31 March 2008

Post 109

I have a lot of thoughts rattling around in my head just now, and I know that they are somehow interrelated--I can feel the association among them, but I just can't see it--so I figure I better disclaim the lack of linear logic that is bound to follow: my apologies. I'll probably hop around a lot, throwing out various thoughts, hoping that they come together in the end; we'll see how it goes.

Mostly my thoughts come from a couple of songs: "Vienna" by Billy Joel and "Forever Young" by Alphaville. I guess that the songs don't really resemble each other very obviously, but they both stir up the same feelings within me. YouTube them, if you like; they're good songs, but I can't guarantee that they'll make you feel what I feel. Maybe they will--who am I to say?--but I find that expressing emotion in words, though often difficult, is a relative cakewalk to trying to replicate those feelings in another, so my intent here is not to make you feel what I feel but rather to make you hear what I think.

I could put the lyrics of "Vienna" and "Forever Young" here, but I bet you'd probably lose the thread if you tried to read them--I know I would--besides, like I said, the similarities are more abstract than anything. However, there are two bits that really strike me--the words that always stand out to me when the songs are in my head--so I'll give you that and hope that it gives me a solid jumping-off point.

From "Vienna": "you can get what you want or you can just get old."

From "Forever Young": "It's so hard to get old without a cause."

I find it odd that these sentiments impact me so powerfully. I mean, I really have no right to complain about getting old--far from having passed my prime, I think I have yet to reach it!--but I really believe that the things I do now will set the trajectory for the rest of my life, and there are no options for course corrections later on should I aim too low.

But that's not really what's weighing on my mind, and, to be totally honest, I'm really not all that fatalistic. That is, however, a significant part of what I'm feeling right now, so don't totally disregard it.

-[logical gap]-

The way I perceive people and my relationship to them has changed drastically in the past few months. I used to be bitterly jealous of most everyone for one reason or another, but now, not so much. I've really noticed this lately in my association with [Dameon], my afore-mentioned supervisor at work. I really like the guy--a lot. We've had several meaningful conversations as we've cleaned dormitory restrooms together, and I always really enjoy his perspectives. He occasionally talks about how unspectacular he feels, and I suppose he is a fairly ordinary person, but that's what I like about him. He and I are on opposite sides of a milestone--I am questing (though perhaps not as assertively as I could be) toward marriage; he has finished that quest and is now embarking upon the new adventure of fatherhood--but, really, we aren't all that different from each other. Working around him has really been enlightening in that regard.

My senior year of high school, Mr. Richards (also previously mentioned) was my English teacher. We were a class of seniors, ready to graduate, ready to go out and take on the world, ready to be done with parents and public schooling, ready for life; he was a sixty-something school teacher, ready to retire, ready to get away from the world, ready to be done with our parents and the public school system, ready for life. It was his last year as well as ours, and that led to some interesting discussions. The one thing I remember best is reading Waiting for Godot. After we had read it, Mr. Richards said something that went like this:

"We are all waiting for Godot. All of us. You are so excited to graduate and leave this place; you think, 'Oh, I'll leave high school and go off to college, and then I'll be happy!' But then you'll get to college and you'll think, 'When I graduate and have a degree, I'll get a real job, and then I'll be happy!' But you won't. You'll graduate and you'll get a job you hate, and you'll think, 'When I get my dream job, then I'll be happy.' But no. Eventually, you will be like me, thinking, 'I'm going to retire. Then I'll really be happy.' We are all waiting for Godot, and we always will be until we learn to be happy in our current circumstances, whatever they may be."

Today [Dameon] was talking about how unfulfilling his life seems right now. He's got a wonderful wife and a baby son; he's got a college degree; he's building a house for his family to live in--yet it just doesn't feel as wonderful as it looks. Sure, he's got a college degree, but what good's it done him? He works as a janitor! He could do that without a college degree!

I told him about Waiting for Godot, and then we got to talking about how obvious the idea is--of course life is never going to hand you happiness on a silver tray! You've gotta learn to be happy with what you've got--but, even though this is easy to think up, it's much, much harder to actually apply. Even when you wholeheartedly believe in the principle, being happy is sometimes hard. I mean, I've made bold statements on how we need to choose to be happy, and I've been trying to increase the frequency of optimistic posts on this blog--I've even created an optimism label! But I recognize that being happy is sometimes hard; I struggle with it myself sometimes.

Remember my soulful mentor [V]? We had a late-night chat about this once. Here are some excerpts:

12:54 AM me:I just been thinkin'
and I decided that the world has pretty much gone to crap
It isn't GOING to crap; it IS crap
I'M not going to be crap any more
No ma'am
Not me
I'm done moping
12:55 AM It doesn't take a genius to see that times are bad
It just might take a crazy person to see the good in the world
But if the world wants crazy
So from here on out
Yes, ma'am
Now on
No matter what
[...] I suppose happiness is a conscious action
and a lot of hard work
12:57 AM But bein' sad all the time ain't exactly a cakewalk
I mean
path of least resistance, sure
what's the point?
Yes, good.
Frankly, though, I kinda suck at being happy
something I need to work on, I guess...
12:58 AM So, that's what's on my mind
12:59 AM Sorry to dump on you like that
Kinda got caught up in typing and forgot that my ramblings are all over your screen
1:35 AM [V]: It is so true that happiness is a choice.
I'm glad you're making the choice to be happy.
That makes me happy, in fact.
So, well done, young man!
me: Yeah....
I've always known happiness is a choice
[V]: easier said than done, yes
me: [...] [There was a girl who spoke today in my Stake Conference that really annoyed me.]
She said something about being happy-smiley ALL the time, no matter what
I dunno
1:38 AM Sadness has its place in life
Jesus was sad sometimes
and angry, too
I think if we plaster on smiles and refuse to admit that life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, we'll miss a big part of the mortal experience we came here to get
Granted, we ought to try to be happy as much as possible
1:39 AM [V]: Oh I definitely agree
me: But happiness is not the only emotion--I'm not even sure it's the most important
[V]: But happiness isn't necessarily a plastered-on smile and looking happy... it's being happy inside, no matter what, which can be achieved, even when we're going through the darkest of trials
in my opinion
There are different kinds and different levels of happiness
me: God's the happiest guy in the universe, but I'm pretty sure he feels sorrow and pain we can't even imagine (mostly because of our stupidity)
1:40 AM Yes, yes
Different kinds
[V]: Oh yes, I definitely agree with that as well
me: Sadness and despair are two very different things
You can be sad or frustrated and still be filled with the hope the Gospel brings
1:41 AM Book of Mormon said despair comes of iniquity
[V]: yes
me: Basically, sinning screws up your ability to be happy
[V]: Ah, I see what you're saying
I agree
me: The joy of the Gospel is--I dunno--sort of something that can underscore EVERY aspect of life
even sorrow
[V]: Yes
me: But it doesn't prevent us from feeling sorrow
1:42 AM [V]: Oh I definitely agree
We aren't always happy... we don't always feel happiness...
Hope is more important.
Hope is what we should always have, not necessarily happiness.
me: And hope generally makes you happy
I guess
I dunno, maybe I'm running in circles here

So take that for what it's worth. Perhaps it doesn't mean much to you since you don't actually know [V], but the woman has been through the ringer a time or two (at least!), yet she maintains one of the happier personalities I've ever encountered. Gives me a lot of hope for humanity, really.

-[logical gap]-

This isn't really coming together the way I had hoped it would. But I have one last thought to present, so hopefully that does it.

I'm a fairly sentimental person in some regards. I've recently overcome most of my packrat-like tendencies, but I still have a few things that I hold on to for strictly sentimental reasons. One I carry with me in my wallet. It's a piece of paper that I found on the floor of the office supply store I worked in before moving up here. It was lying underneath a briefcase display, so I assume that it came off of a briefcase, but I couldn't figure out a place to put it, so I figured it was garbage and therefore free game, so I kept it. The piece of paper says this:

The leather of this product
is soft and mellow.
Marks and scars are natural
and serve only to enhance its beauty.

I have often found myself associated with people who are suffering from life's trials. I, myself, am not much of a sufferer--not that I'm especially stalwart; mostly I'm just prolifically apathetic. Of course, I do suffer sometimes, and I think to suffer is actually healthy, it just isn't something I'm particularly good at. But I look at the people I really admire--my dad, [V], several people I met as a missionary and at other times in my life--and they have all suffered quite a bit. But it's the overcoming that really makes them admirable. And, after they overcome, "Marks and scars are natural and serve only to enhance [their] beauty."

I'm not much of a poet--I mean, I can rhyme okay, but real poetry is hard to produce and certainly isn't the sort of thing that I can create at will. But sometimes poetry just happens. Here's a poem I wrote a while back while suffering vicariously for a friend (I mentioned this in my suffering post); it isn't gonna make me poet laureate or anything, but I think it has merit--at least enough to finish off this post (which really isn't going to have any sort of solid denoument, as it turns out. Sorry. I hope you got something out of all this...).

If I could write the story for your life,

I’d edit out the parts that caused the pains

And scars with which your noble soul is rife,

And chase away the clouds that still drop rain.

But if I wrote the story out that way,

I guess it wouldn’t really be your life,

And maybe you would not turn out the same

If you had never tasted pain and strife.

Oh, I have felt the fury of your wrath,

And I’ve received compassion from your heart,

And I have seen you cry and heard you laugh;

I fathom you God’s greatest work of art.

So let me get down to the bottom line:

I love you—scars and all!—dear friend of mine.

27 March 2008

Post 108

Hey, another movie review!

So, last night my rommies and I rented and watched The Hudsucker Proxy. I haven't seen that movie in--oh, I dunno--six or seven years probably, but I remembered it being fun, and it is one of Thmazing's favorites, so can't go wrong, right?

Hmm.... Upon reading the above paragraph, I realize that it sounds like I'm implying that you ought to be bracing yourself for some scathing criticism of this movie, but I assure you that such is not the case. I liked the movie; it was fun. And I don't remember the last time a line from a movie made me laugh so hard as, "Okay, Oklahoma then?" did--that was purdy gosh dang funny.

