Saturday, November 13, 2010


This caught my attention when I was working in the attic this week.  Fall colors.  We DO get some of them here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spreading Out Your Blessings

I ran across this brief story this morning:

I was in a Salvation Army store recently, and a young woman was looking at a nice black lace blouse and two shells to wear under it.

I remarked, "That is lovely." She looked up, glowing, and said, "My husband got to work some overtime this week and he said he'd take me out Saturday night. I want to look nice. Which one do you think looks best?"

I truthfully told her I thought either one would work fine and she would look so nice. She was so happy, and it was obviously an unusual occasion for her to get to go out.

I thought then how fortunate that someone had donated the nice blouse instead of keeping it or selling it at a garage sale.

We are cleaning out a lot of unused stuff I had been saving for a garage sale, but that convinced me to donate it, instead, and I did.

I also saved myself the hassle of a sale to only be stuck with the leftovers...

Food for thought.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Philosophy When There's Two Weeks to Go

I come from a long line of talented hostesses.  Many are the women in my family tree who not only have had excellent skills and aptitudes when it comes to making a lovely welcoming experience, but also enjoy the process and pull it off happily.  I have long enjoyed and appreciated their gifts.  I also realize that for some reason those gifts skipped me.  Certainly I can clean the house and cook good food and make people feel welcome, but the flower arranging, color coordinating, display and elegance gifts have consistently eluded me.  I am like the appreciative member of the audience at the opera, fully amazed and happy about the performance, and totally unable to sing like that.  That's fine.  Not all of us need to be opera singers or fabulous hostesses.  However there are times when it would be helpful to be one or the other.

So, now, as I embark on the final preparations for my lovely daughter's wedding reception, I am appreciative of the help offered by my talented female relatives, conscientiously giving it my very best effort, and fully aware that my efforts and my results will not be opera star quality.  In this situation I have found the following guidelines and insights helpful.

The first is a couple of sentences in a piece on courtship and marriage for parents of young people that I saved years ago.  I don't know the author.  "Ideally courtship leads to a wedding...The reception following should be moderate and dignified."

Moderate and dignified.  I think we can do that.

The other is from a syndicated article that appeared in our local newspaper.  The author is Donna Milligan Meadows, and she wrote about illusion and beauty.  One of the things she wrote about was the struggle she had as she tried to make her backyard garden a lovely setting for her daughter's upcoming wedding, and the concern she felt about the setbacks of torrential rains and flourishing weeds in the weeks leading up to the celebration.  She wrote:

"As I was kneeling in mud trying to pull a few obvious weeds, a tree branch brushed caressingly across my shoulder like the soft touch of a tender hand and in the quiet breeze I heard [my friend's] gentle voice from the past saying, 'Donna, it's all an illusion.  The details don't matter.'  Again, I knew she was right.  I looked around and saw that not only had the weeds flourished in the constant downpours, so had the flowers; they were luxurious.  The plants and what grass remained green looked emerald and sparkled in the sunlight.  
the illusion of my yard was a place of peace and tranquility.  Once my daughter walked into view in her elegant, snow-white dress, with the glow of love in her eyes, no one would notice the weeds or the brown spots in the grass.  This outdoor setting  was just a fragrant backdrop for an unforgettable event."

So, modest, dignified, fragrant backdrop, here we come.  As much as I might wish I could make it so, it won't be sophisticated or fabulous, but it will be fine and it will be good and we'll enjoy the process.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Top Seventeen

I woke up this morning thinking about reading.  (I'd enjoyed the luxury of reading through a copy of Elizabeth Coatsworth"s Here I Stay the evening before, while waiting for an appointment.)  This led me to make a mental list of books that I'm very glad I have read over the past thirty years because they have taught me or reminded me of good and helpful things at various points in my life.

Here's the list, in the general order in which I recall having read them:

Couples--Carlfred Broderick
One Flesh, One Heart--Carlfred Broderick
Believing Christ--Stephen Robinson
For the Love of Children--Edward E. Ford and Steven Englund
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk--Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Siblings Without Rivalry: how to help your children live together so you can live too--Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
My Parents Married on a Dare--Carlfred Broderick
Plain and Simple: a journey to the Amish--Sue Bender
Feeling Good: the new mood therapy--David Burns
Christlike Parenting--Glenn Latham
Celebration of Discipline: the path to spiritual growth--Richard J. Foster
The Peacegiver--Richard Farrell
Counseling With Our Councils--M. Russell Ballard
The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living on a Budget--Peter Sander and Jennifer Bayse Sander
Financial Peace Revisited--Dave Ramsey
What Paul Really Said About Women--John Temple Bristow
Real Love in Marriage--Greg Baer

I'm currently studying "Women in Eternity, Women in Zion" by Alma Don Sorenson and Valerie Hudson.  So far it looks like it may be worthy of adding to the list.  We'll see.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"And the Lord hath performed his word..."

