The Difference Between a Bad, Fine, and Great Day

The longer I’m around, the more I’m convinced that most days are just about the same, quality wise. I mean, typically the same thing happens most days. (This is, of course, discounting huge life events like births, deaths, marriages, graduations, etc.) What I mean is that I can have three Saturdays and compare them to each other. One could be bad, one could be just okay, and one could be great. But when I take a step back to see what really set apart each day from the others, I discover that for the most part, all three are identical.

In other words, it doesn’t take much to turn a bad day into a great day, and vice versa.

This is something I really began noticing as a parent. My kids will, from time to time, complain about how bad their day is going, or talk about how they’re having the best day ever. And I look at what’s going on with them, and I’ve seen a lot of what makes the difference is just a matter of perception.

On bad days, a few things go wrong, or one thing goes really wrong, and it becomes difficult to get your balance. From then on, everything you do is viewed through a negative lens, and it’s easy to start looking for the bad over the course of the day. On good days, it’s the opposite. Some things go right, and then you feel like everything is great.

The strange thing (to me) is that often bad days will have good things about them, and good days will have bad. It’s just my ability to accurately see those events for what they are that gets me messed up.

I can be a fairly moody person. I’m good at putting on a show when I’m out in public, but all you have to do is ask Denisa, and she’ll tell you how I can get in funky moods from time to time. Not constantly, but certainly enough to be annoying. I’ll feel like nothing’s going right at all, and I can be pretty negative about things for the space of a few hours or an entire day, until something happens to kick me out of it. I don’t think it’s full blown depression, but it’s probably depression lite. When I’m in one of those moods, nothing can really cheer me up. Good things can happen, but I’m so set on seeing the bad, it’s like I’ve become immune to the good.

It would be great if I could just take a step back and talk myself out of the bad days. Focus only on the good things that are happening to me. I can mentally think it. When I’m having one of those bad days, I know it’s just emotions, and I know things are okay, but it’s impossible to pep talk myself up and into the sunshine again.

This is actually one of the reasons I make lists. I’ve found that one of the big culprits for me to get depressed about a day is for me to feel like I got nothing accomplished. Like I just wasted my day away. This is true for a work day (when I should be getting work done) and a day off (when I want to be having a good time). So I will literally make lists of fun things I want to do on a day, to make sure I do those fun things. That sounds pretty lame as I write it, but it’s true, and it generally works.

I’ll do this in a less structured way with my kids sometimes. At the beginning of a vacation or snow day, I’ll sit people down over breakfast and say, “Okay. Tomorrow, when we’re looking back at how awesome today was, what are some things we’ll list off for why today was so much fun?” And then we do those things. But in the end, that generally doesn’t take a whole ton of time. It amounts to playing a board game together for an hour. Or drawing together. Or watching a movie with popcorn. But it’s consciously looking at the positive, and that helps.

An hour or two can make the difference for an entire 24 hours, one way or the other.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Memory Thief in Paperback

It’s official. THE MEMORY THIEF is now available in paperback everywhere books are sold. (Meaning, no longer exclusive to just Barnes & Noble.) And when I went to Amazon to double check this was correct, I was rewarded with discovering a new review of the book, left by someone I don’t know. Gaelen Foley (who I assume isn’t the actual romance writer, but perhaps a fan of hers) left this lovely review:

Days after finishing this book, I am still thinking about it with a smile. When a book stays with you like that, you know there’s something special about it. I would highly recommend The Memory Thief to kids and parents.

I was really surprised that this author hadn’t written more books before this, because his style is very smooth and honest, and yet simple. As Charles Dickens said, to write simply is one of the hardest things there is.

Newer authors don’t usually get pacing as well as Moore does here, either, yet the story doesn’t miss a beat, and the tension continually builds, with twists I didn’t see coming. What I liked about it is that the adventure flows out of characterization, it’s not forced action. This gives the tale a lot of heart.

I also really liked the small town setting, and the creepy contrast with the weirdness factor once the fantasy stuff started unfolding. Maybe a tiny whiff of Stephen King influence, especially given the Maine setting (but don’t worry, parents, there’s no horror that’ll give young readers bad dreams.) All I know is that I have been to many a country fair like the main setting for much of the action here, and he captured it perfectly.

The real fireworks come from the whole premise of memory thieves who can steal your memories right outta your head! Very original, I thought. Moore made me believe it was real, and I started thinking about what historical experiences I’d have paid money to try out through somebody else’s memories.

That leads to me to one of the main points I wanted to make about this story. Parents & teachers, if you’re looking for a story to help your 8-12′s learn a lesson about having empathy for others, this book could be a great conversation starter. In this tale, the boy literally gets to enter several different characters’ minds and see the world through _their_ eyes. What a great lesson for all of us, and Moore presents it without ever being preachy. Very classy.

