Sunday, July 14, 2019

I gave a talk today

I know blogging isn't so much a thing anymore, but hey, this is where I can put something like this up. Since I'm pretty happy with this talk, I'm going to post it here.

We Believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

So begins the final portion of the Wentworth letter, a document written by Joseph Smith that lays out the foundation of Mormonism. Yes, I'm going to use the term “Mormonism.” today to refer to the Christian movement that Joseph Smith started that eventually splintered into multiple churches, one of which we now belong to, which calls itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” I hope you all can forgive me. In any case, the Wentworth letter ends with thirteen articles, which we now call the thirteen articles of faith, and which many of us memorise as children (or are currently memorising) and the first one states our doctrine of the Godhead as three separate personages, God the Father, his son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy spirit.

This doctrine is one of those that marks us out as different from other Christian sects and is why some consider us not Christian. I'm not really interested in why, though. I personally believe that between the account of the first vision and multiple scriptures in the New Testament that our belief in three separate individuals is warranted. I think focusing on how this makes us different from other sects is, ironically, at odds with the doctrine of the Godhead itself, as it's something that is used to divide us from others rather than uniting us.

So, I would like to turn to unity and what our understanding of the nature of the Godhead teaches us about it. How is it possible for three distinct individuals to be united as one as the Godhead is described by Joseph Smith? And how are we to be united as one body of saints?

In John 10:30, while in the temple preaching during the feast of the dedication Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.” Some time later, during the great intercessory prayer that he gives at the conclusion of the last supper (found in John 17:21) he prays over the Twelve “That they may all be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Since clearly the Twelve did not become physically one with each other or with God and Christ, again, I think this is indicating the Lord expects his disciples to become one with each other in spirit and in purpose. He asks the same of us today.

How is that to be accomplished among his disciples? Just a couple of weeks ago we studied the Last Supper. Just a few minutes ago we took part in the ordinance that came out of the Last Supper. Every week when we partake of the sacrament we promise that we, “do always remember him [Jesus Christ], that we may have his spirit to be with us.” We promise to keep his commandments, and to take his name upon us.

This is part of the oneness. By remembering him, by taking on his name so that our actions are taken under his behalf, and by accepting his spirit, or the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we promise every week to become one with Jesus Christ. We are, as a congregation, unified in that covenant and in renewing that covenant every week.

Unity is about the type of relationships we develop with those around us. During the last supper, Jesus twice gives the commandment to love one another. The first of these scriptures (in John 13:34-35) we sing regularly in the hymn, Love One Another. Loving one another is a definite theme in Christs teachings throughout his Earthly ministry, but I think it's significant that in the final hours of his life he emphasised Love so strongly. I've heard in my life a lot of discussion of the different words for love that Jesus uses that would have had slightly different meanings in the original language and yet are all translated into the word 'love' in english. I'm not enough of a scholar to be able to explain that to you today, but I do want to point out that Christ is talking about Godly love, and that Godly love is different from the love that we typically share with family or friends.

It's easy to love some people. It's easy to love those who listen to us, or who are like us in significant ways. I find it easy to love people who are kind to me, who say nice things to me or who do nice things for me. I don't want to discount the importance of these things within healthy, happy relationships. We all need those things, and we all need relationships that provide safety and acceptance and validation. The Trappist Monk, Thomas Merten said:

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

But God's love is different. Dieter F. Uchdorf said in the 2009 October general conference:

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”

When I was in college there was a girl in my class who was difficult to like. I'll call her Robin. Robin was not well-liked because she was abrupt and seemed to expect people to dislike her. She had a disability that made her difficult to talk to and, as is the case with many very smart people, she was more than a little arrogant. Her arrogance seemed as much a defence against a world that she assumed saw her as worthless. In any case, she wasn't well-liked and really didn't have any friends that I knew of. I'm a pretty awkward person myself and I remembered spending several years in my early adolescence friendless and remembered how miserable that time was, so even though I didn't much like her either I tried to be nice to her in the ways I've been taught to be nice to people.