Aside from being fun, though, this movie impressed me with all its allusions (or omages, as cinematographic vernacular goes, I hear) to other movies: in a broad sense, the entire plot was reminiscent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Jennifer Jason Leigh sounded and behaved just like Jean Author (or Katherine Hepburn or several other leading ladies of the era); Tim Robbins's drunken fantasy just before telling off the elevator boy was totally lifted from that really random scene in Singin' in the Rain; when Tim is stumbling around the center of the circle of people after the elevator boy punches him, it looked a lot like--like--like several movies, really--anything Hunchback of Notre Dame-esque, I guess.... There were many others, but I've forgotten them now; throughout the movie, there were familiar scenes that I couldn't quite place. The Cohen brothers totally nailed the 50s thing, though, with the loud-mouthed newspaper man, the cool-handed executive (hyuck hyuck hyuck), the cheerful music, the slappy elevator boy--it's just a well-done movie all in all. Nothing bad to say about it.

That said, I'm not sure how often I'd watch it. Comedy is fun, but I can't really think of many comedies that I'd like to watch over and over and over again--maybe it's a phase I'm going through; I don't know. I prefer thought-provoking movies, mostly, which The Hudsucker Proxy is not [but check the comments on this post for Thmazing's rebuttal; it's bound to show up eventually].

25 March 2008

Post 93

This is Post 93. I don't know how I managed to fail to make a Post 93 between Post 92 and Post 94, but I did. So here we have Post 93.

I really don't have much to say, so let me just direct you here. As it turns out, 93 is a very meaningful number--so much the sadder that I forgot it!

Post 107

So, I've mentioned my dictionary collection. I have another lackluster collection that I'm very proud of that I think I'll tell you about now: my kitchen appliance collection.

Appliances are surprisingly fun for as practical as they are. This makes them easy (and dangerous!) to collect because I can always justify getting another one. This all started when I was buying some necessities before moving away to college; I saw some appliances on sale, so I picked up a blender, crockpot, and electric skillet. Then my parent bought a new toaster, so I mooched their old one. I also mooched one of their extra popcorn poppers (I come from a family of popcorn fanatics). Then I got a George Foreman grill from one of my brothers for Christmas. About a month ago, I bought myself a rice cooker. And, as of yesterday, I am now the proud owner of a secondhand bread maker!

So. There you go. More boring hobbies from me, your friendly German butterfly....

24 March 2008

Post 106

Maybe it isn't just me, then....

So I just read this post from Confuzzled. It was an interesting flipside sort of view point for me. I've been emailing back and forth with a friend of mine here and there over the course of the past few weeks talking about how sometimes God directs people in paths that seem illogical, but, because He invariably knows best, it's always better to trust Him and do what He says. Today in my Book of Mormon class, we talked about stepping out into the unknown and not hoping to know the end from the beginning.

It's an interesting balance. Confuzzled's twiddlebugs learned that it isn't always best to strike out into the unknown; me and my friend have each learned (in very different ways from each other) that sometimes stepping into the unknown is required. It's hard to know what's right. It's generally easier to stay put, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's generally better to strike out; just because something is hard doesn't necessarily mean it's right. I fear that one day I may work really hard to do something that turns out to be nothing but hard; the hope in doing hard things is that some sort of payoff comes later on.

How do you know the difference, then?

I dunno. Pray, I guess.

23 March 2008

Post 105

Some thoughts for Easter:

I am not opposed to Easter, but I've been thinking about it, and I think it's kinda sad that we need Easter. Please don't misunderstand: I don't mean to imply that I think it's sad that we need the Atonement of Jesus Christ; what I mean by saying I'm sad that we need Easter is--well--shouldn't every Sunday be an Easter celebration of sorts? I mean, isn't that kinda the point of assembling as Christians and breaking bread in similitude of the Last Supper, which was itself a symbol of Christ's sacrifice? And shouldn't we ponder daily on the greatness of God's Love and offer prayers of gratitude and praise? If we were really doing what we ought to be doing, how could a yearly holiday possibly add anything to our daily and weekly rituals--except for maybe the obligatory capitalization that we append to all holidays....

Now for a dramatic change in subject:

I think that loneliness is a substantial element of the human condition; it is the ubiquitous (though sometimes imperceptible) white noise of the soul--always there, just sometimes downed out by other emotions. I site the extremely young and the extremely old as my examples: I went to an Alzheimer's ward on Saturday, and it was amazing to me how lonely those folks were. I was there with my parents to visit an uncle, and some old lady walked up and grabbed my mother and I by the hands and started saying something about--I dunno--people with Alzheimer's, I quickly learned, don't make much sense even when you can understand the words they say. As soon as my dad found out what room my uncle was in, my mom pulled away from the old lady and followed my dad down the hall. The old lady clutched my hand tightly, looked into my eyes, and, nearly breaking into sobs, said, "You won't leave me--will you?" I was disarmed, and I let her pull me over to a couch, where I figured I'd sit next to her and listen to her jabber--something I was more than willing to do, given the sincerity of her loneliness--but my mother called me away, so I freed myself and went down the hall.

Of course, the old lady had Alzheimer's, so I'm sure that she quickly forgot all about it, though she seemed quite distraught at my hurried departure--but I didn't forget, and I found it very difficult to leave her. Now, I realize that, even if I had stayed and chatted with her for several hours, she would have forgotten all about it fairly quickly--I saw her less than an hour later, and she seemed to have no recollection of ever having met me, let alone of begging me to sit next to her on a couch--but the tear-filled eyes of an octogenarian, looking up at me from eyes as full of fear as a child faced with being alone in a dark room--they get to me, those eyes; they really do.

