Monday, December 31, 2007

Burned to Death

Here is Arnold Friberg's famous painting of Abinadi.

Abinadi's story is an interesting one. It begins in Mosiah 11. The Lord tells him to go preach to the wicked people of King Noah, and to prophesy of the destruction that will befall the people unless they repent. The people don't take too kindly to his denunciations, and try to kill him, but the Lord delivers him. Then we read:
"And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people..." (Mosiah 12:1). I've always found it odd that Abinadi would show up in disguise, and immediately announce his name. Maybe he got excited in the heat of the moment.

Abinadi, after prophesying before the people, and then before the wicked King Noah and his idolatrous priests, is burned to death because he would not recant his testimony of Christ.

We always imagine that Abinadi is about 85 years old and built like a body-builder, based on Brother Friberg's depiction of him (based on real photographs, of course). So it doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice for him to go preach to Noah, and go to his death--it's sort of the grand finale of a life well lived--no great triumph, but no great tragedy, either.

But what if Brother Friberg got it wrong? What if Abinadi was 25 instead of 85? What if he was short, had a big nose, skinny legs, and walked with a limp? What if he was in the prime of his life, instead of the end of it? Perhaps this was his first experience in a royal throne room. Maybe it was his first missionary assignment.

The story of Abinadi is incredible even if Abinadi was a old man and a seasoned veteran of missionary work. But the idea of a young man taking on all of Noah's priests--who must have bee fairly well versed in the scriptures (especially since they picked an obscure passage in Isaiah to question Abinadi on, and he delivered a brilliant and scathing sermon off the cuff) and winning, to the extent that they were so angry at him they felt the need to burn him to death, is even more amazing. I guess it gives me hope that I, as young and unlearned and inexperienced as I am, can still do great things in the strength of the Lord.

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise" (Alma 37:6).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Better Than Light

I've been thinking, lately, with Happy New Year approaching, about a favorite poem by Minnie Louise Haskins:

"The Gate of the Year"

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

A year ago, I never would have dreamed that the events of this year would have unfolded the way they did. But, as it turns out, God has a better way of doing things than I do. I'm in a far better place today than I was a year ago (of course, this time last year I was on an excruciating red-eye flight across four time zones. But you get my meaning). If He had announced His intention from the beginning, I would have been far too skeptical to go along with it. He knows I'm stubborn, so He gives me just what I need to know for the things I need to do as they come along. For being God, He's awfully smart.

Put your hand in the hand of God. Haskins was right--it is better than light, and far safer than a known way.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bored Games...and other life postulates

The other day David and I were talking about my blog. He said, "I haven't been commenting on it lately because you haven't been saying anything controversial." So much for writing beautiful things about the Lord's love. Apparently I have to write something incendiary to get comments.

I realized today how much I like simple things. I don't like having to make elaborate arrangements for a date. I don't like games with millions of rules (think Axis and Allies or football), and I don't like complicated relationships. I think outings should be simple and meaningful, and leave lots of time for personal interaction rather than creating a contrived activity to fill time. I think games should have a few simple, easily explainable rules, and rely mostly on skill, rather than chance, to win. (Think Spit or Blokus or Snatch or Set) I also think games should start and finish in under half an hour. (Maybe I have a short attention span.) I think relationships should be open, full of honest communication, with game-playing and other such stupidity held to a minimum. (They should start and finish within half an hour, too. Just kidding. My attention span isn't quite THAT short.)

I like simple things. Life is already too complicated.

"I glory in plainness; I glory in truth" (2 Nephi 33:6).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The First Christmas

Spending the night in the airport coming home got me to thinking about travel at Christmastime. It wasn't comfortable, but I'll bet the first-ever Christmas journey was a lot less posh.

We tend to have a funny portrayal of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. Mary is always a sweet young woman of about twenty with perfect teeth and shiny black hair, Joseph a young man of twenty-five with a full beard, and he always patiently leads Mary's donkey, which she sits upon with a clean blue robe wrapped around her heavily pregnant form. When they get to Bethlehem, they set up shop in a clean barn with fresh straw, where she quickly gives birth to Jesus, and then peacefully attends to wrapping him in a lovely white blanket and looking on him adoringly. She isn't at all fazed when a bunch of idyllic-looking shepherds show up to gaze at him.

Let's think for a minute about how the first Christmas more likely transpired.

The governor sent out a decree to all his people that they should all go to their homelands to be counted in a census. This angered the people, who already chafed under Roman rule, but home they went. Joseph left Nazareth to go to Bethlehem, because he was of David's lineage, not because he had any ties to the area. (He must not have had any family there, which explains why they sought shelter in an inn.) They traveled about 70 miles as the crow flies, much more when you figure in the winding mountain trails that lie between the two regions. It would have taken them more than a week, and these were the days before hotels and rest stops. There is no evidence that they had a donkey--they could just as easily have been making the journey on foot, with Mary about to deliver a child. Mary would have been about fourteen years old (imagine Mary as a Mia Maid), and Joseph significantly older. The trail would have been dusty and poorly suited for a pregnant woman, and it would have delayed them significantly. They would have had only what food they took with them or bought along the way (and that gives a whole new meaning to complaining about road food).

When they finally reached Bethlehem, there would have been no "Silent night" with choirs singing "all is calm, all is bright." The town was packed with people whose ancestors had come from the lineage of David, with their animals and families. The streets would have been noisy. The inn was full.

Having no family in the area, they sought refuge in a stable. This wasn't the quaint, thatched-roof barn we place in our New England-themed manger scenes--it was a small cave where the sheep were kept for the night. We don't know how long they were in Bethlehem, but at some time during their stay, the baby's time came, and Mary gave birth at night. I submit that she wasn't up and about immediately after the birth, smiling delightedly when the shepherds showed up. Giving birth to a baby is hard work--they call it "labor" for a reason--and Mary was probably exhausted and in considerable pain. Her feet were tired, she was exhausted from the journey, and giving birth by lamplight in a cave as a fourteen-year-old girl with a man she barely knew (or with some foreign midwives) was probably not exactly her idea of a good time, and definitely not what she had imagined for her life.

Then strange men with weather-worn faces and clothes smelling of sheep started showing up, running to see her child. No violins played sweet strains of beloved carols, no bells rang, no smell of Christmas ham wafted through the air, no stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Her baby cried (that "no crying he makes" line is nonsense. Babies cry.), her husband left to go pay the taxes, and Mary was a stranger in a strange land.

She must have been a very strong young lady. How many of us could handle any part of what she experienced, and still praise God?

What an interesting God we worship--a God who would send His Son to be born of a young girl, cradled in a cave, laid in a feeding trough, greeted by shepherds, raised by a poor craftsman, and die ignominiously, nailed to a tree, killed for sedition---and still have it be the greatest miracle of all time. What a humble Savior we have, who would be born in the poorest of circumstances, He who had formed worlds born as a helpless child, He who had sat on the right hand of God living His life without beauty or glory, and He who created life relinquishing His that His persecutors might live.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Nephi 11:16-17).

