Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Theory of Conspiracy

     Recently I have been struggling with the basic question that all of us reach at one point or another: where do I go from here?

     This question has lead me to conduct some personal studies and reflections regarding the matter of receiving a higher education; and, at times, I have found myself downright discouraged. However, I don't think that this is the Lord's plan for me: to be discouraged and bought down by things that are outside of my control. I know that He wants me to be happy and to succeed, to press forward and to have faith in His plan.
     As I have gone throughout my short college experience, the biggest struggle that I have had is one that I believe is quite "common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13). I have had trouble deciding on a major and a career path. I have been afraid of making the wrong decision; and, as a result, I now find my education at a complete stand-still for fear of incurring further financial debt and heading down the wrong path. Frequently I have wondered if a college education is even for me, or if there is some other path that I am intended to take. As I have shared these doubts and concerns with my family and friends, I have had a broad spectrum of advice given to me in return.
     In one of these responses, some of my friends recently referred me to a documentary on YouTube created by the NIA (National Inflation Association), titled "College Conspiracy." As I began to watch the documentary, at first I completely agreed with everything that the documentary was saying and felt myself nodding my head and being filled with the conviction that I was a victim of an unrighteous society. I felt angry, bitter, shocked, and betrayed.
     Then, suddenly, my mind took a step back and looked at where this was going. I immediately evaluated my feelings more closely to determine the source, and to associate these feelings with experiences I have had in the past.
     In my minds eye, I suddenly found myself in a little house in the woods of Whitehorse, Canada, sitting on a couch across from an old canuck. Bitterness and hatred filled his eyes as he leaned toward my companion and I and complained of all of the injustices that he had fallen victim to in his life. For the past few weeks, as we had met with him, it had seemed quite comical that he would continually blame all of his problems on outside circumstances. Sometimes he would even blame people that he had never met, like Winston Churchill. He would lock eyes with mine and angrily declare that "Hitler was framed! He was an honest man and Churchill was a drunk!" But today, it wasn't funny anymore. I felt sick as I listened to him begin rant again and closed my eyes to say a silent prayer to know how we should act.
     I felt calm as I opened my eyes and clearly said, "Brother, we have come as always to see how it is that we could help you and your family today. We are here once again to extend the invitation for you to come with us to church on Sunday, to no longer deny your family the blessings that come from attending and partaking of the sacrament. That simple invitation will always stand. And as many excuses as you have for us, the fact is that there are no outside influences keeping you from coming." We left shortly thereafter. We continued to try with the family, making short visits every so often, but this man would not change his heart. He continued to harbor anger and bitterness in his heart towards the members of our small branch.

     I have felt that same feeling of sickness within me, as I felt listening to him complain that day, whenever I have been subjected to anti-Mormon material. I have felt that same sickness whenever I have put off or brushed aside something that I knew I should do. I felt the same way as I watched some of the men and women speak during the documentary. To me it feels a lot like watching the news. A list of a lot of problems, with a very short list, if any list, of solutions. A large dose of degradation with no uplifting spoon full of sugar to help the bitter medicine go down.

     May I be so bold as to say that conspiracy theories, and the documentaries created to portray them, can be in and of themselves a form of terrorism. According to, the third definition of terrorism is "a terroristic method of...resisting a government." I'm not saying that I disagreed with the documentary in its entirety, but I am saying that it is important for us to not allow ourselves to be manipulated by the opinions of others. I have had many friends in high school and in college who thought that they were just victims of others actions and that the government and everyone around them was out to get them. They treated large five part internet documentaries, such as Zeitgeist, like gospel truth. These films would definitely fulfill their purposes in making one more aware of the problems in the world today, but would offer no solutions, suggesting that one simply live in fear, anger, and hatred, feeling victimized evermore.

     Even the music behind these documentaries seem geared to further drag you down. Its as if someone said to an unsuccessful composer "Give us a musical score that will make things look (and sound) just as bleak as possible! Plenty of dissonant chords, make sure that its always minor, and, if need be, simply sustain the notes as you go up and down the synthesizer at half-step intervals."

     Pay attention to how you feel when you, instead, watch something like this:

     It is important for us to evaluate our feelings when we partake of different forms of media, including music, movies, television shows, and yes, internet documentaries. Anything created to instill any of these negative feelings within us is not from our Creator, but from the adversary. "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7) and "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance." (Galatians 5:22-23) "Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you. Therefore, choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices. It will allow you to enjoy yourself without losing the Spirit of the Lord." (For the Strength of Youth)
    I agree that there are many things in the world that are unfair and unjust, that there are evil and conspiring men who will continually try to tear others down in order to lift themselves up and to get gain. I also agree that we should be aware of the problems that exist in order to find real solutions, but what will focusing on the negative do to improve circumstances?

     I want to be more like my friend Amy Schweitzer, who uses her time to focus on the positive and is continually, actively and productively trying to make the world a better place by uplifting and showing love to others.

     I want to be more like my Savior, who came "into the world [not] to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)

     May we "stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Galatians 5:1)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Personal Integrity

We all have expectations for ourselves; and, as children of our Father in Heaven, He has expectations for us as well. Sometimes we expect too much or too little of ourselves, but we are most successful when we align our personal expectations with His expectations and continually strive to live up to them. How well we live up to these expectations, and make continual course corrections as needed, is the true measure of our integrity.

Bishop Richard C. Edgley once told of an experience where his integrity was tested:
“Some 30 years ago, while working in the corporate world, some business associates and I were passing through O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois. One of these men had just sold his company for tens of millions of dollars—in other words, he was not poor.

