Missing the point

"I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down."
-Joseph Smith

Today, while sitting at the FLIF table, I had opportunity, twice, to bear witness of the Word of Wisdom. At least, that's how the more religious would see it. I felt myself just explaining it. Both times involved library school colleagues. One asking if I ate chocolate, what with the caffeine, and the other one was just getting to know me, asked if I was Mormon, then said "I don't really know much about Mormonism. Is that word? Well, no coffee, right?"

So, I got to explain my intepretation of the Word of Wisdom, or at least, the part that doesn't require me to go off about the early Utah economy or the use of wine in the Q12 sacrament meeting until the 1900s, my frustration that the about half of the revelation (mostly about grains and not eating meat) is simply ignored, und so weiter. The crux, though, was that the Word of Wisdom has nothing, not even the slightest, to do with caffeine. The reason we don't drink coffee and tea is because that's the way Heavenly Father likes it, as it were.

I get frustrated when I hear the WoW defended or rationalized with the caffeine argument, or the damage caused by alcohol, etc. In fact, I don't really see the WoW as a health code, actually. I mean, sure, the ideas do relate to bodily health and part of the promise is that very health, but it's really more about obeidience than anything. If you rely on it being strictly for health reasons, you get into trouble. Most pressingly, different scientific discoveries can wreck havoc. Such as finding that a single glass of wine may be beneficial to health. Science is helpful and necessary for some people in understanding parts of the commandment, but not for me.

I think it belittles God and the nature of section 89 to ground it in such naturalistic elements. It suggest that, as mortals, are at the point to understand God. I take great comfort, paradoxically, in not understanding. I like the notion that God is our Father and, like earthly fathers, He tells us what to do and we should obey, not because we understand everything but because we think he's got our best interests in mind. He's not always rational, according to our standards, but he's consistent in His sphere. I find it perfectly acceptable to say, "the Word of Wisdom helps us avoid the problems of addiction", because that's true. But it may or may not be the underlying message. Personally, the message I see has more to do with briddling passions and making the body compliant with the spirit.

Also, focusing on the health aspect really misses the greater blessing and the reason for the name of the revelation. Not only will it bring health to our navels, but we will find "wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures" if we live it. I think this means God wants us to look at this law as moving beyond the temporal.

I like basic Mormon conversations that stay at this level. I get to be a good representative of my people without explaining in detail how I feel about continuing revelation, divine authority, and fidelty to leaders. I guess this probably makes me one of the weakest of those who can be called saints, doesn't it?

My talent

I have this knack. Say I'm carrying something and happen to trip, fall, bump into someone, or otherwise experience the forces of what some call physics (I call it magic). For some reason, whatever I'm carrying comes out (mostly) unmolested. The plate of cookies stay on, the pile of books maintains order, or, in the case of today, the box overflowing with Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom paraphernalia does not spill or even get knocked on the ground. It does, however, knock my chest. I think this skill has developed from years of not really living up the "Mountain Goat" that is my middle name.

Today's fall came about like this: I was schlepping a hefty box back to the library school after a successful table display in honour of Freedom to Read Week. It contained postcards, pamphlets, candy, and (best of all) books that have been challenged. We decided to go very visual this year and said challenged books are in chains. It's fantastic really. Especially when an African immigrant who's English is so-so stops to demand "Why those books in chains! Why you do that? What wrong with you?" But, at any rate, walking down the stairs with this large box in front of me, only half-paying attention to where I'm stepping when I miss the final step. I come down, hard, on the outside of my right foot, fall slowly backwards and land, both hands still on the box in the same spot when I was vertical, the box planted on my chest.

Now, the only aftermath is a throbbing, dull pain in my foot/ankle that is getting progressively worse as the evening wears on. I'm just going to have faith that it'll heal real soon. I don't think the fact that I have to walk everywhere is really going to help the situation. But, I wouldn't really want to, after nearly two full school years of avoiding it, become familiar with the Canadian health care system. I've heard rumors. Specifically, that doctors harvest your organs at the drop of a hat and then leave you to bleed to death. Or is that doctors illegally working in London hotels? I'm perennially confusing the two. Plus, they've only had antibiotics in Canada for, like, three years now.