Monday, December 24, 2007


They pulled out foam sleeping mats sometime last night, so I got a few hours of fitful sleep on the mezannine of the airport. Bless the merciful employee who turns off that confounded PA system during the wee hours of the morning. We're leaving in a few hours, and we'll be home before noon.

I've learned a few things about traveling over the holidays. I present the following:

Amy's Top Ten List of Things to Bring While Travelling:
1. A toothbrush. I feel like I have green furry things growing on my teeth.
2. Noise-canceling headphones. I would have loved to make that stupid computerized voice welcoming me to the airport and reminding me that it was a non-smoking facility shut up.
3. Something that can double as a blanket. I was lucky not to have room in my suitcase, so I grabbed two winter coats and a hat as I was running out the door. When we got stranded, both of us had blankets, and I had a hat to pull over my eyes. I wish they'd shut off the lights in these airports.
4. A neck pillow. Seriously. They're great for sleeping (or staying awake) on the plane, in what may be the most uncomfortable seats ever engineered. And it doubles as a sleeping pillow should you get stuck. This is the second time I've used mine on the floor of an airport. That curved neck pillow may be the best $13 I've ever spent.
5. Food. And cash. If you're not going to sleep, you may want to eat. Sometimes, nothing but hot food will do.
6. A water bottle. Empty, of course. So you don't have to pay the exorbitant prices they charge for water--if you can find a drinking fountain.
7. A laptop, and some movies to watch. 'Nuff said.
8. A change of clothes.
9. A hat, to put over your hair when it gets greasy and yucky.
10. Some books, and your scriptures.

And now, a few things I've noticed:

Does anyone really need to be told, never mind every ten minutes, that:
1. Don't smoke in the airport
2. Don't accept packages from strangers
3. Don't try to bring guns through security
...? If you don't know these things, perhaps you shouldn't be traveling unaccompanied. Just sayin'.

Another PA announcement I can't understand is the one (and they have it in every airport I've been in) that talks about that ridiculous Homeland Security Threat Level system. Apparently we're at a threat level "orange," which means there is a "high risk of terrorist attacks." This is as compared to yellow, "elevated risk," and red, "severe risk." Whatever the difference between those is.
This color system is Tom Ridge's brainchild, and is supposed to provide a "comprehensive and effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to Federal, State, and local authorities and to the American people." I'm not sure how knowing that we're at "orange" helps me have any relevant or useful information whatsoever regarding terrorist attacks. Are we supposed to be more alert...more alert than what, exactly? The threat level has been at "orange" almost nonstop since the system was created. How much does it matter in the lives of ordinary people? Am I supposed to feel an "orange-y" level of scared now? Do the Feds feel orange-y scared?

And, for the record, is it possible to make a LESS comfortable seat for an airplane? I swear, the engineers are sitting around calculating d(comfort)/dt=0. (Yes, I'm a nerd. Props to anyone who got that.) Optimization, anyone?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It Is No Coincidence...

"It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear." --Douglas Adams

I'm stuck in an airport tonight. Our first flight got delayed for several hours on the runway, and we missed our connection by half an hour. The next flight doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. So we'll be sleeping on the floor with hundreds of other weary Christmas travelers.

The happy things:
* We'll be home for Christmas, if only barely.
* We've got lots of leg room, which was in short supply on the plane
* I didn't die of cardiac arrest, which I thought I might after running to catch that flight.
* We have a neck pillow
* I bought 24 hours of wireless Internet access, so I have something to do.
* I also have several books to read
* I even thought to bring food (and I make really good food).
* I'm going home!!!!

I'm exhausted. I should have brought some movies. And the PA system goes off every few seconds paging somebody or other or announcing another flight. It's going to be a rough night.
I just sent David down for some more food. If you're still up and about, you're welcome to get on and chat with me. Or show me your favorite website. Or, you know, whatever.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Smallest Part Which I Feel

I've been reading about Ammon's missionary journeys lately, and I am in awe. Not only was Ammon a great warrior and a missionary, he was also a poet to rival any psalmist. When he got together with his brethren, he rejoiced in the Lord's goodness to them and to the people they had served, saying,

"I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever" (Alma 26:12).

What a great thing to remember--as to my strength I am weak. When we excel in an academic or work environment, it's easy to think we've "prospered according to [our own] genius, and... conquered according to [our own] strength" (Alma 30:17). But the work of the Lord isn't like that--we do everything by His power. It's His work, His message, and when it sinks into the hearts of those we teach, it is He who gets the glory for such success. It's the opposite of the world's emphasis on self-esteem--this is God-esteem.

God-esteem makes a lot more sense than self-esteem, anyway. We're only mortals, after all, and as mortals we're going to fail a lot. Why not base our worth on our relationship to our Father, who "
is the Rock, his work is perfect... a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deut. 32:4)? Then we can rejoice, not in our own innate goodness, but in the chance He has granted us to be instruments in His hands, to bring to pass His great work and glory (Moses 1:39).

Ammon continued, praising God for delivering so many of the people with whom he has labored:

"Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice? Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
"Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
"Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel" (Alma 26:13-16).

I feel like Ammon. I have been given some incredible opportunities to testify of Christ, and they have humbled me, as I have come to understand that when I do good in the name of the Lord, He strengthens me and gives me power, but He calls the shots and gets the credit for any success. For I, as John, "came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through [me] might believe. [I am] not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light" (John 1:7-8). Ammon's opportunities were difficult, as some of mine have been, but I, like he, rejoice in the opportunity to be an instrument in the Lord's hands in doing His work. Truly, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Should Not the Heavens Weep?

I couldn't sleep for hours last night. I cried, because so many of the people I love are in such great pain, and I hurt for them. When you love someone, it's impossible not to be affected when they hurt. Even God, who is perfect and omnipotent, can't help but weep when He sees the suffering of His children.
Last night I thought of Enoch's vision of the earth. Moses records:

"And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced...And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations...and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever...and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?"

Enoch is asking God, essentially, "You're perfect. With your eternal perspective, how can you be sorrowful about a tiny fraction of your innumerable creations?"

God's answer is beautiful. It gives me insight into the character of the God I worship, and the person I should strive to emulate.

"The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father...and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren....wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?"(Moses 7:26-37)

The God we worship cries when we suffer, even when our sufferings are caused by our own poor choices. His love for His children is infinite, even though we are such a tiny part of His creations. His love is great enough that He gave His Son for us, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

I bear witness of the reality of that gift of God's Son, of His Atonement, and of its great and transcendent power. I know that His Atonement has power to heal every hurt, every heartache, and every sin. I know that, although the Lord weeps, He has the power to "wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev. 21:4).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Twisted Roots

Daniel sent me this article today. Now I feel better about spending hours writing essays about religious (and other) topics.

In other news, I've been transcribing my great-great-great grandfather's journal recently. It's about 800 pages long, and the handwriting, spelling, and grammar are often hard to decipher, so it's slow going. It recounts his missionary work in England. I just got through Christmas and New Year's, and now it's January 1892. He seemed to do a lot of the same things each day, but reading about my ancestor's life fascinates me. With the connections I'm making and the puzzle pieces I'm putting together, it has become really enjoyable.

