Saturday, October 27, 2007

Priority Mail

Yesterday my son was crawling on the floor, getting into things he wasn't supposed to, including an old shoebox that was once used to ship something.

I noticed something stuck to his bottom. On closer inspection, I found that it was a United States Postal Service "Priority Mail" sticker. I laughed out loud, thinking perhaps someone was trying to get rid of him.

But then I realized that he is, truly, the "Priority Male" of our household. I left the sticker on for a while.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Moses and the Atonement

When the Israelites had sinned by worshipping an idol, Moses sought to atone for their sins in Exodus 32:

30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.

31 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.

32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.

33 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

It's no wonder why this thought came to Moses. He was very familiar with the concept of transferring sin to an animal to be sacrificed. But the Lord's response teaches us about the true meaning of the sacrifices, as well as about the atonement.

The sacrificing of animals was not really what took away sin. The people were commanded to do it as a demonstration of their repentance, as well as a type of Jesus' sacrifice to come. If Moses could not take upon himself the sins of his people, surely neither can any animal, no matter how unspotted.

But there is even more to learn from this scripture, and that is something about the nature of the atonement. If Jesus' atonement was enough to take our sins upon him, why couldn't Moses make a similar proxy sacrifice? Wouldn't it have been just? If I have a debt and someone else volunteers to pay it, isn't justice served?

The problem, I believe, with Moses' sacrifice is that Moses couldn't have paid it, and he was wrong to assume he could. If there are two holes in the ground that are infinitely deep, could I take dirt out of one whole to fill the other? Of course not. Because we all fall short of perfection, and thus are cut off from God who requires perfection, we all have infinitely deep holes, even Moses.

Any punishment we endure is completely justified, but instead God extends mercy because of his Son. If Moses received any punishment, it would be wholly justified based on his own sins, and so it would not count at all for the sins of his people.

This tells us something about Christ--he was the only one without a hole, and the only one capable of filling ours. His sacrifice was acceptable because he was not deserving of any punishment, but yet he suffered greater punishment than us all.

I believe this is what Alma explained in Alma 34:

11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.

12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

What does "infinite atonement" mean? I believe it means that it must be done by one who is perfect, so that the punishment cannot be applied to his own sins, but to all of ours.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Our Generational Debt

It's no secret that the dual earner household is on the rise, and that kids are being put in childcare at earlier ages to allow their parents to work. It's too bad we live in a world where the cost of living has risen so much that both parents need to work. I hear about it all the time. I just heard it on the radio the other day--the "need" for both parents to work.

While this is probably true of many individual cases, I don't buy it as an explanation for the overall trend. From 1951 to 2005, the consumer price index, a measure of inflation, rose 751%. Over the same period of time, the national average wage index rose from $2,799.16 to $36,952.94 (an increase of 1220%).

I'm no statistician, but it seems to me that according to these numbers, the average income in 2005 buys a higher standard of living than the average income in 1951--62% higher, to be exact.

We should expect that average incomes should be going up faster than prices. That's progress. If it wasn't for that sort of progress, we'd all be herding goats and living in tents in the desert. The problem is that we are not happy with that progress. We want more. As a result we are building up our generational debt. We will pay for this debt in two ways.

First, just like financial debt, generational debt has a limit. Once all married couples are dual-earner families, where do we go from there? We are then forced to fall back to the normal rate of growth. After we have acclimated to our artificially high progress rate, this will be hard to accept.

Second, and more importantly, we will pay for it in generations of kids whose upbringing was outsourced. It's difficult to measure the affects of this, and surely there are many that would think I am too extreme. But I feel the result will be (and has been) higher crime, lower self respect and respect for authority, less emotional maturity, and less well-rounded children overall. Thus, the future generation will pay our debt, plus interest.

Let me re-iterate that this is not an attack on any family that has chosen, or needs to, be a dual earner family. Nor I am suggesting that the children of dual earner families will necessarily be bad members of society. But I think the overall trend is inexcusable, and the overall affects undesirable.

Guest Blog on Millenial Star

I posted on Millenial Star today:

It's Not About You, Stupid

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Practicing Service

Last week someone rang our doorbell and ran away, leaving a bag of candy on our doorstep with a poem attached. It was one of those things that says to find 3 friends and do the same service within 48 hours. My wife took is very seriously, but I didn't. "That's not really service" I said, "It's a bag of candy!".

I'm prone to this kind of thinking. Sometimes when I sit in Elders quorum (before I was a primary teacher) and hear talk about people helping people move or whatever and I think, "We are a quorum of Elders in God's kingdom. Isn't there something really important we're supposed to be doing? Something that will change people's lives?"