You're probably thinking this is going to be a heartwarming tale where my efforts at kindness were received gladly and we learned to love each other and through the influence of my caring support Robin saw her worth as a person and her heart grew three sizes and whatnot. Yeah, that didn't happen. For the first two years I knew Robin I tried to engage her in conversation and unfailingly greeted her when I saw her around campus. And every time she rebuffed me. And she was not nice.

So after two years I gave up. I started ignoring her.

Once I respected her space and once she perceived that I wasn't being a fake friend she did respond to that. She's still a difficult person, but we are friends to this day because we're on equal footing. I thought I was showing charity, but it wasn't until I stopped making our friendship about making me feel good about myself that we could actually be friends. Robin taught me a lot about love and about friendship.

I believe unconditional love is a prerequisite for unity within our community. I don't think it's sufficient, but I do think it's where we have to start. I think much like faith, love is without work is dead.

As it says in James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

What are the works we are to be engaged in if we want to create a unified community? Let's back up a few verses, and start with verse 14 of the second chapter of James.

14-17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

We live in a time of exceptional bounty. There is enough and to spare for everyone on the planet. There is enough food produced to feed 10 billion people. There is no good reason for people to go hungry. There is plenty of work to be done and plenty of money to pay people for their work. There is no good reason for people to be jobless or homeless. The degree of inequality between people and the concentration of wealth in the coffers of a few speaks to the inadequacy of our economic system to provide the necessities of life to everyone. We don't often talk about the immorality of that, but I do believe it is immoral when there is enough that we allow poverty to persist. It is most assuredly a huge barrier to the creation of a unity when we don't value people enough to provide the basic necessities of life.

It is my belief, and my personal opinion that we should use whatever tools are at our disposal to combat poverty and the multitude of social ills that follow it. The thing is, I can't alleviate poverty through my own individual actions. However, I can support using the government to address the problem of poverty.

And if you want to argue with me about it, feel free. I will be here in the chapel after church. Just be forewarned, I'll probably force a music score into your hands and make you sing with the choir.

I'm going to end with my testimony that the Lord loves each of us, whatever our circumstances, whatever our faults, whatever our sins. He loves us constantly in a way that we can perhaps glimpse a few times in our lives. He asks us to develop our capacity for love and for charity, to love those with whom we disagree, to sit with the publicans and the sinners of the world and show them their worthiness. I am grateful to have landed in Firle ward, where I do feel loved, where we do disagree and do so in love and with respect. I hope that this testimony I've offered today gives you a better idea of what I mean when I call myself a Christian, and what I mean when I say I believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Crazy

Yesterday on the way home I cried on the bus. There was this young Muslim girl who I smiled at and she offered me her seat, which I didn't take because hey, I'd been sitting all day long and she was there first. And somehow her kindness juxtaposed with how terrible the world is right now--with looming climate change and rampant, violent white supremacy, a massacre of Muslims in Christchurch--it was just too much. Of course I didn't have a tissue, so I spent most of the bus ride trying to subtly wipe away my tears. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Animal jam

We showed up late, as usual, though early by our standards since they were still passing the sacrament. After the end of the sacrament Sylvia and I slipped into two seats in the overflow area. After a few minutes I looked over at Sylvia, just to see what she was doing.

Sitting on the chair behind her was a gecko.

Pausing here for a moment. For those who haven't been around my house in the last year, let me fill you in: Sylvia is obsessed with geckos. She's always loved animals, and from the time she learned to write she's been making lists of the tens and hundreds of pets she wants. And not in a theoretical, little kid dreaming of the future when she gets to make the rules kind of way; in an earnest, literal, this-is-my-life's-goal-and-I'm-going-to-chase-that-dream-now kind of way. (She's a bit headstrong.) As a parent interested in keeping my sanity I've put the kibosh on most pets, though we do have a dog and four fish, all of which are (curiously) my responsibility. When Sylvia learned that there were geckos down in the park she could catch and bring home as her pets, well, let's just say we've had a lot of geckos visit our house.

