Friday, November 18, 2011

Well said. A discourse worth listening to.

"Grace shall be as your day."

Brad Wilcox on grace.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Notes on Ephesians 5

1.       To add to your repertoire of information on Ephesians 5:
vs 21, (members of the church) submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Greek word for “submit”: hupotassomai
vs 22 Wives submit submit yourselves to your husbands. Greek word used for “submit”: hupotassomai
vs 23 Husband is the head of the wife. Greek word used for “head”: kephale
vs 25 Husbands love your wives: Greek word used for “love”: agapeo
vs 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church. Greek word used for “might present”: parasthsh
Hupotassomai doesn’t have a direct English equivalent but means something along the lines of “give allegiance to”, or “tend to the needs of ” or “be supportive of” or “be responsive to”. In military contexts it is used to describe taking a position in a phalanx of soldiers; to be united with the group in effort and support. The German Bible translates it as “to place oneself at the disposition of”. This is what members of the church are asked to do for each other and what wives are asked to do in these verses in Ephesians. Its meaning relates very much to the admonition in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens”. Very importantly, Greek not only has active and passive forms of verbs, but also a middle form, which is used when the subject of the sentence neither acts on another nor is acted upon, but rather volunteers willingly to a state of being or to a course of action that is self-directed, not imposed. Hupotassomai, in these verses is in the middle form. Paul uses it to invite a purely voluntary action, not as a command.
“Kephale” is a word used to denote a person who goes ahead into battle, putting himself the most dangerous and vulnerable position in the phalanx.
“Agapeo” is used here and also in the commandment to love our neighbor and God and our enemies and in Jesus’ description of the Good Samaritan who loved and helped freely another who could not (and probably would not) repay his kindness.
Agapeo and hupotassomai are very similar words, both involve giving up one’s self-interest to serve and care for another’s. Both mean being responsive to the needs of others. Many scholars recognize this passage of Ephesians as a chiasmus with hupotassomai at the beginning of it and agapeo as an equal term at the end.
“Parasthsh” means “to stand beside”.
Knowing the Greek words sheds further light on the passage which the English translation obscures.

Thanks for some of the above to various sources, including 

What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thoughtful listening goes both ways. Do I take time to explain well? Do I listen like he does?

"Most often when we pray, we expect to speak while God listens." 

Michael S. Wilcox, "Let Us Ask of God", December 2004
Artist: Nathan Florence

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quote for today

“Jesus Christ and all the writers of the New Testament call us to break free of mammon lust and live in joyous trust...They point us toward a way of living in which everything we have we receive as a gift, and everything we have is cared for by God, and everything we have is available to others when it is right and good. This reality frames the heart of Christian simplicity. It is the means of liberation and power to do what is right and to overcome the forces of fear and avarice.” 


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Thoughts on readers and modern serious fiction

The author Jonathan Franzen was interviewed on NPR yesterday and his comments about writing novels caught my attention.  This particularly:

“…much of the work on a novel for me consists in the kind of work you might do in a paid professional's office of trying to walk back from your stuck, conflicted, miserable place to a point of a little bit more distance,  from which you can begin to fashion some meaningful narrative of how you got to the stuck place. And the stuck-ness, for the working novelist — or at least for this one — has to do with not wanting to get into certain intensely fraught or private experiences… [but] feeling that it's absolutely necessary to say things that are absolutely unsay-able."

When the interviewer asked about “unsayable things” he responded:
“The great thing about novels is…you are converting unsayable things into narratives that have their own dreamlike reality and instead of having factual statements about what is [pause] ‘Here’s the factual statement I will never make about myself, I can’t make about myself, I’m afraid or ashamed to make about myself’.  If that can be translated into characters who feel like they have some independent life and if they are embodying through their story that informational material about myself then I feel as if it’s not quite been said but it’s been enacted.”

Though Franzen is talking about information about himself, the description also applies to authors who use this genre to relay information about social issues they know first hand as well.  He captures in these words something I’ve long understood about much of modern serious fiction; that it is an author’s way of portraying something that is a profound and also disturbing ("unsayable") truth to him or her in a way that is less direct than prose and, because it is fiction, also allows dramatic flair to be added to creatively emphasize the author’s emotion or thoughts on the subject or theme of the piece of work.  As such, it can be, in some situations, an effective way of teaching the reader, adding to the vibrancy of the reader’s understanding or empathy of the subject being addressed, particularly if it is a subject that the reader has not experienced first hand, or has been previously only marginally aware of.

