Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Know This Church Is True: Repeat -- Writer's Poke #204

Once a month, the LDS do something called a Fast and Testimony meeting. For one hour, members of the church have the opportunity to share their testimonies, either at the podium up front, or with a portable microphone at their seats in the audience.

Sometimes these meetings start out quite slowly, but go on they do. Even if no one volunteers to speak, everyone will remain seated for the entire period. If the silence goes on for too long, people tend to look around, wondering who will break the tension by sharing their testimony.

So what is an LDS testimony? Basically, it is a statement of belief. Everyone that gives a testimony shares their individual stories, but all assert the following: 1) I know the church is true, 2) I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and 3) I know that Book of Mormon is the word of God.

Some people give their testimonies every month, while others rarely speak, but when they do, they sometimes get pretty emotional about it. Why the emotion? Perhaps they're overcome by the spirit, or perhaps they just have a fear of sharing a public testimony.

Can you really "know" a belief? Does the little kid that goes up to parrot his testimony really know what he's saying? And why do all testimonies end with the three part assertion noted above?

How is the use of repetition key to developing a belief?

"Creative minds have been known to survive any kind of bad training." -- Anna Freud

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Life of Choices and Chances -- Writer's Poke #203

Life is ruled by chance, but that's no reason not to make careful choices along the way.

One of the popular cliches people buy into is the idea that "Everything happens for a reason." There's no way to prove or disprove this statement, of course, but it smacks of fatalism to me. If we truly believed this, then why bother? It's almost as if everything that will happen is predesitined.

On the other hand, living by the philosophy that we can live the life we chose is equally inaccurate. What we can do, however, is live a purposeful life. We can think about the kind of life we'd like to have, and spend each day living accordingly. Chance will still help and hinder us along the way, but it's not an either/or scenario. Chance and choice can work together.

For example, when I started my college teaching career, I specifically sought out administrative responsibilities with each job I held. I didn't know when a full-time administrative opportunity might present itself, but I didn't just twiddle my thumbs and think, "If I'm meant to become an administrator, it will happen." Instead, I worked for the outcome I had in mind. This is what allowed me to become a college Dean at the relatively unheard of age of 32.

Making the right choices increases your chances in life.

Have you spent most of your life living ruled by chance? If so, why? How can you attempt to live the life you choose while also accepting the reality that chance still plays a role?

"I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come." -- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, March 5, 2009

True Wisdom -- Writer's Poke #202

Does wisdom come with age?

Not necessarily, but perhaps that takes years to discover. Young people can have confidence, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have wisdom. In fact, confidence and wisdom might be opposites, for if you think you know everything, as young people sometimes do, then you don't have wisdom.

Wisdom and humility, on the other hand, seem to go together. Wise people call on their experiences, and they call on their knowledge, but they also recognize when knowledge and experience aren't enough. Knowledge and experience, then, are not synonyms for wisdom.

What is wisdom, and how do you know if someone is wise?

"I do not think I know what I do not know." -- Socrates

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Potato People -- Writer's Poke #201

For about ten bucks, you can buy Dr. Verna Price's "The Power of People: Four Kinds of People That Can Change Your Life."

In this book, released in 2002, Price says that people either add or multiple value to your life, or they subtract or divide value from your life. The end.

Now, this book is 130 pages long, so Price obviously includes examples to prove her thesis, but do we really need examples to understand that her point, such as it is, has merit?

Perhaps the real question is, what do you do with the subtractors and dividers in your life? Do you flee from them, and solely associate with the adders and multipliers? That makes a lot of selfish sense, but if you consider yourself to be an adder or a multiplier in their lives, don't you have a moral obligation to stay, even if they are toxic individuals?

When I was in junior high, I wrote a talk for church, based on the idea that there are four kinds of potato people: Spec-tators, participa-tators, anticipa-tators, and innova-tators. Perhaps I should write a book about this? After all, I have a PhD, so people are bound to listen to me.

