Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thoughts for an Old Buddy on Judgement

This post is a response to comments left by my buddy Sam Weber on my previous post The Man On His Knees:


I'm happy you replied with those particular questions, as I don't think I would have thought to ask them, and I like where thinking about the answers took me. Sorry I just only saw your comments tonight though. Below is a book I wrote in response to your comment/questions.

I view Alma 12:14 from the perspective of 1 Corinthians 13:12 "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." That when we are judged we will not disagree with that judgement but rather will, "confess before God that his judgments are just." (Mos. 16:1)

Going along with the idea that judgement is based upon what we become more than what we have done, I love how the above verses tie in wonderful harmony with D&C 76:94 "They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace;" As if to suggest that to those who are "Celestial material" (though I hate that term) their judgement will not come as any kind of a surprise, at all suggesting a level of self-judgement.

To respond then to the need for an external judge, let me as a question: Can you, independent of any other instrument, weigh yourself? Independent of a ruler or tape measure, can you precisely tell your breadth or height? As a matter of philosophy (not that I'm an expert in that) it seems to me that any amount of judgement is based entirely on comparison. Any quantitative measure, whether it's things done or things become, is measured by a certain rule.

This is the point where I became excited at where this thought led me, because Christ as that yard-stick makes PERFECT sense. Christ being the Savior of all, the One who descended below all things, would have the only true measure of things as they really exist. Only a God would have a perspective universal enough in scope to determine what measure to use in each person's case. I want to point out by my choice of words that one could make a case again for self-judgement in bringing up 3 Nephi 14:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.", but to counter, this passage is more Jesus informing his followers of how we are forgiven as we forgive, or in other words, how much his salvation can cover us, relative to how much we let it cover other people, thus making the issue again about Him, and not about us, his measure, not ours.

Which leads into your second thought of Jesus being both our Advocate and our Judge. To relate to this idea I was brought to a similar thought that I have carried since I was a teenager about how it seems from every seminary video I ever watched, that the Father and Jesus are playing bad cop-good cop with us. The one bent on throwing down hell-damning-justice, and the other sacrificing all making Himself a doormat to both the demands of justice and the offending unjust party. I outright reject the analogies (like the courtroom analogy) that make this appear to be the case. Rather, I see the Father possessing all justice and all mercy within Himself, and the Son possessing all justice and all mercy within Himself. These are not in opposition to each other, and God certainly isn't walking a tight-rope balancing act between them, or trying to juggle them all at once, but rather through the actions of the Son, both are brought into complete fulfillment.

One of my thoughts about how this is done (and how it figures in to judgement) ties into one of my major complaints about Mormons: Mormons have an over-developed sense of right and wrong! Mormons tend to think that if a persons sins it is because they are "bad". If this sinner then repents, they are "good", but if the person goes back to that same sin, they are "bad" again because they must have not really repented the first time. Though I do believe there are bad people in the world, they are so very rare, I think if we had a meter to judge good and bad people, we would be shocked at how few bad ones we would find. Rather, I think it would be FAR more accurate to say that for the most part, there are "strong" and "weak" people in this world. "A person who sins", says Elder Oaks, "is like a tree that bends easily in the wind and soils its leaves. If the Atonement were only to clean the leaves, the tree would be soiled again in the next high wind. Rather the Atonement is meant to strengthen the trunk of the tree, or the individual, giving them the stature to walk back into the presence of God." (an 85% accurate from memory paraphrase of his quote :-)

If then a measure of a person is strong or weak, it makes sin, and thus redemption and judgement, make much more sense. It makes the sermon on the mount where the Savior equates being angry with murder make so much more sense. Consider this: We as Mormons also like to talk about little sins versus big sins. To me, there are two elements to committing a sin: 1. Desire. 2. Opportunity. Taking murder as a 'Big Sin', I could be a murderer at heart, but I'm a skinny kid that would have a hard time even beating somebody up, so the opportunity to commit that big sin, or my perception of my ability to commit that sin, is null. Thus a person may be a murderer at heart, but have never committed the act. Interestingly enough (to me at least), the same weakness (whether mental or physical) that prevents them from killing someone, may also be the reason they don't have the ability to overcome those angry feelings. Who can judge what makes that person worthy or not? A God who can see the hearts of every other person ever born and use the summation of the universe as his yardstick.