"Whatever good we do, we must look upon it as the performance of God's promise to us, rather than the performance of our promises to him.  The more we do for God the more we are indebted to him; for our sufficiency is of him and not of ourselves."

~Matthew Henry (1662-1714) commentary on 1st Kings, 8:20

Friday, August 06, 2010

Alma 39, a parable

You have driven to southern Utah to do some camping and hiking with your 17 year old son, your 10 year old nephew and 6 year old niece. After hiking in, you find a good campsite near some slot canyons you hope to explore and set up camp.

The next morning your niece and nephew wander off to explore the area a bit while you start breakfast and your son reads.  Time passes and they don't return so you call to your son who stuffs the magazine he was reading into his back pocket and the two of you start out to look for them.  It doesn't take long for you to find them standing at the bottom of a small slot canyon, about 10 feet down.  You can see the traces of the small slide they created as they slipped down the side of the canyon.  They are unhurt, but they are unable to get themselves out.  The sides of the canyon are too steep for them to navigate and the ends of the canyon are clogged with debris from earlier flash flooding.

You tell your son to wait with the children and you scurry off to your campsite where you gather up the long rope your father had put in the trunk of your car before your trip.  Returning to the site you realize that there are no trees to which you can tie the ropes but you and your son both weigh significantly more than the two children and you know your nephew has some experience rappelling, so you make a plan.  Handing the rope to your son you instruct him to find a place where he can sit and brace himself and serve to anchor it.  You take the other end and toss it over the side of the canyon, instructing your niece on how to tie it around her waist properly.  She manages to do so with the help of her brother and with some effort you and your son are able to pull her out of the canyon with your father's rope.  Checking to see that your son is well braced for the second rescue, you throw the rope to your nephew who secures himself.  You wedge yourself against a rock and start to pull and he begins the ascent.  As he nears the top you reach out one hand to help him over the edge when suddenly the rope behind you goes slack.  Unable to stop the rope from slipping with just one hand in spite of your frantic efforts, you watch, horrified as your nephew falls back into the canyon.  You yell and quickly  peer over the edge.  He is seated at the bottom of the canyon, doubled over, holding his arm.  You turn around and yell a question to your son asking what happened.  He is sitting where you left him, a magazine at his side. It is quickly apparent to you that while attempting to pull the magazine out of his pocket to look at it, he had lost his grip on the rope.  He was pulling out the magazine to read it!!!???  Now????  You feel the utter dismay and frustration at his thoughtless negligence surge through you.  You tell your nephew to hold on, that you'll try again.  He replies adamantly he can't do that, his arm hurts too much, his ankle is twisted and what if the rope fails again like it did just now?   You do all you can to reassure him that it will work, but having having fallen once he doesn't trust the rope. You turn back to your son and the wind riffles the pages of the magazine beside him.  You realize it's a copy of "Penthouse".

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Alma 39

“Most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost”. (Alma 39:5) This is the phrase that Alma uses as he chastises his son, Corianton in chapter 39 of Alma after Corianton had left the ministry and gone after the harlot, Isabel.

But Alma is not talking about sexual sin. Fornication and adultery certainly are serious sins, but they are not the ones Alma is talking about. A close reading of this chapter reveals that he is talking about something more destructive; the sin of abetting the spiritual death of another person.

Alma remonstrates Corianton in verse 2 for his boasting in his strength and wisdom. Corianton seems to have been a cocky fellow, the sort of overly confident person who is generally unaware or dismissive of the effect of his actions on others. When called to be a missionary he, after awhile, left the ministry (v. 3) to pursue Isabel, likely thinking about nothing much more than his own interests and desires, ignoring completely the effect of such actions on others. Alma is very clear in verse 3 about what Corianton SHOULD have been doing instead. And it is not chastity he talks about, it is the abandonment of his calling to teach people about Christ and the light and truth of his gospel. “Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou was entrusted,” says Alma, “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord?” (verse 5)

Now it’s easy to think that the “these things” refer to sexual sins, but there is a brilliant exposition in verse 6 that shows that "these things" is something else.

In verse 5 Alma says Corianton’s sin as almost as abominable as the sins of the shedding of innocent blood (consciously causing the untimely physical death of someone else) or denying the Holy Ghost (choosing spiritual death for yourself). In verse 6 he lays out clearly the latter of those two sins and its analogy to the sin of which he accuses Corianton. Watch the parallel.

