23 June 2008

Post 141

I am not a patient person--not generally speaking, at least. I've been trying to teach myself to play the piano for the past couple months, and sometimes I just get so frustrated at my fingers' disobedience. I have often tried to console myself by saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day," but I've occasionally been so upstartish as to wonder whether it would have been if it had been built by me.

But tonight finds me feeling peaceful and calm, filled with an unspeakable assurance that everything is going to be okay, that I'm going to be okay, and that I'm actually doing better than I sometimes give myself credit for. It's a wonderful thing, and I want more than anything to not screw it up. That's my goal.

I will probably still tend toward impatience, but tonight, at least, none of my normal anxiousness is accompanying my sleeplessness (which leaves the question, "Why am I still awake?"). I guess what I'm really trying to say, here, is that patience is a good thing--meaning, I guess, that I expect you to forgive me in advance for the week I'm about to go without posting anything because I'm going on a family vacation, so don't look for anything new to appear here until sometime during the early part of July.

22 June 2008

Post 140

I saw Get Smart last night. It was hi-larious. I loved it. It's been a long time since I've seen a good, clean, live-action comedy; it was quite refreshing. Steve Carell is so awesome. Man. Love that guy.

16 June 2008

Post 139

And now, it's time for another Good Idea, Bad Idea:

Good Idea

Pulling down that old toaster oven that nobody ever uses to melt some mozzarella on some bread.

Bad Idea

Tilting said toaster oven toward yourself while attempting to put it back on top of the cupboards before it has totally cooled, thus allowing the door to flop open and deploy a piping hot browning tray onto your face.

Not that I did that....

13 June 2008

Post 138

I have had the tendency to lean toward morbidity off and on throughout my life. Due to my recent "paradigm shift," I no longer lean that way (though I don't know how long that will last; I am one given to vacillation in such matters), but I can understand, to some degree, those who do. This post, then, is not me looking down on anyone; this post is me pointing out some blatant cheating that pops up occasionally in fictional works.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Dead Poets Society. [Random sidenote: is it just me, or ought there to be an apostrophe at the end of poets--Dead Poets' Society? I mean, doesn't that make more sense? Kinda like Two Weeks Notice (which I've never seen) probably ought to be Two Weeks' Notice. Does Hollywood have something against apostrophes?] I cannot tell you how many times I've had Dead Poets' Society (HA! Take that, punctuation nazis!) recommended to me; people have often told me that I would like it.

I don't know why it is, but many people seem to recommend movies to me that they don't like. Dead Poets' Society is one of them. K-Pax is another. Whenever I ask someone if they liked K-Pax, it seems like they say, "Meh. Not really. You'd like it, though; it's your kind of movie." Moulin Rouge is another movie I've gotten such recommendations for: "I don't know that you'd like it, Schmett, but I'm sure you could appreciate it." I'm never quite certain how to take these kinds of recommendations. Curiosity is bound to get the best of me eventually, though, so I may end up seeing all of these.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was at the library and saw that they had Dead Poets' Society, so I picked it up and checked it out. I was not surprised (though somewhat chagrined) when one of my roommates saw what I was about to watch and said, "Oh, you'll like that movie: it's depressing." I think, actually, two of my roommates made such observations, the other one saying, "Oh, that movie? It's pretty good, and it's sad enough that you'll probably appreciate it."


So I watched it, and (get this:) I didn't like it. Not that I hated it; it just didn't really appeal to me. Which is sad because I really like Robin Williams in dramas (I own Jakob the Liar), and I also like teachery stories (Freedom Writers and Mr. Holland's Opus are in my DVD collection; Goodbye, Mr. Chips is on my bookshelf), so it seems like it should be a real winner. But it wasn't. It was good right up until the suicide, which, ironically enough, is probably the part that my roommates thought I would like. (Do I really seem that sick, guys? I mean, c'mon!).

Death is a powerful thing. I mean, on the list of Things That'll Change Your Life, I'm not sure anything is so dramatic as death. Maybe I just think that because I've never been directly affected by a birth, but endings always seem more dramatic than beginnings, so I'm willing to say that death is the more impactful of the two. (Yes, I did just make that word up). Because of this, death is an extremely useful tool for a writer of fiction, and I fear that, as a device, it is becoming a bit overused.

