Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eric Jorgensen's Microsoft Commitments, FY2013

So, even though I will be switching to a job at another company next week, my manager asked me to write my commitments for the coming year.  I currently work at Microsoft, and this is one of the rituals we go through.  “Commitments” are essentially goals and plans for what we are going to accomplish in the next 12 months.  As you might imagine, this is a bit of a homework assignment, and managers get nagged by the system to make sure that their employees write their commitments.  So, it was understandable that my manager would ask me to do this, and to his credit, he hinted that I could put “whatever” in my commitments…. Heh heh heh.
So without further ado, here are my Microsoft commitments for the coming year.   They were approved by my manager on Friday, so they are official.  Needless to say, this is the most fun I've had writing them.
Eric Jorgensen's Microsoft Commitments, FY2013
1 Secure agreeable interantional and domestic relations between all nations

Execution plan:
  • Expand McDonald's Franchises into Middle east and central Africa.
  • Everyone gets a nap and a cookie every afternoon
  • Violence in media and sporting events replaced with 1950's musical numbers

  • Universal human rights
  • Cessation of war

Employee status: Not started

2 Achieve Enlightenment

Execution plan:
  • Deep meditation
  • Give away all possessions
  • Study the lives of all the great peacemakers
  • Stop eating Hostess food products

  • Inner peace
  • Oneness with the universe

Employee status: Not started

3 Determine the nature and fundamental causes of accelerated expansion of the universe

Execution plan:
  • Raise money via Kickstarter project
  • Build matter/antimatter supercollider in geosynchronous Earth orbit
  • Invite Stephen Hawking to write the forward to my book

  • Nobel Prize in Physics
  • Unification Theory one pager
  • publish "Dark Energy for Kids"