My uncle put together a family history book recently, and I've been reading bits of it. It's an incredible wealth of information. I never realized what fascinating (and at times shady) lives my ancestors lef.

I'd better quit procrastinating and go study for my programming test now. Good luck to those of you taking finals this week!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Since Feeling Is First...

I re-realized something today: I love to feel music.

Okay, I confess. I'm an audiophile. It's true. When I grow up and get a home and a job, I'm going to buy real sound equipment. I'm going to install high-quality speakers in my home, and turn off the lights and listen to Rachmaninoff's Vespers in the darkness in my living room. I'm going to install a sub-woofer that can rattle the windowpanes.

Tonight I listened to Daniel play the piano, stretched out on the floor (I was stretched out, not him, silly!) We were in an old house, with a loud piano and fairly good acoustics, without padded walls and industrial carpet to dull the sound. It was wonderful to feel the notes resonate through the floorboards and inside my lungs, and throughout my whole body. It's a very different experience from my normal music-listening habits. In this world of MP3s and electronic music played on tinny speakers, it's a real joy to hear music live--to
feel it, to let its vibrations course through me. There was an intimacy, a realness to the experience that left me hungry for more. It was like the difference between talking to your Dad on the phone and leaning up against him, feeling the vibrations of his voice in his chest.

Speaking of which, I can't wait to go home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And They Took Up Stones Again to Stone Him

Tonight was the last night of Hanukkah. It was a beautiful celebration. Thanks to all who attended. Thanks especially to Daniel for hosting, and to Owen for cooking the latkes.

We talked today, as we sat around watching the candles burn out, about some of the other Jewish celebrations. As I've said before, if I wasn't LDS, I'd be Jewish. They have such incredibly beautiful, richly symbolic holidays.

Tonight we read the account of Christ celebrating Hanukkah, and His sermon in Solomon's porch of the temple at Jerusalem (John 10:22-end). It's one of the few times in the gospels that Christ announces his divine Sonship and Messianic mission. It's a beautiful sermon.

A beautiful sermon that almost got Him killed.

As Daniel pointed out, you know the Pharisees understood Him because they picked up rocks to stone Him. The Savior handled the situation with a remarkable wit, considering what a dangerous situation He was in.

I thought of how appropriate it was that Christ, on this day of dedication and celebration of the miracle of light, and in the court of the temple, would announce His godhood. He is the light of the world. He is the Holy One of Israel, the one dedicated to atone for us, and the One to whom the temple had been dedicated. How appropriate, then, that He should make such an announcement at such a feast.

How appropriate, too, that we should celebrate Hanukkah at this time of year, a time of giving gifts to the Savior, of New Year's resolutions--in short, of re-dedicating ourselves to the Savior whose birth we celebrate. He is the light of the world. His is the miraculous light that we celebrate. His is the cause to which we dedicate ourselves, and all that we have and are.

On the last day of the original feast of dedication, the temple altar was dedicated. May we, on this final day of celebration, dedicate ourselves to sacrifice to the Lord whose altar and temple it was.
Happy Hanukkah, all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ode to the Nameless Wife of a Once-Wayward Man

I talked last time about my love of stories of exemplary women from the scriptures, even though they are fairly few and far between. One woman that I've thought about a lot lately is the wife of Alma the Younger. We never learn her name. In fact, Alma never even mentions her existence, but he had children, so I figure he must have had a wife.

What of this woman's story can we reconstruct, without any mention of her? What lessons can we learn from her life? I've managed to gain a lot from her. Bear with me for a moment as I construct what I believe is a convincing picture of her character.

First, let's review her husband's life. His father, also named Alma, was the high priest over the church in his land. Alma Jr., therefore, was in line for the office, and should have been among the most righteous, given his noble parentage. Instead, Alma and his buddies, the sons of Mosiah, went about trying to destroy the church of God. Alma "became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them" (Mosiah 27:8-9).

So Alma, in spite of his father's teachings, was a bad apple. I imagine, based on his description of his torment and his later attempts to make restitution for his sins, that he was guilty of apostasy, idolatry, adultery, hedonism, and a few other fairly heinous things. I also imagine, leading the wild lifestyle he was, that he wasn't married at the time. (This argument also holds up if he was married, but it's simpler and more intuitive if he was a wild, wicked bachelor.)

Now the short version of the rest of his story (this post is supposed to be about his wife, after all): An angel appears to Alma and his buddies as they're out worshipping idols, sleeping around, and generally breaking every known commandment. The angel gives Alma a royal telling-off, and he falls into a coma for a few days wherein he is tortured with all his sins, comes to Christ, applies the Atonement, repents, wakes up, and testifies of Christ, his past sins, and his current saved condition. The he and his buddies spend years going around preaching the gospel, confessing their sins, and trying to repair the wrongs they had done. Alma eventually becomes high priest (Alma 4:4), like his father. He has some sons. He gives some of the most powerful and profound discourses in the Book of Mormon, and, at the end of his life, was translated (we think) (Alma 45:18-19).
(For a more complete account of his life, see Alma 36, Mosiah 27, Robert Millet's article, and the Wikipedia article on him.)

Great. So how about his wife? We don't know much about her. Maybe she isn't mentioned because she died in childbirth. Maybe she outlived Alma. No idea. We don't have any of her words recorded.

But, going with the assumption that she married Alma after his spectacular conversion, we know one major thing about her: She must have understood and had faith in the power of the Atonement. Think of it--Alma and his father must have been well-known in their community. Alma's people must have known of their leader's greatness and his struggles with his wayward son. They would have heard him preach to them, and seen the sorrow in his eyes as he preached against the sin that was growing in the hearts of his people, hearts he knew were being led away by his own son. There must have been sleepless nights for Alma Senior and his wife as they wondered how they had failed as parents, and what they could do to reclaim their son. Alma Senior organized a group fast and prayer when Alma Jr. was struck down, and Alma Jr.'s testimony, confession, and missionary work were public. So his wife would have known of his prior rebellion. She would have known of the depth of his apostasy and wickedness. She may even have personally known the people whose testimonies he destroyed, the women whose virginity he took, the people he flattered away from their covenants and responsibilities. The community could not have been so large that she would have been unaware of Alma's past, for "this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26).

Yet she married Alma and bore him three sons: Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton (who strayed while on his mission but later returned and repented). She must have been a great woman to be the wife of such a great prophet, and to raise such great sons.

I wonder if her husband's past ever tortured her. I wonder what she thought about before she married him. I can't believe that his past didn't cross her mind. I imagine that she thought long and hard about his repentance, and about what repentance really means. She must have understood that the Atonement really does have the power to change a person, to give them a different character, to change their desires. She had the faith required to marry him because she knew that the power of the Atonement was real, that she didn't have to worry about her husband straying again, because he had experienced a "might change of heart," and had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2).

