On Depression

zachblox

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

The news of Robin Williams’s passing has dejected me deeply. He was a gifted actor, comedian, and from all accounts, a tremendously kind-hearted human being. It is a sad symptom of humanity that those whose hearts are filled with so much laughter and love can also be filled with so much sadness and pain. 

How could someone with so much see only darkness? It does not make sense. It is not logical. 

Depression is as near to an incommunicable experience as I have ever passed through. I know this because I live with it. Not too long ago, in the midst of what I felt was a vexing trial, I felt the full measure of depression. The virus finds its place into your conscious and subconscious, gnawing away at all you are. It cuts through socio-economic status, religiosity, gender, race, and all other divisions amongst mankind. It is an equal opportunity vexation. 

Much more than simple sadness, depression chisels away at your very nature. You do not know why you are feeling what you are feeling, but the inability to find the genesis does not alleviate the depth of the distress. You find logic illogical and family nonfamilial. It is the darkest abyss of the soul. Depression morphs your past, clouds your present, and blackens your future.

Within weeks these feelings became inescapable. I wanted nothing more than to find a way to be free from their darkness. My brain began giving me answers I had never before contemplated. Maybe it would be better if I were not alive. I am simply a burden to those closest to me. Sure, they might be sad, but life would go on and I would be at peace. I grabbed my iPhone and punched in a quick Google search: “Committing suicide without pain.”

Thankfully, I found help.

The effects of depression are real and its clutches extend to each and every family you know. The World Health Organization surmises that more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness. Depression is not a condition that can be willed or wished away. Taken to its extreme, it cuts off life itself in horrible abruptness — men and women who should be alive but are not.

In this the Age of the Selfie, I worry that more and more individuals who suffer from undiagnosed depression see the charade of perfection put forth on social media as a glimpse into so-called normalcy. Or alternatively: that those who post such perfecting portraits are trying to compensate for the depressive feelings inside of their hearts. It is past time for us to start talking seriously and intently about depression and bring its darkness into the light. 

The stigma that follows questions of mental health is lessening but we are far from where we need to be. What is essential is often invisible to the eye. To be our brother’s keeper is to be willing to speak on his behalf and be prepared to shoulder his burdens. For the millions of individuals like Robin Williams, who feel disheartened beyond description, there is hope and there is help. 

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The “Are Mormons Christian” Conundrum

zachblox

The question of whether members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are Christian has been debated since the Church was established in 1830. Many members of the Mormon Church, including prominent leaders, have fought very hard to assure the rest of the Christian world that we are indeed Christians. They hope that this commonality between our fellow religious brethren would breed a plank of strength and mutual respect, one with another.

The ironic thing is, we assign our own definitions to words and then adjudicate others based on our previous assumption. We see this in politics, where if you fail to line up with consensus on one issue, you are branded a traitor. Sports are no different, where a contrary fandom is often termed somehow of lesser quality.

You especially see this form of purity test in religion — often ending in violence. Strife within Islam comes from two competing groups, Shi’a and Sunni, who refuse to recognize one another as true Muslims. It’s no different in the fight between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In general, all divisions among the religious are simply a form of purity test: you or your group simply do not fit the mold I believe to be true. 

Honestly, the whole “Mormons are Christians! They really are!” campaign has always rubbed me the wrong way. When God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, they did so because there had been an apostasy. The complete Gospel of Jesus Christ was not on the earth. The Father and the Son were ushering in the final dispensation and providing the people of the earth a chance to accept the true doctrine of salvation.
So, why would we, as the Church and Kingdom of God restored to the earth, want to be counted with those religious organizations that The Lord had just instructed young Joseph NOT to join? Sure, greater acceptance from the religious world as a whole can only help and aid the Church. It opens doors as well as allows us to learn and experience faith from many different angles. It can also be a double-edged sword — where the Church is simply lumped with every other Christian denomination. We are different and should not be afraid to claim this truth.

Whether I am a Christian or not depends on your definition of what being a Christian is.

Does being a Christian entail believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only name under heaven whereby a man can be saved? If your answer is yes, then I most assuredly call myself a Christian, for without Christ and His redeeming blood, we are all lost. I love Christ. I want to do what He wants. I am nothing without Him. He is my Savior, Guide, and God.