Little kids hate to be alone--hate to be alone. And I think that that is something we never really grow out of. Sure, we manage to bury the fear of solitude deep within ourselves, but I think it's always there. I am one who enjoys some alone time occasionally--indeed, I seek it out almost nightly--but I also realize that hermitizing is a crippling practice. God made us to be--

Wait a minute....

Kay, I was right: I was about to plagiarize a thmusing--unintentionally, but definitely. On 9 March 2008, Thmazing said, "Ever since I made the discovery almost a decade ago that God made us social creatures, I've never stopped riffing on the subject. Because it's true. We were built to need each other."

Right. We are social creatures--it's part of our hardwiring. And I believe that loneliness is a universal ailment. My hope is, of course, that one day I will get married, and my idle fantasy is that, from that day on, loneliness will simply go *POOF!*, but I don't really believe it. In fact, I'm afraid that, because loneliness will be less frequent, it will be far more potent when it hits.

But there is One whom we can always depend upon, One who will never leave us alone. And I imagine that no one in the history of this old world has ever been better acquainted with loneliness than He was--the most misunderstood Man to ever live, One who never had peers, One who was rejected by His own people.

Happy Easter.

21 March 2008

Post 104

Hey everybody, keep on keepin' on!

Little optimism for the day:

20 March 2008

Post 103

Today's thought is brought to you by Jacob chapter 5.

I love the allegory of the olive trees. Every time I finish Jacob 4, I feel daunted, and it usually takes me a while to start in on chapter 5 because it's so freaking huge. But every time I get around to reading Jacob 5, I get something new out of it. People often say that about the entirety of the Book of Mormon, but I find it's really true for me for this chapter. Maybe it's because my attention span is so abysmally small, so I only get snatches of the chapter whenever I read it--and probably different collections of snatches each time--but for whatever reason, this chapter always brings me insights, so I'd like to share the couple I just got right now.

Insight #1: The poorest spot in all the land (v21)

Something that's been on my mind a lot lately (see Post 97) is the place of trials in our lives. I look around at the people I know, and I see people who have had some really terrible experiences and yet have turned out to be some of the most enthusiastically optimistic and friendly people I know. On the other hand, there're always those people who don't know how good they have it. I know that it's common for people to wonder why bad stuff happens to good people or to curse the heavens, screaming, "Why me?" Lately, I've been looking back on my life and had to wonder why I've had it so easy--not complaining; don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that life has been so kind to me, but I sometimes wonder how it all works out in the end.

Having these thoughts rattling around in the back of my head, Jacob 5:19-23 become most intriguing. In these verses, the Lord of the vineyard takes his servant to see some of the branches of the olive tree that he planted in a far corner of the vineyard. The branches have thrived and produced "much fruit; and [...] it was good" (v20). The servant asks the Lord, "How comest thou hither to plant this tree[...]? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of they vineyard" (v21). The Lord answers, "Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore [...] I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit" (v22).

It is not for us to question why God does things the way He does. Sure, He puts some amazing people in some terrible circumstances, but He also nourishes them if they'll let Him. Sometimes the best trees grow in the worst soil; the Lord of the vineyard knows what He's doing.

Insight #2: Spare it a little longer (v50)

I have often been confused by the behavior of the Lord of the vineyard in the latter half of the chapter: he always seems to eager to just tear down his vineyard and burn it all, but his servant always manages to talk him out of it. The way I read the allegory, the Lord of the vineyard is God the Father, and the servant is Jesus Christ. I believe in a loving and patient God, but this allegory seems to imply that He isn't.

I have misunderstood. This allegory really is a beautiful representation of what the Atonement means for us. God is loving and patient, but He is also absolutely just. As I read the allegory today, I realized that the Lord of the vineyard is completely justified in wanting to tear down his vineyard--I mean, if your trees start to produce useless fruit, what's the point of keeping them around, right? But the servant always intercedes, persuading the Lord of the vineyard to hold off just a little longer. Isn't that what the Atonement is? We all start producing this horrible fruit, but Jesus gives us a way to change and start being what we were meant to be (I supposed a reference to St John 15:1-2 might be apropos here).

I always have to smile when people complain about how unfair life is--'cuz they're right, but they don't understand their own wisdom: life is unfair, but it's unfair to our advantage. If life were perfectly fair, we'd all go to hell because there isn't a single one of us who really deserves to go to heaven. But, because of the grace of Jesus Christ and the wisdom of God's plan, anyone can go to heaven if they're willing to let Jesus change their carnal natures into something better. All we like sheep have gone astray--we all bear bad fruit--but Jesus can save us if we'll let Him.

God doesn't want to send us all to hell, but, in order to maintain justice, every sin must have its punishment. So God, being perfectly just, will send people to hell if they are unwilling to follow the plan He's set up for us, but Jesus, being perfectly merciful, will save the people who are willing to follow that plan.

Anyway. Those are my thoughts for the day. Wish I had some powerful conclusion to tack on to the end, but what I have said satisfies me, so I make an end.

18 March 2008

Post 102

I am Schmetterling.