One of my greatest fears has always been that I would marry a man who was abusive or unfaithful to me or to the Lord. What Alma's wife did strikes me as terrifying, which may be why I admire her so much for her understanding of a principle I believe, but have yet to fully comprehend.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already...And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:16-19).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I wonder as I wander

I've said before that I'm not a feminist. But I still appreciate female role models from the scriptures. Yes, we can all learn something from Alma and Moroni and Nephi, but there's something special about having an exemplary woman to look up to that speaks to me more. I can connect with her, feel like she had some of the same struggles I face. There's a bond of kinship, even though I don't know her. I strain for every detail of her life, each recorded word she spoke, and the stories that were told about her. I imagine myself in her place. I imagine the story from her perspective, and it gives me hope and comfort.
But the task is difficult. Women in the scriptures never write their own stories; they're always a footnote to the story of some great prophet, king, or general. Most of their words aren't recorded, and often their very names are lost to history. But occasionally they leave clues as to the women they were and the lives they led.
Take Sariah, wife of Lehi, mother of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, and probably a few daughters. She had a comfortable home in Jerusalem, land for her children to inherit, and was likely well-known and respected in the community.
Then her husband saw a vision, and her world changed. Lehi announced that they would leave Jerusalem--a city, he said, which has become so wicked that it would soon be destroyed. They're leaving in a hurry, and they're not coming back. In her day, that meant she would never see her friends or extended family again. Her previously well-stocked kitchen and trips to the market would be replaced by cooking whatever her sons killed with their bows, in the desert on an open fire. Saintly though she may have been, I can't imagine her being thrilled by the prospect. Then, after another vision, Lehi announced that her four sons must go back to Jerusalem, a journey of many days in a hostile land, to retrieve gold plates from their clan chief, a greedy madman and a notorious drunkard. For weeks, there was no sign of her sons. I imagine a Sariah who hourly scanned the horizon for some sight of her sons' return.
When the appointed day had passed, and still her sons were missing, Nephi records that "she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father... saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 5:2). Sariah gets a bad rap for her harsh words--she comes off as the complaining wife who added to the burdens of an already-weary prophet. But how many of us would bear up under any portion of what she experienced with so little complaining? For a woman who had been heartbroken to leave the land and the people she loved, and then had lost all of her sons, and "she truly had mourned because of us," it's a wonder she didn't hurt anyone physically.
I see her as a woman of great love. She left Jerusalem without complaining. She traveled many miles in the wilderness to a destination she could not conceive of. She mourned the loss of sons she loved. And she rejoiced at their return.
I love the scene of her reunion with her sons. Nephi records:
"And it came to pass that after we had come down into the wilderness unto our father, behold, he was filled with joy, and also my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad...And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full" (1 Nephi 5:1,7).
And then, these beautiful words, which are Sariah's transformation:
"...and my mother was comforted."
"Comforted" comes from Middle English, from Old French, from late Latin. The word originally mean "strengthened, filled with strength and power." It means that not only was Sariah was no longer sad, she was filled with testimony, with understanding, with the power it would take to spend the next eight years and at least two pregnancies in the wilderness. That's the only way I can explain what happens next:
"And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them" (1 Nephi 5:8, emphasis added).
"Now," she said, she knew that the course she had been pursuing all this time was correct. This is Sariah's transformation.
Before this moment, she was a dutiful wife, following the direction of her husband according to Middle Eastern custom. Lehi said he was acting on commandment from the Lord, but Sariah had seen no visions, heard no heavenly voices. Now the Lord strengthens her, gives her the knowledge that surely she had sought. Now she becomes a willing partner, a participant in the Lord's miracles to her family. She took a step into the darkness, and then another, and another, and when her challenges had been sufficient, the light followed her, and strengthened her.
From this point on, we never hear her complain. She eats of the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:14-16). She rejoices in her family's triumphs, and trusts in the Lord when the journey is difficult. Even when her family is without food, and all the men, including Lehi, murmur against the Lord, Sariah is faithful (1 Nephi 16).
Sariah became ill on the voyage to the promised land, amidst fraternal squabbles, a great tempest, and general unrest. Her young sons, who needed her, were distraught. It is not known whether she ever reached the promised land.
Sariah was a noble and great woman who endured much. She saw her family ripped apart by injured pride and insincere repentance. She crossed a hostile wilderness, giving birth amidst great afflictions. She loved her family deeply, and their fighting concerned and hurt her. She will be remembered for her great love and faithfulness. Sariah is my hero.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Come Light The Menorah!

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the miracle that occurred at the re-dedication of the Jerusalem temple in about 165 B.C. The temple had been desecrated by the Greek soldiers under the command of Antiochus IV, and turned into a temple for the worship of Zeus. Jewish worship was forbidden, and the Jews were commanded to worship Greek gods, eat the meat of pigs, and engage in rituals repugnant to their faith. Many Jews complied with the new decrees, but the Maccabees led the Jewish revolt against the Greek soldiers, and succeeded in retaking the temple. They found the temple looted and in disarray. Needing to rededicate the temple before it could be used for sacrifices and ordinances, they searched the temple for oil with which to light the menorah, but were only able to find a small container of oil, enough to light the menorah for only a day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to dedicate the temple and to press and consecrate more oil. Jews today celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights, in commemoration of that miraculous event.

Those of you who are in the area are invited to join me in celebrating the second night of Hanukkah tomorrow night at 9pm in S205. (Food contributions are always welcome). We will have traditional food, games, music and culture, along with lighting the menorah.

Most (all?) of you reading this aren't Jewish. So why should you care about Hanukkah? Apart from the great food (who doesn't like potato pancakes and jelly donuts deep-fried in oil?) Hanukkah has great significance to the Christian world as well. Had there been no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas. Had the Maccabees and their companions not stood up to the Greek soldiers, Jewish religion would have ceased as we know it. There would be no temple for Christ to teach in, no synagogue for Him to preach in, no Galilean Jewish virgin for Him to be born to. If Antiochus had had his way, the Jews would have been worshiping pagan gods, not looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The miracle of Hanukkah is the miracle of a God who blesses His chosen people when they obey Him, a God who strengthens those who keep His law. We worship a God of miracles, a God of glory, a God of light. Just as He lit His temple, He will light our hearts this Christmas season as we remember the birth of His Son, the Light of the World. Jesus Christ, who performed this miracle, will perform miracles for us. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament, the "light which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)

Barely Legal Blondes want your Savings Account

As you've heard me rant about before, Wells Fargo Bank holds about 20% of the stock of Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (PLA--click on the link for stock information). Since pornography is against my personal value system (not to mention good common sense for healthy relationships), I don't feel comfortable allowing my money to go to support those who produce pornography. Accordingly, I closed my accounts with Wells Fargo today.
Consider doing the same. If you bank with Wells Fargo, consider whether or not your values support the causes that your bank is choosing to support using your money. Vote with your pocketbook.
The banker was a bit taken aback when I told her my reasons for terminating my relationship with Wells Fargo. She may have thought I was a little bit nutty, but I bet if we all refused to bank with them for that reason, it would send a clear message that the way they choose to invest is not okay with their customer base.
If that isn't enough incentive, several of the other area banks and credit unions have better interest rates, fewer fees, and more perks.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Song of The Heart

I love music. It fills up my soul, makes me want to sing and dance and shout and twirl and praise God for something so beautiful. When I went to the last Men's and Women's Chorus concert, my date (thank you, dear boy!) commented about how fun it was to watch me sit on the edge of my chair in ecstasy as I listened to selection from Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil (Vespers)--one of my favorite pieces of music. I had forgotten that music could be so beautiful. I love the convenience of CDs and MP3s, but nothing can replace the sheer beauty of hearing a first-rate choir in a concert hall. The notes resonate differently--they fill the air--in a way that's hard to replicate without spending millions of dollars on sound equipment.