Does being a Christian mean that I subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity? That God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are one in substance, without form, and can fill the immensity of space and dwell in the heart of man? If your answer is yes, then I reject being defined as a Christian. God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate and distinct beings, each with a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, also independent in form from the Father and the Son. No greater doctrine has sprung from the Restoration than that of the character and nature of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Does being a Christian involve believing the Bible to be the absolute and only word of God? If so, I am not a Christian. If God speaks not to man, then He lives not. The Book of Mormon is the word of God brought forth in our day to testify of His love, His Son’s mission, and of Joseph Smith’s calling as a latter-day prophet.

Does being a Christian implicate that I must follow the Savior’s teachings with an understanding that even after doing my best, it is by His grace that I return to his presence? If so, then I am a Christian. Grace is all we have. It is by grace that we are saved, for without the grace and condescending Christ to provide us with a way home, we would be lost — no matter how many works we completed.

My own definition of a Christian is pretty general and all-inclusive: Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior and Redeemer of the World? An affirmative answer to this will put to rest all of the other theological differences I might have with the person. Unfortunately, members of the Church are oftentimes so keen on being accepted that they refrain from asking the necessary follow-up. 

So, the next time someone asks if you are a Christian, ask how they define the word. It will give you a chance to share your testimony and perhaps provide some insight about what makes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints unique. Representing the Only True and Living Church gives us authority to speak on the subject. As the prophet Nephi proclaimed: We talk of Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

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Creation, Uniqueness, and Christ’s Atonement

zachblox

God is both the God of Generality and the God of Specificity. On one hand, mortal man cannot count the creations of God. (Moses 7:30) On the other, God “created man in his own image” (Gen 1:27) and “likeness” and has chosen to be called Father — evidence that He finds the title most descriptive of his persona.

There are more stars in the sky than sand on the seashore. And each star is unique, just as is every grain of sand or falling snowflake. The creative process is one of exclusivity not uniformity. The world in which we reside carries with it the spiritual trademark of our Heavenly Father’s perfected persona. 

So it is with our own spiritual persona — and the life story that follows. We are unique in all the universe, with all the implications that word entails. We are agents unto ourselves. There is One who knows us in all of our complexity. How wondrous is the Atonement of Christ, to allow us a place of understanding and a refuge from truly being alone in the universe. Heavenly Father created us — Jesus’s Atonement exalts us and allows us to know them in the same way they know us. “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” Joseph Smith

The scriptures teach us that nothing can be “created or made.” (D&C 93:29) Joseph Smith taught that the idea that God merely created man’s spirit from scratch “lessened man.” The proper restored definition of creation is ‘organization.’ 

Creation is the mere organization of spiritual knowledge. We become the organizers of our daily life and future. Christ has given us all the tools, and with His Atonement, the most necessary component. Through his grace, we are changed and become more and more like He and His Father. And the process of creation and organization continues when time no longer functions. As we continue to put ourself in line with God’s teachings, we become privy to the Spirit of creation. “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself as all intelligence also.” (D&C 93:30)

When something is created (or organized), nothing in the history of created things has been or will ever been done in exactly the same way. No one has composed a piece of music this way. No one has painted the canvas with these strokes before. And no one has written a novel or poem with the creative DNA now seen. I believe this is why the avenues of music, art, and literature so easily bring feelings of the Spirit. This is creation, and its cause and effect are based on spiritual aptitude and talent. An inheritance from our glorified Parents. And when we hear, see, or read it, there is an arch between our spirit and that of the Lord, testifying of its source.

Can one be unique and also eternal? No one doubts that there is a “sameness to sin,” with the whole world looking very much like one another from an outward standpoint. But what about in the world to come? Is the gift of eternal life simply an assimilation of people with the exact same personality? Is the Celestial Kingdom simply a Borg colony with better lighting and less wiring?

I do not believe that simply because individuals posses the same attributes of godhood that this necessarily means they are the same in all ways. Otherwise, the uniqueness of man is merely transitory. God is very serious about individuality and personal autonomy and the act of creation itself aids us in understanding the principle.