Schmetterling is German for butterfly. I chose the name because, by superimposing the letters of my real name upon each other, I can create a symbol that looks something like a butterfly--and, not wanting to call myself The Butterfly for fear of sounding sexually or politically oriented in ways that I am not, so I chose a random language (German) and used an online translator to get the name I now use in cyberspace. I have since learned, thanks to Wikipedia, that Schmetterling was the name of a WWII surface-t0-air missile developed by the Germans.

But today I learned something that--that I think I ought to have something philosophical to say about, but, alas, I do not.

Here's a picture, though:

That's the cover of a DVD. There's a book called I Never Saw Another Butterfly that's somehow related. That's all I really know.

I learned in my Psychology class today that, in some concentration camps, the doomed Jews drew pictures on the walls--some of butterflies. I think that the above picture is of a butterfly drawn on a wall by a condemned Jew.

Here's a poem that was written by a Jew in a ghetto:

"The Butterfly"

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone. . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.

- by Pavel Friedman

So. I am Schmetterling--am I the sort of Schmetterling people long for in the ghettos of their lives? Am I the sort of thing a doomed prisoner would draw on a prison law?

Kinda doubt it. But. Maybe I could be that sort of--

Help me out here, readers. Is anyone able to give this thought shape? I feel completely unable.

Post 101

Ahhhh.... I've got Billy Joel's "Blonde over Blue" in my ears (I just bought River of Dreams, and I've got it pumping into my head through headphones), and the spring weather is beautiful, so I am in a very good mood.

Time to blog!

Today: more movie reviews.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I loved this movie. I'm not really sure why I did--it had so many things stacked against it: Jim Carrey in the leading role, vaguely sci-fi elements, hints of romantic comedy, an R-rating--but one of my roommates has an edited version, so I decided to watch it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it--enough that I'm considering investing in a copy.

I suppose the big question raised by this movie is something like "If you knew the problems that a specific relationship would bring into your life, would you still enter that relationship?" It's an interesting question. I mean, every relationship is going to have its problems, isn't it? I guess I don't really know since I've never been in one, but I don't hope to find a problem-free relationship--I mean, what good would it be, really? What would you learn? If being in love just meant the disappearance of all of life's difficulties--I dunno, I just don't see the appeal in that. It's the working together to get through things that appeals to me. The question is, if I knew exactly how hard a relationship was going to be, would I still enter it? Answer: probably not 'cuz frankly I'm pretty spineless sometimes.

As Good as It Gets

I liked this movie too--I think. I don't have a solid enough opinion on it that I feel inclined to say much. I think that a second viewing would be very helpful. It certainly isn't your typical romantic comedy, so I frequently found myself wondering, "Where the heck is this movie going?" Now that I know how the story goes, I think that I could enjoy it better, but I don't know for sure. I will say, though, that Jack Nicholson says some of the best lines in movie history in this movie--some are just shockingly funny, others are shockingly honest, but they're all pretty much shocking. This movie--yeah, I'm gonna have to watch it again. And maybe I'll review it better after I do.

Mr. Holland's Opus

I'm not sure why I like this movie so much, but I'm not embarrassed to admit that I own it. I think it's ridiculous how nearly emotional the ending of this movie makes me, but I don't mind. It's a good movie. When I was younger (meaning "in high school," I guess), I liked it because I hoped to do something with my life that would one day cause a sea of people to applaud for me; I wanted mass love. Now, not so much, but I still love the movie.


This movie was interesting, dang it! 'Nother sci-fi movie I didn't hate! Gar! 'sall right, though; I still have Fantasy that I can dog on. Stupid Fantasy; who likes that nonsense, anyway? (Take THAT Theric!)

Uhhh.... ANYway, Solaris was pretty good. I don't know that I'd watch it again and again, and I'm not convinced that the ending really makes a whole lot of sense, but the idea was just so interesting that I found the movie mostly forgivable.

So there you go: more movie reviews. Not in depth, but there they are.

12 March 2008

Post 100!

My 100th post. Time to actually say something.

I'm taking a Book of Mormon class. Today, we started delving into the part where Mormon starts recounting the events of his own lifetime, and I had some insights into the character of this amazing man. He had so much faith in the midst of terrible times! We often think of ourselves as living in a time of great evil--and rightfully so--but Mormon's days were far worse.

Let me paint the picture for you: Nephite society has been wonderfully prosperous for the past few hundred years, but now things are starting to go downhill. When Mormon is 15, a war with the Lamanites commences that lasts for 20 or 25 years until it is finally resolved by a treaty that divides the land between the two peoples and establishes peace for about a decade. After that, the war that would ultimately destroy the Nephite nation begins.

During this latter war, things get gruesome. The Lamanites begin invading Nephite cities, capturing women and children to sacrifice to their idol gods. This understandably infuriates the Nephites, but, despite their impassioned efforts to avenge themselves, they cannot conquer the Lamanites and are eventually detroyed entirely.

But this terrible war did not trouble Mormon nearly as much as the wickedness of the Nephites themselves. During this time, when they ought to have been seeking God's help and protection, the Nephites were involved in every kind of sin imaginable, so much so that Mormon (who was a great historian) tells us that no one in the history of the Covenant People had ever been so wicked (Mormon 4:12). Mormon gave one particularly frightening example of this historic depravity in one of his letters to Moroni:

[N]otwithstanding [the] great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Morianton. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after [raping them]... they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts... and they do it for a token of bravery (Moroni 9:9-10).