“As we were passing a newspaper vending machine, this individual put a quarter in the machine, opened the door to the stack of papers inside the machine, and began dispensing unpaid-for newspapers to each of us. When he handed me a newspaper, I put a quarter in the machine and, trying not to offend but to make a point, jokingly said, “Jim, for 25 cents I can maintain my integrity. A dollar, questionable, but 25 cents—no, not for 25 cents.” … A few minutes later we passed the same newspaper vending machine. I noticed that Jim had broken away from our group and was stuffing quarters in the vending machine. I tell you this incident not to portray myself as an unusual example of honesty, but only to emphasize the [lesson] of … a 25-cent newspaper.”

The dictionary defines integrity as adherence to moral and ethical principles, as a soundness of moral character, and as honesty. It is interesting that our integrity is directly tied to our honesty. I would venture to say that this is not only honesty in our dealings with others, as we so often think of, but also complete honesty with the Lord and with ourselves.

Back in November of 2009, I was serving in the Kenai Ward in the Soldotna, Alaska Stake. My companion was a tall, thin Elder named Elder Hoggan. Elder Hoggan was my first companion in this, the third area of my mission, and probably the most fun of any of the companions I had while serving. Elder Hoggan and I worked hard together, and were driven to do what we had to do. As many of you know, missionaries are asked to arise early each morning and exercise for half an hour. Before my mission, I hated running! Although without proper equipment to exercise in the apartment, many times this is the activity we planned as a companionship. Elder Hoggan was no exception; he insisted that we run each morning. 

Luckily, Kenai was the warmest area I served in during the winter, with the temperatures in the morning averaging between negative 5 to positive 20 degrees, and the snow was late that year and hadn’t fallen yet, but the sun didn’t rise until about 10 in the morning. Some mornings I would wake up, think of the cold and dark outside, and have absolutely no desire to get out of my nice, warm bed. Luckily, Elder Hoggan made sure that I was up by turning on the lights, doing some stretches, and putting on his sweats and hoody. 

As we would run down the street towards the high school, I would silently sing to myself in my head. It was hard for me to run without headphones or music and I would usually sing (or rather, think) the song “We’ll Bring the World His Truth” to myself, to the rhythm of my steps. I don’t know if Elder Hoggan did something similar to this, but he was driven! We would set our distance goal further and further each morning, and eventually we were running 3 and a half miles in the about 20 to 25 minute time that we actually ran. 

To some of you, that might not seem like a lot, but to me this was a big deal. I felt great about myself, and most mornings I felt like the hardest battle of the day had been won, first thing in the morning. I knew that we could handle anything else that might come our way! Only someone that I looked up to and admired as much as Elder Hoggan could have gotten me to do this. I am grateful for his righteous influence in helping me to live up to the expectation that we had set for ourselves.

To me, this said a lot about my personal integrity; the fact that each morning we arose, we exercised, we cleaned and nourished our bodies, and we studied the words of ancient and modern prophets to prepare to teach. Within the first few months of my mission I learned the perfect inspiration that the missionary program is conducted by: as a missionary, I didn’t have to do anything expected of me. I was there by choice, I could go home by choice, and I could choose to follow the rules and instructions, the inspired guidelines, or not to. No one was forcing me to do anything. However, even though I could choose what to do with this newfound agency, I knew that I could not choose the consequences. Those were set in place by eternal, unchangeable laws of nature of which man has no power over. 

A mission could be called a microcosm of life. Similarly to the adherence of mission rules, we are not forced to follow the commandments of God; rather, we follow through with the covenants we make with the Lord, and the commitments we make with ourselves, to uphold our personal integrity. The unfailing, driving force behind this is charity, the pure love of Christ. As we live the commandments, we will have a greater desire to live with honesty and integrity, thus gaining a greater love for the commandments. 

In a speech he delivered at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on May 7, 2010, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said this to the cadets: “Cardiac surgeons speak of the heart in terms of structural integrity. When the condition of the heart is unimpaired, it beats steadily and surely, year after year. The mitral valve alone opens and closes about 100,000 times a day, 36 million times a year. If impaired by some kind of anatomical flaw, however, the heart can fail. And when the heart fails, we die. The goal of any cardiac surgery is to restore the structural integrity of the heart … The human body is by nature flawed. It is subject to structural failure. But more challenging to deal with than physical flaws are the spiritual flaws that result in a failure of the integrity of the soul. 

“Internal conflicts created by the dissonance between what we believe to be right and what we actually do can be even more debilitating than failures of physical health.”

It has been said many times that the greatest measure of personal integrity is what we do when we’re alone, or behind closed doors. James informs us that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”(James 1:8) The best way to avoid pitfalls is to keep an eternal prospective “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in another talk said: “Most people in trouble end up crying, ‘What was I thinking?’ Well, whatever they were thinking, they weren’t thinking of Christ. Yet, as members of His Church, we pledge every Sunday of our lives to take upon ourselves His name and promise to ‘always remember him.’” 

We need to keep our minds continually on the sacrifice of the Savior. We know that we can do this by reading the scriptures daily, praying continually, attending the temple, attending church meetings, and so forth, but of all of the solutions to maintaining integrity in thought and action, my favorite is to keep the words of a hymn (or children’s song) in your heart to be called upon in moments of weakness. Let me share with you the one that has been on my mind lately:

Dare to do right! Dare to be true!
You have a work that no other can do;
Do it so bravely, so kindly, so well,
Angels will hasten the story to tell.
Dare to do right! Dare to be true!
Other men’s failures can never save you.
Stand by your conscience, your honor, your faith;
Stand like a hero and battle till death.

In the words of Paul to the people of Ephesus: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6: 10-13)

                I know that as we strive to maintain our integrity, “then shall [our] confidence wax strong in the presence of God” and we will be able to stand before Him, clean and pure.