Saturday, December 15, 2012

Truth

There is truth all around us.



It's in movies: 

It's in Big Fish, Amazing Grace, Sweet Land, and even Harry Potter. It's in any of those films that made you feel .... something...

It's in books:

It's all over To Kill A Mockingbird: when Atticus defends Tom Robinson in court; when Scout unknowingly defends Atticus by melting the hearts of would-be assassins; and when a mysterious and unlikely figure defends Scout from an attacker.

It's even in some science fiction, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, where we learn that the most significant part about being human is our capacity for empathy.

It's on the internet:

It's even on this buzzfeed page.

It's in music:

It's in those old carols we sing, our hymns, and even contemporary music. It's in those sounds and lyrics that make you want to be more.



Have you figured out what it is yet?




There is truth all around us.
There might be some inside you.
Your life is probably FILLED with it!
And you can ALWAYS HAVE MORE!!

(oh, by the way, you can create it too)




Have fun.
Finding and making truth
is the most enjoyable thing
in the universe.

Ta-dah!

Thank You

From time to time I feel strongly about things. I do some thinking, and I think that I can say something profound. I don't want to do that right now.

If there is anything I have learned during the past few months, it's that people are amazing. Sometimes I forget, but then I remember. That's usually when I start crying.

*

A few months ago I was on a plane coming from Chicago. I had just presented at my first professional conference and I was on my way back home. I sat by the window and a young father sat next to me in the aisle seat. His wife was in the aisle seat in front of him. They had a little baby. Looking back, I don't know why I didn't offer to trade one of them spots so they could sit together.

During the flight, the baby cried. It cried loudly, but I patted myself on the back for not feeling annoyed about it. I was so kind. After a while, an older woman walked over to our section from the front of the plane. I don't remember what she said to the mother, but suddenly she had the baby in her arms. She stood in the aisle, rocking the baby and chatting politely with the mother. Within minutes, the baby went to sleep.

*

About a month ago I was deep in the first semester of grad school, and I had all but shut myself off from the world outside my little life. One day, out of the blue, I received a text message from one of my dearest old friends. He told me he loved me and missed me. Soon after, we had a wonderful conversation.

*

Our neighbors across the street had a productive garden this year. The husband once offered us some squash which we graciously accepted. After that, we would occasionally come home and find some vegetables sitting in front of our door.

To say 'thank you,' my wife made a batch of her mother's cinnamon rolls. We took them over one night and awkwardly handed them to our neighbors. The next day, they asked my wife for the recipe. It took a couple weeks for my wife to send it, but eventually she did, and she then received an unexpected reply. Our neighbor, the wife, sent us an e-mail saying that she once had a cinnamon roll recipe that she loved very much. She made it for her children, and her children all loved it too. Sadly, she had lost the recipe at some point in time. When my wife brought over those cinnamon rolls, she said she was so grateful because they tasted just like the ones she used to make for her children.

**

These are just a few of the small things that I have seen this year. I could spend hours writing all the happy things I have seen, and perhaps I should. For now, let me just say 'thank you.' To all of my friends that reach across classes, religions and opinions, thank you for what you do. Thank you for inspiring me, and for touching my life in way I could never experience by myself. I feel your love and I am ever grateful for your wise hearts.

Sincerely,

Michael

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cultivating Maturity (3 steps?)

Toward yourself:
1. Divorce motivation and performance

2. Purify motivation, improve performance (if you're motivation is pure, then you will want to improve, and you will gladly accept help!)

3. Repeat step 2.

Toward others:
1. Divorce motivation and performance

2. Glory in their pure motivations, then help them improve (where appropriate!).

3. Repeat step 2.



What do you think? Would you change anything?

Fears and Sincerity (or: what's maturity, anyway?)

This article has been circling my Facebook wall lately. Perhaps you have read it?  The author of the article discusses the ethos of irony and the archetype of the hipster that reflects our time. She argues that an embrace of silliness and ironic kitsch reflects a fear of being sincere. I want to extend this argument a bit.

I believe that the fear of making sincere value-judgments stems from two of our widespread beliefs. One of these beliefs comes from our modernist background; the other comes from our postmodernist background. The beliefs are thus:

1. Winning is everything. (We demand perfection)
2. Perfection is impossible (no one is a 'winner.')

The first belief is our modernism shining through, the latter, our postmodernism. All our lives, I and my millennial peers (I will accept the label for now) have been force fed these two beliefs, often from the same sources. Here are some examples:

Every two years we watch Olympic Games (summer and winter), which are supposedly about world peace, but are really about winning and bringing glory and pride to your country. At the end of the Olympics, and sometimes during the games, we also watch stories that scandalize our heroes, so we remember that no one is a god.

In school we introduced to the wonders of artistic expression, and then we were graded on our creative writing.

In science class we were convinced of the magnificence of science, and then we were told that we could never "prove" anything to be true.

At church we marvel at the miracle of God's love, and then we see that our religious institution has imperfections.

