Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Resume Transmission

So, um, after a, uh, brief recess of twenty-two months, I've decided to start posting again.

All in all, not too much has changed since last I wrote. My job, career field, education level, and address have changed but I still eek out overwrought poetry, bloviate in slow motion about the topics du jour, and read piles of books.

Rather than a place to showcase my thoughts, the blog will function as a stimulus to practice writing fluidly and quickly. My inability to articulate thoughts in real time, whether written or spoken, continues to bedevil my academic progress, so I hope that generating content semi-regularly will increase my writing facility. I think I have more reasonable expectations this time around: fewer, less developed posts.

Until next time, my hypothetical audience...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reaction: Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick Press, Cambridge, MA, 2006.

Most Excellent; highly recommend for children (6+ yrs [?]) and adults. It reminds me somewhat of O Wilde's short stories and M Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name.

The frontspiece quote is from Stanley Kunitz's "The Testing-Tree":

[T]he heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.

Edward is a china rabbit who feels hardly anything for hardly anyone. He goes through dark and deeper dark and learns to live by breaking. I enjoyed following his journey and think it was good for my soul.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Temple Was... Nice

People always ask the same question: How was the wedding? the endowment? the mission? I never know what to say so I mumble that it was nice and tell who was there or launch a spiel about how friendly Brazilians are. Every now and then I try to say that it was horrible, but I can't do it with a straight face yet. Sometimes for sealings I report, as solemnly as possible, "They both said, 'Yes.'"

What can you say? On the one hand the experience is near ineffable--how do you describe the eternal sealing of people you love? On the other, it is completely routinized--exactly like every other sealing I've attended. On the one foot I am forbidden to say what actually happened. On the other, what I can say requires hours if not weeks, and I don't think that's what they want. Further, sometimes the experience is less than "nice"; sometimes folks really struggle--and you can be sure I'm not going to tell you about their difficulties. If we're talking about my own then our relationship is way past how-was-your-mission.

Of course, sometimes there are interesting goings-on suitable for chatting. I can always move a how-was-your-mission conversation along with gastro-intestinal tales. At one sealing I attended the groom's father had a cardiac "event" right there in the sealing room (he recovered). At another the (very shy) bride was surprised to learn, at the alter, that she would have to kiss her husband--in front of everyone! It was an uncomfortable few minutes (we tried really hard not to laugh, I promise).

But mostly it's just... nice. Yesterday I and a few other family members were with one of my brothers as he received the endowment. I missed the siblings who couldn't attend (not yet endowed, live too far away, no babysitter, etc.) but it was nice all the same. It is nice to be together. It is nice to be in the temple. To be together in the temple is "nicer" than anything else I've ever done.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Only (adj) in Modern Scripture, Part 1 of ?

Sometimes the word “only” confuses me in the scriptures. It is, on one hand, a word I like to see because it can imply some harsh precision—instead of mushy “most,” “some,” “few,” or “many” there is a nice, clean “this and no other.” Unless, that is, it means something else. In the interest of understanding better I have begun to compare various uses of “only” in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I’m posting what I figure out (or don’t) here in the hopes of transperspectional enlightenment. (Do I get bonus points for making up words or for extra syllables?)

I count 195 total sightings of “only” in 189 verses using In this post I’ll review the ones that completely flummox me, the ones that (I think) don’t give me any trouble at all, and start working through the adjectives. Depending on my ambition level I’ll discuss the remaining adjectives and the (more vexing) adverbs and conjunctions in later posts.

My “method,” if we can call it that, is to classify the occurrences using the Oxford English Dictionary (online; OED) and a mimeograph of an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary and then compare similar constructs in hopes of sussing out meanings.

I don’t understand what D&C 104:53a and D&C 136:40 mean [1]. As it turns out, I don’t care (for the present; feel free to enlighten me for my future edification). Moving on: there are 49 appearances of “Only Begotten,” all of them straight-forward references to the Savior [2].

“Only” makes 19 appearances as an adjective [3]: “the only sure foundation” (Jacob 4:16; 11 occurrences; OED, adj: 2a), “…what the queen desired of him was his only desire” (Alma 19:7; 2 occurrences; OED, adj: 3a), “his only son” (D&C 101:4; 1 occurrence; OED, adj: 2c), and the 5 below that confuse me:

--“…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…” (D&C 1:30)
--“…the only living and true God…” (D&C 20:19a)
-- “…the only wise and true God…” (D&C 132:24)
-- “…this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” (2 Ne. 31:21)
-- “…the true and only God…” (Ether 2:8)

I’ll start with D&C 1:30: I normally gloss this phrase as: “…the only church upon the face of the whole earth that is both true and living and the only church of any persuasion with which the Lord is well pleased….” This allows the possibility of other churches being “true” or “living,” but not both simultaneously.

