Ten Favorite Paintings

The top 10-themed culture conversation continues between two old friends and I. This last week the category was simple: ten favorite paintings. I got to go back over my posts here on that subject, and I came up with this list:

10. Durand, The Morning of Life

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9. Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night

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8. Church, Country Home

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7. Bocklin, Isle of the Dead

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Our Way of Life

When I write about my church, it’s usually to analyze some aspect of belief or to defend it from critics. But today I just want to celebrate the beauty and joy of the kind of life practiced in the Mormon church.

For months now I’ve often looked back from the end of a day and thought of just how amazing it was. It’s crazy how many days make me laugh and smile and think, how many days have a little bit of me helping someone else and someone else helping me, how many days see me witnessing and participating in the best and hardest moments in an ever growing number of lives. This isn’t meant to say that any other way of life is worse than this or bad at all; this post is for me to simply say that the practice of Mormon discipleship is a truly wonderful way to live.

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For numerous specific anecdotes of exactly what I’m talking about in the daily lives of ordinary Latter-day Saints, please check out the series of posts tagged “on the sweetness of Mormon life” over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. Dip into any of those slices of homemade gourmet living and you’ll find your heart filled with a rich light.

The most recent entry:

An old cowboy bears his testimony. he is being released from the bishopric. It is his 3rd bishopric. He cries when he speaks. He say’s he’ll miss the friendship. His successor is a dirt contractor who “grew up rough.”

The first speaker says he’d been working at the temple a few days back. The Temple President came and pulled him from his duties. Unusual. “We need help in the baptistry.” There was only a father and son. Also unusual. They ran a session of baptisms for the dead and then confirmations for the dead, with just the Temple President and the speaker and the father and the son. Very unusual. The father was fighting back tears.

After, the Temple President explained. The son had turned 12 that weekend. A day or two later, the man received his 7-day notice that he was ordered to Afghanistan for one year. The temple had made special arrangements so he could do his son’s 1st baptisms for the dead.

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Or you could refer to this summary from the end of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for a remarkable parallel to the kind of life I have in mind:

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Joseph Smith and Chiasmus: Means, Motive, and Opportunity

132This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of chiasmus, an ancient poetic writing style, in the Book of Mormon. A great jubilee celebration is being held at BYU this week to commemorate it.

I’ve talked to a lot of critics of the Book of Mormon about this, and the most popular response is that chiasmus isn’t that hard to figure out or write, and that Joseph Smith must have just integrated it into his “hoax.”

But this really doesn’t make sense. Once we look at the situation critics propose in detail, we see that an authentically ancient Book of Mormon is more reasonable than their theory!

In short, critics have only weak answers for the “how” of chiasmus being in the Book of Mormon, and absolutely no answer at all for the “why.”

Let’s consider those three classic staples of investigating a crime: means, motive, and opportunity.

MEANS

Did Joseph Smith have the ability to figure out chiasmus and then duplicate it? For a critic to answer yes to this, they would have to agree with this scenario:

  • Decades before the term was even named by modern scholars, Joseph was able to discern this style from its fragmented, muted use in the Bible. There is no record of anybody else outside of professional scholars ever doing this.
  • Not only did he perform that amazing feat, but he found the writing style significant enough to notice and incorporate into his “hoax” manuscript.
  • Not only did he somehow figure all of this out, but he was able to create a huge number of these poetic narratives–several dozen, at least, and maybe hundreds–covering single verses, entire books, and every length in between, and he did so with clever word play and thematic coherence (consider the literally Christ-centered chiasmus in Alma 36, pictured above, for example).
  • Not only did he do that, but he appears to have done so with no notes, no practice, and with no review or revision to his manuscript. Certainly, all existing manuscript evidence supports this–the critic who would imagine otherwise has to invent hypothetical evidence.
  • Not only did he do that, but then for some reason he restricted its use primarily to that manuscript only–he later produced reams of revelations and other documents, like the books of Moses and Abraham, but none of these would ever use chiasmus again in anywhere near the degree or complexity with which it appears in the Book of Mormon. If it was so easy and he was so good at it, then why not?

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Three Little Graves

gravesLast Memorial Day, my family and I were in a cemetery in Utah. I like cemeteries–they tend to be clean and quiet, and one can find clues about scores of great lives hinted at on the markers these thousands of strangers left behind.

On that particular weekend, all the markers that indicated that the deceased was a veteran were decorated with small flags, which made that visit even better.

