Personal Online Journal

Monday, July 28, 2014

That's How the Light Gets In

or How not to be Paralyzed by Perfection

Bro Jarvis uses the traveling salesman problem to illustrate why we must not try to reach perfection before choosing to act good enough. ("That's How the Light Gets In" Tyler J. Jarvis, BYU Devotional, July 09, 2013, YouTube, MP3)

Step 1: Admit and Accept Imperfection

if I am willing to accept an answer that is only close to the perfect one—a good answer but not the perfect answer, an answer with some error in it—as soon as I give up on perfection, something amazing happens. We can get a very good approximate solution to the Traveling Salesman Problem very quickly. In fact, not just very quickly, but blazingly, astoundingly fast.
Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. ("Lord, I Believe", Jeffrey R. Holland, Apr 2013)

Step 2. Work Hard to Get Your Best Approximation

accepting imperfection transforms many important mathematical and computational problems from being unsolvable in the lifetime of the universe to being solvable now on current, actual computers—but the solutions still require deep thought and hard work.

Step 3. Get Up and Act on Your Best Approximation

It is not enough just to find our approximate answer to the problems. We must also act on that approximate, imperfect answer. This is hard because we know our answer is not perfect. That might scare you. It often scares me. But we cannot let our fear of imperfection, our fear of making a mistake, prevent us from acting on our best approximation.
As Paul told Timothy, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

Don’t Bury Your Talent
The Lord doesn’t care about not messing up—not losing what we have. It isn’t enough to preserve what He has given us. He wants us to get up and do something with it.

Fear Causes Failure
The real key is learning to trust that a little water splashing in your face does not mean you are drowning. It may not be what we imagine to be perfect floating, but it is good enough. Even going completely below the water is not failure—if you remain relaxed, a gentle hand motion quickly brings you back up to the top. But as soon as you become nervous, you try to sit up, and you will sink.
The Plan of Salvation
Recall that Satan’s plan was to guarantee that bad things would not happen, that we would all be safe, and that we would all return to our Father after our time on earth. This plan was rejected not only because Satan wanted all the glory for himself but also, more importantly, because it would not work. It just wouldn’t work.
Aim High
when I say “aim high,” I mean we must aim to develop our talents and use our opportunities the best we can to build His kingdom, bless His children, spread His gospel, care for the needy, heal the sick, discover truth, teach that truth, and bring ourselves and our families back to live with Him.

Step 4. Do It Again

Some of the most powerful methods for solving hard mathematical problems are what we call iterative methods. You start with an approximate answer—sometimes just a random guess—but you use that guess to generate a new, slightly better answer. Then you take that new answer and apply the method again and again until you get as close as you need to the correct answer. There certainly are situations where these iterative methods don’t work, but in many settings they are both the fastest and most robust ways to solve problems.


From Leonard Cohen's song “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in. 
Our bells are cracked. But let us ring those bells that still can ring. Stop worrying about your failure to achieve perfection—perfection is not possible in this life. Instead, embrace the light and healing power of Christ that come in through our cracks and imperfections.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Panoramic View of His Earthly Ministry

"The Sacrament—and the Sacrifice" David B. Haight, General Conference, Oct 1989.

Elder Haight shares a dream and vision he had of the Savior as he recovered from a serious operation.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Enabling the Power of the Holy Ghost

My dad suggested this talk to me. Here are some of the things that stood out to me.  ("The Truth of
All Things" Ryan Holmes, BYU Devotional, May 07, 2013, YouTube)

