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Archive for December, 2010

You know you love this: you’re driving up to an intersection, and you’re not sure if you’ll make it before the light turns red.  You look at the signal on the crosswalk as its flashing numbers count down before it will remain the solid red hand of doom, but from as far away as you still are, you can’t tell if it’s on fourteen or four.  Even when it is fourteen, the “1″ on the left is too small and too close to the side of the signal to read clearly. 

As you barrel towards the intersection, hoping against hope, and as the countdown rapidly runs out, you begin to despair as it reaches zero.  The solid red hand and its companion yellow light are inevitable. 

But wait!  What’s this?  The countdown continues, going from zero to nine!  Why, it wasn’t a zero; it was a ten, after all!  Oh, you wily skinny “1″ all the way on the left of the signal!  Do you hide over there on purpose just to torment the visually challenged motorists who depend on you to expedite their commute? 

Well, no matter.  The fact is that you, my friend, have been granted a reprieve, a stay of execution, and you get to continue breezing your merry little way through this intersection, and with a whole eight seconds left on the light!  Oh, joyous, rapturous day! 

Be sure to express gratitude for this in your prayers.

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I’ve been keeping a list of every book I’ve finished for the last ten years now.  Below is my list for 2010.  After the title and author, I put the date I finished each one–notice that, since I tend to read several books at once, I go through long periods of not finishing anything, and then a few titles will all cluster together as I wrap up a batch.

The number after each one is how much I enjoyed it (not necessarily how good it is), on a scale of 1-10, though it’s really more of a 1-5 scale, since in ten years, I’ve only given one book a score lower than 6.  For me, 10=perfect; loved everything about it; 9=mostly excellent, definitely enjoyed it; 8=above average, worth reading, but not a favorite that I’d read again; 7=had many good parts, but needed improvement-probably worth reading, but often disappointing; 6=very disappointing, probably not worth reading-not awful, but not very good, either. 

2010 was a good year for reading, but not great.  The best thing I can say about this year is the quality of so many of the books I read–more perfect 10′s this year than any other so far–seven in one year!  Reading only 27 total is just average, though.  In the decade I’ve been keeping track, the best total I had was in 2005–38 books; the worst was 2001 and 2008–only 19 books in those years.  (2005 only had six perfect 10′s.)

Some of these books I reviewed or commented on here already; most I haven’t.  This year I seem to have read a lot of children’s stuff, and memoirs.  There’s no special reason for this.  I usually read a lot more genre novels, and there were no LDS books in 2010.  Other than continuing to pick away at classics, I have no specific goals for reading in 2010, so we’ll see what happens. 

Here’s the list for 2010:

  1. Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces, Wendy Beckett (2/6, art)–10
  2. Some Fruits of Solitude, William Penn (2/11, self improvement)–7
  3. The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander (2/13, children’s/fantasy)–8
  4. The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (2/19, philosophy)–9
  5. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (4/26, memoir)–7
  6. Tinkers, Paul Harding (4/30, literature)–8
  7. The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert (5/11, biography, living well)–10
  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney (6/1, humor, children’s)–7
  9. Analects, Confucius (6/4, philosophy)–7
  10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo (6/4, children’s)–10
  11. Cirque du Freak, Darren Shan (6/19, children’s, horror)–6
  12. The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay (7/1, politics)–10
  13. The Frogs, Aristophanes (7/8, Greek drama, humor)–9
  14. Dune, Frank Herbert (7/14, science fiction)–10
  15. A Lost Lady, Willa Cather (7/17, literature)–8
  16. The Tempest, William Shakespeare (8/4, literature)–9
  17. Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (8/17, current events, memoir)–8
  18. Peace Like a River, Lief Enger (8/24, literature)–9
  19. No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy (8/26, literature)–10
  20. World War Z, Max Brooks (9/11, fiction, horror)–10
  21. The Ruins, Scott Smith (10/9, horror)–8
  22. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (11/2, children’s, science fiction)–9
  23. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving (11/30, literature)–9
  24. The Life of Our Lord, Charles Dickens (12/20, children’s/religion)–8
  25. My Reading Life, Pat Conroy (12/22, reading, memoir)–9
  26. America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, Sarah Palin (12/22, politics)–7
  27. Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows (12/26, language, travel, memoir)–8

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I’ve been looking through old files on my computer, and found these notes on a book I read a few years ago.  It came highly recommended and, as Gileadi touts on his books and web sites, he’s been glowingly endorsed by some very respectable people.  I remember sitting in a sealing room of the temple several years ago, waiting for some work to start, and the sealer telling those of us who were there some of his thoughts, including that more Latter-day Saints don’t live by the writings of Hugh Nibley and Avraham Gileadi because we aren’t spiritual enough. 