The family dynamics were handled sensitively, without stereotypes, and I guess one of the things I liked best about this book was that there’s just a real honesty to the writing. I’ll be hitting the “Follow” button on this author. I know I’ll want to grab the next books he puts out. :)

Head on over to Amazon to see it in all its glory. I know they say authors shouldn’t read reviews, but sometimes I just can’t help it. Nothing helps a book and an author these days quite like a good review from readers.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On Stephen Hawking

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Hawking’s since I was in 1oth grade. That year in English, we had to do a research project. (It was called an ISearch Project, as I recall, because we were allowed to use the first person when writing it.) As my topic, I chose black holes, mainly because I’d seen a movie: A Brief History of Time, which was based on Hawking’s book:

I thoroughly enjoyed writing that paper, and it made a big impact on me. Big enough that right up until college, one of the careers I was thinking about was becoming a theoretical physicist, which I imagine not too many high schoolers rattle off among their top choices. (Somewhere in an alternate universe, who knows what I’m up to at this point. Probably galactic domination.)

This was in 1993, so . . . 25 years ago. From that time forward, I liked reading about Stephen Hawking, doing my best to keep up with what he was talking about. I got to see him in person at a lecture in Utah the same year. (It was in Abravenel Hall in July of that year.) It was a big auditorium (about 15,000 or so), so it wasn’t like I was up close and  personal with the man, but it was still fascinating to hear him “speak” about his research.

I’ve been inspired by his ability to make so much out of a life many thought would be impossible. I’m amazed he lived so long and accomplished so much.

At the time, the ISearch paper seemed like this huge undertaking. Because I’m a stickler for organization, I still have a copy of the whole thing, though it’s in an older format that took a bit of finagling to read on today’s machines. And so I present to you today, in honor of Stephen Hawking’s passing, my most cutting edge 10th grade research in all its glory. (There was an oral report that went along with this. I remember making a big poster for it. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of that.)

Black Holes and Their Possible Effects On Man

Black holes.  The very words we use to describe these phenomena inspire mystery.  When I started this report I knew very little of black holes.  The majority of my knowledge came from a remarkable biographical movie called A Brief History of Time.  It describes the life and research of today’s most intelligent scientist, Stephen Hawking, who has spent the last couple of years researching black holes.  Although most of the information was extremely complicated, I learned, in rather vague terms, a lot more about black holes than I knew originally.  Even with my original knowledge and the information I had gained from the movie, I still knew little.

A black hole is much smaller than a pinhead but infinitely more dense so that the gravitational pull it has creates an object called an event horizon- the area where the gravitational pull begins to take effect.  Even more amazing, this pull is so great that nothing, not even light, can escape once it is caught.  Because the black hole allows no light to escape, it is virtually invisible.  In addition, I learned that inside the event horizon, time itself slows down so that somone inside the black hole would age much slower than a person outside it.  However, once inside the black hole, he would have very little time, at most a couple of days, before he met the black hole itself, killing him.  I decided that I wanted to discover what black holes are and, if man could reach one easily, how they might change our society.

To understand what a black hole is, you must first understand how it is formed.  It begins with the birth of a star, which occurs when a great amount of gas, usually hydrogen or oxygen, condenses together because of gravitational attraction (Hawking, Time 82).  As far as I know, gravitational attraction is the force that draws two atoms together due to their gravitational pulls.  Because it is soon too dense for all the gas to fit, the gas particles begin to collide into each other (Hawking, Time 82).  As the gas does this, it heats up, eventually causing the oxygen or hydrogen to form into helium, releasing the built-up heat (Hawking, Time 82).  After a while (it varies from star to star) the large amount of heat released stops the condensation of the gas that makes up the star, and the star has a long life spanning quite a few millenia (Hawking, Time 83).

There comes a time that that life must end, however.  The gas runs low and the star begins to contract again (Hawking, Time 83).  However, it soon gets too dense, and in order to prolong its life it must expand rapidly, at which point in time it will go one of three routes (Hawking, Time 83).  There is a specific size of star, called the Chandrasekhar limit, that determines which route the star will follow (Hawking, Time 83).  If a star is less than or equal to the Chandrasekhar limit when it begins to expand, it won’t die but will soon stabilize and live forever as a white dwarf or a neutron star (Hawking, Time 84).  If it is over the limit, on the other hand, it will either throw off enough weight to go under the limit or collapse into a point of singularity, a black hole (Hawking, Time 84-85).  However, at present there is only one object in space that might be a black hole (it exists in Cygnus X-1, part of the constellation Orion);  man knows of no others (Patz).  However, some scientists have estimated that there may be relatively small black holes about as far away from Earth as Pluto (Hawking, Essays 109-110).  Personally, I believe that because there are so many stars in the universe, there could be quite a few black holes there, as well.

The possible black hole we know of has many interesting characteristics.  From research it has been determined that the only ways to detect a black hole are by the enormous amount of X-rays it gives off or by getting close enough to sense its intense gravitational pull (Patz).  This is because the black hole creates no noise and you can’t see it because its gravity lets out no light (Patz).  (The reason that light can be affected by gravity is rather complicated, and won’t be discussed in this paper).  Most black holes rotate around an axis, much like earth, and, depending on how fast the rotation is, have a slight or distinct bulge in the center (Hawking, Time 91).  As for their size, Professor Hawking has said that “a black hole weighing about a billion tons (about the mass of a mountain) would have the radius of about ten to the negative thirteenth centimeter (about the size of a neutron or proton).”  To give you an idea of the amount of force a black hole’s gravity has, if someone got caught in its pull, by the time they reached the black hole itself the bonds holding each atom together would have broken down, leaving only separate protons, neutrons, and electrons (Patz).  This aspect surprised me.  I had been aware that the gravitational forces of a black hole were intense.  However, I had not imagined they were strong enough to tear apart the very building blocks of life itself.