Employee status: Not started


Friday, August 31, 2012

A Mormon's View of Eternal Marriage

If you have heard about Mormons, you have possibly heard something about their beliefs on marriage, and their unique mode of marriage called an “Eternal Marriage” or “Sealing”.  This is a somewhat misunderstood topic, not just by people outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), but also by the members themselves.  Indeed, one of the goals of members of the church is to understand what Eternal Marriage really means, as it is a mystery.   It is my intent to shed some light on this topic for both members and non-members, and ultimately for myself as well.   I’m no expert, I still have a lot to learn, but I hope that what I say will be beneficial to those who want better marriages as well as those who are simply curious to know more about what Mormons believe.
What’s the difference between an Eternal Marriage and a conventional marriage?  I think that is the fundamental question here, and when I am personally trying to better understand marriage, it is a question I ask of myself.  Is there a real, tangible difference?   It seems to me that if Mormons are going to claim a special and unique mode of marriage, it ought to appear, feel, and behave in a manner that is special and unique when compared to the standard convention.     In the next few paragraphs, I will talk about the matter-of-fact surface differences in the two kinds of marriage, then later I’ll talk about how I view these personally and what difference these things make in the way that I think and feel as Mormon in an Eternal Marriage.
The first thing to know about an Eternal Marriage is that Mormons view it as a sacred covenant with God.  It is viewed as something most holy.  The ceremony to solemnize the marriage can be performed only in a temple by a man who has been specifically given the power to seal a couple together on earth and in heaven.   As I’ve mentioned in another blog post, LDS temples are special and distinct from LDS churches.    There are about 10,000 LDS church buildings in the world, but only about 150 temples.   “Sealers”, the ones who perform the marriages in temples, are special too.  Congregational church leaders (aka Bishops) do not have authority to perform temple marriages.  Only a sealer may do so after he has been set apart by the prophet leader of our church.  Sealers are comparatively rare. There is probably only 1 sealer for every 10,000 church members.    
Because the marriage ceremony for an eternal marriage is performed in a temple, the wedding party is limited to Mormons who are living according to the worthiness standards of the church.  This significantly limits the size of the group that attends a temple marriage. Generally, the wedding party in the temple consists of immediate family members and very close friends.   The couple, of course, also must live up to the same standards, which means that they have refrained from sexual relations before marriage and are living clean and moral lives.   The wedding ceremony itself is very simple.  The couple, dressed in white clothing, kneels at an alter across from each other.  There are large mirrors behind each person, creating that interesting visual effect of a hallway extending forever.  This symbolizes the eternal nature of the marriage.    Mormons don’t talk about the exact words of the ceremony outside of the temple because this is very sacred, however I will say the wording of the ceremony is quite a bit different than a traditional marriage ceremony- the most notable difference being the omission of the words “til death do you part.”   As I mentioned before, marriage is a covenant between the couple and God and it is considered to be forever in duration. 
In terms of beliefs, I’ve already mentioned an obvious distinction of Eternal Marriages- that marriage is forever, not just until death.   The implication is that the joys of a happy marriage on earth – companionship, children, family relationships, etc. – all of these continue forever in an Eternal Marriage.     Another distinction is that Eternal Marriage is a necessary preparation to receive Eternal Life, the greatest of all of God’s gifts to His children.   Mormons believe that there are multiple realms in heaven, and that to enter the highest, where God dwells, a person cannot do so without their spouse to whom they have been sealed in a temple.   To say it another way, Mormons believe that in the eternities, men and women exist together as parts of a whole, and in order to enjoy that blessing, one must be married in manner prescribed by God. 
There is another difference of belief that I think deserves its own paragraph.   Mormons have some pretty unorthodox beliefs, and perhaps chief among them is the ultimate potential of humankind.  Mormons believe that each person is a literal child of God, that we lived with God before we were born, and that the Earth was created expressly for the purpose of advancing God’s children and preparing them to receive all of the same things that God has.   To be frank about it, this means, precisely, that a human being has the potential to become a god-  not just an angel in heaven, but a being with the same attributes, knowledge, and capabilities that our Father in heaven has now.   I acknowledge that to some people, this sounds like absolute heresy, and I don’t blame you for feeling that way.  My aim is not to apologize, but simply to inform.  If you want to understand how a Mormon thinks and how a temple marriage is different and unique from other forms of marriage, it is critical to understand this particular belief.     To a Mormon, A temple marriage is the centerpiece in God’s plan for his children- without it, a person cannot realize their ultimate potential.  
So- How does all of this make things different for me, personally?  So far what I have talked about is just facts, but what effect do these facts have on the lives of Mormons, and on this Mormon in particular?  
Speaking generally, I think it is easy to see how the special location and circumstances of a Mormon marriage, and the immense gravity of it all would have a tendency to create a higher degree of commitment from the couple involved.  To a Mormon, this is not an “ordinary” marriage contract, it is a contract with God himself and there is nothing more important.  The extra seriousness acts as a filter for people who would want to treat marriage relationships more casually.     Furthermore, if one desires a marriage of this sort, it can only be contracted with another Mormon in good standing, so there is a another filter there that helps to ensure that each person at least has similar spiritual goals and beliefs.    Neither of these filters are perfect, of course, but things are tilted in favor of commitment and spiritual compatibility.
Once a couple is married this way, now what?   It is all bliss and happiness?   Is the couple magically shielded from the trials typically associated with a conventional marriage?   The truth is that Mormons endure pretty much the same marriage stressors that are prevalent in any other kind of marriage or relationship.   There are still disagreements over money, parenting, sex, work, and even religion and standards.  There is still occasions of strife, hurt, and broken hearts.   A temple marriage doesn’t make a couple immune to these common problems, but a question I must ask myself is if there is something different and special about my marriage that helps me to deal with these stressors and be more successful overcoming them. As I have been pondering this essay and the issues around it, I’ve circled in on an idea that I haven’t deeply considered before.  
Something to know about me is that I’m a consumer of marriage advice.  I read lots of books about it because the success of my marriage is important to me.   At this point, I should offer a confession- my first marriage ended in divorce after 3 ½ years and two children.  It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to endure in my life.   I am still not exactly sure why my marriage failed, but I’ve acquired enough self-awareness since then to see where I made my own mistakes.   I am very fortunate to have had a second chance at marriage and to have a wife who helps me introspect and is patient with me as I go through this process.  In any event,  I read advice and counsel from others because I see the need in myself and I benefit from it in a practical way.   This isn’t much different than anyone else,  however I do notice one thread in marriage advice that shows up again and again:   Good marriages come about when husbands and wives see the best in each other.  There is something powerful and important about filtering the negative and focusing on the positive traits of the other.  Certainly, anyone can do this if they put their mind to it, but Mormons have a certain advantage that comes through their faith and beliefs.   This advantage is that we believe that everyone has a divine nature, with the potential to become a God. 
Think about what it means to truly believe that another person has the potential to be a being as pure, glorious, and intelligent as our creator.  If we can get ourselves to view people purely in terms of their potential, then what I should be able to do is not to simply view another person as “striving to be”, but rather as the real thing.   CS Lewis captured that idea with these words:
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, … it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."
Lewis says much more on the topic, but this gets to the heart of the matter.   If a good marriage stems from a couple seeing the best in one another, what could be more potent in that regard than me seeing my wife as a goddess?    Think what humility is engendered to know that this divine being who is my wife has condescended to make her dwelling with me.    What patience, love, and foresight she must have to remain with me and all my flaws and mistakes.   How tenderly and respectfully would I treat her, knowing the majesty of her intelligence, natural attributes, and personality?   Would this not be a supreme benefit to my marriage if I can develop this vision?   What if all women were treated in this manner?   What kind of world would it be?
I think many people, if not most, sense that there is something spiritual in marriage, something special, perhaps even mystical.   I know that I have looked for mysticism in my own marriage, but in the common sense that most people imagine it, I have not found it.  No visions.  No strange or glorious connections.  No amazing happenings.   Just hard work and toil, the occasional whispering of the still small voice, and  peace and happiness sprinkled among trials.   If there is mysticism there, if my wife is a goddess, then it is her natural thoughts, feelings, and intuition that are godly and mystical.  The things she does to gain quiet satisfaction from being a woman are the mystery.   She's not calling lightning out of heaven- she is baking pot pies, washing clothes, comforting hurts.  Eternal marriage is about me seeing those as holy and a door to my own destiny, my own salvation. The extent to which I can cherish what she is and does, and to the extent I can meld her nature into mine is the limiting factor in my progression.
My prayer, my personal plea with God, is that I can see the difference between what the world sees and what God sees and understand my wife for what she truly is.  It isn’t easy.  The world bombards us with false and demeaning images of women, but I am learning that there is a way to see through it and become a man with vision.  One must  keep trying.  Keep reminding himself.  Keep asking hemself,  “How would I approach my wife differently in this situation if I knew she was a goddess?”  Because she is a goddess.  That is the reality, not the imperfect mortal exterior that I see.   Not the cheap caricature of women portrayed on billboards and TV.
To a Mormon, Eternal marriage is a frame for viewing all life and all existence.  The act of pairing and creating a family and knowingly doing it in the similitude of god that you yourselves may become gods is the glory, the intelligence, and plan of eternal marriage.   Our bodies, our marriages, our relationships are not incidental to the mortal experience, they are the central point.   Even among Mormons, some see this, some don’t.    For those that do, I believe that there is a deep and powerful spiritual bond that comes from this vision.   From my own limited experience, I can say that it is real, it makes a substantial difference, and it points me toward something I want to strive for.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

