October 2017 General Conference Notes

This post will be updated throughout the weekend.

 

SATURDAY MORNING

President Uchtdorf: The Light is Calling to You

  • We have an innate feeling pulling us towards God, like animals’ instincts to get home
  • God calls out to us, no matter what
  • Our life will be better if we answer the call
  • God will use us to make others’ lives better
  • A good description of the disciple’s life as the good life!
  • “Begin your own wonderful journey home.”
  • “Blessings don’t come from abilities as much as from choices.”
  • Even pioneer heroes were just human
  • The light of Christ…the talk comes full circle!
  • “No one else is responsible for your journey.”
  • “Reach out, encourage, heal…”
  • Life as a pilgrimage

Bonnie L. Oscarson (YW Pres): Service

  • Lose ourselves in service to find ourselves
  • Service is better in person than online
  • Some of our most significant service will be close to home: family and ward family
  • “What makes you think you go to mutual because of what YOU get out of it?”
  • “We are not just receivers and takers of what is offered at church…we are givers.”
  • [When we pull our heads into our shells, our world gets smaller]
  • “Who needs me today?”

Elder Oaks: Avoiding Worldliness on the Family

  • TSM: reject anything that does not conform to our standards
  • Family proc. is essential guidance for exaltation
  • “marriage standards of a declining world”(!)
  • TOO MUCH truth in this talk–amazing job laying down the law on the family!

Continue reading

Advertisements

Written English As a Foreign Language to Native Speakers

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of ELL students–English Language Learners (also known as ESL, or English as a Second Language). They have a certain set of needs in writing instruction. In fact, students have slightly differing sets of needs depending on what their first language is: some language backgrounds make learning to use plurals harder; others create a tough time with verb conjugation, for example.

This has nothing to do with anyone’s intelligence–it’s just a matter of learning to think and communicate those thoughts in a new way. What shocks me, though, is just how often I see native English speakers make the same kinds of mistakes in writing that foreign language students make. What accounts for this?

For a young American today, written English is practically a foreign language. Students very likely have little more engagement with written English than they would with any other world language, and it shows in the kinds of errors they make in writing.

Continue reading

Reviewed and Recommended: F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld

7957849I recently had such a great reading experience! So many of the books I read are deep, or classics, or deep classics–this time I just wanted something fun. Because of that, I spent a few days in a row staying up late so I could keep reading. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Nightworld is the final book in a series that begins with Wilson’s classic The Keep. (Yes, I skipped to the end of a series just so I could get to the gripping, white-knuckled conclusion. Fight me.) Like all great horror novels, the plot is as elemental as any dark fairy tale: a powerful evil entity is making each day on Earth shorter than the one before, and at night hungry creatures come out of the ground to ravage the world. Each night is longer than the one before, and each night brings larger and more aggressive monsters. Soon, the world will be kept in permanent night, ruled by this demon and his army of monster minions. And only a small rag-tag band of human heroes can come together to stop him.

Pretty awesome. Wilson delivers. Why isn’t there a movie of this? Tons of fun. Highly recommended.

 

“To Essay”

As I discussed my notes about their first big essay of the year with my college students this week, it became clear to me that nobody had ever explained to them why we write essays. They saw the exercise as a pointless waste of time.

So I got some more mileage out of my trusty copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. I read them parts of the entry for the word “essay.” Specifically, I pointed out the it entered the language as a verb, not a noun.

As seen below, “to essay” really just means “to try, to attempt, to practice, to accomplish.” Example sentence: “The noble knight essayed the glorious task of eating a thousand fish tacos.”

Moral of the story: today, when we write an essay, we are trying, attempting, practicing, accomplishing…what? To prove an assertion, to describe a new idea to others so they can share in our experience, to communicate clearly about something important between writer and reader.

These are–and I say this with no sarcasm–truly crucial skills, demanding the very greatest of all our energies in both teaching and learning. The world needs these skills, and needs them to be developed and implemented widely.

So maybe the “noble knight” example isn’t such a joke after all.

oed

Throwing Away Essays

Yesterday I read an essay by a college freshman that began with the paragraph below.

“Alright class, pick up your pencils and write me an essay about something that will bore you to death”. Those are the words that my sophomore high school english teacher told us one day when he had nothing planned for our class. The entire class was in shock, but that statement was only the beginning. Each one of us wrote our essays and when that sweet sound of the bell rang, we threw our papers onto his cluttered desk and ran off, escaping the torture of listening to the clock go “tick tock” for fifty-two minutes. Two class periods later, I witnessed something I never thought would happen. I watched my teacher throw a pile of paper into the trash, but it wasn’t just any pile of paper, it was our essays we wrote just two hours ago. It was at that moment when I felt that teachers really didn’t care about our creative minds and our writing talents. It was at that moment when I felt that writing was just a waste of time and that teachers made us write boring essays just to keep their job.

There are at least four big red flags here: the unprepared teacher, the callous nonchalance with which he or she appears to address students, the nonsense assignment itself, and the almost immediate disposal of nearly an hour’s worth of student work.