In high school, several of we Drama Club folk were aspiring novelists, and I remember talking with a couple of friends at lunch and we decided that one of the Rules of Fiction (back then, I believed such rules existed, but I've since gotten over that) was Someone's Gotta Die (were I still an advocate of rules, I'd probably give that one a cooler name--Subito Morte, perhaps). We all agreed on this because each of us had, in the course of writing our individual novels (all of them fantasy, of course; it's the easiest place to start--perhaps because it's the hardest one to screw up [oh dear... I'll get angry comments for that, I fear!])--in each of our novels, we had come to the point where we had to kill off a very lovable supporting role; we certainly didn't want to, but that was just the way it had to be. If you ever want readers to become really attached to your lead, you've got to kill off that kindly old father figure/mentor person (*ahem!* J. K. Rowling *ahem!* George Lucas *ahem!*) or that best friend friend or that love interest or whoever, and that's just the way it is with fiction.

That seems ridiculous to me now, but I'm glad I remember having that discussion, remember agreeing with that sentiment, because it helps me to understand why some writers are so fond of killing people. (It also makes me love Stanger than Fiction just that much more.) I mean, sure, sometimes people are going to die in stories. I'm not saying that death should be removed from fiction altogether; that would just be silly. What I'm saying is that death has become a crutch, and Subito Morte in any story throws up a little red flag in my head that flaps and shouts, "Amateur author!"

Granted, death is often sudden. As is stencil spray-painted in Gothic text on the side of a newspaper stand here in Provo, "...But Death Is Always Certain." I mean, death is coming for all of us, and sometimes he comes for us out of that proverbial blue, and that's fine. But sometimes death just doesn't make sense in the context of a story. I feel that Dead Poets' Society was a good example. Now, I'm no psychologist, but the suicide in Dead Poets' Society rubbed me the wrong way because it didn't seem to fit in the context of the character who killed himself. There was nothing in the movie up to that point to support that suicide--nothing! It just didn't make any sense at all.

But this is one of those stories wherein the teacher character must be kicked out of the school. How can we do this? Aha! We shall blame him for the suicide of one of his students! This will spark flames of injustice in the hearts of all who watch this movie, and they will be moved by that beautiful, poignant injustice we have created. Look at us; we are such good writers. Let's go get slobbering drunk and write a movie, guys! Who's with me?

Tonight I came across Subito Morte again as I watched The Bridge to Terebithia. This was an especially offensive death because the surrounding story wasn't strong enough to support the weight of it. It just--it wasn't that kind of story! Had the girl's family suddenly moved (Subito Moto?), I think the whole story would have played out about the same and probably been a bit more believable. I liked the movie other than that; I thought it was a pretty good story and an intriguing idea, but the death was adipose (sorry for the malapropism--I'm tired--can't think of the word I'm actually looking for--something like inappropriate--stuck with the one that popped into my head) and kinda turned me off to the rest of it.

So beware the Subito Morte! (And I mean that, I think, in every way possible.) If you deign to write a story, don't take any cheap-shot shortcuts; there are other, better ways!

Post 137

I'm not sure how I feel about this....

Post 136

Nathanael sat relaxing in the shade of a fig tree when Philip came running up to him.

"Nathanael!" Philip said between gasps for air. "We found Him!"

"Found who?" Nathanael asked.

"The Messiah promised by Moses!"

Nathanael raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yes," Philip said. "Jesus of Nazareth."

Nathanael chuckled. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"

"Come and see!" Philip insisted, pulling Nathanael to his feet. "He's the Promised One alright!"

"Okay, okay," Nathanael said. "Let's go see this Jesus fellow."

So Nathanael allowed his friend to drag him along until they came to a small group of people a ways down the road. In the center of the group, a tall, well-built man was speaking passionately, holding the attention of all present.

"There He is," Philip whispered. "Jesus."

Despite Jesus' calloused, manful physique, something about the way He held Himself made Him look (Nathanael thought) somehow royal, as though he could command the world.

As Nathanael and Philip approached the group, Jesus looked at them, stopped His speaking, and walked toward them.

"Here!" He said, pointing at Nathanael as He approached them. "Here we have an Israelite who doesn't have any guile in'm!"

Nathanael looked around, confused. "Me?" he asked. "Do you know me?"

"I saw you sitting under the fig tree," Jesus said with a shrug, then He put His hand on Nathanael's shoulder. "How are you?"