The next part of a black hole is what I consider to be the first obstacle in the way of finding out more about the actual black hole.  Surrounding the black hole is a barrier of intense heat and pressure, called the event horizon, that can’t be penetrated by anything, physical or technological (Patz).  The event horizon is far away from the black hole itself and is billions of times larger.  As  Stephen Hawking says, it is the “wave front of light that just fails to escape to infinity but remains hovering at the Schwarzchild radius” (Hawking, Essays 103).  The Schwarzchild radius varies for each star and is two times Newton’s constant of gravity (G) times the mass of the star (M) divided by the square root of the speed of light (C) (2GM/ C) (Hawking, Essays 103-104).  As I interpret it, this radius is the point of no return from a black hole, the place where light itself begins to be affected by the hole’s gravity.  As far as I know, the reason no one knows what a black hole itself looks like because it is invisible, and anyone who could pass the event horizon to see it wouldn’t be able to get back out to describe it to us.  BEfore our knowledge of black holes expands, I think we’ll first have to devise a method of getting paast the so far impenetrable event horizon.

The final aspect of black holes is Hawking radiation.  Hawking radiation, discovered by Prof. Hawking through some fairly new theories, is the one thing that ever comes out of a black hole.   To begin, scientists have discovered that space, a gigantic vacuum, is not as empty as they originally hypothesized (Folger 101).  Throughout it, pairs of “virtual particles”, subatomic pieces of matter and antimatter, rapidly pop into space by stealing energy from any nearby source, collide together, and explode back into nothingness (Folger 101).  This works like clockwork until black holes enter the picture.  If virtual particles are “born” next to a black hole (a source of energy), there is a way they can survive (Folger 101).  When the particles pop into existence, they recieve a tiny “push” of energy that shoves the pair apart from each other before they collide back together (Folger 101).  However, in a pair formed near a black hole, one of the particles may be “pushed” past the event horizon while the other is “pushed” out of it, letting one of the particles escape (Gribbin).  These particles that escape from the black hole are called Hawking radiation (Folger 101).  This radiation allows for the death of black holes (Folger 101).  This, too, surprised me.  I had always pictured black holes as being immortal.  This however, was just one of my many beliefs that were changed through this report.

The death of a black hole is a rather long, intricate process.  When Hawking radiation escapes, with it goes the small portion of energy which it stole from the black hole (Folger 101).  According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, energy is equal to mass (Folger 101).  Since the radiation took its energy from the black hole, the black hole lost that energy and its equal in mass, resulting with a small diminishment in the size of the hole (Gribbin).  With enough of these small robberies, the black hole will eventually disappear and die (Folger 101).  However, because the black hole is continually growing by consuming more mass from its surroundings, the death of any black hole will not occur until eons after all the material in the universe is contained within a black hole (Folger 101).  This concept should not be that unsettling.  After all, “all things come to an end,” and the human race will probably be extinct by then, anyway.

In addition, there are three other objects in space that are related to black holes.  The first of these are white holes, believed to be the exact opposite of black holes.  Scientists hypothesize that an object might go in through a black hole and come out through a white hole (Patz).  By their reasoning, if there is something out there that takes everything in, there must be something that shoves everything out (Patz).  I agree with the scientists because it seems quite logical.  Like black holes, white holes may be invisible as well or have other characteristics that hide them from our view right now.  I believe, however, that we will one day find them.

The second “hole” is a possible link between white holes and black holes.  This new type of hole is a worm hole, a passageway that connects two regions of space, possibly a white hole and black hole (Freedman 59) or a black hole and a black hole (Davies).  A worm hole linking a black hole to a black hole wouldn’t do much as far as space travel is concerned because in both, the traveler, if he survived, wouldn’t be able to get out (Davies).  A worm hole between a black hole and a white hole, however, has some interesting characteristics.  This type of worm hole would be a very fast “short cut” between two far-away regions in space because it does not follow the regular rules of space and time (Freedman 59).  One of the problems is that worm holes are very unstable, and if someone were to try to pass through them, that someone would probably upset it, causing it to close and thus kill the traveller (Freedman 61).  As I figure, the traveler would also have to pass through the singularity of a black hole making the chances of passing through a worm hole look pretty slim.

