Endowment Anniversary

5369_lasvegasnv_stLast week I let the first anniversary of this blog pass without notice.  I’ll not let a far worthier milestone also go ignored: today marks ten years since my endowment

I’ve loved studying the endowment in the intervening decade, repeatedly revisiting the endowment itself and spiritually reverent texts about it that I’ve read both before and after my own endowment, my favorite being Hugh Nibley’s “What Is A Temple?” 

Sometimes we go through dry periods where nothing significantly new comes up–no major new relationship, or life event achieved, or song heard or movie seen…or religious height experienced–and we might despair that no such new vistas will be on the horizon at all.  I once felt that way about my gospel study, and was thus doubly surprised when I came across John Welch’s “The Sermon at the Temple and The Sermon on the Mount.”  Where many other scholars have only seen in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount a random collection of ethical sayings, Welch sees 48 specific points, in order, correlating it with the LDS Endowment.  It was an earth-shattering observation, and has profoundly improved my temple worship ever since.

Though I’ve been blessed with my share of insights and impressions in the temple, the most powerful experience that comes to memory is the most generic: Continue reading


Priorities, Part II

Last month, I bemoaned the loss of one of Southern Nevada’s few locations of the LDS church bookstore, Deseret Book.  The economy and/or local piety has further declined, as another location–the one on Centennial–has also closed. 

Honestly, the main culprit here must be identified as DB itself.  Their business model is hopelessly outdated: selling a narrow range of hardcovers at exorbitant prices has long since gone the way of the dodo; thus, DB joins the ranks of the music industry and the mainstream media.  (Perhaps they could ask for a bailout?)

The only innovations I’ve seen there in the last decade were expanding the catalogue of DVD titles and the “inspirational fiction” that has grown so popular.  Actually, I hear that they do most of their selling online now, so perhaps the demise of the physical stores is just a step in evolution…like the aliens in 2001 shedding their bodies as they become completely incorporeal entities! 

At any rate, Las Vegas, one of the Church’s bastions in Southern Nevada, where about 10% of our nearly two million people are LDS, has gone in the last year from having three church bookstores to only one.

Education Today

It’s time for teachers to submit our third quarter grades, and I have to wonder: if a teacher is to be expected to “bump up” a kid’s grade from a D to a C if he gets, say, 69.5% (as many parents and others will expect), then why can’t I also just bump a kid down from a C to a D if the grade is 70.5%?  Why can’t unethical subjectivity run both ways?

Also, looking over a recent quiz given to my sophomores after reading Julius Caesar, I see the most popular answer to the question, “Which of the leaders in Julius Caesar would make the best leader for America today, and why?”, was “Obama.”  Perhaps the question was confusing.  I also notice that none of the students who put Obama answered the second part of the question and explained why he’s the most qualified.  Perhaps they thought that was implied, or sacrilegious.

Recommended Reading: 2001: A Space Odyssey

20011Although I was first exposed to Kubrick’s classic film in high school, I was too sleepy/ dumb/ apathetic to pay much attention.  Despite that, I was pretty familiar with it, if only because of the ubiquitous references to it in pop culture (I can remember at least a few just from Sesame Street). 

A few years ago, I found myself planning for the last day of summer school, where I would spend the first half of the day reviewing and then administering a final exam, and the second half of the day grading it and filling out paperwork.  As the students would obviously be done with the course itself after the exam, an extraneous activity was needed to fill the time while I worked.  (Technically, administrations are supposed to have us give the exam and grade it during the second half of the last day, while we’re simultaneously supposed to continue doing regular class work with them–an expectation so impossibly ridiculous that nobody anywhere has ever tried to enforce it).

Not being a fan of time-wasting movies, I wanted something calm and cerebral for them to try.  Remembering 2001, I checked it out of the library.  As long and slow as it is, (and as much as I was trying to focus on my work, which I mercifully finished earlier than I’d expected to), I was dazzled by it, by all of it: the visuals, the music, the ambition of the story’s epic scope.  How could such a simple and simply-told movie be so fantastically overwhelming? 

Since then, this has been a landmark of art in my mind.  Thus it’s not surprising that, eventually, I’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, which he wrote at the same time as he and Kubrick wrote the screenplay. 

