Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worst Christmas Songs Evah!

Maybe not the worst ever, but if I hear Paul McCartney simply having a wonderful Christmas time one more time I'm going to fling myself from a very high mound of snow. Below are the three Christmas songs that drive me insane every year, and a runner-up that I just don't like, but has not yet driven me insane.

1. "Wonderful Christmastime" - Paul McCartney
If I was deaf watching TV and the lyrics came up on the screen via closed captioning, I would stare at a flame for three days to purge the image from my brain.
2. "Last Christmas" - George Michael
"Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away... blah!"
3. Happy Christmas (War is Over)- John Lennon
"War is over if you want it, war is over yeah... blah!"

Honorable mention:
4. Christmastime is Here- Charlie Brown
I don't know who really performs it, but it's a real snoozer, except when they miss their notes, then it's just grating.

On the other hand, while the 12 Days of Christmas song is usually pretty dreadful, since it's just long and repetitive, I enjoy this version by Straight No Chaser. In fact, we bought their whole Christmas ablum since it's so entertaining.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conference First Impressions

I'd love to be able to go to a "General Conference Roundup" website where each talk was listed and discussed. If such a site exists, please let me know. In the meantime, here are some impressions I had of three talks from conference.

We caught two sessions of General Conference while at Dan and Julee's for the weekend. Now I'm downloading the rest and listening to them on the metro, and I'll add to this post as more impressions come. I'm interested to hear what talks impressed everyone else.

1. Elder Dieter F. Uchdorf: The Love of God
I love this quote from Elder Uchdor's talk about what I call "commandment creep":

"'If ye love me, keep my commandments.'

"This is the essence of what it means to be a true disciple: those who receive Christ Jesus walk with Him.

"But this may present a problem for some because there are so many 'shoulds' and 'should nots' that merely keeping track of them can be a challenge. Sometimes, well-meaning amplifications of divine principles—many coming from uninspired sources—complicate matters further, diluting the purity of divine truth with man-made addenda. One person’s good idea—something that may work for him or her—takes root and becomes an expectation. And gradually, eternal principles can get lost within the labyrinth of "good ideas."

This commandment creep effect stems from how we teach. For example, if I'm teaching a lesson on keeping the Sabbath Holy, I may then say, "What things can you do to keep the Sabbath holy?" "Don't watch TV," "don't do homework," "visit family," etc. etc. These may be great ideas, and they may help some people to keep the Sabbath day holy. But the problem arises when a person who feels they should not do homework on Sunday projects that requirement on everyone else. The commandment is to keep the day holy. The application is left to each of us, with prophetic counsel to guide us.

Other commandment creeps include drinking caffeinated drinks, attending Sunday School, and the entire unwritten order of things. Good things? Sure. But they are specific applications of gospel principles, and God leaves to each of us to determine how we decide to live the principles, within certain clear boundaries.

2. Elder Richard G. Scott: Acquiring Spiritual Guidance
I loved how Elder Scott described his process of receiving revelation.
a. receive prompting
b. write it down
c. compare the writing to the prompting to make sure the writing accurately reflects the prompting
d. ponder the prompting
e. ask, "Is there more, Lord?"
f. if so, repeat the process
Money quote: "The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeƱo pepper. Both flavors are present, but one completely overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit."

3. Elder Holland's talk was a powerful testimony of the divine nature of the Book of Mormon, and it strengthened my own belief that the Book of Mormon was received from God through Joseph Smith.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Couldn't Have Known

I didn't understand that I would feel a certain kind of love as a parent that I have never felt before.

When I was a teenager, I was playing a game at a friend's house, and my mom called and told me to come home. When I got home, I asked her why she wanted me there, and she didn't have an answer. "I just want you here," she said.

I was bored at home, and clearly my mom was being unreasonable, since she had no reason to want me at home. So I waited for a while, then sneaked back to my friend's house.

I didn't understand then that a person could love someone so much that would just want to be near them. I didn't understand that maybe my mom just wanted to gather her children around under her own roof for a day. I didn't understand that my mom may have been happy just listening to us kids goof around or just watching us watch TV.

