Friday, August 19, 2011

What the Apostle Said: Urgent matters concerning the priesthood

Last night I got to sit in on a meeting with Elder Perry of the quorum of the twelve apostles and Elder Clayton of the presidency of the Seventy.    I was there with about 500 other priesthood leaders representing about 38,000 members in 11 stakes.   I happened to be in the front row, so when the chorister was late, I got to stand up and lead everyone in a few hymns.   It’s awesome to hear all those voices.    There’s a great, peaceful feeling sharing the same room with hundreds of men united in song and purpose, determined together to serve Jesus Christ.  That feeling stayed with me through the entire meeting and I left feeling edified and having some new ideas and direction.

The purpose of the meeting was to address a few large concerns that have been on the minds of the brethren recently.   I’ll list each one and mention what was discussed.

Limited Understanding of Sacred Covenants

Many brothers are entering into priesthood covenants without a good understanding of what the oath and the covenant of the priesthood is.   It’s a very serious commitment and many are ordained with little understanding of it.   Elder Perry quoted 1 Tim 5:22 (“Lay hands suddenly on no man.”) and taught that we should carefully teach about the oath and covenant of the priesthood before we ordain brethren.

We reviewed principles of the priesthood including the following:

-       The priesthood is the power and authority by which God created and governs the universe.

-       It is the portion of his power given to mortal men for salvation. 

-       The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who desire them.

-       The priesthood is directed by individuals who possess keys.   Keys entitle one to receive revelation to guide and direct others. 

-       When we enter into the oath and covenant of the priesthood, we make an oath to:

Magnify our callings through doing our duty and following personal revelation

Give diligent heed to the words of eternal life

“Live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God”

-       God promises

Physical support

Adoption into the family of Abraham

Eternal Life and “All that the Father hath”

-       If we desire eternal life, we must enter into this covenant.  If we enter into this covenant and abandon it, we cannot be forgiven in this life or the next.   It’s a very serious promise. 

-       With the priesthood, there is a line of authority (D&C 84:33-37)  - we act for the Savior.


Response to the rescue has been poor

Our prophet is very concerned about the rescue of individuals, especially those who have the priesthood and those who have had the opportunity to receive it.   Our progress as a church in the 2 ½ years since he spoke on this has been essentially zero.  To explain this, Elder Clayton gave a classic quote from Stephen L. Richards:

“A quorum is three things: first, a class; second, a fraternity; and third, a service unit. Within it the men of the Priesthood learn of the principles of the Gospel, establish true brotherhood, and carry forward the work of Christ. It is a God-given association from which they derive more of lasting advantage than from any other fraternal organization in our society. Its prime purpose is to encourage and safeguard the individual." 

Elder Clayton said that we often forget the rest of that quote:

“I fear we have some men who have received the Holy Priesthood who feel themselves too big and too important to associate with their brethren in the quorum. I am sorry for them. They are making a great mistake. For it is they, chiefly, who are retarding the progress of the work of God. I am certain that I am right when I say that if all of the men of the Priesthood would be loyal to their quorums the work of the Church would be accelerated beyond anything we have ever known”

The point here is that it is the failure of priesthood quorums that is causing our failure.   We had an open participation section where we answered three questions:

1)    What have you seen in quorums that really works to encourage a feeling of brotherhood?

2)    What encourages the brethren to use the priesthood in their own homes?

3)    What examples have you seen of Elders Quorum Presidents using their keys?


The main points that came out of this discussion is that quorum presidents have a responsibility to follow revelation, to teach their quorums, and to bring them together in love.   

Elder Perry taught how quorum leaders can cooperate with full time missionaries to help bring people back.   Missionaries have the time and calling to teach, and quorum leaders have the right to personal revelation which will guide them to those who are ready.    The leaders also have the authority to personally minister to families and invite them to recommit to the gospel and have the missionaries teach them. 

In elder Perry’s opinion, the most important callings to fill in a ward are: Bishop, Clerk, and Elder’s quorum president.  These callings have a significant part in this process.

Protecting Religious Freedom

Political movements that are seeking to limit religious freedom require the efforts of a large, united priesthood body to oppose them.  The LDS church is well-respected among leaders of other religions.   One of the great reasons for this is our participation in the California proposition 8 contest.  As a church, we are unique in that other organizations have no head.  These organizations are led by councils and committees.   We have one head – the savior Jesus Christ, who acts through his senior apostle on the earth.   This enables us to accomplish great things.

Elder Perry challenged us to rescue 10% of the elders and prospective elders who have fallen out of activity in the church.  If we did so, we would activate 250,000 men worldwide.   Imagine that!





Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on Creationism

In a world where a book on how to use my TV has more words than Genesis chapters 1-3, I have a hard time thinking the biblical account is complete enough to understand the mechanisms and nature of creation.   More to the point, I think in the translation of the Hebrew word “yowm” into “day” in the Genesis account is the main thing that is fouling everybody up by immediately limiting our thinking.   If it had been translated into “eon” (a valid translation), then the trouble would have been largely circumvented.   God created the earth in six eons and then he rested.   Sounds pretty reasonable.  

What’s interesting about science is that it has always been after God.  Scientists have always been trying to find him.    First on mountaintops, then in distant lands, in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the universe, in the far reaches of time…   Every step they take pushes the frontier back.    Each step yields greater understanding of our world, but no evidence of God turns up.  It’s enough to make people give up the search, and many do.   The irony is that all things are evidence that god exists and that the scientific means for detecting God lie within ourselves, not out there to be discovered.     What the scientific search for God has taught me is that God truly is a god of faith.    He simply doesn’t allow himself to be known objectively.  We look and look for signs, but He’s so smart that he has hidden himself from detection even in the very laws of nature that govern his own creations.    And yet, he’s also so generous that he has enabled all of his children to meet him personally if they simply live according to his commandments. 

Interesting side note:  Yesterday I was listening to a short lecture on Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most important philosopher of Western civilization and someone who opened the way for the renaissance.    Thomas is described a someone very wise, humble like a child, extremely intelligent, and incredibly prolific- he wrote over 50 volumes.   The most interesting thing about Thomas is what happened at the end of his life (quoted from Wikipedia):

In 1272 Thomas took … time at Naples to work on the third part of the [Summa  Theologiae] while giving lectures on various religious topics. On 6 December 1273 Thomas was celebrating the Mass of St. Nicholas when, according to some, he heard Christ speak to him. Christ asked him what he desired, being pleased with his meritorious life. Thomas replied "Only you Lord. Only you." After this exchange something happened, but Thomas never spoke of it or wrote it down. Because of what he saw, he abandoned his routine and refused to dictate to his socius Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: "Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me."

Some people compare this to what Paul said in Philiphians 3:8

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ

The book Thomas was working on when he died was The Summa Theologiae, which was his best known and most influential work, even though he never finished it.   It had a tremendous impact on Western thought and Christian religion. Yet, one look into heaven and Thomas couldn’t bear to work on it anymore because his book seemed just useful enough to catch cow turds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Developer Interviews: An alternative to puzzle questions

I’ve been in many developer interviews and I’ve frequently been asked puzzle questions.   You know what I’m talking about- the kind that has one cool, non-obvious optimal answer that the interviewer knows and that you don’t, and that you have to come up with in the next 10 minutes or you’ve screwed up your chances of getting that job.    

Here are some quick thoughts on the questions and a proposal for something different:

People in interviews are nervous:   A nervous person has high adrenaline, which pulls blood from the brain into the extremities, lowering their higher-order abilities of reason and judgment.   A lot of reasonable, highly intelligent people become babbling morons in a high-stakes situation.  (Reminds me of my first date!)  Puzzle questions exacerbate the problem because there is an edge of hostility in them.     More to the point-   Interviewees who know anything about us study puzzle questions books ahead of time knowing that they might get asked.   They guy who did well on the puzzle question – was it because he knew the answer ahead of time, was it because he just doesn’t get nervous, or was he just brilliant?   It’s very hard to tell.    I suspect Alan Turing, who is described as shy and nervous, would do poorly answering puzzle questions in an interview.   

It’s a double standard:  Consider this-  I ask puzzle questions of my colleagues  quite often.   I’ve never seen a question solved on the spot, or quickly.   People usually walk off to be by themselves and come back a day or two later with the answer.    Interviewers usually give just a few high-pressure minutes for solving their questions.   Does asking questions in this manner do an effective job of predicting how a person will behave in a work environment?  I don’t think so.

There is an alternative:     The goal is to lower adrenaline and still ask questions that exercise reasoning ability/creativity.   One way to achieve that is to ask questions that are based on personal experience, and have no “right” answer, and are naturally difficult.   Asking questions like this lowers your status as an interviewer and balances the conversation.   This conversation will be of the type we have every day at work and will give the interviewer much more useful information.      Here are some examples of questions off the top of my head:

-          How would you calculate how much salt a person eats in a year?  (A variant of the famous “gas-station problem.   My observation is that I am solving gas-station problems at least once a week at work.)

-          How would you organize one billion photos?

-          How would you approach writing a program to compute the number of lines of code in a large code base?

-          Imagine everyone in the world had a Bluetooth medical monitor that uploaded information to a giant database.   What challenges does this create?

I think these questions are low-pressure alternatives to puzzle questions that allow a person to share their reasoning abilities in a conversational way.