Uniqueness is greatness. There is nothing more beautiful than human creativity. And it is simply a lesser manifestation of our own Heavenly Father’s perfected attribute. We learn the basics of the law or skill and then improve upon the craft in an expression of our persona. Taking the basic structure and making it our own. This is the art of creation.

God be thanked for the eternal gift of agency and the ability to use creative spiritual powers to glorify Him, better effectuate His plan of salvation in our life and the lives of others, and someday return to His presence again. And when we return, we will be like Him in all the ways that are necessary and remain our own person in all the ways that individuality and godhood allow.

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Review: 12 Years A Slave

zachblox

History is often difficult to imagine and make real. Words read on a page or narrated during a lecture have a more difficult time permeating our conscious than does a visual. This is where the medium of film can truly change the world, bringing a stuffy historical fact to the most realistic life. 12 Years A Slave is the kind of art that carries within its horrifying narrative the ghost of a historical holocaust.

The film follows the tragedy of Solomon Northup, a free black man who is tricked and subsequently sold into slavery. Steve McQueen’s film is the most personally troubling I have seen since Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. And even The Pianist let off the effectual emotional pedal for extended periods of time. Solomon Northup’s hell goes from bad to worse, as he is exposed to the full measure of Southern slaving. The heart is never at ease, the scenes are difficult to endure, and the craft of the production cruises at majestic levels throughout. The acting, the script, the editing, the cinematography, the staging. All of it. Rarely do you see a film at such a level of prowess.

I wondered whether this unending parade of horrors, taken over a 2+ hour running time, had descended into cliche. Then I remembered that the story is real, and Solomon’s story deserves to be told in all of its terror. The fact that Solomon’s experience was an exception more than a rule is rather unimportant. The fact remains that human beings were kept in bondage and subjugation all day, every day, for entire lifetimes. I am willing to forgive McQueen and company for possible overcompensation because there simply has never been a film on American Slavery that has brought to life our nation’s darkest stain.

Again, the performances are magnificent, anchored by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor’s Solomon is ever hopeful in the face of unspeakable inhumanity. Fassbender is electrifying in a role so evil it must be seen to be believed. And that is exactly what 12 Years A Slave demands of every American: it demands to be seen. Films like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are so important to historical remembrance that they must be experienced once. 12 Years A Slave is necessary viewing and surely one of the best films of this year or any year.

Grade: A

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Priesthood ban given context

zachblox

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced some changes to the scriptural commentary embedded inside the Church’s Standard Works. The Church’s changes to the Official Declaration II Commentary are especially exciting. Having studied the issue of Blacks in the Priesthood, and prayed mightily for help in understanding the reality of the issue, I can bear witness that the change in tone and fact in the new edition is of God. I am so thankful for the great members of the Church, both now and then, who are of African ancestry. Your faith and preservation are an inspiration.

The commentary reads in part: “Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter tis practice and prayerfully sought guidance.”

The priesthood ban upon those of African lineage has always been the greatest stain on the Restored Church. Joseph Smith himself ordained black Elders and sent them on missions. Only after personal opinion became church doctrine was the ban seen as coming from God. We do not believe in prophetic infallibility, and whether it was Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, or someone else who perpetuated this heinous idea, it really does not matter. Young was a prophet of God and a great man. We all make mistakes. Even prophets.

My Dad, whose gospel scholarship is something I aspire to attain, has always held this priesthood ban and its complexity as a central issue for study. President Kimball’s revelation in 1978 transpired when my Dad was on his mission in Virginia. Upon the announcement, entire cities were opened up for proselyting. The issue of “Why was there a ban in the first place?” stayed with him long after he came home.

On my mission, I baptized a family of four African-Americans. The idea of the Savior’s Church, the Only True and Living Church having such a difficult past in regard to race was always difficult for me to swallow as well. It became even more difficult once I began to study the issue and truly understand the extent to which the Prophet Joseph Smith treated blacks with divine equality, and how it seemed the Church had forgotten his ideals on this issue as it headed West. Racial supremacy masked as revelatory utterance is the very anthesis of the Gospel of Christ.

