Archive for 2007

Learning About Mormonism on the Internet

December 15th, 2007  |  Published in Mormonism

Welcome to Above Yourself, a blog about self-improvement and faith. If you're new here, you may want to subscribe in a reader or subscribe by email. Many of the topics here are related to my faith in Jesus Christ and Mormonism, but all are welcome to share their own beliefs. Thanks for visiting!

My primary reason for starting this blog was because I wanted to have a place where I could share my own personal feelings about gospel topics with the world. My hope is that some of these words will reach those who don’t know much about Mormons and Mormonism, but who want to know more. I know that there are many, many places for learning online, but I feel the same way as Elder Ballard, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church) who described the potential of this new medium in a commencement speech he gave today at BYU-Hawaii. In this speech, he describes how members of the church can use the Internet and other “new media” to spread the message of the church. It is certainly true that political events have people talking more and more about the Mormons, and as Elder Ballard said, “conversations about the Church would take place whether or not Church members decided to participate in them.” It is our opportunity to join in on this discussion.

Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.

–M. Russell Ballard, Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church, Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s graduation ceremony, 15 December 2007.

In my personal view, the Internet is becoming an ever-increasing resource for learning things. It’s an ever-increasing trend for blogs to give better coverage than traditional media on all kinds of topics, from local sports teams to personal finance and beyond. As they continue writing about these topics, bloggers tend to gain a view of their topic that is in many ways unique; for example, sportscasters don’t often interact directly with fans as part of their daily routine, so a sports blogger can provide commentary in their own way. Opinions are more easily shared, and interaction between writers and readers is encouraged from the start.

There are many ways to share the gospel online. For more ideas, you can visit the More Good Foundation Blog and Know Your Neighbor, which both have many excellent resources and ideas. You can also read a summary of Elder Ballard’s speech, or the full transcript. Do you have your own ideas or experiences on how to share your thoughts on Mormonism? Let us know in the comments.

Learning as a Foundation for Experience

December 14th, 2007  |  Published in Preparedness

My personal background is in the ever-changing field of technology, but I don’t think I gained most of my skills from college courses. Does that mean I regret going to college? Definitely not. I view my experience there as a foundation for everything I have done since then. It’s more about learning how to learn - developing good habits that will lead you on a path that you can use to take advantage of the future experience that you will have.

A friend once asked me for advice to give to her younger brother, who wanted to go directly to work after high school because he thought he could make more money that way. He was a computer guy, so he cited examples like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell as rich computer billionaires who didn’t have college degrees.

I’ve thought about that question a lot since then. Why should anyone go to college? I think it’s more fundamental than just getting a degree- it’s about learning how to learn, developing the habits that can lead you to be more successful and live a meaningful life. Education unlocks the potential of experience because it provides a foundation upon which that experience is organized and built. It teaches problem-solving skills that can later be applied to larger decisions. My professors at college realized this, and they said that part of the reason they would even teach technology skills in such a structured environment with regular assignments and lessons was so that we could just pick up a manual in the future to learn how to use a technology.

Our current prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has always stressed the importance of education. A recent article in the New Era gives a lot of insight into the importance of education:

You have the potential to become anything to which you set your mind. You have a mind and a body and a spirit. With these three working together, you can walk the high road that leads to achievement and happiness. But this will require effort and sacrifice and faith.

You must get all of the education that you possibly can. Life has become so complex and competitive. You cannot assume that you have entitlements due you. You will be expected to put forth great effort and to use your best talents to make your way to the most wonderful future of which you are capable. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.

You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands. The Lord has said, “Teach ye diligently … of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—that ye may be prepared in all things” (D&C 88:78–80).

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning,”
New Era, Sep 2007, 2–5

Education helps us use our experience for good. I am extremely grateful for the chance I had to go to college, and I echo President Hinckley’s words: “sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.” I have had many personal examples of people who have taken this advice to heart, and their lives have been greatly blessed for it.

Learning How to Learn

November 29th, 2007  |  Published in Habits, Mormonism

A recent article in Scientific American says that “more than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort- not on intelligence or ability- is key to success in school and in life.” Although talent is certainly part of the equation, it doesn’t get us anywhere by itself. A few key concepts mentioned in the article are as follows:

“Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

“Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners— helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so… such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.”

“Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For instance, many young athletes value talent more than hard work and have consequently become unteachable. Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs without constant praise and encouragement to maintain their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our homes and schools, however, we will give our children the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become responsible employees and citizens.”

