Sunday, March 26, 2017

Finding Joy

I feel like I have had a blessed life. I have had some really interesting trips, travels, experiences - both really good and bad from a worldly point of view. I truly am grateful for all of those things because they help make me who I am. Still, most people only remember the person that they see, their first impression, and it isn't always me. I have heard a variety of things: multiple personalities, could talk to anyone, no boundaries, and smiling more. Everyone is a critic and people see those things as positive or negative depending on their various situations.

I don't think people are observant enough though. I feel like people need to listen more and watch people to begin to figure out who they really are. It takes more time than a cup of coffee or a walk in a park. Social media is simply false advertising - the highlight reel that we put up ourselves for the world to see. The short answer is people are complicated.

God has a plan for all of us to become more like Him. He isn't any Instagram celebrity. His highlight reel would be more like an inspirational YouTube playlist. The question most people have is how do we become more like Him. How do we begin to see people like He did? How do we love like Him? We learn that kind of patience and charity not by studying it out in books or being on an island. We learn it through being together - living and interacting and bumping shoulders with people that we wouldn't normally meet. We have to see every interaction or chance encounter as an opportunity.

The Spirit of God helps us learn the attributes of Christ. In Galatians we read about some of these attributes, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." I have always found it easy to connect with some of these feelings or fruits of the Spirit because they seemed natural. Others, I have struggled with for a while, like joy. I know the Plan of Salvation is also known as the Plan of Happiness and there are times I feel happy but I don't know if it is joy.

I have been studying this gift of the Spirit. The scriptures teach that you can find joy through forgiveness. It is one of the fruits of gratitude. The joy that comes from service. The joy that you can feel in the Temple or in God's presence. Joy comes from companionship or family. Joy in celebrating the blessings and success of others. There is the joy that missionaries feel when they bring people to the truth. I keep thinking about joy because I feel like it should be easier. "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."

We make choices in life and every one has an associated consequence. We may have been born into mortality and life is not easy but we were created so that we might have joy. We are here to be happy. If we choose God's path, we can find happiness in every step. Our surroundings may be clouded in temptation and trials but we can be a light unto the world and find happiness through our faith to press forward. We are not just asked to endure to the end but to endure it well. We can choose to be happy. Read your scriptures. Spend time getting to know people at church. Call a family member. Say a prayer. Ask God to bless you with joy. And when you find it, spread your joy because happiness and laughter are contagious and more enjoyable when they are shared.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is the Point? Why Do You Do What You Do?

I have been more focused than usual on how motivations play a deeper role into what we do and why we do it recently. I don't know if it is the books I have been reading or my subconscious asking myself why in the world did I in an effort to get away from the calculator and cubicle lifestyle of engineering decided after business school to go into finance. Seems counter-intuitive if that was my end goal. In any case, it has been on my mind a lot lately and has been the filter that I have been looking through.

In my professional life, why does my branch feel the way that it does? Why does it feel like we are continually understaffed? It is because we are. The operations department is the expense and the consultants are the money makers. If the company as a whole is to make a profit, the consultants need to do as much business as possible and minimize the local costs as possible. Why are we not more helpful to more people? Why are we so focused on efficiency? What is the purpose behind the quantity and not quality approach? It is because from where I work, I don't see the quality. I am in the quantity role. The consultants will sit down with the high dollar customers and I have to get people from the front counter to their next location, whether that is out the door, into someone's calendar or into someone's office, as quickly as possible. We lose money on so many of our clients through free services and products because it is with a very small percentage of all of our clients where we get the chance to really make any money. Since I don't contribute to keeping the lights on, outside of being my charming self, I need to be as efficient as possible while looking for new opportunities for the money makers in my office.

The same can be true for the basic ideology behind financial planning. People hear about new products or new ways to invest but the basic principles are the same. As you save in the present for future expenses, you also need to save in ways to replace the income streams you will give up once you retire. Why do people talk about real estate investing or annuities or pensions? You no longer get a regular paycheck in retirement. You have to replace that somewhere and it needs to cover your basic expenses in retirement. How does social security play in? Have you covered what you need for medicare? You are spending less time earning money and more time spending it in retirement. Have you calculated your change in lifestyle expenses into your total savings as well? Do you have flexible investments that can be more aggressive that will also cover your flexible spending/expenses? People will invest in different ways and with different things but in the end the most important thing is that we help people to plan because it isn't about their money. It is about their goals.

No one really wants to invest and no one really wants to talk with us. They don't really want us to manage their money. All they really want us to do is help manage their stress. They want us to make sure that their fears and hopes and dreams and the same things for their children have been planned for. They want us to help their kids get to college. They want us to help them have time to spend with their children and grandchildren. They want to make sure that when they lose their health that they don't also lose their house to pay for it. People really don't lose sleep over the manner in which they get their returns as long as it meets their expectations. We help people manage those expectations and plan for the unexpected. We become shortsighted when we think the behaviors are as important as the motivations.