“For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once had place in you, and ye know that ye deny I, behold this is a sin which is unpardonable;

Yea, AND whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness.”

Alma is telling Corianton that his serious sins has been that abandoning his calling to teach light and life and, not only that, then acting in ways that actually abet the spiritual death of others. Alma elaborates in verses 11 through 13 when he again warns Corianton not only to avoid Isabel but to avoid being led away by any vain or foolish thing because “Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words. And now the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction…turn to the Lord…that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly”.

The three great sins are not denial of the Holy Ghost (choosing your own spiritual death), murder (causing the physical death of another) and breaking the law of chastity. The three great sins are denial of the Holy Ghost (choosing your own spiritual death), murder (causing the physical death of another) and this third one: aiding and abetting another person’s spiritual death. Christ’s great work for us is the effectuation of redemption from physical death and spiritual death. You can see why it might be therefore that our greatest sins are committed when we work directly against that, causing physical death or spiritual death in ourselves or in others.

This is the reason Alma spends the rest of chapter 39 admonishing Corianton to repent and return to the Lord and his calling to the ministry “that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly” and declare the word to the people “that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming” (verses 13 and 16) . He is calling upon Corianton to cease committing the sin of abetting spiritual death and to take up the work of encouraging spiritual life.

Perhaps we take too lightly this sin, or perhaps we, like Corianton simply are oblivious to the seriousness of it. Jesus however did not and was not.

Matthew 18: 6-7:
And whoso shall offend (GR: cause to stumble) one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come: but woe to that man by whom the offence commeth!

Sexual sin is a serious sin, but it is not the sin Alma is talking about in Alma 39:5. It is the sin of self-indulgently and unconcernedly causing, aiding or abetting another’s spiritual death and rejection of light, making it harder for them to find and return to the Lord’s presence thereby “lead[ing] away the hearts of many people to destruction” (vs.12), particularly when we have been called and accepted a call to bring them spiritual light and life, that the Lord decries so seriously and that Alma calls “most abominable in the sight of the Lord save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost.”

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Alma 34 (warning...long....)

Over the years I have run into way too many people who read the words of Amulek in the 34th chapter of Alma and believe that people they love are doomed if they do not repent and turn to God in this life. They become anxious and fearful for the souls of their loved ones, which gets in the way of their being hopeful and full of faith. The two verses that seem to be quoted the most frequently are verses 34 and 35. Thirty four talks about not “procrastinating the day of your repentance” and then verse 35 reads:

"For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold ye have become subjected to the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked."

That certainly, at first glance, seems like a message of “get your act together and believe before you die or you are toast”, but if you read the whole chapter and take these two verses in context, the message is quite different and much more nuanced and subtle.

Amulek begins his discourse by adding his testimony to Alma’s of the divinity and of atonement of Jesus Christ and of the necessity for faith and repentance on our part (verses 1-16). He then strongly counsels his listeners to pray constantly and consistently and then, after developing faith and prayer, to become full of charity towards their fellow men (verses 17-30). He has, in a nutshell, covered the basics of the teachings of Christ: faith, repentance, prayer/communication with God and charity.

Having outlined the essential elements of Christian life he then begins to urge his listeners to embrace them now, and not put it off. You can see it in verses 31-34:

“harden not your hearts any longer”, “this life is the time”, “do not procrastinate”, “ye cannot say , when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent”

And then comes verse 35, and the casual reader thinks, “oh no! When he dies, it will be too late!” But a closer reading reveals that Amulek is not talking about physical death nor is he talking about a deadline. He is talking about spiritual death and about becoming.

Look at the messages in verses 31-36. In the interest of space I will just pull out the key phrases

31. “come forth and harden not your hearts any longer”: Hard heartedness is not helpful.
“now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent…immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” You can start to change now and you will immediately start reaping the blessings of forgiveness and redemption. There is no waiting for it, it is available right now. This is a message of hope.

32. “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God”: The purpose of life on earth is to become the person God hopes we will be. That work is not just for our time in paradise or prison, it’s the purpose of our life now. And all the other things we think life is about, money, fame, power, stuff, romance, thrills, careers, athletics or whatever, are not what this life is about. Rather the things Amulek talked about before; developing faith, repentance, prayer/communication with God and charity, are the purpose of this life.