After all this, the only thing we are sure of is that if you try to excel at something for long enough, people will criticize, defame, and humiliate you. We want so badly to be winners, but we also know that winning is entirely impossible. So what's the solution? Don't say anything meaningful. Ever. Just resort to absurdity in all things. When in doubt, resort to sarcasm or irony.

This is the line of thinking is that the author of the New York Times Op-ed emphasized. This, she says, is the hipster's way of being.

There is one thing about this way of being that few people have mentioned. It's this:

Living without sincerity is just living like a self-conscious teenager. 

Self-conscious teenagers want to be winners. They want to win so badly that they cheat, betray and give up their morals if they think that it will improve their chances. They become vicious and use one another. In the end, they are so petrified of becoming an object of ridicule that they say nothing at all except commentary on the few foolish enough to say something sincere. Their favorite events are talent shows, dances and testimony meetings, where there is plenty of sincerity to mock.

By the time we reach adulthood, many of us (thankfully) give up some of the more violent tendencies we used as teenagers. However, I wonder if that desire to win and the fear of ridicule remain, and they just manifest themselves in different ways. Instead of targeting specific individuals, we target ideas, corporations, or celebrities far-removed from us. Still fueled by a desire to win, we do the socially-accepted act of ridiculing public figures. We are much better off this way, because no one is hurt, right? And yet, at the root of this way of being rests a heart of fear and violence. In our hearts, we are still teenagers. The only sign of our maturity is that we have changed the methods for our violent acts.

Real maturity, as I understand it, is being able to reconcile and question these two beliefs that permeate our society. Is everything really about winning? If not winning, what is everything about? Is everything about anything at all? Can some people be winners? How can I be a winner, if at least someone will still call me a loser?

I accept the fallibility of the world and of myself, but I also accept that life is too important to pass without my sincere living. People are too important to let settle and rot in the sewage of destructive lifestyles. Friends are too precious to let live without knowing that I love them. I am not so naive that I aim for utopia, but I am not so afraid that I cannot see the miracles that happen when one truly loves another. What we need is not blind optimism, nor blind cynicism. We need to open our eyes with a realistic perspective toward the possibility of sincerity. We may not be perfect winners, but every now and then, we can still have perfect victories. But first we have to grow up and rediscover what maturity is all about. We have to accept risk. We have to give up fear. We have to understand that criticism does not undermine our sincerity, but, in some instances, may help perfect it.

Maturity isn't about performing our trivial acts of violence under the guise of civility. Maturity is about boldly being sincere in a world that punishes sincerity, and then metabolizing criticism in a way that purifies, rather than obliterates, our sincere actions. Obviously, maturity is also about not participating in the violence I described. Oh, and perhaps not so obviously, in many ways, maturity is basically about being like a little kid again.

God knows we need a good dose of sincerity/maturity, because who can imagine a world run by a bunch of self-conscious teenagers?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Snake and I (a fantastical metaphorical respite)

A large snake wrapped around me from my feet to chin. He told me that if I did everything he said, he would release me and let me be for a few weeks. I believed him. I listened to him for hours and obeyed his every command. After a day of unceasing, obedient labor, however, I realized that with each task that I performed his grip only grew tighter. I still believed that he would release me when I accomplished everything he required, but I needed a moment of respite before I reached the final push, when the snake's constricting muscles would create such crushing force that if I were not flexible, my bones would shatter and my lungs would burst. So I set out to acquire a bit of flexibility.

I could not remove the snake from my body, and he would not budge until I finished all of his tasks. And so, with still the serpent still around me, I surrendered to my imagination, where I found an adequate supply of fresh air and hope, enough to make a person quite happy and calm--the kind of calm that allows one to be flexible when a large snake is squeezing you to the point of shattering your bones and bursting your lungs. Then I returned to my tasks. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

India, 1947 and Today


How can I promote peace in the world? How can I spread love and kindness?

I recently finished reading a book called Freedom at Midnight, which tells the tumultuous history of India in 1947. This year saw the end of the British imperialism in India, which began in 1612 with the arrival of the East India Company and culminated in the magnificent British raj. After three-hundred years of occupation and one-hundred years of political control, the fate of 400 million people, comprising 1/5 of humanity, was finally turned over to the Indian people.

I do not want to attempt a synopsis of the history here. For my purposes, I will simply say that the British could not simply hand over the keys and leave without consequence. Ethnic and religious tensions simmered just below their boiling points during this time, and Muslim leaders demanded that India be divided into two nations: India and Pakistan. India would be a Hindu nation, and Pakistan would be Muslim. Although British and Indian leaders did not want India to be divided, they believed that division was the only practical solution that would not result in mass anarchy and genocide.

The most ardent critic of division was the immortal “dejected sparrow,” Mohandas Gandhi. Numerous times, Gandhi begged the British viceroy to simply withdraw, leaving India to God. Gandhi believed that massive bloodshed and anarchy was preferable to dividing India, fearing that division would only increase intolerance and violence and inhibit peaceful coexistence. Despite his emotional appeals, the British, Hindu and Muslim leadership chose to divide the nation.