I got to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir last night. It always amazes me what a perfect blend they have--it seems as if there's only one singer--a single voice with a whole lot of power. And they are always so purely musical--as if they have no need to overdo anything, to embellish unnecessarily, no need to add the cheap gimmicks that so many choirs and soloists use to make up for lack of technique and simple beauty.

There are a few numbers that make me shudder with their beauty--Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, Handel's Messiah, Mozart and Brahm's Requiems...--pieces I want to listen to in a dark room with some quality headphones. I want to let the music course through me and take me away, enfold me in something beautiful. Especially during this Christmas season, I want to listen to the angels sing.

"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart" (Doc & Cov 25:12).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

He's Got Us Covered

I like metaphors. Turn me loose on scriptural symbolism, and I'm in heaven. I get along really well with Isaiah and Revelation, because they're like beautiful, meaningful puzzles to me, and I get excited when I get a chance to unravel them. The Lord is a master of beautiful symbolism--it must come with being omniscient. =)
For instance, here's one I love:

Imagery throughout the scriptures indicates that when we partake of the Atonement, we are "washed in the blood of the Lamb" (Ether 13:11). It seems like a silly thing, really. Who ever heard of washing yourself in blood?

The Lord also constantly refers to His children as His "sheep." Considering what stupid animals sheep are, I'm not sure that that's a compliment. But in this case it's instructive.

In times past, before the massive sheep ranches and modern medicine we have today, lambing season used to be awfully hard on a flock. Ewes would have trouble giving birth, and there would be lots of dead ewes and dead lambs. Unfortunately, the mothers and the babies didn't match up.* Simple, right? Just pair the orphaned lambs with the childless ewes, right? Nope. The mothers could tell their babies apart by their smell, and weren't about to suckle a lamb that wasn't theirs.

But the shepherds got smart. They learned that if they would skin the dead lamb, and drape the skin, with the lamb's blood on it, over the living lamb, the ewe would smell her baby's scent on the wool and would accept the orphaned lamb as her own.
When we think of being washed in the blood of the Lamb, we would do well to remember this practice. The Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar, which means "to cover."** As we partake of the Atonement, our sins are "covered," or washed away, by the blood of the Lamb of God, who gave Himself a ransom so that we could be "the children of God" (Galatians 3:26).

My tendency to love symbolism gets me into trouble sometimes. The Lord isn't always being witty or poetic when He says things. Sometimes He really means what He says. For instance, when He promises that if we always remember Him, we can always have His Spirit to be with us (3 Ne 18:7,11), maybe that isn't hyperbole--maybe He really means it! When He commands, "Look unto me in every thought," (Doc. & Cov. 6:36) or "Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things," (Doc. & Cov. 59:7) maybe He wasn't exaggerating!

The Lord gives some amazing promises, and many of them involve absolutes--"all," "always," "every," etc. I've started looking for them as I read the scriptures, and pondering if the Lord just might mean what He says. Here's one promise I know He meant:

"And by giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive—and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him" (Doc. & Cov. 50:35, emphasis added).

What a beautiful promise! Through our obedience and the grace of God, we can overcome all things, because Christ already has. "Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me"*** (Doc & Cov. 50:41). What a great gift it is to have God's grace, His love, and the power to overcome all things that comes from the Atonement--the marvelous covering--of His Son.

*I learned this from Donna Nielsen. I highly recommend her book, "Beloved Bridegroom."
** I learned this from Sherrie Johnson. I highly recommend her book, "Man, Woman, and Deity."
*** I learned this from God. I highly recommend a book that testifies of Him and His Son, "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ."


I don't have time to write anything profound right now, since I did no homework over the break and it's really starting to show. But I wanted to share why I don't have a MySpace account.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Holy of the Lord

I love the Sabbath. With all the craziness that is my life, it's a joy and a blessing to have a day set aside to rest, to stop doing homework, to not have to run errands, to be able to go to church and spend peaceful time with friends and with the Lord.
Growing up, I always thought that we rested on the Sabbath day because God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day. The explanation seemed a little silly to me, because I couldn't imagine an omnipotent God getting tired and needing to rest.
The Hebrew word that the Bible uses for Sabbath rest is "
sabat," a derivative of the Hebrew word for Sabbath. Sabat means rest, but not in the sense of "to take a break" or "to take time off." Instead, sabat means "To come to an end, to put an end, to stop, to cause to cease" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). So instead of "God took a vacation after working hard for six days," the Bible more nearly means "God was done creating the world, so He ceased."
Why, then, do we rest on the Sabbath day?
I looked at the story again today. Abinadi gives a reason for our rest on the Sabbath: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:
wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Mosiah 13:19, emphasis added). "Wherefore" is an interesting word--it means "for that cause or reason." So the preceding verse could easily be read: "Because the Lord made everything in six days, He blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (that is, set it aside for a holy purpose). That's an odd construction. Why would God's making everything be a reason to consecrate the day after He finished doing it?

Maybe it's because God knew that we would get so busy seeking the riches of this earth that we would forget about its beauty and about Him who created it.
Because He had created the earth, He wanted to give us a chance to spend time with Him. When He expelled Adam and Eve from Eden, he told them that life wouldn't be easy, that they'd have to work for their food, that they would eat their food "in the sweat of thy face" (Genesis 3:19). The Sabbath is the exception to that commandment. On the Sabbath, we're commanded to "rest from [our] labors, and to pay [our] devotions unto the Most High" (D&C 59:10). I could sure use a chance to rest, to cease doing my own work and take time to do the Lord's work, to commune with Him who "made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is." Isaiah promised that when we can honor the Sabbath such that we "call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD," He will bless us and "will cause [us] to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed [us] with the heritage of Jacob"(Isaiah 58:13-14).

Shabbat Shalom! May you have a peaceful Sabbath, and enjoy the renewal of this beautiful day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I've a Mother There

My grandmother passed away a year ago today. She is a beautiful woman who loves her husband, her children, and her God. I wish to pay tribute to her. Most of you who will read this have never known her. But you know me, and she is one of the women who has had the greatest impact on me. I hope you will indulge me as I share some memories of my grandma.

I remember going to play at Grandma’s house when I was a little girl. I remember being fascinated with her method of recycling paper. Grandma had this box that used to be a case of bananas, and she would put all the junk mail and waste paper in her office in this box. As a child it was wonderful to be able to paw through the “banana box.” I found scratch paper, sweepstakes offers, and even a letter from some department store regarding a boycott that Grandma had threatened because the store was selling profane materials. Even when the cardboard box was replaced by a blue plastic bin, I still called it the “banana box.” I think it was sometimes the first thing I went for when I got to Grandma’s house. It was my childhood treasure box.

