Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year's, everyone!

This is a short post, so I'll get right to the point:

1.) Read at least one book (for pleasure) a month. This is raising the bar, but will be most beneficial.

2.) Write one page a week on at least one of my extracurricular writing projects. This was a goal before, but I got bogged down in outlines. The stories I had all needed planning and research. I have some ideas now that will let me just write to practice my prose. Worst case scenario, I have 52 pages written by the end of the year.

3.) Never kiss until the fourth date or until the two of us have decided to date exclusively, whichever comes later.

4.) Finish all necessary dental work. After two-and-a-half years, that will be a welcome relief.

5.) Graduate with Honors. That only leaves an honors thesis and about twenty Great Works events, and fourteen responses, to go.

6.) Get out of the USA. England, China, Japan, Taiwan, Nepal, somewhere - I need to go.

This past year was an interesting one. It included many trials, some of them self-inflicted. All of them have flowed on by. I grew up in and around rivers, and I'm reading several books using rivers as a theme (Nine Ways To Cross a River, New Found Land); I find the idea of life as flowing water an apt metaphor. I've had successes, and those have flowed past, leaving me enriched and edified. I've made mistakes, and those too have flowed by.

Changing metaphors:
"And shades of night are falling dense and fast, like sable curtains drifting o'er the past. Pale through the gloom the newly fallen snow wraps like a shroud the silent earth below - as tho 'twere mercy's hand had spread the pall: a token of forgiveness unto all" ("The Wintry Day Descending to Its Close," Hymns no. 37).

And so, I continue my course. Upstream, I think; I am not sure I know how to steer with the current.

Anyway, Happy New Year's! I hope your holidays have been refreshing and edifying for you, and that you have the strength for the New Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Untitled

Well, here we go again...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Summation

As a writing warm up, before six hours of sleepless writing work, I present this summation of my semester and year.

"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Though preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." (Psalm 23:4-6)

This year has been, hands down, the hardest of my life. In ways I did not before believe possible, I have literally walked through the valley of the shadow of death. In every instant of those trials, the Lord has sought to help me, has blessed my way, prospered me, and defended me. As I have tried to turn to Him, He has blessed me a hundredfold and more - primarily in blessings I needed, but did not want to receive.

I feel like I am in a sort of personal, ongoing resurrection, where parts of me wither away and die, and then are restored more fully by the Lord. I think death must be that way when we pass according to the Lord's plan: a painful letting go of mortality in preparation for the Savior to renew us into perfect life, but then a sweet realization that it's alright, this is part of the plan, God loves me, and this too will turn to good.

This year has been one of letting go and being reborn. I am no longer an International Relations major, no longer intend to go to Indonesia for the next nine months, no longer have climbing the Seven Summits as a goal, no longer am the man I was before. Now. I openly study sociology, hope to go to England and China, and see new interdependence in my goals and plans. Now, especially, I better understand how much I need the Lord in everything I do - to breathe, to sing, to sleep, to eat, to be happy, to repent.

I have not yet left this "valley of sorrow" (2 Ne. 4:26), but I can see the trail leading upwards ahead, and this nighttime journey is drawing to a close. It has been a dark trail, but even so, "Eternity was [my] covering, and [my] rock and [my] salvation, as [I] journeyed" this year, and now the dawn of a new Sabbath is beginning to tint the Eastern sky.

"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 Pet. 1:19).

Even though I haven't yet reached the surpassing joy that I hope will become my daily walk, I have tasted it, and I feel it in Christ as I serve Him and pray in His name to my Heavenly Father. I am greatly comforted by the Book of Mormon passage below, in which a man of God follows Christ through the valley of shadow until the day dawns.

"And it came to pass that as I followed Him, I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that He would have mercy upon me, according to the multitude of His tender mercies. And it came to pass that after I had prayed unto the Lord, ... I beheld a tree whose fruit was desirable to make one happy" (1 Ne. 8:7-10)

"And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree...? And I answered him saying, Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul" (1 Ne. 11:21-23)

And so, Merry Christmas - my God is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation (1 Ne. 22:11, Isaiah 12). This year, I have seen the arm of the Lord revealed in my life through the trials He has given me ands His help in them.

And so, in summation: I know that my Redeemer lives, that his name is Jesus Christ, that He loves me and that He is my Friend, and that He will support me as I follow Him, in every circumstance and emergency.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feminism: Into the Fray

Finding myself in an ever-increasing number of friendships with individuals (inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and out) who claim the "feminist" title, I feel impelled to enter the discussion concerning gender roles. I have noticed a wide spectrum of views concerning men and women, from both genders; some of these I have found interesting and uplifting, others I have found patently offensive and bigoted. (For the record, these are NOT divided along gender lines.

I do not and cannot yet claim expertise or even familiarity with the breadth, depth, and variety of feminist philosophy or literature currently available; my attempt in this post is not to survey the intellectual field or debate a specific position. I simply wish to establish three ground-rules for the discussion.

First, debate concerning gender-roles must be centered on cooperation, on the reconciliation of the battle of the sexes. I do not here imply that awareness of gender-differences are to be eliminated - indeed, although I personally intend just the opposite, I leave the specifics of that question to the debate itself. The goal of any discussion of gender-roles, however, should and must be to help both men and women live happier, more fulfilling lives. In religious terms, gender-role discussion must help individuals become more like the Heavenly Parents of us all.*
Therefore, separatist or supremacist arguments from either gender are here inappropriate. If the battle of the sexes is to become a "raw, red war" (Gordon R. Dickson, The Star Road) then discussion devolves into mere intelligence-gathering. A reader may have just that purpose in mind; if so, they may continue as they wish, but I have nothing to say to that individual.

*(As a point of background information, my conception of deity is a perfected union of a perfected man and a perfected woman; however, I leave open for discussion the definitions of "perfect," "union," "man," and "woman." Indeed, my attempts to refine my own definitions of the same are the reason for this post).

In a similar vein, views of both genders must be respected and evaluated based on their internal merit, not based on the gender of the speaker. Yes, the two genders probably do not understand each other completely. Yes, it may be impossible for me as a man to really understand how a woman feels when she is threatened intellectually/emotionally/physically/sexually/spiritually (though I will in the future provide a critique of this position). However, neither of these arguments contribute to more perfect understanding of gender roles. Statements to the effect of: "That's easy for you to say, as a man" or, "That's easy for you to say, as a woman" are somewhat deceitful tactics used to end debates, not to contribute to them. If we are to take the communication barrier seriously, no one woman or man can express anything to any other man or woman, barring a belief in telepathy. If we accept the imprecision of inter-personal communication, let us also accept the imprecision of inter-gender communication and at least try to understand one another.

Third, the purpose of the discussion is to help each reader live a better life, hopefully with a greater respect for and appreciation of members of both genders, and of the unique and wonderful differences gender yields human existence. We speak for understanding, but if that understanding does not change our pattern of existence, then we have not succeeded in our discussion. In short, contributors to a gender debate should love their audience; the purpose ought to be mutual improvement, not the satisfaction of vengeance, the vindication of pride, or the denigration of others. I anticipate that a good gender-role discussion should be somewhat life-changing - for ALL parties involved. Therefore, a plea: to myself and to us all, let us be humble enough to listen to another point of view.

If all involved (including myself!) can abide these rules, then let us "reason together" (Isaiah 1:18) concerning gender. What is a woman? What is a man? What is a perfect woman? What is a perfect man? And what is a perfect union of the two?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BYU Book sale


I discovered to my surprise today that the BYU bookstore was having a 1$ book sale.



!



