If Only, Frank. If Only.

From Berke Breathed’s 1989 collection of Bloom County cartoons, Night of the Mary Kay Commandos.  Second strip, second panel.  Twenty one years later…

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State Of The Union Bingo

I know I’m posting this after the State of the Union has been given, but I wrote it before.  In fact, I still haven’t heard the speech, so I’m eager to look up a transcript to see if I won my game or not!

 

People

 

Together

 

Plan

 

Banks

 

Health care

 

World

 

Redistribute

 

Investment

 

Talk

 

Better

 

Children

 

Future

 

Hope!

 

Michelle

 

Guantanamo

 

Housing

 

Improving

 

Courage

 

Clear

 

Divisive

 

Fair

 

Security

 

Change

 

Sacrifice

 

Help

Recommended: Two Great Toys

A month after Christmas, two toys that were introduced into our household are still huge hits, with the kids and with me.

Probably not a good idea to take to school

First is the BuzzBee Ruff Stuff Air Blasters Double Shot Gun.  I’ve seen plenty of Nerf guns before, but nothing with this kind of realism or power.  This double barreled shotgun actually fires two bullets at a time, loads with plastic shells, and has to be cocked with quite a bit of force (so much so, in fact, that my younger son has trouble doing it by himself–this toy is best for older kids, and *ahem* dads). 

But that’s not the best part: any other toy gun I’ve ever seen just limply pops out a foam bullet which may or may not make it to your target, and if it does, it will simply drop to the ground upon impact.  Not this gun, though.  These bullets blast out with a loud bang, and smack right into the target, usually sticking there.  It.  Is.  Awesome!  Do yourself a favor and find this gun

The other toy was a video game.  I’m not often a big fan of these, sometimes because of what they glorify, sometimes because of how they detract from better things in life, but sometimes simply because I can get addicted to them.  That last has almost been the case with this fantastic toy. 

Any online outlet I found for the Star Wars Episode III Plug and Play Video Game listed it for exorbitant prices.  I don’t know what that’s about.  The Target down the street from my house has them for fifteen dollars. 

Look! The controller is shaped like Vader's helmet! How cool is that?

Fifteen dollars!  For sharp, detailed graphics in a busy setting with smooth gameplay.  And five entire, separate games.  All stored in a hand-held controller.  When I was a kid, they simply didn’t have games this advanced for a home system, and by the time I was older and they did, you would have had to spend several hundred dollars for hardware and games to get something like this.  Maybe I’m especially impressed because I’m so technologically out of the loop, but…wow.  Things have grown quite far, and so fast. 

The games themselves are all great: they’re racing and shooting games, mostly, some overhead, some side scrolling, but my favorite is the one called “Droid Invasion.”  It’s like a souped up version of an 80’s puzzle game, where you, as Obi Wan Kenobi, run back and forth across the bottom of the screen deflecting incoming lasers with your lightsaber, destroying the advancing droids who come on increasingly fast and numerous.  Winning this one is all about angles–it’s a geometry game!  So far I’ve gotten to level six, with a score of 8445.  Beat that if you can!

Listen To The Magnetic Fields’s New Song

I first came across Stephin Merritt and his band The Magnetic Fields when the romantic dramedy Shall We Dance? came out: the movie was only average, but I fell in love with Peter Gabriel’s amazing song “The Book of Love.”  As I looked up where to hear it again, I found out that it was a cover of a Magnetic Fields song.  I checked out the original version on YouTube and also loved it.

That was all I knew of them until last night.  Driving home from work, I caught a quick bit about their new album on NPR, which used a snippet of one track off of it, “You Must Be Out of Your Mind.”  Guess what?  I immediately fell for that song, too.  Something about ironic, bittersweet, gravelly indie folk songs, I suppose. 

At any rate, if you’re not familiar with this clever and creative band, check them out.  My local library district has their three most recent albums, and I’m currently on the waiting list for the new one.  Here’s the song I just mentioned:

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My Four Year Old Son Made Up Some Jokes

Q: How does an elephant get out of a tree?

A: He jumps out of the tree.