What if judgement then, is more of an opportunity for Christ to compare you against the yardstick of perfect justice, and then apply His grace to allow us to be further strengthened, as I for one cannot conceive that I will arrive at my judgement already perfected. In that sense Christ becomes that fully just Master, and perfectly merciful Redeemer. In a recent episode of Community one of the characters tells the other, "Nobody cares if you're sorry, I want it fixed!". In that same way I see Christ in that role, not nearly as worried about how sorry we are for what we know is wrong with us, but what we (and He) are going to do to fix it. In this way my being judged by Christ is inextricable from my being saved by Christ.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


This is my nephew Evan. I am finally catching up with some happenings from the Summer. In the video below he is singing God Bless America (if you can't understand), and where one sings the phrase twice at the end of the song, Evan gets stuck repeating the phrase because he can't remember the final note. I think its hilarious, but at the least its pretty "cute":

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Man on His Knees

So this morning a poem was brought to my attention called The Man In The Mirror. My first thought was that it was a song (thank you Brother Jackson), but I was corrected that it was actually a poem (and when I found the original version, its actually called the Guy in the Glass) which asserts, correctly, that we have to be true to ourselves. But the poem bothered me too, because it was missing a critical element. So I scratched the following out this morning in response. I don't think its very good poetry in that the meter and flow is pathetic, but it has what all 7th grade poets care about: RHYME! And more important, the message:

The Man on His Knees
(A response to Guy in the Glass)

Look into the mirror and you will see,
one who cannot tell,
Whether or not the soul its reflecting,
Is bound for Heaven or Hell.

For that man in the mirror may smile too kind,
Or scowl harshly at what he sees,
But there is One who always tells it straight,
When we come to Him on our knees.

For though a man ought to stand up straight,
And look himself in the eye,
The man in the mirror will not be the judge,
When homeward the soul will fly.

Often scared on our knees to ask that One,
What He doth require,
He'll tear down our pride, challenge our ease,
Or encourage our hearts with fire!

For then we will see as we are seen,
By One bearing the whole human race,
One who is neither too kind or too mean,
And not be deceived by our face.

So whether a saint or a dirty old sleaze,
That man in the mirror won't know.
The best you can have is a vain-hearted guess,
'Till down on your knees you go.

So, the picture I had attached was sending the wrong message, or at least throwing off the message of the whole blog post. I think its pretty good photoshop work though, so if ya wanna see it, its here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What the Devil?!

So... I had a sick day today. I think I need to get my tonsils out. Most of my day today has been watching an excessive amount of Hulu. Before each episode of any show, an advertisement will say, "The following program is brought to you by..." followed by a sponsor. Today, the sponsor was the upcoming movie "Devil" which comes out soon. So all my shows today were brought to me by the Devil.

It was a humorous coincidence, but its also disturbingly true in so many cases, and though everybody knows there's something wrong with the media, have you ever considered that the process went something like this:
  1. Somebody comes up with an awful idea.
  2. Someone hears this idea, and rather than being repulsed thinks, "I will throw a few millions of my hard-earned cash at this"
  3. Then a studio, hundreds of support staff, actors, and effects people dedicate hundreds of hours to produce something.
  4. We see it as 30 minutes on television, and think to ourselves, "Oh how awful" not like we considered that it took years of planning and a HUGE budget, but like it was something that happened onto our TV screen and didn't exist the 5 seconds before we turned to that channel.
The crazy thing about it all is, these shows aren't the result of one or two sick people, but hundreds and thousands! I kind of hate this thought, but I also like it, in that it makes things appear really black and white. There really becomes an us v.s. them idea. Not against the people involved necessarily, but the powers of darkness in this world.

It makes it easy like this: I wish that when I got tempted it was like the devil called me up on my phone and in a high-pitched-whiny voice said, "Ste--eeee--eve! Go punch a baby!" (I use that because that is the most awful sin I can readily think of, but if you follow the link, I think I may have found a justifiable case) Then I would be like, "Sorry, wrong number..." Or else he would just leave voicemail like, "Hey Steve! We never hang out, why don't we hang out, you never come over to my house! Maybe I could come over to your house, okay, well, just call me back? Okay buddy? Alright? I mean we're friends right?"

It would just be easier. So thanks to Hulu, and the upcoming horror film, to make things all black and white for me.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Gratitide... Is the sign of an educated person Gordon B. Hinckley said in his landmark talk to the youth about the 6 B's. "Thank you" two words that when you were being taught as a child were even more important than "please" because if you forgot the first one, the second one made up for it. Two words penultimate to "I love you" given that the latter is often implied in the former. And just in case the importance of gratitude be lost on anybody, we have devoted a complete national holiday to it, even if we are only grateful for turkey and football.

