Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Little Answers to Prayer

On Sunday, I heard an inspiring talk on prayer from an American who desscribes himself as "just a normal person," reminding us that kind answers to prayer are not just for a select few but something that all of us should be experiencing in our lives. Recognizing kind answers to prayer with much patience is part of the key to success.

He shared how in their challenging circumstances after coming to China, he needed to find a way to better help his wife who couldn't speak the language and was struggling with many of the basics of daily life. She really needed a translator and a car or a new location, but these were unavailable to them on their budget. As they explored their options, they realized that the direct solutions to their problems were not really options. In his prayer, he turned to the Lord and said that he simply could not see or find a solution to the problems they had, but he needed to find some way to help his wife and pleaded to the Lord for help. Two hours later, as he was taking a taxi to work, he was surprised to find that his cab driver could actually speak English--a rarity. Then it hit him: this cab driver could become a resource to help his wife when she needed to do something. Instead of hiring an expensive full-time driver, she could just get in his taxi when help was needed. This worked out perfectly, and like many Chinese people I know, that man proved to be so kind that he would go the extra mile, not just taking my friend's wife to where she needed to go, but also going in with her, helping to translate and carry things. He's becoome a friend of the family and a key factor in making life better for that couple.

Finding that cab driver was a kind answer to prayer. As he shared this simple story, my eyes watered up as I pondered all the similar answers to prayer and the similar acts of kindness from the Lord and from others as we've struggled with life in a very different part of the world. So many times we've been given the help we need at just the right time, so kindly, often in answer to prayer. I'm not saying it's been a bed of roses or anything and there are plenty of frustrations and challenges in the midst of all the excitement of being here, but gently little acts of kindness and perfect timing have left us repeatedly grateful to the Lord and to His many helpiing hands in this nation filled with good people.

By the way, I'm very grateful that the officials in Shanghai have kindly allowed the Church to meet on Sunday. Non-Chinese citizens can assemble for Sunday Services in a beautiful, air-conditioned conference center in Pudong, the relatively new east side of Shanghai (I live on the older west side where all the excitement is, in my opinion). We must be careful not violate Chinese law in any way (no proselyting, Chinese citizens may not attend, all religious literature such as hymn books must be locked up when we are done), but the privilege of being allowed to meet and worship is greatly appreciated. I hope that the officials who made that decision will never regret the kindness shown to us.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Goodness of People

While we need to constantly warn against sin and the many problems we humans inflict on one another, I'm so grateful for the abundance of goodness that can be found in the average person--or perhaps the above average person, the kind we keep running into here in China. We've experienced so much kindness from so many people. In spite of the temptations people face that lead to sins of selfishness, the altruistic and friendly parts of the human soul are so delightful and so abundant in the world.

Sometimes Christians express the notion that without believing in God, people's behavior would inherently be evil. I think Christians and atheists alike are subject to the same sins and weaknesses. But we are all sons and daughters of God with a divine heritage and a foundation of goodness in our souls that can shine past the deficiencies of our upbringing and reveal something wonderful. It's so great to see that in so many people here and almost anywhere. On this journey that I'm on, the kindness of strangers means so much more and reveals the goodness of people more than ever. It's a reminder each day that we really are brothers and sisters. May we reach out and help one another regardless of our circumstances and culture.

Update: As examples of our adventures, I've been impressed first of all with how kind the people are where I work. China is a high-pressure place with great demands on people, yet the HR folks and my co-workers have gone the extra mile to help me get squared away, avoid paying too much for things, find resources I need, etc. But just total strangers on the street are friendly and helpful. They will take time out to help you find a place or figure out how to do something. The older women selling food or other things are just so sweet and loving--like having your own grandmother on every street. Love this place.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Simple Reminder

I'm so grateful for all that the Lord has given us, even though there is pain and affliction in our journey. Remember, we are here for a purpose. We came knowing it would be brief and tumultuous, but with the amazing opportunity to choose God and accept His richest blessings, far more valuable than any loot on earth. What a privilege to even be alive. What a privilege to be able to learn about Him and follow Him. God lives and Jesus Christ, His Son, the Resurrected Lord, answers all the pain and gives meaning to this life through the Atonement. What wonderful news!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is the Journey the Destination? My Decision to Move to China

A little over 30 years ago, I met a visiting scholar from China who would change my life. He was one of the kindest men I have ever met, one who would go on to become a prominent scholar and chair of a department at one of the top universities in China. He stirred and intensified my embryonic interest in China and the Mandarin Chinese language. Thirty years of wishful thinking about living in China one day has come to fruition now as my wife and I embark on the adventure of living in Shanghai, the hometown of my dear friend from China.