Q: How does an elephant get through the door?

A: He goes through the door.

Q: How does the elephant get milk?

A: He goes and gets some milk.

Q: How did the elephant get to school?

A: He walked to school.

Q: How did the elephant make people laugh?

A: He told a funny joke.

The Purpose of Astronomy In the Book of Abraham

This post is not meant to explain the many astronomical references in the Book of Abraham.  I’m not a scientist; I’m an English teacher.  My interest is in analyzing why those astronomical references are there: what function do they serve?  After studying them, I find that they consistently testify of the doctrines of Christ.

The Pearl of Great Price itself is a fascinating text, and ironic.  By far the smallest of the standard works, this tiny anthology is not a series of testimonies, a record of covenants, or a detailed collection of exegesis and exhortations, like most other scriptural works are.  No, The Pearl of Great Price is far too ambitious for that.  Just about the only thing it does is reveal the most important saving truths of eternity, connecting us directly to the Lord. 

Consider that the Bible Dictionary identifies seven major dispensations throughout world history: those begun by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  Now glance through The Pearl of Great Price and notice whose records it amplifies: in order–Moses, Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  

Consider that in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual for church classes, the Pearl of Great Price, which comprises less than 2½% of the standard works (61 out of 2475 pages), represents about 10% of the scriptures cited in the index (nearly a whole page out of nine and a half printed pages), an impressively disproportionate total.  If The Pearl of Great Price were a basketball player, it’d be one foot tall and five times better than Michael Jordan. 

I labor this point because it relates directly to the use of astronomical information in The Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Abraham.  These often confusing ideas about space and time are not a primer for astronomy as much as they are meant to add to our understanding of those massive spiritual truths with which this volume was designed to enlighten us.

First, in Abraham 3:12-13, God shows Abraham an expansive vision of the physical universe Continue reading

Blessings and Responsibilities of the Tribe of Ephraim

After all these years, I recently paid attention to the injunction in my patriarchal blessing that comes after the declaration that I belong to the tribe of Ephraim, a directive to learn about the blessings and responsibilities that attend that lineage.  I’ve only devoted a few Saturday mornings to this scripture study project, but the results so far have been clear, consistent, and enlightening.  Here’s what I have so far (comments in italics are just my own summaries and paraphrases to help me apply what I’m learning):

Responsibilities and Blessings of the Tribe of Ephraim

Responsibilities

I. “The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying,

“Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:

“And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.

“And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?

“Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.

“And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.” (Ezek. 37:15–20.)

From this commandment from God to the prophet Ezekiel, these provisions should be noted:

1. That a stick or record was to be kept for Judah, and that a stick or record was to be kept for Joseph;

2. That the two records were to be joined together into “one stick,” or record, in the hands of that prophet.

Where is the fulfillment of this important commandment? Who claims to have the record of Joseph today?

The Book of Mormon Fulfills Joseph’s Prophecy

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I Survived Roe Vs. Wade

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s inglorious Roe vs. Wade decision.  It put me in mind of something that I’ve seen on a few t-shirts these last few years: I survived Roe vs. Wade.

I was born only a few years after that ruling.  My mother had a very difficult pregnancy with me, so difficult, in fact, that her doctor suggested that she have an abortion.  She refused and carried me to term. 

I’m not too clear as to what all of the complications were–though I do remember being told that during the delivery I was “stuck” for quite a while.  Despite this, my mother has lived just fine and in mostly good health; in fact, she had another baby a couple of years later, this one coming much more easily.  For my part, I was born with a deformed left ear, which was fixed by plastic surgery when I was very little.  Still, that ear’s been stone deaf since the day I was born. 

I think that’s a pretty small price to pay for being alive, though, and I’m certainly glad to have come to a mother who understands that.

The Nephi Complex

In 2 Nephi 4:17, the usually stoic Nephi offers a rare glimpse into his inner personality when he reflects on his spiritual condition and says that such an exercise makes him exclaim, “O wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of mine flesh; my soul greiveth because of mine iniquities.” 

