Thursday, December 09, 2010


One of the privileges of unclehood is the opportunity to corrupt young minds. Early and often. This is sometimes achieved intentionally. For instance, due to my direct intervention, my almost-four-year-old niece now believes that the correct answer to
Why did the chicken cross the road?
is actually
To die in the rain. Alone.

Sometimes such lessons are inadvertent. After hearing me use a particular word only once, this same niece apparently squirreled it away in her own personal lexicon, only to pull it out a week later when she told her mother:
Princess Jasmine dresses like a floozy!

But fate, it seems, will have her revenge, forcing me to say things that take me by surprise, as though the words were not my own. Just a few days ago, I found myself instructing my young charges:
Don't feed the Baby Jesus to the giant robotic hamster. At least not so close to his birthday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Just one day too late...

Arrgh! Of course this would happen. On the day after my birthday, Cake Wrecks posts the picture of the most perfect cake ever! Oh well... I'm totally getting this next year:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, turkeys are finalizing their wills, and pancreata across the country are training hard for the extended insulin production necessary to keep Uncle Bob and Aunt Jane from collapsing into their green-bean casserole in a diabetic coma.

However, packing a suitcase and making sure not to forget your photo id are not adequate preparation anymore. Travelers need to get geared up mentally, because this year, courtesy of Uncle Sam, we all get to play a psychologically-scarring round of Violation or No Vacation!

In honor of this newest Thanksgiving tradition, a friend sent me a list of suggested slogans for the TSA to adopt. I'm posting them here in order to provide something to distract you from that most terrible of realizations: "Hey, there's a fist in my cornucopia!" So break out the Vaseline and latex gloves, kids, because it's time for a full cavity search!

We've handled more balls than Barney Frank.

Can't see London, can't see France, unless we see your underpants.

Grope discounts available.

If we did our job any better, we'd have to buy you dinner first.

Only we know if Lady Gaga is really a lady.

Don't worry, my hands are still warm from the last guy.

Throw a few back at the airport Chili's and you won't even notice.

Wanna fly? Drop your fly.

We are now free to move about your pants.

We rub you the wrong way, so you can be on your way.

It's not a grope. It's a freedom pat.

When in doubt, we make you whip it out.

TSA: Touchin', Squeezin', Arrestin'.

You were a virgin.

We handle more packages than the USPS.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Something Wonderful

From Northumbrian Sequence, by Kathleen Raine––


Let in the wind
Let in the rain
Let in the moors tonight.

The storm beats on my window-pane,
Night stands at my bed-foot,
Let in the fear,
Let in the pain,
Let in the trees that toss and groan,
Let in the north tonight.

Let in the nameless formless power
That beats upon my door,
Let in the ice, let in the snow,
The banshee howling on the moor,
The bracken-bush on the bleak hillside,
Let in the dead tonight.

The whistling ghost behind the dyke,
The dead that rot in mire,
Let in the thronging ancestors
The unfulfilled desire,
Let in the wraith of the dead earl,
Let in the unborn tonight.

Let in the cold,
Let in the wet,
Let in the loneliness,
Let in the quick,
Let in the dead,
Let in the unpeopled skies.

Oh how can virgin fingers weave
A covering for the void,
How can my fearful heart conceive
Gigantic solitude?
How can a house so small contain
A company so great?
Let in the dark,
Let in the dead,
Let in your love tonight.

Let in the snow that numbs the grave,
Let in the acorn-tree,
The mountain stream and mountain stone,
Let in the bitter sea.

Fearful is my virgin heart
And frail my virgin form,
And must I then take pity on
The raging of the storm
That rose up from the great abyss
Before the earth was made,
That pours the stars in cataracts
And shakes this violent world?

Let in the fire,
Let in the power,
Let in the invading might.

Gentle must my fingers be
And pitiful my heart
Since I must bind in human form
A living power so great,
A living impulse great and wild
That cries about my house
With all the violence of desire
Desiring this my peace.

Pitiful my heart must hold
The lonely stars at rest,
Have pity on the raven's cry
The torrent and the eagle's wing,
The icy water of the tarn
And on the biting blast.

Let in the wound,
Let in the pain,
Let in your child tonight.


A (very) few thoughts: Raine is clearly showing the influence of Yeats here. The temptation to read this as some stream-of-consciousness rambling must be resisted, as there are significant signs of careful construction: the progression of thought, the subtle rhyming, etc. (Note, for instance, the rhymes of the first three lines and the last.) I think "pours the stars in cataracts" is particularly fine. It bears multiple readings, but in this section––considered alone––it is impossible not to hear the voice of the post-annunciation Mary.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shifting sands...

There has been a lot of buzz recently surrounding the new soon-to-be-released-(but-already-leaked) CHI. Having had an opportunity to peruse some of its contents already, I can confirm that––just like every other edition of the CHI––the book is mostly boring. Of course it is. For those who are interested, there are already several posts in the bloggernacle detailing differences between the forthcoming edition and the previous one (promulgated in 2006) on subjects such as priesthood blessings, homosexuality, and the new prohibition on playing Uno. (The post from that last link is so many kinds of awesome.)

The post from Wheat and Tares (linked above under "priesthood blessings") was something of a catalyst for me, mentally, spurring a crystallization of a few previously unconnected thoughts. In short, I think we may be watching a subtle, but significant shift occurring in LDS theology.

Let's begin by first reviewing the pertinent changes to the CHI:

Brethren who perform ordinances and blessings should prepare themselves by living worthily and striving to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
A priesthood leader who oversees an ordinance or blessing ensures that the person who performs it has the necessary priesthood authority, is worthy, and knows and follows the proper procedures.
Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.
Leaders encourage worthy fathers who hold the necessary priesthood to perform or participate in ordinances and blessings for their own children [29, 2006 CHI].
Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a church calling.

As guided by the Spirit and the instructions of the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have the discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice [140, 2010 CHI; italics added].
In the Wheat and Tares post the 2010 guidelines are viewed as being stricter than those from 2006. I would disagree. Part of the argument derives from the words "worthy to hold a temple recommend." Contrary to the W&T post, I do not read this as identical to "must have a temple recommend." Rather, the priesthood holder must meet the requirements, but need not have the actual document. Perhaps this is nit-picking.

However the 2006 text does not presuppose any distinctions regarding degrees or gradations of worthiness; the 2010 text clearly does. I would suggest that the meaning of "worthy", as used in the 2006 CHI, was generally applied in the sense of "temple worthy." That is not to say that there were never exceptions, and I would presume (and hope) that local leaders who feel so inspired would also be willing to make such exceptions, even though the 2010 CHI makes clearer distinctions and more specific recommendations: if inspiration cannot trump policy, we have moved above (or, more likely, below) the need for revelation.

In any case, this policy shift seemed to be related to some thoughts expressed by Dallin H. Oaks in a recent address in General Conference:

Another part of a priesthood blessing is the words of blessing spoken by the elder after he seals the anointing. These words can be very important, but their content is not essential and they are not recorded on the records of the Church....

Ideally, the elder who officiates will be so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord that he will know and declare the will of the Lord in the words of the blessing. Brigham Young taught priesthood holders, “It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you.” When that happens, the spoken blessing is fulfilled literally and miraculously. On some choice occasions I have experienced that certainty of inspiration in a healing blessing and have known that what I was saying was the will of the Lord. However, like most who officiate in healing blessings, I have often struggled with uncertainty on the words I should say. For a variety of causes, every elder experiences increases and decreases in his level of sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit. Every elder who gives a blessing is subject to influence by what he desires for the person afflicted. Each of these and other mortal imperfections can influence the words we speak.

Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not. Conversely, if the officiator yields to personal desire or inexperience and gives commands or words of blessing in excess of what the Lord chooses to bestow according to the faith of the individual, those words will not be fulfilled. Consequently, brethren, no elder should ever hesitate to participate in a healing blessing because of fear that he will not know what to say. The words spoken in a healing blessing can edify and energize the faith of those who hear them, but the effect of the blessing is dependent upon faith and the Lord’s will, not upon the words spoken by the elder who officiated [Priesthood Session, April 2010; italics added].
How often do we hear people speak in tongues? (Yes, yes, I know. Missionaries do it all the time. I am here referring to the variety of speaking in tongues that was more common in the early days of this dispensation, including immediate revelatory interpretation. I am not using "the gift of tongues" in the "what happens when you read books, use flashcards, memorize vocabulary, buy Rosetta Stone™, and study abroad" sense.) Very, very rarely. Most Mormons (like any other sane person*) would feel a little creeped out by attending some the more exuberant varieties of Pentecostal services. In general, LDS attention to and focus on the cultivation of charismatic gifts has waned. That is, we all seek personal revelation, but we already know what the only acceptable answers are.

I wonder if Elder Oaks's GC comments and these revisions to the CHI may indicate further baby steps in that direction. I guess I needn't have brushed up on my snake-dancing skills.

*Yes, my bias is showing––but, luckily, I. DON'T. CARE.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Guess who just procured a digital copy (see here and here) of the brand-spankin'-new Church Handbook of Instructions! It's like opening your mailbox to find that Amazon has sent your copy of the newest Harry Potter novel a week early!

(However, that I could write the foregoing––and mean it––is a sad, saaaaad testament to the bottomless depths of my nerdiness. Sigh.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

[UPDATED!] Interrupting this regularly scheduled update...


This weekend, an AOL article reported that Haitians displaced by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas were not allowed shelter in a Church meetinghouse in Leogane, Haiti. The fact is that other Church buildings in Haiti were used as public shelters, and arrangements had been made for this particular building to be used by a government agency to respond to the disaster. Because of this arrangement, it was unclear to some whether the building could also be used as a public shelter.... The report of this event obviously describes an isolated aberration (emphasis mine).

Original post follows:

Note: I'm really, really hoping that there is more to this story, perhaps some explanation that will cast the situation in a new light. I will be sure to update as soon as I find/read/hear anything, and I'll be keeping an eye on the Church's Newsroom site.

I had a post planned about a possible (and subtle) shift concerning LDS priesthood doctrine, but then I read an article that left me stunned. It's not often that a news item induces that breathless, punched-in-the-gut sensation, but this one did. And how.

LEOGANE, Haiti (Nov. 8) -- The water in Haiti's seaside town of Leogane rose to the doorsteps of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But if you're local, and homeless, you needn't have bothered coming here for help. Help is for Mormons only.


The LDS church is one of the biggest and most modern buildings in Leogane, with the capacity to safely hold and protect 200. The church's hurricane policy? Only church members can seek shelter there. On Friday, 36 congregants and family members slept at the church.


"It's not shelter, it's a Mormon church," a church employee said.

Read it and weep.


Never say never.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


I'm afraid that there are some other updates I missed. What a month.

Cody J. Barker, 17

Felix Sacco, 17

Harrison Chase Brown, 15

Alec Henrikson, 18

Interesting Weekend (UPDATED!)

See here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Interesting Evening

After having been very whiny for the past couple of days (as is my wont), I find myself––most unexpectedly––feeling very, very grateful.

When God was assigning families, I really lucked out.

When God was arranging friendships, he was tremendously generous.

And when it seems that I haven't had a glimpse of him in far too long, I find he has left fingerprints in the most surprising places.

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: ‘Go down again––I dwell among the people.’”

––Blessed John Henry Newman

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Interesting Weekend (UPDATED!)

And the thick plottens! Elder Packer's talk has undergone some editing between being delivered and being posted online. The changes are subtle, but (I think) significant. It was very considerate of Elder Packer (and anyone else who was involved in the changes). For more information and discussion, see here.

Alma 30:44:
“...all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it ... do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

Some anglerfishes employ an unusual mating method. When scientists first started capturing ceratioid anglerfish, they noticed that all of the specimens were females, and almost all of them had what appeared to be parasites attached to them. It turned out that these “parasites” were highly reduced male ceratioids.

At birth, male ceratioids are already equipped with extremely well developed olfactory organs that detect scents in the water. The male ceratoid lives solely to find and mate with a female. They are significantly smaller than a female angler fish, and may have trouble finding food in the deep sea. Furthermore, the growth of the alimentary canals of some males becomes stunted, preventing them from feeding. These features necessitate his quickly finding a female anglerfish to prevent death. The sensitive olfactory organs help the male to detect the pheromones that signal the proximity of a female anglerfish. When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then slowly atrophies, first losing his digestive organs, then his brain, heart, and eyes, and ends as nothing more than a pair of gonads, which release sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream indicating egg release. Multiple males can be incorporated into a single female.

Boyd K. Packer:
“Why would our heavenly father do that to anyone?”

Why, indeed?

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged.

Seth Walsh, 13, hanged.

Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped from a bridge.

Asher Brown, 13, gunshot.

Raymond Chase, 19, hanged.

Why, indeed?

George Q. Cannon, 1897:
[A]bominable crimes are being practiced. How will these be stopped? Only by the destruction of those who practice them.

Ernest L. Wilkison, 1965:
We do not intend to admit to our campus any homosexuals.... We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.

Boyd K. Packer, 1978:
[W]e will be able to correct this condition routinely.... the cause when found, will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness.... It is very possible to cure it by treating selfishness.

Hartman Rector, Jr., 1983:
That’s right, brothers and sisters, I am referring to the mother of all evil, putrid, and vile sins––homosexuality. You know, Satan himself is a homosexual.

Dallin H. Oaks, 2006:
[To a hypothetical gay son or daughter:] Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation.

Why, indeed?

Friday, September 10, 2010


Why is BYU made of FAIL‽

From a student article in BYU's Daily Universe:

Defending Proposition 8—It’s time to admit the reasons


Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the recent United States District Court case that overturned Proposition 8, highlighted a disturbing inconsistency in the pro-Prop. 8 camp.

The arguments put forth so aggressively by the Protect Marriage coalition and by LDS church leaders at all levels of church organization during the campaign were noticeably absent from the proceedings of the trial. This discrepancy between the arguments in favor of Proposition 8 presented to voters and the arguments presented in court shows that at some point, proponents of Prop. 8 stopped believing in their purported rational and non-religious arguments for the amendment.

Claims that defeat of Prop. 8 would force religious organizations to recognize homosexual marriages and perform such marriages in their privately owned facilities, including LDS temples, were never mentioned in court. Similarly, the defense was unable to find a single expert witness willing to testify that state-recognized homosexual marriage would lead to forcing religious adoption agencies to allow homosexual parents to adopt children or that children would be required to learn about homosexual marriage in school.

Four of the proponents’ six expert witnesses who may have been planning on testifying to these points withdrew as witnesses on the first day of the trial. Why did they go and why did no one step up to replace them? Perhaps it is because they knew that their arguments would suffer much the same fate as those of David Blankenhorn and Kenneth Miller, the two expert witnesses who did agree to testify.

Judge Vaughn Walker, who heard the case, spent 11 pages of his 138-page decision meticulously tearing down every argument advanced by Blankenhorn before concluding that his testimony was “unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight.” Miller suffered similar censure after it was shown that he was unfamiliar with even basic sources on the subject in which he sought to testify as an expert.

