17 January 2006

Brass Serpent

The story of the brass serpent in the Bible has always bothered me. I never really understood why in the world the Israelites would refuse to look if there was even a chance it could save their lives. It just seemed so irrational not to try anything you could when you knew the only other option was death. However, in reading the story in the context of Alma, I've found two possible ways this story works:

  1. Some people may have not looked out of fear that it wouldn't work. Since this event is a type of the atonement, I think we can be reasonably sure that only those who looked on the serpent and believed it would heal them were saved. From this, it is easy to imagine that some may have feared that looking on the serpent might simply expose their lack of faith to everyone around them. In a highly religious community, this would be an extremely shameful thing. (Even in the church today, admitting doubt usually brands you as an outsider. Thus the boringness of Sunday school: no real questions can be asked and no real discussion can take place because of social pressure to portray an image of faith.)
  2. This story also works as a metaphorical exaggeration of a situation all people face. People, particularly our religious leaders and parents, are always giving us advice that they promise, if followed, will solve a problem we are facing or enhance our lives. Often times, we don't do it. Why is this? The people giving us this advice are people we trust, people who have more experience than us. I would say we choose not to listen because of both pride (who wants to admit they couldn't figure out the solution on their own?) and laziness (why put forth the effort for a solution we don't even know will work?). The reason the brass serpent story appears so absurd is that the action is much more passive than the actions usually required to make life-saving changes. Also, we are far removed from the social context and individuality of the experience; thus, we don't see the pride in a realistic way.

Even though I just finished the Book of Mormon, I'm learning so much by reading it again. I see so many things that I didn't see before. I'm more focused on contemplating rather than finishing.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to me. My roomies made me a great Harry Potter cake with golden snitch ice cream. It was hysterical.

07 January 2006


Oh, I just realized I never actually put down my New Year's Resolutions, so here they are:

1. Keep committments, especially to the Lord and myself.
2. Find peace by working ahead instead of playing catch up.
3. Make time for service.
4. Bring up my grades so I don't have to stress about my scholarship.
5. Visit the temple twice a month.


Well, I'm finally back from Christmas vacation. Today was really crazy. Between dropping Heather off at USU, picking up Joni from the airport, and driving to Provo, I spent about 10 hours in the car, plus two in the airport. Sheesh. I hate waiting for things and riding in cars. I don't feel like I can get anything done because something might happen and I need to be on alert. (Plus in cars, I'll get sick if I try to do much of anything.)

So, I thought I had this semester all planned out until I got my grades for last semester. Then I realized that in order to keep my scholarship, I need to retake a few classes. Thus, this semester has suddenly become a lot easier than I thought it would be, but I feel sort of ashamed retaking classes. I mean, I should have done better in them in the first place. Almost without exception, my bad grades are due to my lack of participation. On tests and papers, I almost always do well, but quizzes and participation points are usually enough to bring my grades down to the B range. Not bad for some people, but in trying to keep a scholarship, huge problem.

I think the reason this happens is because I used to be able to get by in school on pure talent. No effort was really necessary to get A's (or E's, since my elementary school didn't use traditional letter grades). But in high school, they start including so many participation points and busy work, which I hate. For example, I failed (yes, with an F) two quarters of AP Biology. However, I got a 5 on the AP Bio test and a 7 on the IB Bio test. It was just ridiculous. Why should people who know everything in the class get poor grads because they refuse to do busy work?

Here's my solution to the problem. Give each student two grades at the end of the semester, one based only on important papers and tests, one including those plus all the busy work points. Either put both on the report card, or let students choose which one they want. I guess my main frustration is the lack of a standard grading system for all classes everywhere. If I were in charge, all classes across the US (maybe the world) would have a standard grading system. That way things can actually be compared. This is why I am a huge fan of testing systems. They provide a scale of comparison. All this nonsense about the tests not being fair just seems silly to me. People complain about them because they reveal the difference between a 4.0 student who learns and a 4.0 student who just does the work.

This detour brings me back to the real point. Through out my school career, I have avoided doing more work than necessary to learn the material. Basically, I'm a self-made slacker on purpose. But now I need to reform and get some actual study habits. Yeah, that would be good.

01 January 2006

Falling into Place

Wow, it's amazing how stuff seems to just fall into place when you bother to think about it. Really, like everything today was helping me with what I was worrying about yesterday. For instance, on KBYU there was an Elder Oaks talk about gaining faith even in trials and a talk by President Hinkley that really comforted me about my grades situation. Then, Cherie Thomas gave a talk in church which was also exactly what I needed to hear and pointed me towards reading the rest of Moroni, which was also full of info that I needed. It was totally insane.