So I started the book with high hopes, and I did find Gileadi to be a talented author who sincerely encourages devotional living.  However, I ultimately found his primary thesis to be unfounded and disturbing–he seems to find Isaiah to be almost entirely a testament of a latter-day temporal savior who is not Jesus Christ.  In the first chapter or two, I wondered if he was making an inappropriately worshipful homage to Joseph Smith, but I quickly realized that Gileadi’s vision was not congruent with anything remotely mainstream. 

Whenever I hear people praise Gileadi, they gush about his Hebrew scholarship and literary discoveries, but I found zero evidence of that in the book.  Maybe his other books are more detailed, but the few hints he gives in Isaiah Decoded, including his supposed patterns in Isaiah, clearly seem like a random, arbitrary jumble–there’s no reason or order to it at all. 

A fan of Gileadi’s might counter that since he was rebaptized into the Church, he’s operated openly and without opposition from the Church, but I suspect that reflects the Church’s tolerance and focusing on more important things than on Gileadi’s orthodoxy.  If I’ve misinterpreted his work, or failed to see the faithful grounding of it, I’m happy to change my mind, but as I’ve read it, this book was ultimately heretical.  My notes are below.  The four comments in bold reflect my strongest problems with the text. 

OVERALL QUESTIONS

  1. Why would Isaiah prophesy more about a temporal servant than about Jesus himself?
  2. Why doesn’t Gileadi bother to more clearly explain and document the evidence behind his interpretations?
  3. Why doesn’t Gileadi deal with doctrinal statements that refute him, including those from the Savior himself?
  4. If there is an important temporal savior / servant coming, why hasn’t it been clearly revealed through the Church?
  5. If the Church’s origin and doctrine are true, as Gileadi seems to agree, why is he so brazen in condemning its present and future?
  6. Why doesn’t Gileadi bear a stronger testimony of Jesus Christ than he does of this “servant”?

 

CHAPTER ONE

  • How does Gileadi know that types will play out in the end times as he describes?  It’s a tempting assumption, but not necessarily accurate.  No evidence, research, sources, etc. are given.
  • Pages 30b-31a Aren’t these scriptures about a latter-day shepherd about the Savior?
  • 35 Good reference to Hezekiah (Is. 38)
  • (more…)

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I’ve been reading James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ, which is extremely excellent, and I just read chapter 19, “The Dispensation’s of the Lord’s People,” where he gives a chiastic chart of Earth’s history.  It’s very good, and it reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a month or so, since my wife and I had a discussion about what the Earth will be like after the Second Coming. 

That got me to researching, and some things clicked with me.  Below are some notes I’ve been putting together about these thoughts.  They represent my attempt to put some doctrinal concepts in a recognizable pattern, and it strongly emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ.  In fact, looking at our spiritual journey this way adds a powerful dimension to our understanding that, through the Atonement, Christ “descended below all things.”  We can see here that, literally, his suffering and distance from the Father were absolutely beyond even the worst of mankind’s experience.  It was also, again quite literally, the ultimate turning point in history. 

The only thing that confused me at first was the idea that, if Eden and the Millennium are Christ’s domain, then how could the Father also be present in the Garden of Eden?  I soon realized that God may go anywhere He wishes; it is we who are limited by veils and sin.  After all, didn’t both the Father and the Son appear personally to Joseph Smith in this fallen, telestial world?  Joseph Smith had to be transfigured for that to be possible, and I suppose Adam and Eve must have enjoyed a similar experience, in their innocent and immortal state, to behold the Father in the Garden. 

On a slightly less spiritual note, this map also highlights an aspect of good storytelling, which has also been on my mind lately.  I often think that basic story patterns are essentially encoded into us (think of Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, as well as the fondness for using elemental stories to resonate with us in the scriptures and temple), and one of the most fundamental aspects of good story is that the hero must face a daunting, scary setback in the middle, even suffering a literal descent.  Think here of Odysseus going down to Hades, the discouraging tones of The Two Towers and The Empire Strikes Back (each the middle of an epic), or the predictable fight that the lovers must have in the middle of every romantic comedy, before they reconcile and reunite (sappy, but also another Atonement-centered device). 