The same can be said for religious practices - the spirit of the law is more important than the letter. That being said, how often do we question or ask what is the point behind all the things we do in the name of religious obedience? Why do we go hometeaching? Why do we visit the poor, the sick, and the widows? Why are we asked to worship together or meet together at all? Isn't religion supposed to be about the personal relationship between you and God? Two weeks ago, I was in a elder's quorum meeting where the presidency asked what we as a quorum could do to increase attendance in our meetings? What could they do to help improve sacrament meeting worship in regards to passing the sacrament? The typical answers were given: make a rotation, make a map and have people patrol the hallways and ask people to get to class. This hadn't worked in the past so why continue to try something that has proven to fail? What would possibly produce a new outcome?

People are generally logical and we are driven by our emotions. Why not use the time we had in our meeting right then to fix some of the problems instead of using conjecture or waste time developing plans. Let's change the expectations right then! If there is an opportunity to serve, the correct behavior is to step up rather than look around. Let's be leaders instead of followers! The regular elders will fill most likely fill the empty seats but let's at least have someone passing and then we can perfect the process later on by asking new people to serve. With the lack of attendance in classes, this is again a question of expectations. What is expected of our teachers? What is expected by our students?

We always want to assume that our teachers have prepared a lesson beforehand. We don't want them simply reading from the manual. We enjoy a discussion or activities or any request for us to become engaged. Our expectations however are the boring lessons that we get every Sunday or the one we could have if we read the manual by ourselves from our own homes. We go to those classes despite our high expectations because of our sense of duty. Our hope is that we will have friends or family that will attend as well because it is a well known fact that misery likes company. So why do people not go to classes? It is because we don't want to. Our friends aren't in the classes. Our friends are in the halls. They are on our phones. They are in different places. They are everywhere but in that classroom. So how do we change that? Get to know the people that aren't there before they escape out into the parking lot. Introduce yourself before church starts!

Why do we ask people to hometeach one another? Why are we asked to become a Zion people? Most of these people I wouldn't normally associate with. I wouldn't pick them out of a crowd, nevertheless, work to become their friends. However, this is exactly the point. Many people don't have a friend at church. They don't have someone that hopes or checks to see if they are there so God adds that to someone's checklist. It becomes an assignment to work to become someone's friend. It isn't the lesson that is important or that we see them once a month. It is to learn to love them and care about them. It is through these relationships that we learn patience, charity and become more like Christ. Socializing and serving others is part of the process of refining us and smoothing out our rough edges. We will never make it back to God one-by-one. Salvation is a personal process but exaltation is a family affair. Heaven isn't really heaven if we were meant to be alone.

This brings me to tonight. I went to a missionary fireside. The missionaries were asking us to sum up the principles or doctrines for missionary work. People described talking about what we do with more detail or inviting people to activities. They talked about what we should discuss when we preach the restored gospel or how we have a duty or that we have been commanded to share the gospel. Again, they understand the letter of the law or the duty. They missed the whole purpose behind the gospel and the reason we have been asked to share it, even the way we ought to share it, which can be summed up in the commandment that Christ gave to love our neighbor.

People don't care about what you know until they know that you care. You can tell them that we have the restored gospel and that we have the fullness but why did you have to tell them in the first place? Why couldn't they see it? Why couldn't they feel it? Do you even know how much they already know? Do you know what they already believe? Shouldn't you ask? The most profound and long-lasting missionary moments occurred when I began by showing that I cared before I ever tried to correct someone else's behavior. How many people are surprised when their doctor tells them they ought to start considering a diet to lose weight? Most of the time, they already know that they need to change.

If you are trying to help someone, you don't need to identify their incorrect behaviors. You have to go deeper than the surface. You need to identify or help people recognize their latent or subconscious desires or fears. What is the point? Why do we do the things that we do? What truly motivates us? If you can figure that out, you will know how the gospel can help you discover true joy and happiness. If you want to change someone's life, help them discover that connection on their own.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Five Temptations of a CEO

Patrick Lencioni is a fantastic author. I don't know whether to classify him as relatively unknown or simply that he writes for a very specific target audience that not everyone is a part of. The main medium that he writes in are small business fables that are quick reads - this particular book is about 100 pages long. What I love is that they aren't so wordy and they smoothly walk you through from a character's point of view a business model and then at the end of the book he lays it all out in a very obvious manner. When he is playing author and not consultant, he does have a very good sense of humor. The first book I read by him was about power of vulnerability and authenticity. It was entitled, "Getting Naked." My parents could only guess what the true topic was for the short novel.

I don't want to ruin this book, "The Five Temptations of a CEO," so I will simply share the business model. It applies to all leaders in an organization, not just the one at the top. Companies are definitely like a tribe where it would be difficult if there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. The major blessing or difference however is if there is a shared mission or purpose then having coworkers, employees or people that have enough passion about what they do will step up and lead without having to be asked. This is why companies look to hire leaders into all levels of their organization. More importantly is being the right kind of leader and knowing what that means.