On the other hand, my strict constructionist parsing is: “…of all the churches that are true and living, this is the only one with which the Lord is well pleased”—leaving open the possibility of other “true and living” churches as well as churches that are not “true and living” but with which the Lord is “well pleased.”

Some observations: (1) It is past my bedtime, as usual. (2) D&C 1:30 is not one of the scriptures that led me to this analysis; trying to answer another question led me here. (3) I am not troubled at all by my confusion—my gloss has served me well and I intend to keep using it—but perhaps there is something more I could learn.

My questions to you: How am I to understand this scripture? What can I learn from this?
[1] Multiple "only's" in a verse are labelled "a" and "b"; e.g., D&C 104:53 has two: 104:53a and 104:53b.

[2] “Only Begotten”: 2 Ne. 25:12, Jacob 4:5, 4:11, Alma 5:48, 9:26, 12:33, 12:34, 13:5, 13:9, D&C 20:21, 29:42, 29:46, 49:5, 76:13, 76:23, 76:25, 76:35, 76:57, 93:11, 124:123, 138:14, 138:57, Moses 1:6a, 1:6b, 1:13, 1:16, 1:17, 1:19, 1:21, 1:32, 1:33, 2:1, 2:26, 2:27, 3:18, 4:1, 4:3, 4:28, 5:7, 5:9, 5:57, 6:52a, 6:52b, 6:57, 6:59, 6:62, 7:50, 7:59, 7:62.

[3] “only,” OED, adj: 2a: 1 Ne. 22:31, Jacob 4:16, Alma 33:18, D&C, 10:62, 20:19b, 45:69, 76:37, 76:38, 129:6, 135:2, OD 1.

“only,” OED, adj: 2c: D&C 101:4.

“only,” OED, adj: 3a: Alma 19:7, 43:30.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Reactions: Ice Age 2 & The Wild

The Sermon on the Mount says for Ice Age 2, "enh (somewhere between "yea, yea" and "nay, nay") but the kiddos will love it"; for The Wild, "nay, nay." If you need real reviews ask Eric D. Snider.

Have you ever heard, "Let's see if I can tie all this together..."? Folks say this because they're nice and don't want your brain to dissolve--with fair warning you can think about something more interesting. Movies, like Sunday School instructors, should warn us of impending vapidity so we don't try to make a Family Circus dotted-line hold together a pile of unconnected sketches. (Yes. I know these are cartoons for children. I love children. I love cartoons. We must preserve our standards.)

There are two flavors of this problem: (1) the "pieces" aren't interesting together or by themselves, and (2) the pieces are interesting by themselves but trying to unify them is distracting. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown makes the second mistake: it tries to be a story when it is a series of shorts. The pretenses of plot and character detract from what is interesting and funny. They should have skipped directly to the special features DVD. All the funny parts would be isolated sketches--mostly focusing on Scrat (though the possums and dancing sloths are close enough to funny to make it in). Interactive software would let you develop Scrat challenges--you could design climbing surfaces, ice slides, and other landscape features, choreograph fights, and set up rubegoldbergian sequences wherein poor sisyphean Scrat could pursue the acorn on air and land and sea. That would be cool--not for Scrat of course, but s/he's (1) been dead for ages and (2) a cartoon, so I don't feel bad about it.

Anything else...? Yes... the scatology and innuendo were more heavy-handed and less funny than in IA1 and therefore doubly obnoxious.

Tangentially... Last week we took some of the kiddos to a natural science museum. (Unsolicited wisdom: if you want to enjoy a museum, don't bring forty teenagers.) There I encountered for the first time a Megatherium or Giant Sloth. By "giant" we do not mean "substantially larger than the modern cousins" but "mondo-ginormous-huge." Sid is apparently some cladogenetic cousin of both the monster in the foyer and of the mini-Sids in Ice Age 2 (which, relative to Diego and Manny are about modern size). Sid's agent should get a raise for getting him this part despite his being a hundred times too small. Sid the fossil is taller than Manny. He wouldn't be a "nine-ton squirrel," but when you're a five-ton sloth, who cares?