Most of the “insights” on this chart aren’t very original, but I enjoyed drawing it up to see these things together in graphic form for the first time.  This is only a rough draft, and any refinement to it is welcome.  Click to enlarge. 

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I finally saw Toy Story 3 this afternoon, and was incredibly heartened the whole time by it, not least by the fact that the most compelling, original, emotional, profound movie to come out of Hollywood this year was, once again, a cartoon. 

Where friendship has been the signature theme of this series (made most clear in Randy Newman’s theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me”), this entry plumbs the relatively-uncharted depths of that territory far deeper–this is the best movie about family since The Incredibles

As the film starts, there’s a separation crisis as Andy grows up and prepares to leave behind his beloved childhood toys.  The toys are anxious, and the film has some terrifically realistic back and forth feelings from the toys about loyalty in the face of seeming abandonment.  Woody, our hero, is steadfast in his belief: they have a responsibility to Andy, and if he wants them boxed up in the attic, then that’s where they should be.  In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse. 

But the best commentary on the subject comes from the villain, Lotso.  (more…)

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Christmas Eve, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve!

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Throughout this first semester of American Literature, a pair of bizarre metaphors have stuck with me for their singular strangeness.  Good figures of speech work because they connect a new experience with a familiar one.  “Walking through the fetid jungle was like trying to swim through a soaking wet wool blanket,” for example.  Never been to the jungle?  That’s OK, because we can all imagine being swamped by a wet blanket.  It’s like that. 

In a famous scene in Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab admits that the white whale had bitten off his leg; Ahab savagely wails and screams the fact, “with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose.” 

So, how exactly did Ahab sound when he crazily lamented the loss of his leg to the whale?  Well, he sounded like a moose when his girlfriend trots away, or something.  You know.  That sound.

Oh.  Because we’ve all spent time in Alaska with lovelorn wildlife. 

Melville’s contemporary Edgar Allan Poe was even more esoteric.  (more…)

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I just finished Pat Conroy’s ebullient little book, My Reading Life.  One thought for now:

At one point, Conroy recounts a conversation he had with a fellow bibliophile, who recommended Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil because, “Everything of virtue springs from the soil.  Civilization always comes along to ruin it.  But you can always find the truth if it comes from the earth.”

My first thought was of the Book of Mormon, which comes to the modern reader from inside the ground and has some haunting things to say on the subject of its origin as truth rising from the elements:

“For those who shall be destroyed shall speak unto them out of the ground, and their speech shall be low out of the dust, and their voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit; for the Lord God will give unto him power, that he may whisper concerning them, even as it were out of the ground; and their speech shall whisper out of the dust.”  –2 Nephi 26:16

My second thought was, Amen.

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Brain Game #5

These games are fun enough, but daily postings are getting tedious, so this will probably be the last one.

I set a timer for five minutes and listed every U.S. city I could think of with a religious name.  I came up with eleven.  See how well you do.  My answers are after the jump.

  (more…)

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A Virginia judge decided just over a week ago that ObamaCare’s mandate that people must purchase insurance exceeds the government’s constitutional authority.  My local newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, then printed a letter (which must have been written before the decision) defending universal health care. 

Today, the paper printed another letter responding to that one and, while it is excellent, it sadly isn’t mine, which I thought was pretty good itself.  Since the paper doesn’t seem interested in it, here it is:

Frederick Spoerl wrongly denied the success of the profit motive and made many mistakes about the Constitution in his Friday letter defending ObamaCare.

He says that the Founders never envisioned America’s “tremendous growth,” yet in Federalist #10, Madison said one of the chief benefits of a republic is that it may be “extended” over a “greater sphere of country.” Indeed, as presidents, the Founders added several states and territories to the nation, including Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

He criticizes those who would limit government size and scope, but ignores the tenth amendment, which says that the federal government may only be involved in things delineated in the Constitution itself.

Spoerl also writes that the Constitution denies voting to women and endorses segregation (neither of which it mentions at all), and promotes slavery. The Constitution opposes slavery. Article I, Section 2 thwarted the South’s desire for more representative power by limiting slave counting in the census, and Article I, Section 9 includes a ban on future importation of slaves.