I am thankful to the dedicated LDS scholars who smoked out false assertions and callous generalizations in regard to blacks and the priesthood. I am thankful the Church is willing to accept the past and help its members move forward. Today’s announcement was a generations coming. The great stain has been partially remedied. Racism had and has no place in Christ’s Kingdom. Today is a great day! The Gospel has always been true in spite of the stain. Today’s change brings with it the knowledge and reminder that revelation of a correcting nature can also be edifying. And it certainly answered my prayers.

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Learning of God’s Nature Through Fatherhood

zachblox

I was blessed to be able to return to Utah for the past week to spend some much needed time with my beautiful daughter Kinley. For the most part, Kinny is a well-mannered and sweet little angel. Occasionally, as with all 3-year-olds, she has her not-so-obedient moments. During one of the few bad spots this week, in the midst of being put in timeout because of disobedience, she looked up with tears in her eyes and asked me a question: “Daddy, do you still love me when I’m being a stinker?”

I laughed at the cuteness and assured her of my love for her. Then, as with nearly every father-daughter interaction I have, the Spirit reminded me of my own son-father relationship with God. I thought of how in her young mental development, she simply had little conceptual reality of what it meant to “love.” And I was reminded of how I have wondered about God’s love for me while in the midst of repentance or depression or both. I then understood what it meant, through my own smaller scale yet parallel experience what it meant to feel the love that Heavenly Father feels for His children. My love, in an imperfect way, was like His: unconditional and unchanging. I wished, hoped, and expected Kinley to obey, but my love for her remained unaffected by her choices.

I often pride myself on being all grown up, a man who can make decisions for himself. Secure in testimony and direction in life. Knowledgable of the Gospel plan, and though faltering every single day, striving to put my life in line with how the Savior desires. Then, when I tell my daughter for the 3rd time to put her toys away so we can leave and she still refuses to do so, I exclaim: “How come you aren’t listening to me?” The Spirit stirs within me the realization that in my spiritual journey I am but a child like Kinley. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”1 The Lord’s patience and long-suffering are spectacular to contemplate.

No wonder our own homes are the structure most comparable to the holiness of the temple. Earthly familial relationships are a type-and-shadow of our eternal familial relationships. Of all the grand and powerful name-titles God has available to Him, He chose to be called Father. How thankful I am to be his son. To learn and grow through experiences He knows all too well, for he was once an earthy father before he was an Eternal Father. The relationships I have with Kinley, Heavenly Father, and Jesus are the preeminent means for learning of God’s true character. And in turn, allowing the Spirit to make me more like Him. “There is only this; all else is unreal.”2 I am so thankful for Heavenly Father and His plan of happiness. I am grateful for the privilege of being a Daddy. And I am forever indebted to the Savior for providing the way and means for my life to have purpose, even if the circumstances are not what I had envisioned.

1- Hymn: Come Thou Fount
2- Film: The New World, directed by Terrence Malick

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The Tears of God

zachblox

“This great evil: Where did it come from?

How did it steal in to the world?

What seed, what root did it grow from?

Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us?

Robbing us of life and light. Mocking us with sight of what we might have known.

Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass the grow? The sun to shine?

Is this darkness in you too?

Have you passed through this night?”

These words, from Terrence Malick’s wondrous masterpiece The Thin Red Line, entered into my mind shortly after I heard about the horrific massacre in Connecticut. And in my mind they remain.

We all express grief, loss, and sadness in our own way. Some get angry; some sad; most others a collection of both. Solace comes in many forms.

For me, the character of God and His Christ are where I find catharsis. I want to be like They are. The Prophet Joseph taught that to go to where They are, we must become like Them in the principles, attributes, and powers they possess.

Enoch, the great prophet, when seeing that God Himself wept at the residue of the people, asked a probing question:

“How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?”

After explaining the eternal sorrow He felt for the evil being perpetuated by His children, He replied rhetorically:

“Should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”

He further expounded on the answer with example upon example:

“And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and WEPT and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.”

“And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I WILL REFUSE TO BE COMFORTED;”

Comfort did not, and could not come from any source other than Christ and His atoning grace. So it was with Enoch; so it is with us; and so it shall be through all eternity.

Finally, The Lord provided the balm with a vision of the Savior’s ministry.

“But the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.”

We must allow for the Savior’s power to cast out not only the fear for our future, but the desire to escape our present. His jurisdiction knows no bounds, both it time and eternity.

