Oct. 2015 General Conference PM Sunday Notes

Elder Christofferson: This talk advocates an idea unpopular in the world today: organized religion isn’t bad; in fact, it’s necessary. A similar talk by Eugene England called “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel” makes a similar point, and is well worth your time.

Elder Christofferon often focuses on the need for the Church–and individual saints–to help the poor and needy. Always a good element to focus on, and I’m glad to see he doesn’t do it in isolation of other factors like missionary work and saving ordinances. The Church is a great big, busy place, as our lives are supposed to be. Thus comes Zion.

I remember how to spell his last name because “Christ” was “offer”ed as God’s “son.”

Devin G. Durrant (SS 1st couns.): “ponderize” is a perfectly cromulent word. The late Elder Scott encouraged us to do something similar here: ponder and memorize. I’d love to be part of a social media group to do this!

So, will the part about finances get completely forgotten? Remember.

Elder Keetch (70): It’s good to be reminded that barriers exist for a good reason. I wrote about the same topic here.

Better, more spiritual references include what I call the parable of the kite, one of my all-time favorite General Conference parables, here.

And, of course, spiritual crocodiles.

Carole M. Stephens (RS 1st couns.):  Her talk has the same theme as Elder Keetch’s before her. I don’t see such things as a coincidence. These two talks make a great pair.

Trusting God was also a theme of Elder Andersen’s excellent talk at priesthood last night.

I like the focus on trusting each member of the Godhead–creative way to organize her thoughts, and practical.

Elder Haynie (70): Another lovely reminder about gospel basics. Can’t say it enough: I love a good seventy talk.

I think this makes a great pair with Elder Oaks’s talk about the Atonement yesterday.

Elder Clark (70): This hits hone. Even active members need greater faith and obedience. Reminds me of one time in the celestial room at the temple, I was thinking about nothing particular, but then a distinct impression came: “Time to kick it up a notch.” Seriously, those were the words. Might be time to kick it up another notch.

The Holy Ghost has been mentioned a lot this weekend. Another signal for upcoming study and development?

Koichi Aoyagi: Very humane story of dealing with adversity with perspective. Lest we every think leaders have easy lives, his story is a wake-up call. Lends ethos to his call to endure well. Another area where we can all do well to grow.

Elder Bednar: Yes! What a great talk to go out on! Kind of sad that we need such counsel, but we do. Elder Neal A. Maxwell used to say that arguments for the gospel don’t create faith, but the lack of them could hurt it. Ditto here, I think: defending having elderly leaders may not build faith, but without a talk like this, cynicism and criticism would fester. Glad to have an apostle set us straight.

I love how personal his words are here. Truly, an insider’s testimony! “The totality of their teachings is priceless.” How long would it take to fully understand and be grateful for what we’re blessed with in our leaders? This makes me want to spend more time studying the lives of our latter-day prophets.

These remarks will be needed as a defense of President Monson soon for some out there, I fear.

Oct. 2015 General Conference, Sunday AM Notes

President Monson: I like how his talk was based on combining two different works of scripture. That’s a skill that we all need to develop better, and it only comes from a quantity of repeated study. Seeing similar themes and seeing how various passages and even very different books can overlap produces the kind of personal insights the prophet shares here.

Comparing this to his talk in the priesthood session last night, I see President Monson here as a prophet of the basics. I’ve been teaching Primary for the last couple of years now, and I’m learning how important it is to be constantly reminded of simple, foundational things. President Monson is like that, and I’ve no doubt that’s what we need today–a Primary prophet.

Three new apostles: Interesting what they chose to share with us as their first introductions as apostles. Humility is obviously a big trend here, but I was especially touched by Elder Renlund’s story of losing a patient.

President Nelson: Wow! What to make of this talk? I approach it like this: to whom was he speaking and why? This was clearly not just another “cheer up girls, you’re awesome!” talk.

First, though couched in such inspirational language, the substance here is a call to greater spiritual leadership by women, in the sense that the men get from such talks as President Uchtdorf’s a few years ago. It also, then, seems like a successor to President Julie B. Beck’s “Mothers Who Know.”

Second, it’s also clearly a clarion call to priesthood leaders to be more inclusive in regards to welcoming female leaders’ contributions; this is not the first time in recent years we’ve heard this message. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention.

In short, this talk says that we all, of both genders, have things to work on. This is will be an important one to study and work on.

Also, two apostles in this session now are heart doctors who have told stories of losing patients.

President Nelson’s emphasis on the value of women in our lives reminds me of Elder Holland’s similar focus yesterday.

Elder Schwitzer: His remarks are largely inspired by a quote from an epistle of Paul, as were President Monson’s. We need to read the Bible.