In summary:
--Don't bring piles of kids to a museum if you want to enjoy it
--Cartoons are not necessarily archeologically correct
--"Tying things together" is what Boy Scouts do; story-tellers and sunday school teachers should use natural connections and avoid forcing things into shallow artificial patterns.
--IA2 was enjoyable enough. I laughed several times; so did my date. I'd probably watch it again. I think my younger siblings/nieces/nephews would enjoy it.

Disney's The Wild was a waste of time and treasure. It makes the first mistake mentioned above: no meaningfully coherent whole, no good sketches, no funny one-liners, no delightfully wacky personas. Nada. I did not laugh. I left early. I won't watch it again. There wasn't even any good eye-candy or music. I'm not even sure the kids would like it (in IA2 the kids were laughing; the only audience response we had was a crier).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Boring Discipleship

I am in the throes of the annual spring semester existential crisis--my students don't seem to have progressed much, if at all, this year; in my depression over this (apparent) reality I slacken my daily discipline and fantasize about dramatic events that can stir and maybe academically save my kids. I am trying to remind myself how essential boring discipleship is, both professionally and spiritually. This--the boringness--is one of discipleship's hardest aspects. In fact, for me, it's harder than anything else (except when it's not boring--then things are really hard).

I am editing the missionary journal of an Elder Joseph Brooks who served in Texas from 1899-1902 (for distribution among descendants of those he baptized; I'm almost finished, Mom, I promise). Two things that strike me in the journal are (1) how insignificant the one day we talk about--the day he "found" William Williamson--is compared to the rest of the mission and (2) how signficant the rest of that mission is to the story we tell. From my introduction (overblown rhetorical flourishes at no extra charge):

I think perhaps the most important element of Elder Brooks’ journal is its daily “boringness.” Most mornings he set out on “another day’s ramble” (19 Apr 00) and worked until the “troubles of another day were ended” (8, 15 Apr 00), and what those troubles were he usually reduces to weather, walking, some talking, sleeping, and eating. Herein is the strength of the “story:” nothing ever happens but everything. It is here in daily life that he pays the price and it is here he participates in the miracles. He records no soul-searing or body-breaking tortures, just walking to exhaustion in heat and cold, enduring malaria over and over and over, leaving loved ones again and again, and so on. There is no blessedly quick martyrdom, no laying down his life gloriously and then going to a glorious rest. He lays down his life and drags it through marshes and black prairie mud and floodwaters and heat and cold and prejudice and apathy and everything else in the way. ...It is thus that he plants and waters seeds, thus that he lifts up the hands which hang down, strengthens feeble knees, and stitches together a community of saints: line upon line, smile upon smile, handshake on handshake, truth on truth, life on life.

It is discipleship's dailyness that most often gets me, and I think most of us. I can be nice sometimes, even often. I can sacrifice for special events. I have been known to live, on occasion, with "attention to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ." But, the promise is to "always remember him," and that relentless "always" pursues me and swallows my pitiful "sometimes." If I were ambitious I'm sure I could find a NA Maxwell quote to make my post superfluous; I don't feel like it, so you're on your own. (Did I just fail a test of daily discipleship?) I do, however, have an LT Ulrich quote handy: is in the very dailiness, the exhaustive, repetitious dailiness, that the real power of Martha Ballard’s book lies. To extract the river crossings without noting the cold days spent ‘footing’ stockings, to abstract the births without recording the long autumns spent winding quills, pickling meat, and sorting cabbages, is to destroy the sinews of this earnest, steady, gentle, and courageous record. (p. 9. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, 1990. See also her essay, “The Importance of Trivia.” Journal of Mormon History. 1993, 19(Spring):52-66.)

Again, from my introduction to the Brooks Journal:

So, what do we learn from Elder Brooks’ journal? For me the lesson is about missions themselves, mine in particular. If his journal is an accurate indicator, what Elder Brooks did on his mission was walk and walk some more and then look for food and a place to sleep. Along the way he got lost and tired and sick. He also talked to some folks, taught a few, and baptized a handful. It was an altogether uneventful few years and an altogether familiar few years. ...[But, w]ith a century of perspective I and many others call Elder Brooks blessed. Perhaps one day others will look back in gratitude for the work my companions and I did in our short service.