I could only understand what I wanted (playing with friends) and that my mom's irrational request was interfering with what I wanted.

I've always hated when people have told me, "As soon as you experience X, then you'll understand." But this time it's true. With Mari and Des away for a couple of weeks, I feel a keen desire to be near them, to sit and snuggle, take a nap with my family nearby. We don't have to be doing anything special. I'd be perfectly happy just watching Des play on his own, or to hear him driving his toys around the house.

Maybe I understand now, Mom. I'm sorry I ran away that day. But I don't think I could have understood that you might just want to be near a stinky, selfish (and self-conscious), moody teenager just because you loved him. I could not have understood how you felt until I had a child of my own to love with my whole soul.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who wants to drink it now?

I held up a glass of cool water from the drinking fountain.

"Here is a nice, cool glass of water," I told the class. I took a drink and sighed, refreshed.

"Give me a drink," one of the kids said (as if on cue, when in fact, he just has a tendency to say whatever pops into his head, even at 6:30 in the morning).

"Okay, I'll give you a drink." Then I drank from the glass again, swished the water in my mouth, and spit it into the cup. "Who wants to drink it now?" (Two hands went up, of course, but they got the point)

I explained that this was a bit like relying on others for our understanding of the scriptures. It's OK, and it will nourish you, but it's better to go to the source. In fact, just reading the scriptures isn't enough, because the real source is God, so the kids needed to seek their own testimonies of the truths taught in the scriptures.

And for 5 minutes this morning I had their attention.

This object lesson is part of a three or four part lesson I am in the midst of. First, I handed out a list of "truths," such as "Heavenly Father answers prayers," "Joseph Smith was a prophet," and "the Priesthood is God's power on earth." I asked the kids to check a truth that they felt they had learned by the Holy Ghost. Then, I asked them to briefly describe the experience (in writing).

One of the students couldn't think of anything. I told her that it was okay, and if she didn't feel like she had felt the Holy Ghost yet in her life, we would perform a "spiritual experiment" a la Alma 32. However, first I wanted to ask a few questions to see if I couldn't jog her memory.

"Have you ever prayed and felt like your prayer was answered, or felt different afterward?"
"I can't think of anything."
"Have you ever performed baptisms for the dead and felt different in the temple?" (btw, feeling "different" is not necessarily the Holy Ghost, but it could be, and if she answered in the affirmative, I could ask follow up questions to determine whether she felt is was the Holy Ghost)
"I got in trouble when I went."
"Fine. But did you feel different in the temple?"
"I don't know."
"Have you ever received a priesthood blessing in which you felt the Holy Ghost testify that it was from him?"
(...thinking...) "My patriarchal blessing."
"Good. And how did that feel?"
"Awesome."
(Due to lack of time, I didn't explore more yet, but we'll get there. I did mention how special patriarchs are.)

I didn't know if all the kids would recognize an experience in which they felt the Holy Ghost. If not, that would have been okay. As mentioned above, we would have performed a "spiritual experiment" by praying and seeking a confirmation from the Holy Ghost. But everyone thought of at least one experience.

Today was stage two. We learned about the value of the scriptures to teach doctrine and improve ourselves (2 Tim. 3:14-17) and I asked the kids to find a scripture that related to their experience. I gave examples of scriptures involving prayer, the priesthood, baptisms for the dead, and others. Some of the kids used my suggestions and others looked up scriptures on their own.

Tomorrow we will enter stage three. We will learn about testimony, and I will ask each kid to write their testimony of the experience. What did the Holy Ghost teach them by testifying to them of the spiritual truth?

In the coming weeks, we will flesh out the details of the experiences and I will have each youth share their experience with the class including (1) a scripture, (2) an experience where the Holy Ghost taught them a truth contained in the scripture, and (3) a testimony of what the Holy Ghost taught them. Since the kids had a variety of experiences, this exercise will tie into a variety of lessons from the New Testament.

