None, not even the lumbering dolts, shall offend them

My family was present at the burial of President Hinckley. Along the with rest of the extended family, we stood across the cemetery road, looking on as the Quorum of the Twelve and the children of the 15th LDS president paid their very final respects. Then, before the grandchildren all laid a single flower on the casket, the Apostles left. Their cars were parked on the street we lined up along. As they drove past, some of us waved to them and most waved back. Elder Bednar did not, but kept his face straight ahead, looking very serious. His lack of acknowledgement for people all but eighteen inches from his car offended my aunt. Of course, if we are to believe Elder Bednar, it's all my aunt's fault for taking umbrage at his actions.

Surely, there's some truth to the idea that we choose how to react to the stupid, bumbling, inaccurate, and rude things people around us say and do. But, am I the only one who is worried that the general conference talk was not on the subject of minimizing those actions but rather, sucking it up and accepting them? The unstated implication seems to be that we, as Church members, don't really need to consider our actions, as we can't really do anything offensive. Nor do we really need to minister to the needs of individuals, just get them back into activity. It becomes an excuse for us to blame those who have chosen, sometimes for valid reasons, usually after devastating emotional battles, to disengage from Mormonism.

This talk ends with a call for fellowshipping, but, as usual, Mormons are missing the boat. For some reason, there's this sense that only when someone's in trouble or weak or new do they need the comfort of feeling ministered to, accepted and needed by the kingdom. When we approach community building from this angle, it makes every act of fellowshipping look like a reactivation or retention project. Instead, shouldn't we focus on helping all of God's children feel comfortable, respected and useful?

However, I've run away from my initial intention for this post. Yesterday, in sacrament, this talk was referenced, specifically the aspect that when we are offended we are being petty, small-minded, un-godlike creatures. Then, later in the same talk, the speaker mentioned that we need to be careful to avoid those works which offend the spirit. Wait a minute, is the spirit becoming something to be acted upon here? Surely, if he's a member of the Godhead, he can get past these minor things we might do.

Once again, I'm only asking that we try to be consistent. I mean, in an ideal world, we'd recongize that offense is possible and that addressing the root causes is critical. But, I fear what will really happen is that we'll just revamp the phrase "offend the spirit". Since, after all, whatever is said in General Conference is scripture and supercedes logic, history or good sense. And that, to be honest, really bruises me.

Pas dans nos écoles!

Don't get me wrong. I'm just as much against world peace and mutual understanding across cultures as the next guy. Oh, and championing health care for the devastatingly poor and asserting the rights of women and children is for sissies, clearly. So I totally get why Utah State Senator Margaret Dayton is opposed to funding International Baccalaureate programs with their support for the "U.N. agenda". I'm not making this up. Those are her exact words (see here).

This is the sort of argument that no one could see coming. I mean, it'd be fine to say that the IB program unfairly singles out gifted children, or is a waste of school funds when there's a robust AP program. I have no problem with those, logically, as I obviously have problems with them politically. But to call the entire program anti-American? How do you respond to that? I wonder if it's the word Baccalaureate that's got this woman so freaked out. That sounds French, right? And we all know the French are the most anti-American people in the world. The number of French terrorists is staggering, really.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Utah is, to my knowledge, the only state with a town that is formally, per ordinance, not part of the U.N. I think it'd be really funny to get some blue berets and fatigues and go strolling down the main drag of La Verkin sometime. Even better, I could get some Francophone friends to head down there and chat it up as we stroll.

While this is perhaps not the lowest point for the State Legislature (I think you'd be hard-pressed to top the argument from one Solon who claimed that city folks just don't get the pressures in rural life that lead to bestiality), I think it really shatters any hope you may have of Utah being, you know, normal. On the plus side, our kids will no longer be forced to learn about China in schools. Because, as we all know, that's one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Who wants to visit Kansas?

I've written before about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. They make me so angry, I can barely contain myself. I want to throw stones at them. However, that's not the best route (yet).

But, someone has organized something actually less-knee jerk: A Million Fag March. I'm sort of mixed about the chances this has of doing anything meaningful. On one hand, it gives the WBC more publicity, something they clearly live for. However, if the group of concerned citizens, gay or not, are willing to go and stand around this church and not do anything rash, it might show Phelps and his ilk that he's got more than just a handful of evil liberals to contend with. Either way, it's history in action.

So, March 30, 2008. I'm seriously considering buying a ticket to Kansas. Anybody want to tag along?

Sometimes, life-affirming novels just remind me how little there is to live for

I hate, or maybe secretly love, it when I read a book that is highly praised and turns out to be total tripe. To some extent, this is to be expected in genre fiction, so I can look past the folks who wet themselves over The Da Vinci Code, anything by James Patterson, or the latest Danielle Steele. But what about the philosophical novel? Surely the folks who line up behind these have good taste, non?

Apparently not. I finished reading Veronika Decides to Die a couple of days ago. I've heard several folks call this a favorite book and go on and on about how it changed their lives. If that's the case, maybe they need to read a bit more. Or, at the very least, learn how to pick books that Oprah hasn't endorsed. If these people read, say, an Iris Murdoch, would their heads explode?