The strength of His voice! The sincerity of the common question! These things impacted Nathanael greatly, and, had the entirety of their interaction been limited to those things alone, Nathanael may have eventually come to the conclusion that Philip was probably right in his perception of this Man, but it was the the power of His touch and the intensity of His gaze that made Nathanael drop to his knees and exclaim, "Rabbi, Thou are the Son of God! Thou are king of Israel!"

The man laughed a kindly sort of I'm-not-mocking-you-but-you've-
deal-of-sense laugh and said, "Because I said I saw you sitting under the fig tree, you believe?"

Nathanael sputtered a little laugh through his fast falling, guileless tears.

Jesus bent down, hands on knees, to look Nathanael in the face; Nathanael looked up and felt deeper reverence yet.

"Hereafter," Jesus said, "you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."

The tears began again, and Jesus offered Nathanael His hand.

09 June 2008

Post 135

More thoughts on movies:

I saw Kung Fu Panda this weekend. Every preview I ever saw of that movie made it look incredibly la-ame (I thought), but a friend gave me very strong recommendation, and the reviews have mostly been surprisingly good (85% from Rotten Tomatoes, 7.8/10 on IMDb, and 3 stars from Roger Ebert), so I decided to give it a try.

I'm not sorry I did. In fact, I'm pretty happy I did. I haven't laughed that much in quite a while. Of course, if you're over the age of 13, you probably have to be a fan of Jack Black's humor for it to be really funny, but I think Jack Black is a funny, funny man, so I laughed a lot. There was this one part (the acupuncture scene, for those of you who have seen it) that, even now, has me giggling when I think about it. And it was consistently funny throughout. Really, if you're in the mood for a good laugh, this is a pretty good flick. It has--oh, it's just so funny at times!

I sense an intense revolution--a paradigm shift, if you will--coming my way. As I may have mentioned before, I go through phases--"It's a phase he's going through," is a pretty fair way to describe my behavior at any given time. At least, that's always been my theory regarding myself; lately I've been so terribly consistent in some of my opinions that I've occasionally worried that I've arrived, and I don't intend to really "arrive" until long after I'm dead.

So anyway, this change: I want to start running far, far away from my gloomy intellectualism. There was a man I met during my sojourn in Idaho whom I knew as Brother Ganns. He was a fascinating human being, absolutely fascinating; I had no idea people like him existed--never crossed my mind, actually--and, to my knowledge, he is the only one of his kind. The man gets up every morning looong before he has to so he can spend an hour reading from the Book of Mormon, and hour in the Bible, and then another hour in whatever his other reading happened to be at the time (when I knew him, he had finished his reading of Journal of Discourses, making a personal index as he went because he felt the published index was insufficient, and was then working on the complete works of Nibley). The man was the most intense gospel scholar I have ever had the pleasure of meeting; seriously, he could tell you anything you wanted to know about anything you could think of, and he could site sources to back up what he said. His library was very impressive, but the fact that most of it was in his head as well as on his shelves made it even more so.

The best part about Brother Ganns, though, was that he was a totally nut; I mean this man was crazy. He is the closest thing to a 6'2", 50-year-old Jack Russel terrier that I have ever met. Seriously, every time he saw anyone he knew, it was as though it was a happy reunion after a long separation. And, strangely enough, it was never weird, and it never got old. Quite to the contrary, actually, it was contagious, and every time I saw him made my day. He'd see us and just light up, and we'd light up, too, because he was, in fact, the most lovable individual I have ever known.

Even as a missionary, that was hard for me to understand, but the more scholastic training I receive, the more unfathomable he becomes to me because I am incredibly guilty of falling prey to the school of thought that says the only happy people are the ones who really don't understand what's going on in the world around them and that all the really smart people become cynics.

Well, I'm done with that. I'm tossing it off like an old coat. I'm tired of being pensive. From here on out, I intend to laugh more. From here on out, I intend to joke more, to become lighter in heart, to just generally be happier. I've posted a few things along the lines of "I'm gonna be happier," but I always wanted to cling to my dark realism. Book's I've read recently: Night by Elie Wiesel and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Cheery, no? The Jewish holocaust and the abuses against the Lamanites. I'm done with it; done, I say! I understand that the world has been and is and will be a somewhat terrible place, but I don't think focusing on that fact will help me grow a whole lot. In fact, it may be just as bad as all the happy feel-good escapist stuff I've been so down on lately--which maybe I'll start reading now, who knows!