And the atrocities of the Nephites were not only against the Lamanites. One Nephite leader stole provisions from Nephite widows and left them to starve to death (Moroni 9:16). Even away from the horrors of the war, the Nephite homelands were so infested with thieves and robbers that no one could retain their possessions without keeping them in hand, and Mormon lists sorceries, witchcrafts, and murders as commonplace (Mormon 1:18-19, 2:10). The whole society was so bad that Mormon lamented, "O the depravity of my people! They are without order and without mercy.... I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me" (Moroni 9:18, 21).

So that sets the scene for you. Now let me introduce you to this amazing man:

Even as a boy, Mormon was levelheaded and God-fearing. When he was only 10 years old, he was entrusted with all of the sacred records of his people (Mormon 1:2-4). When he was 15, he was "visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus" (Mormon 1:15) and was later appointed to be the general of an army (Mormon 2:1-2). The young general initially had a youthful optimism that his people would repent and turn to God, but quickly realized just how far from God they had wandered (Mormon 2:12-14). During the decade of peace that followed his first war, Mormon preached repentance to his people, tirelessly exhorting them to return to their Savior, even though no one listened (Mormon 3:3). Soon after the final war broke out, he became so frustrated with the Nephites' hardheartedness that he resigned from his generalship. This is where we really see the caliber of man that Mormon was. Listen to what he says about this whoring, murderous, blaspheming people:

Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them (Mormon 3:12).

He never gave up on his people. About ten years after his resignation, he returned to lead them in what he knew would be their final battle, and he did so knowing full well that they were doomed to be destroyed by the Lamanites:

[T]hey are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind. They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father. But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her (Mormon 5:16-18).

So now you have some perspective on who Mormon was and what his days were like. He was a pillar of righteousness in the midst of a people who had completely rejected their God; he lived in times when his people's wives and children were being sacrificed to idols by their enemies and being robbed and murdered by each other; he lived knowing that the utter destruction of his entire society was upon them. What does such a man do during such turbulent and hopeless times?

He preaches hope and love.

Now that you've got your mind set to the historical context, consider Mormon's sermon recorded in Moroni chapter 7. This man, who was watching his people suffer the inevitable outcome of wholesale rejection of Christ, delivered a powerful discourse to the few remaining "peaceable followers of Christ" (Moroni 7:3). These people, who's friends and family members had been sacrificed to false gods by their enemies or murdered by their fellows, had perhaps more right to feel jaded and angry than any other people has ever had, yet Mormon spoke to them of faith and miracles and hope and love. Let me share some highlights:

I would speak unto concerning hope.... Behold, I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him.... Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope. And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.... [A]nd if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity. And charity suffereth long, and is kind... is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing.... Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ (Moroni 7:40-48).

Ya get all that? I don't think you did--I don't think I did!--so let's break it down a bit.

Mormon is speaking to his "beloved brethren"--men whose wives and children have been sacrificed to idols, whose friends have been murdered, whose property has been stolen--men who have probably fought and bled and endured horrible things trying to preserve a dieing nation--and he encourages them to have hope. "[H]ave hope through the atonement of Christ," he says "and the power of his resurrection to be raised unto life eternal." He then admonishes them be "meek, and lowly in heart" and to confess "by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ." And then he tells them all about charity, which is "the pure love of Christ." He tells them to "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [they] may be filled with this love"--this love that "suffereth long, and is kind... is not easily provoked... beareth all things... endureth all things."

These people have been through a lot; they have already suffered and borne and endured so much! Except for each other, this small band of Christians has nobody they can trust--their enemies and allies are hardly distinguishable. Mormon himself has lost all hope for their society. But he never lost his hope in Christ, and he never stopped loving the people. Even when he had to resign from their ranks because of their wickedness, he loved them.

I have never known anyone who got sacrificed to an idol. No one I have ever been associated with has ever been murdered or raped; I've never been mugged or robbed. I know that this isn't true for many people in this old world--even in this great nation--and I feel greatly blessed. Nevertheless, I have known people who are mean, who are hard to love, who have tried to make me miserable. But I have to wonder now why I've ever felt unkindly toward anyone. As a peaceable follower of Christ, I ought to love everybody.

Is there anyone you don't love?

10 March 2008

Post 99

I've got it!

I don't like bumper stickers. I think they're kinda dumb. I mean, even when I see one that I like a lot, I could never imagine myself putting it on my car because, I mean, it's bound to get old eventually.

But today I came up with a great bumper sticker idea--not one I want for myself, but one that I think I could market. It'll be ever so slightly, even imperceptibly larger than your normal bumper sticker, and it'll say on it, "I used to like this bumper sticker." The idea is that, when you have a bumper sticker on your car that you're tired of looking at, you just cover it up with this new one.

Think of the market for this:

So, your elementary school honor roll student is halfway through high school? Buy my bumper sticker!

Your presidential candidate lost the primary? Buy my bumper sticker!

You're tired of stupid people asking you what "eschew obfuscation" means? Buy my bumper sticker!

Your DARE graduate just got busted for pot? Buy my bumper sticker!

Buy my bumper sticker!