At midnight on August 15th, 1947, the British raj ended and India and Pakistan became independent nations. Huge celebrations took place all across the subcontinent, including a flag-raising ceremony in Delhi that attracted half a million people. Despite the joy of the people, however, the leaders that orchestrated the momentous transfer were all but happy. Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India's first prime minister, said he passed the day “with no joy in my heart.” Gandhi felt similarly; he passed the midnight hour sleeping, and the next day he kept a somber mood. What the jubilant masses in Delhi did not know was that in the borderlands between India and Pakistan, mass slaughter was beginning in a scale unprecedented in the subcontinent. In the coming days, hundreds of thousands of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus would be ruthlessly hunted, raped and massacred by their former neighbors. Blood would literally flow through the streets.

Far from Punjab where the border riots were taking place, Gandhi spent the days following the 15th in the city of Calcutta, historically known as one of the most violent cities in India. Just a year prior, Muslim zealots rampaged through the slums, killing Hindu men, women and children indiscriminately. Now, Indian leaders, fearing an uncontrollable outbreak of violence, pleaded Gandhi to come and pacify the people of Calcutta. In one of the most miraculous displays of human love and persuasion, the Mahatma accomplished in Calcutta what 55,000 soldiers in Punjab could not do: he conquered and pacified the hearts of his angry brothers. While Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in Punjab slit each others throats, brothers in Calcutta embraced and adorned one another with roses and marigolds. Although a few violent acts erupted, in short time the perpetrators came to Gandhi to throw down their weapons and beg forgiveness. He promptly embraced and forgive them.

Stepping aside from the narrative, what are we to think about the division of India? Should we condemn the actions of the British, Hindu and Muslim leaders that worked so hard to create a workable plan? Does the violence in Punjab and other areas prove that Gandhi was right? Regarding condemnation, my answer is a definite no. Regarding Gandhi, my answer is 'sort of.'

Both Gandhi's plan and the plan to divide India would inevitably result in bloodshed. Everyone knew this. What made the division plan more attractive to India's leaders was the hope that by appeasing both Muslim and Hindus would result in a quick return to stability. Gandhi recognized that an immediate British withdrawal would lead to a bloody and indeterminate anarchy, but he welcomed it nonetheless. The Indian leaders were not willing to take that risk. In the end, no matter of legislation could protect the people from themselves.

Where Gandhi was absolutely correct was in his method. Gandhi knew that he could not enforce nonviolence any more than a communist dictator could enforce a lasting, cooperative utopia. He knew that he was trying to turn hearts and change the nature of selfish men, and such a task could not be accomplished by imperial decree. Love and conversion, he knew, could only come in response to love and kindness. He lived and applied the old adage, “love begets love.” Although he probably did not know of Brigham Young, he probably would agree that truth is obeyed “when truth is loved.” Since his days in South Africa when he renounced wealth and material pleasure, Gandhi spent his life in humble circumstances, quietly traveling from troubled soul to troubled soul. His life of nonviolence and love truly was his message.

In this modern age, where good deeds are most often credited to benevolent organizations or outstanding individuals with great power, the message of the Mahatma rings loud and true. Salvation, peace, love—these are the fruits of personal labors. The transformation of a people does not come by decree, but by one conversion at a time.

Some people might object to such a claim, and with some merit. After all, what of the abolition of slavery, suffrage and the civil rights movements of the 1960's? Were those transformations not located in the realm of law? Were they not organizational affairs? Yes, it is true that our constitution has several amendments which guarantee certain rights, but a law in itself guarantees nothing. The U.S. has an executive branch with power to enforce legislation, but the power of the gun is limited, and it pales in comparison to the power of love and conversion. In short, these laws could not be upheld without the sustaining of the people. The enduring transformation of a people can only be wrought through a process of conversion, a process which, against everything we wish to believe in this age, is unavoidably personal.

I now return to the questions posed at the beginning. How can I promote peace in the world? How can I spread love and understanding? The example of India shows us that it cannot be legislated. No kind of legislation could prevent the terrible bloodshed that erupted in India in 1947. The example of Gandhi gives us the answer: lasting peace and love is only achievable through loving, personal ministry.

Many of us belong to one organization or another that has some kind of humanitarian mission. I happen to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In recent times, the LDS church as an institution has been scrutinized in the public spotlight. Investigative journalists have explored the depths of the church's history, scoured for financial records and analyzed and compared membership statistics. Some have extolled the church, while others have condemned it. As a Latter-day Saint myself, I have followed with curiosity these reports, as have many of my peers. Curiously, the messages of our own leaders emphasize a very different image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rather than focusing on the church a global institution, many Latter-day Saint leaders, most notably the First Presidency, have repeatedly emphasized the critical role of individual members in personal service and love. Not a conference passes when we do not hear the miraculous stories of President Monson: “President Monson visited so-and-so on her deathbed as she prayed for his visit; President Monson visited a friend just as he was about to commit suicide. President Monson gave his coat to poor a man in the cold.” I use President Monson as an example here, but all throughout Latter-day Saint conferences we hear stories of small, personal acts of love and kindness selflessly given and received by Mormons from all walks of life. What is the meaning of all this? Are these stories just manifestations of the LDS Church trying to boast its virtues and display a shiny image? I tremble at the thought!