I confess that seminary is exhausting, mentally and physically. But today I got some payback. To have each of these groggy teens recognize and share their experiences (without complaint, mind you) has lifted my hopes for their ability to put down spiritual roots, and strengthens my own faith as well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chastened

The escalator was out again (although it was the "down" escalator, so it should be called a "descalator") so we were all crowded like cattle trying to get down and out of the metro station. About three people ahead of me, I could see a little old lady, and she was really slow. The people on the right side of the descalator were passing us pretty steadily.

The guy behind me saw a break in the line, and he jumped in. He had the right idea. I looked back and there was still room, so I jumped to the other side, eager to get off the descalator, past the old lady, and home to my family. But then the guy in front of me (who had so recently been behind me) slowed down. Terrific! Then I saw him reach down, and take the old lady's bag-it was one of those smallish rolling luggage bags. She thanked him profusely as he carried it down the escalator and waited for her at the bottom. Without her load, she moved much faster.

I felt like a louse. I'm usually pretty nice, but I often focus on what I want and where I want to be and forget to take time to help people around me whom I don't know. That's goodness. That's kindness. That's whom I want to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beware of ABBA

There I was-- crossing the Potomac, riding in a metro rail car on my way back to work from the Patent Office in Virginia. I had my iPod out, and I was playing Solitaire (or Klondike, if you prefer) listening to ABBA.

Then I realized I was tapping my feet, and very nearly singing out loud, "Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight..."

I tell you, ABBA is very catchy. And very dangerous.

Say what you will about their clothing, but they generate some snappy (and compelling) songs.

"Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
Aha-ahaaa
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

October Conference Reprise

I'm listening to October's General Conference again on my iPod. I just finished the Saturday morning session, and a few thoughts struck me:

"Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision."

Elder Anderson's entire talk, "You Know Enough," was excellent. This portion refers to a blessing he gave his friend who had just lost his daughter, and was questioning his faith.

In another portion, he talks of a girl who was born deaf and was talking to a boy in line at the grocery store. The boy had no legs. She said, "“Did you know that when Heavenly Father made me, my ears did not work? That makes me special. He made you with no legs, and that makes you special. When Jesus comes, I will be able to hear and you will get your legs. Jesus will make everything all right.”

I love this story. I love the lack of self-consciousness, lack of adverse judgment, lack of self-pity or other-pity, for that matter. I love the faith and the knowledge she has of her worth.

Other talks in the Saturday AM session were good as well, but this one stood out to me as having the most messages I will remember.

Book Review: Eon: Dragon Reborn

I recently read Eon: Dragon Reborn after reading a review by Orson Scott Card. I like most of the stuff he recommends, especially when he describes things as "absolutely stunning."

Eon is a fantasy novel very loosely based on Asian lore. In short, I agree with Card. The book is very well-written. The characters are well-developed and well-balanced. The pacing is excellent. I enjoyed the book from beginning to end, and was not bored once.

So if you are in the mood for an excellent fantasy novel without dwarves, elves, etc., I highly recommend Eon: Dragon Reborn, by Alison Goodman.

For an entertaining-but-not-great fantasy series with dwarves and elves, try the Riftwar Saga, by Raymond Feist. It is filled with cheese and cliches, but it was entertaining.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Movie Reviews: City of Ember, Inkheart, Eagle Eye

Mari and I recently saw three movies: City of Ember, Inkheart, and Eagle Eye.

In hindsight, I should have visited rottentomatoes.com before seeing any of them.

City of Ember and Inkheart are adaptations from popular kids' books. They were both a bit slow in developing and somewhat disjointed in how the stories were presented. As with many books-turned-movies, they had interesting ideas but did not survive the transition to the big screen. I give City of Ember two stars and Inkheart one and a half stars.

Eagle Eye is a bad adaptation of a bad script. I give it one star for laughs.

Mormon Humor

I recently discovered My Religious Blog, by Gatsby.



This stuff is pretty funny Mormon humor. And really funny Mormon humor is hard to come by. I know I'm not funny, although I thank everyone who has laughed at my attempts at humor.



Below are a couple posts lifted from his site.



Liahona Painting
I guess Arnold Friberg must have read the Liahona Study Guide...

"Ask it if Ishmael's daughter likes my furry vest."



Puns Of Perdition

I am thinking of starting a satelite TV network here in Utah.
It would be called Tight Like Unto A Dish Network and it wouldn't have Showtime or HBO.