I take no credit for the following as they come straight from the book but here is the model and the self-assessment that make up the five temptations of a CEO:

Temptation #1 - Choosing status over results

The most important principle that an executive must embrace is a desire to produce results. Most CEOs were results maniacs before reaching their ultimate jobs. Once they "arrive," though, many of them focus primarily on preserving their status. This occurs because their real purpose in life has always been personal gain. With nowhere to go but down, it almost makes sense that once they have achieved their ultimate status, they will do whatever they can to protect it.

This causes CEOs to make decisions that protect their ego or reputation or, worse yet, to avoid making decisions that might damage them. They reward people who contribute to their ego, instead of those who contribute to the results of the company. By focusing on results, they will ultimately achieve greater status and ego satisfaction but this requires a lot of work over a long period of time. It allows for too many risky episodes of status-loss along the way.

Advice: Make results the most important measure of personal success, or step down from the job. The future of the company you lead is too important for customers, employees, and stockholders to hold it hostage to your ego.

  • Do you personally consider it a professional failure when your organization fails to meet its objectives?
  • Do you often wonder, What's next? What will I do to top this in my career?
  • Would it bother you greatly if your company exceeded its objectives but you remained somewhat anonymous relative to your peers in the industry?


On a professional level, organizational success and personal-professional success are one and the same. Although it is healthy for any human being to separate his or her sense of self-esteem from success on the job, in the context of professional success these should not be divided. Too often, CEOs justify their own performance even when the organizations they lead are failing around them. CEOs must ultimately judge their personal-professional success by the results on the bottom line; only the CEO is ultimately responsible for the results of the company, and this must be his or her final measure.

Additionally, a pronounced concern for the "next step" in a person's career is a good sign of susceptibility to Temptation Number One because it is a possible indication that success is gauged in terms of career advancement rather than current performance. The most successful CEOs focus almost exclusively on their current jobs. Although human nature dictates that we hope for a just share of acknowledgement, it is a dangerous part of human nature to entertain. Those who eventually get that recognition are the CEOs who aren't distracted by the occasional slighting that an unscientific press is sure to give. Interestingly enough, they experience a low degree of satisfaction from such press. After all, they take larger personal satisfaction from achieving results.

Temptation #2 - Choosing popularity over accountability

Wanting to be well liked by peers is understandable, but dangerous, problem for CEOs. Being at the top of an organization is lonely. There are very few people in a company with whom CEOs spend considerable time, aside from their direct reports. Most CEOs become friends with their reports and commiserate about the constant needs and shortfalls of employees. They develop a sense of camaraderie around their overwhelming responsibilities. It is no surprise, the, that when it comes time for a CEO to tell these same people that they are not meeting expectations, they balk.

Empirical evidence of this phenomenon is that CEOs conduct performance reviews for their direct reports far less diligently then do managers at other levels. Why? It isn't because they are too busy or lazy, but because they don't want to deal with the prospect of upsetting one of their peers. Ironically, those same CEOs will not hesitate to ultimately fire a direct report when his or her performance problem becomes too costly, thereby severing the relationship completely. But they often fail to provide constructive or negative feedback along the way.

Advice: Work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. Don't view them as a support group, but as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. And remember, your people aren't going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail.

  • Do you consider yourself to be a close friend of your direct reports?
  • Does it bother you to the point of distraction if they are unhappy with you?
  • Do you often find yourself reluctant to give negative feedback to your direct reports? Do you water down negative feedback to make it more palatable?
  • Do you often vent to them about issues in the organization? For example, do you refer to your staff as "we" and other employees as "they"?


It is wonderful for CEOs to care about direct reports as people, so long as they can separate the success of those relationships from their sense of self-esteem and personal happiness. This is difficult because most of us try to avoid major disagreements with close friends, and it is impossible not to be concerned about a deep rift with one of them. If those close friends are your direct reports, the accountability within the organization can be threatened. The slightest reluctance to hold someone accountable for their behaviors and results can cause an avalanche of negative reaction from others who perceive even the slightest hint of unfairness or favoritism.

Those CEOs who are able to make close friendships with direct reports and still avoid a sense of favoritism often find it easy to use those reports as their personal "venting boards." All executives need people they can vent to about challenges they face in the organization, but CEOs must resist the desire to use direct reports for this service. It can lead to politics among the executive team, and more importantly, it can undermine the team's objective understanding of their own actions by creating an atmosphere of self-victimizing groupthink. Often this manifests itself during executive staff meetings in comments such as "When will these people stop questioning us and start understanding what we are trying to do?"

Temptation #3 - Choosing certainty over clarity

CEOs are sometimes unwilling to hold their direct reports accountable because they don't think it's fair. This is because they haven't made it clear what those direct reports are accountable for doing. Why don't they make these things clear? Because they give in to yet another temptation: the need to make "correct" decisions, to achieve certainty.

Many CEOs, especially highly analytical ones, want to ensure that their decisions are correct, which is impossible in a world of imperfect information and uncertainty. Still, executives with a need for precision and correctness often postpone decisions and fail to make their people's deliverables clear. They provide vague and hesitant direction to their direct reports and hope that they figure out the right answers along the way. The chances that they will produce the results CEOs eventually decide they want are slim.