Today in Church we found out that one of the boys in our ward was diagnosed with cancer. Their family will be basically living in the hospital. They have 3 kids and 1 on the way. Talk about tough. The ward is going to be bringing them meals and no doubt serving them in many different ways. I'm reminded of Bishop Edgley's talk on Enduring together, in which he says, "The Lord’s organization is fully adequate to know and care for those with even the most dire emotional and spiritual needs." That's a lot to live up to.

After thinking about the boy in our ward and Bishop Edgley's talk, I realized why it is so important that we do the small acts of service--the bags of candy and the move assistance. It's not because those acts are so meaningful on their own, in my opinion. It is because they are practice. Often the moments when we really can help make a difference in someone's lives take us by surprise. If we are not prepared--if we are not ready--we might miss them and leave someone in need. Just as our muscles require constant exercise to maintain their strength, we need to exercise our habit for service, so that when we really need to serve it will be instinctual.

Next time someone brings a bag of candy to my door, I won't take it so lightly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Car or Doll?

"Car or doll?" the woman asked after I ordered the happy meal for my daughter. "Doll" I said without thinking. I have a daughter; of course she wants the doll.

After dinner we gave her the doll without even looking at it. Today I was cleaning up and found it on the floor and saw it for the first time. It was one of those Bratz dolls wearing a halter-top and a mini skirt. I've seen the Bratz toys before, and I was shocked the first time I saw them in the toy store. I was even more shocked that they were being peddled to 3-year-olds.

The happy meal bag says "Toys for kids under 3 available". How about toys for kids under 18? Are those available?

Lesson learned: Next time someone asks me "Car or doll?", choose car.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Who is my neighbor? Really.

A lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Christians are familiar with the parable Jesus used to answer his question. So what's the answer? That's easy; I was taught that in primary. Everyone is my neighbor. Simple. Problem solved. Or maybe it's not so simple.

Listening to General Conference this past weekend, I heard at least two speakers (Elder Wirthlin and Elder Snow) quote Jesus saying that loving our neighbor is the second greatest commandment. Both spoke of love and serving others, and both were among my favorite talks of conference.

Elder Snow listed several categories of service: our church callings, in our families, and in our communities. But what about everyone else? What about the starving children in Africa, or the orphans in Russia?

Let me be clear that I am not criticizing him for not mentioning our responsibility for world-wide service. There may have been a reason why it was omitted, and it certainly is beyond the scope of one conference talk to enumerate all the ways in which we should serve others. Still, it seems like when we talk about service in the church, we usually talk about service to those around us, and people far away are often an after-thought. An exception to this is after some massive natural disaster.

I'm left to ponder whether it is more important to serve my neighbor down the street than on the other side of the world. If so, why could this by?

1) Perhaps by saying we should serve in our communities, we are including our world-wide community. But that doesn't seem consistent with the examples we often site.

2) Perhaps world-wide service is not emphasized because it's not practical that the church should expect us all to hop a plane and go to Africa. But there are other ways to serve, such as supporting the Red Cross, which we are able to do.

3) Perhaps it's not emphasized because the Church has a humanitarian program that is doing much good. Still, that doesn't feel like it absolves by responsibility, does it? At least I should be reminded to support that effort.

4) Perhaps the thinking is that if we all help out in our neighborhoods, everyone in need will be taken care of. But that assumes people who can help are evenly distributed geographically.

If my neighbor was diagnosed with some terminal disease, surely I would want to help, in whatever way I could that was not too intrusive. Don't I have the same responsibility to help those who are diseased and hungry across the world?

So who is my neighbor? Really.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Child-like Service

As I lay my son down for his mid-morning nap, I noticed a small teddy bear in his crib. This seamed strange to me, as we never put toys in his crib. But suddenly I realized how it got there.

My two kids are on a very early schedule, so I'm usually awakened by the whimpers of my son over the baby monitor. It takes a few minutes to rub the sleep from my eyes and go and get him out of his crib. On the way I pass my 3-year old daughter's room and peek in. Like always, she is already up and playing downstairs (she learned a few weeks ago that if she comes and gets us when she wakes up, we'll send her back to bed: "It's to early" we moan. But if she goes downstairs and plays quietly she can stay up).

I got my son out of his crib without noticing the teddy bear. But when I saw it later I knew what must have happened. Hearing the cries of her brother, my daughter had gone into his room and tried to soothe him the best way she knew how: with a toy to play with.

Now, I know my daughter loves her brother, and she's always willing to help him when we ask. When we're changing him: "Honey, can you get him a diaper?" When he's crying and we're busy getting ready to go to church: "Can you sing him a song?" She's always willing to help. But what made this special is that we weren't watching. She didn't expect any praise from us. She did it just because she loves her brother.

Of course, nothing we do goes unseen by our Father in heaven. But if this small act of kindness between siblings meant so much to me, how much joy must our Father feel when we serve a brother or sister in need? Many times more so when we do it out of love, instead of obligation.