Where I had given up hope, however, another had “just begun to fight”.  Professor Kip Thorne believes man could use “exotic matter,” matter more dense than the worm hole itself, to hold open and stabilize a worm hole so that it could be used ((Freedman 61).  There are two problems with this (Freedman 61).  First, this would give the worm hole negative mass and energy and anti-gravity, going against the laws of general relativity (Freedman 61).  Second, it is not known if exotic matter can interact with people (Freedman 61).  (Thorne himself gives it just a 50/50 chance (Freedman 64)).  Thorne’s answer to this is that either it’s impossible, exotic matter doesn’t interact with people (it passes through regular matter), or, most unlikely, humans could put a vacuum tube down the worm hole, protecting the people from the exotic matter.  Even if scientists got past that step, it is still unknown how to construct exotic matter that doesn’t contradict the laws of physics (Folger 61).  I believe that if any new discoveries on this subject are ever made, it won’t be until we find a worm hole close enough to study.  That is definitely going years to discover.

It is because of all these interesting characteristics of black holes, white holes, and worm holes that rather interesting theories have developed as to how they could affect our lives.  Aside from the belief that black holes are going to eventually kill the universe (Folger 101) and the idea that worm holes may be a faster method of space travel (Freedman 61), the first of these is the age old concept of time travel.  Because, as I had learned from the movie, it is somehow presumed that black holes are believed to slow time down inside them, I assumed that mankind might one day make a spaceship to travel into the future.  I believed this to be possible if the spaceship could build up enough speed to glance off the event horizon, going enough of the way into the black hole to slow time down for the ship but not getting pulled all the way into the hole.  I then thought that the ship could bounce back out of the black hole at some point in the future.  Of course, I had hardly expected to be correct in my hypothesis.

However, I found out that time travel is possible through the use of a black hole.  If the spaceship was strong and fast enough, it could “bounce” off a black hole and use the gravitational assist of the event horizon to propell it even faster, approaching the speed of light (300,000 km/s) (Patz).  It could then use this tremendous speed to escape from the black hole and go into the future (Patz).  However, this plan is somewhat flawed.  First of all, it would require a lot of precision to avoid falling into the black hole (Patz).  The slightest miscalulation would send the ship on a one way trip to oblivion (Patz).  As I learned in my interview with Mr. Patz, the other big problem is slowing the ship down.  He said that a ship going that fast would take an extremely long time to slow down.  While this may present some problems, the fact still remains that the people inside the ship would, in effect, be going into the future (Patz).  However, the passengers wouldn’t be going ahead in time (Patz).  They would still be going at 300,000 km/s no matter what and would arrive at their destination the same time as they would have if time hadn’t slowed down when they were going at that incredible rate (Patz).  To the passengers, however, the journey would have seemed faster because their time had slowed down (Patz).  How much time they had lost would be determined by how long they had been travelling at that great rate, I suppose.  I was, of course, very interested that my hypothesis had been partially true.

Another theory on time travel centers around worm holes.  Prof. Thorne believes that if one end of a stable worm hole is spun at a speed near the speed of light, a “time hole” would be created that would allow travel back in time to the conception of the time hole, no earlier (Freedman 61).  The reasons for this are extremely complicated and won’t be discussed here to save you a boring lecture.  However, a time hole is very unlikely.  Professor Thorne says, “The chance of achieving any sort of time travel within the next thousand years are nil.”  For starters, it is not known whether worm holes can be spun or if there exists any easily moved object with which to spin them (Patz).  Add to this the fact that scientists don’t even know if worm holes exist and if they can be stabilized, and the hopes look pretty dim (Patz).  I doubt this theory will ever be realized.  With all its flaws, it seems to me impossible that it could be even partially true.

Another interesting theory I had heard is that black holes may lead to alternate universes that are connected via black holes.  It is not very likely that, even if this fact were true, it will do anyone any good (Patz).  The black hole would almost definitely destroy any thing that fell into it if the event horizon didn’t get them first (Patz).  So, even if there were an alternate universe, the only thing of the traveler that would enjoy it would be his neutrons, protons and electrons (Patz).  I believe, however, that black holes might lead to alternate universes.  It would take a lot more technology to get past the event horizon and the singularity of the black hole, but I don’t think we should give the idea up yet.  After all, a couple of decades ago, no one even thought it was possible to fly, let alone go into outerspace.

The next theory has physicists intrigued the most.  It is the idea that what goes into a black hole can’t be recreated through anything, not even Hawking radiation (Folger 100).  Physicists center their studies around the recreation of the past using the future (Folger 100).  However, if there is something that exists in the universe that utterly eliminates the past, physics has just been eliminated as well (Folger 100).  Naturally, the physicts have developed theories, three to be exact, on this subject (Folger 102).  Although none of them really help physicists of today, I suppose they must make an effort to reassure themselves that their jobs exist.

The first theory on this subject is the already mentioned belief that the past can’t be recreated.  Because the radiation comes out at the event horizon, far away from the actual black hole, Hawking radiation all looks the same, much like steam that only appeared from a glass of hot chocolate when it was miles away from the glass, with its scent and distinguishing characteristics all long gone (Folger 101).  The second theory is that Hawking radiation has distinguishable characteristics- we just don’t know what to look for (Folger 102). The last solution is that the information never emerges- it’s not contained within the Hawking radiation (Folger 102).  They believe that when the black hole dies, it leaves a jumble of information that is in some way inaccessible (Folger 102).  This theory isn’t too much different from the first one, though it may be more comforting to the physicists to know the information is there, even if it cannot be seen.  I believe that it will take time and a closer real black hole to determine which theory is right.

