The Beauty of Brevity

I am in the middle of my triennial tradition of reading “On Writing Well“, the masterpiece by William Zinsser. I love his bidding for brevity:

Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.

It reminds me of the same edict from Winston Churchill in 1940:

To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long.

And his followup document in 1951:

In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do so again.

I’m not sure if I like his consistency more or his shock that people would drift from his decree after a mere 11 years.

Either way, I approve.

 

A new bridge and an old story

There is a new flyover bridge opening in Las Vegas tomorrow, 12 July 2017. It’s set to open at 10:30AM after a small ceremony. It’s been a large undertaking and is predicted to be the second busiest intersection in the state of Nevada. We’re all looking forward to it, but having it open reminds me of a story.

In high school,  I read in the paper (What? You didn’t read the newspaper every morning before school?) that a new bridge was to open in downtown Las Vegas. It was a big deal because even today it stands as the busiest interchange in Nevada connecting Northbound I-15 to Northbound I-95. It’s the crowning noodle of the Las Vegas Spaghetti bowl.

The newspaper said that it would officially open at 3:15AM.

At 2AM the next morning, I woke my brother who I shared a room with and told him to get dressed. Without asking any questions, he hopped up and within a few minutes we were sliding out the basement window and out the sideyard. We started the truck up without any lights and headed downtown.

It was so early in the morning that it took only 15 minutes to get downtown. When we arrived, the bridge was still barricaded and they were doing some last minute cleanup. We drove in circles up the I-15 then back down Las Vegas Blvd just killing time and trying to time the opening.

After about ten passes, we finally just pulled over to the side of the road and waited. Of course, this was before cell phones so waiting was no easy task.

Finally at 3:30AM, some workers unceremoniously walked over to remove the last barricade blocking the new bridge from use. As soon as it was pulled to the side, we came flying through as the first civilians to use the bridge.

As we drove by, we rolled our window down and hollered “Thanks!” Sure we snuck out in the middle of the night but what can I say? We were well-mannered rebels. In fact, from the maiden bridge crossing we went to breakfast and then straight to seminary.

So from now on, as you exit the I-15 to head to Summerlin and beyond, you can remember that we were the first ones to test that bridge out and be sure it was safe for everyone. You might even call it the Brian Bridge. You don’t have to, but you might.

The Light of Truth

Note: This is a portion of a talk I gave at the Shadow Mountain Stake Conference held June 2017 in Las Vegas, NV.

I’ve learned a lot about mirrors in the last little while.  It’s my sons fault. We were reading a book together about how things work. We got to the part about mirrors and it really caught my attention. I want to share a couple mirror facts with you tonight.

So let’s talk about mirrors and reflect on them.

How was that for a dad joke?

As you know, most mirrors are smooth pieces of glass. One side of the glass is painted with a shiny metal. The smooth glass allows light in and the shiny metal bounces it back giving you a reflection.

But did you know, for instance, that mirrors do not work in the dark. Of course you know you can’t see yourself because it’s dark but it’s not just you. The mirror is off.

Think about that. If you were in a dark room, even with some superpower night goggles that gave you night vision, you would not see a reflection of you in the mirror because there is not light to be returned to you.

That just gets crazier the more I think about it.

One other more mirror lesson I recently read that will become the basis of what I want to talk about this evening.

“You light a candle in a dark room. Now suppose a mirror is brought in. Is the room brighter?

“If you say no, you may find yourself battling your own” experience because a room “feels” brighter.

“However, if you say yes, how can a mirror make more light than existed before?”

A mirror doesn’t create light.

So, does a room become brighter when a mirror is in the room?

This is a great question because it forces us to rethink our immediate assumptions. As is often the case in science, the answer to the mirror puzzle is: it depends.

“In this case, it depends on where you are standing in the room.

If you are standing where you can see the reflection in the mirror, then your experience is exactly the same as if there were two sources of light in the room.

Does that mean the mirror is producing more light? No, but it does prevent the candlelight from becoming either absorbed or dispersed in that area, and retrains it directly on your eye.”

In essence, you are benefiting from both sides of the candle at once. The result is that it almost doubles the amount of light your eye receives.

So when you put mirrors in a room, it doesn’t just “feel brighter”, it is brighter.

I love this principle. As you can imagine there are so many applications in the Gospel.

Standing in the midst of a multitude of people, Christ declared:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

“And behold, I am the light and the life of the world” (3 Ne. 11:10–11).

As Christ continues to be that light, we should be aware of where we stand in relation to the Light.

We can take advantage of missionary opportunities and reflect the light into the life of friends and family. You might find a friend on your contact list or social media friend list and proactively send them a personal note with a link to something that reflects the light of Christ.

Completing this small act of kindness, your friend can and will feel the Savior’s love directly, and also your love, a reflection of the the true light of Christ.

Maybe you don’t have strength, or courage, to be a mirror holder. (Though I testify that if you try, God will sustain you in the effort) But if you’re not there yet, then choose to stand in a place where you can benefit from the mirror holders.

Be in good places online and in real life where growth happens. This would certainly include the temple and sabbath day worship in a chapel and home.

This would include making it a priority to be available for and committed to family home evening.

Sometimes work or other responsibilities do not allow you to be home for Monday evening. Some work schedules simply do not allow it. However, if there is a choice available (and dads, many times there is a choice whether you can admit it or not), know that working late to indirectly support your family does not compare to committing Monday night to directly support your family in learning the Gospel and other lessons in the home. I testify that the opportunity to worship together as a family, in the home, whether children are there or not, will protect you against temptation. Prophets have promised and I believe.

Now the other part of the mirror experiment: “if a candle is burning and a mirror is placed, if you’re standing where you can’t see the mirror, the room may actually be darker than it otherwise would have been with just a candle. That’s because a mirror points light in a specific direction, in this case away from your eyes. The overall amount of light that you actually see will then be less.”

For those who stand behind the mirrors that the Gospel provides, where light can not go, a warning: you and I are not strong enough to combat the wickedness of this world without help. The constant storm of Satan will wear down even the strongest ships. This barrage can be found in movies, online forums where people question faith (yours and their own), video games, sporting interests, pornographic material, improperly used social media, and so many other places.

The Spirit can not reach you when your heart and eyes are set on other things.

Quoting Elder Christensen of the seventy:

“It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex and violence has no negative effects on us. We can’t roll around in the mud without getting dirty.

It is a concern that some of our young Latter-Day Saints, as well as their parents, regularly watch inappropriate movies and videos. One more reason why the “devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice. ” (One of my sad scriptures: 3 Nephi 9:2)

A trend in the market right now is in-house media creation. Rather than buying TV shows from networks, companies like Netflix and Amazon are creating their own shows. Some of these shows are great, most are not. And they are not subject to the same rating and filter system of shows that are on broadcast television.

Be warned: this is how Satan creeps into your life. Good members of the church who would never watch an “R-rated movie” will check out a new show and methodically binge the spirit from their life.

Just a few bad words.

Just a little nudity.

Just a little infidelity, low standards, or violence.

It does not matter the amount. The Holy Ghost will not, and can not, attend where He is not welcome. He can not go there. You are choosing to stand in a place where the mirror can not be seen.

The good news is that before you turn on the show, or visit the site, you and I will feel a prompting. Something that reminds us that we come from a holier place. We have an immediate choice. If we choose to turn away, the spirit will confirm to us our decision and we will be stronger.

If we choose to stay, where the light can not reach us, we are on shaky ground. We can not earn the eternal blessings promised us.

24 Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?

25 I say unto you, Nay; except ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning, or suppose that he is a liar from the beginning, ye cannot suppose that such can have place in the kingdom of heaven; but they shall be cast out for they are the children of the kingdom of the devil.” (Alma 5:24-25)

We are in a time where safeguards are very rarely provided anymore. If a dollar can be made, you and your children and your grandchildren will be exploited. The restored standards of the Gospel and the influence of the Holy Ghost will help you know and evaluate where you should be.

I know it’s popular to worry about the world and all that is going wrong. Short term, it’s so very easy to be pessimistic, judgmental, and disagreeable.

But long term, that life choice is just plain exhausting. There is a reason that evil and captivity is always paired with heavy burdens upon the back of the people.

Rather than struggling in the shadow, we should live in the light. There is One True Light.

Listen to this scripture of truth that explains the true light. It thoroughly explains how the Light of Christ is in everything we know and do.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-13

6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space–

13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

Our Savior lived a perfect life and is the perfect light.

We have scriptures and prophets who relay and confirm those standards for us. They are our mirrors of Christ. Stand where you can see them.

In this church, as a gift and covenant from God, we have available the gift of the Holy Ghost to confirm to us that we are choosing and doing right.

That we may always be in his light and a reflection of that light to others is my hope.

The Roaming Lines of Life

 

A friend described this graph as “Poetry, in data.” So much can be told from these six roaming lines. A few observations of my own.
 
1) enjoy your friends while you’re young, but don’t base your self-worth or life choices on them. Few of them will be there in the long run.
 
2) children grow, and eventually go. Remember to enjoy the high part of that appropriately slide-shaped blue line.
 
3) Remember the widows and the widowers. “The faith of widows is legendary in scripture….To the family and friends of widows, God knows of your service and He may judge your works by how well you assist the widow.” – Earl C. Tingey

Two Sides of Red Rock

I’ve been flying for work quite a bit lately. Each time as I return to Las Vegas, I’m happy to see the desert floor stretching out below because I’ll soon be returning to my home and family.

I’m not sure how many different pathways a plane can take to McCarran Airport, but I’ve noticed a few approaches.

I love coming in from the East because you can see Lake Mead and the many directions it reaches out into the desert.

I don’t like coming from the Northeast because usually you have to fly around the city and come in from a different direction. After a long flight, that extra fifteen minutes is like salt in a wound.

This last week, I flew in from a convention in San Jose and we came right near La Madre Mountain and the natural jewel of Las Vegas, Red Rock National Conservation Area.

I took this picture out of my window as we came in on the flight path:

Here was my thought: One side of that mountain is just a…mountain. It looks like all the rest. The other side is a beautiful and endeared natural wonder.

I’m not a geologist, but from what I understand, it was the Keystone Thrust Fault, and it’s movement during the Laramide orogeny period 66 million years ago that roughed up this part of the desert Southwest and exposed the vibrant, and young, red rocks. And now it shows a view like this:

As we continued our descent to the airport runway, I was thinking to myself “This is not unlike people. Sometimes it’s the jarring movement of change that will expose us, set us apart from others, and help us become our most beautiful self.”

We live in a great world. I wonder what is hiding inside each of us.

 

Real World Betterment Results

Just about one year ago, I sold my company. Because I believe in the product, and the future growth, I rolled a lot of the value over into the new company. To be wise, I did take some chips off the table as well.

A dad sleeps better at night when debt is gone, the rainy day account is funded, and you take an opportunity to help others.

When all of those items were checked off, I looked around for a new way to invest wisely.

I have been trading stocks in Robinhood for some time. I enjoy trading stocks, and I still think this is the easiest way to do that, but I needed something more automatic.

I had also been invested in The Lending Club for a few years by this time, but things have been changing there. The defaults are high, and the loans are riskier. I’ve slowly been removing all funds as loans are repaid. It looks like I’m not the only one who has seen those results.

After doing some research, I ended up going with Betterment. The app and service is a robo-investor. You commit money to the service, set your risk levels and goals, and the computer algorithms will do all the work of buying, selling, and holding. In many ways, it’s a modern take on an Index Fund where you ride the whole economy instead of living and dying on specific stocks

I also appreciate the Tax Loss Harvesting, which was useful at tax time this year.

Overall, I highly recommend the service to investors of all level. In addition to general investing, they also offer IRA accounts to save for retirement.

