Little Epistle: Infinity

Epistle: Infinity      May 2, 2017              

I once read about isolated societies where their mathematical skills had no use for squiggly lines dividing this, carrying that, and leaving remainders. All these people cared was; this pole is longer than that pole, so chop it off or your house will be crooked. My basket has more eggs than in it than yours has bananas, so make them the same, and then we’ll trade. I thought, “Mathematically those are my people.”

Much later I caught a glimpse of the beauty and poetry of mathematics. I’m still a Dr. Seuss reader in a mathematical Shakespearean sonnet world, but I can catch enough to marvel at what else is in there.

For example, Jesus/Jehovah promises to those who accept him, “…all that my father hath shall be given unto him.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:38) Non math types like me would tend to jump to the conclusion that this is a strong metaphor of how the Lord will share his glory with us. Mathematicians would insist, and rightly so that the scripture says give all, not share with.

But to take the phrase literally the first time the Lord met a true believer, he would give him everything he had. This would leave the Lord with nothing. That makes no sense.

But later I read about George Cantor, a German mathematician who between 1874 and 1884 developed a system for dealing with infinity. In a finite world if I have a hundred gold coins and give you 50, that cuts my supply be half. But with an infinite supply that never happens. “Half” of infinity is still infinity. “Half” is as big as a “whole” in fact you can divide an infinite treasure among an infinite number or people and each one will have the same amount which happens to be—you guessed it, infinite.

Whoops, I just blew that circuit in my little brain. And that is just the beginning. You can also compare and measure infinities, add, subtract and multiply or divide them, arrange them in power sets and subsets, and other mathematical functions as you would finite numbers.

Maybe that’s also the way you can feed 5,000 people with a few of loaves and fishes and  create worlds without number.

Even though I can’t do the math yet, I can catch a little reflected light from the vision. As a parent I know the first baby soaks up all your love. But miraculously the second born has to share the lap, but not the love. The love supply increases to meet the demand. Our love grew with every baby, and now is exploding with the grandchildren. I believe that the love within the human heart is potentially infinite.

How this all integrates into God’s master plan is beyond my finite brain capacity. I cut myself some slack since the Lord seems willing to do so.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Infinitely beautiful truth. I can’t do the math, but I can believe. And I do.

Little Epistle: Where Time Touches Eternity

“The present is the point at which time touches eternity,” wrote C.S. Lewis.  Older people tend to dwell in the past.  They forget Will Rogers down home wisdom, “Things ain’t like they used to be… and they never was.”  Younger people sometimes fixate on the future.  What’s wrong with that?  Planning ahead is a good thing isn’t it?  Yes, but it isn’t the best thing for obtaining eternal exaltation.  Better than planning for the future is doing in the present.  The past is frozen in time.  The future is a wispy vision.  It is only the present we can take hold of and direct.  President Kimball’s famous desk plaque dictum said “Do it.”  It didn’t say plan it.  Plans and preparations are important, of course.  But only as they help us make the maximum use of future present moments.

General George McClellan was a superb tactician, a peerless planner an inspirational commander of the Union armies in the Civil War.  He had only one fatal flaw.  He almost never got around to fighting the battles he planned.  He would have died of old age in Washington getting ready to prepare to commence to begin to start to get going.  It wasn’t until Ulysses S. Grant took over and began to seize the moments that the Union won the war.

J. Golden Kimball liked to tell of the man who wanted a certain maiden’s hand in marriage so badly that he prayed night and day it would come to pass.  Unfortunately while he was praying somebody else asked her and she married him.

The road to the sub-telestial kingdom is paved with planning that never animated itself to action.  Old King Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get wisdom.”  Somebody with even more wisdom than Solomon said, “With all thy getting, get going.”

Little Epistle: Setting Goals and Eating Elephants

More than a few years ago I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the open Pacific bound for the Tonga Islands.  The beautiful skyline of San Francisco disappeared slowly behind us and the open ocean spread out in every direction.  Night settled on us and blotted out any guidance.  One direction was as good as another to me.  Fortunately the captain and navigator had something more specific in mind.  Otherwise I might still be drifting in the open sea or long since wrecked on an unfriendly shore.

And such is the voyage of life.  Personal effective authorities and their research all agree that of the principles and practices that promote personal effectiveness, none is more important than setting goals.  It is the foundation of virtually every successful effort at self-improvement.  I don’t know anyone from personal association or historical research who has stumbled into a successful life.  Everybody I know who lives life well has at least the rudiments of goals to guide him or her.

If goals are so effective why do we so often dislike them?  Some very good reasons.  Often the goals have been assigned to us.  They are somebody else’s goals not ours.  Goals sometimes intimidate us.  They look too big for us to handle.  Perhaps our greatest hangup is that we don’t like to be measured.  We may come up short, and it may take effort to achieve what we have laid out for ourselves.

Try these antidotes for those spiritual illnesses.  Set out your own goals and have them supersede your assigned ones.  Break big indigestible goals down into little bite sized nibbles.  As the saying goes you can eat an elephant a bite at a time.

And finally start slow and easy. Especially at first, nibbling on a small succulent success is a lot more satisfying than choking on a heaped platter of failure.

Epistle: Living is Giving

The lawyer was to all appearances an upright citizen, a faithful observer of the Mosaic Law. He was assertive, but that’s not an uncommon nor unforgivable trait in lawyers. His bigger problem was in expecting to use his legal expertise to argue his way into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus first pointed out to him the difference between the hair splitting legalities of humans and the sublimely simple system of the Lord. There are only two great laws; love the Lord, and love your neighbor.

The lawyer still seeking salvation through argumentation saw a loophole. “Who is my neighbor?” he asked. But Jesus turned his escape hatch into an infinitely open door to godlike service. He told the lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

The story contains many truths on many levels. But the truly sublime and celestial symbolism of the Samaritan comes in his simple words as he pays the inn keeper for the injured man’s lodging. “If it costs more, when I come again I will repay thee.” This is not a singular experience for this good man. He has not gone out of his way to help another. This is his way. He has purposely left his account open ended. Whatever it costs to serve another he will pay.

In this interpretation he is not just a good neighbor. He is a Christ symbol.

The lawyer was seeking the minimum requirements for salvation, the narrowest definition of neighbor that would qualify him for the kingdom. Jesus’ instead showed him that citizenship in the celestial kingdom comes not from a set of rules, but from a set of the heart. As it is in heaven so it is on earth. To live is to give. To the lawyer and to us the Lord offers the invitation, “This do and thou shalt live.”(Luke 10:28)