Personally, I think it's God punishing me for being a little too keen on getting flirted up by the trig young man who wanted to talk about hate speech laws in Canada. Or it's meaningless. But, being the good Mormon I am, I think I'll read something into it. Something that makes me feel guilty.

It started with the chicken

Yesterday, ridicuously pleased that I could eat anything I wanted to (and not hesitating to ingetst copious amounts of cheese), I decided to have chicken for dinner. It started out as just some nice, panfried chicken, nothing fancy. Then, I noticed that my bananas were turning brown. After a moment of thought, I decided to mash a banana and cook the chicken in that. Then, as I was piecing together a salad, I figured apples would make a nice addition to the banana chicken mishmash. So those went in, too. Finally, I finally got around to using the last of my potatoes that I cut up a couple days ago by throwing them in as well. The result, garnished with some nutmeg, of course, was suprisingly delcious, if a bit on the too sweet side. I'm glad that my glee that I thought was carrying me away into being eccentric actually turned out delicious.

WIWOMM stories

There are two types of mission stories that people share in informal settings: incidental and generalizations. The first is completely acceptable to me. I understand that you have spent two years of your life doing this work and had experiences. These stories, though, are generally not spiritual. A good example is my dad's mission companion who only ate oatmeal for two months in order to save up to buy a tape recorder. Then, the very day he got the tape recorder, it fell off his bike and smashed into hundreds of pieces. You see, funny. And it doesn't require that you've been a missionary to enjoy it.

The other type, the generalizations, usually start with "People in Tonga..." or "There's this really funny thing about Wisconsonite culture..." (Both of which I heard yesterday). These stories can go either ways. The thing about midwesterns may, in fact, be funny. Or, as is way too often the case, it's not. And, it's not even true. It's a stupid pattern some very narrowly exposed nineteen to twenty-one year olds noticed. And, they often shut down any sort of conversation. I mean, what on earth can I say to someone who's just told me about the problems of moldy clothes brought about my Tonga's humidity? The problem, of course, is that these RMs find their stories and experiences endlesly fascinating and consider that others should too. Granted, I'm the king of finding myself interesting, but that's a different issue. I am interesting, it's proven.

I found myself stuck in the middle of a supremely irriating exchange of generalizations yesterday. All I could was sit in the back seat and shake my head at the inane things they would share. Or be reminded how badly I fall outside the culture of the men in my church. To wit: "hot wife points". It started like this: the two passengers (including me) were offering heartfelt thanks for the ride. The driver begged off saying he was perfectly cool with serving. The other passenger then shared the idea of "hot wife points", supposedly a currency you earn through serving or through tribulation that you can then cash in for, that's right, an attractive eternal companion. I've heard variations on this theme and it always starts (though, sadly does not always die) with missionaries. Now, that's a true step forward in the view of women. Sure, you can't buy them with money, but this new currency of hot wife points makes sure they're still pretty close to chattel, where they belong.

At some point, the conversation turned to "dear johning" and I shared my recently learned tidbit (props to Claudia Bushman) that, of couples that promise to wait for each other over the boy's mission, only 3% end up getting married (and only 10% actually resume the relationship at all once he's back). I shared this not only to spread word abroad of factoids, but to become involved in the discussion. After sharing it, both guys then claimed that's why they didn't get involved seriously with anyone before their missions. They "knew the odds", as they put it. If I were as catty in speech as I am in thought, I would have said, "oh, really? I'm sure there's more reasons than that..." (basically, I didn't find them in much need of a stick to beat off girls, if you know what I mean).

I should have taken the first my inclination and begged a ride from some of the sisters. Sure, it would have been just as awkward, but I'm sure I wouldn't have been reminded how far outside the general realm of Mormon manhood I fall.

I'm giving up food for Lent

Today is Mardi Gras, or as I prefer, Shrove Tuesday. I didn't shrive today, partly because I'm not Catholic and partly because I just did so on Sunday. Well, it wasn't really so much of a shriving as it was the acquiring of a temple recommend, but close enough in non-Catholic circles. At any rate, with today being Shrove Tuesday, that means that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It's also the time of year when I decide to give something up in what one of my friends calls "finding arbitrary ways to punish yourself". This year, I'm giving up food.