I remember when Grandma and Grandpa bought the property where they now live. At first, it was “Grandma and Grandpa’s property.” Then we just called it “The Property.” It took a little adjusting when they started building a house there to call it “Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” I remember sledding down the hill at the property and having hot chocolate using hot water from the giant thermos at the bottom of the hill, and putting snow in the cocoa to cool it off.

I remember when Grandma would sing. Sometimes Grandpa would call on her to bear her testimony in church, and she would get up and bear testimony is the most beautiful way she knew how--through her music. I remember her beautiful clear soprano voice as she bore her simple testimony of her Redeemer:

I know that my Redeemer lives

What comfort this sweet sentence gives

He lives! He lives who once was dead!

He lives, my ever-living Head.

Sometimes at the end of a song her voice would go up in a flourish. I remember, as a child, thinking how beautiful her vibrato was, and wishing I could sing like she did. We miss her voice as we gather around the piano to sing hymns together as a family. Grandma taught us to sing, and to love each other--she gave us our choir. And she taught us of God--she gave us a reason to be a choir, to sing His praises. Our choir is now incomplete--we are missing our high soprano. But I know that she is singing with another choir, and I'm sure they appreciated the addition of her beautiful voice.

My grandma was a woman of very simple faith. She was the picture of grace and goodness. I miss her. I am sorry that she was taken from us so early.
But I bear witness, though less beautifully than she did, that my Savior lives. I know that through His Atonement I will see her again, that I will be resurrected, that through the sealing power given to Peter and restored in these last days, I will be united with her.
I love my Savior. I know He lives:

He lives, to silence all my fears

He lives, to wipe away my tears

He lives, and grants me daily breath

He lives, and I shall conquer death

Oh, sweet, the joy this sentence gives:

I know that my Redeemer lives!

(Samuel Medley, Hymns, 136)

Monday, November 19, 2007

My toilet runneth over

I am thankful for my home teachers. This morning our toilet started overflowing as I was getting ready for class. "Happy Thanksgiving, Amy!" I thought. After fretting a bit about what to do, since the office wouldn't be open until the afternoon, I thought, "Hey! We have home teachers!" And inside of ten minutes one of them was there, with a plunger, and our indoor plumbing was functioning again. A simple, thing, I know--more of a "knight in shining armor saving a damsel in distress" than anything. But this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for home teachers.
And indoor plumbing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Gardener is Naked!

The Fall of Adam has always been of great interest to me, so I hope you'll indulge me in another post about the story.
It seems obvious to me in reading the accounts of the Fall in both Moses and Genesis that significant elements of the story are missing. Now, I know that no story can be exhaustive, and that some details just aren't important, but it's what's missing in Genesis that really intrigues me. Go ahead, call me weird.

For instance, there's a clear pattern (a chiasm, almost) created when God appears on the scene after the fruit has been eaten. He asks each party to account for their actions, then assigns them a punishment (or consequence, if you prefer) as a result of their deeds:
A. God asks Adam, "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (Genesis 3:11)
A.1. Adam gives the reason he partook--the woman. (v. 12--and a topic for another post).
B. God asks Eve, "And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast
done?" (v. 13)
B.1. Eve gives her reason--she was beguiled by the serpent (v. 13)
C. God asks the serpent to explain himself C.1. The serpent explains himself
C. God punishes the serpent (v. 14-15)
B. God punishes Eve (v. 16)
A. God punishes Adam (v. 17-19)

Notice what's missing from the account? We never get to hear God ask the serpent why he lied to Eve, and we never get to hear the serpent's reply. Personally, I can't wait to find out.

Here's another interesting thing: A few verses earlier (v. 9-12), God appears and asks Adam three questions:
1. Where art thou? (or, in Moses's account, "Where goest thou?") (v. 9)
2. Who told thee that thou wast naked? (v. 11)
3. Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (v. 11)

Adam answers the first and last questions--
1. "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." This gave rise to the second question.
3. In answer to the last question, Adam said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." (v. 12)

Notice that he doesn't answer the second question: Who told you that you were naked? Since the answer has been lost, let's answer the question for ourselves. Who told Adam and Eve that they were naked? At the moment, there were four beings in the Garden--Adam, Eve, God, and the serpent/Satan. It wasn't any of the first three, so my money's on the serpent.
That has interesting implications, and shows us a bit of Satan's modus operandi.
Satan had just convinced them to do something that the Lord had forbidden them to do. Now, in true double-crossing fashion, he would have made them ashamed of what they had done. Instead of encouraging them to go out and meet their Lord, he would have hissed--"Run! Hide! You don't want God to see you naked!"
Either Satan has a limited bag of tricks, or perhaps he finds this one particularly effective. In either case, he keeps using it. Whenever we do something wrong, he tries to convince us to hide it from God, as if that were even possible. Instead of running to the Lord, who is merciful and mighty to save, he convinces us that our condition is so shameful that we need to hide from his presence.

In keeping with that theme, God's first question to Adam is interesting*: "Where goest thou?" It's like he was saying, "Look, Adam, where are you going to go? I'm omniscient and omnipotent. I know what you did, and where you're going to go. I know you're naked. Now exactly what did you think hiding from me was going to accomplish?"

I think it's the same way with us. I bet the Lord is up there saying, "Look, Amy, what did you think you were going to accomplish by not telling me what you're up to? Why are you giving me the silent treatment? Did you think I wouldn't notice?" And I've got to hang my head and say, "You're right, God, that was pretty silly of me. But I've got this serpent telling me to run and hide." And I can imagine God answering, "Look, Amy. Satan is a liar. Why on earth would you listen to him?"

*Thanks to Chris for the spark that led to this understanding.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No Irish Need Apply*

Welcome to Happy Valley, where the topic on everyone's mind is....that's right, marriage! It seems like you can't turn around anymore without some priesthood leader telling you that you ought to be dating like a banshee (however banshees date...) so you can find your E.C. (that's Eternal Companion) and getting married and have a dozen kids (which is the subject for another rant entirely). Some people make long lists of characteristics they're looking for in a mate, others buy the "love conquers all" routine. Some people seek out a significant other aggressively, others figure they'll deal with a relationship "if it happens." And always, always the question is asked: "What are you looking for in a spouse?"
I'm all for being unconventional, so I like to mix up the question a bit. I once asked my friend Brady what he thought I was looking for in a husband. I reproduce his comments here
(without permission from the copyright owner...but he doesn't have the time or the means to sue me, so it's probably okay):

"What do
you want? Well, this is what I think. I suppose tall, dark, and handsome would be nice (but not required), and skinny if I remember you correctly. You would prefer someone who is thoughtful, well read, intelligent (you are not noted for your patience), and someone who is not easily offended (you'll tease him mercilessly I imagine) with a good sense of humor (he'll tease you back sometimes but carefully). You will need someone more patient than you are and stronger too. The patience so that when you get upset, he can address your concerns without losing his temper (though he will have one). The strength so that when you are spent, you can lean on him for support. I think you need someone who is wise and gentle to balance some of your sharp edges, but he will be a passionate man as you are a passionate woman. Beside all of this he will be a man of faith in the Lord with a strong testimony, very much like yourself. His hobbies and interests are not nearly as relevant to the relationship, but the nature of social interaction is such that you will probably meet and fall in love with someone who will probably share a broad range of your interests. This will minimize fighting over what do to on your dates. He will be a little romantic; he will leave notes for you to find and flowers by your bedside. He will love your children but he will love you more, and he will use any means necessary to protect and defend his family. This man will never enjoy going to work as much as he does coming home. He will be attracted to you long after you think you are not attractive. He won't be afraid to say he is at fault or ask for your forgiveness (don't be miserly with the forgiveness).

