Monday, November 1, 2010

Look To God and Live

The following are notes for a talk I gave yesterday:

LOOK TO GOD AND LIVE (Al 37:47, Alma to Helaman)


Humans differ other animals, gaze up
-secular world traces the origin of religion to this attribute, that observance of the stars was the origin of deities, heaven and ultimately religion

The story of the fiery flying serpents in the book of numbers was beloved by the Book of Mormon prophets. It gave them a vivid image of the damaging effects of some of the skepticism and lack of faith that we all have, and, more importantly the means of deliverance from the troubles that afflict our fallen species.

Num 21
5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 ¶ Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Nephi talking to his brothers recounted the miracles of the exodus included:
1 Ne 17
41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

The meaning of this event was given by Jesus as he spoke to Nicodemus in the night:
14 ¶ And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

Alma to the poor of the Zoramites: Alma suggests that there is more to this story, that, in fact the serpent raised on the pole represented Christ
Al 33
19 Behold, he was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
22 If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.


The command to always remember him (and to take his name upon us) has always been a strangely difficult to articulate yet palpable and powerful concept
I have always been somewhat attracted to things I don’t fundamentally understand yet are powerful, and compelling, and right. In music I have many colleagues who are interested in figuring out music, in explaining every aspect of it. I prefer music that I can’t explain or analyze, but that is nonetheless powerful
Why should fixing our mind on Jesus be efficacious? And yet it is. It works.

White Handbook/Brigham Young
If you go on a mission to preach the Gospel with lightness and frivolity in your hearts, looking for this and that, and to learn what is in the world, and not having your minds riveted—yes, I may say riveted—on the cross of Christ, you will go and return in vain.

Looking to the savior is not just for those who are beginning on the path of conversion. It is just as important for those who have been on that path for some time. Perhaps we need to depend on him more and more the further we go on that path.

-Joseph Smith’s dream of the apostles with sore feet not looking at Jesus who was in their midst:
1/21/1836: “I saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept" (HC 2:381)

Often people are brought to look because of hearing or feeling:
-Nephites watching him descend (after hearing and heeding a still small voice, they cast their eyes, 1Ne11:8)
-Alma, Paul, Lamoni, etc. all became immobile after hearing, whereupon they saw visions, they let go of control and looked to God
-Jesus said that he would lifted up that all men would be drawn to him


-God being judged, humiliated , punished by his children, as well as raised from the dead, and ascending – 3 events of being raised:
demonstrated the worst that could happen and a response to that, the victory over death, and the presence of worlds beyond this one
– he became a impossibly compelling presence in the world – despite all of the attempts to the contrary (obscure, unsubstantiated)

To look up:
-Lift thine eyes unto the mts. Whence cometh help – something bigger than ourselves – reminder of the ascendancy of God, that we are part of something bigger – the sublime
-get outside of yourself (Matt 10:39)
-other religious traditions are very good at this – Buddhism – observing what is outside and what is inside from a sort of objective place
-meditation, pondering
-it’s very difficult to observe things and to try to control them at the same time – maybe that’s what the “easiness” means: don’t try to control, let God take over – recognize the distance between your effort and the outcome
-also listening – listen to God and (be awakened) live
-see divinity in all things
-see divinity in all people
-overcome prejudice – recognize uniqueness of things
-scales fall from eyes – let them be burned away by light
-remove the beam from your own eye
-if thine eye be single vs. evil – i.e. w/o prejudice
-lift up your head (and rejoice)


What prevents us from looking to God?
-don’t bury head in sand, i.e. don’t be afraid
-military: keep your head down, avoid being noticed, mocked by great and spacious
working at desk or in field, or, in trench (i.e. military, don’t get head shot) – metaphors
-head down: working at desk or in field, computers and other technology
Al 10 (Amulek)
5 Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his amysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.
6 Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was acalled many times and I would not bhear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know


This is, strangely what I think impedes the those who are on the path from looking up most. We have many problems. As we know, problems do not go away as we go down the path. Perhaps they even multiply. But we need to remember that we are always dependent on God, that we can’t ultimately solve any of our problems without him. We are told that all things must fail, and we know this from experience, but charity, or the love of God never fails and is the only thing that never fails. This is where we stumble because of the “simpleness or the easiness” of the way.

We judge others, and find fault, maybe not so much because of malice, but because we feel unsure about our own standing. But it is hard to look up when we are looking down our nose. It is hard to look at all when we have a beam in our eye.