We do not tell and contemplate the stories of Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Teresa and our own contemporaries because they are merely entertaining, nor do we remember them because we want to improve the image of our own organizations. Rather, in receiving of these stories, we have the opportunity to see a vision of ourselves. We see, in them, what we can become if we truly reach out and love our neighbor. We are inspired by their love, and we desire to spread that love to others. When we receive the life-messages of these shining beacons of human love, we understand that love is the result of love, not domination. Love begets love. Love is not domination, but personal conversion. We ourselves are converted, and then, armed with our love, we proceed into the vast world of human souls, with the conviction to love one person at a time.

Amid the scores of world religions, we may wonder if there is anything that we of different religions can claim in common. To that question, I would humbly suggest that all religions, if they have any truth in them, must espouse at least one common mission: enduring, human love. We may spiritedly disagree over points of doctrine or beliefs concerning deity, but any religious observer who claims any degree of piety must share at least one thing in common with his brother of another faith, that being love for one another.

In this election year, when we are told that so much depends on institutional arrangements, we would be wise to remember the life and message of the humble Mahatma, who showed us that enduring peace begins with a single, caring person. Institutions provide stability and institutions empower, but no amount of legislation can guarantee peace and kindness. The kind of joy we desperately seek can only earned with our love.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Utahns should consider Peter Cooke for Governor

I live in Utah, and although I am registered as an independent, I want to make a case for the democratic gubernatorial candidate, Peter Cooke. Here is my brief case as to why Utahns should not just write him off:

For reference, here are the two candidates' web pages on issues:
  1. He is a democrat, but he's not the kind of democrat Utahns fear. Take a minute to look at Peter Cooke's webpage. Does he want to change marriage laws? No. Does he want to legalize all forms of abortion? No. Does he want to turn the state healthcare system into socialized medicine? No. Whew! Conservatives can breath easy. He's not that kind of democrat. He's far removed from that left-wing stereotype.
  2. He is transparent, and is concerned with transparency. Take a look at the economic pages for both candidates. Do you notice anything different about the conventions? How many sources does Governor Herbert cite? Don't try to count them, because there aren't any. How about Peter Cooke? Don't worry about counting them. The point is that he cites his sources. Any educated person can tell you that statistics are subject to error and/or manipulation, and politicians of all sides are notorious for taking advantage of this weakness. Don't you feel a little better though, knowing that one politician at least makes the effort to tell you where he got his data? Also, I won't go into it here, but consider a brief web search on Utah's track record of closed-door decision-making, or the recent bills that make it easier.
  3. He is open to more energy options. Although this is typically taken up as an environmental issue, I'm going to take up the issue pragmatically. Take a look at Governor Herbert's page on "Competitive Advantage." Governor Herbert recognizes that we have an advantage because we have "cheap, abundant energy." That's wonderful. Truly, it is. But how does he plan to sustain it? The governor's pan is to fight the Federal Government. Here's another link on the issue: http://utahpolicy.com/view/full_story/17331882/article-Bill-Stakes-Claim-to-Federal-Lands-in-Utah?instance=newsletter_featured_articles_policy
    I'm not saying that this is a bad idea - I think we should have more access to the public lands - but I do think it is a bad idea to wager the energy future of a state on a supreme court decision that could leave us with no change and lighter pockets. Why not also consider using our nice, dry, sunny deserts for expanding solar power? Well, Peter Cooke is considering that. We need mixed solutions, rather than betting all on red, or, to use a better-suited analogy, putting all our eggs in one basket.
  4. He is concerned about our crap-tastic air quality. I love Utah, but being along the Wasatch Front during an inversion makes me feel sad. And gives me a headache. And makes my eyes itchy. Peter Cooke at least recognizes that this is a problem, and wants to consider possible ways to rectify it. I can't say that much for the governor.
  5. He is more in touch with education issues. Take a look at the candidates' pages on education. Governor Herbert's page basically boils down to: "We'll make sure we retain control over our education." What about our large, difficult class sizes? Well, the governor has this reassuring statement:

    "Teachers are the backbone of our system, and I appreciate their efforts in the classroom. They know how to make more with less, which is a tribute to their dedication."

