Tag: Christianity

Elements of a Story in Our Lives

For my birthday my sister Megan got me A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  I am about 50 pages into it and loving this book. It is a bit hard to describe but basically Miller is a writer who begins to feel that his life is boring that it is unworthy of a memoir (even though he had just published a memoir and was blocked on writing his newest one).  While feeling frustrated and blocked he gets an offer to write a screenplay and in his meeting with the other writers they mention that his character will need to be changed to make a better story.  This makes him wonder even more about what his life is all about and how much of a hand God has in the development of his story.

I am still reading but there was one part that I just had to share.  Donald goes to an intense story-writing conference where he hears 36 hours of lecture and is still confused about what makes a great story.  When packing up his bags he mentions his frustrations to his buddy who responds:

“A Story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”, he said with remarkable assurance.

I looked at the definition for a second wondering at how simple it really was.  He was right.  A character who wants something  and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.

“That’s it!,”  I said to him.  “That’s the essence of a story”

Realizing this truth he has a fascinating interaction with a friend of his.  This friend has a daughter who is starting to experiment in drugs and is dating a guy “who smelled like smoke and only answered questions with single words ”  (I love that description!).  After repeated grounding attempts nothing seemed to be working.  On a whim Donald tells his friend that his daughter is “living a terrible story”.

“What do you mean?” he asked

“I don’t know exactly, but she’s just not living a very good story.  She’s caught up in a bad one”

After that the two friends talked for a long time about living the right stories.  A couple of months later he ran into this friend and asked about the daughter.  ‘”She’s better” he said to me smiling. And when I asked why, he told me his family was living a better story”.    Basically the friend went online and looked for something different, better to be involved in- something that might catch his daughters eye.  In the search he found an organization that builds orphanages around the world.  He then called the organization and signed up for the service.

“So I went home and called a family meeting…I told them about this village and about the orphanage and all these terrible things  that could happen if these kids don’t get an orphanage.  Then I told them I agreed to build it”

My wife sat there looking at me like I’d lost my mind.  And my daughter, her eyes were as big as melons and she wasn’t happy.

He then goes on to explain that after getting over the initial shock the entire family became excited including his daughter.  She even wanted to use her website and blog to promote and fund raise for the orphanage.

“That’s incredible” I said   “You know what else, man?” “She broke up with her boyfriend last week.  She had his picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said she was too fat. Can you believe that?  What a jerk.”

“But that is done now,” he said, shaking his head. ” No girl who plays the role of hero dates a guy who uses her.  She knows who she is.  She just forgot for a little while”

I have a quote on my wall that says “If at some point in your life you are not where you want to be it has no bearing on the future. You can always reinvent yourself”.  I don’t know who said that first but I think this is a very interesting idea.  Just like the girl in the story or the prodigal son from scripture, we can come to ourselves and think upon our ways; thereby, creating a new story, a better story, or certainly a more dynamic story.  Even if it is not a redemptive change, knowing that change is possible is so wonderful.  For example, if I am able to lose weight that would change my story- it may or may not make it substantially better but the chances are it will make it a longer story.  Another example that comes to my mind is the new story which was created when I quit my job at JWA.   I felt 100% authentic to what God wanted to me to do and what was consequently right for me.  As Donald says “And once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don’t have a choice.  Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around numb until you die and its not natural to want to die.”  This is the best summary of how I feel now compared to how I felt in my old job.  I just wasn’t living the story I was meant to live- it wasn’t a bad story, just not the one for me.  I am so glad I had the guts to leap into the unknown and try something new.

On my mission I saw many people who started to tell a different story.  They experienced conversion and fairly quickly his or her life became a life with a “Mormon” story thrown into the mix.  I’d be curious to hear of moments in your life where a change in your story had a dramatic affect or a smaller but memorable one.


Happy Easter! Christ is Risen

I don’t have long to write this Easter morning, but I have been contemplating my relationship with Jesus Christ lately.  It amazes me how His sacrifice could be both intimate and infinite.  While every single person who ever lived is saved from sin and despair, I have also been saved.  His grace and power coupled by divine love and empathy gives me the strength to live my life with purpose and obedience.   What a comfort it is to know that because He conquered death and was resurrected on the third day- we all can live again with our loved ones.  In my limited experience with such things the knowledge of eternal life and resurrection was truly a balm of Gilead.  It is my greatest desire to follow Him and be a worthy disciple.  I love Him and know that His church has been restored. He truly did die for my sins and sorrows- as He did for yours.  I have gained this knowledge through personal prayer, scripture study and the promptings of the Holy Ghost to my heart.  I hope you all have a wonderful Easter morning and that you try to find ways to be more like Jesus Christ every day.  Build up your testimony and then strengthen others. This is the way you will be Happy in life!  God bless.