I find the next theory to be the most interesting.  Scientists have hypothesized that general relativity and quantum physics, a set of rules having do do with subatomic particles, will one day be combined to form a law that governs everything (Folger 106).  Scientists believe that if there is a place to do this, the best possible place is a black hole (Folger 106).  The probabilities for at least a change in the current theories of relativity are good, seeing as how Einstein died before he came close to finishing his theories (Patz).  I don’t know of any theories that scientists have developed yet that sooner or later haven’t been proved wrong.  In addition, I know that scientists have been encountering numerous problems with the current theories when dealing with objects such as black holes.  Therefore, I feel fairly sure that Einstein’s theory will also be proven false.

Through this report I have learned a great deal.  Even though there are no 100% certain black holes found as of yet, I believe, as Mr. Patz does, that we will find something that at least resembles a black hole, even if it isn’t everything we thought it would be.  I think that if we one day get adept at space travel and reach a black hole, at least someone will try to go into the future.  I further believe he/she will have a good chance of succeeding.  I believe that white holes and worm holes exist, but I don’t think they’re distuinguishable from black holes, given that they’re all singularities.  Therefore, I don’t believe we’ll find out if they exist until we get close enough to one to find out.  However, I don’t think either of these new holes will really affect our society aside from the scientific gains involved.  I predict that our theories on black holes will change drastically over the years as scientists gain new information.  However, I believe it will be a long while until black holes have an impact on our lives.  At that point, they may change our societies in ways we cannot even imagine.

Works Cited

Davies, Paul.  “Wormholes and Time Machines.”  Sky & Telescope January 1992: 20-23.  Rpt. in SIRS:  CD-ROM.  CD-ROM disc.  SIRS, 1992.

Folger, Tim.  “The Ultimate Vanishing.”  Discover October 1993:  98-106.

Freedman, David.  “Cosmic Time Travel.”  Discover June 1989:  58-64.

Gribbin, John.  “The Birth and Death of the Universe.”  Unesco Courier May 1991: 36-40.  Rpt. in SIRS:  CD-ROM.  CD-ROM disc.  SIRS, 1992.

Hawking, Stephen.  A Brief History of Time From the Big Bang to Black      Holes.  New York:  Bantam Books, 1988.

—Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.  New York:  Bantam     Books, 1993.

Patz, Derrik.  Telephone Interview.  5 December, 1993.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Mad as a March Hare

The brackets are set. The madness is ready to begin. And that means it’s time for another Tournament Challenge! As always, I’m setting the blog challenge up through ESPN’s site. You go, you make your picks, and then you sit back to see who ends up winning. You’d like to think it takes skill and basketball smarts to win. You’d be mostly wrong.

It’s really mainly for fun.

To enter, click this link and use the password vodnik. (Or just go straight to ESPN and search for the group. It’s called Bryce’s Ramblings.)

This year’s winner will join last year’s runner-up Scooter123000 in the acknowledgements page of MEMORY THIEF 2 (which has a title, but I am not yet allowed to share it.) Your name in print, guaranteed. That’s a pretty good offer, right? Not to mention I’ll note how you are a better person at picking brackets than I am.

You need to enter before Thursday at noon, as I recall. But better to be safe and do it by tomorrow at midnight. I have no control over when they close the entries. He who snoozeth, loozeth. One entry per person, but individuals can enter on behalf of others. Any and all are welcome to play.

Good luck!


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Why I Believe: Abiding in God

This month’s talk was a tricky one for me to write. I had a lot of different ideas in my head, and getting them down in words proved difficult. I was literally tweaking it minutes before I had to drive to church. (In Brewer, this time.) And then once I was in the meeting, I needed to trim it from the 20 minutes I had prepared down to about 15 minutes. Despite all that, I’m quite happy with how the talk turned out. It allowed me to organize some thoughts I’d been having for the last several weeks:

  • Do I believe God punishes people for their actions? In other words, does God smite people?
  • How can I believe in God when it might just be confirmation bias at work?

Pretty weighty material, even for 20 minutes. The whole thing’s 4,000 words long, and I’m presenting the unedited version here, so enough preamble. Here’s the talk:


Before I get into my talk this morning, brothers and sisters, I want to apologize. This month’s topic (a talk by Sister Marriott this past general conference on Abiding in God) has proved a tricky one for me to navigate. I’ve had a number of thoughts on the topic that have taken me in a number of directions. I hope the final product helps some of you. I will say that writing it has helped me organize some different thoughts that have been careening around my head for the past few weeks, so I suppose even if none of you end up getting it, it helped me, and that’s something. Here we go.

I’ve been reading in the Book of Mormon lately. I’m back at the beginning, with Nephi dealing with his brothers and their seeming inability to remember anything for more than five seconds. It feels like angels are coming down every other day to threaten to smite them with the wrath of God. Each time, they cower and admit God was right and they were wrong, but it doesn’t take too long before they’ve forgotten that lesson once again and need to learn it all over.