With some difficulty, I limited myself to fifteen selections. My roommates thought they were a little silly. That's alright - they don't get to read them.


Principles of Political Economy and Taxation - David Ricardo. Ricardo is one of the top two or three founders of classical economics, and I've finally gotten ahold of his authentic text. If econ isn't your thing, I understand; if it is, you understand.

How We Think - John Dewey. Dewey is one of top three or four founders of educational and cognitive theory. If you want to know how and why schools run the way they do, this 1910 publication is a must-read. I'm actually doing a research project right now on the application of the big cognitive theorists on e-learning in Utah. Not just for the history majors, guys.

David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer - David Meltzer. That was probably a shock, I know. I wanted some poetry, this one was available. If he's awful, I'm only down a dollar. If he's as good as the back cover suggests (hmm)...

Manliness - Harvey C. Mansfield. One would hope not to have to purchase such a book, as a man. This text, however, is a critical defense of manliness, aimed at a feminist or post-feminist audience. A friend of mine keeps a feminist blog, and I've wanted to contribute on several occasions, but have not taken the time to put together a coherent, respectful argument against some of the things that make me angry about feminism. I'll write my first response, and then read the book and see if I can further refine my arguments using it. Incidentally, I received today the invitation to attend a Mormon woman's critique of Christian Feminism on Thursday, that I would actually quite like to attend. I think the entire feminist movement, though positive in some regards, is riddled with hatred and bigotry, and I look forward to contributing to the debate.

What are People For? - Wendell Berry. I've heard of Berry, and heard lots of good things about him, so I selected two compilations of his essays.

Into the Wilderness Dream: Exploration Narratives of the American West, 1500-1805 - Various. Edited by Barclay,
Maguire, and Wild. This book is in direct preparation for my Wilderness Writing class. Why not begin now? Besides, I like exploration writing as a form, and I enjoy the heady romanticism of some of the explorers.

The Writer's Journey (3rd Edition) - Christopher Vogler. I hadn't heard of this one, but picked it up in pursuit of my dream of becoming a writer. When I told my humanities class about the booksale before class started, and mentioned that I got this book, my teacher lighting up confirmed that I had made a good selection.

The Essential Nietzsche - Mostly, Nietzche. He's a nihilist or an existentialist; if the latter, then I can learn from him. A girl I used to date said that it had helped her refine her Christianity and life-pattern (by considering Nietzsche's critiques of religious hypocrisy, etc.). I've heard enough about him, I thought I'd give a Nietzsche sampler a shot.

Making a Poem: Some Thoughts About Poetry and the People Who Write It - Miller Williams. This is by a professor of poetry somewhere; I hope that with it I will be able to improve my prose.

The Contracted World: New and Selected Poems of Peter Meinke - Peter Meinke. Another book of poetry, hopefully for example and edification.

Unrecounted: Poems by W.G. Sebald and Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp. Also. This picture book also includes lithographs of people's eyes with each poem; it's kind of fun.

Citizenship Papers - Wendell Berry

The Kingdom of God is Within You - Leo Tolstoy. I first read Tolstoy this semester, in The Death of Ivan Ilych. I loved it, so when I saw a chance to read Tolstoy's personal testimony, I jumped at the chance. Apparently, Tolstoy was a very pro-Mormon Christian; his anarchist ideals of widespread, personal moral revolution (to become more like God) certainly harmonizes with many LDS beliefs. (Tolstoy was only anarchist in the vaguest sense of the word - as people get better and better, government is needed less and less.)

Expression and the Inner - David H. Finkelstein. A critical analysis of the author-self in writing, with suggestions on how to use the assumed worldview as a writing tool. My friend at this blog did a whole field study on this topic; seeing the intensity of her interest in it, I decided to investigate the topic myself.

Well, there you have it. More than three, though when I am going to read them I have no idea. One day, a little at a time.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gratitude, and the Counter-Offensive

Inspired by several friends' gratitude lists, I post one of my own.

1.) My calling as a hometeacher. This calling, and the associated hometeaching-director calling that goes with it, give me purpose and responsibility.
2.) A developing friendship. I've recently met someone with whom I can discuss the matters of my heart without shaming either of us. I'm not talking here about a romantic gossip in whom I can confide; rather, I am developing a friendship with someone who understands the things about which I am passionate, and who largely shares similar passions (or similar types of passions.) It's someone with whom I share a language; it feels like we understand each other when discussing things that are important. More importantly, it is someone who lives in such a way that I can believe their passion isn't just words, and that they are also existentially familiar with the type of existential experience I strive to gain. In other words, I respect them, and they respect me, and we can talk about important things without feeling or being silly or ashamed.

3.) Time. I feel I have precious little of this, but I am grateful for the opportunities I yet have to change before graduating.

4.) Employment, now and previously. I have been blessed with the financial means necessary to do what I have needed to do and to prepare for the things for which I've needed to prepare. That alone provides an amazing degree of relief and security.

5.) A loving family. This item cannot be described adequately here.

6.) The temple. It is a place of refuge, instruction, and renewal.

That said, as a primer, brings me to the counter-offensive. You may wonder why I post the following; my hope is that one of you may benefit from my explanation of the changes I plan to make.
Here is a list of changes I'll be making in the next year.


1.) I will get into shape. Specifically, I will run a marathon in March, I will increase my chest press by 50 lbs, and I will increase my maximum number of pull ups in a set by 5. The body is a temple and an instrument of our Spirit, and hopefully of the Spirit of the Lord. That means it needs to work, and work well. I watched Dancesport tonight, and i was struck by the degree of control the dancers have over their bodies; I saw what appeared to be beautiful harmonies of body and spirit this evening. I imagine that such a harmony will be very difficult to develop in the Spirit world, when I won't have a body, until the resurrection, when things are to some degree set in stone.

2.) I will take time, on a regular basis, to hike, climb, shoot photographs, cook, write, and to dance (see 4). Renewal is not something that can be done in bursts - there is no life destination, until death. It's always a process in which one has not arrived until one dies. By the same token, ultimately, if a pattern of living is not joyous to the soul now, it will not become joyous simply by a change of circumstances; i.e. it can always be "the best of times" or "the worst of times" regardless of circumstance (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). I guess what I am trying to say is that happiness is independent of circumstance; as Nephi wrote, "We lived after the manner of happiness" (2 Ne 5:27).

(Note - happiness is a pattern of living, not an emotional state. I distinguish here between being happy, and having happiness- happiness is a pattern that permits one to be happy, but it is not its guarantor "every, every moment" ("Our Town," Oscar Wilde). There are some who need medication to feel happy; although medication is not part of the happiness I'm describing, being humble enough to take it if one needs it, would be. Thus, happiness is series of principles that allow and encourage the emotional state of being happy, cheerful, glad, grateful, etc. even in the midst of afflictions.)

3.) I will read three books for pleasure. Current possibilities include Quiet Flows the Don, and the Don Flows Home to the Sea; Anna Karenina and Les Miserables. The Little Prince is another possibility, as is War and Peace, though both are farther down the list. Suggestions for other possibilities are welcome.

4.) I will begin to learn to dance. Dancing is wonderful and fun, and I love to dance. Like prayer or singing, dance is something that I believe should be able to be shared by everyone; dance-movement should not be an elitist privilege. Many do not regard me as being able to dance, and I do not necessarily regard dance party-dancing as the joy of movement; far from it, in fact. I want to learn to dance "before the Lord" (2 Sam 6:14). In modern scripture, dance is to be a form of prayer: "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, and with dancing. and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving" (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28).
I find it very difficult to do so at dance parties; I think social dancing comes a lot closer, so I will probably pursue more... defined modes of dance. However, even the samba or the cha-cha or the bolero or the waltz don't quite fit the bill; yoga comes closer. I'm looking for movement as a prayerful expression. Tai-chi and yoga are about as close as I can imagine.
The trick is not so much to learn a form as to learn to praise the Lord through movement, and that is a very different thing. Maybe any form would serve, but somehow I doubt it. Song certainly does not universally serve as a form of prayer - prayer connects a divine child with God, and some song´s weaken that relationship. Some dances do as well - which dances promote it?
What is a divine dance? And how can I learn it?