In God We Trust

About the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin said:

“I must own I have so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions now existing, and to exist in the posterity of a great nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler.”

How quickly we have moved from this foundation of faith to denying God’s influence in almost everything we do- the exact opposite of what Founder’s like Franklin believed.  In my opinion, the further this nation gets from God the harder it will be to invoke His power and influence as we seek to govern.

The article below makes me sad in so many ways….

Atheists sue to keep ‘In God We Trust’ off Capitol Visitor Center

WASHINGTON — A California Republican congressman wants to do a little writing on the walls of Washington’s newest federal building. If Rep. Dan Lungren gets his way, Congress will spend nearly $100,000 to engrave the words “In God We Trust ” and the Pledge of Allegiance in prominent spots at the Capitol Visitor Center .

Lungren’s proposal drew only a whimper of opposition last week when the House of Representatives voted 410-8 to approve it. Now, however, Lungren finds himself tussling with a national atheists and agnostics group.

The Wisconsin -based Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. sued this week to stop the engraving, accusing Lungren of trying to force his religious beliefs on as many as 15 percent of all U.S. adults. That comprises “atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers, none of whom possess a belief in a god,” according to the lawsuit.

“It really is a Judeo-Christian endorsement by our government, and so Lungren is wrong,” said Dan Barker of Madison, Wis. , a co-president of the foundation. “Lungren and others are pro-religious, and they want to actually use the machinery of government to promote their particular private religious views. That is unconstitutional, and that’s what we’re asking the court to decide.”

The Senate has approved a similar plan introduced by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina . The congressional directive orders the Capitol architect to make the changes in the design of the $621 million center, which opened last December.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation , which has 13,500 members, sued in U.S. District Court in Wisconsin . It alleges that Congress is trying to make belief in God synonymous with citizenship and “discouraging nonbelief” among Americans, a contention that Lungren rejects.

Lungren said that the phrase “In God We Trust ” had a long history and was consistent with the beliefs of America’s founding fathers. He also said that the Declaration of Independence referred to rights given by a creator.

Lungren, a former California attorney general, said that while the proposed engravings incorporated religious references, they didn’t violate the Constitution.

“What we’re doing is making a specific historical reference to the beginnings of this republic,” he said. “To ignore this or to forbid this statement or something like it to appear is to distort history. . . . We’re not trying to change history. We’re trying to enshrine history in the Capitol Visitor Center .”

Barker said history was better left to others.

“It’s not the job of our government and our government buildings to do that,” he said. “Historians can point out that many of our founders were indeed religious. But saying ‘In God We Trust’ in the visitors center of the Capitol is not just some historical reference. It’s actually government speaking for all of us Americans.”

Barker said the foundation had been waiting for the right case to challenge “In God We Trust .” He said government actions could be challenged on state-church grounds if they had specific religious agendas. In this case, he said, backers of Lungren’s plan have provided “the smoking guns” by giving specific, overt religious reasons for doing the engraving.

Barker said that atheists regarded the phrase “In God We Trust ” as rude, uncivil and un-American.

“Tens of millions of really good Americans don’t believe in God,” he said. “In fact, there’s many more nonbelievers than there are Jews, and we wouldn’t think of offending Jews on our national monuments. . . . Why is it wrong to offend a Jewish minority but it’s not wrong to offend those of us who serve in the military and sit on juries but we don’t believe in God?”

He said no hearing had been set.

Lungren is confident that a federal judge will allow the engraving to proceed.

“I never thought I’d see the day when someone would sue to stop us putting in the United States Capitol a statement of the national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. “Suggesting that the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto is un-American in some way — talk about turning ideas on their heads.”