P.S. He ought to think he is the luckiest guy in the world that he caught you before someone else could."

I think he did a pretty good job. So consider this a job posting. If you know anyone who fits the above criteria, I'm now accepting applications for Amy's Future Eternal Companion.

Edit: For those of you who can't hear my voice, please understand that my tone here is joking, except that I really do think Brady did a great job describing me. That's what this "list" (if it can even be called that) boils down to: a description of what's important to me. And if a girl can't give a description of what is legitimately important to her without being attacked for being an unreasonable twit, then I'm awfully sorry. Please vent your anger somewhere else.

* Irish are totally welcome to apply. I'm Irish myself, in fact. Maybe "No Creeps Need Apply."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Curvaceous Gray Matter

This is beautiful.
Now not only are curvy women more attractive to men, they're also more intelligent and more likely to have intelligent children. Now we have to beat ourselves up about our bodies and our brains jointly, rather than separately. Here's the best line:
"The researchers believe that the results offer a new explanation for why many men find curvy women more alluring."
What, was the old explanation not convincing enough? When we insist that a man who goes for a woman's body is really--though subconsciously--doing it to satisfy his evolutionary desire to have smarter children, we're adding an entirely unnecessary degree of complexity to his motives, and legitimizing his lechery. Especially when only eight percent of women have the "hourglass" figure that seems to be so coveted, do we really need a study telling the other 92% that they're somehow both less intelligent AND less attractive?

*No, I don't hate men and I'm not bitter. I just think this is awfully silly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Enter here, all ye who have abandoned hope!

Today I read part of King Benjamin's sermon again. It never ceases to amaze me how beautifully such an old man manages to sum up the gospel in such a short message. It must have been even more stunning to have been there in person.

After warning his people against giving heed to the natural man, he speaks of the Judgment Day, reminding them that:

"They shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. Therefore they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God" (Mosiah 3:24-26).

At first glance, it, and the verses that accompany it, seem to give a rather frightening account of the judgment of the wicked. But, upon further examination, they give us some insight as to the nature of judgment, Satan's temptations, and the purpose of the Atonement. Here's what I learned from Benjamin:

First, that we withdraw ourselves from God. Benjamin doesn't say that the Lord banishes us--he notes that we see our own abominations, and, condemned by our own memories, we shrink away from the Lord in guilt and shame. That's how it works on the earth, too--the Lord doesn't abandon us, we abandon Him. Isaiah, employing divine investiture a bit sarcastically (I think he and I would have gotten along), asks , "Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" In other words, "you're complaining that I've abandoned you. Why would I do such a thing?" He then answers, "Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (Isaiah 50:1, emphasis added). God isn't vengeful. He doesn't want to punish us--He isn't waiting for us to fail so he can yell, "gotcha!" When we sin, we "withdraw [our]selves from the Spirit of the Lord," (Mosiah 2:36) and the separation we feel from God is the natural consequence of our actions, not the outside imposition of a petulant child who insists he'll leave unless he gets his way. In the end, if we are damned, it will be because we damn ourselves, because we cannot stand to be in the presence of a being so wholly good as God with a perfect knowledge of our sins.

This brings me to the second thing I learned--the importance of proper perspective. Benjamin says that those who have been evil "are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations." Think of it--you're on a cruise ship for the rest of eternity, and your stateroom has a lovely view of the sewer exit pipe. All you can see from your porthole is your own waste fouling up the expanse of bright blue ocean. You close the blinds, but the smell is still there. And you lock yourself up in there, thinking that because your accommodations are so crummy, you're unworthy of associating with the other passengers on the boat. It never occurs to you to ask to have your room changed--you're too proud to admit that anything is wrong, and pretty soon you start insisting that you like it, that the smell in your stateroom is "refreshing" and "invigorating," and that you're having a lot of fun on this cruise. But despite your continued insistence, you're miserable, and you know it.

It seems to me that the only reason the wicked are stuck looking at their own guilt and abominations for the rest of eternity--a view which would indeed be more awful than the cruise ship sewer pipe--is because they refuse to repent, to ask the Captain for a change in accommodations. When we repent and turn over our transgressions to the Savior, His Atonement covers them, and we get a new chance at life--a new view of the world, as it were. We made some of the waste coming out of the sewer pipe, but our view of it changes as soon as we decide that isn't what we want for our life, and swallow our pride and ask the Lord to forgive us, to change our room to one closer to His. Until we do, we'll be stuck looking at our sins--and that's enough to make even the most righteous person among us perfectly miserable.

Or maybe what makes the torment so awful is the lens we're using to look at our sins. When we don't repent, we allow Satan to come in with a magnifying glass and a floodlight, pointing out scratches on the poorly engineered home-made telescope we're using to look at the stars. When we repent, we kick him out, acknowledge that we're imperfect, and strive to emulate the Creator of worlds without number. We're in the same place, but we're focusing on something different-- acknowledging our dependence on the Lord instead of beating ourselves up about our weaknesses. Looking at my weaknesses for eternity is a depressing thought, but contemplating the grandeur of God's creations is an exciting prospect. Even more exciting is the knowledge that when I have done all I can by repenting of my mistakes and striving to emulate the Savior, He will enable me to become like Him.

With that knowledge, why would I listen to Satan, who tries to tell me, "You'll never amount to anything--just look at what you've done! You're not good enough! Don't even bother." ? If I abandon hope of having my heart changed, of applying the Atonement in my life and being conformed to the image of Christ, then I am consigned to an awful view of everything I've done wrong, which King Benjamin says is the real torment of Hell.

With the perspective I have, I can see my sins as darkness that the Lord, in His infinite mercy, has put behind me, and I can walk away from my sins and toward the Lord, and so walk in His glorious light. When the devil tries to get me to turn around, away from the light, and fixate on my weaknesses, when he tells me that I'm worthless because of my mistakes, I can calmly reply, "And that, Satan, is why you are called a 'liar from the beginning.'" Or maybe, "Go to Hell, Satan--I'm headed in the other direction."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury (like a woman told she's a trashy gold-digging numbskull)

I don't typically call myself a feminist. Feminism got a bad rap when it turned into misandry, and I prefer to be associated with something far more positive than feminism has become. So I won't blame the patriarchy for repression, but occasionally prevailing attitudes towards women really get under my skin.
Last Friday I attended the Engineering College's ACET dinner. The ACET council is made up of highly successful engineering professionals who act as mentors and oversee the function of the college with an eye to preparing students for work in industry. Its members are recruited from among the best in their field, and it is a great opportunity to be able to learn from their experience.