Additionally, we must remember that agency is as sacred as the human experience itself. And as necessary a condition to mortality as death. Its effects can cause our very soul to question whether rest will ever be attained.

As I look at my daughter this evening as she sleeps beside me, I am reminded how good this life can be. And, in seeing the tragedies of this day, how it can be so quickly turn-about. I desire to be a better man. A better father. A better Christian.

Christ is Our Hope. He is our Rock. May we turn our hearts more fully toward Him and do unto our eternal siblings that which He would do.

The Lord taught Enoch that both eternal-grade sorrow, faith, and hope are attributes of Glorified Man. These emotions we feel are not of the world, but of the one we aspire to return.

While questions of the details will remain, answers about the solution are already within our grasp.

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Rob McKenna and My Abortion Conundrum

zachblox

Washington Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna is locked in a tight battle with his Democrat counterpart, Jay Inslee. The latest Real Clear Politics average has Inslee with a 1.5 point lead. Quite competitive considering President Obama carried the state by 17 points. So, as a partisan Republican like myself would be jumping for joy at voting for Attorney General McKenna, right?  Wrong. 

Rob McKenna is pro-choice. 

Those who know me are fully aware of my stance on abortion. It is a non-negotiable issue.  A society which refuses to protect the most indefensible of us all has altogether ceded moral relevancy. Over 54 million babies have been aborted since the monstrous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 disenfranchised hundreds of millions of Americans from deciding this issue at the ballot box. Whether one subscribes to the pro-life or pro-choice movement is a glimpse into the soul. 

Back to McKenna. While McKenna is personally pro-life, he has endorsed Roe v. Wade and as Attorney General filed suit against a local Washington pharmacy which had refused to carry emergency contraception out religious concerns.  

Washington is one of the most pro-abortion states in the entire nation. It was the first state to legalize abortion on demand by a referendum of the people in 1970. An intiative that would have prohibited public funding for abortion was rejected by voters in 1984. Roe v. Wade was codified as state law in a successful 1991 intiative. And, in 1998, nearly 60% of Washington voters rejected an initiative that would have prohibited partial birth abortions. Yikes.

Pacific Northwest Republicans have had to cede the issue of life to win statewide elections. It is a matter of pragmatism. But, is selling the most basic tenet of morality, protecting the innocent, a bridge too far? “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Both candidates are pro-abortion, but there is no question that McKenna is more pro-life than Inslee. McKenna has expressed support for parental notification and does not support a change in state law that would push state law further in the direction of abortion. McKenna, nominally, would protect the unborn more so than Inslee. And when it comes to issues of limited government, deregulation, and lower tax rates, there is no question McKenna is the better candidate. 

The race is going to come down the wire and every vote matters. It was easy for me to call abortion a non-negotiable issue while living in a state like Utah, where even Democrats are pro-life and there is no doubt Republicans will win elections. But, now, in a state like Washington, is the proper pro-life position to endorse the candidate who is ‘more’ pro-life than his opponent?

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zachblox

Whenever you hear people talking about “a living Constitution,” almost invariably they are people who are in the process of slowly killing the Constitution by “interpreting” its restrictions on government out of existence.

— Thomas Sowell 
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Ninth Circuit Comes to Gonzaga Law

zachblox

I had the unique privilege this afternoon of hearing oral argument in three cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Court sent a three Justice panel to the Moot Courtroom of the Gonzaga University School of Law: Chief Justice Alex Kozinski, and Associate Justices Morgan Christen, and liberal superstar and possible future Supreme Court nominee Paul Watford. CJ Kozinski is a personal favorite of mine and he certainly did not disappoint. 

The three cases argued were: 

United States v. Sin - A criminal law case involving the US Coast Guard and the captain of a vessel, who was stopped and given a breath-a-lizer under suspicion he was under the influence of alcohol. The issue at hand was whether the jury instruction given at trial was bad.

Slater v. Clarke - A sovereign immunity, diversity case where a local Massachusetts district attorney declined to extradite a suspect who was living in Washington. Issue was whether this use of prosecutorial discretion was abused to the point that a civil action could be filed notwithstanding absolute sovereign immunity statues. 