5.) I will discover and incorporate some means of keeping in contact with friends around the world. This has to become a change in my life pattern - something regular, something with which I can be consistent.

6.) I will incorporate family history work into my pattern of living. Again, consistency over time.

7.) I will begin to write; I will make writing part of the pattern of my life. This blog is a first step. This number terrifies me more than any other; just writing it on the list has made me somewhat short of breath. But, I must declare the evidence of God's hand in my life. What I write will be one of the ways I do it.
The fear comes from the departure from a sprinting lifestyle - writing, of the type I intend to do, can only be accomplished over a long period of time characterized by consistent and sustained effort. Karl Marx's family life depicts a sprinter's attempt at an alternative: starvation, death, and sorrow leading to bitterness of soul and a rejection of God. Even Kierkegaard, that great Christian existentialist, described his experiences writing intensely as something that enervated him - in the midst of producing his philosophical masterpieces, he became thin, weak, emaciated. As he described, walking was a burden that nearly defeated him since food, rest, and renewal were all subordinate to his calling as a writer. I have heard recently of the muse - like lightning - that strikes an artist, electrifies them, and burns them into a crisp. I've experienced some of the same in Africa. It's heady, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and passionate. Shelley's Frankenstein is another example; I feel far too much kinship with Victor. I know the thrill of creation.

Ingmar Bergman, a director-hero in my mind, gives me hope: though his works were productions of genius, his creativity was subordinate to his psyche. He ate, slept, and enjoyed life; he remained in control. Similarly, this woman especially, and to a lesser degree this man, (and to some extent this man) give me a lot of hope. Cassandra Barney is now linked here on my blog; she is a successful professional artist (as you can see); I've actually seen some of her work in galleries and at art shows. More importantly, though, she is a faithful servant of God and member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, the Spirit aids creation; unlike Frankenstein, our works do not have to rise up and become the elements of our destruction -IF we pursue passion through the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, creation and the pursuit of righteous dreams is not a guarantee of madness. Quite the opposite, in fact: This clip , although less powerful out of context, is an inspiration to me. Similarly, this message released by Pres. Spencer W. Kimball suggests that not only are creative passions acceptable before the Lord, they may be pleasing unto Him and honor His name. J.S. Bach, father of twenty-odd children and composer of many hymns of God certainly provides an example; Carl Bloch, (who is on display for the first time in history, outside of Scandinavia, RIGHT NOW in the BYU Museum of Art - get tickets to see the display here-(for free! If you live within a ten hour drive of Utah, come see this exhibit before it leaves in May!)) certainly provides another.


The big change in all of this, of which these other goals are simply reflections, is that within a year, I graduate. I will no longer be a student, preparing to pursue my dreams; I will simply and directly pursue them. That is not something to be approached with irreverence or flippancy; I will suddenly be responsible for the entirety of my life. The man who faces eternity is forever changed by it, and agency and accountability are together the gateway of eternity.
My realization of this fact has confronted me with the question: what are my dreams, and am I brave enough to pursue them?

To large degree, the next year will tell. How my pattern of life has become, in that time, will be my answer.






Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Truth

In this case, it is the answer.
I've met some amazing girls lately, to whom I am very attracted. The truth is, sadly, that even a perfect girl couldn't solve my problem. I have nothing to confess - my slate is as clean as it appears to be - except this: I am not happy with who I am, and until I am happy with who I am, I cannot expect a girl to be happy with who am. There is no shortcut, no loophole, no exception. Until I change and become the man I am meant to be, I will not be truly happy. And no girl, no romantic relationship will change that.
I have to change.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chopin and the Awakening of Responsibility

In the first half of Chopin's The Awakening, Edna begins to discover her personal thoughts and desires through an inappropriate relationship with her friend, Robert. Robert, upon realizing the inappropriate intimacy, leaves, which further encourages Edna to seek herself in a rejection of her former pattern of existence. Although the end of the story may change the vector of Edna's course at the halfway point, a translation of her half-way trajectory into real life would result in disillusionment, sorrow, and ultimately despair. Edna's “awakening” comes too late; although her self-discovery is a necessary and good thing, her insistence to discover herself independently of her family relationships ensures sorrow and eventual loneliness.

Whatever the book, or the soap opera, or the television show promises, the Lord's statement in Isa. 50:11 stands supreme and unyielding above them all: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” Edna does well in discovering how she truly feels; but inasmuch as she rejects her duties to God and man, she will eventually find that her new entertainments do not and cannot sustain her. The devil is the ultimate example of the path Edna has begun to follow; believing himself better than others, he rejected the counsel of God and the responsibilities of agency and mortality and instead followed his own path into damnation. Similarly, Edna will find no lasting salvation in painting, or in letting her household slip into ruin. Although she may find “joy in [her] works for a season, by and by the end cometh, and [she] is hewn down and cast into the fire from whence there is no return” (3 Ne. 27:11). Interestingly, Edna's rejection of duty eventually will lead her away from her full potential; lacking divine guidance or assistance, she will not and cannot reach her eternal capacity.

There exist at least two possible, acceptable alternatives to Edna's method of awakening. First, Edna could have involved her husband and family in her awakening. Far from being a “colorless existence” (Chopin 86), the interplay between her personal feelings or ambitions and her family responsibilities together produce a sublimity of existence unattainable by the one who acts selfishly. Edna's problem is not that she has a husband and children; her problem is that she does not love her husband or children, and sacrifices their well-being for her own. As she describes, she is not willing to give up anything essential about herself on their behalf; if what she sacrifices is no sacrifice, what has she truly given? Love is not characterized by such hollow performance. Love requires giving of oneself; by definition, she denies the possibility of loving her family. Interestingly, this also cheapens her relationship with Robert to mere infatuation – there is no sacrifice, for her, in giving up her husband and children for her romantic affair. Another possible and acceptable method for Edna to experience her awakening would have been to have sought it earlier, before she married. In the time when she did not have family responsibilities, she could have discovered herself, her wants, needs, and ambitions, and have incorporated them into her romantic pursuits. Though this would have affected her choice of partner and lifestyle, better to have effected a change prior to marriage than to inappropriately attempt to do so after.

In sum, following Edna's pattern and using self-discovery as an excuse to shirk personal and filial responsibility cannot be successful in reality.

As a personal post-script, I am grateful to the story for providing personal insight into something with which I have struggled. I have not yet married, though I have been home for a mission for two years. In many cultures, this would be considered normal and expected; in Mormon-BYU culture, this is a chafing-ly long time. However, in this time (and to large degree as a result of my search), I have come to learn many things about who I am, what I am called to do in life, and what my future life will probably entail. (Specifically, that I will travel a lot, and will live in many different places and at many different times.) As a result, unlike Edna, I have gained the luxury of being able to look for potential companions with whom I hope and believe I can be compatible. I consider this a great blessing, and one which I hope will allow me to avoid an “awakening” experience similar to the character of Edna in the first half of Chopin's story; instead, I intend to “awaken” continuously, daily, with the loving support of a family I am helping to “awaken” as well.

