Mio Dolce Vita

Three recent slices of my sweet life:

  • I drove up to the library early in the evening to pick up some items that were on hold for me. On my way in, I passed a former student, there with her younger siblings. We smiled and exchanged greetings–very pleasant. As she left, I heard her praising me to the small children. I got the books and movies I’d been looking forward to, then went across the street to 7-11 to get a large Slurpee, which I’d been craving. As I drove home, the setting sun lowered the temperature just enough to make the breeze comfortable with the windows down. I thought everything was about as perfect as it could get. Then “Paradise City” came on the radio.
  • My family went up to the mountain after I got home from work one afternoon, and set up in one of the  picnic areas. We made quite a meal of it, running my big propane stove, the charcoal grill, and the open fire pit with some food over it. My daughter climbed onto a rock in the shade and started reading. My son taught a friend who’d come with us how to set up and take down a tent. The smallest children sat by the fire, staring. As everything cooked, I sat at the table, enjoying the bristlecone pines everywhere, and thought about how enjoyable a way this was to spend an afternoon and evening. A ranger came by and told us we were lucky–with a dry season under way, orders had just come down from the bosses that all sites on this mountain would ban all fires–even smoking–for the rest of the summer, starting at midnight. We picked the best and last day for our picnic.
  • Today’s the last day of summer school. It’s been the easiest, most pleasant summer of my career; my class only has ten kids, all of them juniors and seniors, all of them truly decent people. The only problem we had to deal with all summer was a bit of boredom. On my way in this morning, I stopped at Del Taco to pick up some nachos (which I do about once a month–man, I love nachos). I also got an order of hash brown sticks for each of the students–they’ve been great, and they deserve it. I want them to know what a great summer they’ve given me. We’ll each snack while we start the day with our regular half hour of reading whatever books we bring in each day (students with no book can borrow from my set of Catcher in the Rye). Driving in to school (with the windows down), I thought about how life doesn’t get much more sweet than this. Then “Come Sail Away” came on the radio.
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Report on Resolution to Thank Parents of Students

Last month I planned to call parents of two students per school day just to thank them for raising such great kids. Here’s how it went:

Well, I was very inconsistent. Between forgetting and being busy, I only contacted about a dozen parents, less than half of what I should have done.

Also, most of those contacts were via email, not phone. It’s just too hard to reach people at a moment’s notice. Once, early in the month, I tried leaving a voice mail, but I think it sounded weird: “Hi, this is a teacher and I want to say that I think your child is cool.”  It felt awkward. I didn’t leave any more messages.

But a lot of good came of it. I clearly made some people’s day. Some great but usually overlooked kids got some praise.

My favorite contacts of the month were the two parents I called, only to find that they didn’t speak English. Both had email addresses in our system, so with the magic of Google Translate, I sent my message via email. Both replied with effusive gratitude. I don’t know why, but those felt especially good.

And there are still dozens of such students this year who need some attention, and whose parents deserve such recognition. I’ll keep this going.

Grace, Thanksgiving, and Joy

download (1)I’ve started this year reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.  The style is poetic, sometimes intrusively so, but the thesis is wonderful, and wonderfully elaborated.  We all need this.

This bit of analysis from chapter 2 summarizes it:

 

“And he took bread, gave thanks and brake it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV).

….I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound.  I read it slowly.  In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”

I underline it on the page.  Can it lay a sure foundation under a life?  Offer the fullest life?

The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.”  Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks.  He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.

But there is more, and I read it.  Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis.  But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.”  Joy…..

Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo–the table of thanksgiving.  I sit there long…wondering…is it that simple?

Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?

So then as long as thanks is possible…I think this through.  As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.  Joy is always possible.  Whenever, meaning–now; wherever, meaning–here.  The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience.  The joy wonder could be here!  Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be–unbelievably–possible!  The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.

How To Be Grateful For Your Body

Think of every illness you’ve ever had: not just the serious sicknesses, but even every cold and flu.  Canker sores and rashes, too.  Seriously, make a list.  You’ll be surprised.  There must be dozens.  Your body has recovered from them all.

Think of every injury you’ve ever had: not just the broken bones, but every paper cut, every jammed knuckle, every bruise, every stubbed toe, every sprain, and any and all boo-boos since you were born.  There must be dozens of these, too, if not more.  Your body has healed them all.

Think of every headache, every sensitive tooth, every stomach ache, every stiff back, and any other soreness you’ve ever had.  These could number in the hundreds.  Your body has persevered in spite of them all, overcome them all, and continued to serve you and allow you to live each day after they’ve been forgotten.