Carol S. Dweck, Scientific American Mind

Line Upon Line

Learning is more about persistence than it is about natural ability. Ability certainly helps, but it doesn’t win us a marathon. Running a marathon takes persistence and applied effort. As children we certainly didn’t know all that we do now. In the same way, our current level of learning and understanding isn’t a cap on our maximum learning. Although we may have completed high school or college or graduate school, this doesn’t mean we’re done. Our efforts can take us up another level, and we can continually expand on that knowledge.

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. 2 Nephi 28:30

As a missionary, I was asked to learn Spanish to be able to teach the people of Argentina. I had studied Spanish on and off since elementary school and had always received good grades, so I thought this would be pretty easy. In the Missionary Training Center, we received lots of lessons on Spanish grammar and pronunciation. I did well in those lessons and thought I knew Spanish. Actually speaking it, however, was very frustrating. My mouth wasn’t used to forming Spanish words, and I became a little disheartened. Apparently I had no natural talent for actually speaking Spanish, I thought.

When I really learned Spanish, it came from actually speaking it. One of my instructors told us that learning a language means making mistakes and then correcting those mistakes. When I arrived in Argentina I was pretty intimidated because I still made plenty of mistakes. Luckily, many of the people I came in contact with were very willing to correct me. At first this was frustrating again, because I wasn’t used to being wrong so often, but after a while I realized that these comments were a real help.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learning Never Ends

In a devotional speech given at Brigham Young University, Dilworth B. Parkinson, a professor of Arabic at BYU, said that “One of the clearest results of language teaching research is that when a student becomes satisfied with what he knows, when he feels he “knows the language,” he almost immediately ceases to make progress.”

This quote really hit home for me, because I fell in the trap of thinking I was done learning more than once. It has been a recent challenge of mine to know that learning is never really finished. I had the opportunity to translate our church meetings into Spanish, which led me to realize there were many more mistakes to be made and many more lessons to learn. It’s a challenge to maintain the proper learning mindset, but if we do, our progression has no limits.

Promises in the Scriptures

November 16th, 2007  |  Published in Uncategorized

If you read in the scriptures, you can see that God has many promises for us. Not all of them are specific, and we can certainly receive more promises, but he has promised us certain things when we obey His commandments. There are so many of these promises given in the scriptures that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Elder Spencer J. Condie gave a talk this last General Conference that lists many of them for us:

The Lord’s countless exceeding great and precious promises include forgiveness of our sins when we “confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43; see also D&C 1:32). Opening the windows of heaven is a promise claimed by those who pay a faithful tithe (see Malachi 3:10), and finding “great treasures of knowledge” accrues to those who observe the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:19).

Becoming unspotted from the world is a promise to those who keep the Sabbath holy (see D&C 59:9; Exodus 31:13). Divine guidance and inspiration are promised to those who “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3) and who “liken all scriptures” unto themselves (1 Nephi 19:23).

The Lord also promised that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20). We are promised that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion when we “let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly” (see D&C 121:45–46). We can claim the spiritually liberating promise of fasting, which will “loose the bands of wickedness,” undo our “heavy burdens,” and “break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

Those who are sealed in holy temples and who faithfully keep their covenants will receive God’s glory, which “shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19).

- Elder Spencer J. Condie, Oct 2007 General Conference

I don’t remember ever seeing a list of promises like that before, and it’s stunning when presented like this, even though this isn’t a comprehensive listing of all the blessings we might receive. These blessings are somewhat straightforward, but sometimes we expect to receive them without any effort of our own. We should remember that we receive blessings from God when we follow His commandments:

In these latter days, the Lord revealed that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21). The Lord makes generous promises, and He certifies that He will not vary from these promises, for, said He, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).
- Elder Spencer J. Condie, Oct 2007 General Conference

Blessings from Reading the Book of Mormon

November 11th, 2007  |  Published in Mormonism

Many of our latter-day prophets have spoken of the importance of reading the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing to me to hear some of the promises that are given to use if we make reading the Book of Mormon a regular task in our lives.

In the First Presidency Message given in August 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley issued a challenge to the entire church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. At the end of that challenge, he mentioned the blessings that we would receive from reading the Book of Mormon:

“Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, August 2005 First Presidency Message

My wife and I successfully completed this challenge, and as we did it there was certainly a special feeling that accompanied the reading of the Book of Mormon. It’s amazing how such a simple thing like reading in a book can have such a profound effect. As we read in the Book of Mormon, many of our problems seemed much smaller, and we had a much better perspective on our challenges.

President Ezra Taft Benson spoke frequently of the importance of reading the Book of Mormon. He highlights the blessings we can receive from doing so as follows:

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.
Ezra Taft Benson, October 1986 General Conference

What are your favorite quotes about the Book of Mormon? Have you felt any of these blessings as you have read it?