As the Proclaimers put it, more profoundly in context of the novel than I think they meant:
"When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you..."



Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilych and personal reflections

I decided to write an assignment in blog-post form; here is the result.


I had the pleasure of first reading ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” immediately after reading the “What I Now Believe About a BYU Education That I Wish I had Believed When I First Came” selection. Perhaps because of their proximity in time, the two readings gained a proximity in my mind; as a result, I now view the impending conclusions of my undergraduate career and my current romantic relationship from an amalgamation of Ivan Ilych's perspective and my own.

Ivan Ilych's social weakness formed the core of his life. As Tolstoy describes, it was the foundation of “his professional duties, and the whole arrangement of his life and family, and all his social and official interests” (Tolstoy 40). Fortunately, I do not find myself in such a blasted state; however, Ilych's self-deception certainly has younger siblings in my university existence and in my romantic sphere. Without divulging too much information, I discover upon review that, in many cases, my romantic attitude has served to mask the questions of eternity in my dating and courtship. Although dating and kissing are fun and appear socially acceptable, and though I always remained in the bounds of spiritually and morally appropriate behavior, I feel that I have many times rejected the still, small voice in pursuit of flippant pleasure or general approval in my dating relationships.

Similarly, my attitude towards my university experience has often been to play the “game” (Richards 6) that Prof. Richards warned about. I have, on many occasions, danced through academic hoops at the expense of using my education to change who I have become. A course where I sacrificed learning to speed read for an “A” grade, and my current habit of skipping readings from the Doctrine and Covenants so that I can get better grades in my other classes, serve as two examples. The combination of Bro. Richards' text and ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” has helped me understand my BYU experience differently.

I intend to graduate in August of the upcoming year. Like Ilych, my time is running out; like Ilych, I have not achieved the moral and intellectual development or romantic success I intended. To some degree, I must confess with Ilych concerning my behavior, “Yes, it was not the right thing” (Tolstoy 42). I do, however, have the benefit of time: “though his [time at BYU] had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, 'What is the right thing?'” (Tolstoy 43). I have a few months left and a little less than two and a half semesters to discover and demonstrate the answer.

The quest for the answer, and the process of review itself, have been cathartic. Ilych's realized “what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides” (Tolstoy 43). Similarly, my introspection is causing the painful stress - to date, marry, and graduate with a high GPA, at almost any cost - to be loosed from my mind and soul. I still need to do all of those things to accomplish what the Lord would have me do, but I know also that “He whose understanding [matters] [will] understand” (Tolstoy 43). Again, this does not justify laziness; I am accountable before God for “how well [I have] used my time, talents, and energy to prepare [myself] to serve the Lord” (Richards 10) and “no mortal standard, no matter how rigorous, is high enough” (Richards 11). Even so, I find “in place of [fear], a light” (Tolstoy 43) in the knowledge that whatever my GPA or marital status becomes, my imperfect efforts to consecrate my life can be acceptable.


Autumn is here, and I love it.

One of the last two pictures taken of me before I got braces.

This little guy was really slow from the cold, so I was able to try and take a lot of pictures of him. This is the best result, though it's probably 1/32 of an inch away from what would have been an ideal focal length; I was almost literally a hair too close.

I was surprised at this one - not that it's a stunning piece of photography, but of how messy a rose is before it has blossomed. Zoom in on the picture, and you'll see what I mean: little random jagged bits, fiber-like threads dangling, poky looking things everywhere, and two little bugs crawling around. This gives me hope: if a rose is this messy when it has not yet matured, some of the messiness of my life is at least understandable.

In contrast, here is a rose that has come most of the way. Much smoother, much more polished, much prettier - but it had to start as a blossom.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Distant thunder, days ahead

Distant Thunder Mojave


Que Sera! and no regrets.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First multilingual post.

Det som det blir äntligen är detta: Jag är en viktig, utvald son till min Himmelske Fader. I SydAfrika, den positionen attakerades gång på gång på gång. Men det beror inte på andras tankar om mig; det beror på hur jag handlar. Och jag handlar för det mesta som en Guds son, och jag försöker handla som en Guds son. Jag gör fel, det stämmer. Ibland gör jag dumma saker – men det ändrar inte det jag har kallats till, det jag försöker göra, och den Guden i vilken jag har förlitat mig och i vilken jag kommer att förlita mig.

Min relation med mig själv och med andra är inte så bra just nu; jag handskar mig själv med råhet och vrede, och jag tillmötesgår andra med ovisshet och osäkerhet, en brist på förtroende. Men Gud är trofast, och Han har hjälpt mig, och ska fortsätta hjälpa mig, och genom Hans hjälp börjar jag se det goda inom mig själv, och inom andra. Lyckligtvis, har jag också en bra relation med mina föräldrar och systrar, vilken är en dyrbar ägodel.

Så, från mina studier: Om jag vill ha en indentitet som varar, måste det komma rad på rad, ett stycke här och ett stycke där. Det kommer inte från att bara gifta mig, även om att ta tid med någon som tycker om mig och påstår att jag är en bra och värdig person kan hjälpa det. Det kan fastslås genom att skriva i min dagbok dagligen hur jag har sett Herrens hand, i tacksamhet, och genom också att märka dagligen privata segrar. ”Idag, på detta sätt, var jag mer liksom ett Guds barn.” Med tid och dagligen återstärkning, kommer jag att organisera mitt liv på det sättet.

Alltså, som min grens president sade, skriv inte hur jag felar dagligen, utan skriv hur jag lyckas dagligen. Då lycka och lycksalighet och framgång kommer att vara min relation till mig själv, och inte hate och besvikelse.

Och jag tror om jag fokuserar på hur jag lyckas, kommer det att vara lättare att fokusera på hur andra lyckas. Och det kommer att vara en stor och viktig förändring.

It comes to this: I am an important, choice son of Almighty God. In South Africa, that thesis was attacked and ridiculed time and again, but its truth is not dependent on others' opinions. It is dependent upon my own behavior. For the most part, I act in the manner of a son of God, and I always try to act in a manner consistent with my divine heritage. I make mistakes and do wrong, it is true. Sometimes I do dumb things. But the things I do wrong do not change that which I have been called to do, that which I try to do, and that God in whom I have trusted and in whom I will continue to trust.

My relationship with myself and others is not at its best just now; I treat myself with rawness and wrath, and I treat others with insecurity and suspicion. But God is faithful, and He has helped me, and shall continue to help me, and with His help I begin to see again the good in myself and in others. Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my parents and sisters, which is a rare and precious possession.

So, from my studies, if I want to have an identity that lasts, it must come line upon line, a little here and a little there. It won't come from my getting married, though spending time ith someone who likes me and who claims that I am a good and worthy person can help. I can make that identity secure by writing in my journal everyday how I've seen the Lord's hand, in gratitude, and through recording daily, personal victories. "Today, in this way, I acted more like a son of God." My life will come to be organized in those terms with time and daily reinforcement.

In other words, as my Branch President once told me, "Don't record your daily failures; record your daily successes. Thus joy and happiness and success will become my relationship with myself, rather than hate and disappointment.

In turn, if I am focusing on how I succeed, it will be easier to focus on how others are succeeding, and that will be a great and important adjustment.


The following come from a small photoshoot and study titled "Beauty is Everywhere," which I did while walking to campus, Friday, 22 Oct. 2010. Since I've taken the liberty of titling this little series, I don't feel at all bad adding somewhat sentimental (some might say sappy) captions. If you don't anthropomorphize your photo subjects, that is your own affair - I, however, do. And if I don't, who will? We've already established that YOU do not. Therefore, bear with me.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small...