    Isn't that nice? Yes, it's true that we have some great teachers. I am married to one. But go ahead and ask
    any teacher about class size and student learning. I guarantee that any teacher will tell you that the bigger the class size, the lower the achievement. Despite this nice "tribute to our teachers' dedication," we could, and should be doing more for our students. There are more concerns than retaining state control. Oh, and Peter Cooke recognizes this.
  6. He takes into account a wider breadth of issues and solutions. Governor Herbert loves to toss around Utah's low unemployment statistic, which is indeed impressive. Although we could take issue with the unilateral importance of that statistic as an economic indicator, I won't do that now. But just consider things like wage rates and poverty rates (these aren't so shiny, btw). My main concern is that a governor should be concerned with more issues. Based on his website, his concerns boil down to three things. In order of importance:
    1. Bringing businesses into Utah
    2. Retaining state autonomy
    3. Tackling healthcare issues

      These are all important issues. It is not my aim to criticize his concerns. Rather, I am concerned with his narrow vision of issues. There are more things happening in Utah than what the governor sees. There are educational concerns. There are growing environmental concerns. There are people who are treated like dirt. In sum, there are things we can do to help ensure that Utah retains some of the blessings we have enjoyed in recent years, and there are things we can do to address some of our current and future problems. But first, we have to recognize that there is more going on. I support Peter Cooke because I believe that he is more in touch with the complexity of issues Utah faces, and he is willing to consider more, different solutions. 
Conclusion: The Russian literary master, Leo Tolstoy wrote:
"In quiet and untroubled times it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer..." (War and Peace)
I do not want to discredit the positive things that have happened in Utah during the last few years, but I do want to suggest that if we continue a course with such a narrow, economic focus, we are setting ourselves up for failure we may be too blinded to see. Economic well-being is important, but it is not a panacea for all society's ills. No one looks at a person's health by checking his/her wallet. Why should it be any different for a state? Maybe economic indicators will continue to rise, but what about education, air quality, energy levels, government transparency, and treatment of marginalized groups? Peter Cooke is not going to turn our state into a left-wing socialist republic, but he will probably make things a little better with a kind of common-sense pragmatism that we should all be able to support.

I am voting for Peter Cooke, and I suggest you consider it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The "Good" Samaritan

What was the central lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan? Was it to help people in need? Yes, and more. The parable's message extends beyond a simple injunction to serve others.

The goodness of the Good Samaritan was not only his helpfulness to a man in need. Commentators have astutely pointed out that the Samaritan should have been the least likely to help, based on the ethnic preconceptions of the time. From this we learn that we should serve all people, independent of race or ethnicity or ideology. The message goes deeper than this, however.

The Samaritan was journeying like the others who passed the injured man, yet he alone paused his travelling to care for the wounded traveler. We cannot assume that his journey was any less important than the others', nor can we assume that he was in less of a hurry. We do know, however, that the Samaritan was open to an additional, unintended, higher calling, received as a rupture of intended purpose.

We live in a curious world, wherein efficient, rational action has extremely high moral value. We endlessly praise those who live rational and efficient lives, including those who maximize their time, who stay constantly focused on the task at hand, and who never get distracted by other voices. Admittedly, such people do tend to accomplish many great things.

Another version of the parable of the Good Samaritan is Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. Recall the dialogue between Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, who, in his posthumous state of bondage, laments his mortal doings:


"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. 
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

In order to live productive and meaningful lives we must engage in purposeful activity, but in doing so, we must take care to remember the business of which we are always about. Being Christlike requires more than rationally planning our activities and taking care to dedicate a certain number of hours to service. In all of our activities, be it planning, errand-running, administrating, teaching, parenting, conversing, or travelling, we must always remain open and responsive to the unanticipated calling to serve a higher purpose. This, I think, in addition to comprising the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan, reflects the kind of life that Christ himself lived and preached.

A Day.


How much can change in a day!

The tree I daily pass without a thought today demands a minute's pause. To rush along without respect, to leave the gift along the way, untouched – who am I to scorn the purest call to love and veneration? The daily gift to me is given, in forms diverse – physical, emotional, spiritual, to name a few – yet even in their constancy, I cannot think to call them but for miracles.

The miracle appears to me a thing transmogrified – the change is quick and clearly breaks from days before – yet logically I must confess that though the gift appears at once, the gift was made in changes incremental and unseen. This knowledge of the transformation as a process – does it kill the humble concept of the miracle? For some it may, but still I ask: do you not feel, fortunate, even blessed, for being there when process reached its climax? Did the tree not inspire a feeling of cosmic gratitude?

Monday, October 1, 2012

More.

There is more to life than maximizing its ease and pleasantness. There is also love (in all its forms), and love has a way of making unpleasant demands from time to time. But what is worth more, or is more worthy of allegiance?

For anyone who is stuck behind a stationary car at a green light, or something similar.

Life is filled with grievances, and in many instances, the more we try to avoid them the more they are heaped upon us. We build up rules, laws, regulations, procedures, standards and norms to protect us from the grievances that invade our lives and threaten our happiness, and then we expect that everything must go “according to plan.” But life does not go according to plan. Norms are violated, laws are broken, procedures are forgotten – and what happens then? We throw up our arms in dismay! “How dare they!”

