September 16, 2015

Science and Religion

Well, howdy friends! Its been a long time since I've written anything in my blog. Though it was originally created to document my adventures as a missionary in Brazil, I've come to the conclusion that miracles actually happen to all of us, all the time, and there is no reason to stop sharing stories about the role of faith in my life just because I am no longer a full-time representative of the Savior. Missionary, student, in Brazil, in Provo - the role of God and religion in my life is exactly the same.

Disclaimer: Everything I say in this article is my personal opinion. It doesn't necessarily reflect official Church doctrine, and shouldn't be taken as such.

So...Science and Religion!!!!

I'm taking my last-ever GE this semester and instead of sitting through physics, chemistry, or geology I opted for the DINOSAUR class. Yes, I am in a class 100% revolving around dinosaurs. Its basically my dream come true. (No really....I've been talking about being a paleontologist since before I could read. Its a thing.)

And over the course of this science class cleverly disguised as a fun class, some interesting topics have come up. Namely, dinosaurs and fossils, the theory of evolution, the age of the Earth. One might wonder, how are such topics treated at a religious university? Taught in a cursory manner? Labeled as junk? Swept under the carpet? Set up as alternate theories to the Biblical creation account?

Hello! We're at a university for crying out loud, and that means science. We are in the business of discovering truth. A new building was built on campus recently, and in the dedication Elder Russell M Nelson (a man who we believe to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, like the ancient apostles of the New Testament) said, "This university is committed to search for truth, and to teach the truth. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible."

Also, "There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from either an incomplete knowledge of either science, or religion, or both."

Wow. Can you just read that statement again? Those are powerful words.

It is a fundamental belief of members of the Church, and myself personally, that we should try to understand the world around us - find patterns, discover laws, create, invent, try to make sense of the universe. Clearly, it is a process. I happen to study the political and economical laws of the universe (in my humble opinion, a much more daunting task than studying the laws of nature). However, I have the utmost respect for the research and discoveries of those in the fields of physics, biology, astronomy, medicine, and the like.

Just after a few weeks in this class, I have a greater appreciation for this beautiful Earth that we live on. The flora and fauna that we see right now only represents a TINY part of what has ever existed on this planet. To me, it is just another testimony of the love God has for us. Look at all the work he put into creating a world just for us - the different ages, different species, different continent arrangement. All this has culminated in the earth that exists today - our Earth, with breath-taking mountains, soaring eagles, delicate roses. I don't have time, nor will I ever have time, to express my gratitude at each individual creation that makes my life better just for its simple existence. I'm just beginning to comprehend the vast expanses of time that have preceded life as we know it - and I am in awe.

To quote Carl Sagan, a respected astronomer AND self-declared agnostic, "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is way better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge."

I would like to claim the privilege of participating in such a religion, one that welcomes the advances of science and the insight they give into our universe - all this only serves as further evidence of the greatness, power, and wisdom of God. As we learn more about our world, we learn more about His creations, and we learn more about Him. God created the earth and works miracles by obedience to the natural laws of the universe - so why not seek to understand these natural laws?

A word of caution - not all science is created equal, and just because a discovery is new does not make it truth. Every proponent of the scientific method can agree with me on this fact! There is still quite a bit that we, as the the human race, do not know and new discoveries in the next 20-30 years will most likely disprove a great deal of "truths" preached today in the scientific community. Change and development is a fact of life! I have very low tolerance for anyone, scientist or preacher, who claims to have all the answers to everything. We don't. Humility, or the ability to admit our own limitations, is a dying virtue. Again, any apparent conflict between science and religion returns to this powerful statement: conflict only arises from incomplete knowledge.

I'll end my little rant (and thanks to you that have stuck around until the end) with an elegant scripture found in the Book of Mormon, Alma 30:44: "Yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

I know that God lives. I know that he created the heavens and the earth, and he did so because he loves us. They were created for us. I know that He created them through the power of His Son, Jesus Christ, but I don't know exactly how He created it all. I believe that through study, research, the scientific method, combined with the influence of the Holy Ghost, we will be able to understand the "how" a little bit better. And I am grateful that He has given us this opportunity to learn from the world around us. And that, friends, is what I believe about science and religion.