Seattle Mideast Awareness v. King County - My favorite case of the bunch. Seattle Mideast Awareness is a 1st Amendment case involving the alleged suppression of political speech by King County Public Transportation. Seattle Mideast Awareness Council calls for equal rights for Palestinians and an end to U.S. taxpayers’ funding of the Israeli military due to Israel’s alleged war crimes.

SeaMac purchased ad space on a local Seattle Bus, choosing a provocative ad that advocated that perceived Israeli abuses against humanity should result in severe sanctions from the U.S. government. The ads were placed, and the buses began running with the ad emblazoned on the side. King County received a heavy dose of public outcry as a result including threats of violence, and subsequently axed the ad. 

SeaMac argued that its First Amendment right was violated as the ad was suspended simply because the message was disagreeable. King County argued that the stoppage of the ad was necessary for its public transit system to continue without threat. 

The oral argument in the King County was terrific.

The Sea Mac attorney was very well prepared and articulate in answering all of the hypotheticals posited by three judge panel. Judge Watford asked if there was any line could be drawn or was the municipality just stuck with the ad, even if buses began to be blown up and transportation disrupted. SeaMac counsel answered in the affirmative, because the the violent retribution of supposed vigliantes should not overwhelm the power of free expression. Judge Watford asked if the end result of SeaMac’s argument wouldn’t be the total chilling of speech in this forum because there would be no limiting principle for the municipality to rely on, no matter what the consequences of the ad. 

King County counsel was asked by the Chief Judge whether the county could dispel unwanted speech in a public forum. Counsel answered in the negative. The Chief then asked if the county could chill speech in a designated area. He said no. So, the Chief asked, why would the county be able to silence speech in this forum simply on the basis of negative feedback?  If inviting political advertising, upon approval, the county had abdicated its right to chill it when it became a firestorm of controversy. 

It is an interesting dilemma.

Other tidbits from the experience

  • The attorney’s were surprisingly unforthcoming in answering the questions of the Judges. Chief Judge Kozinsky actually called out the King County attorney for refusing to answer Judge Christen’s direct line of questioning. 
  • Kozinsky was sarcastic, funny, and intimidating, all in the same sentence. In the second case, Kozinsky asked counsel, who was having difficulty defending her case: “It’s called Double Jeopardy? Have you heard of it?” When counsel was unable to answer a very basic question regarding sovereign immunity, Kozinsky unleashed on her for the next 10 minutes. It was very uncomfortable for all in attendance. I felt bad for her. It would be terrifically embarrassing. 
  • In-between cases, Judge Kozinski allowed for a break in case students needed to leave to go to class. After the first case, the majority of people inside the courtroom began to chat with each other. Prior to opening the second case, Kozinsky reproved everyone saying “This is a courtroom and you will act that way, even during break.” 
  • Two older gentlemen who lacked any form of withitness are worth mentioning. One, had his phone go off during arguments after THREE explicit warning prior to the opening of the cases. The other, WALKED OUT OF THE COURTROOM DURING ARGUMENT, ONLY TO COME BACK DURING ARGUMENT…WALKING BETWEEN THE JUDGES AND COUNSEL!! I could no believe what I was seeing. 
  • The Three Judges answered questions after deliberating on the cases just argued. An interesting question: How much emphasis to you place on oral argument? The Judges agreed that in 85-90% cases, the oral argument simply reinforces the opinion they had after reading the brief. However, in 5-10% cases, they have had their opinion changed. 
  • I left feeling incredibly thankful for the opportunity. The three judges were amazingly intelligent and conducted themselves as I anticipated. Appellate advocacy has always been a great interest of mine and I enjoyed being so close to such a powerful Court. 

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Libertarianism, Mormonism, and Being a Daddy

zachblox

I was a Mormon before I was a father; and I was a father before I was libertarian. These three attributes define much of my persona. I have been pondering about how the three discipleships interrelate and whether they are compatible with one another. Surely, the first two are not negotiable. But can libertarian principles be squared with parenting in the Mormon Church? After much prayer and study, I can answer with an unequivocal yes.

God’s gift of agency is one of His grandest miracles. We, as sovereign of our own destiny can decide the kind of eternity we choose to grasp. He will not force us, but through persuasion and long-suffering, urge us to the right path. One of the most beautiful sections of the Plan of Salvation is the truth that God will endow us, in the three degrees of final glory, the amount of light we wish to receive. (see D&C 76)

As I’ve aged, I’ve felt more and more that libertarian political ideals are the best expression of the principles of the Gospel of Christ. The divine right of man to do as he will, without undue or coerced pressure from his neighbors, his community, or his magistrate. This is not anarchy, however. The freedom of one only goes as far as it refrains from injuring others. This does not mean we shirk from our responsibilities to proclaim the values we hold to be of God. We simply do this by word and deed, not through a desired governmental overreach.

The choices your neighbor makes, in who he loves, what he eats, what he occasions to do for entertainment, or where his interests lie, should not be in the purview of the state. And certainly not the majoritarian mob who may disagree with the lifestyle. If it harms no one else’s ability to choose what he or she desires, its legality should not be up for discussion.

This belief has caused me to support causes of personal agency that go against what I believe is the Lord’s command, namely gay marriage, drug legalization, prostitution, and the ability of businesses to operate on Sunday. What I define as wrong behavior does not give me place to proscribe those beliefs on all of society anymore than it would give government (or the majority) a right to prevent me from practicing the dictates of my religious conscious.

This is not moral relativism. The minimal state regards “The state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from assault, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. In the broadest sense, it also includes fire departments, prisons, the executive, and legislatures as legitimate government functions.” This is my desired state and provides a great backdrop to my ideals and understanding of God’s law of agency.

Back to parenting. My greatest endeavor is to be a father who instils is his daughter a burning testimony of The Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to put her life in harmony with His teachings. There is nothing as important as a testimony born of the Spirit. The Lord has said that I will be responsible for teaching my daughter the restored gospel of Christ. And any deficiency in teaching will be answered upon my head. A difficult task for me in turning on my own personal beliefs on agency and directing to another human being the very dictates of MY own conscience, presumably by forcing good upon her for fear she does not believe and/or to escape my own personal divine punishment.

Or is it?

How do agency and parenting coincide?

This desired compounding can only be brought to pass through the implementation of the divine counsel found in Doctrine and Covenants 121. “No power or influence can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness, meekness and by love unfeigned. By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile. Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; then showing afterwards an increase in love…lest [she] esteem thee to be [her] enemy. ”

The principles of proper celestial parenthood are explicitly defined. The command to teach our children righteousness is not without a divine instruction manual. Our Heavenly Father’s handbook to proper bringing up has been revealed. Before the age of accountability I must endow her with a love of God; Once she is of accountable age, I must direct her toward the things of God; and, once she leaves my direct control, pray she will use the love and direction imparted on her to make good use of her God-given agency.

How grateful I am for the blessings of agency, the gospel doctrine to manage and understand it, and the ability to experiment upon the word by way of the most meaningful relationship I have ever had: with my beautiful daughter. I hope and pray I can be a good example and that I can endow her with the knowledge of the Lord’s infinite mercy and grace. And pray she might be responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirt, that she may know that faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

(NOTE: I do not presume to believe or advocate that any of the above-mentioned commentary is universally applicable to all parents in the church. The Gospel as personal as we allow it to be. And the sooner we understand the truth that the Lord is willing to give us individualized tutoring on our righteous desires, the better disciples we will all become. This is a memorialization of that fact in my own life. And I thank God for it!)

zachblox

Does the perfect predictability of our behavior (in God’s eyes) seem to squeeze out some of the sense of adventure in mortality? And if so, do we childishly want to play-act just a little longer—-risking righteousness and true happiness merely in order to be reassured about our independence?

— Elder Neal A. Maxwell
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Children of Men is a film written, edited, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It is shot by my favorite cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. The story is set in a dystopian future, 2027 to be exact. Humans have been unable to procreate for over 18 years. The world is slowly dying, with war and aggression speeding up the process. With no hope of a future, humanity regresses deeper and deeper into depravity.

A former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child’s birth may help scientists save the future of mankind. In this the penultimate scene, the man, the woman, and the newly-born child walk out of a war-torn building in the midst of a battle.

I have embed a specific scene above. I consider it to be one of the most poignant, emotionally-powerful scenes I have ever witnessed.