By all means, establish order, but let not yourself become its slave. Not every violation merits misery, nor deserves the sacrifice of love and understanding. The joyful woman knows not the grievances over which the wretched man obsesses.

We would be happy to metabolize this one fact: that the reality of life is one of persons, not procedures. Therein lies happiness, and the secret to “patience.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

For Latter-day Saints in the 21st Century:

I'm starting a new project.

I'm doing it because, like so many others, I see the injustice and error that surrounds us.

I see imperfection in the world.
I see imperfection in religious organizations.
But I see something more than that. There is something more than that.

I see troubling things and hear troubling stories, and I get the feeling that I am only getting half the picture. I'm only hearing one kind of voice. The voice of informed criticism abounds, but something tells me that we are doing ourselves an injustice.

There are two Mormon voices that abound on the internet:

1. Eager, missionary monologues
2. Thoughtful, sometimes very passionate, criticism

Where is the third voice? Where is the voice that recognizes flaws, speaks openly, and at the end of the day, still invites faith in his/her church? Where is the informed, open, missionary dialogue? Where is the defense of truth, or the lauding of goodness? Undoubtedly it exists and I have not yet seen it. But we need more of it. We need Mormons that are so good, so loving, so studious, so humble, and so faithful, that they can talk about the hard things, recognize mistakes, and despite it all, see beyond. There is more here.

Spend more time in the scriptures. Spend more time in the temple. Spend more time with inspiring and loving leaders and friends. Seek out people who have more wisdom than yourself. Find a mentor. There are people, older people in the church, who are not out of touch, who do not shy away from "taboo topics," who are very much concerned with the injustice and wrongdoing that surrounds them. Talk to these people. Learn from them. Become one of them, because God knows his church needs more of them.


Faithful Mormons can be missionaries.
Open-minded Mormons can be understanding critics.
Truly great Mormons are both.

Let's aim higher.

Electronic Music - Day 4

What if electronic music got... jazzy? Like, instead of grading techno beats from the rave, it had cool bass lines and textures that belong in a hip hop/jazz club?

Interested? Then check out Flying Lotus. Fans like to point out that Flying Lotus is the great-nephew of Alice Coltrane, jazz pianist and wife of John Coltrane. They say there's a connection or something. I mean, you know how influential those great aunts are. But seriously, maybe there's something there. Flying Lotus is creative and inviting. Sit down, grab a nice pair of headphones or a good soundsystem, and have a listen.



The artist who did the cover art shown in the video admitted that he has a thing for creation stories. Now take another look, and tell me it doesn't look similar to this:

File:Paradiso Canto 31.jpg

That's the Empyrean from Dante's Divine Comedy, as illustrated by Gustav Dore. According to the Divine Comedy, the Empyrean is the highest heaven, the dwelling place of God, the source of light and creation. Maybe the artist was drawing on some very old inspiration? Or, does everyone fascinated with creation end up drawing big balls of light?

Well, you can forget that deeper meaning mumbo jumbo if you want. I'll shut up, and you can play the hits.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Electronic Music - Day #3

Are you ready for this? I'm going to disco. The 'disco' label for "I Feel Love" may be misleading because it doesn't have that over-the-top orchestral/brass background that commonly characterizes the genre, but it is still has the disco fun at its core.

This song has many versions, but the original that I include here deserves a listen. The production quality is excellent, the vocals are ghostly and original, and the sound effects are innovative enough to keep you listening for the entire eight minutes. Listen and enjoy one of the first crossovers toward Techno!

Very few songs grab me right away, but this one did. I hope you enjoy it too. 

Donna Summer: "I Feel Love"



Monday, September 17, 2012

On Freedom and Indebtedness

The more I serve, the more I am indebted to God and Man. Any attempt to pay the balance increases my indebtedness, as my every attempt is generously rewarded. It seems there is no way to reduce the debt, though I suppose I could stop the growth by throwing myself into the nearest river. And yet, even then, when I see that my life is not ended, and when I receive my body again, my debt will increase immeasurably still.

I suppose that one who avoided much indebtedness was Lucifer, but even he - a son of the morning - probably did not leave God's presence without considerable debt.

This talk of permanent and ever-increasing debt suggests to me that in social/spiritual matters (excluding matters of financial indebtedness), a reevaluation of freedom is due. I believe that in cases social and spiritual (which perhaps are not so different), freedom is not thwarted by, but rather results from being faithfully bound to another. In some cases the other is God and in some cases it is Man, but in every case it is God, and in every case there is freedom.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Electronic Music Day 2 (Birthday Edition)

It's September 14th, and it's a good day for a birthday. It's also a good day to listen to this song from the 80's Belgian electronic group, Telex.


This song is fun and pretty darn catchy. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe remember it the next time there's a birthday in your life. Just imagine - the next time your friend is sad about getting older, just play this song and say, "Hey pal, you know, we're all getting old!" There's nothing more comforting than the realization that we are all going from dust to dust... except maybe the promise of delicious birthday treats.