Jupiter, expressed as a flower.
An elderly couple. The woman was a little shy.

I don't have another caption for this one.


A young couple, a few months after their wedding, still glowing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Conflict

The diametric is a common theme; light and dark, health and sickness, etc. Zarathustra had something when he drew the divide in terms of light and darkness. Unfortunately, the conflict I find in myself is not entirely one of good and evil. Relax, reader: my post this evening has nothing to do with any relationships except two - that of myself with myself, and that of myself with God.

I find in myself two beings; not one of absolute darkness and one of absolute light, but rather a sober man capable of great love, pure joy, great sorrow, and grievous sin, and an idiot capable of nothing more than superficial pleasure and pathetic folly. The first faces the world in battle: ceremony, celebration, conflict, and conflagration. The second laughs at all things, makes poor jokes, wastes his life, and knows neither that which is sacred nor fearful. He dances where angels ought to fear to tread: not the waltz, but a fool's cousin to the Carmagnole. Deadness, dumbness, idiocy are his dominion, and unfortunately through him, mine. It is as if my reason were sapped in strength and cast before swine to be trampled under foot, while I am rent from before and behind by tusks that curve only inward.

I wish I knew to make my life only the first man - a life of symphonies and silences. This is the test; nothing stops me except my own perspective. What I would give to have those scales fall from my eyes! And yet the second man, misshapen fool that he is, did not spring into being fully formed from my cloven head. He grew, inch by miserable inch, as I sought a different approach to life. I did not bear the solemn, so now I must bear the obscene, the ludicrous, and the absurd.

It is reflected in how I spend my time. How much waste, these past days! How much laziness! How many words dropped carelessly, stupidly, without thought or effort! Rather than an examined life, I live a caricature. Though the better man struggles for egress and urges me to seek obedience and valiant effort, I stumble about blindfolded in the fog of my foolishness. My tools are blunted in the hour of my labor; I lack the self-respect that the Lord of the Vineyard and his servants embody.

"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor. 6:16) Pursuit of God brooks no stupidity, no foolishness, no absurdity; I cannot serve the God of Counsel and Holiness and play the fool.

I speak not here of joy, nor laughter, but of mania, of nervous fear, of foolish pride, of vain ambition, and of setting the things of the world higher than the things of God. Let virtue garnish my thoughts unceasingly, that my breast may receive light and knowledge from the most High! Let the noise be silenced in praise of my Creator!

I find comfort in this promise, given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the latest General Conference:

"Elder B. H. Roberts once expressed the process in these words: 'The man who so walks in the light and wisdom and power of God, will at the last, by the very force of association, make the light and wisdom and power of God his own—weaving those bright rays into a chain divine, linking himself forever to God and God to him. This [is] the sum of Messiah’s mystic words, ‘Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee’—beyond this human greatness cannot achieve.'" (Reflections on a Consecrated Life, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference October 2010. ) http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1298-6,00.html

If I come closer to the Man of Holiness, the nonsense must be burned out of my life. Let that fire commence now; let its greasy smoke bear a petition to my God for forgiveness for my "levity, and for my [sometime association] with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God" (Joseph Smith History, 1:28). Again, I do not discredit humor, but poor taste; not joy, but vapidity; not a smile, but a slack jaw.

I am sustained in this by the idea, felt and stated, my Father has communicated to me: "I know what you can be. I will help you become what you can be. I will help you be worthy of your self-respect. I will help you be more than you have become. I will lead you back into what is true."

I know He will. May my behavior demonstrate my belief. Amen!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Freedom

Doubt is the strongest prison any man struggles within, and the walls of the mind are far more formidable than any structure of stone or steel. - Journeys

And enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard, their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. Soft you now, Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons are all my sins remembered.
- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark III : i.

Doubt and fear are opposed to faith. - Preach My Gospel

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
- JST Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is a principle of action and power.
– Elder Richard G. Scott, October General Conference 2010

Therefore, let us choose faith.
Bishop Richard C. Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric, October General Conference 2010


O God, my help in ages past!


While preparing for sleep last night, I found myself singing a song of my heart. My roommates were all gone; my audience was primarily God. Fear had no place in me, and I was free.

Amidst the swirl of the previous week, I have found peace and power in the assurance of something not seen. This faith in the promises of God has made me free.

In years past, while serving a mission as a representative of God; while turning to God in preparation to serve; while seeking Him for forgiveness for my sins; while crying out to Him in fear as a child; while learning to pray: the powers of darkness have been dispersed from before me, I have been loosed from the chains wherewith I have been bound, and I have been released from oppression. Through Christ, I have been set free.


My hope for years to come!


There is hope, and help, and happiness ahead. Trust in God, and believe in good things to come.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,

So long thy power has blessed me, sure it still will lead me on! O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent till the night is gone! And with the morn those angels faces smile … (“Lead Kindly Light” Hymns no. 97)


There will be family, and success, and joy, and love for all the years to come, if I but act in faith.


“I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him … but because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.

Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith. Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God. Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled. For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.”
- The Book of Mormon, Ether 12:6-12


My shelter from the stormy blast!


I have witnessed this week, these past weeks, the power of the Savior to comfort. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest” - Matt 11:28. It's true – for wounds of the heart, and for wounds of the soul.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. but woman can inflict no torment greater than a man can give himself. A woman's tears teach men lessons of suffering they otherwise could not know. But there is a balm in Gilead, and it soothes the pain of loss and cools the fever of doubt.


And my eternal home!


For me, the ultimate promise of the Savior is to become like my Heavenly Father; parent of the heavenly host, Father of our spirits. My eternal home is with Him, like Him. I will not be alone in the eternities; this is the promise of exaltation.

And so, through faith I can say: Halellujah! The Lord reigneth; His hands are over my life, and blessed be the name of my God for it.

“O God, our help in ages past!
Our Hope for years to come!
Our shelter from the stormy blast!
And our eternal home!”
(“O God, Our Help in Ages Past” Hymns no. 31)


Saturday, September 25, 2010

A birthday...

Thy word is like a lamp unto my feet... (Proverbs)


Fog comes, not on little cat feet, but with the seeping vengeance of a flood. Awaking in the fog of a clouded mind and a stormy heart yields confusion; today was a long struggle to engage my world. The gears of my mind kept slipping off each other in the greasy humidity of the past few days.

The fact that today is my birthday did not alleviate so much as exasperate my struggle; ideally, birthdays are days of reflection and celebration and of faithful, hopeful looking to the future. I took the time to sing today as I have not done in a long while, and the hymns of Zion provided strength, support, and buoyancy in an otherwise sinking morning. Eating lunch with my roommates was fun, as were visiting some friends and helping a classmate. The greatest comfort was speaking with my family, who are ever a source of comfort and strength and loving concern. But despite the points of light, the fog in my soul remained.

Until:

I sat down to read the scriptures. Repeated attempts at prayer had devolved into uneasy sleep, but as I opened to 3 Nephi and read again chapter 22*, and chapter 11, I found surcease from sorrow**, and felt prompted to read my patriarchal blessing.

(For my non-LDS readers, a patriarchal blessing is a piece of specific communication from the Lord to an individual through a patriarch, who acts much like Jacob did while blessing each of his twelve sons. I personally hold this type of communication to be one of the great blessings of the Restoration; a patriarchal blessing like those given by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is quite unlike anything else I've experienced in the LDS Church or in the Baptist or Pentecostal congregations I've attended. It is not quite the same as a father's blessing, or any other blessing I've seen given in any Church - the language used is in intelligible words, but is only correctly interpretable by the recipient. It's a continuing example of how involved the Lord is in our individual lives.)