What I Believe About Easter

There are some interesting, and frankly hard to believe, claims made about what happened on Easter Sunday.  Since today is Easter, I felt like going over some of these and writing briefly my thoughts.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher.
Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, … and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, … Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, …  she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. – John 20

Do I believe that Jesus was who he said he was?  The Messiah?  The Son of God?   Yes, I do.

Do I believe that Jesus died, and came back to life?  Yes, I do.

And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
And he took it, and did eat before them. – Luke 24:36-43

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.  – Matthew 27:52-53

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God – Job 19:25-36

Do I believe that the resurrection is physical, real, and tangible?  That our bodies shall literally rise again?  Yes, I do.

Do I believe that everyone shall rise again because of what Jesus Christ did?  Yes, I do.

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. – John 17:1-3

Beyond living again, do I believe there is a place of glory where we may live forever if we follow the path the Jesus Christ demonstrated and taught?   Yes, I do!

How is it possible to know such things?

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. – John 7:17

I have made, and continue to make, an honest and concerted effort to follow Jesus Christ in every way.  I am a flawed person, but I do repent of my sins, and I try to live a life in harmony with the teachings of Jesus.  As I have done this, I have come to know Him, and to know that He is real, that he is the Son of God, and that his teachings are sure and true.  I am at a loss of words to explain exactly how I know this; I can only say that I know it, and that anyone may know it if they also embark on His path. 

These are the things I believe about Easter.   It is a special day for me, and I hope that the gift of joy, comfort, and peace that have come to me through what I have learned about life and its purpose will be a gift to you as well. 

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mormon Temples: How does temple activity extend to daily life?

(This is part of a series of posts on Mormon temples)

In my last post, I talked about what happens in Mormon temples and explained that Mormons go to the temple to participate in sacred rites.   There is a standard of worthiness a Mormon must meet to enter the temple because it is so sacred and also because participants in temple rites make very solemn promises to commit their life to God and His ways.  As you might imagine, such activity has a lasting effect on the lives of many Mormons.   In this article, I will describe the day to day impact that this has on the lives of Mormons.