“and if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed”: First of all, what is “the night of darkness” that comes? It is not physical death. Doctrine and Covenants 84:54 sheds some light on this:

“your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received”

Darkness comes from choosing not to believe and from refusing to take seriously the things that are important. When Amulek talks about the night of darkness he isn’t talking about death, he is talking about the point in one’s existence, either in this life or the next, when one becomes a person who has the light of truth within himself so seriously dimmed by unbelief and/or a failure to take seriously the pursuit, on any level, of faith, repentance, communication with God or charity, that he no longer finds any interest in nor will he make any effort to choose any of those things, preferring darkness to light. And the darkness isn’t just a little bit of darkness, but a night of darkness. Amulek is talking about a spiritual state of being, a spiritual, not a physical death.

34. This verse challenges the assumption that some of Amulek’s hearers have that they can postpone this hopeful change and repentance, which he outlined in verse 31, until after they hit this dark point described in verse 33 (which they may actually think they may not ever hit if they play their cards right). And he also addresses those who think they might postpone this change until after they have finished all their earthly pursuits and are in the next life, those who think that it will be easy to change their minds and hearts when they stand before God and therefore hope to live it up in this life, postponing their repentance, thinking it will be easy to switch after they’ve finished. You might call this latter the “have their cake and eat it too” crowd. “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis [the ”night of darkness” of verse 33] that I will return to my God…that same spirit that doth possess your bodies at the time that you go out of this life…will have the power to posses your body in the eternal world”. You may notice that in these words Amulek is also addressing those who believe they can change anytime they want, they just don’t want to right now. It is a common refrain heard among us all, and most commonly pointed out in the lives of those who are addicted to substances. But we all employ that rationalization about the sins we enjoy and wish to keep a little bit longer before we give them up. Amulek’s message is that it will be just as hard then as it is now, so postponing it is not as smart a plan as you might think or hope it might be. (And look at all the smart reasons to begin to repent now in verse 31.)

35. “if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death” What kind of death? Remember verse 32? Spiritual death. It’s clear from the ensuing phrases that this is what he is describing: “behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil…the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked”. Here he is warning again against thinking it is worth it to put off repentance and change. He is saying that it is even possible to keep putting it off so long that you get yourself so far down the path of sin and darkness that you have completely given yourself over to embracing darkness and closed yourself off from the light of the Holy Spirit. This, he says, is where determined unrepentance will ultimately (not just 200 years from now, but ultimately) land you if you do not ever choose to turn back. This is, actually, an interesting discussion of what damnation (“the final state of the wicked”) really is. It is not just a judgment call by God. It is the ultimate natural consequence of many, many continuous choices to embrace sin and reject repentance over a very long period of time.

Amulek finishes his discourse by outlining, in verses 37-41, things we can do to assist the repentance process which he hopes we will choose now instead of procrastinating it. Having outlined the basics of Christian life and exhorted his hearers to repentance and frankly addressing the pitfall of procrastination he knows we will be tempted fall into instead, he describes all the principles and tools that will help us to make that repentant change of heart. These verses describe the ever-so-helpful practices of confessing Christ, listening to the Holy Spirit, humility, worship, thanksgiving, recognition of God’s mercy, watchful prayer, patience, bearing afflictions, returning kindness for reviling, and hope.

Amulek’s discourse is not a “do it now or it will be too late when you die” sermon. It is a discourse on the essentials of Christian discipleship, a call to repentance, a promise of the blessings that come from that, a warning about the lies of the temptation of procrastination, a discussion of spiritual death, and an outline of the principles and practices God has given us to help us to avoid that spiritual death both in this life and in every aspect of our eternal existence. It is a message of hope the veracity of which you can see playing out its light in the life of every person you know, including yourself, who is, on any level, no matter how imperfectly or far from the mark, desiring to do and/or be good. And it is counsel to you and me to hope, have faith in Christ, love, repent and praise and employ the merciful aid of God in our lives now, not later.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Why I Blog:

I blog for three reasons. One is to share photos with family far away. One is to keep track of links to ideas that I find compelling. And the last is to have a place where I can write what I'm mulling or learning.

The last is the most prone to difficulties. I have a brain that heads into essay writing mode every once in a while. It tends to move on its own accord from mulling to composing and so I write for two reasons. The first is to sort and clarify those thoughts for myself since getting the thoughts down in that way seems to free my mind for whatever learning or thinking comes next. The second is because, if I don't write it, my brain keeps revisiting it and revising it. It's easier to get it down into print where I can read it and edit it, rather than having to keep all those composed sentences and paragraphs in their various draft forms organized in my head.

I am an imperfect writer. I do not always articulate well what I am thinking. Sometimes I leave important considerations or details out. Sometimes my choice of words is inadequate or not precise enough. More times than I would wish, in my lifetime, I have written inexactly enough that I have been misunderstood and have inadvertently given rise to assumptions I wouldn't even dream of including.