Another few fascinating links for anyone interested on additional reading on Mormons and Science, here are a few:
One of my professor's views
Official Church stance on evolution
Dedication of the new Life Sciences building at BYU
Man was created in the image of God

January 29, 2015

I Know the Secret: How to Be Truly Happy

Well, since sharing your testimony is never a one-time event, I figured it would be cool to keep this blog going to have an outlet every once in a while for my spiritual soapboxes. And also, as every RM knows, its really hard when you don't have a companion to talk to about what you learned during personal study. I'll just share it with you :p

How Can We Be Happy?

That is the question. Everyone wants the answer. That's why there are so many commercials for sex and drugs and alcohol. Because people think that just maybe, it might make them happy. WRONG! Dead wrong. And what about video games and nexflix and endless social media? ALSO WRONG. Money? Fame? Being pretty? wrong, wrong, wrong.

Everyone wants to be happy, but just look at the news or your nextdoor neighbors or yourself and you'll realize that its quite elusive.

True happiness, like anything worthwhile in life, only comes in and through Jesus Christ (Moroni 7:20,22). He laid down His life to bring to pass the great atoning sacrifice- and through the Atonement, we can do anything. The power of the Atonement can make us clean again, which takes away the heaviest burden that is ours to bear (and the one that most destroys our happiness) - the burden of guilt. But we all know as well that the Atonement of Christ can lift all burdens and cure all heartaches - that of disease, addiction, heartbreak, sorrow, loneliness, feels of inadequacy, little stresses and big stresses (Alma 7:11-13). He can cure them all (1 Nephi 11:31). He can even change our attitudes, our desires, our very nature, who we are - all that is within His power to change because of His atoning sacrifice. So really, happiness is only possible because of the merits and grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 2:8).

In this way, happiness is very much outside of our control. We can't EARN it, we can't CREATE it, it doesn't belong to us like an object that you can purchase at the store. We are not the great creators here. But it is OUR CHOICE if we are going to have access to this happiness or not. Let me repeat. It is OUR CHOICE if we are going to have access to this happiness or not. We make the conscious, personal decision to seek after this happiness (Alma 27:18).

What can we do to choose happiness? Well, it is a gift of the Spirit, just like faith or charity or humility or the gift of tongues. We receive it by being worthy. Choosing happiness means choosing to obey God's commandments - all of them. And when we don't quite reach up, it means choosing to be HUMBLE enough to repent. (Sometimes this means we need to make uncomfortable changes to our attitude, belief system, and lifestyle. It always requires sacrifice. In this way, the path to real happiness often beings with very real pain that comes from an honest self-analysis. But it gets better!) Happiness is choosing to forgive when someone has wronged us (who is happy when you're angry at other people all the time?) And when the storms of life come - the things that aren't your fault, the challenges that you think aren't fair - happiness is choosing to open up in prayer and let God in  and invite Him to lift you burdens with you. When you try to do it alone, you wont be happy. You will be stressed and complain a lot and very likely won't succeed, and will probably miss what matters most in the process. That is not happy. But with God's help and the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement, you will be happy in ANY circumstances- rich or poor, whole or a little broken, strong or weak, loved by all or alone. By choosing to accept the gift of Christ's Atonement, you are choosing to be happy.

And I do know that this is true, through tried and tested experience.

End of One Adventure, Onto the Next One!

You know, coming to the end of the mission everything just starts to fall into place. I think I have never felt the Spirit so strongly in everything I did - helping the sisters, teaching moments, finding new investigators, talking on the street, studying - everything was just ONE with the Spirit! Which, in the end, is really the best and most effective way to do missionary work. It was just quite sad because it was at the very end. I feel like I was leaving just as I learned to be a real missionary.

Did I do anything special or different my last week?
Well, no, I ...worked!
I was bound and determined to finish up my mission running here there and everywhere, and that is exactly what happened :) Endure to the end!

We had a few dinners with some members that I realllly love, and a day of running around and saying goodbye instead of packing my suitcases, and a wonderful goodbye party that the members put together where they sang hymns for us and of course I cried but there was Coca-Cola which made it all better.

My LAST day in Sousa turned out to be a real scramble! (Of course.) We get to the bus station, ready to buy bus tickets for the bus that leaves at noon and gets to Natal 9pm but....wait. There is no bus on Tuesdays. SAY WHATTTTTTT!!!! The next few hours were a mess of bartering and begging and praying and trying to find some transport from the middle of nowhere to the mission office so I could, you know, have a last interview and catch my plane and stuff. In the end, we found a van that was willing to take the 6 of us, with luggage, to Natal. FAMILY ROAD TRIP TIME! Everyone was very cuddly for the 6 hours it took, our luggage on top of the van tied on tight. It was really neat, because the missionaries that were going to train that upcoming transfer went with us to Natal which included: Sister Lawrence! (my lovable comp!) and Sister Are'valo!(my best friend ever!) so the car ride was really quite enjoyable.