I met him just after returning from my mission in Switzerland, and shortly after pondering President Kimball’s comments that “the spirit of God appears to be brooding over China,” urging us to prepare for a day when we could help the people of China more fully. I determined that I should be interested in China, and resolved to sign up for a Chinese course when I began school in the summer term at BYU. But before starting at BYU again, I worked for a couple of months in a chemistry lab at the University of Utah, where my late uncle Daniel Miles had kindly arranged for me to have a temporary job. Meeting my new friend from China and working with him in the same lab greatly strengthened my interest in China. His lab space happened to be in the same room where my uncle had some of his lab space. This University of Utah Department of Chemistry was also where my uncle would introduce me to the world-famous chemist and Latter-day Saint, Henry Eyring, who treated me with kindness and recalled that my great grandmother, Victoria Josephine Jarvis Miles, had taught him as a child.

The chance to chat frequently with a friend from China made my rather mundane lab work much more exciting. He graciously invited me and my highschool sweetheart (soon to become my fiance and now my wife) to dine at the apartment he shared with a group of other Chinese men studying at the University of Utah. These men knew how to cook, and it was some of the best Chinese food we’ve ever had in the States. Once I began studying at BYU, some of them even came up to visit my Chinese class and cook for us there for a Saturday class party. What ambassadors they were!

Years later, after I had my Ph.D. in chemical engineering and had begun work as a young professor at the Institute of Paper Chemistry (now IPST), I had a chance to present some research work at a heat transfer conference in China. My friend from China and some of the other men I had met would go all out to arrange my trip for me and treat me with kindness far beyond anything I deserved. They would pack amazing events into my short 10 days in China, including visits to three of their family homes, a rarity for foreigners at that time and perhaps also today. There I would meet an elderly scholar of the Tibetan language who showed me precious books of scripture that he could translate. I would taste rare and exotic foods and be given kindness and love that made me yearn to come back. That yearning, though, has been unfilled for several decades as the demands of work and family made China seem like mere wishful thinking, a backburner dream that I would still talk about, but my career path into academia, corporate R&D, and then intellectual property became a US-centric career. Though I would have many international trips to technical conferences and work-related events, getting back to China always seemed out of reach. Now all that has changed. As I write, I’m on a plane to Shanghai where I start work on Monday.

In life, sometimes the journey is the destination. I don’t know what lies ahead in China, but the path that has led me there has been very instructive. If my plane fails to land and I never make it to China, this recent journey will still be an experience I will be grateful for. I can look back with much gratitude to the Lord and see what I believe to be His kind hand at many points in leading me away from other things I may have wanted to do and preparing me to make this transition swiftly and boldly, and in a way that turned out far better than expected.

These past few weeks and months have been a time of more frequent prayer and pondering than normal, often turning to the scriptures for guidance and finding some surprising answers and help at just the right time. The decision to leave the comfort of a good job was difficult–it’s been four wonderful years of learning and adventure at Innovationedge, working with great people and some of the coolest large and small companies around. But several things occurred with fascinating timing that opened my mind to new possibilities, including a very recent phone call our of the blue from my now-retired friend in China who fueled my interest in China 30 years ago. Before the China opportunity came, while fasting about what to do right after receiving a wonderful Priesthood blessing my oldest son in a delightful reversal of roles, I felt strongly that I needed to focus on wrapping up a couple of big projects at work and that I should not engage in the tedious and time-consuming approach of applying for dozens of positions online or the normal painful process of seeking academic positions. I felt that when I had done my best for one our large and impressive clients (and for some of our promising and brilliant small clients), the path forward would then be more clear. I recorded that impression in my journal and lived by it for the most part, though my faith wavered as a large project was nearing completion and I did waste some time and money with a well-known job search service that resulted in absolutely nothing, not even a nibble. Several fascinating opportunities did arise, though, and they all came through old-fashioned word-of-mouth and networking and virtually all at once in a strange feast-or-famine scenario. The outlier, the one that I almost dismissed out of hand for a number of logical reasons, was a chance to interview with a company in China.