The court was left with lopsided, persuasive testimony leading to the conclusion that Proposition 8 was not in the interest of the state and was discriminatory against gays and lesbians. Walker’s decision is a must-read for anyone who is yet to be convinced of this opinion. The question remains that if proponents of Prop. 8 were both unwilling and unable to support even one rational argument in favor of the amendment in court, why did they seek to present their arguments as rational during the campaign?

It is time for LDS supporters of Prop. 8 to be honest about their reasons for supporting the amendment. It’s not about adoption rights, or the first amendment or tradition. These arguments were not found worthy of the standards for finding facts set up by our judicial system. The real reason is that a man who most of us believe is a prophet of God told us to support the amendment. We must accept this explanation, along with all its consequences for good or ill on our own relationship with God and his children here on earth. Maybe then we will stop thoughtlessly spouting reasons that are offensive to gays and lesbians and indefensible to those not of our faith.
A few hours after the article was published, it was removed from the site. The explanation?

The Daily Universe made an independent decision to remove the student viewpoint titled “Defending Proposition 8” after being alerted by various readers that the content of the editorial was offensive. The publication of this viewpoint was not intended to offend, but after further review we recognized that it contained offensive content. This is consistent with policy that The Daily Universe has, on rare occasions, exercised in the past.
"Independent decision," huh? The lady doth protest too much, methinks. The fact they even felt the need to emphasize that the decision was "independent" strongly suggests that it was anything but. As Morris Thurston wrote elsewhere: "It seems obvious that it was taken down not because a few students objected to it, but because people in authority objected to it."

My request (and many requests by others) for some clarification as to what was deemed "offensive" has gone, most unsurprisingly, unanswered. BYU journalism students should take note, though: Deseret News has just had a massive lay-off, cutting their staff in half, so it's very possible that BYU journalists may actually be forced to find work at real newspapers (God forbid!) where the overarching editorial style is not Pollyanna's Glad Game, where fact is valued over positive thinking, and rationality is more important than being faith-promoting.

Finally, this whole debacle illustrates precisely why I hate it when Mormons and Mormon institutions try to dissemble––the dishonesty doesn't bother me, it's the fact that they're just so damn bad at it.

[And, yeah, I did use an interrobang in the first sentence––thanks for noticing!]

Monday, August 30, 2010

Daniel, Isaac, and Neal

A very interesting point to consider in light of the ubiquitous "the world is getting steadily more awful" meme we often hear in religious discussion. (This attitude or presumption is even more influential in faiths with a strong millennialist streak, such as Mormonism.)

The author, depicted with (counterclockwise from upper left) Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Sophia of Hanover and William of Orange.

Aboard ship, our protagonist, Daniel, morbidly ponders the possibility of a wreck as he continues to record his memoirs of his university education with his friend Isaac Newton––specifically regarding the new (and more accurate) sundial they built.

From Quicksilver, Vol. 1 of The Baroque Cycle, by the brilliant and inimitable Neal Stephenson:

One cannot board a ship without imagining ship-wreck. Daniel envisions it as being like an opera, lasting several hours and proceeding through a series of Acts.

Act I: The hero rises to clear skies and smooth sailing. The sun is following a smooth and well-understood cœlestial curve, the sea is a plane, sailors are strumming guitars and carving objets d'art from walrus tusks, et cetera, while erudite passengers take the air and muse about grand philosophical themes.

Act II: A change in the weather is predicted based upon readings in the captain's barometer. Hours later it appears in the distance, a formation of clouds that is observed, sketched, and analyzed. Sailors cheerfully prepare for weather.

Act III: The storm hits. Changes are noted on the barometer, thermometer, clinometer, compass, and other instruments––cœlestial bodies are, however, no longer visible––the sky is a boiling chaos torn unpredictably by bolts––the sea is rough, the ship heaves, the cargo remains tied safely down, but most passengers are too ill or worried to think. The sailors are all working without rest––some of them sacrifice chickens in hopes of appeasing their gods. The rigging glows with St. Elmo's Fire––this is attributed to supernatural forces.

Act IV: The masts snap and the rudder goes missing. There is panic. Lives are already being lost, but it is not known how many. Cannons and casks are careering randomly about, making it impossible to guess who'll be alive and who dead ten seconds from now. The compass, barometer, et cetera, are all destroyed and the records of their readings swept overboard––maps dissolve––sailors are helpless––those who are still alive and sentient can think of nothing to do but pray.

Act V: The ship is no more. Survivors cling to casks and planks, fighting off the less fortunate and leaving them to drown. Everyone has reverted to a feral state of terror and misery. Huge waves shove them around without any pattern, carnivorous fish use living persons as food. There is no relief in sight, or even imaginable.

––There might also be an Act VI in which everyone was dead, but it wouldn't make for good opera so Daniel omits it.

Men of his generation were born during Act V* and raised in Act IV. As students, they huddled in a small vulnerable bubble of Act III. The human race has, actually, been in Act V for most of history and has recently accomplished the miraculous feat of assembling splintered planks afloat on a stormy sea into a sailing-ship and then, having climbed onboard it, building instruments with which to measure the world, and then finding a kind of regularity in those measurements. When they were at Cambridge, Newton was surrounded by a personal nimbus of Act II and was well on his way to Act I.

But they had, perversely, been living among people who were peering into the wrong end of the telescope, or something, and who had convinced themselves that the opposite was true––that the world had once been a splendid, orderly place––that men had made a reasonably trouble-free move from the Garden of Eden to the Athens of Plato and Aristotle, stopping over in the Holy Land to encrypt the secrets of the Universe in the pages of the Bible, and that everything had been slowly, relentlessly falling apart ever since [emphasis mine]. Cambridge was run by a mixture of fogeys too old to be considered dangerous, and Puritans who had been packed into the place by Cromwell after he'd purged all the people he did consider dangerous. With a few exceptions such as Isaac Barrow, none of them would have had any use for Isaac's sundial, because it didn't look like an old sundial, and they'd prefer telling time wrong the Classical way to telling it right the newfangled way. The curves that Newton plotted on the wall were a methodical document of their wrongness––a manifesto like Luther's theses on the church-door.

*In England, the Civil War that brought Cromwell to power, and on the Continent, the Thirty Years' War.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I don't know about you, but I am in the mood for some serious refudiation today!

By now, unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about the attempts to build a mosque/community center at or near the site of the World Trade Center buildings (or where they used to be).

In legal terms, the situation is quite simple: if they own the property and that property is correctly zoned, they can build whatever the hell they want.

If we want to concern ourselves with sensitivity or decorousness, things get a bit more complicated. There are lots of opinions on the subject; both sides have marshaled numerous arguments to their defense. However, I would like to address just one thing that has come up repeatedly, which I found irksome.

When someone says that the mosque site is just too close, their opponents will frequently say something along the lines of "Well, how far away is far enough?" That argument is just too smug for my liking. The suggestion, of course, is that "too close" is basically meaningless, because nobody will be able to make a rational argument explaining that, while two blocks is too close, three blocks (or whatever) would be fine. If the refudiators cannot offer a specific acceptable radius –– and of course they can't –– then their opponents feel they've won. Game, set, match. But they'd be wrong.

Let's do an experiment. You'll need a box of matches or toothpicks and a few friends. Begin to put the matches/toothpicks on a table, one at a time, stacking them roughly on top of each other. Tell your friend to say stop when you have made a "pile." Repeat with your other friends. Chances are, they will have stopped you at different points in the process. So, how many toothpicks does it take to make a pile? 5? 6? 83? Attempting to pick a specific number will always be arbitrary. However, that does not mean that the word or concept of a "pile" is worthless.