Given the gravity of gratitude, and its tie to the educated mind, it ought to be no surprise to anybody that at Utah State where I work, "thanks" is the way EVERY communication, mostly but not limited to email, is terminated. In many cases this is great such as, "Can you generate that report for our meeting? Thanks."

This implies, "Thank you, Steve, for using your talent for databases and technical know-how to keep our business-process running smooth. Oh, and thanks in advance, just so you know that in making this request I appreciate you."

But sometimes the communication is more like this, "The next three days are blackout days, so nobody ask for vacation. Thanks."

This sounds more like, "I own you my tiny little slaves! You want to take a vacation? Ah ha ha ha ha! Oh, and remember, I said thanks, so I'm not a monster. I'm not."

And sometimes takes the form of, "Okay, so did you see the sky? Talk about blue. Yeah I got this shirt for $3. Hey, did you see that [sports event] last night? Great huh? Alright well, Thanks..." Its communication like this that makes the 'What the... !?!?' Alarm go off in my head. Thanks for what? Listening to you ramble? Thanks for pretending to agree with your opinions on sports, weather and politics? Thanks for our association? All nice things, but I think you really just said 'thanks' because after saying a high volume of stuff that has no value, you used the holy word of gratitude as a substitute for an awkward conversation ending, similar to a 6-year-old ending a letter with 'sincerely'. This use of the word 'thanks' is the verbal equivalent of using 'darn' for 'damn'. You used a real word, but only to replace your frustrated emotional confusion.

Two more examples:

"The USU bus will not be running during the summer as the buses are supported by student fees, and its summer time. Thanks." Thanks for understanding? Thanks for missing that doctor's appointment that you were going to use the bus to get to?

And the final one:

As my roommate was walking a girl out of our apartment the other night she turned to him and said, "I love you..."

His response, "Thanks."

Thanks!!!??? Thanks!? "I love you" - "Thanks." And now you see how the terrible over-use of insincere gratitude has come full circle to where "Thanks" equals "I don't love you, in fact if anything, I find you slightly pathetic." In fairness to my roommate I don't think that was his intent to communicate that exactly, but WOW.

Behind every word that comes out of our mouths there are so many unheard thoughts, unseen hurts, triumphs, experiences, wisdom, or perhaps the spewing forth of a life of carelessly expressing whatever pops into one's head. But I wonder if, in our speech, we let certain things stay meaningful? I wonder if sometimes we are too afraid to say what is really on our mind, and in our fear we hide behind the golden badge of gratitude. But if so, I wonder if the blanket of warmth we could give someone else loses its threads when we too often use it as a security blanket?

From my new favorite web comic, a scene that reflects the opposite of what I'm writing about in a truly magnificent way. If you mouse over the images in this comic, there is always something more...


Thursday, July 8, 2010

This is all about me - and it makes sense dang it!

[ WARNING: This is a long post that you may not care to read in its entirety. I won't feel bad. ]

Through a comment that Dallin Stephens left on my previous post, I realized that a majority of my outward expressions only make sense when in context.

While this is true of everyone to some degree, I think it is especially true of me in that people that don't know me very well are utterly lost when communicating with me, or believe me to be a really 'random' person. (I HATE the overuse of that word [the link is a little inappropriate, but funny] I mean really? You mean I randomly happened into existence, randomly came to Logan for no reason at all, and randomly interacted with you because of the sheer randomness generated by following the advice of my iPhone app that listens to atmospheric noise and algorithmically determines from a truly random source who I am to talk to? Geeze!)

Nevertheless, to demonstrate, my Swiss friend Marine has a wonderful grasp of the English language and American culture, yet she cannot understand most of what I say. (I don't know why I added that hyperlink, do I have to prove that she's a real person? That she's really from Switzerland? I dunno...) The idea that someone familiar with my native language and culture finding me 'random' or 'unrecognizable' is probably one of the most personally repulsive ideas I can think of.

So, I thought I would attempt to prove that I did not just happen into existence. At right is one of the most complete pictures of me that I can post. By going through my family one at a time, each number corresponding to a little red number in the picture in the order of when they came into the family, and explaining their effect (affect?) on me I will hope to show a little where I come from. Sorry family, this one is about ME.