I tried not to make a scene. I think I managed to squash my squeaking without unduly disturbing the meeting. I made Sylvia get up so I could grab the gecko, at which point I spotted a second gecko on the chair.

That's right. My daughter brought not one, but two geckos to church.

I dragged her and the geckos outside and made her release them. Sylvia was thoroughly annoyed, we both yelled (though I did try to be firm and kind for a good 10 minutes. I just don't have the patience for more than that) and in the end I went back in without her after I'd judged the geckos had a good head start.

After sacrament meeting was over I collected Sylvia from outside, took her to class, and then went to my own classes. All fine, all good.

After Relief Society I went to pick up Sylvia from the Primary room. She was standing at the podium with one of the other girls in her class.

Both holding geckos.

(We had a playdate with the girl, who lives down the street from us, the next day. Yes, there were geckos involved.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sittin' on the dock of the bay

So, I was going to write something about things I think about, since my words are not precious and my thoughts need someplace to go. Maybe I will later, since there are many things I find interesting to think about. My brain turns my thoughts over and over in my head, which would polish them and hone them if there were any place for them to go. Since they stay in my head they just get smaller and smaller. I really should put them down so they don't all disappear.

Today, however, I need to record events.

Kip woke me up. He came in and asked me to help him take his pants off. I asked him, "Did you pee in the bed?"

He said, "No. My pants are boring."

Uh-huh.

Turns out he wasn't the one who peed in the bed, Paul was, but Kip was the one soaked and wet. After I dropped him in the shower with Derrick I took Rosie down to the park, though Paul came down with me to the oval. When I told him I was intending to walk more than just to the oval he went home. It was nice to have his company for at least a few minutes.

I got ready quickly when I got back because I'd stayed too long, talking to Rick and letting Abby play with Rosie. As soon as Derrick left, though, Paul begged to ride his scooter to school. It didn't take much to convince me to let him and Sylvia go. Yesterday (or maybe Monday?) Sylvia refused to let me inspect her bag (which I now know contained a frog in an ice-cream container that she didn't want me to confiscate). Rather than let me take away her frog, Sylvia and Paul walked to school. They claimed they were "one minute late" though Rick said he'd seen them after 9. Regardless, since they'd made it once and were close to on time I felt like I could probably let them go again, especially since they were on scooters instead of on foot and should have been faster.

I did some dishes, then took Kip to Pri's house, and then headed to work. Just as I was finishing talking to Mark about the work for the day I got a text from the school informing me that they'd recorded an absence for Paul. I was annoyed, but figured they'd walked slowly and spent too much time looking for geckos, and thought I'd give them half an hour more to get to school. Oh, and a few minutes for me to drink some tea.

So, after finishing my tea and talking to Cesca and to Mark about the drama (in my totally undramatic, I'm sure everything's okay but man isn't this annoying way), I called the school. They confirmed that Sylvia and Paul weren't at school, wanted to know where I thought they'd be, and immediately sent a couple of staff members out to look for them. As soon as I informed them that Sylvia and Paul should have been there but weren't it was like they went to defcon 4. They wanted to know where I'd left my kids and where they usually walked, and if they couldn't find my kids they wanted to call the police, and, AND I had to talk to the principal about it.

Fortunately, Sylvia and Paul were easy to find--they were on linear park, just where I expected them to be, and just where I'd told the school to look.

Unfortunately, thanks to this, I now have a meeting Monday morning with one of the school administrators to discuss Sylvia and Paul's path to school. It sucks that when my kids do something bad I'm the one who gets called on the carpet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

richness

My words are not precious.

When I was a kid I told my sister that she only had a certain number of words she could say in her life, and once she used up all of her words she'd die. For the next few days she barely spoke at all.

I was a jerk. (Still am.)

Probably the opposite is true--the more words I use, the happier I'll be and the longer I'll live.