In fact, that seems to be an overarching theme of the Book of Mormon and scripture in general. It’s played out with the Nephites and the Lamanites on a grand scale, with entire peoples forgetting God and lifting themselves up in pride, only to be brought low months or years later, forced to humble themselves as they once again seek for God’s help. We call it the Pride Cycle, and it happens as regularly as the seasons. Life is good, and people begin to think it’s because of just how awesome they are. And then life stops being so good, and they turn to God for help until life gets good again. Why can’t they just stay good all the time? Why can’t they abide in God?

We complain sometimes that church talks and lessons are all similar. That the answers to a Gospel question almost always boil down to studying the scriptures, listening to church leaders, praying, fasting, and keeping the commandments. But the more I read the scriptures and study the lives of those who have gone on before me, the more I am persuaded that the reason those answers keep coming up again and again and again is that we have yet to really learn and believe those lessons.

When we read books, it’s natural for us to identify with the person telling the story. The point of view character. It’s natural to relate to Nephi and to view his brothers as nothing more than antagonists.

However, I don’t think those brothers were included in the Book of Mormon so we could have a laugh at their expense. So we could feel better about ourselves because at least we’re not doing foolish things moments after being instructed by God’s messengers not to do those exact same foolish things. I think they’re in the Book of Mormon because they’re us. They’re me, at least. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for you. Maybe you’re all Sams, and I’m the only Lemuel. But there have been times when I’ve sat through a lovely, uplifting talk on being kind, only to find myself yelling at my kids a few minutes later.

In the middle of all of this drama between Nephi and his brothers, something else cropped up in my mind. It came to a head in 1 Nephi 17:22: Laman and Lemuel are complaining, as usual. They’re objecting for having to leave Jerusalem in the first place. They say to Nephi, “we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him.”

Basically, they question the whole idea that God would destroy Jerusalem. Which led me to wonder: do I do the same thing today?

There is little doubt in my mind that the amount of evil in the world is increasing. I have but to look at the events at Sandy Hook and Parkland to see how common decency and love of our fellow man is diminishing. If I want further confirmation, I can look at our politicians, and the political debates that stem from their actions. I include my own words and debates in that castigation.

But through it all, I have always somehow maintained a belief that we will be punished for our own sins. There’s the second Article of Faith, after all. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. Coupled with that, there are plenty of examples in the scriptures where good things happen to bad people. The Egyptians flourished while the Jews were enslaved. Psalms 73 focuses entirely on this. “3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” And we know as well that often bad things will happen to the best of people. Abel was murdered. John the Baptist was beheaded. Joseph Smith was martyred.

In the aftermath of disasters, both natural and manmade, there are still people who stand up to decry the actions of the people afflicted by those disasters. People who will claim the victims brought it on themselves because they were wicked. That’s always been a mentality I have rejected, but reading those words in the Book of Mormon a few weeks ago suddenly threw all of that certainty into the air.

Nephi and Lehi clearly believed it was the evil actions of the citizens of Jerusalem that led to the city’s destruction. Fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. It was the hard heartedness of the Children of Israel that kept them wandering in the wilderness for forty years. We have no qualms saying that and analyzing how we can be less hard hearted, but when it comes time to look at our own society, do we apply the same measuring stick?

As a species, humanity is remarkably susceptible to apophenia, a tendency to look for patterns, even when no patterns exist. We see this happen when people see a face in a piece of burnt toast, or when a gambler believes a table has gotten “hot.” People look for omens or believe they can tell the future from the lines on their palm.

A relative of this phenomenon is called confirmation bias. My first exposure to the concept was on my mission. I was on splits with Elder Dodge, and we were teaching a couple of new members. They were friends, and we were over at their apartment when one of them looked at the clock. “It’s 12:34!” she exclaimed, and her friend groaned and said, “Always!” We asked what they were talking about, and they told us that they always look at the clock when it’s 12:34. Without fail.

Elder Dodge sighed and shook his head. He was a very level-headed missionary. Not one to put up with any nonsense. “That’s not it at all,” he said. “You only pay attention to the times you look at the clock and it’s 12:34. All the other times you check, you don’t remember.”

They remained skeptical, but I began to look for evidence of this in myself. Twenty years later, I can state with confidence this happens all the time. It’s all too easy to start out with a hypothesis and then look around for evidence that supports it, ignoring the things that would undermine it. I see it happen in politics, science, the workplace, and more.

The other week I was sitting in an academic lecture on filmmaking, and religion came up in the course of the talk. The speaker alleged that all too often, that “voice of God” religious people hear and follow is nothing more than their own interior voice telling them to do the things they’d like to do anyway. Religion, in this light, becomes an excuse. A mind trick people use to magically justify whatever they want to do. Answers to prayer, in this light, become nothing more than confirmation bias at work. How can you abide in God when the very basis of your faith is in question?

In some cases, I have no doubt this is what’s at work with a person’s purported faith. People can use any number of excuses to justify their actions. But to attribute all of religion to confirmation bias overlooks an enormous elephant in the room: the existence or non-existence of God. If God doesn’t exist, then all religion is no more than a sham. But if He does exist–if there is a being of higher power than us, and He takes an active role in our lives–then suddenly the window is opened for at least some religion to have merit.