His bold words about the danger of criticism very much echo Elder Andersen’s talk in the priesthood session last night. (Among many other things, Elder Andersen encouraged people to, quote, “Give Brother Joseph a break.”)

Elder Costa: Will there be any more conference talks given in speakers’ native languages? Or was that just a one-time thing to make a point about the growth and compassion of the Church?

I’ve said this before, but the most simple and basic, yet moving and spiritual, talks tend to be given by seventies. And President Monson.

President Eyring: As a debate coach, I like how many speakers at this conference are explicitly starting off talks by saying, “Here’s my agenda for you today…” (President Monson also did this in priesthood last night.)

In my years as an active church member, I have noticed an increased effort to make our sacrament meetings centered on worship and the Savior (scaling back the pomp of missionary farewells, for example). It makes a difference.

Imagine if everyone approached their assignments to speak in sacrament meeting by trying to copy the examples set in President Eyring’s talks: doctrine with applications; then inspiring, engaging stories of models to follow. Doesn’t he just fill your heart and make you want to be closer to Christ?

Bonus note: This arrangement of “The Spirit of God” has been sung before, but not often. It’s ambitious, epic, and rousing. I’d love to hear it sometime with every verse, but that would run 10 minutes, I’m sure.

Recommended: The Babadook

the-babadook_612x901I enjoy a good horror movie, but I hardly ever see any. I avoid excess in gore, profanity, and nudity: all things in which horror loves to overindulge. Besides that, though, most horror movies just aren’t very good. Is there another genre in which the worthwhile-to-garbage ratio is so high?

So imagine my joy to hear about The Babadook, last year’s Australian indie hit. I recommend it here not only because it passes the tests of my above criteria, but because it’s simply a wonderful film, period.

Start with the lead. On the strength of this performance, she should get a slew of Hollywood offers now. If this film had been made in Hollywood, she’d’ve been up for an Oscar.

Movies are full of struggling single moms, but I’ve never seen one look so legitimately haggard. Plenty of reviews have noted that this is a film about the persistence of grief, and they’re right.

But in our heroine’s beleaguered existence lies more than grief. She’s a nearly all-encompassing conduit of suburban social ills: regret, shame, ostracism, inadequacy…who can’t relate to some aspect of her plight? I’ve never seen the harsher strains of parenthood portrayed so bracingly.

Warning: the rest of this review is sort of spoiler-y…

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“In the loveliest town of all”

Last week I finished reading Stuart Little to two of my youngest children. There was much that I enjoyed about it, but particularly near the end I was surprised by joy with this passage: the first paragraph of chapter 13:


How wonderful! A lovely little line about a lovely little town in Stuart Little. This whole charming paragraph is really just one big sentence. There are four big clauses in the middle here, stacked like an inverted pyramid, and that last long clause does go gorgeously on and on (itself in four stacked chunks, the last of which goes gorgeously on and on).

I also like how all of that meandering meat in the middle of the sentence is tied together: we start off with “In the loveliest town of all” and after our quick guided tour of paradise we’re pulled back in for the main idea by a neat reordering of that initial introduction: “in this loveliest of all towns.” Delightful!

It’s a nearly-pastoral appreciation of bygone Americana that all leads up to a great and irrepressibly cute detail: Stuart got a sarsaparilla.

Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a more perfect picture than E.B. White did here.

Towards a Book of Mormon Study Edition

I love a good study Bible. Earlier this year I found a nearly new NIV Archaeological Study Bible on sale at a library for a dollar—a 98% savings off the cover price!—and I’m getting a lot of mileage out of it.
I’ve been thinking about study Bibles a lot after reading Bill Hamblin’s much-needed rant about the demise of Book of Mormon studies at BYU, such as it ever was. At one point, he summarizes what’s missing in the curriculum:

Most simply, BYU could offer in depth courses on each of the major books of the Book of Mormon, combining some of the smaller books into one. Note that Religious Education offers a class on Isaiah, but no class on the book of Alma or Helaman or Nephi? Why? Beyond in depth classes on major books of the Book of Mormon, BYU should offer classes on Book of Mormon geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.

He’s clearly right, of course, but I want to suggest another avenue besides BYU classes for improving Book of Mormon studies among Latter-day Saints.
It’s time we have a decent study edition of the Book of Mormon.
A Book of Mormon study edition would serve the same purpose as a classic study Bible: an encyclopedic resource for a variety of academic knowledge about the text, which will guide any general reader in understanding the nature and meaning of that text more accurately.

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Explaining “Nearer, My God, To Thee”

Last week in church we sang my favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” The words to that song are exquisitely crafted, and with genuinely profound meaning. The apparent simplicity of it and the beauty of the tune we sing it to might mask the spiritual artistry of the writing, though.