  1. My Mother. The one person that will never forget the fact that I didn't just appear one day. My mom taught, loved, disciplined, encouraged, and gave me my view of this whole world by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because of countless conversations with her after church while everyone else was napping that I learned to think deeply about the gospel, and to gain my own testimony of Jesus. It was by her reading the paper and cutting out news, and editorial articles that I learned to care about current events and think critically of the world around me without becoming cynical of that world.
  2. My dad is the hardest working person I know, and if I know how to work at all it is because of him. Phrases like "try it, you'll like it, its all what you get used to", "take care of it and you'll always have it", "go do this... then come back and see me", and "...get your hands out of your pockets!" have made an indelible impression. More impressively than anything to me is the overwhelming amount of love that my father possesses, that though subtly expressed, drives him to also be unwaveringly obedient, honest, loyal, and penitent. I think the hard worker in my dad did a good job of rubbing off on me, and I'll be lucky if I get the rest by the time I'm his age. I also became a Star Trek fan because I watched it with my dad. From my dad I got to learn about raising livestock, landscaping, tools, construction, how to "savvy", and all those manly things kids with lame dads never got to learn.
  3. My sister Denise (now McDougal) is the one who taught me how to love art! Any eye that I may have for graphic design (which I LOVE) I got because she taught me how to draw in perspective when I was just 4 or 5 years old. I think I also learned from her the importance of being strong personally so as to be a strength to those around you.
  4. "Think of it this way mom and dad, you'll have some cute infant grandkids when you're in your 80's!"
  5. Kevin has had as profound an impact on my life as anybody in it. I ascribe my sense of humor to him. He is the one who opened my eyes to the fact that I could program computers (not merely play games on them). He is the one who explained my parents to me as a pre-teen so that I could have an awesome relationship with them the rest of my life. He is the one who threw a basketball at me over and over when I was little to toughen me up. He is also the one who shared a room with his dirty little brother until he was 18 (I was 8), took me on dates with him (girl bait? Yes I was.), helped me learn how to work a lathe, a mill, and a drill press, and always let me use his stuff.
  6. Brenda was my only sibling that I was close enough to in age to have any bit of rivalry. However that only lasted a few years and I think she made a good effort to be my best friend, and because everyone loved "little Stephen" to this day I struggle with competition. Brenda is the sister who somehow convinced me that it was possible that girls could like me (probably mostly by teasing me about them). She, along with Denise, are also the standards by which girls I date are judged. Brenda is the reason I got into singing. I never would have done high school choir without her, and choir has become a main-spring of my whole life. I would even go so far as to say that those who don't sing or appreciate sacred music are culturally separate from myself.
  7. Who is THAT guy!? Yes, I did have hair once. (Bald is way better: 1. The picture above is a dorky haircut. And 2. Being bald = built in joke/punchline! Who wouldn't want that!?) You may be wondering why this family picture is 9 years old and has floating heads in the margins? Well see, there is a more recent picture taken when I got home from my mission, but I am really tall, and the photographer worried about fitting everybody in the frame made me slouch like a hunchback to fit me in! (only slightly photoshopped...) My parents say they'll take another one when I get married. However, it seems like I'm that jerk who forgets your birthday and then says 'happy birthday' a week later with the consolation that you got to celebrate a whole week instead of just one day: Think of it this way mom and dad, you'll have some cute infant grandkids when you're in your 80's!
  8. Danny McDougal. Danny has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! Though he is an 'in-law', it would be a crime to consider him anything but a full-fledged brother. To this day I think he is the only missionary outside my family (at the time) that I every wrote faithfully. Danny was a great example to me of how to be nice to little kids (as he was always nice to me) as well as an example of tenacity and ambition. I have never once seen Danny be anywhere he hasn't made a better place.
  9. My nephew Patrick. He's 17 years old now! Patrick is a great example to me of how to be gentle, loving, and quietly powerful. Patrick has a learning disability that makes alot of social/educational opportunities hard for him, but he inspires me in that he has the purest heart I have ever known and isn't afraid to let that show.
  10. My nephew Nathan was born something like 2 months prematurely. Even at that rate he was born with more muscle mass/definition than I have currently. Unlike me, he's a true example of keepin' it real. Although I think the most of my family is quite down to earth, and that is a part of me, I think that is most pronounced in Nathan.
  11. Julie Newman Nielsen has also been a part of my life since I was just a little boy. Julie was a great example to me of the necessity to have proper etiquette. Her presence in my family also taught me when I was very young that God loves and works through all of His children, that he has a plan for us, and opened my eyes to the difference between true restored religion and godless cultural Mormonism. I never feel cooler spending time with any member of my family than when I hang out with Julie.
  12. My nephew Tyler. Tyler is the only member of my family that I've been able to be a part of their coming into the church when he asked me to confirm him. Still one of the neatest experiences of my life.