Trying to draw a line at the outer radius of a "too close to ground zero" zone is going to be arbitrary too. But that does not mean that there's no such thing as "too close." Mosque proponents ought to acknowledge that, instead of wasting time with semantic games whose sole benefit is ego-stroking, but which do nothing to promote understanding or further the possibility of a fair and amicable resolution.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Diagnosis and Solution

The problem.

The cure.

You're welcome. It's just what I do: "Fixing the world, one indecent exposure at a time."

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Don't you just LOVE Lewis?

I've just read a most fascinating quote. It comes from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question––how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
You know, I think that's just a capital idea.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Now, I CAN say I'm surprised...

L.A. Times headline: Judge strikes down Prop. 8, allows gay marriage in California

My only comment: "Wow. I wasn't expecting that."

I may have more comments later, but it's 3 AM, so I'm gonna sleep on it.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I can't say I'm surprised...

First, read this article. Can you tell what's missing? The holes aren't just in the article either––almost every comment that mentioned any of those holes has also been "moderated." The Deseret News echo-chamber apparatchiki once again behave with all the journalistic integrity of Stephen Glass.

Enjoy this sampling of comments that the moderator felt were allowable:

LJ | 7:46 a.m. July 30, 2010
I also choose to remember the good in people. Thank you Deseret News for showing respect to George's children and grand children at this sensitive time.

JBs | 7:54 a.m. July 31, 2010
Good post, Tony. And a very classy way to handle this, DesNews. Thanks!

dung beetle | 8:33 a.m. July 31, 2010
Yes, George lost his way and the Lord and the Church lost a great servant when he would not retrace his footsteps. He has to deal with the consequences. We can mourn his losses (and ours) without remembering the ugliness. Let the Trib deal with that - they do it so well.

daizy | 10:45 a.m. July 31, 2010
This is nothing to make an issue of. Stop this!

countrygirl | 6:12 p.m. July 31, 2010
my sympathy and prayers go to the family of Elder Lee. There are so many positive and uplifting thoughts floating around 'out there', so I choose to think positive and uplifting thoughts. When I leave this earth, I would sure love it, if people remember the good things I might have said or done. I too have a very dear person in mind, who was instrumental in teaching my husband the Gospel and thereby changing his life forever for the better, this person some not so smart things later in his life, but that doesn't detract from the good he did for us and others. God knows our hearts, he knew us before we were born.

Californian#1@94131 | 7:37 p.m. July 31, 2010
The Trib and most of its forum posters never miss a chance to heap mud on anyone or anything Mormon, and some of the posters here ought to go and stay over there.

Just lovely. I particularly like the shrill demand from "daizy." On the website, it's impossible to see what got her so upset, since almost every comment that even mentioned the "issue" she so disliked is now no longer there. Simply put, it is not the responsibility of journalism to "choose to remember the good [only]," to never remember "the ugliness," or "to think positive and uplifting thoughts." Nor is the suppression of pertinent information "classy." To report facts is not to "heap mud," and the facts (that the ex-General Authority in question was excommunicated and later convicted of molesting a little girl) absolutely ARE something "to make an issue of."

The article was not a eulogy. It was a NEWS item, printed in a publication that is still (ostensibly) a NEWSpaper. The omissions in the article were not minor––they were like writing a book on the Bush administration, but never mentioning 9/11 or the Iraq War.

It is disappointing that the Deseret News has chosen to behave as though there is no elephant in the room, because now that elephant casts a substantial shadow over the question of their professional ethics.

I like the adage that (good) "fiction uses lies to tell the truth." Too often, the Deseret News does precisely the opposite.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A New Favorite

Fanfare for the Makers
Louis MacNeice

A cloud of witnesses. To whom? To what?
To the small fire that never leaves the sky.
To the great fire that boils the daily pot.

To all the things we are not remembered by,
Which we remember and bless. To all the things
That will not notice when we die,

Yet lend the passing moment words and wings.


So fanfare for the Makers: who compose
A book of words or deeds who runs may write
As many who do run, as a family grows

At times like sunflowers turning towards the light.
As sometimes in the blackout and the raids
One joke composed an island in the night.

As sometimes one man’s kindness pervades
A room or house or village, as sometimes
Merely to tighten screws or sharpen blades

Can catch a meaning, as to hear the chimes
At midnight means to share them, as one man
In old age plants an avenue of limes

And before they bloom can smell them, before they span
The road can walk beneath the perfected arch,
The merest greenprint when the lives began

Of those who walk there with him, as in default
Of coffee men grind acorns, as in despite
Of all assaults conscripts counter assault,

As mothers sit up late night after night
Moulding a life, as miners day by day
Descend blind shafts, as a boy may flaunt his kite

In an empty nonchalant sky, as anglers play
Their fish, as workers work and can take pride
In spending sweat before they draw their pay.

As horsemen fashion horses while they ride,
As climbers climb a peak because it is there,
As life can be confirmed even in suicide:

To make is such. Let us make. And set the weather fair.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Have any of you seen this monstrosity? Yeah, now they're selling it in the BYU bookstore. [Dry heaves.]*

But it's okay, because somebody made it better.

And then somebody perfected it!

*Be careful, every time somebody looks at that painting with any reaction other than revulsion, an angel is infected with syphilis.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fat and Happy

Just got back from Seth's celestial birthday dinner:

Braised beef shortrib on polenta with pan jus and horseradish cream

Fingerling potatoes with chimichuri and lime mayonnaise

Pizza with roasted leeks, mushrooms, and corn (sounds weird, but was wonderful)

Pizza with speck (ham cured and flavored with juniper), sopprassata, garlic, tomato, and hand-pulled mozzarella

Rooibos tea

Amazing food, enjoyed with some of my favorite people in the world. Now it's naptime.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trinity Sunday?

In the broader Christian world (at least those brands of Christianity with the decency to have a liturgical year) tomorrow (well, starting this evening, really) is Trinity Sunday. This focus on the members of the Godhead makes sense liturgically: Easter––Ascension (Jesus), Pentecost (Holy Ghost), and now a feast about all three of Them (or all One of Them, depending on how you look at it.);-)

Saying, "all three of Them," probably set my own patron saint revolving in his grave; he hated a certain heresy so much, he took the opportunity at the Council of Nicea to smack Arius in the face. And that brings us very neatly back to the point, as the Arian heresy tends to form a part of many LDS folks' concept of deity. (It's the notion that the Son is somehow less divine than the Father––a part of the McConkie school of thought; note that this is different than saying the Son subjects Himself to the will of the Father, which is Biblical.)

We Mormons tend to over-emphasize the distinctions between the various members of the Godhead. In fact, we often use the term "separate," which is not helpful in clarifying our beliefs for those of other faiths. (This is part of a larger problem of defining various shared theological words differently than most Christians, and then––even among ourselves––not using those words with much precision or consistence. For example, consider the word "spirit," which we use to refer to the third member of the Godhead, the Light of Christ [itself a problematic term], the general atmosphere ["a special spirit," or "you've brought a wonderful spirit to this meeting," are common uses], or the individual non-[or, for Mormons, less-]material immortal part of every person. Sheesh.)

It's understandable that we should want to be clear about our uniquely-Mormon beliefs, but frequently we swing the pendulum too far, resulting in an equal (but opposite) doctrinal confusion. After all, the Book of Mormon takes pains to emphasize that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are "One God."

Similarly, most of our dismissals of the Trinity are really straw men. So we argue against a "doctrine" that orthodox Christians do not actually profess. (To be fair, I have spoken with many protestant Christians who, while trying to define the Trinity, actually teach modalism––also called the Sabellian heresy.)

Given the extremely broad spectrum of belief possible under the Mormon umbrella, you'd be surprised how closely we can approach the doctrines accepted by our brothers and sisters who dwell in different theological terrain. You may find this article by Blake Ostler pretty eye-opening!