Since this blog has received more visits in the recent past than it did earlier, I thought I should explain the above and just say that when you visit you are welcome. I hope that you will find it mildly interesting and ask that you not only be understanding about the flaws and the unsettling bits but that you also feel free to point them out so that I can revisit and rearticulate them more accurately. I will find that helpful.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Gr.Gr.Gr. Grandfather James Dunster

James Dunster (1831-1907) with his three living sons, from right to left, Jacob Jones Dunster (1858-1918), James Matthew Dunster (1871-1960) and Samuel Lewis Dunster (1878-1892). Estimated date of photograph: about 1888

His oldest child, Mary Elizabeth, is the child in this family who is our ancestor.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This Used to be Our Back Lawn in our Small Backyard

Zucchini in the foreground, tomatoes to the right. Greens and herbs and flowers coming along. Melons just starting to take over the rear. I'm impressed with the beds and paths Lewis made.

Family Literacy

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bowdlerizing Cinderella

As a child I was mesmerized by folk and fairy tales, legends and myths. I would get lost in Andrew Lang’s fairy tale books and I read and re-read retellings of ancient Greek myths, Aesop’s fables, Robin Hood and King Arthur’s court. They affirmed my belief and hope that right choices were worth fighting for, that paying attention to wise advice was a smart thing to do, that the underdogs were right to stay firm in their integrity even when they were outnumbered, and that goodness, even if it was not rewarded, was worth standing for. As an adult I read Bruno Bettleheim’s, The Uses of Enchantment, which won a National Book Award in 1977 and in which he discussed the developmental and symbolic importance of traditional fairy tales for the emotional health of children. He made a particular point of including traditional, strong worded tales that included swift and violent justice such as those collected by the Grimm brothers. He believed that reading or hearing such tales helped children develop their own sense of justice, right, courage and heroism in the face of great odds and sometimes overwhelming fear or helplessness. I recognized the truth of what he was trying to say. Those tales had been a source of moral compass to me as a child at times when I felt like I was unable to change circumstances around me controlled by people who had more power than I.

This week I read an article by Jane Yolen about the mass media dumbing down of Cinderella. She contrasted the early versions of this universal tale with the sugar sweet versions of the last 100 years or so. In early versions Cinderella continues, in spite of her stepmother’s scorn, to perform proper rites and rituals at her mother’s grave and to enlist assistance from birds who roost there (Grimm), packs up her belongings and seeks and gets work at the castle (French), makes intelligent suggestions when her fairy godmother is momentarily confused and double-talks her sisters after the ball to find out what they thought without revealing that she was there (Perrault). Her step-mother and step-sisters invariably get their come-uppance, often violently, either self-inflicted or pronounced by those in power.

Contrast these determined, hardy, helpful, and clever Cinderellas with the ones more commonly published since 1900, including the ubiquitous Disney version who pays no attention to the warnings of the mice, cowers as her stepsisters tear her dress to shreds and whose ability to meet up with the prince a second time requires neither determination, intelligence, or willingness to work and collaborate, but instead depends on the cleverness of those same mice. For her, her successful thwarting of her opposition comes from others, requiring no more than dreamy wishing and general niceness and submission on her part. And her step-family never experiences any consequences other than embarrassment, disappointment or dismay.

I don’t know why 20th century mass media fairy tale telling took this sort of turn. I suspect that popular culture changed in its notion of the artistic feminine ideal, the tellers changed their tales to please and to reflect that change, and as a result young children who only heard the modern versions missed out on the moral lessons and courage building that came to previous generations of children from the older tales.

And that leads me to think about the kind of religious stories we tell our children. The old scriptural versions of godly men and women were strong-minded actors; Eve, making a choice, owning up to it, and gaining insight into the good that came from that choice. Ruth, choosing to brave poverty in a strange land in order to help her widowed mother-in-law instead of returning to the comfort of her parents’ home. Deborah, judging Israel with wisdom, speaking truth to Barak and accompanying him to battle to overthrow Caananite oppression. Zipporah who, when her husband was too faint-hearted to circumcise his sons as a token of dedication, took a knife and did the job herself. Enoch who spoke out in spite of his slow speech. Daniel who chose to pray knowing that the den of lions would likely be the consequences. Mary Magdalene who got up at the crack of dawn on a morning of great sorrow to do the work of embalming the dead. These are people who both HUMBLY AND FIRMLY acted out their conscience, put their hearts into what they thought was right, lived by those principles in spite of facing huge challenges and found it worth the effort. Scriptural stories of men and women of God have the potential to help children develop emotional strength and moral compass in a manner similar to the one that folk tales do, but their power to do so diminishes if we fail to tell them as they are written.