So to me, the first question must be: does God exist? Back when I was a missionary, we were taught to build on common beliefs when discussion the Gospel with those not of our faith. The first discussion at the time started with, “Most people believe in a supreme being.” Except in former East Germany, this wasn’t true. Most of the people I met and talked to on the street did not believe in God. They didn’t see a need for Him, and thought Him nothing more than a story made up to get other people to fall in line. The opiate of the masses.

When we tried to teach these people about Christ, repentance, and the Atonement, we had little success. First we had to establish the need for God.

Philosophers have struggled for years with big thoughts. Big questions. Rene Descartes tried to ascertain what things we can know with certainty. Cogito Ergo Sum. I think, therefore I am. He recognized that simply being able to doubt your own existence proved you existed in the first place, for only things that exist can have feelings like doubt. But once you went outside the simple question of “Do I exist?”, proving things beyond doubt becomes more more difficult. We experience the world through our senses. Sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. And each of those can be deceived.

This is readily apparent in today’s society, where even video evidence of something happening is no longer unassailable. Videos can be faked. Pictures can be doctored. Memories can be deceived. We like to try to use evidence to prove things one way or the other, but the fact is that even the most concrete of experiences can be doubted over time. It’s the Laman and Lemuel principle, alive and well. Something is proven one moment and forgotten the next. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that God doesn’t have us rely on tangible evidences of His existence. Instead, He invites us to do something far simpler: Ask.

Prayer is one of the most powerful evidences we can receive. I have had numerous experiences with it, and I know my prayers have been answered. Not in the generic “good things ended up happening” or “it all worked out” sort of way that might be easily swayed by confirmation bias. But in “I received answers I didn’t know to questions I didn’t understand.” Even then, someone might suggest it was nothing more than my subconscious at work. But I personally have had inspiration. Glimpses into the future that ended up being completely accurate.

To me, the truth and reality of prayer is more often to be found when the answers ask us to do things we’d rather not do, as opposed to just stick with the comfortable, well-worn path. In her talk Sister Marriott noted that “Sacrifice of our personal agendas is required to make room for the eternal plans of God.” And later, “It is now, with our mortal limitations, that the Father asks us to love when loving is most difficult, to serve when serving is inconvenient, to forgive when forgiving is soul stretching.”

As I’ve looked at religion, studying out its history and its impact on various cultures and societies, I’ve seen plenty of reasons for some to dismiss it as an excuse. Too often, I see people shop around for a religion that’s most comfortable to them. As if they were born and raised with the right set of values, and the true religion would confirm their preconceived ideals. To me, this is nothing more than humanity trying to define who God is and what He wants, and it separates God from the question of religion entirely. We can’t abide in God as we would have Him be. We must abide in Him as he is.

Again, if God doesn’t exist, then religion is nothing more than a sham. If He does exist, then true religion would be to find the way we can best understand Him. Who He is, what He wants of us, and how we can rise to His expectations. I do not believe that one faith has a monopoly on truth. Rather, I believe God does His best to ensure as many of His children can come to return to live with Him as possible, and that He puts each of us in a situation where that is most likely to happen. I believe an atheist who strives to do her best to make good decisions and moral choices has just as good a chance of being saved as someone who has been raised in the church and gifted with a wealth of knowledge about God.

Sister Marriott quoted Bruce R. McConkie, who said, “We are duty-bound to learn all that God has revealed about himself.” Joseph Smith, in his Lectures on Faith, described the different aspects of God. He is all knowing, all powerful, just, and merciful. He passes judgement, and He will not lie. He will reveal Himself to us through revelation and prayer as we humbly seek to know more of Him. To those that seek harder, more will be revealed.

In my experience, religion stretches me. Challenges me to be more than I am now. But it’s one thing to say that, and another to give some specific examples. I’m not going to stand up here and list all the things I do wrong, but I can talk about a few.

I am not, by nature, a social creature. Leaving my friends and family for two years to go and serve a mission in Germany was not a comfortable sensation. And yet when I think of the ways that experience changed me, I am amazed. And I’m not simply talking about the spiritual attributes fostered in that time: compassion, understanding, humility. Things I learned on my mission made me a better leader. I developed a better ability to read people and understand what they wanted and what motivated them. I became a better person in practically every way, because I was stretched and forced out of my comfort zone time and time again.

Another example: my religion challenged me to get married, even when I didn’t really want to. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was terrified I’d end up doing the same. I was not eager to jump into marriage, but I knew it was something I should do. Thankfully, when I met someone as wonderful as Denisa, the decision became that much simpler.

Likewise, my religion stretched my abilities as a parent. I always wanted to be a father. That was never a question, and Denisa and I held off having children until we felt we were ready. But what was very much up in the air was the number of children we wanted. Granted, I look around the church and see some families out there with six children or more, so I’m sure some of you might roll your eyes a little when I say I was completely happy with two children and unsure if I really wanted a third. Denisa and I wavered back and forth on it for months at least. When we received an answer to our prayers–confirmation that we should have another child–it was clearly not a case of me just finding a simple excuse to do something I wanted to do anyway.