I'm stressed. I don't know about what precisely, though it seems like this time of year (the end of the semester) is just stressful. Derrick's super busy and absent, and even when he comes home at a reasonable time he sits on his computer and works, so even when he's home he isn't really home. Finals are next week, so at least he'll be done soon and back to his more reasonable absenteeism.

It's also my birthday this Friday. My 40th birthday. I know it's just a number and I'm only as old as I feel and 40 isn't that old and blah blah whatever. I feel like a loser. I used to have ambitions. I really just don't anymore. I'm too tired. Too depressed. I finish things slowly, if at all. I should feel happy this week--yesterday I finished (more or less) the growth chart I started when Kip was a baby. Since he's almost 4. Because it's taken so long, though, I'm underwhelmed by it. I'm underwhelmed by myself.

I am a good cook, and really, that's where I've put so much of my time and effort. I've become expert at cooking.

Whoop-de-freakin'-do.

I like cooking, so there is that, though today I've felt stressed while cooking. Like I can feel my abdomen tensing up when I stand in front of the stove, and when I eat. It's like I know I've squandered my life standing there, chopping and frying and stirring; creating ephemeral monuments that nobody else cares about. Sure, some people enjoy them (not my kids), but hours and hours and HOURS of effort and at the end of it all I have is the promise of another job. It's so hopelessly domestic, so hopelessly, eternally feminine of me to sacrifice my time on making something that will be consumed in a matter of minutes and then forgotten.

In case you were wondering, there is no actual end to this post. It's simply a catalog of my complaints and negativity today.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shape of you

I can not fix them, I can not teach them, I can not train or cajole or badger them into submission. I can only survive them and love them as best I can while we travel along together for a time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Put your shoulder to the wheel

I'm so proud of myself. I gave a lesson on Sunday that I absolutely detested, and managed to not rant my whole way through it.

The lesson in question was lesson 13 in the Gordon B Hinckley manual, "blah blah temporal SELF RELIANCE." You know why I hate lessons on self reliance? Because invariably they're given by rich white guys who have no idea what it's like to be poor. Case in point, the lesson tells us that,
“My father had an idea that his boys ought to learn to work, in the summer as well as in the winter, and so he bought a five-acre farm [about 20,000 square meters], which eventually grew to include more than thirty acres. We lived there in the summer and returned to the city when school started.
I only know one other family that had that kind of work experience. The dad in the family I know is the CEO of a company. Going out and buying a five acre farm simply so your kids can learn the true nature of hard work just reeks of privilege. 

There are dog whistles around every corner. The most blatant, of course, is the 

Those who have participated as the recipients of this program have been spared “the curse of idleness and the evils of the dole.”

I'm pretty sure President Hinckley didn't know many poor people if he thought they're idle or if he thinks asking for government assistance is an evil thing. The quote itself, "the curse of idleness and the evils of the dole" comes from President Grant who was the president of the church during the great depression. That statement is one that was used widely at the time to indicate a resistance to the New Deal and expansion of welfare to help those made destitute by the combination of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It's a phrase that's continued in popularity among republicans.

And it's a phrase I hate.

Why do people go on the dole? Right. Because they want to eat. I am all in favor of working hard and contributing positively to the society in which we find ourselves. But I also recognize first, that there are those who can't for reasons beyond their control (disability, age, etc.) and second, that there are a lot of jobs that simply aren't compensated at a level that reflects the importance of that job to society (mothers in particular, but really all low-skill, low-wage labor. Low-skill is not equivalent to low-importance).

I wish that we as a people would, instead of talking about the value of self-reliance, start talking about the social contract that binds us together as a society and that only works if everyone (or most everyone) holds to it. It's true that everyone needs to contribute, and everyone should be striving to contribute at least as much as they take out as long as they are able, but at the same time when you're contributing to society the society then has an obligation to compensate people. A stable, free society can only come from a system where people feel their contributions are adequately and appropriately valued. Undervaluing people, and then compelling them to work through fear, is only a short step removed from slavery, particularly when we produce so much and are so wealthy as a whole.