That said, I do still expect what I read to be well crafted. I still think Iron Man should have died, but I'm okay with him surviving; I just wish that the story would have led to that denouement a little more logically.

So I'm repenting. I'm changing my gloomy ways. Who's with me?

05 June 2008

Post 134

I been thinking about movies....

My review of Dan in Real Life was--well, it wasn't much of a review. The movie just didn't do a thing for me, I didn't think; it seemed so--unremarkable. (The anonymous comment on that post is pretty good, though; thanks, Anonymous!)

But I've been thinking about it lately, and I realized that, despite the fact that I was completely underwhelmed by Dan in Real Life, seeing it marks the first time that I ever took note of Steve Carell, whom I'm now a fan of. And, I recently realized, the reason I'm such a fan of him is because I've been extremely impressed by his performance in two movies that I thought were otherwise fairly forgettable: Dan in Real Life and Anchorman. See, Dan in Real Life offered Steve virtually nothing to work with, yet he was absolutely amazing in it. And the blasé plot and pitiful supporting actors merely made a spectacular backdrop of gray for him to shine out from. He was so good! And then seeing him give a particularly notable rendition of dum-as-dirt in Anchorman convinced me that the man can do anything, and I am so excited for Get Smart to come out because I trust Mr. Carell to not screw it up (which would frankly be pretty easy to do with something like Get Smart).

(Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, no, I've never seen The Office, though it is much more appealing now that I know who Steve Carell is.)

Next, I saw Cloverfield again a couple nights ago. That movie is remarkably lacking in rewatchability, as it turns out: I enjoyed it about as much the second time as I expected to the first time. Still, because I did like it so much the first time, I think my recommendation still stands to anyone who hasn't seen it; you should definitely give it a try. But don't, like, run out and buy it or anything like that; I don't think that wise (I'm pretty relieved I didn't do that; I was considering it).

Last thought on movies for this post, I watched Stranger than Fiction last night. I love that movie. It and Big Fish are my two favorites right now, which boggles my mind because they are both far from any of my proclaimed ideals for fiction. I mean, Big Fish is blatantly ridiculous, and Stranger than Fiction is just as blatantly an exercise in deus ex machina. But I still love them. Don't know why, but I do.

Post 133

Automated emails are so funny sometimes!

JetBlue again. This time they said, "As a TrueBlue member, you can enjoy jetting with JetBlue even more knowing you're earning free travel along the way. And with the 0 TrueBlue points you've earned as of June 3, 2008, you're on your way to redeeming for your next Award Flight. But you could be even further than that, with our offer to get you jetting sooner with the JetBlue Card from American Express."

0 points is really something, huh?

01 June 2008

Post 132

Prepare yourself for the marathon post of your life. Seriously, thisun'll probably go on forever. I don't expect you to read it all in a go; I'll try to give it several headings so you can read it here and there a piece at a time, so feel free to read it in part and comment on just that part or to read the whole thing and comment on it all or to peruse without commenting at all (though this last option is my least favorite, I must admit).

Today my thoughts dwell upon gifts, most significantly God's gift of His Son. There's a lot to be said, so I don't see brevity being much of a possibility (hence the foregoing disclaimer).

Where to begin? I suppose I'll start as fundamentally as I know how and expand outward. Here we go with heading number one:

God's Gift to Me

I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He suffered and died to save us all from sorrow and sin and ultimate damnation, that He rose from the dead and is now alive and well somewhere in the universe as a resurrected being. He is man in form, was born and grew up in the natural way, experienced life on earth just like anyone else. But He is greater than man, perfect and all powerful.

I hold this knowledge sacred. I consider my conviction of the above a dear gift to me from God (and, indeed, modern scripture verifies this notion). When I think of all the people who live or have lived without this knowledge, I feel deeply grateful to have been so blessed; I cannot imagine living without it.

God's Gift to All

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most far-reaching act to have been perpetrated upon this earth; it affects us all more than we can know and can affect us more than it does if we would let it.

Along with most of the Christian world (I imagine), I am a big fan of Isaiah's prophecy of Christ in Isaiah 53:3-6, but I think it says a lot more than many people realize, so I'd like to break it apart, take it in sections, and tell you why it means so much to me:


This says nothing about Christ suffering for our sins or conquering death; rather, this says that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. So many times, we think of the Atonement as this wonderful thing that makes it possible for us to be absolved from our sins, and it is that, but it's so much more than that, too! Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He knows what it is we struggle with, what weighs us down, for He has carried it already and will help us to carry it now. Just one verse earlier, Isaiah refers to Christ as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief"; juxtaposing these two clauses makes them both more meaningful, methinks.