The film is very brusk, cruel, and difficult to watch. I am not sure I would do so a second time. Having said that, the craftsmanship of Cuarón and Lubezki has never been matched, and the slew of actors, Clive Owen preeminently, are a wonder to behold.

The music: Sir John Tavener’s “Eternity Sunrise.”

zachblox

Children of Men is a film written, edited, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It is shot by my favorite cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. The story is set in a dystopian future, 2027 to be exact. Humans have been unable to procreate for over 18 years. The world is slowly dying, with war and aggression speeding up the process. With no hope of a future, humanity regresses deeper and deeper into depravity.

A former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child’s birth may help scientists save the future of mankind. In this the penultimate scene, the man, the woman, and the newly-born child walk out of a war-torn building in the midst of a battle.

I have embed a specific scene above. I consider it to be one of the most poignant, emotionally-powerful scenes I have ever witnessed.

The film is very brusk, cruel, and difficult to watch. I am not sure I would do so a second time. Having said that, the craftsmanship of Cuarón and Lubezki has never been matched, and the slew of actors, Clive Owen preeminently, are a wonder to behold.

The music: Sir John Tavener’s “Eternity Sunrise.”

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My Sin is Twitter

zachblox

Yes, I confess my sin is twitter.

No, this is not the type of exposé where I retract my affection and go on a lengthy diatribe about the evils of my past life. No, this is more about trying to pluck the good while leaving the bad. An attempt to become better (in the subjective).

I have written at length about the benefits of the micro-blogging utility of Twitter. It has entirely changed my intake of information; my processing of the news; and my enjoyment of sports, politics, and film.

My family and friends often tease, and it rings true, that I am glued to my phone/laptop and the insta-news/opinion that is at my fingertips. I have become addicted to information. That, in and of itself, is something I may need to rehabilitate. Or at least rein in.

But the problem I see with portions of my Twitter/technology sickness is that it may very well be the cause of late-onset literary ADHD.

Long-form essays, books, treatises, and hornbooks are hard for me to sit through. If the information isn’t instant, and ever-updating, I cannot find the patience to take a deep breathe and learn at a different pace.

On the average day, I read 1,000’s of tweets, and probably 25-30 stories on an array of subjects. But if one of those stories goes beyond the “article” length and ascends into “essay” territory, I decide it is not worth it.

Well, the time has come to change. While on vacation, I plan on taking a week-long break from Twitter and its confidants, put my nose in a few long-form knowledge bases and see how it goes. A well-rounded intellect is best.

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Ingenuity is Perfection

zachblox

Uniqueness is greatness. There is nothing more beautiful than human creativity. Learn the basics, no matter the skill, and then improve upon the craft in an expression of your persona. In filmmaking, writing, art, music, and the avenues of sport, I enjoy seeing greatness and ingenuity in individual actions. 

This is why I gravitate to those artists/athletes with a peculiar twist on their respective endeavor. The actors below, whom you would rarely consider synonymous, share a common theme of perfection. Each is an artist. 

Terrence Malick (filmmaker): visceral, poetic, deep-thinking cinematography. His films unlike any other; More of a prayer than anything else. 

Cormac McCarthy (novelist): deep, emotionally powerful prose that can truthfully express the inner workings of the soul. 

Philip Glass (composer): transforms minimalistic formula into breathtakingly diverse music

Roger Federer (tennis): total competence in the sport allows him to use an array of shots at whatever variety or timeframe that he sees fit. 

Neal A. Maxwell (LDS apostle): In the gospel sense, Elder Maxwell transcends common dogma and stretches the imagination to places never before pondered. 

I happened upon this quote while reading about the revolution of the Air Raid offense, a football scheme that has grown in popularity over the past 15-20 years. The content of the quote, which speaks of a new-fangled concept instituted by yet another ‘genius’ demonstrates the point in an astute way; ingenuity is perfection. It’s application goes far beyond the game of football:   

This is football deconstruction. It’s taking the building blocks of the Air Raid, of football itself, and placing them in slight variations we haven’t seen before. There’s no rule that football has to look a certain way. In this game, the chess pieces can always do the unexpected

Whatever your venture, seek to learn the basics, and then expound on them. Expand your idea of what perfection really means. It is much more individualistic than we sometimes think. 

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