. I mean it wasn't that bad. It could have been better. Anyhow, I was walking across campus along the west side of the bookstore when I heard someone call my name. I ran into my friend that I haven't seen since she returned from her mission. I was surprised to see her since I hadn't know that she was attending BYU. 

We were talking for a bit. I could sense there was something troubling her. We continued to talk for a time, until she began to talk about how things had been so difficult for her lately. I listened and my heart ached for her. We tried to work through a few things. I gave her what little advice I could. She seemed happier when I finally left. She told me at one point that it made her day to see me.

I don't want to toot my own horn. That's not what the purpose of this post is. In the end, my bike is replaceable. I can catch up on sleep. Bad days pass. My bad day shouldn't prevent me from making someone else's day better. I am not the center of the universe. Just because I am having a bad day doesn't mean I can't be charitable or caring. There are opportunities all around us to make other people feel better, even when we haven't had the best day. And I felt touched to know that for a small moment, I could help someone feel a little less pain. Other people's feelings are so important. Take time to help someone. You'll be glad you did. 

Friday, September 28, 2012


This year I have been living with a mission companion and an engaged linguistics major. It has been an interesting experience to say the least. Let's compare and contrast our schedules a little bit. My mission companion is a student at UVU, taking 12-14 credits with no job. My engaged linguistics major roommate, on the other hand, is taking four credits and working 30 hours a week (but even this is questionable). Both of them tend to never get up before 9:00 or 10:00. Then there's me. I work two jobs totaling about 20 hours a week. I am taking 15.5 credits. And they aren't easy credits. I have seven classes all together. Granted, one of them is a swimming class (an excellent choice, by the way)

But the point of my post is not to bash my roommates per se. I guess the thing that is insane to me is how adrift my other roommates seem. My mission companion never seems to have homework whereas I have been inundated with all kinds of work. The other roommate is always hanging out with his girlfriend and always seems to have nothing to do. This environment is kind of hard to live in because when people are adrift, they tend to be messy and have no regard for others. My mission companion is the exception- he will help occasionally or notice my contributions.  But I also feel bad because I can't give him the attention that he probably wants from me. The other night I was doing homework all night and he was very adrift. He needed some interaction that I just couldn't give him. I think it's hard for him to be in Provo with so few friends here in Utah. On the other hand, I have never seen my other roommate do any kind of cleaning. It took him two weeks to put his suitcases away.

How can I survive in an environment that is so adrift? Any suggestions for surviving an environment where being adrift is the norm? What keeps you from being sucked into the cycle of being adrift?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Double Playing

My first semester back at the Y, I decided to take piano lessons again. This was my first experience with a male piano teacher. He was a good teacher, but far too intense sometimes and also frequently finished the lesson by telling me what was disappointing about my playing for him that week. But I feel like for some reason,  his unique mannerisms taught me a lesson that I probably won't forget.

I've always been a perfectionist. Ask anyone who knows me. I am the kind of person who is very hard on myself and must always correct any mistake that comes before me. My teacher told me once that I was "double-playing" which made him very "sad." Double-playing basically means that you replay a passage of a piece with the correct notes or you correct a wrong note you played. He told me that this is something we must avoid, we simply have to plow through our mistakes.

I guess I thought of this with my last post that I also posted this night. This incident took place months ago. I gave up on this piano teacher. But I think I sometimes forget about the double-playing. I shouldn't expect my life to be a flawless performance. In fact, if it were a flawless performance, it doesn't seem like there would be much to learn. I am not trying to be particularly profound here, I am just trying to be honest. Perfectionism, while a seemingly good pursuit, can often make you look and sound silly, much like double-playing. Many times, people will not notice the mistakes in your playing or, if they do, they will forgive them. If you do, however, go back and double-play, they will be sure to remember your mistakes. Our lives are like this. If you move on from your mistakes, correct those only needed (in the piano analogy, that correction would come through careful practice; not correcting automatically while playing), and don't try to double-play your life, you will be happier, and your life will be more of the performance that you want. Otherwise, you end up with a sloppy performance that sounds worse than you think because you did double-play.

Bottom line: don't double-play and learn to plow through those mistakes. After all, everyone makes mistakes.


I am the kind of person that overanalyzes a lot of situations. From schoolwork and tests, to friendships and family, I worry a lot about many things. I guess the constant worry comes from a desire to be perfect. Jesus said in the Bible "Be ye perfect." I guess that has been a bit of a motto for my life. When I fall short of this expectation, I find that I beat up on myself a lot.

This was especially true while on my mission. I feel like missions exacerbate a lot of inferiority complex-like feelings. We feel that we are not good enough. We don't think that we are doing enough. I remember being in a particular area of Bangkok that was extremely difficult. I kept asking myself what I was doing wrong so that the area wouldn't work. I remember waking up daily and wondering if today would be the day that something, anything would  happen. And it never did. Maybe that was the best lesson of that time. No matter how hard you try for perfection, you're not going to achieve it in a day. In fact, I feel that the end goal is less important than the actual journey.

I guess in friendships I tend to overanalyze things a lot as well. I tend to wonder how I can be a better friend. I fret over hurting another person's feelings. I feel bad when I fail as a friend at times. All of this can be traced back to my yearning for perfection.