I think that just as 20th century tale-tellers fell into the trap of changing their stories to reflect modern artistic ideals, whatever they might have been at the time, so do 20th and 21st century religious storytellers face a similar temptation as they retell stories of strong women or men in the scriptures. Whether those ideals include modern notions of helplessness and power-abdicating submission on one extreme, or modern notions of autonomous, arrogant self-sufficiency on the other, or whatever variation between the two we happen to subscribe to, we all run the risk of bowdlerizing the original stories and thereby failing to give our young listeners the opportunity to use the originals to find their own strengths and vision.

What positive experiences with old versions of stories from folktales, myths, legends and ancient scripture did you have as a child?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Learning from My Grandmothers

I am at a stage in life where I have the means and time to research and write family history so I increasingly find myself immersed in stories and accounts written by the women in my family tree and their family members and peers. Every one of those women encountered tragedies and struggles in their lives. There is not a single exception. Sorrow is a part of each of their stories. So I have been thinking about sadness and its relationship to the gospel of Christ.
One great grandmother, Moriah, who was born in a small southern Utah town, buried ten of her thirteen children before they reached the age of 18. Another step-great, great grandmother, Sarah, received the gospel with her family as a young woman in a mining town in England, fell in love with and married a fine, young miner in that town who was a member of her congregation and was raising two children when her husband, as her father had been before him, was killed in a mining explosion. She used the money the mine gave her for compensation for the death of her husband to emigrate to Utah shortly after which her youngest child died. She met, loved and married my great, great grandfather and raised his three boys, her remaining daughter, and a passel of subsequent children, some of whom lived and some of whom did not.
My grandmother, Mariah’s daughter, told me stories of Mariah’s constant kindness and business-like determination to organize her Relief Society work to reach out to families in her community who were in need of food and help. She called her an angel.
Sarah was known for her careful, kind years of work as a member of her town’s “burial committee”, responsible for the washing, laying out of the body, sewing and clothing and flowers needed by a family in grief. Her granddaughter, Vida, remembers her for her ability to see the beauty in nature, her gratitude and fortitude as well as her quiet, dignified manner.
I did not know Mariah or Sarah, but I did know Ida, my calm, devout, sweet-smelling great grandmother who grew up with an absent father, lost a baby girl at birth, lost an energetic, strapping, son to a sudden illness when he was 18, and nursed her husband through years of multiple sclerosis. She used to recite long stretches of poetry to me, bake bread for us when my mom was sick, and beat me thoroughly at Scrabble.
All three of these women were thoroughly devoted to God and to the church. All three of them experienced times of terrific sorrow, struggle and loss. And all three found that the former helped them through the latter.
Nowadays I spend my Sundays teaching a Primary class. Every once in a while the lesson manual will tell a story, either from the scriptures or from a person’s life, about a choice wisely made, and include the question, “How do you think so-and-so felt when he did that?” And the children, having heard such questions before, will answer with a bit of a sing-song tone, “ha—ppy”. And then I have to get them to think deeper than that.
Wise choices don’t make happiness. Neither does living the gospel of Christ mean that we will always be happy. But I wonder if sometimes we don’t think they are supposed to. Perhaps that is because we read “Man is that he might have joy” and think that joy means happiness and that having means always. Perhaps it is because we read Joseph Smith’s comment that, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence”, and think that means that if we are living the gospel we are happy, and that unhappiness is therefore a sign of not living it, since, as we also know, “wickedness never was happiness”. And we neglect to realize that Joseph Smith goes on to say that “virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness” lead to happiness, not that they guarantee it every moment, here and now.
Perhaps some of this is behind the push for perkiness we find in some Mormon women’s circles; the sense of failure if they are not acting or feeling chipper or always focusing on the silver lining. I recall a young friend’s irrational dismay and sense that something was wrong with her when, after breaking up with her boyfriend, she “just couldn’t seem to be happy”. We sometimes think that living the gospel means we are always happy. But that is not the gospel.

I find wisdom in the words of Henry Ward Beecher. “Affliction comes to us, not to make us sad but sober, not to make us sorry, but wise.”

I think we modern women, protected somewhat by modern medicine and technology from the extent of sorrow our ancestors experienced , have lost our vision of the power of soberness and wisdom that comes as part of wading through affliction with God. Sorrow, sadness and heartache are not a manifestation of an absence of faith, nor a failure on our part, nor an abandonment of the grace of God. It is rather, a universal experience through which we all pass.