Reading the words of the Lord to me, in applied scriptures and especially in His direct communication, rolled back the fog from my soul. I could think clearly, my emotions were understandable and negotiable, the weariness fell from my mind and heart, and I regained the opportunity to be thoroughly enthusiastic. I did not burst with joy - but I was back in the present again, reconnected to my world.

Following a feeling, I found myself in a movie that skillfully, comically and interestingly dealt with my precise situation in a way that helped me to be happy, to have a proper perspective, and to gain hope for the future.

In short: The Lord knew my sickness today, and turned my tears into the tonic for my tribulation.

*(A similar passage is found in Isaiah 54: "O, thou afflicted, tossed about with tempests and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires." But the whole chapter is one of comfort and peace.)
**(Paraphrase from Edgar Allan Poe)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Addendum

I had written a long, philosophical case incorporating Kierkegaard and existential Christianity. I may post it later; I don't have the heart for it now.

Instead, one more definition.

Love:

Verb, transitive: To do the correct thing in relation to someone, regardless of the cost to the person or oneself.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Definitions

love:

v. 1 - to feel concern for, to seek the welfare of, to be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of

v. 2 - to enjoy, to find happiness in, to be uplifted by, to be cheered by, to be pleased with

v. 3 - to experience with, to share in or with, to feel alike

n. 1 - a state of being characterizing a mental and emotional attitude of friendship, well-wishing, happiness with, and compassion for someone.

n. 2 - a willingness to give without expectation or rejection of reciprocity

n. 3 - affection

n. 4 - a relationship between two individuals characterized by the above.

n. 5 - a girl with seafoam eyes, red hair, joy in her heart and hope in her soul.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A new man

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day!
Earth's joy grow dim – her glories melt away.
Change and decay in all around I see -
O, thou who changest not – abide with me!
(“Abide with me!” Hymns no. 166, also the concluding quote)

While reading some of my sociological texts, I came across a description of some of the seeming paradoxes of our lives; the need for intimacy in an impersonal world; the trust of unknown strangers in lieu of personal relationships with each of the thousands of individuals who impact our lives. As I was reading, the author identified one of my heart's struggles:

“Our craving for 'deep' and 'wholesome' personal relationships grows in intensity the wider and less penetrable is the network of impersonal dependencies in which we are entangled. ... Everywhere I feel that only a small section of my self is present. I must constantly watch myself not to allow the rest of my self to interfere, as its other aspects are irrelevant and unwelcome in this particular context. And thus nowhere do I truly feel myself; nowhere am I fully at home. All in all, I begin to feel like a collection of the many different roles I play, each one among different people and in a different place. Is there something to connect them? Who am I in the end – the true, real 'I'?” (Bauman, Thinking Sociologically, 99 “Gift and Exchange”).

Bauman was describing the different people we are in the office, in the store, and at a political rally, but I find it describes my personal social movements. I recently told a friend surprised by my behavior that I am “multifaceted;” I ought to have uttered that statement with shame. It is unfortunately true - I act differently around different groups of people. My character varies based on my circumstance. I yearn for wholeness, for oneness, for reconciliation with myself; I long for the integrity I lack.

The Gospel answers Bauman's question. I am a son of God with the potential to become like Him. I wish to Heaven that I lived that answer! That I lived like a son of God in every instant! But I am not yet even a man for all seasons, far less a man for each moment. I saw that in a social event with some friends of mine from my old ward: I could see the history of my relationship with them in their eyes, for good and ill, and I felt myself struggling with the echoes of a man who died in Africa and who I cannot and will not revive.

Africa changed everything. It was a purifying fire. In agony, I prayed more earnestly, and was comforted. The residual and continuing effects of that same Spirit bring me closer to reconciliation. I am reminded somewhat of one of my favorite films, a portion of which I have linked to here. Though I fortunately do not carry the burdens of sexual sin implied in the linked video clip, I feel I too am being led to confront the demons in my soul. The translation is poor, but sufficient for this post, I believe.

Confrontation.


Thankfully – and blessed be the name of my God for it! - I do know that mercy exists through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and that it can be accessed through faith in His power and mercy coupled with sincere repentance.

The Lord promised Saul a new heart. Through the Atonement of Christ, we become a new creature – fitted jointly together, whole. Repentance and and receiving the forgiveness of God brings spiritual healing – again, being made whole. “Behold, He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord remember [his sins] no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43).

Repentance includes restitution – attempting to right the wrongs we - I - have done, including emotional injuries inflicted out of carelessness, selfishness, or fear. As a disciple of Christ, or as one who would follow Him, I can no longer start new and simply jettison my past lives. To allow Him to heal my heart, I must do my part and apologize to those I have hurt. I must face my shame and in humility apologize to girls I have led on, dated briefly, given false hope, and then dashed. Again, I do not speak here of egregious sexual transgression, but even so, to find peace, I cannot simply move on. I must work while the sun shines, before the night of darkness comes, to right as best I can the poor decisions I have made. “And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 12:24). Though it is painful, this semester's associations seem to give me a chance to apologize, to repent, and to develop a different nature with the Lord's help.

This perhaps seems melodramatic; having not committed “great” crimes, why agonize? But what I am discussing here is the substance of a soul's relation to another, the expression of love or hate in daily circumstance. Lives are made up of exactly the types of patterns I describe, in the daily relationships and interactions that define who we are and what we stand for – “every, every moment” (Oscar Wilde, Our Town).

I need thy presence every passing hour!
What but thy grace can foil the tempters' power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine Lord: abide with me!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The sand and the sea

“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force … Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.
- Joseph Smith

"Small pieces of glass get caught in the surf, and smoothed and sanded until they are like clear, colored stones. Sea glass, it's called, and apparently it's quite valuable."
-My mother, in a conversation we had while I was in Africa



I guess the trick to life is to take the punishment patiently and with joy. In Africa, and at home as I deal with the consequences and remainders of my journey to Africa, I have been frustrated many times by the inconveniences, disappointments, requirements, and penalties I feel I am experiencing. Today especially has been difficult in that regard; not due to any great injury, but rather to a thousand small cuts.

In these circumstances, frustration at the great, apparent un-necessity of it all clouds judgment, obscures blessings, and gives anger place in the heart.
I have struggled with these feelings for a few days. The disappointment, frustration, and anger I felt in Africa but could not express came tumbling out of me here. Since I didn't resolve my feelings while I was there, I need to here; but I hadn't wrestled with those thoughts yet, and found only anger in myself when I attempted to do so.

Events of the past few days brought these frustrations to a head, until this evening I was fed up with the school, university, and organizations I'm working with. My sister warned me to reframe things positively, rather than run off on a Dutch sailing barque, as I was only half-jokingly considering.

My family, ever a source of comfort and love, again brought me the answer. My mother suggested that I listen to music.

It has taken me almost an hour and a half of listening to inspired musicians playing the most beautiful pieces of music in history, but the clouds have lifted; I have been able to let go of some of my anger, and I have come to a place where I can forgive.

"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." - William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act. 1 Sc. 1.

"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit ... was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." - 1 Sam 16:23

It's true.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Farewell to Africa

I write from the cabin of a South African Airlines flight home; our plane just swung over Bermuda as we wing our way back to the United States.

The last week was incredible. I had planned goodbyes, and I made them, thanking the wonderful people for the love and support I have been almost universally shown.

But Africa had a series of goodbyes for me as well. I was surprised and pleased to be asked to pray in a Baptist Youth group; I was humbled and honored as a Baptist pastor prayed for me in my last Sunday morning service, I was shocked and shaken when I passed an accident walking to LDS meetings.