  13. My nephew Matthew, even as a little guy, he had a sense for style. I can identify with this in that though I love pranks, jokes, and silliness, it must always bear a high degree of class (as demonstrated in the picture of one of my pranks -->)
  14. My nephew Ryan. Ryan is one of the smartest 9 year olds this world has ever seen. Not surprising given that 50% of his genes comes from my family. I have a habit of thinking I'm pretty smart. That works out for me most of the time.
  15. Sonny Mortensen. Sonny is my gadget friend in the family. Sonny is has shown me the value of balance in a relationship as I see him work to make my sister happy.
  16. My niece Arianna was the first to show me that I could buy a child's love with food :-) Arianna was born while I was on my mission, but from the time I got home to when I fed her a snack pack when she was 2 we weren't friends at all. Since that lucky snack pack we've been the best of friends, and lucky for me too, 'cause she is one of the most creative talented people I know.
  17. My niece Madeline was also born while I was on my mission. She is a great example of getting along, and of loving everything in sight whether its her brothers, her animals, or her uncle.
  18. My nephew Christian is one cool kid. He is a friend to everybody and truly thinks of how other people are feeling. He loves to play, make up jokes, and make the most of every day.
  19. My niece Halle is the latest of the nieces. She came with her own personality, but she knows what she wants/likes and what she doesn't, and there isn't much convincing that can be done. I have to say I identify with that.
  20. The latest member of the family is my nephew Evan. Evan was named after my grandpa (from whom I inherited my haircut) and is already a really funny kid. He loves to say 'no' when he means 'yes', (and I know for sure Brenda never would have let Sonny teach him that)

    "Evan are you a good boy? Evan do you want a cookie?"

    "No." He says, just to be funny. I can fully appreciate this. It is this dry humor that I also feel like I came to earth with. Evan is a great little chap.
Well that's the family picture (I mean sketch of me through describing my family) This post is remarkably long, but it kind of took on a life if its own... If anyone outside my family (or inside for that matter) made it this far down I applaud your attention span!

Next time will be lighter, shorter, and less personal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Stephen Rolfe Nielsen is writing the first post for this blog.

So, I dropped my Facebook account. Not like I dropped it like a quarter and I'll pick it back up. More like I dropped it like it was hot (I love being white), and I'm done for a while. I decided rather, that blogging would be a better solution. Gives me an opportunity to write things that I don't want all my passing acquaintances to read, and also doesn't push my life into your face unless you choose to come see/read! In a way its like when I moved to Riverton my senior year of high school.. I guess I'll learn who my true friends are as I move out to the digital boondocks of blogging, rather than the suburbs of Facebook.

So in my time machine I jumped, and found myself back in the simpler, quieter, more private world of 2006, before the 'Big F.' was a staple of our daily routine. Over the past week of being without, this is what I have found:

“The ability to express myself in any format longer than about two sentences... is entirely gone from me”

  • Some friends I wouldn't talk with so much as I would just check up on them on FB. In that way my little bit of checking up prevented me from knowing anything actual about their life. This also happened in reverse. I could also mention the mass of people on the FB that I don't care much about (and they not much about me) but we have this strange connection via the inter-web that puts way more of each other into each other's lives than we'd ever care to experience.
  • When I would get lonely or bored, I would turn to Facebook rather than calling someone up or going to do something, and like sucking on a pacifier, I was coddled but not satisfied.
  • The ability to express myself in any format longer than about two sentences (or the equivalent of a long status-update) is entirely gone from me. I even find myself thinking, "What would be a funny status update to post?" and then realize that I don't have FB anymore, and then realize what a waste of mental energy/what an odd habit that slowly crept into my life/our culture over the past 5 years! This is also frustrating as composing this blog post will likely take me an hour!
  • Since giving up FB I have talked to people one on one I haven't spoken with in months!
  • Taking pictures this weekend I discovered that my motivation for taking pictures was to share them on Facebook as I took the picture, and wondered how I would share it now I was without FB. Didn't we used to take pictures to remember things? It seems there is a level of narcissism or assumed popularity associated with the entire thing that is kinda weird.
  • Time wasted on the internet has decreased. This is a gimmie, but the list is incomplete without it.
That's it for this post! I have to say my goal is to be able to compose longer posts often enough that I break the afore mentioned expressive limitations and be able to compose something entertaining (else would you wanna read this right??) and true to what I really think (else why would I write it) right out of a stream of consciousness, rather than taking hours to compose.

A parting thought: How do you think your daily routine/our culture has transformed over the past 6 years? Do you think we're better off? Do you think its making us dumber? As I've used technology more and more, and as it's my full-time job, I don't even have a computer at home (unless you count my shiny new iPhone...) is that extreme? Appropriate? Gimmie a shout!

Stephen Rolfe Nielsen is off to go cliff jumping.