02 March 2008

Post 98

When Hamlet dies, what will become of Horatio? For, though he has not died, the story has ended, so, worse than dieing, he ceases to exist.

Is it better, then, to die?

Though I may only be a supporting role, I want to act out the remainder of the story in such a manner that no one in the audience will think, "He faded away."

In short, I choose to live.

01 March 2008

Post 97

Let's try this again, now, shall we?

You remember Post 67?
I remember Post 67; you better believe I do--only time in my life that I've ever cussed. But that's not the reason I remember it. The reason I remember Post 67 is because it's also the only time in my life that I've ever shouted something publicly that I later came to regret. But I don't really regret it because I can look back on it now and see just how much these past two months have changed me--they've changed me a lot and very quickly (to demonstrate just how quickly, let me point out Post 69, which was written less than a week later). And now I have a piece to say that I'm pretty sure I'll never regret because now I think I'm actually on to something.

Tonight I watched
Tucker: The Man and His Dream. I love that movie for all the same reasons that I love Holiday--because they both tell the story of a dreamer stuck in a cruel world, and they both end happily, leaving us viewers with at least a little hope for the future. Hope is what the world really needs right now. Whenever I really get to thinking about it, I get so lost, wondering whether there is any hope to be had for such a God-forsaking (not forsaken, forsaking) world.

But there is. I know there is, and I want you to know that there is too.

I have had a most interesting week. It all started last Friday night at about 2am. I hadn't gone to bed yet, and I was procrastinating doing so, so I hoped online to check my email. As luck would have it, a dear friend of mine happened to be online at that time, and we chatted a bit. I had had an inkling for several days previous that not all was well with this particular friend, and this late-night chat confirmed that. A somewhat melodramatic (at least on my part) conversation ensued (dominated by a 400-word monologue from yours truly), and, by the end of it, I was honestly shaking. I bid my friend a good night and went to the kitchen to try to get myself calmed down. I stood there for a while, leaning my forehead against the wall, thinking that what I had just written merited bashing my head in but feeling like I had done the right thing. After several minutes, I went back into my bedroom and told my roommate that I had a friend who was having some troubles and that I wanted so desperately to help out somehow but felt totally unable to do so and was therefore feeling pretty down and out, and then I asked him whether he was up for giving me a blessing. He obliged me, and what proceeded probably changed the entire course of my life.

The blessing began with assurance that I wasn't useless and that I actually do more good than I am aware of. I was admonished to remember the power of faith in blessing the lives of others and told that I ought to pray--and even fast, if I felt so inclined--for those I cared about.

And then there was a pause, and the blessing totally changed focus. A sort of gentle chastisement followed in which the Lord said that there was something else that He wanted me to be fasting and praying about--something He had already told me to fast a pray about--and that I really needed to get on that.

I knew, of course, what He was talking about. I don't feel like relating to you the backstory as to how I knew, but I assure you that I did know: He wanted me to fast and pray concerning my educational and career goals.

So, after the blessing was over, I grabbed my scriptures, Patriarchal Blessing, and some stuff to take notes with and headed out to the kitchen table, where I spent until 4am in passionate prayer, study, and notetaking.

The next day was Saturday, and I spent the whole of it fasting and seeking to expand my knowledge of what options were open to me. On Sunday, I took a break from questing, but I really got to work on Monday. What started out as a crisis slowly transformed into an adventure, and I have actually quite enjoyed it.

I haven't reached any conclusions that are solid enough to share as to what I will be when I grow up, but I think it's pretty safe to say that I will not be a High School English teacher. My concept of the future in that regard is slowly being refined. I don't know where I'll ultimately end up, but I have the Divine assurance now that I'm on the right track.

So for the past week, I have been entirely absorbed by two major pursuits: 1) trying to figure out what it is I want to work toward becoming and 2) spending a lot of time praying for that friend of mine. It has been, as I said, quite an adventure.

But then an interesting thing happened last night. Once again, I found myself being up and about for no good reason at nearly 2am on a Friday night, and I once again decided to check my email, and once again that friend was online--first time since the last Friday night. This chat was much more lighthearted than the previous one, but it concluded with some pretty devastating news. This blog is far too public a medium for me to tell you in even very vague terms what this news was, so suffice it to say that, though the news was not tragic in the traditional sense, it did cause me to be incapacitated by sobbing for the next couple hours. After the initial shock wore off enough for me to feel emotion, I went outside and sprinted so fast that my tears ran straight from my eyes into my ears. My stamina being what it is, though, that didn't last for more than a couple blocks, at which point I leaned against a wall to gasp for breath, too physically exhausted to actually cry. But the sobs caught up to me eventually, and I spent a long time wandering the dark street, crying like a baby and praying in broken fragments as audibly as I could muster, and occasionally plopping down on a curb to cry good and hard. After about an hour of that, I managed to stagger back to my apartment, where I stripped naked, lied down in the midst of a warm shower, and sang every hymn I know while I bawled my eyes out. Finally, at a quarter to four, the hymns won out over the tears, I was filled with peace, and I went to bed.