Finally, when we consider our doctrinal differences, we may be straining at theoretical gnats, but swallowing our own behavioral camels. We should take counsel from (and comfort in) two relevant quotes:

What soul ever perished for believing that God the Father really has a beard?

––C.S. Lewis

I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much.

––Joseph Smith

Sunday, April 04, 2010

As the sun sets...

...on the first day of this Easter season, I offer two pieces, both choral adaptations of originally instrumental works set to texts of the Requiem.

Agnus Dei

(Adapted from Barber's stunning "Adagio for Strings," it's probably too long––and too difficult––to be practical in an actual liturgy, which is a crying shame.)

Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi
dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempitername.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant them rest.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant them eternal rest.

Lux Aeterna

(Adapted from "Nimrod," of Elgar's "Enigma Variations"––I've sung this one, and it's far more challenging than it sounds actually! Ignore the silly slide-show that accompanies it.)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis,
quia pius es.

Let everlasting light shine upon them, Lord,
with Thy saints for ever,
for Thou art merciful.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them,
for Thou art merciful.


One of my Easter traditions is to re-read the following essay by Eugene England. It never fails to move me. I hope you enjoy it.

Easter Weekend

It might have been 1986, because Easter came in March and I was on my way to Montreal. But I went to see Dustin Hoffman in The Death of a Salesman (bought a ticket at the last minute from a scalper), so it must have been two years earlier on my way to Boston. When I left the theater Wednesday afternoon, I walked east along Forty-second toward the small circulating library on Forty-first and Fifth Avenue, where I was to wait for Greg Reece, a young friend who had lived with us for awhile and now worked in New York. I grinned as I watched the confidence games being played by sidewalk hustlers––giant showy posters and pirated tapes for sale, and shell games of various kinds, especially the one using three cards on a cardboard tray held by a strap around the neck. I knew the games were basic small cons that worked on tourist gullibility and greed, and I went by without even stopping. But then I decided to get a snack, jaywalked to the Burger King for some french fries, and came out right onto a game in progress.

There were three black locals and the obvious mark––a white, thin-faced tourist. I watched, munching and smiling to myself, as the dealer placed three different cards on his tray, one the ten of clubs, then turned them over and shuffled them. The three others could place twenty dollars or more on the tray, then guess which card was the ten and turn it over. If they were right, the dealer matched what they had put down; if not, he took it. The other two locals––one an older man, with a startling band of pure white hair frizzed out between his black beret and his neck, and the other, perhaps twenty, in royal blue stretch pants––won occasionally, but the tourist kept missing, even though it seemed to me quite easy to follow the movement of the cards. In fact, every time he missed and wiped his hand nervously on his red tie I congratulated myself that I had guessed right.

As I became engrossed, the dealer began to ask me after each miss if I knew where the ten was, and I said "Sure" and pointed to it––correct every time. Slowly the bets got larger and the dealer, keeping up a constant patter about how easy it was ("See how often these guys win?"), began to chide the tourist for his misses ("See how this guy," pointing to me, "does it."). Finally, after the tourist missed on a sixty dollar bet, the dealer asked me to point out the ten without turning it over. "Just look under a corner and see if you're right." I said I was, and he said, "Show this guy. Put down sixty dollars, turn over the card again, and you can win." I refused ("That wouldn't be fair to you," I said), so he had Black Beret do it and win sixty dollars. They all made fun of me, and some others now gathering around did, too.

I felt my heart going, pulsing in my head as the game continued, and then the same sequence developed again: a miss by Red Tie, constant patter, invitation to look (right again), then insistence by all that I turn up the card again and take the sure winner. I thought of the ticket I'd bought for Death of a Salesman, four times what I had ever paid for a play before, and I thought about other plays I wanted to see. I took out my wallet, looked down to count––$149 for all the rest of the trip––and watched myself put out the sixty dollars and turn over the card. Three of diamonds.

I was dazed. The game went on without a hitch––mostly wins by Black Beret and Stretch Pants, losses by Red Tie. The pace accelerated and the crowd was growing and talking, some commiserating with me. I tried to pull away. The patter motored on, and I knew the panic of loss, of betrayal, of desire. I wanted everything to stop. I wanted bitterly not to have lost, to be back at Burger King before all this, to have watched the cards more carefully. But I could still see, as a great calm in the frenzy of talk and shuffling, the cards––and how right I was each time. The patter focused more on me. "Turn it over. See, you're right. Put your money on it. I owe you one, I'll make it up to you, this time three for one." Black Beret was helpful, like a kind uncle: "Do it," he whispered. "He wants you to win it back––it'll get the crowd with him." The dealer's eyes were enlarged, protruding, the mouth constant. I looked into my wallet and––with a lurch––put sixty dollars down and turned the card over. Six of hearts.

"No, look, it's this one," said Black Beret, sympathetically, turning over the ten. The crowd jammed in and swelled its noise. "That isn't fair, you promised him." "Mind your business," snarled the dealer––then, with a quick glance toward Fifth Avenue, "Oh, oh, cops coming." The crowd left, and the dealer, Black Beret, Stretch Pants, and Red Tie walked quickly together toward Broadway, leaving me frozen, spent, swirling in a tempest, damned, gaping, clear only about one thing––I was the mark, the only mark.

As I stood there and then walked east I was absolutely serene and absolutely violated: calm, unsurprised to see no police descending on the illegal game, intensely aware of people, food carts, lights, dimming sky––but cordoned off, invisible. I walked down Fifth Avenue to the library and went up to the reading room and got out my paper for the Shakespeare meetings to go over until Greg came, but I could not see the words.

I watched a lady across the table in a print dress and imitation fur-collared coat that she kept partly buttoned. She had notebooks and folders full of bills and receipts and lists and slips that she kept shuffling and restacking and poring over and making new lists from. At first I thought she was balancing her checkbook, but she kept going over the same things, shifting in her chair, restacking the lists, sighing, copying new figures, pursing her lips, returning to the notebooks and then the slips of paper, erasing, writing, always intent. I couldn't tell what she was doing. I had to stop watching.

* * *

Greg and I walked back along Forty-second, past Burger King to Broadway, where we went underground and caught the B train local up to Seventy-ninth. Greg could see something was wrong but didn't pry, just stopped suddenly––twice––to look at me as we talked, once putting his hand on my shoulder. We got off and walked back to Seventh-sixth, where he had booked tickets for Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind at the Promenade. (But that was 1986, wasn't it?) "I'm a little short on cash. Can I send you a check?" I asked, and he said sure and didn't object when I suggested that, instead of going to dinner before the play, we walk down to Lincoln Center and see the Chagall windows in Avery Fisher Hall and grab a soft pretzel with mustard on the way ("My favorite tourist indulgence," I said with just the right touch of self-mockery). My mind had come unfrozen enough to begin to calculate how I could make it home on my remaining twenty-nine dollars cash without getting any more money or admitting my plight––and in a way that would make me suffer (that seemed very important): One dollar for the subway, one for the pretzel, another dollar fare to Greg's apartment in Brooklyn after the play.

But what about getting to the airport? As we walked, Greg filled me in on his job with a new TV production company, but he could tell I was preoccupied. "How can I get to LaGuardia from your place by 7:30 in the morning?" I suddenly asked. (That must have been 1984). He stopped and looked at me, then went on. "Well, you can sleep in, have one of my great breakfasts, and take a taxi right up there, maybe twenty minutes," he said. "Or you can get up at 5:00, leave me asleep, grab a piece of toast, and take the subway back in here and then out to the airport––give yourself two hours." After a moment, seeing I was serious, he added, "The taxi is twenty dollars, the subway plus the bus from the nearest stop is two."