As much as I wanted to visit China again, I didn’t think it could possibly work out and wasn’t sure if I should even send them my resume when I was asked to do so. Actually, they didn’t directly ask me to send in my resume. My wife was asked by one of her best friends, the wife of leader in the company, to have me send in my resume. Talk about guanxi. I felt that I should, mostly just to be nice, but didn’t think it could possibly work out. It did.

My first interview with them came the night before an interview with a cool organization, and the Chinese offer to me would come while I was in Shanghai shortly thereafter on the same day that I would receive another offer that was hard to resist. But I had fallen in love with Shanghai and was beginning to feel that I must come to China, though there were and still are many fears, and I would not entertain that thought unless my wife would also be enthusiastic about it. I didn’t expect that to happen. How surprised I was after going to the Temple with her to learn that she, too, was feeling that we should choose China. In fact, at the temple, both of us came away feeling that China might be the place, if a concern or two could be addressed–and the email addressing these concerns had come while we were at the Temple. It was shortly after leaving the Temple that I read their email to her, and she cheered: “We’re going to China!” Her enthusiasm surprised me–I think it was greater than mine. That was Saturday. We prayed about it more on Sunday and continued to feel and understand that it was the right thing for us.

Now came the really hard part: leaving. I was worried that my boss would be upset with my decision. I prayed about how to handle it, and felt that immediate, up-front action was needed. I asked to meet with my boss the next morning, even though it was Memorial Day, to share a surprising development. She was gracious and came to the office on Memorial Day. I explained that while I had been thinking about academia, a real surprise had just occurred with an opportunity in China that I just couldn’t resist. She was completely understanding, She knew that I had been wanting to work in China for years and could see that this was a terrific career opportunity. I was treated generously and kindly. Yesterday was a tremendous last day of work with much undeserved kindness and a great farewell luncheon and other fun. Plus I got several worthwhile things taken care off. I’ll remain a fan of Innovationedge for anybody looking to strengthen innovation, new product development, and IP strategy for their company.

The decision to move to China may seem crazy from many points of view. Why leave an exciting job, a comfortable home, and the presence of family for a journey into the unknown on the other side of the world? Why walk away from world-class health insurance, unlimited internet access, the joy of three grandchildren just two hours away, another son and daughter-in-law just moving into the state of Wisconsin to begin medical school, and from many other friends and relatives within a short journey? And did I mention I’ll be leaving my two beautiful apple trees that product about 1,000 pounds of delicious fruit every year?

I’m not sure. It looks crazy from some perspectives, but it also looks like the perfect career move for me in many ways, an opportunity to create and do the things I’ve been helping others to do as a consultant with a company now hungry to grow and do things right. It’s also an opportunity to develop international skills, language skills, leadership skills, IP skills and business skills, and to really make a difference with an exciting company that will make innovative products available to many people who couldn’t afford them before. But it’s not just about the career opportunity. It’s not about money. It’s not about the world’s greatest food and one of the world’s most beautiful and exciting cities (Shanghai, of course, is known as the Appleton of the East, though it has a little less snow, lower taxes, and a slightly larger population–about 23 million more people). The real reason might be the work my wife will be doing, rendering service to many as she helps a charitable foundation and other efforts in China. Or maybe the real reason is the food after all. I’m cool with that! And maybe the journey is the real destination. I’ll tell you when I get there and everything is clear at last. One thing is for sure: everything we have needed along this journey has been provided for us. We see the hand of the Lord, in spite of our mistakes and failures, helping us, opening our minds, touching our hearts, removing barriers, changing priorities, and pushing gently or sometimes forcibly to help us see what we to do. So many things have worked together to help us. We’re so grateful and in awe, regardless of what happens next.

Aren't all of our lives like this in some way, with the Lord always there, giving us opportunities that we may not recognize or take, but giving us help to bear with what we must bear and to sometimes find unexpected new routes to pursue when the time is right? This process of seeking, listening, doing our best, moving forward, often erring, hopefully recovering, and trying again is, in many ways, the destination. My little issue of where to live and what do professionally pales in comparison with the big issues of life, family, faith, and so forth that many of you are dealing with now, but it's been an instructive journey.