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Worshipping Through Prayer, Singing, and Fasting

One topic to which my eye was drawn during a study of the Book of Mormon was how exactly God wants to be worshipped.  As Latter-day Saints, we often say that lives of steady, regular devotion to righteousness and service constitute the ultimate worship, which is all fine and good–no problem there–but in light of the examples set by prophets in the scriptures, it seems incomplete.  Consider:

1 Nephi 1:14-15: Lehi exclaims to God how great God’s power and plan are

1 Nephi 18:16: Prolonged praise and suppression of desire to murmur (see also Ether 6:9)

2 Nephi 4:30-35: Proclaim trust in God while pleading (with firm faith) for help

2 Nephi 9: 8,9,13,17,19,20: Extol the virtues of God

Mosiah 2:3-4: Mosaic sacrifices and offerings explicitly linked with showing gratitude (see also verse 20)

Mosiah 18:30: Praises to be sung to God

Alma 26:8: Again, singing laudatory praises of gratitude

Alma 45:1: Fasting and prayer mentioned in conjunction with grateful worship

3 Nephi 4:31: Again, singing laudatory praises of gratitude (see also Mormon 7:7)

And those eleven citations are just a sampling of what the Book of Mormon shows in its narrative about the nature of worship.  This may be something that we could benefit to learn from our Evangelical friends: while the kind of demonstrative emotion shown in much of their public worship might strike us as overly ecstatic to the point of being irreverent, our own scriptures surely show that it does have a proper place.  I offer three suggestions–which I’ve practiced myself–to try integrating into our own worhsip, and see if they don’t invite the Spirit:

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Always Be Looking Forward To Things

Something that I’ve long found that consistently increases satisfaction in life is to have something waiting for you every day that you’ve been looking forward to.  I have a few ways of doing this.

The first is merely to focus on the pleasure in some of life’s smaller, frequent tasks: seek contentment in folding laundry while you watch an old movie, listen to a certain radio show during a regular commute, watch for changes in moon phases or sunrise times during that commute, or have a favorite snack you indulge in each night, for example.   

The second is closely related, and something that I also do to be more effective at work: put lots of routines in place.  Set a schedule for working out on Saturday mornings, browsing your favorite blogs or web sites two or three nights a week, grilling burgers in the backyard while the kids run around every Wednesday evening, or getting up just a few minutes earlier to pray or do a puzzle or enjoy a bigger breakfast.  Putting these things into your daily routines will also help take the edge off of those less savory events in life that aren’t always negotiable: work, confrontations, obligatory activities, etc.

Finally, let some standard financial advice help out your general happiness in life: diversify.  Continue reading

America’s Finances Stabilize: USA Wins Lottery, Gets Inheritance, Sells Stuff On E-Bay


In the face of staggering, record-breaking trillion-dollar deficits for this year and the foreseeable future, America was understandably worried about its financial future.  Luckily, several unexpected windfalls came up and helped America break even.

“I was all sweating about these bills I got coming up, you know, infrastructure and social security and stuff, but then I got this call and it was like a miracle…I totally won the lottery!” an elated United States told the Associated Press yesterday. 

The fiscally irresponsible country will get $10 billion as a reward for picking the right ticket in a scratch-off lotto from a nearby gas station.  The international superpower will, however, have to share their winnings with two housewives from Omaha, who also picked the winning numbers by playing their children’s birthdays. 

Of course, ten billion dollars hardly covers the debt that America, like many impulsive, short-sighted consumers, has racked up in recent times.  The calls from bill collectors were still troubling the distraught democracy, threatening to repossess the volunteer military and bicameral legislature that it got at the mall when the economy was riding high, but against all odds, the U.S. got another fortuitous surprise.

“My great aunt Agatha died!” said America in the same interview.  Trying not to sound too excited about the demise of a relative, it explained, “She wasn’t really close to anybody else in the family–she and Australia haven’t even spoken in, like, fifty years–but she wanted to leave me her life savings.  I guess she thought I had potential or something.”

Aunt Agatha’s will left a plum $50 billion to the spendthrift republic.  “But there’s a catch,” America said.  “She didn’t want me to blow it all on pork and stuff, so I can’t get it until I can show a balanced budget.” 

Such a task might sound daunting for a country that now throws out the word trillion the way it used to say million, but America now sounds more confident.  “I have a plan.  I’ve been saving up my old baseball cards for a rainy day, and I’m totally gonna sell them on E-Bay for, like, a hundred trillion bucks.  Dude, I’ve got a Daryl Strawberry rookie card.  Seriously.”


NOTE: The joke being, if our financial woes aren’t solved this way, then what exactly do we expect to happen?  Isn’t this actually the most realistic hope we have?  Also, I liked comparing America to a dumb kid who needs an adult to help it pay the rent, and this time’s the last time, honestly.  I had a really good interview at Burger King, so I’m totally gonna have a job next month!