Back at the theater, Greg told me we were in the old Manhattan Ward meetinghouse. He pointed to the unusual arched doorways and alcoves and blocked-in windows as we went through the foyer and up the stairs into the main theater. When my eyes adjusted I could see the huge encompassing arches on four sides that had framed the original chapel and supported the dome above. The space was now filled on three sides with banks of seats, with a wide stage on the fourth side and a catwalk above. In the program I read, "First constructed in 1928 as a Mormon Church, the building was refurbished and officially opened as the Promenade Theatre in 1969. ... New York's only Off-Broadway theatre on Broadway."

Shepard's play, one of his earliest, is a preparation for the more well-known Fool for Love; both plays chart the agony of Western misfits, grotesque and universal in their irrational revenges and bizarre, literally or spiritually incestuous, loves. Greg doesn't like Shepard's work and had gotten the tickets after my phone call only out of kindness, but I find Shepard the most attractive as well as troubling new American dramatist. He is willing to use the bleak lives and dry landscapes and tacky motels and vicious words that are one part of a section of America usually neglected in drama, the twentieth century West I grew up in. And he does not merely imitate those lives but invests them believably with the great human themes of love and death and with passages of poetry and even occasional, quite "unrealistic" but believable epiphanies. For instance, at the end of this play, Jake, who has nearly killed and then deserted his wife in one of his recurrent fits of jealousy, returns to tell her that her reality, the truth of her generous, ingenuous being that has so infuriated him, is also what makes all other ideas and presences unreal, merely a lie of his mind. In an act of amazing mercy that her unique reality has taught him and finally made possible for him to do, he gives his life to preserve her––and in doing so finally changes himself.

* * *

It hurts very much to think of you. How could you suffer not only our pains but our sicknesses and infirmities? Did you actually become sick and infirm or merely feel, with your greater imagination, something like what we feel when we are sick and infirm? But could you actually "know according to the flesh," as you say, if you didn't literally experience everything with your body? And if you did literally experience our infirmities, did you know our greatest one, sin? Everyone says you didn't sin, that you were always perfect. But how then could you learn how to help us? And yet if you did sin, if you actually became sick and infirm and unwilling, for a moment, to do what you knew was right, how does that help us? I don't want you to hurt like this, like I do now, to be ashamed, to hate the detailed, quotidian past. Yet I want you to know the worst of me, the worst of me possible, and still love me, still accept me––like a lovely, terrible drill, tearing me all the way down inside the root, until all the decay and then all the pulp and nerve and all the pain are gone.

Can't you tell us directly, without all the mystery and contradiction, if what I feel is right? Could it be that your very willingness to know the actual pain and confusion and despair of sin, to join with us fully, is what saves us? It's true, I feel your condescension in that; I feel you coming down from your formidable, separate height as my Judge and Conscience. I feel you next to me as my friend. Did it happen in Gethsemane, when you turned away from your father and your mission for just a moment? I think so. So how can I refuse to accept myself, refuse to be whole again, if you, though my Judge whom I hide from, know exactly what I feel and still accept me? Yet it hurts so much to hear you tell of your pain to Joseph Smith, when you remember that moment in the Garden. You say, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit––and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink––Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."

Was that preparation so painful, even when you recalled it as the resurrected Lord––and so many hundred years later––that you still shrank and could not complete your sentence? Is that pause between "shrink" and "nevertheless" the actual moment of your Atonement? And why did you also tell Joseph that you will be red in your apparel when you come, in garments like one that treadeth in the winevat? Why will you have to say then, "I have trodden the winepress alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me."

Who is it can withstand your love?

* * *

It cost me five dollars from Dorval Airport to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal, but I had paid for the room in advance and could fast for a few days. The other participants in my seminar Thursday afternoon seemed to like my paper on "Shakespeare as a Healer," though they were more interested in his possible knowledge and use of Renaissance psychological therapy than in my evidence for his preoccupation with Christian ideas about healing the soul. It was just as well. I was feeling very much a hypocrite, a talker, an absurd posturer who knew to do good and did it not. What did I really know about healing?

The next day I slipped out between sessions to visit the Montreal Fine Arts Museum, just up Rue Sherbrooke from the hotel, but found it closed. It was Good Friday in heavily Catholic French Canada. Walking back I heard singing from a small stone Protestant church. A constantly smiling, bustling, very delicate black woman found me a seat and gave me a program and hymnal (I watched her a moment, noticing her color and her soft, scurrying solicitude; New York had seemed all black, the Shakespeare Association meetings lily-white). The choir finished singing a Monteverdi motet, and a lay reader, a tall blonde woman with a black surplice hanging loosely over her bright orange dress, gave the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 53, the "suffering servant" passage: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him. ... by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. ... he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors." Then we sang Bach's Chorale from the St. Matthew Passion:

O sacred head, sore wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown. ...

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered
Was all for sinners' gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But thine the deadly pain.

Back at the hotel I asked about other Good Friday observances. Were any scheduled at Notre-Dame, the large cathedral-like church I had seen while walking through the Old City by the St. Lawrence River the night before? The concierge was uncertain but thought there would be something at 3:00 p.m., the traditional hour of Christ's death. He confirmed by calling the church for me. Since I had to walk, I left right after the general session that ended at 2:00 and hurried east along Rue Sherbrooke to Rue Université and then south to Notre-Dame, which in daylight seemed built somewhat like the two-towered Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Only two blocks away I found police cars setting up barriers for a crowd of several thousand people just coming along Rue Ste. Catherine from the east and turning down Rue Université to the church. I joined them and found an English-speaking participant who explained they had made a twelve-mile march beginning that morning, an annual pilgrimage complete with "stations of the cross" as the stopping places. A truck with large loudspeakers was leading, and a man in the front seat continuously sang religious songs for the marchers. They were of all ages and dress: priests, nuns, groups of children, solitary housewives, blue-collar men, young couples, many with wooden crosses hung around their necks, some in groups carrying full-size crosses, a few with banners: "Vendredi Saint," "Jesus, Notre Sauveur," etc. They were welcomed at the Cathedral by a brass band and a large crowd; then all of us pushed in to fill the huge main floor and the two galleries.

As we waited I walked the full circuit of aisles, trying to respond, as I had in the cathedrals in Europe, to the builders' sense of space and light. The stained glass in this church is too realistic and sentimental for my taste, but the sanctuary, with its high altar, is gorgeous: rich in light, simply proportioned but with much sculpture, which is focused in a huge figure of the risen Christ, seated in glory above a figure of the crucified Christ. The artworks and small chapels on the perimeters are ordinary, except for a striking painting of an early French nun earnestly teaching Indian children, the children's faces angled in what seems accusing innocence toward the viewer. I thought of Tucker-man's chilling line, "They have their tears, nor turn to us their eyes."

A white-robed priest began to address the congregation about 2:30 and continued for twenty minutes. My French was only good enough to get the general drift: an informal homily on the sins of the day. I moved up the left outside aisle and slipped into a marble corner at the side of the stairs from the nave up to the sanctuary, where I could watch both the priest and the audience. He was obviously very popular, occasionally joking, using the device––which seemed to work well––of repeating a rhetorical question, "And have we sinned?" followed by an example or two and then the question again. Occasionally his exhortations led him to mention a hymn, which he would then start singing, and the congregation would join in. Finally an usher spotted me and sent me to find a seat; but by this time there weren't any, so I stood at the back. The priest, now far away from me, mentioned Mary and then began singing "Ave Maria." I heard a trumpet behind me softly join in and turned to see a black teenager, who reminded me of Stretch Pants, slowly move forward through the main doorway, playing the melody. Then, as the singing ended, he continued playing solo, slowly moving back. His mother was standing in an alcove, watching, and after he finished, she moved to stand by him, her hand on his arm.