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Living On Borrowed Time

Something that often helps keep me on the right track is reminding myself that I’m living on borrowed time, that for all I know, I could have died any number of times and that I owe my ongoing existence to God.  This keeps me from being too lazy or too selfish, and I think helps me stay pretty grateful for life.

For example, two summers ago I was at Lake Powell in Utah.  I thought it might be fun to swim across the channel where our boat was docked.  For some reason, I didn’t tell anyone I was going out, and I didn’t put on a life vest.

About ten minutes into the swim, I realized I might get a cramp or kick some debris in the water or otherwise lose the ability to swim.  It was a pretty tense twenty more minutes until I made it to the other side.  (I’m not a strong swimmer, and apparently I’m not very bright.)

I guess something could have happened and I could have died, but that’s just one instance I know about.  Who knows how many times we’ve escaped a doom we’re not even aware of?

So any more time we get after those things–any time we have at all, really–can’t be squandered.  It’s precious, and we owe it to ourselves and to God to make something of it.

But this view also takes away fear.  If we’re living on borrowed time, then we have nothing to lose: every minute is just an extra bonus minute we’ve been gifted with.  So there’s no reason to hold back in service or sacrifice or any worthy goal, because our days are gloriously extended by a loving Father who lets us exercise our will to make the most of them:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?  

Mosiah 2:20-24

More of The Odyssey on Living Well

From the Robert Fagles translation:

On Patriotism:

Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons–

and I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth

than a man’s own native country. (Book 9, lines 30-32)

On Appreciating Life:

[Spirit of Achilles speaking in Hades]

“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man–

some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive–

than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”  (Book 11, lines 555-558)

On Sharing Memories:

We two will keep to the shelter here, eat and drink

and take some joy in each other’s heartbreaking sorrows,

sharing each other’s memories.  Over the years, you know,

a man finds solace even in old sorrows, true, a man

who’s weathered many blows and wandered many miles.  (Book 15, lines 447-451)

On Eating and Sleeping:

With the roasting done, the meal set out, they ate well

and no one’s hunger lacked a proper share of supper.

When they’d put aside desire for food and drink,

they remembered bed and took the gift of sleep.  (Book 16, lines 530-534)

 

Hooray For Aging!

The tagline for this blog has always been, “The rebel of the 21st century will be old fashioned.”  I could add that the true rebel of this century might just be old.

I don’t want to write a screed about our society’s wretched worship of youth, but I will say this:

I love being 35.  Our media worships being a teenager, but that’s all just for marketing and easy profit.  I hated being a teenager.  I work with teenagers, and most of them seem to hate it, too.  It’s a painful, constricted time.

Being 25 was ten times better than being 15, and being 35 is ten times better than that.  I can’t wait to be 45, and I have no doubt that being 55 will blow my mind.  I can’t be the only person who feels this way.

Serve From Gratitude

Near the end of a truly rousing, inspirational sermon, the Biblical prophet Samuel tells his congregation:

Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.  1 Samuel 12:24

This has now become one of my favorite scriptures.  Why?  because it explicitly links our faithful obedience to God and our work in His service, to gratitude for all of the infinite blessings that have first been poured out on us.

I actually think that the “thankfulness-leads-to-devotion” relationship is pretty rarely articulated in the scriptures.  The next best one that I can think of comes from the New Testament:

We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

It’s good to be reminded of this.  God has shown us great love, and always will.  Obedient discipleship is the least we can do in return; indeed, is precisely the one thing that He does ask of us:

And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,

To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?  Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Bear Testimony In Prayer

Seeking answers and offering gratitude are great things to do in prayer.  However, as often as people of faith focus on bearing testimony, witnessing, or sharing their faith with others, we may not think to offer gratitude for this to God. 

For a singular spiritual experience, try this: bear your testimony in prayer.  Tell God what things you know to be true by the power of the Spirit, and thank Him for those things and for the gift of knowing those things.  I expect that our loving Father, the source of all these blessings, appreciates hearing us say these things directly. 

 

 

“Bless This Meal”

I think we as Latter-day Saints should consider reforming how we pray over meals.  The primary purpose of these prayers, I’d say, is to offer gratitude that we get to have such wonderful food for us and our families, yet again. 

But listen to our prayers, and they almost always ask for Heavenly Father to “bless” the food for us now.  (My colleague even once wrote a satire of this tendency to request food be blessed to “nourish and strengthen” us.)  Is this, perhaps, un-grateful?  It seems to say, “Yes, thank you for the food.  But I’m not satisfied.  Could you now do more to make it good for us?”  As if the gift of ongoing sustenance itself isn’t enough.  As if our routine, rote recitation will automatically make whatever we’re eating healthy (I’ve heard such prayers over desserts many times, as I’m sure we all have). 

In fact, our predictable habit of asking for our meals to “nourish and strengthen” us strikes me as similar to the kind of set prayer we typically try to avoid. 