Excuse me?  Wretched?  Iniquities?  This is Nephi we’re talking about here, right?  While it might be hard to imagine what all the shortcomings Nephi had in mind here as he mentally scourged himself, he was, of course, human, and therefore prone to all the many failings that infect us all.  Still, it’s safe to say that he was a pretty decent guy.  Considering what we know of his life, we could also assume that he was being a little hard on himself. 

Thinking of Nephi and his self-denigrating outburst here illustrates something I’ve noticed in a lot of us, and which I’ve taken the liberty of naming after him, an observation about human nature which I call the Nephi Complex: There is an inverse relationship between how spiritually successful and effective someone is, and how they perceive their own spiritual condition.  Or, to put it another way, the more serious and focused someone is on their spiritual condition, the more likely they are to find fault with themselves.

More than once I’ve seen someone who is exhausting themselves in an effort to become Christlike while magnifying their many responsibilities in life, and who will then spiral into a serious funk over some minor, understandable spiritual flaw.  (I’m reminded here of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons calling Reverend Lovejoy in the middle of the night, distraught over accidentally swatting a fly, and needing to know how to handle the necessary penance.)  Meanwhile, plenty of people in our world are heinously narcissistic and hedonistic, almost to the point of pathology, without a stray thought about any of it.  Ironic and sad.

So, to those of you who, like Nephi, are inclined to obsess over the flaws in your spiritual makeup, the “motes in your own eyes,” if you will, may I please offer a kindly word of comfort: chill out, relax.  You’re doing great.

Idea For Following The Prophet

Thomas S. Monson has been president of the Church for almost two years now–where is his official biography already?  When President Hinckley came into that office, Deseret Book had his biography out in less than one year, as I recall. 

Here’s an idea I had to help fill in that big blank area, as well as to contribute to studies for improving Christlike discipleship, which President Monson may be the preeminent living example of.  This web page lists all of President Monson’s known, published addresses.  I plan to read through each one, and copy and paste the stories he uses about service that he’s rendered to others throughout his own life into a new document, in chronological order.  He loves to tell stories about his life, and has a talent for emphasizing the lives of others and the spritiual lessons he’s seen over time, while minimizing his own steady, selfless services to them.  I’ll make it my business to go back and pay attention to that part. 

After that, I’ll double check all articles by or about him from the Ensign (there will probably be a lot of duplication, but I want to be thorough).  That will illustrate how we could better be serving others, and since so much of President Monson’s life has revolved around service, it should provide a pretty decent little biography of the prophet! 

 Someday, when that study is done, I’ll post the newly arranged material here.

Recommended Listening: Schubert’s Piano Quintet In A Major

I recently picked this at random from my list of classical pieces to hear and study, downloading a copy from the library district to listen to at work, and listening to it on YouTube at home.  This is great music.

This piano quintet, also called the “Trout” quintet, for some reason, immediately struck me as having a special balance: it follows a typical pattern of varying speeds throughout, but achieves a unique niche within that structure, namely, that the fast movements are still pleasantly peaceful (almost subdued to the point of tranquility at points), and the slower movements still have substantial energy to them, while each part is still distinctly a discrete unit.  All of this exists while the music itself communicates an organically original theme. 

I realize how mundane this commentary must be to those with the language and background to understand great music far better than I can, but while my adoration of this piece is shallow, it is sincere.  (Which, I suppose, could also apply to more than one of my youthful relationships, alas.)  Actually, it is music like this that makes me want to learn more about classical music, for while I truly enjoy it as I am now, I am without doubt that a deeper education on my part, a more profound literacy in the language of music, would enable me to unlock and appreciate this work at a level that I currently don’t even know exists.

I feel that constantly while listening to it.  Like many of my favorite things–landscape art, the Bible, The Simpsons–it’s easy to love for its powerful beauty and originality, qualities so in abundance that they’re apparent to even the most untrained layman, but if one cares to delve further into the endless treasure chests they hide at nearly infinite levels, one finds a heaven eager to reward and always full of happy surprises. 