At 2:50 the priest quickly finished his talk and a complete silence fell over the congregation until 2:55, when a group of priests, white-robed and hooded, evidently representing all of us, filed up to the altar and gazed up at the crucified Savior until 3 :00. The signal of the moment of death was a sudden lighting of the brightest altar lights; all the congregation stood and remained in silence for a few minutes. Then slowly we left.

* * *

In the mid-seventies I sometimes went fishing at North Eden. That tiny delta and valley, opening into the east side of Bear Lake in northern Utah, was homesteaded, along with a similar, smaller valley, South Eden, late in the nineteenth century. Two small reservoirs were built in North Eden to hold water through the summer for irrigating hayfields and perhaps a few gardens. Someone planted the reservoirs with rainbow and brook trout, which grew, as did the native cutthroat, into huge fish in those isolated, food-rich lakes: the cutthroats lean, fierce fighters; the rainbows and brookies jeweled and heavy-sided. One of my father's complicated business transactions had left him with a partial interest in the one remaining ranch and a key to the gate at the valley's west end that kept most people away from the reservoirs.

On a mid-August morning before sunup, one of Dad's clients, who insisted on taking his Jeep Wagoneer, drove us east from Salt Lake City to Evanston and then north along the Utah-Wyoming border through Woodruff and Randolph, down the long incline to Laketown on the south shore of Bear Lake, then up the east side.

I was alone in the back seat, only half-listening to my father's usual cheery commentary and storytelling. My own thoughts were dull, almost despondent: I had been released from St. Olaf College the year before in what looked to me (and some colleagues) like a decision to eliminate my influence on students, one of whom had joined the Mormon Church. Then I had been turned down for a position at BYU, apparently because of concern about what parents might think about how a person of my unorthodox views and background might influence students. At the same time, I was turned down at the University of Utah, because, as one of my former teachers there confided with regret, "This department simply won't hire an active, believing Mormon." (Which was I, too devoted a Mormon––or not devoted enough? Where was my home, my vocation? In Zion or in exile?)

We had moved to Utah and were subsisting on part-time institute teaching for the Church in Ogden and Salt Lake and a writing fellowship in Leonard Arlington's Church History Division––and a large garden at our home in Kaysville. And I had begun to lose confidence. Perhaps I didn't have a job simply because I wasn't good enough, didn't have enough scholarship published or good enough teaching evaluations to overcome those other qualms administrators were having (after all, I hadn't been accepted at the other places to which I had applied either). I had felt the mantle leave me when I was released as branch president in Minnesota, and no spiritual security had replaced it. I found it hard to pray, to remember what it had felt like to bless my branch members and family with complete assurance and to know with certainty the Spirit's response. I wondered constantly, in blank repetition through broken sleep as we drove, if I had lost my way, if the Lord knew there was such a person anymore. I wondered where the deepest part of me had gone.

We had our boat in the higher lake by 7:00 a.m. and headed for the upper end, where the fishing just out from the stream mouth had been best in late summer. I sat in the prow facing the early sun and the sharp canyon wind, smelling the water and observing the long scar the mule-pulled Fresno scrapers had made long ago as they brought down fill for the dam. Suddenly I saw to my right a V in the water, much like our boat's wake but very small, moving rapidly across to the shore on our left. I silently pointed and Dad slowed so that we intercepted the double riffle, just behind a four-foot rattlesnake, moving with the same motion it makes on open sand, its yellow on black diamonds and beige rattles and thick body clearly visible under our prow. None of us spoke.

Using wet flies cast with a bubble, we each took our limit of three trout over five pounds and, acknowledging the mutual agreement of those fishing on this private lake, put the many others we caught back. Two that my father caught with his own self-designed version of a double woolly worm that ended in a red tuft must have weighed over eight pounds.

We tried some dry fly casting in the early afternoon, and I watched a huge brookie rise to take my dragonfly and then, coming in, suddenly turn uncontrollably under the anchor rope and snap the delicate leader, close enough that I could see the rich scattering of blue and red-gold aureoles down its side. I felt it go, with no regret. By 4:00 the wind up the canyon off Bear Lake was too strong for good fishing, and we left. Dad and I both offered to drive, but the client, who had taken a nap, insisted he wasn't tired and for variety headed around the lake to Garden City and down Logan Canyon, with me sleeping across the back seat and Dad dozing in the front.

* * *

When I came up out of unconsciousness I had my hands on my father's head and could feel his hair and blood. I couldn't hear the words I was saying, but I felt them from the blessing part of me, the deepest part, before consciousness. Dad was more conscious than I was but more hurt. I gradually began to see the ground, the fir trees, then the cars just down from us. There was a blue Austin impaled at a slight angle onto the front of the Jeep. All of the Jeep's doors were sprung open, and the freezer of huge fish was splashed across the highway. I kept my hands on Dad's head and began to hear his moaning, then felt pain emerging in my own chest and struggled to breathe.

Police came over soon and told me our driver had fallen asleep and run head-on into the Austin, which had been driven by a German tourist whose legs had been broken. Ambulances were on the way. Each new face asked me where we caught the fish. Our driver, who wasn't hurt at all, kept apologizing, frantically. He knew my father was dying. When the ambulances came, they put Dad in the first one and tried to get me to lie down by him, but that made it even harder for me to breathe. At the Logan hospital they made me lie down for x-rays of my broken ribs, and I nearly fainted. Then the technician told me they had seen what looked like a bruise on the upper aorta in my father's x-rays and were going to rush him to Salt Lake because the artery could burst at any moment.

I asked the technician if he would help me give my father a blessing, and he nodded and went for some consecrated oil. We found Dad on a gurney in the next room, barely conscious, the whole left side of his face, where he had struck the dashboard, going purple. I blessed him with life, specifically with the five years he had told me that spring he needed in order to complete the arrangements to consolidate our family investments and transfer them into the Church's missionary funds. The words were given to my tongue, beyond my mind. I called Charlotte and Mom and told them we'd had a slight accident, to call Dad's friend, heart surgeon Russell Nelson, and to meet us at the LDS Hospital.

But all confidence left me on the ninety-minute, blaring-sirens ambulance ride to Salt Lake. I sat in the front seat, Dad and a doctor and nurse just behind me through a curtain. As the driver radioed ahead, asking Dr. Nelson to be ready and describing the emergency, I was constantly sure someone would soon push through the curtain to tell me the aorta had burst and my father was dead. When we arrived, Dad was rushed into surgery and Charlotte stayed with me while I got us checked in and walked to my own room. Then I couldn't breathe again. Charlotte got them to look at my x-rays, which I was carrying; they decided that my collapsed lung needed immediate attention and sent Charlotte out while an intern gave me a local, made an incision, and pushed a hollow needle between my ribs and began to evacuate the chest cavity so my lung would reinflate.

Charlotte came back to tell me my father was fine––except for some missing teeth and a broken jaw. The new x-rays they took for Dr. Nelson showed no bruise on the aorta. I thought of the fish, the brookie, and the part of me that moved to heal my father before I knew anything. We were alive.

* * *

I made it back to Manhattan (another seven dollars, leaving me twelve dollars) in time to meet Greg for the matinee of Hamlet at the Joseph Papp Shakespeare Festival Theater near Astor Place. "Put both these tickets on the tab for that check I'm sending you," I said when he came up. "I owe you for the toast." I was anxious to see what Liviu Ciulei, the great Hungarian director who is now in charge of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, would do with this difficult and (in my opinion) usually butchered play and to see the popular movie actor, Kevin Kline, do the lead. (This was certainly 1986.) I was disappointed in both of them: more of the same traditional misreading of the play as simply a struggle by a romantic intellectual to get enough courage to take bloody revenge on the uncle who killed his father.