In this sort of previously unaware reader, the reading experience, if it is taken thoughtfully, adds insight or understanding or sympathy.  It may even become a stepping stone to passionate action when the subject is encountered in daily life.  On the other hand, unfortunately, if the reader approaches the book as entertainment, it tends to harden the reader, making it more difficult for him or her to respond with anything other than passive amusement when the issues in the novel are encountered in real life.  

For a second group of readers, those who have encountered the "unsayable" issues portrayed in their own lives and are still dealing with the fallout the experience is quite different, and also variable.  If they are still angry or frustrated, the reading can feel cathartic, expressing in a dramatic form the feelings that they are still dealing with.  On the other hand, if the issues are still ongoing and raw, it can re-open old wounds and cause increased pain.

Finally, this type of fiction doesn’t work at all for a third group of readers.  For a reader who has experienced first or second hand in the real world the "unsayables" that the novel deals with creatively, and has already addressed and is still addressing it directly in their own mind and actions in proactive ways, the dramatic flair of fiction is annoying.  For such a reader, that fictitious dramatization often feels like a trivialization of sober reality, making a serious matter look like a form of voyeuristic entertainment that reduces the reader of it to a passive consumer.  And for this group of readers, passive consumption in response to the topics being addressed is unacceptable.

This last group of readers requires personal narrative or prose that they can use in the work they are already doing.  Fiction doesn’t work.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Prodigal's Older Brother Syndrome

It occurs to me that one of the reasons we may become judgmental of others who have not made the same decisions or commitments, or are not in the same place on the road home that we are might be this:

If your sense of self-worth is grounded in your ability to comply with the expectations or hopes of someone else (be it God, or a parent, or some other major figure in your life), then you will almost automatically have a psychological need to perceive as less-worthy someone who has not complied with those expected actions.   And any intimation that one of those "less compliant" people is loved and forgiven and blessed as much as you are will likely be very unsettling to your own sense of worth.  When this is your state of mind, it is easy for your sense of unfairness to overrule your comprehension of mercy and charity.

So really the cure for such a state is not necessarily persuasion that judging is wrong, but rather the education of the mind to understand the reality that the highest we can seek for is not "worthiness" but, rather, complete charity and the embracing, personally, of the principle of mercy.

So disciplining ourselves to value who we intrinsically are, and at that same time, learning to be able to perceive value in the intrinsic natures of others, in all their variety, and not place our sense of self-worth upon what we've achieved may be key to avoiding "Prodigal's Older Brother Syndrome".

Learning how to do this in a world where we are constantly called upon to measure and compare our scores and achievements and decisions with our own previous ones as well as with those of others or with what we perceive as "the ideal", and in communities that reward and laud us accordingly, is no mean feat.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Line from "First Knight".

"How could I not love him, he wears his power so lightly, has such gentleness in his eyes."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following official statement on immigration yesterday:
Around the world, debate on the immigration question has become intense. That is especially so in the United States. Most Americans agree that the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants. Unchecked and unregulated, such a flow may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable.
As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.
What to do with the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now residing in various states within the United States is the biggest challenge in the immigration debate. The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God.
The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.
As those on all sides of the immigration debate in the United States have noted, this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned that any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.
The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.
In furtherance of needed immigration reform in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"I want to hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm going to put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm going to have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down."
~Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Insight from L.

 Jesus and Satan are polar opposites in the following way:
Satan does all he can to minimize the gravity and seriousness of sin and, when you do sin, does all he can to persuade you that you are horrible and/or seriously lacking, are a lost cause and declares that now, for you, there’s no way you really ever can come to complete reconciliation with God.
Jesus, on the other hand, is totally honest about the gravity, darkness and seriousness of sin and, when you do sin, does all he can to persuade you that you are known and loved, knows certainly that you are not a lost cause, provides a universally accessible way for you to become truly completely reconciled with God and has the power to make it so.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

No Other Gods

I’m in the process of re-reading the Old Testament, so I’ve been thinking about the notion of  worshipping other gods which is a constantly reoccuring subject matter there.  There aren’t very many traditions of polytheism currently being practiced in North America these days, which leads us to hear to the oft-repeated question in Sunday School classes,  “What are the other gods we might be tempted to worship today?”  And people tend to think of cars or wealth or position or power or celebrity.