A Stupor Of Thought
A lot of people think that because I haven’t mentioned which women’s deodorant I prefer, that there is some religious reason I don’t want to talk about it. But they’ve got it all wrong!

It’s not sacred.

It’s Secret.


A New TV Series
I am developing a new TV show for KBYU about a guy who heard the gospel in this life, but his brother didn’t. So after they die, he tries to help his brother get into paradise.

It’s called Spirit Prison Break.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Satan's Plan of Salvation

I'd always been taught that in the premortal council in heaven, Satan proposed to save all mankind by forcing everyone to do good. He would destroy our agency by preventing us from making wrong choices. While this is possible, it does not entirely make sense to me. I propose that there is another plan Satan could have proposed to destroy our agency that is more consistent with the scriptures. What if Satan proposed to come to earth, suffer for our sins, and then forgive all mankind for all its sins? Satan would not require faith, obedience, or repentance to Heavenly Father's will. Instead, he would "save" everyone by destroying the law, consequences, and spiritual suffering for sin.

Moses 4:1 describes Satan's role in the council in heaven:

"And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor."

In verse 3, God explains that Satan was cast down because he rebelled, sought to destroy man's agency, and sought God's own power.

Under the traditional theory of Satan's plan, this verse is a little confusing. Why would Satan say "I will be thy son"? And why would he offer to "redeem all mankind"? If he would not allow mankind to sin, why would we need to be redeemed?

I believe Satan was offering to be Heavenly Father's Only Begotten Son and suffer for our sins, just like Christ. In fact, earlier in Moses' vision, Satan tempted him and tried to get Moses to worship him. When Moses cast Satan out in Christ's name, "Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me."

Satan is a deceiver, but he is consistent. He wanted to be the Only Begotten in the premortal world, and he tried to convince Moses he was the Only Begotten in the mortal world.

Under Heavenly Father's plan, Jesus Christ would suffer for the sins of all mankind. His atonement is infinite and eternal, which I understand to mean not limited to a certain number of sins, but somehow encompassing all sin. All of our sins have been paid for, whether or not we repent. But because Heavenly Father seeks to build us up and to have us return to him, He chooses to forgive only those who repent. This is the only way any of Heavenly Father's children will return to Him. Satan and the billions of rebellious souls like him didn't like that idea. I imagine that Satan's argument may have gone something like this: "If all of our sins are paid for, why should anyone suffer for sin? I will go. I will be the redeemer. But I will forgive everyone. No one will suffer for sin. There will be no punishment."

Satan thought to "save" us (or at least himself and those who followed him) by destroying the consequences of sin. At best, his plan may have provided for a resurrection and possibly some degree of glory. However, his plan would have destroyed our agency, destroyed our chances of returning to live with Heavenly Father, and ultimately was inconsistent with the very existence of Heavenly Father. Because of Heavenly Father's character and purpose for us, he could not even consider Satan's plan. This theory of Satan's plan is not only more consistent with Moses 4:1, but it is also supported by scriptures that discuss how Satan deals with mankind. Under Satan's plan, there would have been no consequences for sin, and that is still his message today.

...

In conclusion, based on the present scriptural record, it is more likely that Satan offered to be a savior by suffering for our sins and forgiving all mankind than it is that he offered to save us by forcing us to do good. But I doubt Satan would have been able to follow through with his plan. We know that Christ suffered terrible anguish in Gethsemane for our sins because he loved us. I can imagine Satan feeling a part of that anguish, deciding it was too much and that we were not worth it, and getting up and walking away, while we all looked on in despair.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I recently put together a brief description of what I think Satan's plan was for us, based on the scant scriptural account. The above thoughts are an excerpt of the document, and the full document may be found here. Although it is a finished thought, it could probably still use some fleshing out. If anyone has comments, citations, or arguments in support of or against this idea, I would appreciate them.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Ellsworth Family Blog

We tried the family blog on the Mac, but it just didn't work out for us.

So here is the new Ellsworth Family Blog.

This blog (acellsworth.blogspot.com) will still be used for my personal ramblings and musings.