I guess the biggest surreal moment was when we got there to hear the testimonies of all the newbies on the mission. Woahhh. Brought me back to my first day on the mission. But the most interesting thing was... the difference in the testimony. Listening to each new missionary, I felt the Spirit. It was wonderful. But their words were just that...words. They believe with all their heart what they are saying, and have had quite a few incredible experiences in their lives that have given them these testimonies. But they haven't lived their testimonies. They haven't defended their testimonies day in and day out. They haven't had the privilege of sharing their testimonies not only daily, but hourly. They haven't been torn down in their weakest spots just to be rebuilt again, stronger. They haven't yet learned to rely on the Atonement, for forgiveness, for faith, for physical strength, for patience and love. In short, they haven't served their mission yet.

And the difference between the testimony meeting on Tuesday, which the missionaries just arriving, and the testimony meeting on Wednesday, with the missionaries going home...there are just no words to explain.

I'm grateful for what Heavenly Father has created in the past 18 months. I didn't notice the changes in me, because I was too busy worrying about everybody else. That's good, that's what real service is. But without me noticing, Heavenly Father built me up into a true servant, a faithful servant, and a prepared servant. I'm ready to take my place in His Church, preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ. I'm ready to be a wife and a mother, I'm ready to serve in whatever calling, great or small, that he calls me. I'm ready. And I'm grateful for the Atonement of Christ that made me who I am today.


Merry Christmas! Brasilian style!

Warning: What follows is not your typical happy, feel-good Christmas story. Its MY Christmas story and the very important life-lessons that I learned. (we are reading excerpts from Sister Carroll's journal here)

So this year's Christmas has brought on some serious reflection...

I'm not going o lie. I don't like Christmas all that much in Brasil. Its super hot, there's no snow, I'm not hearing the good ol' fashioned Christmas carols, and its literally just a giant excuse for people to drink and party and it all-around Satan's holiday in Sousa.

Em fim, its the exact opposite of what Christmas should be - the Christmas that I'm used to.
And I was getting a little frustrated and let down, because in the epoca of miracles and softened hearts, we can't find anyone all week that wants to hear because they are all drunk. Its spiritually and emotionally draining.

So its Christmas Eve, I'm sitting there on the mattress in our study room in a white jumpsuit that's HOT as all get out, just crying. Everyone is asleep and I'm there, crying, not sure exactly why. Its hard to describe, but almost like... homesick? But not homesick for home and family and normal Christmas. More like, homesick for my heavenly home. Almost like, internally, I just FELT that Christ's birth should mean more and I'm just in a very fallen world very far away from my Heavenly Father and not able to feel close to Him. And I was sad.

So I grabbed my companion's hymn book and it fell open to one of my favorite hymns - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

"But in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on Earth, I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong will fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

After reading that, I felt a lot better, said a prayer, and went to sleep.

We spent Christmas Day visiting recent converts and giving pictures of Christ to them in cute little picture frames. Most of them were pretty down as well, with things going on in their own families. Lots of tears. But I had gotten my crying out of the way the night before, and God gave me a message of hope, so I was prepared to give that same message of hope to everyone else the next day. I could help everyone :)

It wasn't Christmas the way I wanted it to be, but maybe it was Christmas the way it needed to be.

But as I was studying the next day, God gently chastened me and I realized that whether or not I feel close to Him depends more on my personal effort and less on what happens around me, and I didn't put in my best personal effort this month. With only 3 weeks left in the field, I want to do EVERYTHING possible to:
(1) Truly come to know Jesus Christ
(2)Truly teach the doctrine of Christ to help other people come closer to Him
(3)Truly BE a representative of Jesus Christ through my words and actions.

I know that the only thing that brings real, lasting happiness in this life is the gospel. It is the only source of peace, and the only solution to the world's problems. That is why I am a missionary. I know that it is our choice if we are close or far from our Heavenly Father, and as we make the daily simple choices to do what is right, we will feel His love and support.

Merry Christmas to all!