Said to Ryan Holmes by his mission president as he was leaving his mission.
“You see things more clearly now than you will until midlife.” Well, here I am twenty-five years later, at midlife, finally understanding what he meant. He meant that as missionaries we had been in a special situation where our personal righteousness and our desire to do God’s will aligned in a way that is difficult to achieve outside the mission field. Consequently we had enjoyed the influence and companionship of the Holy Ghost more fully than we would again until midlife. And he was right. You come home and pursue your education; you worry about your finances and your social life; and then come your spouse, your children, and your career. It’s a struggle to manage all the priorities and all the distractions.
I also learned that I had to explicitly ask for specific guidance. Let me repeat that: explicitly ask for specific guidance. You have to ask because God is no respecter of persons—He loves all His children and has repeatedly told them, “Ask, and ye shall receive”;3 “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”4 Asking is an important part of the law that governs receiving. And not only should we ask, but we should ask for specifics. Like President Thomas S. Monson has often said, “When we deal in generalities, we rarely have success; but when we deal in specifics, we rarely have a failure.”5 As a missionary I learned to pray for very specific things.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord repeatedly counsels missionaries to “open your mouths and spare not” and to “speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts,” with the promise that “it shall be given you . . . in the very moment, what ye shall say.” I believe there is a key here to enabling the power of the Holy Ghost. When we are doing our best to keep the commandments, then our first thoughts and first impressions are often the inspired ones.(emphasis is mine)
Alma explained the process of spiritual growth this way:
It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:9-10)
Heed and diligence are like the Lord’s encryption technology.
So let’s recap a little: We need to be righteous so that we have a valid claim upon the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We need to ask for specifics in our prayers and ponderings. We need to recognize and act upon the enticings of the Spirit, which are often given as our first impressions “in the very moment” of need.
But still there are some who blame God or deny His existence because of the suffering and injustice they see in the world. They lack the proper perspective and understanding of the central role that agency plays in the plan of salvation. My experience has been that the hardest questions in life—questions about cruelty, war, injustice, inequality, abuse, disability, death, and all of these tough situations—are best understood in the context of man’s agency, both individually and collectively. In Doctrine and Covenants 58 the Lord said:
I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above. (D&C 58-32-33)
We believe in God’s omniscience, that all things are present before Him and He sees them all.19 But we do not believe in determinism. We believe that the dominant feature of mortality is the agency of man, and it drives the show here on earth and in the eternities.
Receiving Eternal Truth is like a transaction.
We mostly skip along the surface, rarely diving deep into a matter, because the sheer volume of information we are processing dictates such behavior. There just isn’t time. And the relevance of the content—as it is usually referred to now—is judged solely by what is “most popular” or “most recent.”
But real truth has never been judged on those merits. Eternal truth is a view of things as they really are.23 It is also transactional—meaning that there is an attached responsibility to act upon it, to integrate it. Remember the HD encryption technology the Lord uses: Heed and Diligence! It’s built into the system. We cannot hope to have more truth than we have now unless we apply what we already know.
Besides information glut, there are other potential challenges to enabling the power of the Holy Ghost that I didn’t face twenty-five years ago. I have a theory about the general shape of the learning curve—something I recognized as a college student. It is shaped like an S.

On a graph, this S-shaped learning curve shows the relationship between the amount of continuous, uninterrupted time we devote to something and the output quality of that endeavor. Whenever we undertake a task or begin a project or an assignment, there is a certain amount of start-up time required to get acclimated (the bottom of the S). Then we eventually get into “the zone” (the middle to the top of the S), where every unit of time we spend yields more output (i.e., new knowledge) than was possible during start‑up mode. In the zone we dive deep, and we become totally immersed in focused thought. The key is to get into the zone quickly and stay there as long as possible. But in today’s connected world we are constantly interrupted by buzzing, beeping, and ringing notifications that we assume require an immediate reaction. Hyper attention to digital noise causes us to slide right back down the learning curve, forever stuck in start‑up mode—the area of the learning curve where our efforts are the least productive. 
We are being conditioned to react in a certain way to digital stimulus, and this rewiring of our brains is not without consequence. We are developing a form of societal attention deficit disorder. A recent study revealed that the average person checks their phone 150 times per day, or every six and a half minutes.
In conclusion, I’d like to tell you something Joseph Smith once said about the gift of the Holy Ghost:
I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. . . .
. . . I thank God that I have got this old book; but I thank him more for the gift of the Holy Ghost. . . .
. . . The Holy Ghost . . . is within me, and comprehends more than all the world; and I will associate myself with him. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 349–50; HC 6:307–8; The King Follett Sermon)
We might say in our hearts something similar: I have this smartphone in my pocket. It can do some amazing things, and I am thankful for it. But I am more impressed by and thankful for the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is smarter than all the world, and I will associate myself with Him.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Erev Yom Kippur

On an episode of West Wing, the President mentions his realization of a certain tradition in Judaism
On Yom Kippur, G‑d mercifully erases all the sins we have committed "before G‑d"—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. If we really want to come out of this holy day completely clean, we need to first approach any individual whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness. ("Asking Forgiveness",
So you should ask forgiveness from your fellow man before Yom Kippur or Erev Yom Kippur. This reminds me of a teaching of Jesus in the New Testament.
Matt 5:22-24
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Mark 11:25-26
25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
And that is repeated in the D&C
D&C 64:10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
D&C 82:1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Fall Down and Partake of the Fruit

[Lehi] saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree. (1 Ne 8: 30)
I want to be a part of the fourth group of people that Lehi saw. What did they do?

They "pressed forward". Don't give up. If you have, start again. See step one.

They "came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron". The word came reminds me of "come unto Christ". To come means we came from somewhere. It is from the neutral ground as Adam and Eve did, or it is from the adversary's ground. They caught hold of the rod of iron, the same as the second group Lehi saw.

They continued to "press their way forward". They didn't give up. This is repeated so it would benefit me to remember not to give up.

They "continually [held] fast to the rod of iron" Unlike the second group, they continually held fast to the rod of iron. They continually held on to the word of God.

They "came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree". We do not usually fall down to get fruit from a tree. This is a different kind of tree. It is the Love of God. To partake of it, we must fall down. We must surrender our pride. We must take in the Love of God, like we take in fruit. When we eat it, it literally becomes part of who we are.

Friday, July 04, 2014

100 Scripture Mastery Passages

There are 100 scripture mastery passages for each of the four seminary courses.  There is a web app you can use to test your knowledge of them.

Here is a MS Word document formatted to print out.
Here it is in PDF.