I've left out some of the most overwhelming and meaningful details that I can't share here, but this has been a memorable journey. I think by daily struggling more in prayer and pondering, we have more clearly seen and recognized the influence of God and the kind things that have been done to help us, even when those things initially seemed like setbacks and problems, even disasters. One example came when my wife noticed that something had gone wrong with her reservation and that it was on the wrong day. This proved to be a blessing, allowing us go from a problematic schedule (as initially planned) to a horrific one and then to an almost ideal one, with Delta kindly waiving the $150 change fee. Wow. But we also learned that some of the things that Lord does to help us don't do any good if we don't act promptly and proactively when the door is opened. I will spare you the details, but there have been lessons in many ways in our journey.

The timing has been remarkable. It turns out that it was very important that my notice of leaving was given on Memorial Day. A disappointment from one of our clients, dropping a big project I had looked forward to, also made it feasible for this transition to happen when it did. That news came two days before we would be faced with the surprise privilege of accepting the wonderful opportunity in China. Had that project gone forward, my guanxi with the client would have kept me from making the change now. So many things like that have occurred with almost surgical precision to move me along. All a delusion? Maybe. Is there a purpose to it all? If so, I don't know why, but it's been a fascinating journey. I hope this will continue and that we can make a difference.

We’ll be there for 1-2 years, and then back to the United States to create jobs and other things here. I’ll try to keep this blog up, but may need some guest writers to help out from time to time. Please let me know if you have some content you’d like to share. Meanwhile, wish us luck in one of the great nations of the world, China.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Reminder on Etiquette and the Rules for Comments

I'm really sorry that some people have had a frustrating time with posting comments. Much of the problem has been that Blogger has an anti-spam feature that can automatically block comments, especially when multiple links are in the comment. The other problem is that occasionally, rather rarely, I will delete comments when they violate my policies. I'm sorry that this has been offensive to some. Let me explain the rules and expectations I have.

Basics of etiquette for the Mormanity blog: Civil, on-topic dialog is the standard I ask for. Shouting offensive remarks is not participating in civil dialog. Off-topic posts are frowned upon. Links to anti-Mormon sites are generally unwelcome: I don't want to increase their page rank on Google and don't want to send people there as a general rule. Yep, there's my horrific, benighted bias out for all to see: this is actually a PRO-Mormon blog.

Long essays posted in numerous chunks do not strike me as civil dialog, but as unwelcome hogging of bandwidth with a monolog. If you can't make your point in 4000 characters, you aren't going to make it in 80,0000 split across 20 comments in a row. People aren't going to read that. I'm not, anyway. If you have a long essay, get your own blog and share it. It's easy and it's free.

Remember, this is Jeff's blog. Not a place for you to do and say anything you want. If I object to what you're doing and delete a comment, it doesn't help to come back and tell me what a vicious hypocrite I am. Tell your story of being viciously repressed by me elsewhere in anti-Mormon halls where you may receive a hero's welcome.

Think of this blog as a neighborhood party with free food. I create a dish occasionally and put it out on a table in front of my house to let neighbors and others come buy and taste it, with an expectation of politeness. I allow them to put sticky notes on the table responding to the dish I've prepared. Some like it, some don't, some have suggestions on alternate recipes. But if a sticky note is objectionable or if someone tries to blanket the table with their own sticky notes accusing me of serving poisoned food or cooking babies, or if someone wants to hog up the whole table for themselves with zillions of sticky notes, I reserve the right to yank a few off. You can be offended, but you have no rights to demand anything more from me.

If you are fuming with anger as you type, first go to Wal-Mart and get a free blood pressure test. If your you're above 135/85, go out in a field,, sit down, and meditate for a few minutes. Oh, check where you are sitting first, especially here in the dairy state of Wisconsin. Relax, cut down on sodium and fried foods, work out a bit more, and once the blood pressure is normal, then write a more calm entry. This is not a place to express anger and hatred, as valid as you may think those emotions are. It's a place for civil dialog. On-topic dialog.

If you post the same thing or nearly the same thing four or five times, I frown upon that. If you are promoting a business or an anti-Mormon website, I frown upon that. Angry insults aren't helpful. Links to YouTube videos are suspect unless I know the source or know what's in it because I've had people give links to videos that start off OK and then become highly objectionable and I really don't have time to screen them.