Now Isaiah gives to us the part of the Atonement that we more commonly think on. This verse is very good news for us. Without it, we would all be lost, for (as Isaiah points out in the next verse) we all wander off course: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."

I love Jesus. To suffer for my sins and pains--and not just mine but everybody's!--I cannot fathom.

For a less succinct but more detailed description of what all Christ suffered for us, I refer you to the American prophet Alma and his address to the people of Gideon (or, more specifically, this part of it); I'll probably quote that scripture eventually, but if you're just reading this section of this post, that'd be a good way to finish your reading with something scriptural to ponder on.

He Will not Leave Us Orphaned

Among the many magnificent things Christ told His Apostles while they were in the upper room with Him prior to going to Gethsemane, he said, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you [and] because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:18-19). [FYI: The Greek word orphanos (here translated "comfortless") means "orphans," which is why I titled this section the way I did.] Shortly after that, He said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

The peace that can come to us through living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a real wonder. "[N]ot as the world giveth, give I unto you," He said, but what exactly does that mean?

Though I dare not claim to know what was in His mind at that moment, looking at the aggregate of the LDS canon, I have noticed a few interesting things about peace: first, peace has nothing to do with what's going on around us; second, peace can mean a lot of different things (check it out). I'd like to focus more on the first.


In the Book of Mormon, in the first chapter of Alma, a man named Nehor comes among the righteous Nephites and causes all sorts of havoc, teaching the people "that which he termed to be the word of God [...] declaring unto [them] that every priest and teacher ought to become popular [and] that they ought to be supported by the people" (Alma 1:3). Worse yet, "he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day [...] and, in the end, all men should have eternal life" (Alma 1:4), which philosophy enabled him to lead the people into all kinds of terrible sins. Ultimately, Nehor ended up suffering an "ignominious death" because he murdered a righteous man (Alma 1:15), but his followers continued in wickedness long after his death, and they "began to persecute those that did belong to the church of God, and had taken upon them the name of Christ" (Alma 1:19). "Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them" (Alma 1:25).

When I think of peace, I often find myself thinking of the sort of peace that Miss America always wishes for: the kind that involves everyone putting away their weapons and hatred and being nice to each other. In Alma 1, that sort of peace was not had among the followers of Christ. Yet Alma records that "they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions" (v28).

Peace has nothing to do with what is going on in the world around us. It's all about our conviction and the confidence and determination that come from knowing Jesus is the Christ. When we have that kind of peace, it really doesn't matter whether war rears its ugly head all about us; we can be assured that all will be well--ultimately, at least. For Christ "will come to [us] [and] because [He] live[s], [we] shall live also."

The Refiner's Fire: A Prologue

Malachi said, The LORD "is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap" (Malachi 3:2). I didn't know anything about fullers until just now when I looked it up (fuller, soap, fuller's soap), so I don't have any analogies to pair with that part of Malachi's statement. But I do have an earful on the Refiner's Fire, so here we go.

I won't take the time to relate to you the story of the women who visit the silversmith, but it's a good one if you haven't heard it (if you've heard it a million times like me--and half of those times, it was told poorly--then the effect of it has probably waned a bit since you first heard it, which is why I don't feel inclined to retell it). The basic thrust of the story (as with most stories relating to this concept) is that all that pain we deal with is good for us and that God won't give us more than we can handle (which is vaguely reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 10:13 and Ether 12:27, though neither one of those popular scriptures hit this concept more than obliquely, I don't think).

Before I launch into the many scriptures that I have mentally connected to this concept and hit a million tangents and am unable to return, I want to defer my discussion of the Refiner's Fire just long enough to give you some C. S. Lewis:

I love C. S. Lewis. For Easter, my parents gave me a little book of C. S. Lewis quotations, and it comes in oh so handy in pondering Things. I'm afraid, therefore, that I can't make referential hyperlinks here because the book isn't very good about giving me sources.

Anyway, Mr. Lewis says some great things about the purpose of pain in life; I will label them for you:

God, who has made us, know what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for While what we call 'our own life' remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make 'our own life' less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

Imagine yourself as a living house, God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His word. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
That's pretty intense, when you think about it. Certainly that transformation is going to require more than a little refining--a whole lot of fire and a whole lot of pain--but, in the end, we will have more than was ever required of us. Wonderful thought, that.

But me, I'm not perfect. I make mistakes all the time. Say something about that, Mr. Lewis, I beg.
On the one hand, God's demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realise from the onset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realise that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point.

But sometimes we fail, Mr. Lewis; sometimes we feel so all alone! What then?
You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.

Thank you, Mr. Lewis; that will do.

The Refiner's Fire

We all face trials from time to time throughout our lives, but very few have faced the Refiner's Fire more literally than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. King Nebuchadnezzar made 90'-tall statue and commanded all his subjects to worship it whenever his little band started playing the worship song, but these three insolent Jewish teenagers refused to do so and were therefore arraigned before the King. He was furious, but he said he'd give them a second chance. "[B]ut if you worship not," he warned them, "ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15).

"O Nebuchadnezzar," the said, "we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us our of thing hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).

I love these guys; really, I do. I cannot imagine saying such a thing to a king. Even if I were as determined to avoid breaking the second of the ten commandments as they were, I'm not sure I could put it so boldly. That, my friends, is the quintessential awesome: to say "Suck it yea verily" to the king of the Babylonian empire--man.

[Incidentally, that phrase "But if not" is amazing all on its own and warranted a wonderful address a few years back. You can find that here.]

Anyway, back to the story. Where was I? Oh: "...be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

Well, the king didn't cotton to that too kindly. To be honest, he was furious, and I mean downright truculent--"full of fury" the scripture says; h was so mad that he commanded his men to heat the burning fiery furnace "one seven times more than it was wont to be heated" (Daniel 3:19)--so hot that the men who were heating it died--and then he had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego tossed into that fire (as I understand it, through the chimney).

Then the king, sick man that he was, rubbed his hands together in perverted glee as he sat back to watch (from a safe distance) the death of these rebels.

It was a show he never saw:

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:24-25).

How Nebuchadnezzar (of all people!) could identify Jesus across the room and through the flames, I haven't the vaguest idea, but this soon-to-be-formerly-pagan king was witness to something both extremely amazing but also (I contend) surprisingly commonplace (at least in the lives of the faithful).

I hope that no one reading this blog is ever condemned to physical death by fire, and I'm not promising that everyone who has faith in Christ would be protected in such a case (in fact, I can think of so many relevant counterexamples that I would feel rather pessimistic linking to any of them, so no parenthetical references here, no sir!), but whenever we are called upon to stand in the Refiner's Fire, Christ doesn't just watch us carefully; He actually stands in the flame with us.


Remember when Jesus walked on water? The weather was pretty stormy that night, and the Apostles in their boat were "toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them" (Mark 6:47-48). Jesus could see them from where he was on the land. He could tell they were in trouble, so He went to them (remember "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you [and] because I live, ye shall live also" [John 14:18-19]?). The most fascinating part of this story to me (the relevant part to what I'm saying) is that He didn't calm the stormy sea from where He was on the land. Certainly He could have. Why didn't He? Well, let's look at what He did:
[A]bout the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased...(Mark 6:48-51).

First of all, notice that, until they called out to Him, He made as though He was just going to pass them by. Lesson #1: ask for help!! More important to this discussion, though, is the fact that the waters calmed when Jesus got into their boat. He got in the boat with them! And then the waters calmed.

I actually like John's rendition of the story better: "Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went" (John 6:21). They let Jesus into their boat, and they were suddenly where they needed to be.

Is Jesus in your boat?


Mary and Joseph had the daunting task of raising the Son of God. When I think of the months leading up to that, I notice some pretty intense suffering. Consider Joseph getting the news that his espoused wife was pregnant. That's not something anyone wants to hear. Think of the shock, the disappointment. Thank goodness that angel came and told him what was really happening! More than Joseph, think of Mary. I can't imagine she made it through that time without at least some negative attention, and then there was that 70-mile journey (maybe longer if they went around Samaria) while she was within days of delivering her first child. And when that Child was finally born, it wasn't in any sort of comfortable or sanitary circumstances but rather among animals in a stable--not pleasant. (For more on these things, check out this article; it's a goodun).

Years later, when Christ was grown, He performed the Atonement. Isaiah tells us that Christ took upon Him our griefs, sorrows, transgression, iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace; Alma adds to this list our pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins. Surely He could empathize with Joseph's shock and disappointment and Mary's discomfort and pain. Ours, too. No matter what you're suffering, He can understand and help you through. I am of the conviction that there is nothing so terrible that can happen to us that Christ can't turn it to our good--not just heal us, but actually consecrate our challenges and failings to our ultimate benefit.


The Atonement brought about grace, which is available to all honest seekers of it. Grace can heal and cleanse us, but it can do so much more, too (check it out).

The ultimate purpose of the Refiner's Fire is to purify. Psalm 24 says that we need clean hands and a pure heart to stand in the LORD's holy place. It is only through the Atonement that this is possible (remember C. S. Lewis's "your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection"?), but it is totally possible if we rely on Christ.

David A. Bednar (in this talk) distinguished clean hands from a pure heart, calling clean hands the "forgiveness of sin" and a pure heart "the transformation of our nature" (which hearkens back to Mr. Lewis's living house kinda, doesn't it?). Both are necessary in our journey to be with and like God and Jesus. We can't do it on our own. One of my favorite passages in all of scripturedom is this one in the Doctrine and Covenants. These are the sorts of beautiful words I hope to hear at judgment day:

Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him--Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these [...who] believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life (D&C 45:3-5).


Sometimes Christian living requires hard things of us, but Christ never requires us to do anything alone. He is always as close as we invite Him to be. And with Christ on our side (or, rather, if we're on His side!), what do we care about hardships? (Take these words from Paul or these ones from Joseph Smith.)

But still it's hard, isn't it? I think it's hard sometimes, but I always find that it's worth it. If we are faithful, it can be said of us as it was said of Alma and his fellows: "the Lord provided [...] that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ" (Alma 31:38).

Brigham Young said a couple of noteworthy things in this vein--probably more than a couple, but these two are especially good (and I know them):
We rejoice because the Lord is ours, because we are sown in weakness for the express purpose of attaining to greater power and perfection. In everything the Saints may rejoice--in persecution, because it is necessary to purge them [...]; in sickness and in pain, though they are hard to bear, because we are thereby made acquainted with pain, with sorrow, and with every affliction that mortals can endure, for by contact all things are demonstrated to our senses. [....] I rejoice because I am afflicted. I rejoice because I am poor. I rejoice because I am cast down. Why? Because I shall be lifted up again. I rejoice that I am poor because I shall be made rich; that I am afflicted, because I shall be comforted, and prepared to enjoy the felicity of perfect happiness, for it is impossible to properly appreciate happiness except by enduring the opposite (Journal of Discourses 1:359).

Oh, Brother Brigham, how I love you. Give me some more!
I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ's sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times, in my feelings and before congregations, to a man wearing an old, worn-out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel's sake--I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. "Did you not leave a handsome property in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois?" Yes. "And have you not suffered through that?" No, I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. And you may take the history of the world from the days of Adam down, and I am at the defiance of any historian to prove that the Saints have ever suffered as much as the sinners. This is my belief about the religion of Jesus Christ. Some may say, "Did not the children of Israel suffer?" Yes. "Why?" Because of their iniquity. They transgressed the laws God had given them; they changed the ordinances and broke the everlasting covenant, and for their sin and disobedience they were led into captivity. If they had been obedient, I reckon they would have been led direct to the Holy Land, and stayed there. Some may say, "Now, Mr. Speaker, you have been driven from your home, was it for righteousness?" No, I expect not I expect it was to chasten me and make me better (Journal of Discourses 13:147).

Wow, what a man.

We will suffer. Henry B. Eyring said recently, "Because you are so valuable, some of your trials may be severe." The Lord loves us too much to mollycoddle us, but He will not leave us comfortless. As Journey sang, "Treasures in the jars of clay/Let the light shine out of darkness/Fallen down but not destroyed/It's just another trial by fire."

Ah me! I could go on and on about this, but I think that that's enough for this section.

Closing Remarks

I love Jesus. I know He is my personal Savior. I have come to know Him better as I have sought Him out in my times of sadness and pain. C. S. Lewis said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." But even though God often gives us pain, He has also given us His Son to help us through that pain. ("For God so loved the world..." and "Greater love hath no man than this..." both spring readily to my mind just now.) If we will but strive to stay close to Them, They will do so much more for us than we could ever hope to do on our own. I love Them; I'm so grateful to Them; I pray that all of us will come to know Them better.