Ok, not really. But pretty close. I'm going to do a full-scale Lenten fast. That means no meat, dairy or eggs for the duration. Oh, and only one meal a day. So, it's like insta-vegan. Insta-reduced-caloric-intake-vegan. It should be an interesting time. Now, since it's the old school fast, I'm also doing an old school Lent, which means that I won't be fasting on Sundays (I'm still undecided about what to do on Fast Sundays that fall between now and Easter). This, of course, is in an effort to stave off some hideous form of malnourishment or other malady that cold turkey, one meal a day veganism might bring on.

For those who are booing or clicking their tongues or thinking ill of me, I'm also giving up movies and tv for the entire period between tomorrow and Easter. So, I'm not entirely slagging off.

I also get to go to mass tomorrow just after noon, thanks to it being reading week and not having class. I love this time of the year. If only I weren't just play acting and really were Catholic...

alea's ecclesiastical calendar

Mormon New Year (April 6th)

What celebrated
: Organization of the Church in Fayette. LDS tradition hold this is also the birthday of Jesus, but some dispute this. Because of its special place in LDS tradition, various events were aligned to fall on it, such as the St. George and Salt Lake Temple Dedications and the annual general conference of the Church for many years always fell on this date (but back then, there were even more sessions than the current five).

How to celebrate
: Cupcakes. Cupcakes for Jesus.

Martyrdom or Joseph Day (June 27th)

What celebrated: The deaths of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum in Carthage Jail. Being held after ordering the destruction of the anti-Mormon Nauvoo Expositor's press, Joseph and others were attacked by a mob bent on his death. Final words "O Lord, my God..." may or may not have been the start of Masonic identification of assistance.

How to celebrate: Please direct questions to Petra. Despite strident pleas and the fact that we were actually together for one Joseph Day, she has yet to take part in the traditional form of recognition.

Pioneer Day (July 24th)

What celebrated: Though the scouts for the pioneers entered the valley on July 21st (pls note: the fact that alea was also born on that date must be no mere coincidence), this is the day that Brigham propped himself up in his wagon and said, "This is the right place. Drive on." Mormons had finally found a land that truly no one else wanted (Tony Kushner later writes one Mormon character as saying "It's a promised land, but what a disappointing promise"). In the tense days leading up to the Manifesto, proposals of shifting settlement south to Mexico, north to Canada, west to California or Oregon, or far, far north to Alaska were considered. For everyone who complains about Utah, keep that last one in mind. We could be centered in Alaska.

How to celebrate: Parades, bbqs and, of course, fireworks. It helps if you can lord over others the fact of your personal pioneer heritage.

Haun's Mill Massacre Memorial Day (Oct 30th)

What celebrated: The attack on Mormon settlement at Haun's Mill, Missouri (settled contrary to the wishes of Church leaders). Not much in the way of a massacre, really, as the death toll was around 20 with a dozen or so wounded.

How to celebrate: Inform those around of the day. Breathe cursings out on Missouri.

Utah day (Jan. 4th)

What celebrated: Admission of Utah into the Union as the 45th State, a mere 49 years after first Mormons arrive (and after a measly 8 attempts at statehood).

How to celebrate: party/meal of Utahn foods. Funeral potatoes and some sort of jello required.

Three Degrees (Feb. 16th)

What celebrated: Joseph & Sidney Rigdon's 1832 vision (recorded as section 76 of the D&C) of the Three Degrees of Glory. Thanks to this vision, and subsequent enlargements by prophets, Mormonism does not have a proper hell and the overwhelming majority of mankind receive some form of salvation.

How to celebrate: Something baked, possibly ironic. A good example is cookies in the shape of the symbols of the three degrees (sun, moon, star).

Holidays under advisement

Ministering of Angels (May 15th)

What would be celebrated: The appearance of John the Baptist to Joseph & Oliver. He restores the Aaronic Priesthood and Joseph & Oliver later baptize each other. Joseph has the odd experience of baptizing someone before he himself is baptized.

Revelation (June 1st)

What would be celebrated: Announcement of the revelation to Spencer W. Kimball that members of African ancestry can hold the priesthood. Reverses nearly a century and a half of Church practice and its attendant horrors of justification for the ban by lay members. Note: it is my personal opinion that one reason Harold B. Lee's presidency was so short was to hasten the time of this change.