Domestic Violence Is All The Rage

It’s undeniable that popular singer Chris Brown savagely beat his girlfriend Rihanna last month.  Even more sadly, it’s also undeniable that too many–maybe even a majority–of young people are siding with Brown.

The second half of this article from the New York Times addresses why that is.  One expert highlights the influence of hip hop’s insistence that aggression is an appropriate response to stress, but more disturbing still is this theme:

Moreover, teenage girls can’t be expected to support Rihanna just because of her gender, youth culture experts say. They see themselves as sharing equal responsibility with boys. Parity, not sisterhood, is the name of the game.

And there you have it.  For a generation of kids who have been raised with the de facto cultural mantra that men and women are absolutely the same, physical violence between them has lost its social taboo. 

Which makes one wonder, thirty years ago when the LDS Church campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that removing all legal distinctions between the sexes would result in irreparable harm for women, were they actually foreseeing something?

Which also begs the question, when the LDS Church campaigns against gay marriage today, on the grounds that removing the legally special sanction given to traditional families would result in irreparable harm towards children, are they actually foreseeing something? 

Or, as we survey the sad damage done to a generation of young women who don’t even know that they’re entitled to be protected from masculine violence, will we live to see the results of another of society’s experiments wrought upon the next generation?

An Idea For Teacher Evaluation

Based on some reading I’ve done (such as that covered in some posts a couple of weeks ago), and my nine years of teaching experience, I’d like to suggest a way of more effectively measuring teacher competence.

Traditionally, administrators observe bits and pieces of a few classes, and spot check the teacher’s lesson plan book, basing their evaluations largely on criteria related to how the lesson plan book demonstrates cohesion with school district standards and syllabi. 

This really doesn’t work.  Lesson plan books are better at recording what has already happened than at committing to what will happen–in a good classroom, there is so much flexibility and adaptation as teachers respond to immediate needs that any lesson planned more then a few days in advance is essentially worthless, anyway.

What I suggest is evaluating teachers based on their grade booksContinue reading

Recommended Reading: Madame Bovary

bovary1Short Review: This book is perfect.  It is now one of my favorites.

Longer Review: It always bugs me that when people list forms of art, they never put literature near the top of the list, or often won’t include it at all.  From now on, whenever anyone fails to recognize the artistic merit of literature, I will use this as my first and last proof. 

Madame Bovary is an exquisite masterpiece.  After I’d read the first few chapters, I realized that for the rest of the book, I wouldn’t be looking forward to the further unfolding of the plot (which was deft and well executed, but fairly pedestrian–unhappy housewife seeks satisfaction in adultery–so never really captured me), but rather to seeing more of Flaubert’s composition: his prose is some of the finest poetry I’ve ever seen, a bracing achievement of language crafted into its highest possible power. 

I was never disappointed.  Whenever I found myself daydreaming and not remembering what I’d just read, I went back and read it again, alert, not because I feared that I had missed some important turning point in the story, but because I knew I had missed some elegant phrasing. 

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Great Paper Airplane

Thanks to longer days and warm weather, we rolled out a classic, favorite activity for family home evening tonight: paper airplanes.  My oldest son was excited to finally try out the plans for several cool planes in The Dangerous Book For Boys (a must have for every home). 

Those designs were good, but the big winner tonight was this one, dubbed the Rapier, which I found online this afternoon.  For each of us, it performed flawlessly.  It gives the kind of long, steady flight that kids love, and after we’d enjoyed that for a while, we were delighted again to find it easy to tweak: fold up the tips of the wings and/or put a couple of little tears in the backs of the wings for some neat tricks.  Not only will it also do loops, it will give you complete horizontal circles and sharp 180° turns, gliding in for gentle landings.  It’s a simple, durable model, guaranteed to entertain old and young alike. 


Movies So Bad They’ve Never Been Released On DVD?

I guess what got me thinking about this is all those huge bargain bins of cheap DVD’s at Wal Mart.  I see a few hundred just dumped in there and labelled “two for five dollars,” and I have to wonder, was there really that much of a market for Brad Pitt’s pathetic 1992 Roger Rabbit rip-off, Cool World (a movie I remember at all only because of David Bowie’s pretty decent title song) in the first place?

So I decided to try to see if any of the movies I could remember were so bad, so heinously, awfully unpopular, they had never even been released on DVD at all.  I mean, if Nuns on the Run can somehow manage to thrive on DVD, then just how sad would it be for some other movie to not even make the cut? 