I arrived seconds after the accident happened, in time to see the headless body still lying in the road. He was about my age. But there was no fear – only sadness, shock, and a little nausea. I arrived in the stillness after the accident, in the dazed quiet for those who had been involved. I was not part of that scene, but it shook me.

Three and a half hours later, I attended the baptism of four souls; new life in the Lord. There were three women and one man; he was about my age. There was only joy and peace, excitement.

In one day, in one trip, death and rebirth.

O Africa, continent of my soul! From the starving, smiling children, to the praise and worship in the churches, to the headless body in the street: I love you! I weep for you! I pray for you!

Here I have come to better know my God. He lives, He loves me, and He answers my prayers.

Here, I have been loved and taught to love, by my hostess, by my colleagues, and by my new friends.

Here, I have come to know what I want in my career, in my relationships, in my life. Here I found who I am and want to be.

I was almost not allowed to leave this place of change; I spent Tuesday running through South Africa's Department of Home Affairs, sprinting through airports, and catching flights where I was the last passenger and the plane had waited for me. But I have come through, and am on my way home. I feel I completed my purpose here; it is done.

And so I say: Farewell, Africa! Until we meet again!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trust God, and Believe in Good Things to Come

My sister sent me an email this week. In one line, she summed up my experience here perfectly: “I know you've had some serious ups and downs, but I'm glad you've had the chance to be there.” This has been one of the most difficult periods of my life; almost everything I thought I knew about who I am and who I am to be has been dismantled, altered, and has been or is being rebuilt in a new and better way. I have shared some of those experiences with you all. Identity is constructed every day, with every decision, but I believe I am through the storm of it now. I see a clear horizon; perfect blue stretching forever over an ocean that will carry me to places more wonderful than I have yet imagined. I feel free. I feel like I've just broken through the surface after being underwater for a very long time, or like I have awoken after a dream of toil. I feel as though I have woken to the company of friends after being ill and unconscious for days. “In the morn, those angel faces smile which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.” ('Lead Kindly Light,” Hymns no. 97)

I saw a movie on Mormon Messages that was exactly right. I can't post the link here – it's posted on my Facebook page – but I can post this link to the text from which the movie is taken, http://bit.ly/9lZUYI The section about the young father is the part that touched me. Based on my experiences here, and on the great love Heavenly Father has shown me in this time, I do believe in good things to come. I am looking forward to this next year, and to the rest of my life. I don't feel anxiety or stress about it anymore. My heart feels free. My soul is at peace; I feel, I believe I can take joy in the journey, in this sojourn on earth. I feel I can trust God and do what He asks me to do. The hymns of Zion (Thank you, Pres. Brenchley! It has been a great blessing to have my MTC choir director as my Stake President at BYU.) have been instrumental (pardon the pun) in this process of change, of repentance, of forming a new view of myself, of God, and of the world. I could not have come through this process without them, and without the truth and Spirit of God they bring.

I realized today as well – my study has blessed me to have a three month period of change filled with good people, people who love God and serve Him. The Lord has put wonderful people in my life here; everyone from my roommate Brandon to the youth I work with in churches: my life for these three months of vulnerability has been filled with good, even wonderful people. “I feel my Savior's love in all the world around me! His Spirit fills my soul...” “For the joy of human love – brother, sister, parent, child; friends on earth and friends above … Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise!” (“I Feel My Savior's Love,” Children's Songbook no. 74; “For the Beauty of the Earth,” Hymns no. 92)





My youth and advisors - Bro. Shawn, and everyone. I love these guys - working ith the young men has been one of the highlights of my time here.

















I was invited to help chaperone/run a young men, young women's conference in Mdantsane. After hearing a lesson about the fortresses Moroni erected around Nephite cities, the youth had an activity where they built symbolic "spiritual fortresses" with marshmallows and spaghetti. It was pretty fun!























Some of the designs were simple; others quite sophisticated.
















Most didn't pass the hymnal test: can the spiritual structure support the weight of a hymnal?






















One or two, however, stood up against two. I guess it just goes to show that... well, actually, I'm having a hard time drawing a lesson from this. Perhaps that it's how we use what we're given, not what we're given, that makes the difference.























Here is Collin, my hostess' brother, giving a speech at his 60th birthday party. Most of the speeches were in Afrikaans, so Brandon and I just kind of smiled and nodded our heads when everyone laughed at jokes. This was a fun party though- despite my lingering cold, I got out and danced on the dance floor. Brandon posted pictures of me dancing with an 80 year old woman, who motioned for me to dance with her. She was amazingly spry, actually.









This was the wharf on the Buffalo River? right outside the venue where Collin's party was held. The lights were very beautiful; a misty rain was falling, producing a wonderful effect I didn't quite capture here. If anyone has technical photographic acumen, please send me some tips on how to capture this type of picture. Or, for that matter, on how to get good shots indoors - my indoor shots invariably come out grainy or blurry.












Here are two of the youth from Amalinda Baptist Church.













And here's the rest of the crew! These guys have all been great - super helpful, friendly, and welcoming. I've loved spending time with them.









Oi - next week is my last post from Africa. See you then!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Firebird

After last week's post, I received concerned feedback from family members and close friends. I was touched by the display of love and concern from many who thought that I was unnecessarily shedding some – most, almost all– of my future plans. I think that, perhaps, a few more words on the subject will be sufficient to alleviate your fears.


Parents, family, friends: I love you, and I have grown more grateful and appreciative of your love as you have written me with your concerns about the recent change of direction I have decided to take in my life. I truly do appreciate your concern.

I had made plans to juggle three full time careers: international travel, extreme mountain climbing, and LDS education. It is possible to do all of these things simultaneously; I had a plan to live and work in Asian nations as a professional education consultant, and it's a viable plan. But when I have prayed about it recently, I feel more and more that that is not what the Lord wants me to do. More importantly, that plan will not help me be what the Lord would have me be.

The primary focus of my life must be my future family. I've felt that before, which is why I gave up music. It's possible to have a family as a professional singer, but it is a very difficult, constrained possibility. Similarly, although it is possible to have a family and do all of the things I previously wanted to do, my previous goals prioritized my welfare over my family's.

Similarly, climbing mountains – climbing Everest, especially – unrighteously risks my life and my ability to fulfill the things I have been called to do. My primary calling in life must be as a husband and father, followed by my occupational calling as an educator establishing LDS schools. Everything else is tertiary, and if the tertiary things conflict with my core goals, they have to be cut away.

And so, I exercise the principle of triage and redefine myself again. This week has been one of rebirth, as I've shed successive layers of constructed identity in the pursuit of a new and better one. I may no longer even live outside of the United States; although I would still like to live and work in China (and the rumored six figure income directly out of grad school wouldn't hurt either), I understand that I may not be blessed with that opportunity. Even if I am blessed with that opportunity, I understand I may be called to go another way (Alma 22:4).

In this time of meditation and renewal, I have refocused on my original goal of establishing an LDS school system. Since I no longer have other goals in my mind, I have found a lot more energy and fire as I've considered LDS schools. I've gone back over my original notes on the subject, and rediscovered a pure and holy fire that I haven't felt concerning my future for a long time. I feel I've shed a great weight, and that I'm being lifted again on the underlying currents to something much higher.

And I've shed precious time. I'm going to graduate in two semesters, I believe, two semesters and a Spring term if I'm unlucky or unpersuasive. My new major gives me a far greater breadth of options in the education field; international relations supports only international and comparative development education; sociology supports that field, and each of the other education majors in grad school. I want to work in the field of education; sociology gets priority.