Miracle of the Gulls (June 9th)

What would be celebrated: Miraculous (though use of term somewhat contested) appearance of seagulls to gorge on crickets attacking Utah pioneer's first crop. Supposedly, the birds would eat their fill, fly off to regurgitate and repeat (one is tempted to say ad nauseum but will refrain).

Call of Joseph (Sept. 21)

What would be celebrated: Visit of Angel Moroni to Joseph, first recorded vision since famous First Vision. Joseph, up to this point, had been told all churches were wrong, but seems a bit uncertain what to do with that information. After this point, he actively begins preparation/training to translate the Book of Mormon and fulfill his prophetic destiny.

Endless Genealogies (Nov. 13th)

What would be celebrated: Date of the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Utah, but could be more broadly focused on the efforts of the Church to seek out and save as many dead as possible. Mention of the Granite Vaults would be encouraged, as would temple worship for the deceased.

the eros of Nephi

Am I the only one to find this image of Nephi a bit...phallic? And with the Liahona just below waist-level, it sure doesn't help.

Seek ye out of the best books

While this may not be a sign of the impending apoclypse, it can't be a good thing. Who really needs a Gospel-centered grammar book anyways? And is it really doing any student, Latter-day Saint or no, any good to frame all U.S. in LDS commentary and belief? Also, note how overly religious the topic in that "American history" book are.

If you're keen, you can buy the books here.

Threads of Liberty by DeGraff and DeGraff - $45.00 + S & H

Threads of Liberty is the first civics/government textbook which incorporates the history and principles upon which our Constitution and Bill of Rights were conceived plus LDS scripture and commentary by prophets and general authorities. This high school text asks it's readers the question: If you were the "single thread" referred to by Joseph Smith, how secure would our Constitution be? The authors of this text believe teaching about the founding of America and our Constitution without the inclusion of religion and the role of divine providence is not history, it is fiction. Time periods covered include the: Protestant Revolution, Puritan migration, American Colonies, Great Awakening, Constitutional Convention plus landmark Supreme Court cases which have unraveled the Constitution's original intent.

Liahona Grammar Series by Tracy Willburn, PhD.

This series of grammar books is very different from most approaches to teaching grammar. First, it uses a gospel context to invite the spirit and help students look at grammar in everyday situations with which they are familiar. Secondly, it believes that grammar is best taught by the study of good writing and then emulating those writing principles. Current research is showing that a writing-based grammar program is more effective in teaching students to write well than the present over-use of rote exercises found in most grammar texts.

Vaguely false doctrine

There are things that are said across the pulpit that are patently false/absurd (e.g. if you had enough faith, you wouldn't be sick ever). These ones are fairly easy to combat and mock and generally deal with. However, there are some things that brush up alongside false doctrine while not, perhaps, being it themselves. These are persistent myths (this generation is the strongest yet); possible, if offensive, rationalization for church policy (Alvin Dyer and the blacks were unworthy in the pre-existence platform); or just poorly constructed sentences that suggest something other than what the speaker implies (like the time a young woman told the entire congregation that they were spiritually dead and had no chance to change that). The problem here is that you often can't nail down what's heretical about what they've said or done, but you know there's something off.

Fortunately, this Sunday we only had straight up false doctrine from the front of the gym that serves as a chapel (which is another question I have. You build an institute, which is essentially a church building, but don't actually include a chapel? Isn't that a bit...odd?). First, a seemingly nice congregant was dealing with chastity. She went the standard routes pretty much but then informed us that the law of chastity includes not just actions or thoughts, but also feelings. So, if you're having unclean feelings you're in a state of sin. I'm pretty sure that's just not the case. In fact, Elder Oaks has used this time and again to explain same-gender attraction in a way that doesn't make all strugglers hopelessly sinbound. In the lengthy, somewhat problematic interview given at lds.org on the issue, he says:

The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression.

Granted, there may be some fine distinction between inclination and feeling and I'll be the first to agree that sexual feelings can be both unbidden and bidden and that latter category can certainly be split further into controlled/benign and straight-up transgression. Regardless, what she taught is not, even in a very loose sense, true.

The second piece came from my bishop, about whom I have surprisingly mixed feelings. He's very friendly and nice and he's a convert (he entered the waters in his mid/late-twenties), so those are bonuses. But, I also get a sense that he's not really sure how to fill the episcopal role. It probably doesn't help that he's got an overbearing former bishop for a first counselor (who always puts my teeth on edge). I say surprisingly mixed feelings for because I do not clearly like or dislike him as I have all my previous common judges in Israel. To put it another way, I'd probably do something he asked of me but wouldn't necessarily believe he's telling me to do the right thing.