I think the lessons apply to more than just missions. I also think that more can be said for our actions than that they bore fruit. We were assigned to walk and to talk and we did, which as Nate Oman points out, "is not without its own dignity." We were not assigned to convert anyone nor can we take credit for any conversions, no matter when they happen--conversion is the Lord's task, not ours. It is going too far the other direction, however, to say that the only value is the existential satisfaction that Camus told us to extract from our Sisyphean tasks (which I don't think Nate O was suggesting). As Henry Eyring--who had his own Sisyphean difficulties--says, "I'm not here for the weeds (¶ 21-25)." We are doing "result-oriented" work, but the object for which we work here and now is not necessarily the result to which Father is guiding us.

When I started this post I had a particular endpoint; I don't remember what it was. Oh well. Viva la half-bakedness! May we endure well the drudgeries and in so doing be fitted for heaven.

Apparently I am unable to post without a dash of poetry. So, from Sabará, Minas Gerais, Brazil five months into my mission (27 Oct 96):

Boring Discipleship I
This is my great agon:
the little half steps, the visits, the miles,
smiles, doors, and conversations
disappearing to forgotten lands
and dust and aches.
You don't know what seeds you sow!
cliché-ers cliché
and I don't care
in this long hot lonely stretch
between faith and witness
(of faith until witness?)
where we plod,
trailing our gentle wake
bearing the easy yoke.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fourth-Down Punt

...Finchè mia Alba rivien colma di rose.
...Until my Dawn returns, brimming with roses.

John Milton, "Sonnet V," l. 14.

I have twenty-one drafts at various stages of not-even-close-to-ready so I'm punting: I'm posting stuff I wrote long ago for other reasons. There is, of course, no real rush to publish. I have no contractual or ethical obligations to post and according to the site meter I am mostly pontificating in the dark anyway. My compulsion is that I told myself I would post once or twice per week. I'll be out of town for the next four days, so... here I am, a week removed from my previous post, casting about for stuff.

If I were to take the "web log" idea at face value, I would be telling tales about my life and giving my take on public and private affairs. At the moment these topics are, respectively, too close and too far away; or maybe it's the other way around. I teach at a high school for "challenged" youth; it is the week before state-wide standardized testing (which, incidentally, I support); I and my students are exhausted and raw and all just wish it were over. Sophomores in particular are a species of which I have never been fond; after these past two weeks I think I might move to a full-blown antipathy. Actually, now that I write it, I realize that I am lying: there is no other word but "love" for how I feel for my students--but the fur got burned off the warm fuzzies long, long ago.

Well, so much for coherent structure or organization (or for not writing anything new). Having sort of talked about introducing "the punt" I can't figure out how to transition to it, other than saying, Down. Set. I give you old poems about dawn. (I draw particular attention to the ingenious and evocative titles). Hut!

Dawn 1
In pre-dawn night-dusk
the sky glimmers in glowing gray
pregnant with light, and ripening
while the world is blue, and chilled.
softly, softly, softly flees the night
vanquished titan, conquered king
of the morphian realm
singed, seared, scorched, swallowed
leaving only shadows
of the once almighty Dark.

Dawn 2
silent swinging ax
splits wide the bulging womb.
Exultant light, like dolphins
bursts into the sky heedless
of pale, birth-weary dark
hard breathing on the windows
weeping on the grass
softly slipping away.

In l. 3 (as a footnote to a pod of dolphins’ joyous jumping) the dolphin is associated with Apollo; also, from Antony and Cleopatra (V.ii.88-90): His delights • were dolphin-like, they showed his back above • The element they lived in...—our experience with light is of necessity limited by perspective and venue; we have not yet seen it “play for the home crowd”; for now it only hints at the glory beyond. As CS Lewis points out about modern versus medieval eyes (I think all mortal eyes are, to an extent, in this sense, modern):

Whatever else a modern feels when he looks at the night sky, he certainly feels that he is looking out—like one looking out from the saloon entrance on to the dark Atlantic or from the lighted porch upon dark and lonely moors. But if you accepted the Medieval Model, you would feel like one looking in. The Earth is ‘outside the city wall.’ When the sun is up he dazzles us and we cannot see inside. Darkness, our own darkness, draws the veil and we catch a glimpse of the high pomps within; the vast, lighted concavity filled with music and life. And, looking in, we do not see like Meredith's Lucifer 'the army of unalterable law,' but rather the revelry of insatiable love. (CS Lewis, The Discarded Image. p. 118-119.)