And yet I’m so grateful that we did have a third. She’s brought so much extra joy into our lives, though it hasn’t always been easy. There were times when she was a baby that I felt stretched to the limit. It was difficult for me, mentally more than anything. I’m not even sure I can describe why. The thought of providing for my now larger family weighed heavily on me. I got stressed much more easily, and everything seemed more difficult.

I’ve adjusted now, but that remains one of my most faith-trying experiences. Receiving an undeniable answer to a prayer, following it, and then struggling in the aftermath.

If the answers I get to prayer are nothing more than the voice in my head telling me to do what I want to do, then I have a very self-destructive voice in my head. I’d much rather have one that says I should eat more pizza, play more video games, and spend more money on my Magic the Gathering collection.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “It’s not paranoia if everyone really is out to get you.” Likewise, just because confirmation bias exists doesn’t mean patterns do not exist. Let’s say, then, that confirmation bias and the reality of God are two different hypotheses that explain the existence of religion. And like any good hypothesis, they can each be tested and examined in turn. As our faith and understanding of God increase and our experiences deepen, the odds of the confirmation bias hypothesis being the true explanation diminishes, despite what the Lamans and Lemuels of the world would have us think.

I understand why an atheist would be inclined to discount prayer as a reliable indicator for God’s presence. After all, there’s no way God can lose out in the analysis. If prayers are answered, then it’s because God exists and loves us. If prayers go unanswered, it’s because we were asking for something that wasn’t right for us. It would be just as simple to say those answers (or lack thereof) were things that were going to happen anyway.

This leads me back to my earlier question. If you’ve forgotten it by now, I can’t blame you. Here’s a refresher. In the scriptures, we read about God judging a people as a whole and punishing that people all at once. Destroying cities and nations because of wickedness or unbelief. Does He do the same thing today? Are the calamities that befall us God trying to get us to remember Him? What about in our personal lives? Does God still smite?

I believe the answer is, “It depends.” Nephi explains to us the reason God continued to punish Laman and Lemuel. 1 Nephi 18:20: “There was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts.” I believe God sends us challenges to try to get us to return to live with Him. To humble us and force us to recognize we can’t do this on our own.

Of course, I also believe that typically, humanity takes care of most of the smiting on our own. We fight each other and bicker over things that don’t matter. We fail to prepare for disasters. But I remember in the aftermath of 9/11, there were some who said it was God punishing our country for our evils. The same sentiment has been repeated after other catastrophes. Earthquakes and tsunamis.

Certainly the God of the Old Testament seems like a God who would go in for a good smiting. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind, as do the armies of Pharaoh. A God who is so insistent on commandments being obeyed that he would turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, just for a backward glance, is a God who is not messing around. That sounds like a God who would dole out cancer or ebola at the drop of a hat.

And yet we don’t believe He does that today. Do we? I don’t. My stepmother just died of cancer less than a year ago. She was a lovely woman, and didn’t deserve what happened to her at the end of her life, just as plenty of people in the news seem to live charmed lives, despite the wicked, evil things they do and say. It’s easy when bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good. It’s when the two don’t match up that it all starts to fall apart.

Or does it?

As I’ve thought about this the last few weeks, the conclusion I’ve come to is fairly tame. I don’t know how things operated in the Old Testament. I didn’t live then. But I do know how things operate around me in the present. Bad and good things happen to everyone, regardless of the lives they lead. That’s part of life. You can try to find some sort of pattern between them, but I think that by and large, the pattern we find will be steeped in confirmation bias.

Our responses to those incidents, however, depend very much upon the individual. Sister Marriott said, “When we give our heart to the Father and the Son, we change our world—even if circumstances around us do not change. We draw closer to Heavenly Father and feel His tender acceptance of our efforts to be true disciples of Christ. Our discernment, confidence, and faith increase.”

The amount of faith we have in God allows Him to work in our lives, more or less. Because faith is an active principle. It inspires us not just to feel, but to do. It changes who we are and how we behave. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. But it’s easy to handle the good things, but difficult to handle the bad. Faith in God allows us to better handle the bad, and it prompts us to take those bad experiences and turn closer to God for help and comfort.

I believe in God and abide in my faith not because prayer has always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do anyway, but because it’s helped me do the things I didn’t want to do, and when I’ve followed those promptings, I’ve been blessed. I believe in God not because I have seen Him, but because I have felt His love and guidance, even when I feel like everything else has abandoned me. It’s the very opposite of confirmation bias.

It’s one thing to see a pattern and expect it to continue based on past results. But once you’re putting your entire future on the hope that pattern will continue, things get much more serious. Taking that unknown step, hoping there will be support when you get there, is what faith is all about. It’s something that has to be experienced to be believed, and no amount of skepticism or study can make up for that.

I testify that God does live and loves us. That faith in Him and following his guidance does not insulate us from trials and tribulations, because we were sent to this Earth for the express purpose of experiencing those trials. But our faith will help us through those tribulations better than anything else can. As we abide in Him, He will abide with us.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

%d bloggers like this: