I’m a true Southern Californian, having grown up here (near “the happiest place on earth”) through high school, and having returned after college in the cold country (Utah and Colorado) to live and work in sunny California. It’s perhaps the most diverse, cosmopolitan, and interesting environment in the world—I truly enjoy the variety of activities, cultures, and foods. I’m doubly fortunate, having been raised in a very good family, with excellent foundational values (work, faith, education, etc.), and at the same time having a broader perspective and awareness of so many other values and ideas. Perhaps that has helped increase my appreciation of those values and of the faith into which I was born. As I later learned in remote sensing, contrasts clarify or sharpen our vision.
Others of my faith were few in number, and in my youth my closest friends were of other faiths. I was exposed to challenging questions about my faith—questions that demanded either answers or blind faith. Curiosity, coupled with aptitudes in science and math, would not leave me satisfied with blind faith, nor did I think that was expected. Answers did not always come easy, but I began to learn that if I was not afraid to dig deep enough, be honest with myself, and be open to accept the truth whatever it might be, I always seemed to find satisfying, logical answers, which only bolstered my faith. Truly, “seek, and ye shall find.”
But there was another important aspect of that budding faith—more substantial than rational or “thought experiments” alone, and relating to our dual nature as physical and spiritual beings, with both kinds of senses. It is along the lines of what Paul describes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11: 1). In my mid-teens, I studied and accepted the Bible, and as I read the Book of Mormon seriously I had a profound and undeniable spiritual experience that left no doubt as to its truth and reality. My satisfaction and joy were incredible. I learned for myself the power of the Holy Ghost speaking directly to our spirit as a witness of truth, as promised to all who seek it. That enabled me to share that truth with others, despite discouragements, as a young missionary in Switzerland. Those two years abroad broadened my perspectives even further, and left me with even greater thirst for knowledge in many areas.
And so I resumed my college studies with renewed vigor, majoring in physics and astronomy (especially the latter) and pursuing minors in math and German. Studies and careers can take interesting turns, and graduate work in Astrophysical, Planetary and Atmospheric Sciences brought me a bit more “down-to-earth,” focusing on atmospheric science and remote sensing, which led to a career in aerospace—specifically space systems—and to another (corporate-sponsored) graduate degree in Systems Architecture and Engineering. Challenging work on space systems has enabled me to make meaningful contributions to the country I love.
Learning and teaching have been lifelong pursuits. I found interesting contrasts between Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado, & the University of Southern California (USC). Also, while working full-time, I fit in night classes in Russian at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), teaching astronomy at El Camino College and teaching and taking technical courses at work. I have completed various leadership and Scouting training courses, and have studied and learned more about the gospel at early morning seminary, at LDS university Institutes, at church, and on my own. It adds up to a fair amount of experience in academia (~twelve years) and industry/engineering (thirty years in aerospace).
But just as academia challenges us to use our education in experimentation and application, so too does religion. God Himself challenges us to “Prove me now herewith…” (Malachi 3:10), and says that, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). And so, over the years I have further tried the experiments and promises of living more and more aspects of the gospel. As a result, my faith has continued to grow.
Paul also taught, “faith without works is dead.” It has been easy and natural for me to practice the service the gospel teaches, both within the Church and the community. It is a very meaningful and fulfilling part of my life. I have served in various positions in the Church, such as bishoprics, part-time missions, and Boy Scout leadership. I also lead family and neighborhood organizations and an astronomy club at work, am politically active, and am a member of the Community Emergency Response Team, with an amateur radio license.
I think it is in our nature to want to have the “big picture.” In my work as a systems architect/engineer, this is called the “systems view.” It is an overall understanding, from various perspectives, of how the many parts of a system (e.g., a spacecraft, the internet, or the human body) fit and work together to produce a synergistic whole, and how the results may be optimized. This is a view or vision that the creator of the system has, and that He may share with those who are interested, or who have a “need to know.”
In the same way, the restored gospel is truly comprehensive and expansive to our vision of ourselves as whole persons, and how we can reach our potential, as well as to our understanding of creation as a whole. It goes beyond the spiritual to encompass the many other aspects. And it is a vision shared by the Creator with us, through His spokesmen, the prophets. I see their role in spiritual matters as paralleling that of research scientists in physical matters—both have first-hand documented experience that others learn from and build on. I believe both faith and the scientific method are commonplace in both realms. While one purpose of life is to learn to live by faith, it is not blind faith that is expected, nor ignorance.