I remember a conversation I had with a thoughtful, old stake patriarch when I was a teenager. He had lost a son in a random shooting a few years before. He taught me that pain, struggle and heartache are what teach us to truly appreciate joy and truth. His comment was that the purpose of the gospel wasn’t to make you happy, but to transform your life from what it would otherwise be if you didn’t have it.

And it does transform it from what it otherwise might be. Recently two of my dear friends, one who understands and feels the love of God and one who does not, tragically lost a child to SIDS. I have spent hours listening to them mourn, talk and struggle through their terrific losses. And I see the empowering nature of a connection with God as I walk these two parallel paths with them. Both are terrifically bereft and sad. But the one who feels a connection with God is finding strength in a resource that the other is not able to find right now. I also know that both will feel that loss all of their lives. I know my great grandmother did.

Sorrow is an intrinsic part of life. If we spend our lives trying to avoid it or feeling like a failure when we experience it, we are missing important truths. An understanding of God doesn’t take away sorrow, but it does have the ability to sustain us and empower us as we fully experience it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Pinning in the 21st Century

When my mother was a college student, more than half a century ago, there was “pinning”. A boy would give a girl his fraternity pin to wear to signify that they were in a serious relationship. If you were in high school or were not a member of a fraternity, you could give her your class ring to wear on a chain around her neck. The practice has dwindled considerably since then, though there are a few mid-western campuses where frats keep this tradition, some more elaborately than others.

When I was a child, there was “going steady”. You actually asked the girl if she would go steady with you and you became an official couple. Sometimes it meant she wore your school jacket.

When I was a teenager we were in the midst of the Haight-Ashbury phenomenon. Nothing was official. In high school you might have a boyfriend or girlfriend you were "serious with”, but it was never officially announced. It just happened.

When I was in college having someone you were serious about was something you never discussed. We were serious about ideas and our education and life. A girl might have a guy she loved and spent time with and she might even be living with him, but it was something on the side, not the center. People would think you were weird or needy if you were focused on defining that relationship.

After I married L., I didn’t pay much attention to what the latest form of establishing a serious romantic relationship was like, so I can’t fill in the ensuing decades. But I am intrigued by the latest one I encountered this week: a facebook notification that you’ve been sent a relationship request. A young friend recently posted his delight at having received one and changing his facebook status to "in a relationship with _________". Good heavens. Officialdom with the click of a button, miles away from the object of your delight and affection.

Things do change.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Faith and Doubt

"Faith and doubt both are needed – not as antagonists, but by working side by side to take us around the unknown curve."
~Lillian Smith (American writer, 1897-1966)
I just finished reading Robert Millet's April 27th BYU-H devotional address in which he discusses what he's learned from his own and other's experiences with doubt, despair, faith, fortitude and decision. I recommend it, particularly his references to John, chapter 6, and the words of Mother Teresa, David Steinmetz, Orson Pratt and Neal Andersen.
You can read it here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons from a Sojourn Spent Camping on a Sunny Island

1. It is happier to choose to do than to feel that one must do.

2. Watch the beauty.

3. Less stuff to take care of = more time to observe the beauty.

4. Fewer obligations (self-imposed or other-imposed) = more time to listen and to help.

5. Sunscreen and bugspray are helpful.

6. Find time for sunshine and exercise every possible day.

7. Make sure your perspective on life includes the natural world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Modern Idolatry

"We don't build golden calves anymore, but we do carve out a pan of brownies and say, 'Oh pan of brownies, you calm my nerves.' Or, 'Oh pan of brownies, you ease my pain. Oh brownies, you help me forget my troubles.'" ~ Gwen Shamblin, Rising Above the Magnetic Pull of the Refrigerator

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Purpose of the Task is to Strengthen the Relationship

I have been reading and re-reading Boyd Packer’s conference address. Some have found it troubling, but I think that is simply because they were expecting certain issues to be addressed and they were not and they feel keenly that disappointment.
But if you read it as it is intended, a call to a higher vision of service and care to the men of the church, there are some good principles worth noting
1. The story of Gideon; a call for each of us to avoid complacency and to be alert and ready to listen and serve in our respective callings and responsibilities. It is far too easy to just go with the program and neither be prepared for nor hear God's vision of the work you are called to do.
2. A distinction between authority, which comes with ordination, and power, which comes through abiding in Christ and acting as he would. There are way too many with authority but without power.
3. A clarification of what all the organizations in the church are supposed to be doing TOGETHER, strengthening and nurturing and helping families and individuals live together in love, NOT running programs or just getting things done. We have so very, very far to go in helping ward leaders catch this vision and getting them to work well together.
4. A clear message that the ordinances are not the purpose of priesthood work. Eternal life with all its celestial relationships in the presence of God is the purpose. Getting the ordinances done is secondary to enabling loving relationships and familial service.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