Looking beyond the mark:
-want to show off (virtuosity) – broaden phylacteries, borders of garments, etc., greetings in markets
We like to show off how busy and important we are. We focus on position and achievements and connections. I think this is because of pride, but also because we feel we need assurance of our progress and standing with God.
These make it hard to look up.
Moreover, it is hard to look up when we become obsessed with our many goals, tasks, and projects.
No matter how wonderful or important we think we are, the salvation of our children, our neighbors, the people of the world, or even ourselves does not hinge on anything we do. Salvation of any kind comes depends on God. We can be of great assistance to Him and to His children, we can accomplish great and wonderful things, we can have great influence on others, but the ultimate power to save, to bring about the most important transformations comes from Him, not from us.
Our example will have more positive impact than anything else can if we look to God.
If our many projects, however noble, deter us or others from looking to God and living, then we should question their necessity.
“In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best. A friend took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. “The thing I liked best this summer,” the boy replied, “was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.””
- Ballard quote: “The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.”8
-Uchdorf: OF Things that Matter Most:
Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.
It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.
My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.

Finally, I want to emphasize the last part of the scripture, “look unto God and live.” We don’t have to wait to live. Every moment, every breath is a marvelous and miraculous gift. Jesus said that he came to give us life, and to enable us to live more abundantly. This means, in part, that we should get out and experience all that life has to offer, to take in the variety of experience, of sounds, sights, smells, feelings, associations that even the most ordinary of lives offers. The sun, the moon, the stars, the air, snow, and rain, animals, and plants and people— all things which come of the earth are made for the benefit of man… to please the eye [and the ear] and to gladden the heart.

May we all look to God and live.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


In High Priests Group today, the subject came up of disaffected people's objection to the persnicketiness of mormonism. Coffee, baptism, etc. My comment was that when people say drinking coffee or not getting baptized are no big deal, they are right. Living an ethical life, treating other people kindly, etc. these are requirements for a terrestrial life.

The afterlife is strangely a subject that is glossed over sometimes by many religions. They don't like to talk about it too much, and view it as maybe a bit beside the point. In fact, mormonism is usually viewed as kind of silly because we have such a detailed and seemingly complex map of, not just the afterlife, but of an existence before birth. I think it reminds people of pagan mythology. Yet, our fate after death looms hugely in our minds, whether we talk about it or not. I came to find this out on my mission. People were very concerned about if there was a life after they died and where their dead loved ones were, etc. The major problem with sectarian Christianity is that it has never proposed anything other than a heaven and hell. The extreme granularity of this formulation has frustrated and scared and disaffected people for ages. Yet, the book of Revelation, where some of Christianity's cosmology comes from, says that at some point hell will deliver up the dead that are in it. Mormonism teaches that hell is a temporary place where those who have not availed themselves of the atonement of Jesus Christ will suffer for their own sins. But after this is over they, along with those who have repented and everyone else, will go to heaven, a place of unspeakable bliss, i.e. one of the three kingdoms of glory.

The genius of mormonism is that it affirms the idea that it doesn't matter which church you belong to, what you believe in, etc. as long as you live a good life. That is, in fact, the law of the terrestrial kingdom, and of terrestrial beings. These beings live with Jesus Christ in a realm very much as traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic descriptions of heaven. They will live in the millennium. etc. There is nothing wrong with aspiring for a terrestrial life. It is admirable and wonderful. And this kingdom itself, if we understand Jesus and latter-day prophets, is not singular. Everyone will be rewarded for everything good they have ever done, whatever kingdom they go to. The Celestial kingdom, is a very special case. It has additional requirements on top of the requirements for the Terrestrial kingdom. It requires an incredible suspension of incredulity (i.e. faith) in order to do many things that most people consider a bit crazy. i.e. like abstaining from coffee, believing and reading books with unsubstantiated and miraculous origins, participating in arcane rituals, etc. So naturally a small minority of humanity will participate in a lifestyle that is required for Celestiality. Of course we desperately hope that everyone will join in, but we also are incredibly glad for all of the good that exists in the world and the joy that each kind and good act will bring temporally and eternally, from whatever source or religion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wall Street

Don't bother. I liked the original Wall Street. This was a real mess. Completely disorganized collection of non-sequituurs. The weirdest thing is that it doesn't make a point. It doesn't even seem to be committed to a critique of the excesses that led to the 2008 meltdown. Oliver Stone's movies have gotten more and more rambling, as have a lot of Hollywood movies. I get the impression that they are so flush with money that they create to much stuff and then try to edit a 5 hour movie down to 90 minutes. It never works. I prefer the opposite. An economy of means.