Affluenza

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So, I heard a term today that just made me laugh out loud.  It is called affluenza.  This is not a joke.  It is an actual psychological diagnosable condition and to me it says a lot about how out of wack our society has gotten.  How can something so obvious be a cause for debate and study? It’s another one of those scientific endeavors that can be summed up in old colloquial sayings such as “Money doesn’t buy happiness”.  Listen to the wikipedia definition of affluenza and tell me if you don’t think it is crazy:

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf [1])
affluenza, n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS [1])

This isn’t just overspending.  No it is a contagious socially transmitted condition of overload and debt! So now if we are in debt it isn’t our fault, merely the cause of a contagious condition we inherited- like strepp or AIDS. Watch out my friends!  Watch out for your children!  Affluenza may spread!

I certainly hope that Congress doesn’t hear about this condition or they might start claiming bouts of affluenza caused them to vote for the spending bill!

I hate to sound preachy on this blog but to me it is things like this that show how far off track our country has gotten from the religious foundations it was started with.  Affluenza wouldn’t happen if you had a society based on brotherhood (and sisterhood), charity, freedom, independence and faith.  It’s no accident that Jesus said ” It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

Now, I came from a family with a middle to high class lifestyle.  I certainly got everything I needed and most of the things I wanted. However, we never suffered from affluenza because my parents had us grounded in Christian values- focusing on service to others, the importance of family and the value of hard work. I could list lots of examples of how my parents demonstrated to me that money was not the purpose of life.  One example is how my father has always been an avid home teacher.  Home teaching is a program in our church of visiting fellow members and helping them in anyway possible.  Many good home teachers still do it out of obligations or duty- not my dad.  He loves it!  He loves getting to know and serving people and most of them become his life-long friends.  He’s even spoken at some of their funerals. For the record, my mother is also a diligent visiting teacher.

Another example is how both of my parents were always opening their home to friends.  For instance, we had a number of foreign exchange students and visitors while I grew up.  This enriched all of our lives and created great relationships all over the globe.  Another memory I have is of our friends always being welcome to eat with our family.  We had family meal every night.  Even when I was in high school and my parents had two little ones and I was busy with activities, I still remember eating together most nights.  Often one of my friends, or my brother’s friends would join us for dinner.  They were always welcomed as one of our family.  My parents weren’t perfect but in simple ways they taught me how to serve others and keep a heart free from greed.

As my sister and brother have gotten married they have also been good examples of reaching out to others and cultivating a non-materialistic home.  My brother is passionate about many causes and has allowed friends to stay at their home, sharing meals together.  My sister is great about giving of her time to other young mothers around her.  She was just telling me yesterday about a small act of service she had planned for two of her acquaintances.  She found out they were traveling with kids and decided to make them little kits to help the kids with the journey.  It is such little acts of service that keep each of us grounded in what matters.  Our country needs the same grounding.  We certainly don’t need an excuse for our excesses like an affluenza epidemic.

I served my mission in Indiana and while there I met one of the richest ladies I have ever known.  Her name is Sister Mary Turner.  She lived in a tough part of Indianapolis and had very little material possessions.  She actually lived off of social security and some welfare assistance from the church.  Because she loved the missionaries she had a strong desire to feed all of us every week (4 elders, 2 sisters) but she refused to use any assistance or welfare money to do this.  So to make a few extra dollars she started gathering soda pop cans and then turning them for cash. Eventually her neighborhood and our ward (congregation) joined in and everyone had a stash of cans to help Mary Turner feed the missionaries.  With the few dollars she got every week she would then go to Aldee’s (a discount store in the midwest) and buy whatever was on sale.  This usually led to some odd meal combinations including spaghetti and mashed potatoes or french fries and egg rolls.  After the meal she would usually have some type of food gift for us such as a gallon of milk or a half gallon of ice cream.

I will never forget this sacrifice made in my behalf.  She did not have to feed us.  There were others who would have gladly done so, but she wanted to give to a cause she loved.  The entire cycle of her money from creation, to spending, to giving was based on Christian values. It is a great example of charity and a wonderful way to live our lives- full of worry about how you can afford to help people, not how you can compete with the neighbors.  Mary Turner suffered from the opposite of affluenza- giveluenza! Something our country could use a lot more of and that our leaders could work to develop.

In my life I try to do at least one day of community service a month.  This has just started but already I have had some neat experiences including delivering cookies to the lonely and working at Festival of Trees for Primary Children Medical Center. Such endeavors have not only brought me happiness but hopefully helped others in my small way.  They also keep me grounded in what matters and in the community I love. I think we need to write a similar prescription for anyone suffering from affluenza- find someone to serve, look at a neigbor as a friend not an enemy, and help someone accomplish their dreams.   This is what makes life great not money!

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