Spoerl uses the “general welfare” clause of the Preamble to justify ObamaCare. Others had already thought that phrase could allow the government to do anything they saw as good, rather than the few specific things the Constitution defines as “general welfare,” and in Federalist #41, Madison responded to the misunderstanding: “a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms, immediately follows….For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?”

ObamaCare is unconstitutional, Mr. Spoerl, and your letter shows how ignorant of our founding charters someone must be to support it.

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In five minutes, I listed every American city I could think of whose name was an allusion to the world of the classical Greeks and Romans.  (Not only was our Constitution largely inspired by those civilizations, but everything from the architecture of Washington, D.C. to the many statements by our Founders on the subject shows that America was meant to be a conscious reincarnation of the glory of the ancients.) 

I came up with six cities.  See how you do.  My answers are after the jump.

  (more…)

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December

Not only is this “the holiday season,” with Christmas imminent and foremost on my mind, but I’d be remiss not to share that this time of year also always reminds me of something else: a great song by a band that’s still one of my favorites.

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Explaining the Book of Mormon

A couple of days ago, a link from my beloved Arts and Letters Daily led me to a British article that criticized Scientology.  However, what really struck me about the piece was a random jab at the value of the Book of Mormon. 

When I read articles discussing religion, I often leave a comment about the Book of Mormon, and I did this time, too.  It seems like a decent way of contributing to the discussion, as well as promoting one of my favorite things–the Book of Mormon–and engaging in that kind of online sharing of our beliefs that we’ve been encouraged to try. 

My comment must have come too late to have been seen by most readers, but here it is:

Regarding the criticism of the Book of Mormon’s “literary competence” as “a feeble pastiche of the miraculous language of the translators who produced the King James Bible,” I wouldn’t expect any random reader to be familiar with the current state of Book of Mormon studies, but making a statement like that does expose one’s ignorance of the field.

One easy, introductory-level survey of the literary value of the text is available here: http://farmsnewsite.farmsresearch.com/publications/books/?bookid=115

Of course, a scholarly analysis of the Book of Mormon’s literary status does not help support any of its factual claims, much less establish the authenticity of the document as an ancient artifact. That objective, however, has also been exhaustively investigated, with the evidence found favoring legitimacy: http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml.  Anyone who wishes to have an informed opinion about the Book of Mormon should at least peruse resources such as these, and examine them carefully.

Merry Christmas!

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In the ongoing kerfuffle over the use of “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas,” we seem to be forgetting something: although “Happy Holidays” has, in the last couple of decades, taken on some overtones of being an all-inclusive, even secular, benediction, it is itself originally and historically Christian in character.

What exactly are the “holidays” (holy days) that this allegedly non-denominational salutation honors?  Winter Solstice?  Kwanzaa?  Hardly–the use of “Happy Holidays” precedes the popular recognition of either of those (Kwanzaa, remember, only dates back to the late 1960′s).  Hanukkah?  Perhaps, as Hanukkah has long been recognized on American calendars and on the cultural consciousness, though it is not nearly as publicly visible as the three main holidays that the phrase truly recognizes.  (It should be noted, by the way–as many frustrated, patronized Jews point out each December–that Hanukkah is not a major holiday to them, the way Christmas is to Christians.  It isn’t even one of the high holy days.)

Throughout most of the years it’s been in use, “Happy Holidays” has referred to the entire “holiday season” in general, which has always been understood to start with Thanksgiving and to end with New Year’s. 

As I showed here about a month ago, Thanksgiving is a religious, Christian holiday.  New Year’s, also, is a Christian holiday, as it marks the change in years on the Christian calendar.  In less than two weeks we’ll be moving from 2010 to 2011 A.D., Anno Domini–”in the year of our Lord.”  (It’s interesting that many secularists prefer to label our years as “C.E.”–Common, Current, or Christian Era–but this still admits that the watershed event in Western history, around which our very calendar revolves, is the life of Jesus Christ.)

Finally, if this isn’t enough to demonstrate the special place Christmas and Christianity have had and still have in American society, remember that of the eleven official federal holidays recognized in the United States, three of them are distinctly religious in nature–the three covered by the phrase “Happy Holidays.” 

Christmas has been a national holiday in the United States since 1870.

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Brain Game #3

It looks like I might do one of these each morning for a few days, while I’m off work. 

I gave myself five minutes and listed every American place with I could think of with “New” in the name.  I got eight.  See how many you can get.  My answers are after the jump.

(more…)

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