But I stopped cold at this site and didn’t know what to feel besides sorrow. I had to take this picture.

The poor Krueger couple had three children, all of whom died in infancy. I can’t imagine a heartbreak like that.

And looking around that or any other cemetery, who knows how many more tragedies lie there, silently sleeping after a lifetime of toil and travail?

And those tragedies are part of lives that must have also had amazing triumphs, moments of sublime transcendence, all completely unknown to me, one visitor at random many years later.

Things like this keep me humble and grateful. It’s good to wrestle with the infinite size and scope of human life.

But let’s say a prayer for the lost Kruegers of the world. There is room in our hearts to have sympathy for the dead.

 

Notes on Best American Short Stories of the Century

I cleared 50 old books off my shelves last week, including this one, which I was really just keeping because of these notes I’d made.

Digitization is the declutterer’s best friend.

The most important thing is the mark next to each title. It’s the classic, simple teacher cheat: a check minus means I didn’t like it, a check plus means I loved it, a mere check means it was average.

It’s hard to read my scribbled reaction to each story, but that’s OK–it was hard to read them in the actual book, as well.

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Free Frosty Fail

I went through my bookshelves last week and cleared out a lot of clutter. One book had this coupon stuck in it as a bookmark. I found it and was excited to get a free frosty. But I guess I had forgotten about this book and hadn’t picked it up in a while. As you can see from the dates at the bottom, the coupon expired eleven years ago :(

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Cute Coincidence On Today’s Puzzle Page

The syndicated New York Times crossword today is from July 4 (hence the theme, if you see it), but what really struck me was this odd bit of synchronicity: what are the odds that the crossword and one of the cartoons next to it would both use the word “sauté?”

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My mistake at 37 across is because the clue “Country singer Tillis” initially made me think of 90s star Pam, she of “Maybe It Was Memphis.” But this made the answers going through it wrong, so I had to look it up. Turns out her father, Mel, was also a country singer. So I learned something today!

Some Quotes From Orwell’s 1984

Evergreen insights into the nature of the Left, labelled with current concerns.

 

ON MILLENNIAL SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS:

With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother — it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children.

–Part I, chapter 2

 

ON THE UNCRITICAL WORSHIP OF EDGY INNOVATION

Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect.

–Part I, chapter 8

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My Favorite Light

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On the way to take my wife to see a movie tonight, we waited at a red light and I had to get a quick shot of this impending sunset. It’s not a great picture, and it’s far from a gorgeous sunset, for that matter, but this is actually a good example of my favorite kind of light: the kind that streaks across the sky and creates sharp silhouettes.

There are lots of small mountains to the west of Las Vegas, but they usually appear to be just a drab, uniform row of jagged rocks. But, at the right time of day, at the right time of the year, the sun sets at an angle just right for sending its rays through the gaps between them, reminding us that they’re actually layered silently and dozens of miles apart.

In the picture above, starting in the middle and looking left, there are four distinct mountains visible, each highlighted by a unique brilliance of sideways light; a different quality of sunlight slides down diagonally through the spaces separating them.

Light shows us the size of the empty space that was invisible before, while giving each of the pieces of mountain stacked side by side over there its own personality.

Quote About Reading Great Books, From a Great Book I Once Read

Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.

–George Orwell, 1984, Part II, chapter 9

 

Selling Kia-stine

Only at the very end, when I was selling my dumpy old Kia after 12 years of use and abuse, did I come up with that pun–that I should have called that car Kia-stine. Old school Stephen King fans will get the joke.

Speaking of jokes, when I was selling it, I put up the following ad on Craigslist–I just messed around with it because I didn’t think anyone would really want it. The ad got a lot of positive feedback: one person texted and said, “I don’t want to buy the car, but great ad!” After some yahoos jerked us around about it, though, so I just ended up giving the car to the Make a Wish Foundation.

Anyway, preserved now for all eternity, is the Craigslist ad:

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“2004 Kia Optima LX In Truly Awful Condition”

Listen, folks, I’m not gonna lie here. This car is falling apart. It actually used to be a great car, and was for many years, but I ran it into the ground with minimal maintenance. I’m asking for only half of the “fair” listing in KBB.

PROS: It always starts and runs. Never a problem there.

Battery and tires are strong with plenty of life left in them.

V6 engine.

Has never exploded, caught on fire, divided by zero, committed a felony, or watched an Adam Sandler movie.

Radio gets some good stations to help distract you from all the cons.

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