The Temple Garment

Perhaps the most obvious and physical implication of temple rites is the lifelong commitment to wearing the sacred temple garment.  The garment is a simple set of clothing worn underneath regular clothes.  It is similar in religious significance to other kinds of religious clothing such as a priest’s vestments or a Jew’s yamaka.    In form, the garment typically comes in two pieces – a t-shirt, and a pair of briefs that extend to the knee.  Mormons almost always call these pieces of clothing “garments” out of deep respect for what they symbolize.  Referring to them as “underwear” would make some Mormons feel uncomfortable because the term detracts from the respect and reverence they have for the garment. 

A significant side effect in wearing the garment is an obvious limitation of fashions that Mormons may choose from.  Tank tops, short shorts, miniskirts, etc.  would reveal the garment, so Mormons don’t wear these types of clothes.    The garment is worn all the time, night and day; however it may be removed temporarily for some activities such as bathing,  sports, marital intimacy, etc. 

More significant, however, is what the garment represents spiritually to a Mormon.  As an “outward expression of an inner commitment to follow the Savior Jesus Christ,” the garment is a constant reminder that everything we do has a spiritual component.   Some of the things a Mormon might consider on a daily basis are relationships with family, honesty, religious observance, prayer, spiritual pursuits, etc.   Additionally, Mormons believe the garment is a “shield and a protection” to a person who keeps all the covenants they make in the temple.   The exact meaning of this is open to interpretation, since there is no official doctrine on the matter.   Some believe the protection is literal and supernatural, while others believe it is more spiritual and metaphorical.   In either case, it represent a real and meaningful blessing for a Mormon committed to living a holy life.

Returning often

Regular temple attendance is considered a standard of activity for Mormons.  The meaning of “regular” varies between people, but typically it’s about once per month.   As mentioned earlier, activities in a temple are different than typical Sunday services.   The first time a Mormon goes to the temple, it is to receive temple ordinances for themselves.  Mormons return to the temple to do “temple work”, which is a form of worship.   The same ordinances are performed again and again, but a returning person (called a “Patron”) performs the ordinances in behalf of people who have previous died without them.  Mormons believe that one of the primary purposes of temples is to perform the sacred ordinances for all of the people who have lived on the earth so that they might have an equal opportunity to live in heaven as anyone else.   In this way, Mormons believe that they are not just recipients of the salvation of God, but that they are also participating with God in the great process of saving His children.   This is deeply significant to many Mormons and a strong source of spiritual motivation.

The mode of temple attendance for Mormons is varied and sometimes surprising.   For those living in close proximity to a temple, temple attendance is usually blended with regular daily activities.  Couples might attend the temple as a Friday “date night” for instance, or someone who has a day job may attend an early morning session on their way to work.   During the day, the temple is often attended by Mormons who are retired.     For those living far away from a temple, a visit to the temple can be an extreme sacrifice.    It is not uncommon for Mormons in poor and remote areas to save for years for a temple trip, then take a week or more to travel and spend a few days at the nearest temple.    These trips have some of the spiritual significance of a pilgrimage, but the object is not to visit a spiritual and historical landmark, but rather to receive the specific and necessary rites that are only available in the temple.  

Temple workers

Temples are staffed by lay members of the church- there is no school or special training required for consideration, and none of the temple management or ordinance workers receive any pay for their service.  Those who serve in the temple view it as an honor and a privilege to do so.  The management of a temple is performed by a temple President and his Counselors, who are called by revelation through the general authorities of the church.   Ordinance workers are sometimes called through local leadership or they may also volunteer.   Anyone performing in these offices must be first set apart by the laying on of hands by someone in the church who has authority to do so.     An ordinance worker typically gives one day during the week to serve in the temple.   Since it is an all-day commitment, workers are typically retired couples, but young people get involved as well.  

In addition to temple workers, temples also have a staff to perform maintenance, janitorial work, laundering, cafeteria work, and other similar duties.   These positions are paid and are often integrated with the welfare system of the LDS church, which teaches that work is an important component of receiving welfare.   Workers who perform these duties don’t need to be set apart, but they must meet the same worthiness standard as anyone else attending the temple. 

Teaching Children About the Temple

The temple is a central topic from the beginning with Mormon children.  Very young children are taught about temples as places where families a brought together to become “eternal families”.   Pictures of temples are common in Mormon homes, where often the temple depicted is the one where the parents were married, and there are several songs about the temple that children learn to sing.    As children mature into youth, the focus of temple teaching emphasizes the worthiness standard and being morally clean as preparation to enter the temple.   The church publishes a booklet for young people called For the Strength of Youth that gives significant detail and explanation of the worthiness standards.   Youth are taught constantly about honesty, sexual purity, using clean language, dressing modestly, etc.  