I get the impression from the student’s lack of surprise that this kind of thing was not uncommon.

I’m completely stunned. This is outrageous. I sent this paragraph to the principal of the school in question, to deal with or not as he or she sees fit. I won’t say what high school this student attended, but I will tell that it is one of the relatively newer, richer schools in the valley.

I’ve mentioned before a department meeting I attended about a decade ago where an older teacher freely admitted that she refused to read student essays. I think that’s a deal breaker, and anyone with such an attitude does not belong in the classroom.

Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating and time consuming, but bottom line, it’s our job.

And using essay writing as time wasting filler and then simply discarding it is nothing less than education’s version of malpractice.

And the student’s “lesson” learned at the end of that paragraph…it’s just absolutely heartbreaking. I teach writing because I love it and I know it’s important. Too important and lovely to be screwed up like that.

I hope I can help this student have a redemptive experience with writing instruction and practice this semester.

Great Gravitas in Two Popcorn Flicks

We don’t exactly think of superheroes or science fiction when we think of Oscar bait, but two performances in mainstream pop movies of recent years have stuck with me. They both demonstrated a subdued gravitas which may have slipped past many people’s radar because the work was so naturally understated.

The first is Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War. One of the complaints about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it has so many dead ends, and despite the continuous storyline, so many of its films still feel like stand alone fresh starts. That’s largely true.

An exception is RDJ’s work in Civil War. His portrayal of Tony Stark has been uneven, partly as he has explored the character himself, and partly as the varying quality of scripts has left him more or less to work with, but not only did the plot of Civil War bring to fruition all the character growth earned and lost over the course of several films, RDJ brought his A game to it, and gave an impressively nuanced performance.

We can really feel the weight of all that has happened in recent years in the MCU in this film. We can see this movie as a depiction of the age-old political struggle between collectivism and individualism, but Tony Stark is no bureaucratic stooge here: RDJ makes it clear that this man is finally just crumpling under the burdens that life has kept stacking on him. He needs escape. He needs rest. This is a man in turmoil.

Continue reading

Perspective

350 million is more than a third of a billion. There are more than a third of a BILLION people in the United States, representing by far the greatest variety of beliefs, backgrounds, and lifestyles in the history of the world. It’s impossible to fully conceive of what that number represents in the real world.

I point this out because the fear-mongering media outlets we might like–whichever they may be (they’re all basically the same business model)–love to magnify small exceptions so we can all have a loathsome Other to hate. No matter how insignificant, some marginal extremist presence that’s different from the audience any given outlet caters to will magically be made to seem like a looming threat to everything that audience holds dear.

But it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Because this amazing society is far larger than we can even comprehend, much less identify, quantify, and target.

Take that universal enemy, Westboro Baptist Church. Whenever they get up to their shenanigans somewhere, it’s a great opportunity for people of nearly all walks of life to bemoan the oppression this inhuman boogeyman represents, and to score some easy social capital by publicly proclaiming their intent to fight this evil army.

Except the total number of people in this group is only about somewhere between 40 and 70. That’s it.

To put that in perspective, this imminent threat to our sacred way of life consists of less than 0.0000002% of Americans.

The same could be said of any number of gross abominations against whatever flavor of the sociopolitical spectrum you prefer. They’re just tiny blips on the radar, footnotes that history won’t even bother to include at the bottom of any page.

The lesson, as always, is thus:

unite

Grapes of Wrath FAIL

Today a student told me that he’d ordered a copy of The Grapes of Wrath to read for my class, but the wrong book had been delivered. Turns out that some yahoo published a book with the same name as the Steinbeck classic. Maybe he thought he could get some sales through accidental purchases by students looking for school supplies.

There are clues that this is not the book you’re looking for. For example, it was published just a few months ago. Notice that people get the wrong book so often that Amazon suggests bundling this with another Steinbeck classic, Of Mice and Men.

But the reviews are priceless! Angry people feeling ripped off, confused people searching for meaning, and at least one reviewer who posted five-star praise about Steinbeck, for some reason.

wrath1

 

wrath2.png

The Essential Old Testament

This summer our family took a break from our regular Book of Mormon study so we could take our kids on a tour of the Old Testament. Both as someone who cares about deeply informed discipleship and as an educator who laments the loss of Biblical literacy in our society, I want my children to know the Bible better.

Thus, I put together a short version of the Old Testament, one that we could read and discuss together just during our time together during the break from school.

I wish we’d had more time–I had to skip the amazing Enoch material in Moses 6-7, as well as almost everything from the minor prophets. We missed several days, so we didn’t get it all done, and I updated the list now with a few different choices. Here’s my “essential Old Testament,” with some labels and explanations.

