Sunday, October 23, 2011

Planes, TRAINS and Automobiles

Trains have always fascinated me, as have other mechanized vehicles like planes and cars. I've owned vintage automobiles, and I've flown in more planes than I care to recall (although I've never flown in a vintage aircraft). This weekend I had the signular experience of riding a vintage passenger train. Now, I have ridden a number of trains before - Amtrak, bullet trains in Japan, etc.. but this was a different sort of trip - a train "excursion".


The excursion train I was on is a vintage Streamliner model from the 1950's. Its really got a 50's vibe to it, complete with 50's-style dining tables in the dining car, stainless steel body, and "streamlined" passenger-car designs reminiscient of 50's era automobiles. The coolest thing was the "dome car", which we got to ride in. They've bumped the roof up and put in a dome of glass on it so you have a much better and wider view. It was worth the extra we had to pay to get this advantage.

Our excursion was a 160 mile round-trip from the city out through the countryside to a small town with lots of antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Along the way we got to soak in pastoral landscapes and the rich tapestry of fall colors beginning to blanket the hills and farms. Pleasant company of old friends and lots of stimulating conversation made this one of those perfect, relaxing days that seems to come but once in a blue moon. It was delightful! What was so nice was the slower pace you can only experience on a train - especially a vintage model. They just don't go that fast! That leaves a lot more time for important things, like taking in the view or talking to friends. For one day, at least, "my joy is full". It doesn't get much better than this folks...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saints and Superheroes

I watched all the sessions of General Conference this year, and I watched some of them more than once over the internet. Afterwards I followed a lot of blogs and other sites that provide commentary on LDS topics. Lots of comments about Conference. Lots of comments about favorite talks, favorite moments, favorite priciples, favorite music. But what really got me thinking were the comments about favorite GAs.

What I see happening is a decided drift towards hero worship when it comes to General Authorities. People actually gush over them like they would a rock star or Oscar-winning Hollywood actor! And its not just gushing over the content of their talks, its gushing over every aspect of them - the tie they wore, their voice, their hair - even how tan they look! The comments over Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar are especially embarrasing.

As a society we have taken the phenomenon of idol worship to a new level, and its showing up in our Churches and in our worship. Rather than focus on the message, many are focusing instead on the person delivering the message. I wonder, actually, if some even hear the message at all! And this isn't just about physical appearances. In a lot of cases its more subtle than that. When we begin to value one person's spiritual worth above another's; when we start to believe that someone is somehow spiritually 'super-human', we start a dangerous spiral towards vulnerability of the mind, blind obedience, and the literal objectification of another human being; which God himself forbade, saying "Thou shalt have no other gods before me".

The danger in creating Spiritual Superheroes has not been lost to Church Leadership. In an almost prophetic statement, Brigham Young warned:

“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they will settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.”

The Lord expects us to maintain enough of a distance with the Leadership that we will earnestly seek an independant testimony of the inspired value of their words. Yes, we can love them, laugh with them, and relish their wisdom and insights, but He never intended the Brethren to be held up and worshiped like demi-gods. That will blind us. History is fraught with examples of men in high places who have fallen badly - take Moses, King David, and Judas as examples. Joseph Smith himself was sorely chastened by the Lord on several occasions for really screwing up.  And we have recent examples of Brethren teaching things that were later refuted or withdrawn - Bruce R. McConkie, Paul H. Dunn, and Boyd K. Packer, among others. The Lord wants us to sustain these men, but he certainly doesn't want us to be blind sheep. We need to know when they're speaking the Lord's will and when they're just throwing out an opinion.

It's time to take the General Authorities off the pedestal and see them for who and what they are - good but imperfect men who have been given a tremendous and solemn responsibility. They are, in their imperfections, called to perform a mighty work - the Lord's work. They deserve our attention, they deserve our respect, and they deserve our loyalty and obedience when it is appropriate. But the only person who deserves our worship is the Savior himself. Let's keep Him up there on that pedestal - alone - where He belongs.

Postscript - Found this great video of Elder Bednar echoing some of the thoughts of this post...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Apple Bytes

I came both early and late to the Apple party. The first computer I ever touched was an Apple II, which had a character-based green screen (think The Matrix!) and was at the same time cool and yet "clunky". It was cool because there was nothing else like it, but getting the darn thing to do something useful was another matter entirely. We used it to run a chess program.

That was my last exposure to Apple products for some time. Five years later a friend let me play with his new Macintosh. It was a small almond-colored cube with a tiny black and white screen. But the graphical user interface was neat - you could see the start of something revolutionary underneath it all. And it had this weird new thing called a "mouse" attached to it. Took some getting use to.

Another five years later I was immersed in a PC-based world. Businesses did not run on Macs - they ran on IBM. My shift towards a career in computer science was decidedly flavored by the business world I was connected to. There was no room for Apple there. Everything was DOS, servers, Novell, ethernet, and eventually Windows. PCs were "open", flexible, and had lots of options - lots of parts made my different manufaturers. Lots of software made by the likes of Lotus, WordPerfect, and Microsoft. Lots of competition. Lots of headaches! Platforms were unstable, and software crashed a lot. But Apple - well, that was almost a cuss word. We used to joke about Apple computers - they were for kids and people who couldn't understand "real" computers. After all, we could go to the command prompt on our DOS based PC and type in cryptic codes to make our computers do all kinds of fancy things - like copy a file! Or bring up the contents of a directory.  C:\DOS > DIR. This stuff was authentic geekaziod! We weren't about to drive a computer with an automatic - that was for sissies! We wanted a 5-speed manual!

Nearly twenty years later, and my how times have changed! My boss uses a MacBook Air. My brother-in-law hangs tight with an iPad. And I am almost inseparable from my iPhone 4. Inseparable. My seven year-old PC is about on its last leg, and I have begun shopping for its replacement. At the Apple store.....

Thanks, Steve, for thinking different. RIP.