Similarly, I gain precious time. One year allows me a year of practical experience in education before I get a doctorate, or makes Teach for America plausible, or other opportunities. If I can get the same benefits at a cost one year less expensive, again sociology gets priority.

But regardless of all the rest, I feel better and happier about my new course of life. I can honestly say that my previous plans weren't making me happy. I think these new ones will.

Much of my personal image, my definition of myself, was wrapped up in travel and international change. The decisions and prayers of the past week have stripped much of that away, and so I am re-orienting myself according to my new paradigm. I ask for your understanding and continued love as I redefine myself.

But know this: my old paradigm was removed. “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 12:11) And though I still see through a glass darkly, I couldn't go back now if I tried. My metamorphosis has already progressed past that point; were I to return to International Relations now, it would not be the same as before. To large degree, the young man from before died, and his successor is different. Better, but different.

Someone counseled me to rely on the Lord in this, concerned that I wasn't doing so in making this decision. This decision has been to rely upon the Lord and His promises concerning my future happiness. This decision was to cross the Rubikon, and to march forth; or rather, to sail forth in an unknown course, in search of a destination I do not see, for a far country that lies beyond the horizon. But I believe in revelation and the Lord's promises. He knows where He is sending me, and I know that this is the right way for me to go. My new life is not as glamorous or exciting or dangerous as my old one; but it is a better life, one filled with more happiness. I'm looking forward to it.

And so, I go forward.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Change of Plans

James 1:5 – If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.

2 Nephi 32:5 – For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

A good friend and mentor of mine talked with me recently about my future. We discussed my plans to travel for the rest of my life, working with foreign governments to set up schools, and climbing mountains in my spare time. He rightfully brought up that my plans were excellent for a young, single man, but that when I had a family, things would become much more difficult. He suggested I consider an American alternative plan, as a back-up, in case I wanted to return to the States, and recommended majoring in Sociology instead of International Relations. I returned that I was confident of my plan, had felt like it was what the Lord wanted me to do, and that was that. My friend urged me to reconsider, to spend more time in prayer, and to think about my future family's welfare. I agreed, and prayed again, but felt, still, confidence in what I was doing.

However, in the period of discussing with my friend and asserting confidence, I was also in deep trouble. I didn't feel close to the Lord, I felt unsure of what He wanted me to do, and I felt confused and frustrated in many of my activities. During this time, also, my scripture study had decreased to a bare minimum, mostly in order to say to myself that I had done something; I had allowed my studies and my social life to take priority over other, more important things. This was a dark period.

Coming here to Africa was a humbling experience. As I have described in earlier posts, and in the Field Study blog posts, I struggled adjusting to a new culture, to a new set of rules, to the workload, and to the people around me. This process literally brought me to my knees. In retrospect, the things I was going through seem small and manageable, but at the time they were remarkable obstacles that I despaired of overcoming. Somewhat broken, I learned in prayer that I am not to travel forever, and that I indeed need an American plan. I assumed I would simply pursue a different graduate degree program, and carried on.

As I have written more and considered more than I have taken time to do since serving a mission, a whole series of small course changes have come. Like a rolling stone gaining momentum, these have become more frequent and have had greater impact as I have followed them. The promptings have led me to study the scriptures and General Conference, (www.lds.org Look in Gospel Library,General Conference) more intensely, to pray more sincerely, and to be more honest with myself and the Lord. I feel that for the past year or more, “I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore, I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore, I went on rebelling against God in the wickedness of my heart until the fourth (in my case, fourteenth) day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year...” (Alma 10:6). I have been taught and reminded concerning certain things I have felt prompted to do, and not to do. As I have accepted and acted on the initial promptings, additional promptings have come.

And so, I have had a change of plans. Rather than risk my life and my future family's husband and father for personal accomplishment, I won't climb the Seven Summits. Similarly, though I may live abroad at some point, I will prepare for a career in the United States for the sake of my future wife and family. And, at last, I have also decided that I will change my major to sociology and pursue the opportunities attendant to that degree.

My plans now are to work very hard to graduate in the next thirteen months. I am confident that with the help of the Sociology secretary – who I pray will be merciful in transferring my work from IR into sociology (thereby waiving some of the courses I need to take), I can finish the sociology major in two semesters and a summer. After graduation, I will pursue Teach For America, and earn a Master's degree while involved with the program. From there, I will have theoretical, practical, and publication experience sufficient to pursue a doctoral degree. In this way, I should be finished with my education in the next six years, allowing me to begin a career fully just before my twenty-eighth birthday. From there, I will work in China, or elsewhere as the opportunity to establish LDS schools presents itself.

At each stage of planning, at each stage of revelation, the plans have evolved. The history of what I have felt is right for my life is a series of discreet plans, each better than the last. Interestingly, I prayed about a plan for my life just a few weeks ago, and felt like the Lord accepted it as a plan. The fact that it has since changed is rather immaterial; the first was given by revelation – or accepted by revelation, and I feel that my new one is as well. I anticipate that there will be changes in the future, but until the Lord reveals them to me, I will pursue the path I have with all my heart.

One great lesson from this summer is that Lord really does give guidance specific and accurate for where we are at that moment, and then leads us forward to become whom he wants us to be. When we go in the wrong direction, if we seek Him and are seeking Him, He leads us back in the way we should go. As we go forward, he steers us in the way we need to go at that time. That process of revelation causes changes in us, leads us to learn and grow and become whom He would have us be. If the Lord had simply commanded me to study sociology originally, I would not have learned the important lessons or made the important friendships that I did in Kansas City as a vocal performance major. My testimony of the Gospel would probably not have been strengthened as it was by the experiences I had in Kansas City. At BYU, I would not have taken Econ 110, which let me study under one of grandfather's few remaining colleagues in the last year before that colleague retired. That professor helped me wrench open my mind to the scientific study of human behavior at the collective level. From that class, I learned to seek evidence of the truth of the Gospel in the aggregate behavior of individuals, and to see “angels in the architecture” of society (“You can call me Al,” Paul Simon. Negotiations and Love Songs). I wouldn't have taken the introductory courses in political science or geography, or the research methods courses in political science and anthropology which have so blessed my life, pried open my understanding, and opened my eyes to a more brilliant sunlight of inquiry, knowledge, and truth.

Therefore, I don't regret the two and a half years I've spent studying in other fields; the Lord has blessed me through it. And I don't resist this course correction; I know He will bless me in this change of plan as well.

“Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldst go.” (Isa. 48:17)

“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. ...“ (D&C 78:18)


















A really cool door, somewhere near my home. This house is slightly unusual in that it doesn't havea wall or fence, or razor wire around it. These are the "Big 5" that safari seekers come to Africa to see.













Over the past two weeks, I've watched an apparentky homeless family rake away grass, burn the ground, and then hoe in lines across this patch of former brush. I assume they're going to grow something there. This is across the road, maybe two hundred yards from our house. Interestingly, as I stopped to take a picture, someone walking by said, "This isn't the safest place to do that, you know." We live next to a cemetery where a lot of squatters sleep (it's about three houses down from us.) Sometimes I forget how much poverty exists in this country; I don't think these people would be clearing this field if they had a better option.









Prayer cards, containing prayer requests from the youth of Amalinda Baptist Church.























I'm not entirely sure why I took this picture - I think it was to point out the big cloud front that had just rolled over us.
Sadly, I forgot my camera on the YSA Sports day, so I don't have pictures from that. Just imagine all the YSAs from East London holding up a first place trophy instead of this picture.












And here is me today. I wrote the post yesterday while I was healthy; today I'm running a fever. Brandon thought I looked pretty funny and snapped a pic, and then got one with my camera as well.