Advice: Make clarity more important than accuracy. Remember that your people will learn more if you take decisive action than if you always wait for more information. And if the decisions you make in the spirit of creating clarity turn out to be wrong when more information becomes available, change plans and explain why. It is your job to risk being wrong. The only real cost to you of being wrong is loss of pride. The cost of your company of not taking the risk of being wrong is paralysis.

  • Do you pride yourself on being intellectually precise?
  • Do you prefer to wait for more information rather than make a decision without all of the facts?
  • Do you enjoy debating details with your direct reports during meetings?


Intellectual precision alone is not the problem but when it manifests itself during staff meetings in terms of unnecessary debates over minutiae, it is a sign of real trouble. It is no surprise that many CEOs take a great deal of pride in their analytical and intellectual acumen. Unable to realize that their success as an executive usually has less to do with intellectual skills than it does with personal and behavioral discipline, they spend too much time debating the finer points of decision making.

Those debates are problematic for two reasons. First, they eat up valuable time that can be spent discussing larger issues, which often receive just a few minutes at the end of the staff meeting agenda. Second, and more important, they create a climate of excessive analysis and overintellectualization of tactical issues. If there is one person in an organization who cannot afford to be overly precise, it is the CEO.

Temptation #4 - Choosing harmony over productive conflict

CEOs fail to feel comfortable with the decisions they make because they don't benefit from the best sources of information that are available to them: their direct reports. Most people, including CEOs, believe that it is better for people to agree and get along than disagree and conflict with one another. That is how they were raised. However, harmony sometimes restricts "productive ideological conflict," the passionate interchange of opinions around an issue.

Without this kind of conflict, decisions are often suboptimal. The best decisions are made only after all knowledge and perspectives are out on the table. Not every person's perspective and opinion can be agreed with, but they can be considered. When all available knowledge is considered, the chances of optimal decisions are greater - not to mention the likelihood of confidence in those decisions, which is just as important.

Advice: Tolerate discord. Encourage your direct reports to air their ideological differences, and with passion. Tumultuous meetings are often signs of progress. Tame ones are often signs of leaving important issues off the table. Guard against personal attacks, but not to the point of stifling important interchanges of ideas.

  • Do you prefer your meetings to be pleasant and enjoyable?
  • Are your meetings often boring?
  • Do you get uncomfortable at meetings if your direct reports argue?
  • Do you often make peace or try to reconcile direct reports who are at odds with one another?


Lots of people complain about meetings taking up time that is needed for "real work." This is a sign that those meetings are not as difficult (or productive) as they should be. Executive staff meetings should be exhausting inasmuch as they are passionate, critical discussions. Pleasant or boring meetings are indications that there is not a proper level of overt, constructive, ideological conflict taking place.

Every meeting has conflict so don't be deceived. Some people sweep that conflict under the table and let employees deeper in the organization sort it out. This doesn't happen by accident. The tone of meetings is set by the leader that is conducting it and after a CEO squelches any potential passion for peace, this sends a message. Boredom and agreeable meetings set in and executives start lamenting the real work that they could be doing instead.

Temptation #5 - Choosing invulnerability over trust

Asking for productive conflict does not always achieve it because people may not feel like their input is important or valuable. CEOs are relatively powerful people. Being vulnerable with their peers and reports is not a comfortable prospect. They mistakenly believe that they lose credibility if their people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas.

People are unwilling to enter the fray of productive conflict if it doesn't feel safe. As a result, those reports position themselves around the inferred opinion of the CEO and conflict with one another only when it is politically expedient. Instead of creating a culture of creativity, trust and open dialogue for sharing important information, it is an atmosphere of "yes men."

Advice: Actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego. As a CEO, this is the greatest level of trust that you can give. They will return it with respect and honesty, and with a desire to be vulnerable among their peers.

  • Do you have a hard time admitting when you're wrong?
  • Do you fear that your direct reports want your job?
  • Do you try to keep your greatest weaknesses secret from your direct reports?


No one loves to admit being wrong, but some people hate it. Great CEOs don't lose face in the slightest when they are wrong, because they know who they are, they know why they are the CEO, and they realize that the organization's results, not the appearance of being smart, are their ultimate measure of success. They know that the best way to get results is to put their weaknesses on the table and invite people to help them minimize those weaknesses. CEOs who understand this concept intellectually but cannot behavioralize it sometimes make the mistake of finding symbolic moments to admit mistakes and weaknesses. This only serves to reinforce the notion that the CEO is unwilling to put real weaknesses on the table. Overcoming this temptation requires a degree of fear and pain that many CEOs are unwilling to tolerate.


Instilling trust gives executives the confidence to have productive conflict. Fostering conflict gives executives confidence to create clarity. Clarity gives executives the confidence to hold people accountable. Accountability gives executives confidence in expected results. And results are a CEO's ultimate measure of long-term success.