I also created a small investment account for each of my kids. They love to open the app and see how the investment has grown. I have a standing offer to them: for every dollar they invest, I will match it. It’s been a fun lesson in patience and waiting.

At the time I started with Betterment, I wondered about real world results. I wasn’t able to find much out there so I thought I’d chronicle my own experience here each year to help others.

 

Year One: Earnings Percentage 12.2%

Dark Blue is investments, Light Blue is total value with earnings

Two apps for a more productive Sabbath

Here are two app suggestions that can help your Sabbath Day become more of a delight today.

Journaling

Day One is my favorite journal app. You might take some time to record the way that you’ve been blessed in your life, and your current struggles. Both will be beneficial to look back on later in life. Journal writing is my most rewarding habit.
Link: iOS app

Temple and Family History

Many struggle with family history work because they aren’t sure where to start. The best place to start is in the temple with a family name. “Take a Name” is a new app that makes it very simple. Log in with your Family Search credentials and it will scan your family history and show you family records with available ordinances. With just a few taps you can reserve, print, and take to the temple this week.
Link: iOS app ,  Android app

The Sabbath is a Delight

Finally, to remember why we observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, here is a talk from Russell M Nelson that teaches it so well, and reminds us of the blessings.

 

A guidance for happy living

The first time I went to Japan, my trip had a rough start. I flew across the Pacific ocean in seats too small and landed in Tokyo at about 4PM. I was eager to get to a comfortable hotel for a shower and a place to lay down.

In my usual “I’ll figure it out as I go” approach to travel, I made my way to a train station and saw this board. (pictured) It was confusing, overwhelming, and it didn’t direct me at all. I knew where i wanted to go, but didn’t know how to get there. There was nothing I could have done for myself at this point. I needed some help. 

With the help of some free station wifi, 4 Japanese school kids that spoke broken English, and shadowing some American businessmen who had a guide, I eventually made it to my hotel. (Also pictured.)

In a similar fashion, I know where I want to be in this life and after I pass away. Like many of you, I want to be considered a good and righteous person here on Earth and then return, with my family, to my Father in Heaven when I’ve left this earth. I believe these things are possible, but I need help in knowing how I can achieve these things.

My favorite scripture is Doctrine and Covenants 82:8-10 which reads:

8 And again, I say unto you, I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you;
9 Or, in other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.
10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.

This scripture reminds me to be thankful for the commandments and direction that we’ve received from scripture, prophets and promptings. I know what I want to become so the more direction I can receive, the better.

Some people see commandments as limiting or controlling, but I don’t. Like Elder M Russell Ballard , I believe “commandments are a guidance for happy living.”

Oct 2016 General Conference: One week later

It’s been a week since LDS General Conference. It makes me sad that the world has so much going on that can push the messages from our lives so quickly. It takes a conscious effort to not let that happen. Of all the lessons that were shared, it’s these lines that have stuck with me the most:

“Let us remember that our children and grandchildren measure our love by how much devoted time we give them.”

 

“We engage all three members of the Godhead as we pray. “

 

“We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing… If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future.”

 

“And the worst kind of sin is premeditated sin, where one says, “I can sin now and repent later.” I believe that this is a solemn mockery of the sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ.”

 

“When an opportunity comes to share your thoughts about the gospel and the lessons of life, stop everything, sit down, and talk with your children and grandchildren.”

 

“Without sacrifice, a person may find it hard to forgive himself or herself, because of a lingering consciousness of something withheld.”

Thomas S Monson: Fifty-three years of service

I love this picture of Thomas S Monson as he was sitting in the congregation of the old tabernacle. It was taken in 1963 just moments before he would be sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and invited to the stand. While others sit unaware and eager for the meeting to start, he feels the heavy responsibility beginning to fall on his shoulders.

Thomas S Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a man I sustain as a Prophet, gave his first talk as an Apostle at age 36. (The same age I am now. I can’t imagine.) He was the final appointee of David O. McKay to this Council. In his first talk he declared “I pledge my life. All that I may have.”

Fifty-three years later, he continues to keep that pledge.