Ciulei's best decision was to let the costuming and instincts of the actors follow Shakespeare's words and show Hamlet becoming more and more like his monstrous uncle as he succumbs to the revenge spirit. The poison that symbolizes that spirit is initially dropped by the uncle into Hamlet's father's ear, then, in the call to revenge, is dropped into Hamlet's ear by the father's ghost and, in direct response to Hamlet's threats, into Laertes' ear by Claudius. By the play's end that poison is spreading to corrupt and finally kill them all. Ciulei also allowed Harriet Harris to play Ophelia in a way that let the words speak true, even against the rest of his direction. She was able to show a woman and her innocent love being ground to pieces between the sinful male "honor" of Hamlet and the sinful male "protection" of her father.

After the play we walked up past Christopher Park and found, at the corner of West Fourth Street, a quartet of young men, two on violin, one on viola, and one on cello, just beginning Haydn's "Sunrise Sonata." They were about the same age as Stretch Pants and the trumpet player in Montreal but were dressed in levis and T-shirts, like the dealer. They were excellent musicians, and most of the rowdy crowd stood quietly or passed by carefully. Nearly everyone put a quarter or two into the open case, but I waited, thought, felt within me the war of blame for the con game––and guilt and racism––against all my opposing beliefs, and furtively put in five dollars. As we caught a bus up Seventh Avenue, I told Greg I thought I'd get some rest before Easter, left him at his station on Forty-second, and transferred across and up Madison to the empty apartment on Sixty-third that Dave and Karen Davidson had lent me for the weekend. I bought bread at the corner deli and explored the refrigerator––but still felt I shouldn't eat and slept uneasily.

* * *

This is my report. I have been assigned to George England, one of my descendants, for thirty years now. He carries my own name but does not use George often, though that is his first name. I have protected him well, but I do not understand him. I think I should remain on this assignment for at least one more ten-year term.

The main problem is that George understands what is right to do but does not do it. He knows more about the Atonement than I did when I was branch president in Lyme Regis––or even when I became a patriarch in Plain City after the crossing to Utah. He writes constantly about it, even when he is writing for the gentiles about literature. Many people praise him for what he says; they write letters to him telling how he helped them live the gospel better and helped them understand repentance. But he still does terrible things. It is still hard for him to be honest. He covers up his mistakes with lies. He pretends he knows things or remembers people or has read books when he has not. I think he loves to do right, but he has a hard time being honest or kind when the chance to do so is sudden or embarrassing or when he is in pain or lonely. If he has time to think, he is very often good, but not when he is surprised.

When I helped him marry Charlotte Ann, you know how much better he was for awhile. He began to learn from her to be generous before he thought about it. He even began to be honest like she is, without toting up the cost. But after all that self-pity when he lost his job at St. Olaf ten years ago he began to be a hustler, to cut corners, to take advantage. I was able to use that car accident to help him know he was good. And when you arranged for him to be a bishop, that was fine for awhile. But he seems to have lost contact with Charlotte Ann. He isn't listening to her very well, and he isn't telling her what he really feels. I think she is getting tired.

Perhaps he is writing too much. I am certain he is not praying enough. He is worried, though, and wondering, sometimes frantically, I think, why there is not someone to help him the way he has helped some who have needed him. He does not seem to be able to ask for help. Perhaps something will happen that we can use. I hope so. My heart reaches out to complete the circle. I think some good chances will come now that he is in a bishopric again and working with the primary and the Cub Scouts––and also when he becomes a grandfather in two years.

I am sorry about the language of this report. I know you want me to learn from him, but it is hard when he talks so very little. Please excuse all mistakes.

* * *

I couldn't sleep and then overslept, so I had to run all the way up through the Easter-dressed people on Fifth Avenue to make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Eighty-first by the 10:30 opening. I paid one dollar of the four-dollar suggested contribution (leaving me one last bus fare plus just enough to get to the airport the next morning). I went right to the Rembrandts and Vermeers, but even there I found I could only focus well on two paintings: Rembrandt's gentle "Christ with a Pilgrim's Staff" and Vermeer's quiet, consuming "Woman with a Blue Pitcher," the young housewife working calmly in that corner of a room that Vermeer painted again and again, as if he might understand the whole world through one place seen completely. Then I hurried down the long hall, past the antique pianofortes, to the south wing––Manet's white apparition, "Woman with a Bonnet," framed in the doorway as a beacon visible all the way. But I turned quickly to find my favorite Manet at the far right: "The Dead Christ with Angels."

Critics of the nineteenth-century French Academy did not like the extreme realism, the precisely bird-like blue wings on the two angels and the heavy, black-shadowed cadaver. But I find the moment captured by Manet extremely moving. It is not the traditional moment of shining glory after life returns. It is the dark time of struggle as Christ's divine spirit is still creating the resurrection from within his still-dead mortal body, with the angels still sorrowing, holding him up, urging life to return. I agree with Emile Zola, the French novelist, who wrote of Manet's "obstinate eye and audacious hand," his ability to imagine and realize such angels, "those children with great blue wings who are so strangely elegant and gentle." These are the angels Mary Magdalene saw later, when she found the tomb empty, the two still "sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" (John 20:12). At the front of the painting is a snake, the one from Eden, its head about to be crushed according to the promise.

I took the bus across Central Park to the chapel on the second floor of the Church-owned office building on Sixty-fifth and Broadway so I could make sacrament meeting at noon. After the sacrament was administered, a short Easter musical program preceded the regular testimony bearing. But if this was 1986 then it was on the last Sunday of March, rather than the first Sunday, when Mormons normally fast for twenty-four hours and bear testimony. And the printed program I saved proves that it was indeed Easter. Anyway, after the choir's "Easter Hymn" and a woman's quartet singing "The Lord's Prayer," the choir leader (Andrea Thornock, I see from the program) sang "He Was Despised" from The Messiah. She had dark hair and wore a long surplice-like overdress. It was made of what looked like velvet and was dyed a striking grape red. Her somber alto voice reminded us of the costs of salvation: "He was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows"––her voice pronounced exactly the grief in that three-note dying fall on "sorrow" that must have come from Handel's own pain. She looked straight into our eyes, as she slowly turned and looked across the congregation: "He hid not his face from shame, from shame and spitting."

Then Liz Hodgin, in a lovely floral print and pink hat, sang the soprano solo that has been called by Kenneth Clark and others the greatest piece of human music: "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth." But it is that, I believe, only when it is sung by someone, like Liz, who believes, who sings her own testimony as well as Handel's. And our hearts were lifted from the depths Andrea had properly taken us down to. I blessed Andrea for planning such a program and for being part of it, for remembering, though we Mormons don't often notice Good Friday, what that somber day is meant to recall: that Christ was suffering servant as well as glorious victor, that, like all of us sinners, he had to die before he could be resurrected.

The bishop bore his testimony, not about the resurrection but about the power of repentance, which he had experienced personally. An elegantly dressed businessman picked up the theme by confessing, in a careful, broken voice, how Christ had changed him twenty years before, suddenly, completely. A short man with a beer belly, thinning, long black hair, and a black leather jacket, almost a caricature of the aged hippie, spoke softly of his long, slow, still-backsliding conversion. And a young Puerto Rican on the bench in front of me, whom I had noticed struggling for courage to get up, spoke last. He told how a few weeks before he had made a Saturday trip to see this strange part of New York, had wandered into the LDS visitors' center on the main floor just below us, and had met some missionaries and joined the Church. He tried to describe his former sins and how he had changed. "I'm sorry in all the world," he kept saying. "I'm sorry in all the world."