CEOs who follow this model still fail but mostly if they are thwarted by competitive and market pressures that are largely out of their control. Leadership and management are not the same thing. We can manage people and manage problems. Leaders need to expect to make mistakes and be able to change at a moment's notice. They need to rely on others and accept and acknowledge that they aren't the one with all the answers in the room. They have to take risks. Leaders need to act and can't settle for the same but require constant improvement. Good managers produce quantity but good leaders produce quality.

Great leaders find a way to produce both.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The God Who Weeps

The God Who Weeps is a novel about how Mormonism makes sense of life written by a couple of Mormons, Terryl and Fiona Givens. Even as an active member of the LDS faith, I still felt like I learned a lot and it made me think about life differently. I liked how it was about the journey of faith from a different perspective and it made me think about some of the tenants of my belief differently. Still, the fundamental question that it asked with every new principle was the same. What does this mean to me in my life? What's the point? What is the real value of a religion or a set of beliefs if it doesn't cause you to change? I feel like anyone, Mormon or not, could see their lives and their relationships after reading this book in a way that could improve them.

This novel is so powerful because it simply provides a series of evidences that you as the reader can choose to use as you will. Whether or not there is a benevolent deity is based not on the evidence that is presented but what you personally conclude from that evidence. Theology, philosophy, and belief are all perspective. The following chapters were picked to help discuss who we believe our God is and what our relationship is with Him, His plan for us, and if we choose to follow that calling what the outcome will be. In essence, it is what we call within our faith, "The Plan of Salvation."

  1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
  2. We lived as spirit beings in the presence of God before we were born into this mortal life.
  3. Mortality is an ascent, not a fall, and we carry infinite potential into a world of sin and sorrow.
  4. God has the desire and the power to unite and elevate the entire human family in a kingdom in heaven, and, except for the most stubbornly unwilling, that will be our destiny.
  5. Heaven will consist of those relationships that matter most to us now.

His Heart Is Set upon Us
Faith is not the end all in all. Doubt and faith are both required in life so there isn't necessarily progression for the new doubter or the new believer. The improbable nature of the universe or the chemical reaction that is human life or life in general, the way that the human mind works such that we contemplate more than simply our own survival but what is life or why do we exist... How we hunger for more in our lives than what this world can provide are all evidence of something more. The beauty of this paradox is we cannot prove that God exists. So if there is a god, who is He? What is He like?

There are many different ideas of God from all around the world. There are two main points that are expressed in our discussion that are guided by both faith and logic: (1) Not all conceivable gods have claim over us... Or in other words, we can reject some gods not because it is unreasonable to believe in them but because it is unreasonable to worship them. If your deity requires human sacrifice, how long would it take until there is no longer anyone left to worship? (2) If we are inclined to believe a powerful deity does preside over the universe, the assumption that he would be a more perfect embodiment of the morally good that we recognize and seek to emulate is not a fanciful hope or wishful thinking. It is a logical and reasonable inference that God is more rather than less generous and forgiving, who will extend the maximum mercy that He can, and impose the minimum justice He must.

We are never so vulnerable or defenseless against suffering as when we love. The pain felt by a parent when a child wanders away into addiction or the loss felt after the death of a loved one are but two common examples. Try to imagine then what God, Our Father in Heaven, feels being that He is the very embodiment of love. From the words of the prophet Enoch, he describes a vision from when he was taken into heaven and sees Satan's dominion over the earth and God's unanticipated response to a world veiled in darkness:
"The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and He wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rains upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that you canst weep?"
Enoch goes on to ask this question three times and he isn't asking why do you weep but how are your tears even possible. The answer was the same as we concluded above, which is that God is not exempt from emotion but His pain is as infinite as His love.
"Unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood... and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?"
It is not their wickedness, but their "misery," not their disobedience, but their "suffering," that elicits the God of Heaven's tears.

Whether it was the example of Christ, Ruth, David or Mary, vulnerability is their end objective. Each individual was asked in their own way to place themselves in a situation where they were opening themselves up to the possibility of paramount harm (dishonor, public humiliation, and even death), in order to serve as vehicles of His grace. Vulnerability is both the price of the power to save, and that which saves. When Christ was pressed by the crowds and a woman touches his garments and is healed, He asks who it was. This person did more than touch. She drew from Him healing power as He felt it flow out of Him. What does this mean? Christ's power to heal comes at a cost to Him. Take this the extra mile and begin to ponder the cost of the crucifixion and taking the weight of the sins of the world upon Him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

If vulnerability and pain are the price of love, then joy is its reward. All that exists in our world of meaning must exist in paired opposition. As much as God shares in our suffering, He delights in human happiness. With the mass of senses we have after "being created in His image," we can find ways to appreciate and find joy in the world around us. Some may see food as nourishment for survival but then what is the purpose behind all the flavors we are able to taste? Peacocks with their tail feathers and the changing colors in leaves that allow for the peacock to reproduce and the tree to keep the chlorophyll necessary to survive, these were never meant to please the eye? The fragrance of the rose or the lily which attracts the bees to help them pollinate, was it not designed to appeal to our sense of smell? The scriptures say,
"Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that He hath given all these things unto man."
For He has set His heart upon us. He loves us because we are His children. We are children of God.