Such is my relative illiteracy in music, though, that I can only understand my positive attraction to it, much less describe it to you, by comparing it to literature and cartoons.  I stand in need of a new lexicon.  Hopefully, as I continue to surround my soul with things like Schubert’s piano quintet, my vocabulary will grow. 

Recommended for:

  • road trips in a northwesterly or a southeastern direction
  • lunch dates
  • eating candy after yoga
  • blogging, with love and squalor
  • fishing, apparently

“Thy” Son

A minor pet peeve: I cringe a little when someone in church ends a talk or a testimony with, “in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ, amen.” 

“Thy” son?  No…. Thy means your.  You would only use thy in a prayer, when you’re directly addressing God the Father, whose son Jesus is.  You shouldn’t say “thy son” at the end of a talk or testimony, because that would imply that Jesus is the son of all of us in your audience. 

On a completely unrelated subject, I’ve been thinking about maybe getting a life.

Semester Exam Follies

This week is semester exam week in my school district, which marks the halfway point of the year.  As students work on their big tests, I’ve found a few nuggets of positivity or, failing that, laughter:

  • While one class worked on their exams, I finished grading the book reports they turned in last week.  The most common feature was most students’ response to a directive to write a paragraph about their favorite and least favorite things about their books, and what they would change.  Nearly everybody said that they liked the parts that were happy, and that they would change the parts that were sad.  Everybody said they’d make it so that Simon and Piggy don’t die in Lord of the Flies.  Those who read The Lovely Bones said that they’d save Susie.  And students who picked The Grapes of Wrath…well, they’d keep Route 66 and pretty much turn the rest into a college road trip, if they had their druthers.  Luckily none of them read the Bible for their book report, or humanity might have been denied the Atonement altogether!
  • In fact, one girl was quite emphatic in her assertion of editorial license: “I would most defiantly change the ending.”  *ahem*  Yes, I’m sure you would.  I see several students every year who spell definitely that way. 
  • On a positive note, though, Continue reading

Politically Incorrect Thought of the Day

I once spent three years teaching in the room next door to a woman who, after we’d spent all that time sharing and discussing many of the same students, made a startling observation that, although it contradicted her own political beliefs, she said she could no longer deny. After yet another female student from a broken home had made huge mistakes due to her low self esteem, the other teacher said, “I’m going to lose my feminist credentials for this, but the fact is that girls need affirmation from men. All these sad girls we see wasting their lives are doing it because their fathers aren’t there for them. If girls don’t get attention and affection from their fathers, they’ll just go out and get it from some guy at school.”

Of course, there are also girls who ruin their lives with sex or drugs despite having great fathers, but she was right: the vast majority of girls with social, emotional, or academic problems got that way lamenting the lack of adequate attention from a male.  I suppose this is just one more example of the damage wrought by our easy divorce culture, but certainly one of the most tragic.  The correlation between a strong father-daughter relationship and her success is well established. Does this influence how much extra positive regard I try to give to my own girls at home? Yes it does.

October 2009 General Conference: 3 Month Review

Last June I posted some notes about the previous General Conference three months before, saying that I wanted to review them halfway between the last and the next General Conferences.  That would mean that my October review should have been posted about a week ago.  Better late than never, here are some thoughts about the most recent General Conference:

  • This was an unusually spiritual conference.  Yes, all conferences are spiritual, but this one was clearly meant to prepare us internally to be clean and sensitive to God. 
  • There were two powerful talks about the Book of Mormon: Elder Holland’s career-making landmark address (and this after his other career-making landmark address about the Atonement last Spring!), and Elder Gonzalez’s in the Priesthood Session.  Together, they have helped me have a more bold attitude about this miraculous book.
  • There were at least four talks that focused on being pure, worthy, and virtuous: H. David Burton’s, Quentin L. Cook’s (which also stands as a great motivator to charity), D. Todd Christofferson’s, and Thomas S. Monson’s closing remarks, all from the Sunday sessions.  Bishop Burton and President Monson both introduce their talks with statements about society’s increasing wickedness. 
  • And, of course, there were all the talks about cultivating a closer relationship to the Holy Ghost Continue reading