Recognize that Blogger has an automatic spam feature. One recent poster has 23 entries sitting in the spam area of Blogger. He thought I was sitting here deleting them one by one and that I have not banned his name from comments at all. Not so. What he posted over and over fell into the spam-like filters that I didn't create. This can happen to good posters as well and I can go in and manually clear them, but sometimes that takes a while for me to notice and fix. If a comment disappears a few seconds after you post it (refresh to check), it was probably the automatic spam filter. Adding links, especially lots of links, to a post seems to be the main way to trigger it. If you are sharing a link, I suggest copying your comment before sending it to make sure it clears the spam filter. I think the spam filter might recognize "bad behavior" from a single IP address or screen name, but I'm not sure. Interesting that so many comments from one poster would be captured as spam. Sorry, but that's not necessarily because Mormons are toxic.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Moving to China

Soon I'll be living in one of the most amazing nations on earth, enjoying the delights of the Chinese language, Chinese food, Chinese ingenuity, and Chinese society. I'm moving to Shanghai, China. I'll be there for one to two years as I make a dramatic and exciting career change that will later bring me back to the United States. My wife will be joining me there and will be involved with a humanitarian foundation helping children and migrant workers while I work on intellectual property strategy and innovation for a large company hungry to improve, grow, and excel.

Details and photos to follow.

The Chinese firewall may make it difficult for me to post as often as I would like. I'll also be careful to respect Chinese law regarding proselyting. I'll participate in a branch for expatriates that the government allows to meet. While organized religion will have limitations, opportunities to serve in other ways are wide open, for human needs are abundant in spite of the incredible prosperity of that beautiful nation. Wish me luck.

Any of you lived in Shanghai? Any advice, tips, etc? If you want to contact me directly, use jeff at jefflindsay dot com.

Inept Deceipt in the Inspired Version? The Problem with Errant Assumptions

Here's a friendly inquiry abut differences in the Book of Mormon and the "Inspired Version" of the Bible from someone who I don't think was really looking for an answer:
The outrageous mistakes that Joseph Smith made, in presuming that he could translate the Bible, were, simply, that the Bible scriptures used from the KJV in the BOM, supposedly the most correct book on the face of the earth, prior to Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible (parts of which are currently annotated in the LDS Bible) grossly contradict Smith's translation of the New Testament. How is it that the BOM does not match the JST? For example, take 1 Nephi 14:6, Matt. 7:6, 3 Nephi 13:25-27, Matt. 6:25-27. Smith should have known that this deception would catch-up with him, but I don't really think he cared, for he lived in a very delusional world. After he wrote the BOM, he couldn't go back and change what he had written when he rendered a bogus translation of the Bible. What sophistry can you come up with to explain away what is clear proof that Smith was a charlatan? Yet, you are quite an expert at sophistry and have made many people believe that what is as black as sin is as white and pure as the driven snow. I am quite curious to hear your explanation for this.
Hmm, Joseph Smith the careless deceiver didn't even notice that his changes in the Bible didn't match the changes in the Book of Mormon? Are these difference sufficient for us to expose him as a fraud--and a very inept one at that?

There are some assumptions built into this question. One assumption is that that the Inspired Version is a restoration of original scripture. Did Joseph ever say that? This work was not completed and not canonized, but is treated as a helpful study aid. Many LDS writers examining the work-in-progress that Joseph left us with his "translation" of the Bible see it as containing not just corrections or restorations of material but also added explanatory material that we need not imagine was meant to convey the original words of ancient prophets and apostles, but may help clarify their meaning. In addition to mistakenly assuming the Inspired Version to be a complete, perfect Urtext, a less questionable assumption is that the authors of the Book of Mormon should have been citing the pure text that Joseph restored.

The fact that Joseph wasn't troubled by differences in the Inspired Version and related Book of Mormon passages is not clearcut evidence of totally inept fraud, but should be a clue about what his exercise meant.

So our critic expects us to roll over an reject Joseph because what may be clarifying commentary in his work-in-progress with the Bible wasn't also added to the Book of Mormon (at least not before he was killed). Sure, you can reject Joseph over that, but it's not an impressive argument, in my opinion.

We live in a mortal world where lots of things are imperfect, including the Church and any edition so far of the Book of Mormon. An almost fundamentalist expectation that everything fit together to suit our assumptions and logic can be a quick way toward disappointment. Stepping back and taking a slightly more flexible and open-minded, inquiring approach makes a lot more sense to me.

A related question is on my LDSFAQ page (Mormon Answers) about apparent problems in the Book of Mormon.