After the dinner we had two breakout sessions with members of the committee. The first one I attended was on entrepreneurship. A bunch of engineers and their wives crowded into this classroom to talk about how to make millions of dollars by starting your own business. We were joined by three engineering businessmen, all millionaires, who started their own companies when they were young and did quite well for themselves. One of the men brought his wife.

The purpose of the session was admirable, I'm sure, and the council members were well-qualified. But the dynamic in the room was so offensive that it made me sick.
The wife harped on money. She gushed over how much money her husband made, how he hasn't had to work since he was 30, how they lived comfortably and could keep her home with their seven children and had plenty of money to travel and take nice vacations. She singled out a girlfriend of an engineer in the room and told her the match would be a positive one, since engineers have such high starting salaries, and she was confident this would be a great encouragement to her in deciding to marry this young man.

Moral: Women are gold-diggers. Marry an engineer for his money.

When they opened the floor for questions, one of the student's wives raised her hand and asked the businessman's wife, "How do you...pretend to care about what your husband is studying/involved with? It just seems so geeky, and I try to care, but I get lost." She laughed, and admitted frankly, "I don't care. I don't even pretend to care. I find that the engineers my husband works with have really cool, cute, fun wives, and when we get together our husbands go off and talk about their ideas, and we sit around and have girl-talk, and have a lot of fun together." There was no mention of coming to any understanding of what your husband does for a living. There was no mention of women being engineers, just the cheerleader wives of brilliant businessmen. There was no indication that women talk about anything requiring any degree of intelligence.

Beautiful. Now not only are we gold-diggers, we're also stupid. We can't think, but boy, can we ever shop! And do our hair. And nails. And fawn over how strong and smart and wealthy our husbands are.

Why would vapidity and stupidity be an asset in the marriage market? I'd like to marry a man who wanted a wife whose IQ exceeded her body temperature. I'd like my children to be intelligent, and to know that their mother is intelligent.

And I care so little about money, it's silly. I wouldn't know what to do with millions of dollars. My parents weren't wealthy, and my father will never be a millionaire, but he came home for dinner every night. But I knew that my parents loved each other and their children, and that was what mattered in the end. Our home was small and cluttered--the basement flooded every year and the furniture didn't match, but people were drawn to it because of the special spirit they felt there. We never went to Tahiti on vacation, and my father can't golf. My parents won't have a wing of a hospital or a chair in a college named after them--but our family has created ties that bind. If engineering entrepreneurship means what I saw that night--wealthy brilliant men with beautiful, oblivious, money-crazy wives--Barbie couples who have so little meaning in their lives--then I want no part of it.

Allahu Akbar

In Arabic, there is a common saying: Allahu Akbar! It has gotten a bad rap lately as the battle cry of Muslim terrorists, but it's really an expression of faith, not of war--God is most great, or God is greater.
This week I celebrate the anniversary of a very pivotal change in my life, a series of events that were painful, but have also given me great understanding, peace, and even joy.
In all areas of life, the Lord tests us and tries us. He gives us experiences and people who will change us. He knows the storms that rage about us, and, as He did two millennia ago, He still has the power to command the waves, "Peace, be still."
I am reminded of Enos's experience with gaining forgiveness and peace. After praying all day and night, a voice came to him, saying, "Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away."
Think of what Enos must have felt! What great joy and peace must have filled his soul!
His words have come to me recently, and touched me. After feeling this great peace, Enos says, "Lord, how is it done?"
I have felt like Enos. I have tasted the beautiful peace and wholeness that comes from Christ's Atonement. When I felt that same "peace of God, which passeth all understanding," I have been led to say with Enos, "Lord, how is it done? How is it possible that I could feel this wonderful, this complete, this joyous? How can You take pain away so completely and replace it with such exquisite joy?"
And the answer, as was the Lord's answer to Enos, is simply, "Because of thy faith in Christ... wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

The power of the Atonement is real. It is the power to overcome all things. It is the power to be free, to be at peace, to rejoice.

Life can be hard, and our trials, at times, seem too great to bear. But I know that no matter how great our trials, Allahu Akbar!--God is greater.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More than one way to Skinner a cat

I attended a quasi-debate today between two psychology professors about agency. One was a behavioralist and a quasi-determinist a la B.F. Skinner, and the other didn't have too many opinions, so there wasn't much contest. They were discussing agency, and it got me to thinking.
I can't understand how anyone could subscribe to the theory of determinism. It seems so depressing--the belief that we can only be acted upon by our environment, that we completely lack agency--so hopeless, and so outside human experience. We all experience making choices--to say that this is an illusion, and that instead our circumstances determine out actions, denies responsibility, morality, and any meaning life might otherwise have had.
Agency is such a glorious gift. The ability to select between forces which entice us in so many directions, and the need to be responsible for the choices we make is beautiful. It gives meaning to life. It separates us from the animals. It gives us a consciousness, a soul, a way to make meaning of our lives, and the ability to change, to grow even from the most crushingly hopeless circumstances.

I am distressed at how easily we compromise our agency. Latter-day Saints believe that, as spirit children of our Heavenly Father, before we came to this earth, we fought a war in heaven for our freedom to choose, which Lucifer wished to take away from us. That war goes on today--Lucifer, now called the devil, still seeks to enslave us, to bind us, to get us to cede our agency to him.
It worries me when I see hypnotist shows, where for cheap entertainment we give over control of our actions to someone whose express intent is to make a buck on us by getting us to do stupid things and embarrass ourselves in front of our friends.
And hypnotism is only the most innocuous form of agency deprivation. Satan is filling the world with addictive substances and activities that enslave us. Addiction destroys our ability to feel the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit cannot dwell in unholy temples. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, or anything else that binds us in any manner will eventually destroy us. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, anything that comes between us and God will come between us and everyone we love.
So how do we recognize a seemingly innocuous activity as a deceptive flaxen cord that will become a chain? Susanna Wesley, in a letter to her son John, wrote one of the most profound and succinct statements I've ever read on the matter. She said:

"Would you judge the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure? Take this rule--whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes of your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself."

It's an excellent rule, one that I need to employ frequently. Does this activity bring me closer to God, or take me away from Him? Does it increase the authority of my body, or my mind? How do I feel about myself and others during and after my participation? Am I using this as a crutch to cover some other hurt, inadequacy, guilt, pain, or wrongdoing? Does this uplift me? Does it build up the kingdom of God? Do I find my agency compromised? Is it easier for me to be enticed by good influences, or by evil ones?

I do not mean to be negative. But I have watched lives destroyed and hearts broken by improper use and loss of agency, and I feel very strongly the need to speak clearly about it. Please be mindful of this beautiful gift, given to you by a loving Father in Heaven. Use it wisely. Do not give it away. Do not sell it cheaply. Do not abandon it. Whatever choices you may have made, do not give up hope. If you are enslaved, plead with the Lord to deliver you from bondage. I promise you that He will. He has already carried your burden. He will walk with you and carry it again. He loves you.
He wants you to return to Him.