Here are the ones I tried:

whoopiTheodore Rex

Summary: Never saw it, because I try not to watch movies that are obviously terrible, but the commercial I saw once in 1996 left permanent damage on my brain, so I’ll never forget this puerile story of hip police detective Whoopi Goldberg teamed up with…a dinosaur.  (Characters in dinosaur costumes were all the rage for a while after the success of Jurassic Park.) 

Amazon.com sales rank: 28, 940.  Out of 97 items listed for Whoopi Goldberg (she’s made 97 movies?), this one comes in at #38. 

Rotten Tomatoes score: N/A

Apparently, there’s a thriving subculture that feeds on sassy actresses trading banter with flash-in-the-pan puppets.

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On America’s Future

As we scrutinize political trends, demographics, and cultural indicators, two prophecies from the Book of Mormon should give us all something to seriously mull over as we ponder America’s future.  Consider:

3 Nephi 16: 7–“in the latter days shall the truth come unto the Gentiles.”  Indeed, the gospel was restored in America in the early 19th century, primarily among Caucasian people (Gentiles).

verse 8–“they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel…”  That same population that received the gospel also oppressed some of God’s chosen people.

verse 9–“after all this…”

verse 10–“At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel…I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.”  (emphasis added)  This single verse should scare the heck out of every Anglo American, especially among the Latter-day Saints.  The prediction there is pretty clear: when our society becomes pervasively unrighteous, rejecting our Christian heritage, God will take that gift of gospel truth away from us. 

It’s not giving away any big secret to share that convert baptisms into the LDS church in the United States have been fairly stagnant over the last decade.  The explosive rate of growth in the second half of the 20th century has largely leveled off. 

So, if the gospel is going to be taken away from us white Gentiles, to whom will it go?

verses 11-12–“And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.  And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.”  (emphasis added)  Here, Jesus Christ plainly foretells that after the initial phase of the Restoration has been accomplished by the Gentiles, they will reject it, and the gospel will then be embraced by the descendants of the native people of the Western Hemisphere to whom Christ was speaking. 

Just as conversions are dying out among white Americans, the LDS church is growing explosively abroad–there are now more Mormons outside the United States than within.  Christianity in general is experiencing a staggering injection of growth among the poor, “global south.” 

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Your Tax Dollars At Work!

In preparation for next week’s proficiency exams, the school district is distributing this pamphlet to high school students in the valley.

It’s one thing to remind students to get a good night’s rest, but…an exhaustive, illustrated guide to doing squats and lunges?  A specific list of preferred healthy snacks, including Nature Valley “Chewy” Granola Bars (Oatmeal Raisin flavored, especially), and Nutri-Grain Banana Muffin Bars?  Is the school district getting a kick back from this promotion or something?

I can just imagine some kid sixty years from now saying, “Grandma, what’s your secret to the great life you’ve had?”, and her answering, “Well, back when I was a sophomore in high school, they gave us these pamphlets about being healthy, and it changed my life.  That piece of paper made me alter my entire lifestyle.  Suddenly, I was a different person, and I cared for my life with the kind of independent maturity that can only come from a single handout one day at school.” 

Kids might be lazy and ignorant, but they’re not stupid.  How in the world can we expect them to take us–and our curricula–seriously when we give them stuff like this?

G-H-O-T-I Spells “Fish”

droutIt’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an entire series of recorded lectures, but last week I picked up Michael Drout’s A Way With Words III: Understanding Grammar at the library, and I was immediately enraptured.  I haven’t listened to anything else since, burning straight through the seven discs during my drive times this week, absorbing the whole eight hour extravaganza. 

Drout is one of the most personable speakers I’ve ever heard lecture; his humor, pop references, voices, and casual approach were always perfect: he could have been sitting right next to me.  The lectures were substantive, too.  Not only does he review the basics, with some twists, but he clearly explained some things that I’ve seen other teachers clumsily belabor. 

For example, when the sticky issue of the pronoun of indeterminate gender came up (using “he” or “she” when you don’t know if the subject being referenced is actually male or female, as in, “Any student who wants to get a good education should read his little heart out”), instead of resigning himself to the lame stand by of using an inappropriate “their” (it’s singular, not plural), and decisively rejecting such politically correct constructs as “s/he,” he announces a policy so catchy and utilitarian that I’ve wanted to shout it as a battle cry ever since: Pluralize the antecedent!  (Which would make my example from before into, “Any students who want to get a good education should read their little hearts out.”) 

Ah, glorious.  I want that on T-shirts and posters.  I want to put on a mask and fight crime, with that as my rallying cry as I dash into a violent fray: Pluralize the antecedent!  Mel Gibson could paint half his face blue and ride in with that declaration ringing across the field. 

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