The book follows the story of Veronika, an unhappy Slovene who decides to kill herself because life is the same thing over and over. Her plan is foiled when she wakes up in a mental hospital and is told she's only got a few days to live, the pills she swallowed having damaged her heart. She meets some folks in the hospital, none of whom are actually mentally ill. By half way through, you know what's going to happen by the end, so you're not really surprised when the young "schizophrenic" (apparently the Portuguese word for the disease actually means "spoiled, sullen young man who flees all responsibility and lets a young woman debase herself sexually in front of him") boy and Veronika run away and live, live, LIVE! Yep, the point of all this is that life is worth living. Of course, Coelho doesn't get mental illness at all, nor present us with characters who wouldn't have a reason for not living. Hint: if all your characters are beautiful, articulate, successful and, more often than not, young with no problems to deal with bigger than being told they can't be artists, you've missed the point.

The novel started out promising: a little PoMo authorial voice, a good pace, some interesting characters. But it fell apart, became banal and obvious and tedious. We learn such valuable lessons as the idea that insanity is just living outside the consensus. That's about as deep as the philosophy runs. While patently false, this also highlights Coelho's treatment of mental instability. Basically, there's no problem that some love, air and maybe a like-minded chum can't solve in his vision of a mental hospital. No one there has a real problem and it's unclear if anyone there is actually suffering from anything other than low-level malaise. The kind that usually ends with a drinking binge or a new pair of shoes, not a hospitalization. Aside from his terrible misapprehension of real psychological problems, Coelho also makes a scary case for dubious ethics in the handling of such cases.

It's heartening to learn that Coelho is mistrusted in his native Brazil. That is novels contain typographic errors and he's considered a bit on the fluffy side. So now I'm left to wonder why the rest of the world just doesn't get it. At least I've got a new litmus test for potential friends. After all, isn't that what education is all about: becoming charming enough for cocktail parties while learning which type of folks to avoid at the very same events?

Bye bye beardie

I had no fewer than ten people today ask me what happened to my forehead. They thought it was bruised. I'm not certain what they imagined me doing where I would have one small, very black bruise right in the middle of my forehead. In a vaguely cruciform pattern, even. Of course, over half those folks had no idea what I was talking about when I started to explain Ash Wednesday. Clearly, I'm working in a very cultured, well-informed environment. I ended up going to a mass in the middle of my work day. I figured I wouldn't be needed, plus the snow this am made me miss the 7:30 am service. Going at 9 did mean that I was there with the school kids (the parish church is part of a private school). Is there anything cuter than first graders giving each other the sign of peace? I don't think so.

I think I gave my entire face razor burn yesterday. The beard is gone, but I've had this odd sensation of heat radiating from my face all day. Hopefully I didn't damage the flesh too badly.

Lastly, I learned today that my library is going to become a shared service point for the current school and another school (owned by the same parent company) that offers degrees in business, education and psychology. I can think of only a few areas where the thought of collection development disgusts me more than those. And the thought of having to help students find the size of the bicycle market in Korea or other such nonsense is almost enough to make me break out in hives. Pursuant to this new tidbit, my growing dissatisfaction with life in general, and the increased number of job openings this time of year means I may try in earnest to find another job. If only it weren't so much work. Or rather, if only I were an attractive candidate.

So long, comestibles!

I just finished the last solid-food lunch that I will eat until Easter. I'm trying the Lenten fast again this year. It will be trickier given the facts that a. I "work" full-time now, b. I live at home in a place where i. cooking for oneself is frowned upon and ii. my parents are still trying out some sort of modified reduced carb diet (yep, there are still folks who do that, apparently) and c. my access to fruit source bars has been curtailed (though, I have located a substitute at Target, of all places). That last one isn't a major problem, but I did have a fruit source bar with every single meal last Lent, so it's going to change my routines. Fortunately, I've discovered the joy that are Lärabäre (my whimsical plural of Lärabar). These are, in a word, amazing. Too bad they cost so much. Or rather, more's the pity I'm a cheapskate.

I'm also shaving off my beard tonight and intend to stay clean-shaven for the duration of Lent. It's sort of a penance thing, I suppose. Though, since proper disposition ain't coming by Easter, the whole idea of preparing myself to be worthy for the body and blood of Christ is iffy. Regardless, I could use a bit of a spiritual jumpstart and nothing says dedication to God like arbitrary boundaries, right?

I am not, however, giving up movies this year. I'm giving up some other things that are, perhaps, not appropriate to share on this public forum. So I figure if I can keep it together for the fast and these other things, I deserve a flick now and then.

I love this time of year. The beginning of Lent means that winter's on the way out. It reminds me how far I fall from the intentions of God while still keeping the hope of Easter alive. And, it lets my little fanatic do what it wants for a while. If y'all haven't tried Lent before, I strongly recommend you think of something to give up. It'll really help to rededicate yourself to being a generally good person regardless of your pro- or anti-Jesus views. Seriously, this is best time of year in my book. Plus, I get to have waffles tonight, what more could I ask for?