That's all i have to say today.

- mlw

Friday, September 7, 2012

Electronic Music - Day 1

I recently started a master's program in sociology. You might think that electronic music and sociology have pretty much nothing in common, and you wouldn't be too far off. The only connection I can think of is that after reading through a bajillion books and articles every day, repetitive electronic music starts to sound pretty good. There's that, and the fact that one of the students in my cohort is from Michigan, where electronic music has some roots.

I sometimes tell people that I like electronic music, but the truth is that in true hipster fashion, I just say that because I like LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. I realized how little I know after talking to my Michigan friend. In order to remedy this, in a half intellectual half pleasure-seeking sort of way, I'm going to spend some time each week finding and posting what I think is excellent. 

Here's the first song: "Mean Old Devil," by Bruce Haack.

I chose this track for a variety of reasons. First of all, Bruce Haack was one of the pioneers of electronic music. His music, especially this one, busts some stereotypes about electronic music (aka, it's not all techno/rave/dubstep). In fact, Bruce Haack made a bunch children's records and books on record (with his own soundtracks) before he made any other record. And yes, he did appear on The Mr. Roger's Show.

Enjoy this cool old gem! Also, check out the post next Friday for the special birthday edition!




Saturday, August 4, 2012

Trouble


There's trouble right here, right here in.... [your city]

It has come in the form of informed decisions, smart consumption, and heightened self-awareness. It is everything that fuels your obsession with doing only those things which are laudable, down-to-earth, and unoffensive. IT is your quest to paint and then become the perfect self-portrait, the Mona Lisa of your day.

It has come in the form of objective reviews that see objects as objects, that ignore the inescapable humanness behind creation. It is the endless appetite for excellent taste that requires ridicule of sub-par creations, without regard to the hands and soul of the creator. It is the misguided self-justification of this violence as the defense of truth and beauty.

It has come in form of the damnable and idiotic conceptualization of commodified, objective beauty, which relegates human kindness to the periphery or excludes it altogether. It is primacy of the pursuit of said beauty.

It has come in the form of inescapable sadness – the result of your tiresome chase. It is the longing of something more, something better, but looking in all the wrong places. It is this endless cycle of self-portrait-revisioning-consumption.

The human spirit is no canvas. The human spirit is infinity. It requires something altogether different than self-decoration and self-collection. 


There's TROUBLE right here

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Holding ourselves back - part III (or the best day ever)

One of my best friends is Jay Johnson. I say is, but the truth is that Jay passed away a few years ago. Jay's funeral was well-attended by many people who loved and cherished him, because how could you not love Jay? He was the kindest, most sincere person I have ever met.

Jay was a vibrant, happy young adult with down syndrome. Although he had physical and mental impairments, he lived a happy life that inspired and still inspires everyone who knew him.

Once you spent a few minutes with Jay, you were friends for life. And not just friends, but best friends. Unlike you or me, Jay had hundreds of best friends, because all of his friends were best friends. I can remember occasions when, just after saying, "Michael, you're my best friend," Jay turned to the person next to me and said the exact same thing! For Jay, there was no gradation of friends. All were equally special.

At his funeral, Jay's father related a story that took place over a few days. One day, if memory serves me, they were out camping when Jay said, "Dad, this is the best day ever." His dad was happy, knowing that his son so happy. A few days later, Jay and his dad went out to see a movie. In the car, Jay turned to his dad and said, "Dad, this is the best day ever." This time, his dad laughed and said, "Jay, what do you mean? You said that the other day was the best day ever! How can this be the best day ever too?" In his sweet, special way, Jay shrugged and said, "it just is, Dad."

The programs at the funeral had a picture of Jay, sitting at a picnic table with a huge, warm smile on his face. Underneath the picture was the caption, "This is the best day ever." When I first saw the program I thought it was a little strange for a funeral program, but after hearing his father's story, the words took on deep emotional meaning. These words needed to be here, because this was Jay's message for his friends.

We spend so much time and energy ranking things from best to worst, and we only reserve one spot for that which is "best." How much happier could we be if we allowed every friend and every act of love to be the best? Treating every person as our best friend, or living every day like the best day ever does not cheapen what it means to be best, but it does enrich our lives.

Throw away your rankings, and maybe, like Jay, you will find that all around you are best friends, made or waiting to be made. Maybe, like Jay, you will see that every moment has the potential to be the best moment in your life.

It's not ignorance. It's seeing truthfully how things can really be.

Holding ourselves back - part II (or how I became a Harry Potter fan)

Harry Potter.

You love it, or you don't. But if you don't, why don't you?

I was in middle school when the Harry Potter books started becoming famous, and at the time, I was completely opposed to them. Harry Potter? What a dork! A book about magical kids and witches and wizards? Bah! What a stupid, juvenile thing! I was so high above that.

The first movie came out and it was ridiculous.
The second movie came out and it was slightly better...