Think of a person that has added/multiplied/subtracted/divided value to your life. What have you given/taken from that person? Should all relationships be mutually beneficial for them to continue?

"The relationships we have with the world are largely determined by the relationships we have with ourselves." -- Greg Anderson

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Choose Your Adventure -- Writer's Poke #200

Iowa State University's slogan is "Choose Your Adventure." That's how they market themselves to today's potential college students.

It makes me wonder if their Director of Marketing read the same books that I did growing up. During the 1980s, Choose Your Own Adventure novels were pretty popular in my grade school. The gimmick behind the concept was, you'd read a few pages and then be given a choice. You could either "jump off the cliff" and turn to page 69, or you could "stay and wait for help" and turn to page 142, and so on. So they weren't really "novels" at all, but a series of possible stories that lasted a few pages at most.

Jump off the cliff, and you could probably expect the story to end with a splat on the next page. So I usually ended up cheating. Yes, I would like to jump off the cliff, but not if that meant the story would come to an abrupt ending. Sneaking a look at page 69, if I saw that the story was going to continue with another "point of departure" option, then I'd go ahead and jump off the cliff. But if that option were a dead end (pun intended), then I would turn to page 142.

In life, there's no way to flip ahead to see how your adventure will turn out. Iowa State can offer its students hundreds of options, but they cannot give them the security of peaking -- to see that if they jump off the cliff, they just might discover that they have the ability to fly.

How many of us cling to the security of not jumping? Let your adventure begin.

Explore a time when you took a chance. Were you glad you did? Did it pay off, either in the way you expected it would, or in some completely unexpected way?

"The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams." -- Oprah Winfrey

Monday, March 2, 2009

White Space -- Writer's Poke #199

When you read a page of text, what do you focus on? You focus on the text, the words, of course. But what about the space between the text, and the space in the margins? Why so much space? The easy answer is: you need the white space to be able to read the text. If a publisher tried to cram too much text onto a page, thereby devaluing the importance of white space, the text would be a pain to read, if not totally unreadable.

There's an undeniable elegance, a balance, in the appropriate use of white space.

So too in life. Do you have days when you're busy from the moment you wake up until the very moment your head hits the pillow? Such days are obviously exhausting. You might feel the rush that comes from ceaseless productivity, but productivity has a price, and its cost is paid in stress.

Reflection and meditation are to life what white space is to the text. Without time for reflection, life loses its balance. Without time for simply being, we become little more than hamsters running with no real destination.

How much white space does your life need? How much are you getting?

"Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again." -- Joseph Campbell

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Misfits -- Writer's Poke #198

A few years ago, Megadeth was playing at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, and I asked Patrick if he wanted to go. Somewhat to my surprise, he eagerly agreed. Truth be told, though, he probably would have gone anywhere or done anything that I might have suggested. At the time, he was living three hours away from anyone he knew outside of work, and so going to listen to Megadeth probably never sounded so sweet.

The night of the concert I drove up to his apartment, which was maybe 100 miles from the venue. Forgetting that inbound Chicago traffic might be rough on a Friday night, we found ourselves caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At one point, I resigned myself to the fact that we might miss the entire concert. But we finally arrived, only seventy-five minutes late.

The Misfits were the opening act, and we had missed their entire set. Handing our tickets to the checker at the door, all we saw were goths dressed in black from head to toe everywhere we looked. They were in the lobby, the hallways, on the stairs, and every other nook and cranny of the facility.

Patrick is a posterboy for Country Club Monthly, and while I've never been "preppy," never had I felt so out of place. Moving past the shadows, we entered the main autorium, and once Dave Mustaine and the boys hit the stage, all of the goths had disappeared. It seemed that we weren't the only ones to arrive late, as the goths were replaced with heavy metal faithful; not surprisingly, though, Patrick and I didn't blend in any better among the Megadeth fans who took the shadow's place.

When have you felt like a misfit? Did it bother you, or did you relish being different?

"Even among Misfits your misfits." -- Yukon Cornelius