The prophets of old (e.g., Abraham, Moses) were given universal visions far beyond the Hubble telescope’s. They recorded them for our benefit as part of our heritage and privilege—as God’s children—to expand our vision of God’s greatness, and to show that there is much more for us beyond this life. I marvel at the many recent astronomical discoveries, for instance by the Hubble and Kepler telescopes. My faith has been bolstered as I’ve discovered that some (e.g., the expansion of the universe and dark matter) were alluded to in scripture hundreds or thousands of years before their scientific discovery. Science has only recently discovered a small number of planets like ours, but scripture cites millions—and inhabited. To cite the line in the book and movie “Contact,” “if it is just us . . . it seems like an awful waste of space.”
The gospel “systems view” more clearly emphasizes the interconnectedness/
interdependency/synergy of the physical, social/emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and concern for our welfare in all of these realms (what we call “provident living”). It provides a much clearer view of where we came from, why we’re here, and what follows this life—the “Plan of Salvation (or Happiness),” which again encompasses all of the above areas. It truly describes and facilitates our potential as “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) of “all that my Father hath.” It also explains the great potential of the union of spirit and body, which are reunited in the resurrection, and continued growth and progression after this life.
Joseph Smith’s first vision brought clarity to much of the confusion about God and religion that had long been disputed, and this clarity can bring the “unity of the faith” sought by Paul. Joseph restored a clearer, consistent overall vision of the history of God’s dealings with all of His children, including those on the Western hemisphere, through the Book of Mormon. That book also clarifies the disputed theology and doctrines of the Bible, as a second nail prevents a board from being turned every which way.
With my background in astronomy, systems architecting, and engineering, I appreciate all the more the Creator’s acts of creation and the divine spark of creativity He has shared with us, including procreation. Much of the great art, science, and work in other fields has been created by people of faith. One could argue that faith has been much more a source of than a hindrance to enlightenment and sustainment in scholarly pursuits. As evidenced in the level of education of its members, and its doctrinal advocacy, certainly the LDS Church places a very high premium on education and knowledge.
And as we claim to follow Paul’s admonition to seek after “anything virtuous, lovely or of good report” and the revelation that “Man is that he might have joy,” we rejoice in so much of that creativity. We are encouraged to broaden ourselves. I’ve traveled to thirty-five countries. I’ve also taken great interest in history, current affairs and politics, geography, cinema, music, etc. And I remain physically active, working out, swimming, backpacking, skiing, scuba diving, etc.—enjoying and trying to preserve the body God created.
I sometimes encounter tantalizing outside support for my faith. As I read Eusebius’ historical account of debates at the time of the Nicene Council a few hundred years after Christ, my heart was warmed as I saw many of our doctrines clearly still present (the apostasy was not yet thorough), and valiantly yet unsuccessfully defended by some; truth does not win every argument. I appreciate the archaeological and literary evidences of the Book of Mormon, and research showing the benefits of the LDS lifestyle.
I have more thoughts about faith than I can share here, but would refer you, if interested, to my blog on faith, “Fast in the Faith” at http://fastinthefaith.blogspot.com/. My posts there include: “Faith, Experience & Reason in the Secular & Religious Realms – a Unity & Symmetry,” “Acquiring Faith,” “Exercising Faith” and a link to my profile on Mormon.org.
Mark Clayson is a Senior Engineering Specialist (Systems Architect/Systems Engineer) in the Space Architecture Department, Systems Engineering Division, at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, where he has worked for twenty-six years. He leads teams in developing and evaluating architectures and conceptual designs for new government space systems and systems of systems, including communications, navigation, surveillance, and environmental. And he provides technical oversight as contractors build the systems, seeing some of his concepts materialize. He has also done work in decision support systems, and sensor systems modeling and simulation. He has received various corporate and customer awards and commendations, while supporting numerous programs and studies for the Department of Defense, the National Reconnaissance Office, NASA/JPL, and NOAA. He has published several professional papers (including for AIAA, INCOSE, and the International Ozone Symposium) and many internal documents. He also worked four years on the technical staff at Hughes Aircraft in the Advanced Technology Department, Optics Laboratory. He was research and teaching assistant in the Astrophysical, Planetary and Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Brigham Young University, a computing fellow at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research), and an adjunct astronomy instructor at El Camino College. And he was an Aerospace Corporation Systems Engineering Fellow at USC. He is also an Eagle Scout.
He has a B.S. in Physics and Astronomy from Brigham Young University; an M.S. in Astrophysical, Planetary and Atmospheric Sciences (with a thesis on BUV satellite retrieval of stratospheric ozone profiles) from the University of Colorado, Boulder; and an M.S. in Systems Architecture and Engineering from the University of Southern California.
Posted April 2011