Also, when people are called on to offer such prayers, it’s usually with this wording: “Would you please bless the meal?”  As in some requests for priesthood blessings, this might be polite, but it’s inaccurate: we don’t bless anything.  We ask God to bless things for us. 

Maybe the most appropriate thing to do in these prayers is to simply offer real and humble gratitude that we are so constantly blessed with an abundance of delicious food.  Even without extraneous supplications for nutritoinal improvement, it’s already a profoundly amazing blessing.

Twelve Things That Give Me Hope

I’m negative.  I excuse it as pragmatism, as refusing to stick my head in the sand, but when you’re trying not to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, there’s such a thing as putting on sunglasses so dark that things just get distorted the other way.

In accordance with a goal I have of being more positive, here are some things that make me glad and give me hope for the future:

1. High school blood drives.  The fact that they come back each year means that the blood they collect is mostly useful, which means most teens donating blood (and there are a lot) are living healthy enough lives to give good blood.

2. Americans are spending less.  Apparently, in hard times, we have some financial maturity after all.  Some are reporting this as bad for the retail sector, but the overall effect here will be greater fiscal stability all around.  Just as we drove less last year when gas prices peaked, we are now holding back some of our profligate ways.  Good for us.

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Spoiled Brats

Who’s a spoiled brat?  You are.

So am I.  Everybody is. 

Consider how infinitely blessed our lives are.  Even in the midst of recession, illness, heartache, and all the other “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” at any given time, we still enjoy more blessings than we could possibly count.

Fairly few major advances were made anywhere worldwide for hundreds and even thousands of years, compared to the those made during the lifetimes of many still living.  Any of us, right now, could go to the nearest grocery store and find a wider variety of fresher food, for a relatively lower cost, than would have been available anywhere in the world a mere century ago.  Widely available electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and refrigeration alone make the last few generations especially blessed, compared to all the rest of history.

We take for granted a standard of living superior to that of royalty throughout most of world history.  We’re constantly surrounded by such a bounty of wonders that, for anyone reading this, our everyday lives would have seemed miraculous to our grandparents when they were our age, and impossible to their grandparents at any age.  Throw in our vastly advanced achievements in transportation and communications, and we actually live lives richer than those of the gods of ancient mythologies. 

Heady stuff.

But does this make us spoiled?  Absolutely.  Continue reading

Washington and Lincoln Dedicated Thanksgiving As a Religious Holiday

As we gorge ourselves on turkey, overdose on football, and pass out on our couches this year, let’s also remember that the origin of this holiday is no less religious in nature than Christmas or Easter. 

There were Thanksgiving holidays before George Washington proclaimed one (think of pilgrims, of course), but it’s significant that in the first formal day of Thanksgiving set aside by our first president, the source of our blessings and our obligation to worshipfully express gratitude are so clearly expressed:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

G. Washington, Wednesday, October 14, 1789

Similarly, during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln made his official proclamation of a Thanksgiving holiday, his language also acknowledged the divine source of those things for which we should be giving thanks, and the reverent manner in which those thanks should be given:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

A Grateful Perspective About When We Live

The lesson for priesthood in church today was chapter 44 from the manual, about the dispensation of the fulness of times.  Much of the lesson was directed towards helping us understand exactly what that phrase means, and why it’s so important.

I remember when I first realized that importance myself.  When I first really started studying the scriptures, about ten years ago, I had only been active for a few years, and still had some skepticism and rough edges to my faith.  One aspect of that was wondering if maybe the church’s interpretation of some Biblical verses to refer to the establishment of the church in these last days was, perhaps, wishful thinking, a kind of forced interpretation done out of narcissism.  “How convenient,” I thought, “that all these ancient prophets were so obsessed with us.” 

As I read the Bible, though, I saw that my assumption was ironically mistaken.  It was I, not the church, that was interpreting the Bible based on a viewpoint too focused on the present.  As I studied entire books whole, I saw the contexts that those prophets wrote from, the needs of their times and places, and it became very clear why they so often wrote about the “dispensation of the fulness of times.”

Because it gave them hope.  They taught their people about our age so that they might know that their work wouldn’t be in vain, that they were part of an ongoing work that would culminate in the triumphant spread of the gospel in this generation.  We today, our families and stakes and communities, we are the reward that saints and prophets of all ages have sacrificed and struggled for.  Knowing that our time would come helped give them the strength to go on. 

Finding that idea throughout the Bible and other scriptures showed me that there’s nothing proud in seeing our day predicted in ancient writings.  To the contrary, it makes me profoundly humble, and grateful. 

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth, even in one’ [see Ephesians 1:10].”  –Joseph Smith