I'm listening to a wacky Braxton piece. Composition 173 for actors, instrumentalists, video projections and constructed environment. He uses the term mythodology. I think that's the only word to describe this.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Glenn Beck at Ozz

Tonight (or I guess last night) I played some wonderful pool with our former home teacher who gave me some great mentoring in the game. As we were getting ready to leave and as the juke box stopped playing, I noticed a somewhat familiar and sickening sound coming from one of the tv's. It was Glenn Beck fomenting about some ghastly conspiracy pulled directly from his butt at that very moment. I just remember hearing the word "soviet" and a bolshevik and a few other things that made no sense. The lady at the desk was very nice. I asked her if she ever played MSNBC. She said that Fox News scared her "s' much". So I said "Well, why don't you change the channel." She said she wouldn't watch or listen to "any of the other ones anymore."

The whole thing reminded me of nothing so much as the the Book of Mormon, specifically when Amalikiah takes over the Lamanite nation by treachery and then, by means of weird, yucky, but effective propaganda, gets a reluctant people to go to war with the Nephites against their own best interests, scruples, and judgment:

Alma 48
1 And now it came to pass that, as soon as Amalickiah had obtained the kingdom he began to inspire the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi; yea, he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites.
2 And thus he did inspire their hearts against the Nephites, insomuch that in the *latter end of the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges, he having accomplished his designs thus far, yea, having been made king over the Lamanites, he sought also to reign over all the land, yea, and all the people who were in the land, the Nephites as well as the Lamanites.
3 Therefore he had accomplished his design, for he had hardened the hearts of the Lamanites and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger, insomuch that he had gathered together a numerous host to go to battle against the Nephites.
4 For he was determined, because of the greatness of the number of his people, to overpower the Nephites and to bring them into bondage.

I honestly don't know how anyone listens to even 15 seconds of the political pornography on Fox News or right wing radio. It is so toxic and hate-filled, whatever your political beliefs, that I can't imagine anyone consuming it without being injured. This is particularly true of Glenn Beck, who is, I suppose, more disturbing to me because of our shared faith.

I call it political pornography. I used think of it as the news equivalent of professional wrestling or televangelism. The wrestling is phony but ultimately benign. The televangelism rips dumb people off and turns smart people off of Christianity. But right wing tv and radio darken and pervert minds the same way pornography does. But as damaging as pornography is, it is not destroying civil discourse, thus democracy, thus America, and thus the world.
* * *
I was also reading in the Book of Acts today while my two youngest kids climbed around the play structure at Carl's Jr. What an inspiring book. I think Acts is my favorite. Primitive Christianity was so inspiring and pure (it rocked). The right wing evangelical movement has nothing discernible in common with Christianity as described in Acts, other than the names of Deity. The early Christians were strict communitarians. I mean, really strict. I'm not sure, honestly I have no earthly idea where the capitalism/Christianity connection was concocted. Here are just a few excerpts from Acts:

Acts 2
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

Acts 4
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I went to the temple last week and had a couple of thoughts.

God created things that sustain themselves and are themselves creative. We can and should create things that do the same, that bloom and blossom more abundantly with time on their own, that are themselves creative entities. Maybe this is what eternal increase is. I think Emily Dickinson said that she only planted perennials.

Our future is formed by our sacrifices, whether we realize it or not. Sacrifice and creation are one in the same. I am defining sacrifice here by the traditional LDS concept of "giving up something good for something better."

Friday, March 5, 2010

RNC Fundraising Powerpoint Cynicism

This slide from the recently leaked RNC fundraising powerpoint
presentation lists only extremely cynical or ignorant reasons for
contributing to the republicans. I think it is a window into the
extreme cynicism of the party and movement:

Monday, February 22, 2010


We've had a series of Nobel laureate economists that have dictated some very damaging policy to pretty much the whole civilized world (and the discipline of economics) for decades. I'm not super impressed with the discipline in its current form, I have to say. It comes off as kind of junk science when it oversteps its reach. Economics starts from a set of weak premises, the main one being that individuals don't matter and that prosperity of some makes up for the poverty of others. The discipline also seems to be saddled with a metaphysical dogma that one would assume to be anathema to a scientific pursuit. The dogma I am speaking of is the idea that "markets" are magical or divine and that any tampering with them is like steadying the ark of old. Never mind that there never has been a purely free market and there certainly is nothing like that in our modern highly complex and interconnected world. If economists could think about individual human beings and actually solving the myriad problems faced by humanity, we might make some progress.