I think it might be helpful to consider what the patterns and desires are that were expressed in ancient worship as we try to consider what the parallels in our era might be, so, drawing upon my meager knowledge of South Asian and African cultures that do include differing gods and my understanding of ancient Greek and Roman religious beliefs which also included gods competing for mortals’ attention I can come up with the following:

Worship most commonly involved:
  • A belief that a god’s opinion of you, or that being in his or her good graces, is the most important source for your success in life and your material well-being and emotional stability.
  • A belief that sacrificing things that are important to you in order to win a god’s good opinion and help is effective in gaining what you desire.
  • A belief that the gods that other people look to for help are not as powerful or effective as the ones to whom you look for help.
  • A strong sense of tradition and custom that feels familiar and comfortable.
So, therefore, in considering the answer to the above mentioned Sunday School question…

From which people or institutions do I seek approval more than I seek to please God in my quest for social success, material well being and emotional stability?  And, is one of those people me?

For which goals or for which people’s approval do I sacrifice things that are most important to me? 

Are there things, philosophies or people that I think are more effective in helping me achieve my desires than God is?  Do I act like there are?

As I consider the people who I feel I most need to please in order to succeed, or the philosopies or assumptions that I most need to conform to in order to be succesful, how many of those are ones I embrace simply due to tradition and a comfortable sense of the familiar or established?

Food for thought.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stumbled upon today

"Sometimes I don’t see my 5-year-old either, or my husband, or my 2-year-old.  It’s easy to see them as obstacles.  But then I wake up, remember that they are here happening for me, not to me."
~ Kamille

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

To Give and to Receive

To give yourself to a spouse in marriage:  to remember, as life gets crazier and children come and dreams look possible and you feel the thrill and sense of accomplishment that comes from giving yourself to those people and goals, that your giving of yourself to your spouse comes first and, if nurtured, will last longest and best.  It’s easy to lose sight of that.

To receive to yourself someone as your spouse in marriage:  to remember that you actively received that spouse, the attractive and good as well as the unattractive and imperfect aspects of their lives and personalities.  It is easy, as time passes, to be annoyed and frustrated at the minor imperfections and differences your spouse brings to a marriage and to wish that they were different from what they are.  But the covenant is to receive a spouse, not selectively accept only the parts that we like best and be dissatisfied with the parts that are different.  It’s easy to lose sight of that too.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

What John Murdock wrote

 “In one of these meetings [at the School of the Prophets] the prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.” 

John Murdock Journal, typescript, BYU Archives, p.13, capitalization standardized, italics added

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saving, in more ways than one.

Do not leave yourself or your family unprotected against financial storms. Forgo luxuries, for the time being at least, to build up savings. How wise it is to provide for the future education of your children and for your old age.
The smaller the family income, the more important it is that every dollar be used wisely. Efficient spending and saving will give the family more security, more opportunities, more education, and a higher standard of living.
Ezra Taft Benson, "Pay Thy Debt, and Live", Ensign, June 1987, 3

L’s parents lived on his father’s modest income.  His mother was a master at budgeting and making do and she and her husband were united on their financial priorities and they believed in putting aside savings for the things that were most important.  L’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly when L was 16 years old.  Two years later L started college.  A combination of scholarships, work study, attendance at a subsidized university and money his father had carefully saved for his education allowed him to graduate with his bachelor’s degree debt free.  Scholarships and work study were not available for his graduate education but the money his father had set aside was enough to cover his tuition at a state school where he was fortunate enough to be admitted.  He lived at his mother’s home for those first two years in order to cover his living expenses and then, after we were married, I worked to pay for them.  He graduated from with his doctoral degree without any education debt, something for which we are profoundly grateful. 