Man Was in the Beginning with God
The idea in this chapter are there are two innate desires in all of us (at least to some degree). These are to understand who we are and where we belong. We don't feel like we belong or that we are looking for our home. Some think of this as we looking for something or somewhere but the idea that is presented in this novel is that we are simply trying to remember. The best explanation is that we are trying to figure out who are.

What are we made up of on a molecular level? What is life? When does life begin or when does life end? These are fundamental questions that have no clear answers. There are theories though. The same carbon, iron and oxygen that are the building blocks for our bodies came from nebulas and stars however, this is not the essence of the soul. We may have forgotten for whatever reason any life before this one (if it exists), it may have been on purpose because a life with opposition is about choice and one where it is best if we do not have all the answers because then there would be no choice at all. Also if we truly are children of God, we would be inexpressibly more miserable, if we had retained the memory of our former Glory, and past Actions.

The concept of what kind of children we are is still up for debate. If our souls are part of God's creation, then He could have prevented all sin by creating us with better natures and in more favorable surroundings. The problem is that in our own moral awareness, we sense we are responsible for our own choices because when we do something wrong, we feel guilt. If there was a good analogy to describe guilt, it would be a twisted ankle. The function of guilt is to prevent more pain, not expand it. Its purpose is to hurt enough to stop you from crippling yourself further. If God did not create us then we weren't born or created inherently good or evil. We were born free.

Even if we remove God, we can't remove our past and present circumstances. In our current state, we are the product of forces outside our control that influence our personality, inform our character, and shape our wants and desires. And yet, we know we are free. If we are not shaped by our environment, our inherited form from our parents, or even God, we have always been and always will be in the principle of free will. So if this concept is further extrapolated, we have free will which means we weren't created by God so then if we weren't created, we have always been. If we have an eternal past, it is only reasonable that we will have an eternal future.

Modern day scripture recorded in the Pearl of Great Price describes how before this life our spirits were present in councils where we choose this world and life. We knew that if we choose righteously, this life would be a test if we would choose God again. If they did well, then they would continue to progress and "have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." There are two keys from this revelation: (1) It suggests that birth into this world represents a step forward in an eternal process of development and growth in an educative and not reparative way. Life is pain and it is not punishment. (2) We choose this world. If we face pain or loss, we chose this life that we are living. It also means that God chose us. We were unembodied eternal intelligences. He looked upon us and in His love chose us, counseled with us, and created this world for us.

We Are That We Might Have Joy
This same idea that life is a blessing and that all things are created for our good is further expanded in this chapter. Many Christian faiths believe that soon after the Creation that there was the Fall and Original Sin. However the logic behind this thought process does not make true sense for then why would God descend to earth only to be punished or take up a fallen state? Would he be still be counted perfect and sinless if he was to inherit the sins of Adam and Eve, the first parents of all mankind? Why would perfection don imperfection? We in the Mormon faith don't believe in Original Sin nor do we look at Fall as a fall but more as an ascent. Pain is not punishment - it is growth. In Revelations it speaks of the councils of heaven and how many of those spirits chose to come down to earth to learn from their experience. We chose a life of pain because we want to grow and become more like God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our physical bodies are carnal in nature but that doesn't necessarily mean sinful. It means that our bodies strive to do as nature would intend, to survive and reproduce and live on. Our carnal desires represent those same feelings when we feel hunger or other physical appetites, including physical intimacy. Those feelings are present when we show distrust or question motivation or instruction because again our bodies are designed to fight for their own survival. But if we look to the example again of the Savior, at the end of His life he gains a perfected body. In his mortality He had to struggle with the same appetites or feelings as you and I but he overcame them. He learned and gained knowledge from physical experience. He progressed and grew and his love and charity deepened through hardships that he faced. Pain is again not a sign of punishment as it is progress.

So returning back to the Garden of Eden, many look at Adam and Eve's decision to chose the apple as a sin. They did in fact disobey God's commandments. Still, let us look deeper at the decision itself because it may not have been as simple as right or wrong choices. Is every choice we make in life black and white or is there some grey? The first choice was to stay in Paradise in God's presence forever. The second choice was to eat the fruit that delicious to the taste, beautiful in appearance, and would give them knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve had some level of moral judgment. They were not without some sense of right and wrong but the knowledge this fruit would provide is physical experience. This makes God's final injunction about death more making them aware that the cost of experience can be pain. So why is this important? The decision to partake of the fruit was made out a good place, a desire to become more like God, to progress. This wasn't a mistake in God's planning! Sending Christ as the Savior wasn't a backup plan but part of the choice in helping meet the price of both justice and mercy. We could learn from our mistakes through repentance and the grace that belongs to Christ's sacrifice. This was a choice between two Good decisions, not one right and one wrong. So do we still call this a Fall? Man was cast out of God's presence but it was to experience and grow to become like Him. It was to progress. It was to experience pain and joy.