Here is my attempt to translate the lyrics and reveal the power of the hymn. Here we can see it for what it is: a universal spiritual template, based on the Jacob Cycle in Genesis, that takes us from life’s lows to eternal highs, and emphasizes that at any and every stage of existence, our focus should always be on drawing nearer to God.


The Book of Enoch: Reader’s Edition

Perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the LDS canon of scripture is the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the Pearl of Great Price is the Book of Enoch.

By “Book of Enoch” I mean chapters 6-7 of the Book of Moses, where Joseph Smith took only seven verses of Genesis 5 and, by inspired prophetic translation, expanded them into a small but supremely powerful epic.

That small epic has a ton of features that have been confirmed in ancient documents that have since been discovered by non-Mormons, but that’s not the point of today’s post. Today’s post is about how awesome the book’s text is.

After reading it again recently, I wanted to prepare a reader-friendly version of the text, with paragraphs and dialogue marked, akin to Grant Hardy’s excellent “Reader’s Edition” of the Book of Mormon.

So I adapted some punctuation and capitalization a bit–but not the text itself, of course–and put the words of Christ in red, because I think it highlights the most important parts of that text. Christ’s teaching there are some of the most sublime God ever delivered to mankind.

My “Reader’s Edition” of Enoch is here.

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Likening the Sacrament Prayers to Ourselves

I read this last month and love it–this is how I hear these prayers in my head at church now. Thanks to the excellent One Climbs site for this idea:

O God, my Eternal Father, I ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to my soul as I partake of it; for I eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that I am willing to take upon myself the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given me, that I may always have his Spirit to be with me. Amen.

Check out the original post for the water prayer.

Sherlock Holmes Meets Cthulhu

Sherlock_holmes_vs_cthulhuSo Neil Gaiman, the great author of dark fantasy, apparently wrote a short story about Sherlock Holmes meeting Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft’s giant ancient alien monster.

Last week I had a few minutes between classes on different campuses, so I swung by the library. The start of a school year always puts me in the mood for easy genre fiction, and right now I’m hankering for Lovecraft. Browsing the shelves I saw a recent anthology, an homage to the master.

Picked it up, flipped through it, found this one.

It was just as excellent as any Gaiman fan might hope.

I was extra delighted to find my own name in it, in a reference to “Huston, the acid-bath man,” some sort of thoroughly homicidal type, it seems.

It’s available in a few places online, most attractively here.  Highly recommended.

Jamie and Theresa’s Bogus Journey

It was a Tuesday, the same day of the week that brought us 9/11 and Tuesdays with Morrie.

My car registration was due that day, but I hadn’t smogged it yet, because the check engine light was on. This happens every year—nothing’s really wrong, it’s just a glitch. I unhooked the battery and drove it around for two weeks to reset the computer.

First thing that morning, I took my car to the nearest shop for the smog check.

The guys there said that the light came on during the test and it failed. They wanted $80 to test it and see what was wrong. Not to fix it, just to see what it might be, and see if it even could be fixed.

I took my car home, because they were clearly ripping me off, and because my wife had to get the baby to the mall for her 1-year-old pictures.

Five minutes after she leaves home, she calls me. Her van got a flat tire.

I pile the kids into my car—which has broken air conditioning—and go out to the parking lot where she’s with the van.

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What I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Teaching

I’ve just started year 16 of my career, and there’s one surprising point that revealed itself time and again during the first 15.

15 years is long enough that I’ve seen students grow up and start their own careers and families–indeed, the oldest ones from my first few years are now in their 30s!  I’ve bumped into random former students dozens of times on the street, and just as often online.

And you know what seems obvious to me now?

People turn out OK.

That’s it. That’s the big revelation. All those lazy, squirrelly kids who got on my nerves? It’s clear that most of them–that most of us, that most people in general–grow up and turn out just fine.

I’ve seen not only the many students I liked and enjoyed working with prove this, but even many who my pessimistic self thought wouldn’t be able to productively and independently function in the real world. I’ve seen enough of those, in fact, that I’ve long since had to abandon that pessimism.

It’s like A Clockwork Orange. The original novel has a last chapter where the youthful hedonism and violence of the narrator dissipates as he grows up. The US edition of the book–and the famous movie–deleted that last chapter, choosing darkness over optimism.

But for me at least, the evidence is in. The kids are alright. The adults are even better. We can trust that young people will turn out OK.

Notes and Quotes: September 2015


Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson Have an Older-Man Problem

Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet

The Noir-est of All the Film Noir Flicks

Why ‘Inside Out‘ Looks a Little Different in Japan [and] What’s on Captain America‘s To-Do List Across the Globe?


Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions

If Reading Shakespeare is Hard for You, You Shouldn’t Be Teaching English

Still, I don’t mind her parading of her own ignorance or her rubbish about “the way it has ‘always been done’” nearly as much as I do her patronizing insistence that “students of color” are unlikely to get anything out of the plays. This was less an opinion piece than a plea for career counseling—clearly the author is not suited for her job.

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature

It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior. But we live with Anna Karenina from within for hundreds of pages, and so we get the feel of what it is to be her. And we also learn what it is like to be each of the people with whom she interacts. In a quarrel, we experience from within what each person is perceiving and thinking. How misunderstandings or unintentional insults happen becomes clear. This is a form of novelistic wisdom taught by nothing else quite so well.

Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type. Those broad categories turn out to be insufficient, precisely because they are general and experienced by each person differently; and we learn not only the general but also what it is to be a different specific person. By practice, we learn what it is like to perceive, experience, and evaluate the world in various ways. This is the very opposite of measuring people in terms of our values.

4 Things Transformational Teachers Do

Allowing productive struggle to occur, using artistic and scientific instruction, modeling symphonic thinking, and encouraging students to lean into constructivist problem solving can lead to the holy grail of transformational teaching: epiphany.


Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once

Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.

New Magnet School Opens For Students With Interest In Receiving Competent Education

Several students told reporters they appreciate the new school’s highly original methodology, but conceded it may take a while to grow accustomed to the process of learning information and developing skills in a classroom setting.


The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape

Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”.

L’Engle’s Conservatism

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

‘The Wake’ Poses Readers a Novel Challenge

Would it be possible to write a book that contained only words that had existed in Old English? The answer was almost.

Mr. Kingsnorth invented what he calls a “shadow tongue”—a kind of middle ground between Old English and the language we use today. He ended up using mostly, though not exclusively, words that originated in Old English. He spelled them using the alphabet of 1066. That is, no “k,” “v,” “j” or “q.” And he used no capitalization or punctuation, save for a period every few sentences.

Then he wrote his whole novel in it.

Stephen King on novelists who arguably write too much


25 Life-Changing Style Charts Every Guy Needs Right Now

They do: The scholarly about-face on marriage

The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter


The Browning of America

In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry. About whether, for instance, as more of its citizens come from non-European backgrounds, the United States will change its idea of its cultural heritage. Or whether, considering the occasional tawdriness of whites’ behavior toward minorities in centuries past—displacing Indians, enslaving Africans, deporting Chinese—there is cause to worry about race relations once the shoe is on the other foot. Or whether European civilization, which from the time of Columbus to the time of Goodbye, Columbus, seemed to roll ever westward as if by a law of nature, is now beginning to ebb.

Milton Friedman puts a young Michael Moore (type) in his place:

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one’s sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges.

The Irresponsibility of Celebrating Transgender Children

This is the future that our new culture is proclaiming for troubled kids — a future of genitals that are like “wounds” and suicide rates that skyrocket beyond all reason, more than nineteen times that of the general population. After being put forward to the world as a transgender child celebrity, how free will Jazz Jennings be to pull back from the brink? In a world of red carpets, fame, and acclaim, who will tell Jazz the truth?

Symbolic Incoherence: Millennials and YOLO

Of Bicycles, Sex, & Natural Law

Natural law has not failed because it is an inadequate understanding of the realities of human life. Insofar as it has “failed,” this is the result of rebellion against the limited creaturely status of human beings on the part of the contemporary cultural elite, provoked by many factors, including, no doubt, a large dose of technological hubris. But there is no alternative to something like natural law, because, whether formulated well or poorly, it is simply a recognition of the reality of what men and women are and of their actual situation in this world. To the extent that the mechanistic, Darwinian understanding of the world is incompatible with natural law, it is both wrong and intrinsically immoral. There is no substitute for natural-law morality: in its basic form, it’s the only game in town.

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics

1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns

Liberal mag Vox cancels article they asked a philosopher to write because it didn’t toe the party line closely enough.


The Limits of Gifts

The Church is renewing its emphasis on the Sabbath and on teaching children on that day. Children can’t make choices for the Kingdom unless they have experienced the Kingdom. Otherwise they would be like Hydarnes, knowing only half. There is a saying abroad that public schooling is child abuse. That saying exaggerates. But there is probably a religious equivalent. Leaving the holying of your children to the Church alone is parental neglect.

Great summary of a Book of Mormon wordprint study.

How to Read the Book of Mormon . . . S-L-O-W-L-Y

You might think that mining the same territory so closely so many times would result in eight people saying the same thing every day in our papers, but it doesn’t at all. Every day, when the other seminar participants present their findings, I think, “Wow. How could I have missed that connection?”

That’s how rich the text is.


The irony of this to me is that every time I have engaged in the hard work of burrowing deeply in the Book of Mormon, the center has always held: The book stands up to close scrutiny.