To Cheer and to Bless

Simeon and Anna by Rembrandt van Rijn

A couple of weeks ago L. got a call from a friend, T. asking if he would be available that morning to go to the hospital with him to give a child a blessing. Dear friends of their family, members of another faith, had a child with a terminal illness who was there and they had been touched and open to T. and his wife’s offer of a priesthood blessing. L. said sure and about half an hour later T. and his wife, J. came by to pick him up for that. He came home an hour or so later, moved by the experience and grateful to have been asked to assist.
Later that week I was listening to another conversation about women and the priesthood. There were the usual ideas as to why just men hold it now on the part of some, the usual confusion combined with some angst and frustration on the part of others, and the usual questions without definite answers. I mostly listened. I feel like we don’t know why men have the priesthood and women don’t right now. I understand why people try to make educated guesses or theories as to why it is the way it is. It’s human nature to seek for reasons. And as usual with human nature, it’s flawed. I am also certain that the genderized status of priesthood holding that exists now is not an eternal state. And I understand my sisters’ confusion and irritation, but feel none personally, so I mostly just listen.
Subsequently I attended a meeting in which a general authority said he thought that women didn’t hold the priesthood because they don’t need it. That is one of the more commonly expressed theories, and though I was pretty sure it is not the real reason (no Spirit testifying), I could understand why he would think that way. Such things do not bother me. I lived as a teenager in the 1960s and 70s and heard all kinds of theories over various pulpits about why people of African descent did not hold priesthood in our church and later heard Bruce McConkie (one of the more adamant theorizers) thoroughly retract his erroneous theorizing and recognize it as such in 1978. I figure that history repeats itself and will continue to do so.
I began thinking about stories I had read in an article that covered the history of women giving blessing in earlier church history. I wondered what it would be like if women in our church held the priesthood now. It occurred to me that if the sisters in my Relief Society were given priesthood and the responsibility to bless, things might be a bit different. In such a situation, if a sister in my ward called upon me for a blessing one morning, who would I call to come give that with me? Probably not my husband. His work commitments make it difficult for him to leave in the middle of the day. Certainly not any of the other men in our ward. That would feel awkward and slightly inappropriate in current culture. I’d call on another sister. I think most women would.
What if women were giving blessings? What percentage of the women in my ward would start calling on sisters for blessings, making them the first ones turned to? Probably a significant percentage, if not an outright large majority. Women are often more comfortable with women. Men on the other hand, are usually more comfortable with men. We would likely see fewer interactions between the sexes when it came to blessings.
I shared my musings with L. He thought about the blessing he had been able to participate in at the hospital a few weeks before. If there had been two women with priesthood there, he says, he is absolutely sure that the two men would have bowed out and politely suggested to the women that they perform the blessing. No question. I wonder if that would not be happening all over on a large scale; thoughtful men, selflessly or with a sense of relief, passing along the opportunity to bless.
But then (and this is what struck me) he said that he had been thinking about watching T. and his wife, J. at the hospital. J. had been the one to touch the father, embrace the mother and articulate lovingly the words of comfort and friendship and peace to them. He and T., he said, stood solemnly and carefully and gently performed the ordinance, but neither of them had the skills J. used to comfort and bless. He said it was enlightening to watch T. and J. use their gifts in tandem to bless that family and how it united the two of them. The power of both together was far more than the sum of the two independently.
I think we don’t often see those gifts in tandem in the same room at the same time. Sisters and brothers tend to do their godly work separately. Because we are humans in a telestial world, we tend, even the most enlightened of us, to place more value on the work that the men are doing, even though we give lip service to both, which is part (by no means all, I admit) of the reason that this division of labor feels so unfair to some. In the good scenarios of church work we see men and women in the church counsel together and keep each other appraised of their work. In the best scenarios they work totally in synch, as one. Way too often most of the work of one group is done independent of the other, with occasional calendaring involved.
I do not offer these observations as “the reason why” women do not currently hold the priesthood. I don’t know why and will not pretend to. Nor do I think this is "the reason". But these experiences have reminded me of God’s commandments that we work together as one, not just with those who have the same gifts we do, but also with those whose gifts are different. (1st Corinthians 12) And I have a bit of a better view of why that working together in unity is important to Him.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What I learned this year

Thursday, January 28, 2010