I just have a lot of thoughts right now, and I don't really feel like organizing them well. Since this is a blog, I'll just post a list and let you sort it out:

* Optimism v. Pessimism: People tend to look down on optimists because they think they have a poor sense of reality. The general consensus is that if you think life is good, you must be deluding yourself. However, I disagree. I think optimism is the only practical way to live and progress, as long as you do it right. As a pessimist, you are stuck only seeing the bad, looking at your failures and feeling hopeless. If you are what I've decided to call a "realistic optimist," you recognize your failures, but you don't let those things (or circumstances beyond your control) get you down. Instead, you have optimism, or hope, that you can change.

* New Year's Resolutions: On a related note, happy New Year's! Hurrah. Along with this of course come the resolutions, which we are all classically doomed to fail at. A few years ago on January 1, I wrote in my journal something to the effect of this: humanity is inherently optimistic because even in a situation which we have faced a thousand times and failed, we always see the possibility for success. This is either the worst or the best thing about humanity. As awkward as it is to quote myself, I really like how I said that. I thought of writing it into a poem once, but it never turned out. Anyway, I like New Year's Resolutions. Doomed to failure or not, the process has something very human about it.

* Relativism: Which brings me to another idea which has been floating around for a while. I hate people who insist on being absolutely relative about truth, who refuse to draw conclusions out of a sense of angosticism. It just seems so pointless. If we aren't allow to decide and come to conclusions, how in the world can humanity progress? Yes, there's a lot to be said for tolerance, but tolerance is just that: you tolerate the idea that other people have ideas different from ours. However, this does not mean we can't come to a universal perception of truth. In fact, as I see it, the whole point of humanity is come to understand itself and its environment. Moral relativists and agnostics discard this purpose in favor of the ambiguous, ever present diversity. But how can diversity help humanity? How can simply knowing about others help us? Once we learn everything about another culture, what can we gain? Nothing, unless we use our human judgement. If we learn about other cultures and then determine what makes them better or worse than our own (by some moral standard), we can use the things we learn to eliminate our own errors and avoid their pitfalls. (Sorry if this sounds obnoxious. Just remember that I'm typing off the top of my head. If I ever actually get to writing an essay on this, I'm sure it would sound much better. I just needed to get it out of my head.)

Happiness in Spite of Change

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes people happy, partially because of some stuff Katfish wrote in her blog over Christmas break. Apparently, some really wacked out stuff is going on in her life. It almost makes me feel like I have no right to talk about being sad, since my life is comparitively stable. Actually, I take that back. Every human being has the right to be happy and sad. Of course we all have a different scale; sometimes our scales aren't even measuring the same things. Why shouldn't we have a different scale? We're different people.

Anyway, what I wanted to write down was that life is simply a matter of centering yourself. As cliche as that may sound, I'm pretty sure it's true. (Isn't that how cliches get started? Something that is true that people say over and over because it sounds right? Maybe . . . interesting.) I got this idea out of the old Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens book. You see, what determines whether you are happy or sad is what you center your life around. People are usually miserable when they center their life about things they can't control: friends, a relationship, money, grades, etc. When those things change, the foundation of your life just disappears, leaving you freefalling.

The obvious solution is to find something to center on that will not change. In my case, I believe that thing must be the gospel. For instance, right now I'm really worried about losing my scholarship. My grades were much worse this semester than I thought they would be, and if I don't get straight A's next semester and retake some classes, my scholarship is bye-bye. When I first thought about this, I panicked a little. However, I went home that night and read my scriptures and just felt the reassurance of faith. I have something to fall back on. No matter what, I know the gospel is true, and its principles and precepts will get me through anything.

Which leads me to the real problem that I've been thinking about. Several blogs I've read recently have said they want to find a testimony, but just can't get it. I wonder what's wrong there. Exactly how does one go about gaining a testimony? For me, it was during my sophomore year of high school when I really started reading my scriptures every night, no matter how late is was. At one point, not during any particularly important part of Alma, I just felt a wave of peace and love, and I knew it had to be true. Sure, before that you had your EFY moments, and since then I can't say I haven't had my moments of doubt, but down inside I know its true. That seed of truth makes me feel guilty when I go against it and gives me peace when I do right.

But what can you say to someone who has tried and doesn't have a testimony? I can't possibly know what they have done, felt, tried. I cannot judge the sincerity of their desire. To me, it seems there must be one universal answer, a fool-proof method of finding truth for one's self. I've decided to make this the guiding principle of my scripture study for the next little while, until I find myself a satisfactory answer.