Youth who live by the worthiness standard have their first opportunity to participate in temple ordinances when they turn 12.  “Temple excursions” are a rite of passage and a highlight for Mormon youth.   The temple participation on excursions is limited to baptisms for the dead, where the youth act as proxies and are baptized on behalf of people who have passed on.  Participation in other ordinances generally happens after the age of 18. 

Encouraging Temple Attendance

Although temple attendance is limited to members who live by a certain moral standard, the invitation to come to the temple is not limited and is extended to everyone.   One of the primary aims of this teaching is to help people live a code of honesty, chastity, etc.  so that they are spiritually prepared to participate in temple rites, and in the long term, be spiritually prepared to return to God.   Mormons are often identified by their high moral standards and abstinence from certain substances such as coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco.   All of these outward manifestations of faith are directly related to temple worthiness.   Mormons live this way for the express purpose of being worthy to enter the “House of God”.

Striving for the Holy Spirit of Promise

Perhaps the most unusual and difficult to accept teaching in the LDS church is that people may have the privilege in this life of meeting God face to face.  (This is hard for even Mormons to accept.)   As I mentioned in my previous post, the ordinances of the temple are considered necessary to receive the greatest gifts that God has for us, and the highest and most holy ordinance is that of marriage.  It is tempting to think that marriage in a temple is a finish line, but in fact is more of a preparatory step.   Mormons take literally Jesus Christ’s commandment to be perfected, or completed.  This entails a lifelong and concerted effort to live up to all of the promises we make with God.  There will come a time for each person when they have endured every trial and passed every test that God has given them, and they will have become pure and developed the character of God.  Then the temple ordinances are said to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise”, to be recognized both on earth and in heaven, and the way is opened for that person to then meet God.   To a Mormon, this is the highest, purest goal of life, and is the foundation of their curious culture.

This concludes my series of posts on Mormon Temples.   It is my hope that this has given you additional insight into the way that Mormons think and believe, with the further hope that such knowledge will bring us closer together through improved understanding.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Resolutions - Dollars, pounds, projects, and miles

I felt like blogging my new year’s resolutions this year.   Maybe publicizing them will improve my commitment and maybe it will inspire others.  Here they are:

·         Interview each of my children at least once/month – I did this last year and I think it had a strong positive benefit for my family.   I keep a little chart at my computer and check off the planned interviews as they happen.  My wife and I also plan regular fun 1:1’s each month where she or I will take one of the kids out for a treat.

·         Spend < $600 on lunches through the year.  I occasionally eat out for lunch, but don’t really track it.  This year I’m incorporating my discretionary lunch budget in with my AF4 notebook so that I’m thinking about it more regularly and putting my spending in a place where I can see it.   I actually think I can spend a lot less than what I have allotted if I am paying attention to it.

·         Run 200 miles by Dec 31 – (Not at once!)   I figure I can average about 4 miles of running per week.   I’ve put a grid with 200 squares on my computer monitor at work.   Hopefully, this will remind me to get out there and run a few miles on occasion. 

·         Reach 175 lbs by April 1.    This is only 10 lbs, yet it represents a BMI of 22.5, which is slightly on the north end of healthy.  I will achieve this through regular exercise and smaller meal portions.   I like having some sort of health goal for the year, because without it, I tend to let things go.  (Of course, as I write this, I’m drinking a cup of hot chocolate. J)

·         Stay under 175 lbs for one month – I’ve never done this one.  I might be able to stretch and get myself down to 170, but I pop right back up.    I made this goal to keep my on my toes with the previous one.

·         Finish 2011 Family Video by Dec 1 – It’s been my tradition to edit down our family videos every year into one DVD of all the best moments.   This takes about 50 hours, and I’ve not been keeping it up recently.  It’s totally worth it, though, so I plan to do a little bit every month.

·         Do Budget before the 10th of Every month -  Janet and I had a really hard time keeping up with our budget last year and would often cram 3-4 months in one session, way too late to make corrections.   As a result, we overspent almost all of our major budgets.    To accomplish this, we’ve promised to forgo our weekly date night if the budget isn’t complete for the previous month.

·         Deliver Major Project at work by June 1 – This one is underway and I put it in my resolutions as a way of being accountable to my family.