Poverty and the Old Testament

I have been teaching and learning about the Old Testament recently, as have many mormons. I am constantly impressed with how much of the scriptures dwell on the subject of poverty.
The lack of poverty is one of the two defining traits of Zion:
Moses 7: 18
18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

Moreover, one of the main sins of Sodom was the simultaneous existence of wealth and poverty:

Ezek. 16: 49
49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

I don't think I have a problem with wealth, but I have a major problem with poverty and wealth existing side by side. I believe that any society that tolerates poverty when it has resources to eliminate it will be judged of God. And I don't think God gives a darn about labels like socialism or capitalism, or whatever. Those are all man-made words that actually don't mean a heck of a lot.

Letter to President Obama

Why are democrats always on the ropes? The republicans are constantly attacking us with false and hypocritical claims. I honestly believe that the best defense is a good offense. And a good offense is an honest one. The rhetorical strategies of the republicans are so bad and dishonest, that they provide an opening for an offensive that might change the rhetoric of our whole political sphere. Please use the bully pulpit to make it difficult or impossible for republicans to continue to lie and distort with impunity. Make them pay for it. Then we can potentially have some sane political discourse, and we might be able to actually solve some problems.

Thanks for all that you do.

Christian Asplund

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Correspondence with Curt Bramble

Dear Curt,

Thanks so much for responding so quickly. I have written many letters
to politicians, but have never received a response so quickly.
Moreover, most of the responses in the past have been form letters.
So, thanks for your concern.

I was most troubled by the bill to sponsored by Carl Wimmer to "opt
out" of any federal health care reform and thus most like lose
medicaid. The "Medically Needy" program of medicaid has already
apparently been cut.

Then there was the proposal to eliminate 12th grade. Or the voting
down of a proposal to limit the sale of unhealthy soft drinks in our
schools. Or the proposal to get rid of laws requiring booster seats
for children.

There are more. They are all examples of people getting carried away
with reactionary ideology, that I could ignore if the efforts were not
so damaging to our state and even life threatening to so many people.

I just wish the legislature would try to think of ways of improving
our quality of life, instead of how to make it worse, under the ruse
of "limited government."

I am a Christian and a Mormon, and I believe in the sermon on the
mount. I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea of limiting government's
reach, but my belief in caring for the needy by whatever are the best
means at hand, including the government, is much stronger and more in
line with my religion. That is why I mentioned un-Christlike. Each
proposal I have mentioned, and the arguments made for them are mean
and heartless an anathema to the philiosphy that Jesus taught.

I keep hearing that we are a Christian nation. We aren't, but we should be.

Thanks again for taking the time and for the service you do for our
district and state.

Sincerely and respectfully,
Christian Asplund
- Hide quoted text -

On 12 February 2010 13:14, Curt Bramble wrote:
> Dear Associate Professor Asplund
> Thank you for sharing your view of our legislative process. Perhaps you
> could be more specific regarding the shame and un-Crist-like attitudes as
> evidenced by a "manifestation of ideology at its ugliest, meanest and most
> damaging". These are rather serious criticisms that I would like to better
> understand, particularly from an Associate Professor at BYU.
> I would be better able to address your concerns with some clarification of
> those concerns.
> Respectfully,
> Curt Bramble
> Senate District 16 (Provo/BYU)
>>>> Christian Asplund 2/12/2010 11:05 AM >>>
> This legislative session has been a manifestation ideology at its
> ugliest, meanest and most damaging. I am so ashamed of my state when
> I hear what is being discussed and proposed. Shame on the legislature
> and their un-Christ-like attitudes.
> Sincerely,
> Christian Asplund
> Associate Professor
> Brigham Young University
> 1182 Locust Circle
> Provo, UT

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Awful Supreme Court Decision

I haven't written for a long time, but I am just kind of beside myself. The supreme court just set aside a century of legislation and legal precedent to allow unrestricted corporate meddling in the political process. I think this will be viewed as an absolute cataclysm. The 5 conservative justices should be ashamed of themselves. The stupidity of this should be absolutely apparent to all but the most idiotic. The reasoning assenine on two levels:
1. Corporations are not human beings and therefore do not have individual rights
2. Money does not equal speech
This essentially legalizes the most expansive bribery and destroys democracy. And apparently its not just federal, but state and municipal. So forget about standing up to corporations in your hometown when it comes to zoning, etc.
Other countries have completely banned lobbying of any kind, very successfully. What the heck is wrong with us?