This really is ridiculous. Honestly, I have no idea why the news (which, as I mentioned, was not truly tragic) impacted me so dramatically. I had no idea I cared so much about anything; I certainly didn't know that I cared so much about this. I don't cry. It isn't something I do much. I was a moody teenager who cried an awful lot, but the last time I can remember really crying was in January 2005. Those tears were motivated by some pretty intense family issues, but even they were nothing compared to the total incapacitation I suffered last night. Frankly, I'm embarrassed to relate last night's collapse to you, but I'm hoping doing so will be somehow therapeutic, and I do have a point to make.

These are my pearls, dear readers; please don't be swine.

Today, I have managed to maintain a delicate state of emotional Zen. Though I constantly feel on the verge of crying, I seem to be holding up pretty well. Though I have absolutely no concept of how things will work out in the end, I have full confidence that they will.

So here's the part where this becomes relevant to you. A few weeks ago, I could have told you with some confidence what I imagined myself doing in one month, six months, a year, five years, ten years, or even 50 years from now. My goals weren't clearly defined, but I at least had some vague notion of what I wanted to do with my life--something like being a barefooted neo-Socrates, going about, corrupting the minds of the youth in the best ways possible. I wanted to live poor, just barely scraping by, and I wanted to die, the unsung hero of some great cause. These desires, at least that particularly extreme rendering of them, are completely gone from me now. I realized a couple of weeks ago that, though I'm perfectly willing and even happy and eager to live in poverty, I am not so willing and certainly not happy and eager to wish that future upon whoever it is I end up marrying or upon the children we may have. Oh, I intend to touch and change the lives of as many people as I possibly can, and I still have hopes that the world will one day desire to read the things that I write (some of the poetry I composed this past week was, as you might imagine, pretty passionate). But I don't want to spend my life bleeding for a living--and a lousy living at that. Not that I have ambitions to be a CEO or a lawyer, and I still don't desire a life of luxury--honestly, I don't know what my occupation will be. But I rest assured, knowing that God is in control and that, so long as I stay close to Him, even when the road of life has hairpin turns like these past couple weekends, I'll be okay.

A passage from Mormon has been on my mind these past several days. Speaking to us here in these days, he said this:

"O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways? Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll? Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him" (5:22-24).

I always thought I understood this, but now it is a lot more real to me. God really is control, and I guess you can fight against Him if you really want to, but it really is very hard to "kick against the pricks" (Acts 9:5). I suppose that, sooner or later, every good Christian has to come to the conclusion that God's thoughts and plans are different from ours, but, ultimately, His way is always better (see Isaiah 55:8-9).

I really have no idea what the future holds in store for me. Heck, I'm excited just to see what tomorrow will bring (of course, I have reason to believe that tomorrow will teach me many things, but every day is a new adventure--it sounds trite, but that's the way I am living right now). I am reminded of the words to a hymn penned by Cardinal Newman (one of the many I sang last night in the shower):

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene--one step enough for me.

So, that's where I'm at right now. Instead of looking ahead to the future and gritting my teeth with fear, I'm looking ahead and stepping out in faith. And even though I'm standing in the remains of so many shattered dreams, I am filled with hope that God has something better in the works. Sure, I'm feeling a little bit exposed and reprimanded, but I know that God loves me and that, no matter what little sacrifices He calls upon me to make, in the end, I will look back and fall on my knees to thank Him.

Post 96

Oh ouch. Ouch, I say. "A hit, a very palpable hit."

So, today I thought I'd take another stab at playing the system, but the system bucked me--and it didn't feel good!

There was a movie I wanted to buy, so I stopped by DI to see whether they had any newish movies that were still in the original packaging that I could use. I found Starsky and Hutch for four dollars, so I bought it and headed to FYE.

Problems began immediately. First, FYE workers informed me that they no longer accept returns unless I had a receipt or some other proof that I bought it from them (stickers on the packaging etc). So, I decided I'd just sell it to them, hoping I could at least break even. But I next learned that they are a bit overstocked with that particular movie, and wouldn't take it off my hands--even for free.

Four dollars wasted.

But I still wanted to get what I came for, so I found it and headed to the checkout counter. On the way, a sales rep informed me that all new DVDs were on a buy-one-get-one-of-equal-or-lesser-value-for-half-off deal. Normally I ignore such offers, but I figured that, if I could get an eight-dollar DVD for half off, I still might be able to arguably break even. So, I looked around a bit and found a movie that I wanted that was $9.99 and called it good.

So, I was feeling--less than wise, but I thought that I had done my best to defend myself against this most unexpected turn.

Next on my to-do list was to look into buying a new suit. Because I live in a city that cheap suits are in particularly high demand, I figured I ought to be able to find a good deal some place. I went to the mall and stopped in at Mr. Mac. I told them what I was looking for and they sized me up and had me try on a suit. It was a nice suit, and I really liked it a lot, but suddenly the attendant started chalking the pants and jacket for tailoring, and I realized that he had no idea that I only intended to window shop.

"How much does this suit cost?" I asked, trying my best to sound no more than mildly curious.

"It's normally $399," he said, "but it's on a really good sale right now and will only cost you $299--and the tailoring's free."

Oh good! Just three hundred bucks! Mind if I run home and pilfer my couch cushions for change before you do any more chalking?

I assume that the chalk marks are easily enough removed, but I bought the suit anyway because--well--just because.

Okay, Mr. System, you win this one, but I'll be coming back for you!