The purpose of mortality is not to survive. It is to learn and grow. It is learn from our experiences and to master our bodies to control our appetites. We too often believe there is an association between sin and guilt. The pain of guilty is a feeling that we are wrong or inherently unworthy. Those wide generalizations are not true. There is a major difference if we change our perspective to that were we don't feel our pain as guilt but as weakness. We are imperfect creatures. Christ saves us regardless of how far we fall short. Guilt comes from the belief that we owe Him because He is exchanging grace and salvation for our obedience. They do not equate. Salvation is a gift of love. Our obedience if it is to equate needs to also be out of love. It is through gratitude and love and obedience that we are able to accept the place in heaven that Christ provides us through His mercy and grace. Our obedience and righteousness is not to earn our place but to help us grow and develop so that we will find joy there.

None of Them Is Lost
We need to understand that God is on our side. Obedience to Him and His laws bring joy and happiness. He being perfect also designed a perfect plan but this plan was for our benefit, His imperfect children. What does this mean? It means that through the ages when men debated the ratio or amount of people that God would save and bring to heaven in their understand of heaven and hell, they didn't make the connection that God doesn't want to save a chosen few, the naturally gifted, but He desires to save all His children. His plan allows for that to happen but it respects a fundamental law, our agency. We have reasoned that the universe is governed by laws, some that we understand currently and others that will take time but for every action there is a reaction or a natural consequence as it were. John Stuart Mill describes human liberty as the freedom "of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow." From our perspective of an all powerful deity, we may think those consequences look like punishments and rewards, but they were chosen. What we become is built upon a lifetime of small decisions and we can decide to change at any time as well.

When we think about our fundamental natures, who we are becoming, it is our own choices that shape our identities. The consequences of our choices will most often affect others. The part that people feel is unfair is the pain that we suffer regardless of our personal decisions but that is part of life. Again, this kind of pain is growth. Guilt is real too. Guilt comes from choosing to position ourselves in opposition to God - to sin knowingly. Misjudgments or simple errors have the ability to cause pain but that is not the same nor does it have the intensity of guilt. We are choosing to put ourselves in opposition to God or joy and love which by the laws of nature will cause misery. If we look at Dante's Inferno, he describes the different levels of hell as being places that people would go to on their own accord. The damned crossed the river Styx into their torments "eager for their river crossing." A lifetime of choices or the culmination of their true desires is what awaited them. What we worship is what we become.

An example from this chapter recorded the experience of an inmate of a concentration camp that heard a commotion and when he went to investigate found a prison guard mercilessly beating a female prisoner. He whispered, "What can we do for these people?" Another inmate replied, "Show them that love is greater."  In that moment, he realized the other person was focused on the guard, not the victim. They considered the actions of greatest moral gravity to be the ones we originate, not the ones we suffer.

To see our mortality as a test is generally a great analogy but we have to be careful how far we take it. The part we go astray is when we lose sight that again that life is a test to measure progression and advancement. It measures again what we are becoming. When we begin to talk about earning our salvation we begin to think that this life was meant to be a spiritual evaluation instead of a spiritual formation. The only person that we are competing against is ourselves. There is no level of spiritualism where if you pass 50% you make it into in heaven, while others had only scored a 49% so they earned eternal damnation. God offers salvation and His grace to all men to choose for themselves freely. Heaven is a state of being - a blessed and sanctified nature. It is not a place we enter but a culmination of choices that allow us to become celestial beings.

This sanctification and perfecting process is only made possible through the Atonement. It is the willful suffering of someone completely innocent to choose to take upon Himself the price of all mankind's transgressions, sins, sufferings, pain and afflictions of every kind. He was completely alone during the culmination on the cross of Calvary. Although we cannot comprehend how that was done, it still begs the question of why it is accepted as the price paid for those that choose to accept that gift of repentance and forgiveness for themselves? Why does grace work? It is because we do not have a perfect knowledge. We are never given perfect instruction so our accountability is only partial and incomplete. Christ breaks that cycle and we are allowed to move forward and progress. But He broke the cycle in more than one way.

When we consider the fleeting time we are given in mortality and remember the eternal nature of the soul, Christ broke the chains of sin and of death. The time in which mankind can experience this perfecting process is not constrained to mortality but extends beyond death into the life after. We will continue to perfect ourselves and many people will learn of Christ and choose Him not in life but in death however, repenting and choosing a new life in his image will be increasingly more difficult without having the physical experiences to build upon. Again, this perfect plan by our perfect God is made so none will be lost - including the unbaptized infants and non-Christians. It is not that God is excusing them of sin but allowing them to learn, progress, and grow. He loves all men so His perfect plan is not going to default those who have not had the opportunity or the ability or capacity to choose His plan to damnation. This is what is meant in Peter's claim that "the gospel was preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." The gospel of Jesus Christ - faith, repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost - and its ministry and blessings are extended to both the living and the dead.