My parents had a larger income, though they also had seven children which made budgeting also important.  My father had paid for his undergraduate education with a combination of work and financial assistance from his father, who had saved money for that purpose.  My mother was an undergraduate with another two years of school ahead of her when she married my dad in his second year of post graduate education.  She worked part-time and finished her education two months before I was born.  Financial assistance from both of my grandfathers was essential for my parents’ family as my father did his six years of residency at a time when residents were not paid anything at all.  My parents were profoundly grateful and determined that they would try to bless their children similarly.

When I turned 18 and started college I also worked and studied and it was savings set aside by my paternal grandparents for their grandchildren that made up the difference in my tuition.  I finished without any debt as well.  Their assistance enabled my father to shift his education savings towards the education of my younger siblings.

What L and I found was that this tradition of older generations saving for the education of the younger leaves a profound gift of freedom for both generations and the extended family, not just the younger ones who are in school.  Finishing school without debt saved L and me not only from huge amounts of stress and anxiety about the future, but also enabled us to be available for more opportunities for service.  If we had been paying off education debts when L’s brother was called to serve as a mission president at the end of L’s training, we would not have been able to provide the financial assistance he needed in order to be able to respond to that call.  But, because we had no debt obligations, we could.  And L’s brother was able to serve.

We started saving for our children’s education when they were born.  At first it was only a little bit while we were living on L’s early small salary, but we knew we needed to start that habit in order for it to last for the ensuing decades.  We knew that if we waited we would wait too long.

 Sometimes we forget, as parents thinking about the future educational needs of our children, that financial aid packages not only require work study, grants, and student loans, but also parental contributions as well. I have sweet friends who were unable to save for their children’s education and thought that if they sent their children to community colleges and state schools they would be able to manage that.  Little did any of us anticipate how those tuitions would increase over what they were when we were students.  They are now are paying off parental obligation debts they incurred for their children’s education at state schools while their children struggle to pay off their own portion of those education loans.  My friends had planned to be serving as senior missionary couples by now, but those debts make that not possible.

Yes, if your children are blessed with particular athletic or academic gifts, or admission to a particularly inexpensive school they may be able to get themselves through their undergraduate education with a lot of work and no debt.  And I am very much in favor of students working to help pay for their tuition. But it is much, much harder for a student to graduate debt-free than it was when I was a student as tuition costs have far outstripped inflation. And the financial outlook is even grimmer for the children being born today.  It behooves us to make sacrifices that enable both them and us to enjoy freedom from enslaving debt as much as possible.

Finally, many parents are poor enough that saving is impossible.  Financial aid, scholarships and work study will likely decrease in the future as educational institutions struggle with budget decreases and rising costs.  The competition for those resources will increase as student population increases.  It behooves those of us who can set at least some money aside for education to do so in order that those resources may be spread more widely among all who need it.  Thus, saving for education not only blesses you and your children and your extended family, but also gives you opportunity  to fulfill the commandment that we assist those in need.

Ezra Taft Benson’s counsel has proved wise for us.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Taking upon yourself a name

Last night, due to a Primary lesson I’m preparing, I was trying to think about how to explain the concept of taking upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ when one receives baptism.  Children understand the idea of identifying themselves as individuals by their first names and being a “Jones” or a “Smith” by affiliation because of their last name.  But when you talk about adding Christ’s name to your identity they often don’t understand, because, of course, you don’t change what you call yourself.  Your name doesn’t change, even though you have gone through the formal ceremony of deciding to become Christ's “son” or “daughter”.

But how about if we thought about it rather like a title of responsibility?  Think about Albert who married Queen Victoria.  When he married her he was Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, (and after 1857) Duke of Saxony, but his friends and family simply called him Albert.  After he married Victoria went by “HRH Prince Albert” in formal circles and was called simply “Albert” by his wife.  He would not have introduced himself as “Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony” or even “HRH Prince Albert” though he was duke of Saxony and designated as a Prince and always knew that about himself.  Perhaps in his mind, every time he introduced himself or said his name in one of its shortened forms, he was aware of the parts unspoken, though he felt no need to mention them.

Which made me think, what if, every time I introduced myself or said who I was on the phone, I said my usual name out loud and then in my head added “a disciple of Jesus Christ”.  What a pointed reminder it might be to me each time about how I should be treating the person with whom I was speaking or what my priorities should be or how I might better respond to the challenges or opportunities of that particular day.  It might not be a bad idea.