How do you overcome a long history of perfectionism? I am not looking for instant answers, but more of some personal insights. How can I realize that, while I am not perfect, I am doing better than I think I am?

This post makes me sound like I am so depressed! In reality, I am just reflecting on friendship. This year I want to try to make more friends than I did my previous year at BYU and I am trying to figure out this whole friendship thing. It's a tricky subject. I don't have many close friends, but the ones that I am close to are very close. I just would like to expand and be a better friend. This may be rambling because it is late here. Sometimes the best inspiration for blogs comes late. (Also, please forgive all errors in my writing.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Long Time Gone Now

I doubt that anyone reads this blog anymore. I haven't updated in months. My life over the past couple of months has been quite unremarkable for the most part. Let's review a few things.

1. I finished up my second semester since I got back from my mission. It was a good term. I had excellent classes: Biology, History of the English Language, Grammar of English, Thai Literature, Doctrine and Covenants, and Church History from the Martyrdom until the beginning of the 20th century. I declared my major as English language and linguistics this semester. Since coming home from my mission, I wasn't really sure about my major. I had considered a lot of options from occupational therapy to nursing, but I ultimately decided that I would be best to get a degree in English linguistics to best prepare myself for a TESOL masters and (possibly) a PHd in applied linguistics. I hope to teach English as a second language here in America. 

2. After a short rest, I moved into the Spanish House for spring and summer semester. Spring semester I took Iberian Culture and Civilization and TESOL Methods and Materials. Then summer I took Spanish Phonetics and Modern American Usage. Living in the Spanish house was a worthwhile experience. I really enjoyed the first term there. The second term was more difficult. We had a roommate who was somewhat difficult. The feel of the Spanish house drastically changed between terms. We grew pretty close with all the dinners. That being said, however, I am glad to be out of there. I gained a lot of weight. I am trying to lose it this semester, but I have found myself busy yet again.

3. We went to Disneyland over the short break. It was just as magical as I had hoped. I went on almost all the thrill rides and actually enjoyed them. That was a first. 

4. Now I am enrolled in quite an interesting schedule. This semester I have the following: Physical Science, Language Acquisition in TESOL, American Christianity, Literacy Development in TESOL, Spanish Literature, English Semantics and Pragmatics, and Beginning Swimming. I really like all of my classes so far. I am not a HUGE fan of Physical Science. Having it at 8:00 a.m. is a bit of a drag, but we endure. I love my TESOL teacher (Professor Gardner), my religion teacher (Professor Cope), and my Spanish teacher (Professor Sherman). I do really like my semantics professor, but she can be a bit dry sometimes. My swimming teacher is also excellent. I can't believe how much faster I can swim now! I love it! It makes me want to swim five times a week! Maybe one day. 

5. I have two jobs now. I am working at the ELC and also as the Thai TA for my teacher. The TA job has been excellent. Of course, I still LOVE the ELC. I feel so blessed to have both of these jobs. Granted, my schedule is insane, and I am very tired, but I like to busy myself as much as possible. 

Beyond that, life moves on. I moved in my mission companion. That has been a good experience. He's a funny guy and a good roommate. Our other roommate. Well... I am less keen on him. There are specific stories that I could tell, but I just don't think we are meant to get along. God likes to send me people who will try my patience. That's the theme of my life: patience. Sigh. He's getting married over Thanksgiving though, so I should be able to endure in the meantime. 

I hope to blog more often and give insights on what's going on in my life. For anyone who may be listening, even if that is only a few people. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter and George Albert Smith

Yesterday I read about George Albert Smith's battle with mental illness. Bedridden for nearly three years, George Albert Smith struggled with bouts of depression coupled with serious physical maladies. The Church doesn't mention much of this in the new Sunday School manual. I tend to believe the Church missed an opportunity in helping those who struggle with physical and mental health issues. 

But today we reflect upon the atonement of Jesus Christ. Christ lived and died for broken hearts like our own. I strongly believe that the atonement can help us to face the challenges of life. The atonement doesn't eliminate the challenges of life; the atonement, however, does alleviate the pain that arises from these challenges. George Albert Smith, like many of us, continued to face problems with his mental and physical health for the remainder of his life. Through the atonement of Christ, he was able to persevere despite his challenging circumstances. We, too, can learn from his example. 

Happy Easter. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope to turn again Because I do not hope Because I do not hope to turn Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope I no longer strive to strive towards such things (Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?) Why should I mourn The vanished power of the usual reign?

T.S. Eliot- Ash Wednesday

Saturday, January 21, 2012


The last couple of weeks of the New Year have been busy. I have been working at my new job at the ELC here in Provo. The last two months I have also determined my major. I believe I am going to major in English Language with minors in TESOL and editing (and possibly Spanish, since I am only a couple classes away). I think this Spring I will try to live in the FLSR as my plans to go to Thailand didn't work out. Life is going pretty well. But that's not the purpose of this post today. I recent had a bit of a rough patch with one of my friends. And this particular friend was worried that we couldn't be friends anymore because of this rough patch. I haven't been friends with him that long and so I could tell that he doesn't fully understand my personality. I am a very forgiving person. I don't hold grudges. I never have and I hope that I never will. That's the way to live your life. Like the Savior.