  • Abraham 3:22-28 / Moses 4:1-4 pre-existence
  • Genesis 1 / Moses 2 compare creation details
  • Moses 3
  • Moses 4:5-32
  • Genesis 4
  • Moses 5:1-41 Cain and Abel
  • Genesis 6-8 Noah’s ark
  • Abraham 1
  • Genesis 17 Abrahamic covenant
  • Genesis 37, 39-45 Joseph in Egypt
  • Job 1, 42 first and last chapters
  • Exodus 1-2
  • Exodus 3:1-4:17
  • Moses 1 great vision in the Pearl of Great Price
  • Exodus 4:18-5:23
  • Exodus 6-14
  • Exodus 20 The 10 commandments
  • Leviticus 26:1-13, Deut. 28:1-14 comparing covenant promises
  • Joshua 5-6 the battle of Jericho
  • Ruth 1-4 the whole book!
  • 1 Samuel 17 David and Goliath
  • Psalms 1, 3, 15, 19, 23, 24, 37, 82, 116 some favorites
  • 1 Kings 3 Solomon’s wisdom
  • Proverbs 1-4
  • 1 Kings 8 Temple dedication prayer
  • 1 Kings 17-18 The awesome ministry of Elijah
  • 2 Kings 17 the fall of the ten lost tribes
  • Isaiah 2, 5, 29, 40, 53, 55, 58 some favorite chapters
  • Jeremiah 42 & Ezekiel 33 prophetic warnings, literal and symbolic
  • Ezekiel 37 the gathering of Israel & the Book of Mormon
  • Daniel 6 the lion’s den
  • Esther 1-10 courage in a hostile society

 

“Rigorous Opportunities Throughout”

Today, I attended a teacher orientation at UNLV, prior to English 101 classes starting next week. Department leaders showed some slides, and one of them included the phrase “rigorous opportunities throughout.”

The phrase immediately struck me. Each word has the letter O twice. In the first word, they’re separated by one letter, in the second by two letters, and in the third by three.

That felt noteworthy to me.

We Need To De-Stigmatize Repentance

Scenario: you know you need to see your bishop and confess a problem because the loss of the Spirit is making you miserable, but you can’t, because you know that if you do, you’ll have to stop taking the sacrament, and people will see that, and you’ll be embarrassed.

And what if you’re called on to pray in a class, but you may not be able to–the shame!

And of course people will wonder what awful dirty evil thing you did. They’ll talk about it. They’ll treat you differently. Worse.

In short, your life could be ruined.

What a heartbreaking tragedy that anybody may ever feel this way. But those fears are justified–they didn’t just grow out of nothing in the minds of a paranoid few.

Too many times, we Latter-day Saints do in fact treat people badly because they have clearly Broken A Rule.

And that makes people less likely to go down the path to self improvement. Nobody wants to be a social pariah, or be judged, or looked down on at all.

The biggest tragedy here is that this behavior of ours towards those who are repenting should be the exact opposite of this.

A wise bishop once told a priesthood meeting that if anyone felt hesitant to come to him because of a major sin they’d committed because they worried he might lose respect for them, to not worry–he would have more respect for them because of their courage in confessing and starting up the path to forgiveness.

Continue reading

Ten Favorite Books: Fiction

This week a friend posited this exercise for a list: our ten favorite works of fiction. I then realized that I had never made such a list before. I scoured my record of everything I’ve read, considered only the perfect-ten A-plusses, and came up with these:

10. Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full

A tour de force of satire, and an absolutely perfect portrait of late 20th century us. A huge achievement in making us look at our warts in the mirror and laugh our heads off at them. By far the best American novel of the 90s.

9. Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomson, The Rule of Four

Incredibly fun puzzle mystery, without being ponderous or pandering. A flawlessly fun read.

8. P.G. Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters

The first Jeeves and Wooster book I ever read, and still the best. We all type LOL every day, it seems, but how often does something actually make us laugh out loud? This book did, many times.

7. James Clavell, Noble House

I didn’t think a 1000 page novel about a British business executive in Hong Kong in the 60s could be the most exciting, engrossing adventure story I’d ever read, but here we are.

6. James Joyce, Dubliners

A phenomenal achievement of the mind, this little collection of stories has history’s greatest difference between the simplicity of the narratives and the depth of the ideas.

5. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

The bleak setting, the haunted and violent saga, the elegantly complex plot and style: this is the greatest novel from 19th century England, which is saying a lot.

4. Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

A surprise, just like Noble House. Who would have thought a long, rambling Western would also be the most humane, exciting, passionate celebration of life I’d ever see between two covers? I wish I could read it again for the first time.

3. Frank Herbert, Dune

The cover of the current paperback edition calls it “science fiction’s supreme masterpiece,” and if anything, that’s playing it safe. This majestic epic broke all the rules, and in doing so, wrote the ones we’ve been following ever since.

2. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

The one and only truly counter cultural book I’ve ever seen–a story so bogglingly original that it has endless surprises and challenges for everybody…and is genuinely funny on every single page.

1. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It’s difficult to even begin describing the wonders of this super masterpiece. Let just one bit of praise suffice: this grand work has the best rendering of life’s very largest dramas and its very smallest details. One or the other would be enough to put it on this list, but it has both. Amazing.