The third movie? Well...

When I saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I found myself with an uncomfortable dose of cognitive dissonance. I knew that Harry Potter was a joke, but this movie ruined everything! If Harry Potter was so stupid, why did I like this movie so much?!

Then I started thinking honestly...

In time, I realized that I had no honest reason to not like Harry Potter. I didn't like it because, because... it was a rejection of something everyone loved! Well, after the movie, I gave this up as foolishness and quickly immersed myself into the next two books, finishing both of them before week's end. Overnight, I became a proud Harry Potter fan. A few months later, I was in line at Media Play (for those of you who remember it) with all the other crazies, blissfully waiting for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I engulfed it, savoring every delightful detail of teen emotion and struggle. I was a Harry Potter fan, and I couldn't have been happier.

I bring up this story because it illustrates clearly the idea of holding ourselves back. In this case, I held myself back because of a prideful desire to stand apart from the crowd. Little did I know that by doing so, I was keeping myself from happy times. More significantly, reading the Harry Potter books rekindled a joy of reading that had been struggling for many years. After reading the Harry Potter books, I went on to read over thirty more books that year. Only when I gave up my desire to be seen as someone who stood apart was I able to enjoy what everyone else was enjoying.

Now, maybe you don't love the Harry Potter books, and that's okay, as long as it's for a reason other than resisting the popular. And be honest. In my case, I could have used a hundred different critiques to justify my disdain for Harry Potter, but they would have all been contrived, since I had already made up my mind on the issue. It is my experience that things are most often not as bad as they appear to be under "objective scrutiny." When we look for faults, we will find them.

I think we spend so much energy worrying about the objective quality of our activities that we have a hard time enjoying anything at all! For me, life became much more enjoyable and free when I gave up worrying how my tastes affected the way I was seen. By giving up this aspect of pride, we are free to see things honestly and try new and rewarding things.

Holding ourselves back - part I

Today I begin a series of entries on a subject that has impressed me for some time. You'll have to forgive me for beginning with such a personal story, but I feel that if I'm going to try to convince you to live a certain way, I ought to share an example of how this way of being has enriched my own life.

The idea is that more often then not, when we struggle, we are, in fact, holding ourselves back. By claiming that we have a superior understanding of things, or by living to be seen as someone who does or knows certain things, we limit our opportunities to learn and love and flourish. Through our pride, we complicate our own happiness.

 This story is my own experience as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Up front I'll tell you that the story is religious, but as you read, I invite you to consider the idea of holding yourself back, even if you have qualms with the religious content. The idea I a portray here has application in possibly every facet of our lives, as I'll endeavor to show in succeeding entries. Because the stories includes a fair amount of Mormon jargon, I've included links that explain highlighted terms. Here's the story:
Last night and this morning in my prayers I asked for forgiveness for holding onto a feeling of knowing what was right for me to do. I recognized that in seeking to live according to my ideas of what was good, I had unintentionally closed off opportunities to be led by the Holy Ghost. I asked that I might again be led by the Lord, as I gave up my prideful personal claims to righteousness. 
The answer to my prayer came during fast and testimony meeting, though from the moment I made the requests in my earlier prayers, I knew what I needed to do. For reasons I didn't exactly understand, I needed to stand and share my testimony. I remember, saying those prayers and having a vision of sharing my testimony without pride, and in that vision, feeling totally free. Looking back, I believe that sharing my testimony was an antidote to my pride, for in my “wisdom,” I had imperceptibly crafted myself as someone who does not share testimony during fast and testimony meetings unless I had something very powerful or important to say. These feelings had developed as I had “endured” so many “uninspiring” testimony meetings, and did not wish to contribute to such a meeting. 
So what am I saying with all this? Although I'm still trying to figure that out, I think what I want to say is that my testimony started as a desire, followed by a feeling of what I needed to do, and then, by acting upon it, I received the blessing. I had always been skeptical of Elder Packer's words, “a testimony is found in the bearing of it,” but by desiring, feeling, and doing, I think I know what he meant, having experienced it for myself. 
My testimony wasn't exceptional, except for the fact that it came from a sincere desire to follow my Savior and be united with the people I had secretly put below me. Maybe it wasn't exceptional for anyone listening, but it was exceptional for me, because it came out of the depths of humility. This time, I wanted nothing else but to love and obey my Heavenly Father. 
Oh, and the experience! When I finished, I felt humbled again. What a blessing that was, to no more feel better than anyone else! Nothing could have been sweeter than the feeling that I had no reason to be elevated above the other saints! 
When I gave up claims of moral superiority, the burden and pains of isolation melted away. Finally, I was actually being moral, having given up my own doctrine in exchange for childlike hearkening to a loving Heavenly Father.

Friday, January 27, 2012

irony #1

We are trying to be better people, but the most interesting characters are flawed.

Reading books about do-gooders is inspiring, I suppose, but real drama happens where there is suffering and imperfection!