Participants in the Divine Nature
The reason that we see that God's love is not limited in any capacity - living, dead, young, old, saint, sinner, etc. - is because we are not limited in our capacity. We were not created in the sense of God making our spirits, otherwise our spirits would not have the ability to do evil but would be inherently good. If we were not created then we must have always been and we always will be. This life or mortality is simply part of our existence that we pass through as part of our progression. But in what way are we to progress? To use a crude analogy from the book, Ender's Game, a leader tells a commander at the end of a battle, "We won! That's all that matters." To which the commander replies, "No. The way we win matters." God loves all His children. He wants us to have what He has and to do so has given us the tools and the example of how to become like Him. It is not His power or His glory that He wants to bestow as much as it is the understanding, knowledge, and attributes that He has obtained through learning and experience. Our mortality is the framework built to allow for that. This is why exaltation could not be given as Lucifer suggested in the pre-mortal council but it had to be experienced through mortality as was God's plan. The lie that is spread is that we can obtain this through "spirituality" and "religion" is unnecessary.

When Mormons describe through scripture heaven or heaven on earth, it is called Zion. It is a utopian-type community where "God is with us." It is not a solitary Zen. It isn't a private enlightenment. It is a place where there are families and groups of people coexisting and working together. This is why God again refers to himself as a Father. Families aren't a creation of society but a divine institution tied with the very fabric of nature. The reason for this is because the type of Christ-like characteristics that we are attempting to foster and nurture and develop are things like mercy, generosity, and self-control. "Kindness only exists when there is someone to whom we show kindness. Patience is only manifest when another calls it forth.... What we may have thought was our private pathway to salvation, was intended all along as a collaborative enterprise, though we often miss the point." We become perfected through lovingly learning to coexist because we have all experienced that many times working together can feel like a fiery furnace - this is intentional.

I myself struggle with this. I find that I hate working with whom I consider to be stupid people. I hate judgmental people. Sounds hypocritical but what I mean is that people fail to see the perfection that lies inside someone's desire or natures regardless of their own shortcomings and imperfections. When Enoch described what he saw and shared in regards to God's love, he was overcome with emotion. He wept over our disobedience and pain and shared in God's joy through our redemption that is only made possible through the Atonement. For a long time, I thought that my Sabbath day worship was only about partaking in the sacrament. It was becoming clean through the renewal of my covenants that I made at baptism and in the temple. The social aspects of the Sabbath were not important - however that is wholly untrue. Exaltation again is done through unity. We repent on an individual basis but we become exalted as a people and as families. We need each other.

In this last chapter, the authors use a particularly vivid metaphor. They describe a young boy who jumping around the yard, pretending to fly around, proclaims that he will eventually live among the stars and walk on the moon. They then contrast that to the rocket scientist that works and studies and learns the necessary laws of physics that will create a rocket ship and ask, who is more likely to achieve the goal? The one that through obedience and action learns and gains the necessary knowledge or the other? Obedience grants one knowledge and so both the knowledge and obedience frees them. It allows the scientist to grow and develop as an individual. People mistake this type of obedience as that of a blind sheep following a shepherd. And yet it is with that same analogy that the Savior describes us and those that drift away. He preached of searching for the One. The analogy of the prodigal son could be used not just to describe each of us but to illustrate what our union may be like once we leave mortality and return to our heavenly home.

The knowledge we gain in this life carries with us into the next. The study of science is a study of the laws of nature and the universe. The refining of Zion is in communities and creates in us the ability to gain the attributes of Christ. A study of Christ and Zion is a process of learning how to love as God does.
"The divine nature of man, and the divine nature of God, are shown to be the same - they are rooted in the will to love, at the price of pain, but in the certainty of joy. Heaven holds out the promise of a belonging that is destined to extend and surpass any that we have ever known in this wounded world."
 The other aspect of this sanctification process, learning to love and become more like God, is that it is a lifetime commitment. It will continue into the eternities. We don't believe or have a relationship with a static God or an unchanging being. It is in that eternal perspective that we are taught to focus. It is like beginning a hike and knowing where you are going and focusing so much on the peak that you forget to enjoy the views along the way.
"What if the possibilities of Zion were already here, and its scattered elements all about us? A child's embrace, a companion's caress, a friend's laughter are its materials. Our capacity to mourn another's pain, like God's tears for his children; our desire to lift us from our sin and sorrow - these are not to pass away when the elements shall melt with fervent heat. They are the stuff and substance of any Zion we build, any heaven we inherit. God is not radically Other, and neither is His heaven."
The problem though is if we always think or focus on the future we can forget to find joy in the journey. God is love and so we must learn what God's love is. We learn through repentance and accepting the Atonement. We learn through obedience. And eventually we learn through seeing others as God sees us. We learn more about God through our interactions with others and ourselves. It is through learning to control our passions and to mourn with those that mourn that we can also find joy in life and find God's love in all our relationships.