At any rate, he's talking about what we should hold sacred. Our bodies, our language, our chapels (which he asserted should not be any less holy than the temple). He did trot out the reverence in the chapel issue, which I think misses almost the entire point of meeting together oft. We don't get to together to reflect, but to teach and be taught, to serve those around us and have general communion with the saints. But, my major stumbling block came in his discussion of our appearance. He went the route of no tattoos or piercings (which is an odd rule, because why is it appropriate for women to have one in each ear and not, say, a total of three. I chalk this up to policy of an aging generation). He then brought up the argument, "some will say, it's what's on the inside that counts." To shoot this down, he suggested that, our exterior shows the state of our interior. So a tattoo is the indication of a filthy soul. His comment could have been throwaway, but it was pointed enough to show he wasn't messing around.

Several problems here. First of all, it denies the fact that people could make bad decisions in the past and not be branded evil forever. Or, alternatively, could not be in transition from one point to another and have appearance lagging behind. Secondly, it reinforces the ridiculous over-emphasis on the outward that allows us to shun anyone who doesn't look like it. Thirdly, it falsely suggests that if you're clean on the outside, your inside is likewise spotless. It just angers me to see how easy it'd be to misuse or misunderstand what he was trying to teach. And it makes me a little sad, as it honours conformity over all else.

Sometimes, I really wonder why I'm still going to church at all.

European onomastics

There is a set of names which I really like. The only problem with these names is that they are not, strictly speaking, English. Even worse, they are non-English forms of ones that exist in English, some nothing more than a matter of pronunciation. So, while I really wish I could consider using the following set of monikers for my offspring (assuming, of course, I reproduce, which is questionable), I could only do so if I were to marry someone who's ties to the Old World are a bit stronger than mine. Otherwise, it'd just look like I was trying to be difficult and/or make my kid's life hard.

  • Gerrit (said like the Dutch would with a an initial [j])
  • Irena (said like almost any other language, but I am particularly drawn to the Russian way)
  • Prudenzia (in Italian, or its German cousin)
  • Paolo (again, Italian)
  • Friedrich (though, this is my great-grandfather's name so maybe I could slide it in)
  • Etienne (but, I'd never really inflict that name on a boy)
  • Sophia (with initial [z])
  • Katerina (reference to a Slav)
  • Josef (any number of central/eastern European languages where j isn't an affricate)

Random sampler

I'm not really up for writing a whole entry, so instead, some bullets:

  • There was a freezing rain storm today. I wish it had been brutal, but it was very light and wasn't even that cold. But, the droplets of water frozen to any metal object made it look like all the handrails were sweating ice.

  • EPL's subscription to NoveList is restricted to in-house use. The error message you receive when you try to sign in remotely shows that someone wanted to have a little fun: Sorry, this fine product only works inside the library walls.

  • For my practicum, I'm copy-cataloguing some Chinese books. I don't begin to pretend to speak Chinese (which, by the way, is considered monolithic by the Library of Congress--Mandarin & Cantonese are dialects), so it's sort of iffy. Sometimes the records include some beautifully ill-translated or overly specific summaries, such as these two:

    A story about a young boy who faced a hard time when his father ran away from home and mother got a mental disorder. But he stood still and got through this tragedy.

    Teh Luu Luu the lioin was so timid that if a leaf dropped on his head he got scared out of his wits. When he met a tiger, a panther or a cat he got frightened and ran away, and as he ran away his body shrank all the way down to the size of a mouse. Later he met a mouse and the two timid creatures became good friends. One day Teh Luu Luu heard his friend's cry for help and he rushed towards the cat, and strangely, became larger until he was the size of the cat. With Teh Luu Luu becoming bigger and smaller, what else wil happen to him?
    (note:this book is a picture book of less than 30 pages. Quite the extensive plot there, isn't there?)

  • Next week, we're sitting for graduation photos. The photos are individual shots which are then compiled into a single frame for hanging in the library school. I'm trying to decide if I should leave the beard, as it represents approximately half my time here, or shave, because I simply look better without it. I'd appreciate thoughts on the matter.