Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stiff


This is the type of book I will almost always pick up if I have the chance, a funny book about an odd science topic. It was well-written, funny, in a dreadfully morbid way and I learned somethings. But it was not a good book to pick up and read through quickly. There was just too much of it. Dead bodies are fine for a chapter or two, but after half of the book I was done, though the writer wasn't.
Maybe this would be a better book to own, where you could read a bit, then come back to it a while later and read a little more. As a library book, when I felt a pressure to finish it so David could read it and then get it back, ugh, too much.
The same author has also done a book on sex. I'm a little nervous now, because if she treats the topic the same way, I think I would have the same reaction. Both of these would have been better as long articles in magazines, like the Atlantic or New Yorker than as a full-fledged book.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach. W.W. Norton. 2003

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Plan of Salvation


The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The great plan of salvation is a theme which ought to occupy our strict attention, and be regarded as one of heaven’s best gifts to mankind” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 68) So how is this for a huge topic for a Sunday School lesson? It helped when I read that next week's lesson is on the Three Degrees of Glory, so I didn't need to cover the post-mortal section of the plan in too great of detail.
I started by drawing a circle on the board and asking the class what it was. A few smart-alecks had actually read the lesson and said "the Earth" right away, spoiling the point, but we went on and said it could be anything from that starting. Then I drew the rest of the diagram of the plan of salvation that we used to use in the mission field. I made the comparison of knowing just our earth-life, or knowing all of the plan. Without that wider vision, this life could be anything.
Then we went through the various stages, talking about what we know and how it affects our life, our faith, and how we act.
We have been given a lot of modern revelation about pre-Earth life. As a quick list here is what we mentioned:
  • We are children of our Father in Heaven
  • There was a council in Heaven
  • We had spirit bodies
  • We were taught the gospel/plan of Heavenly Father
  • Lucifer rebelled and offered his own plan
  • Jesus Christ offered himself as a Saviour to fulfill Heavenly Father's plan.
  • 1/3 of the spirits went with Lucifer
  • All of us here on the Earth followed Christ
Then we have Job 38:7, one of my favorite scriptures relating to this phase of our lives, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy"
We sang and shouted for joy for the opportunity to come to the Earth, to progress further, to become more like our Father in Heaven. We knew it would be hard, we knew some would be lost, but we were joyful anyway. That is something to remember when things are hard, isn't it?

This mortal world has three main purposes:
  • To receive a physical body
  • To prove our faithfulness: Alma 12:24
  • To live in families, be sealed together: D&C 138:48
This is the part of the lesson I was so excited about. It has this great quote by Elder Packard:
There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy. … “Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act [of a play]. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. … “Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much. Some are born in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering. Some experience premature death, even innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We have seen a lot of that recently. “Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven (The Play and the Plan [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1–2).

Recently I listened to a podcast about the three act structure and why it is such a part of Western thinking. The thing that stayed with me, and repeated in my mind as I read the above quote was (paraphrased), "The second act is where I really put my characters through the wringer, I try and bring them as low as they can possibly get." If we, humans in the middle of our second act, do not realize there is another act coming, it would be very easy to despair, to see the suffering happening constantly on our planet as proof that life has no meaning and to "curse God and die" as the scriptures so eloquently put it. But this is only act two. There is more glory and triumph in the next act than we can possibly imagine.
We are not left alone here either. In Alma 7:11-13 we read:
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Elder Eyring said in his conference talk,
It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. The Book of Mormon gives us the certain assurance of His power to comfort. And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.
What we do here will determine so much of what comes after, but when we can develop a testimony that there is a "what comes after" we live our lives differently, we think and feel and believe differently about a whole host of things. When we know about God's plan of happiness, we become different people, more able to live in a way that brings us back to him.
Read 2 Nephi 2 and think about the plan, and how much we have been given. I can't even express my gratitude for the kindness of a Heavenly Father who loves us enough to give us our agency, and makes a plan that accounts for the mistakes we would make as we learned to use it. This learning process is what will eventually result in salvation and exaltation, if we can continue on. I know that this plan will result in joy, here in this life as well as in the life to come.
Thanks for reading this all the way down, I know it was long, but it is such an important topic. I am grateful I have the chance to study these gospel topics in ways I never would do without this calling.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Journal vs. Blog


I have discovered something lately. Well, several somethings actually. First, no matter what you do to them, radishes are basically inedible. Having a large crop of them just means wasted fertilizer. Don't send me recipes, I tried them, didn't work.
Second, having a journal relieves the pressure to blog but does not relieve the pressure to write about something worth thinking about. I have been dedicating myself to a single goal: I will read my scriptures and write in my journal EVERY night. I have tried to make this a priority, even if nothing else gets done, I will do this. I can't seem to make several goals work simultaneously, so I am trying it this way. This seemed like the most important goal, the one which could get me well on my way toward any other I might have later. And, even with only one thing in my mind, I still haven't managed to be 100%. That is why this is a goal and not a "How to be a Scripture Mastery Whiz" blog.
But I have written in my journal much more frequently in the past weeks and I have noticed I don't feel that need to blog that I do a lot of the time. There have been times I have purposely looked for interesting, yet short books to read because I felt like I needed something to say. I could always complain about my children, but that gets boring after a while, and it is not really the children that have the problem.
So now I need to re-evaluate my blog and what type of things I will put on here. I will still write about books, because until I find another mother of five with a passion for sci-fi and fantasy, I'm not going to have any successful books groups. And yes, I've tried. The argument for me expanding my reading repertoire is not for right now, I'm arguing about other things.
So I will probably try for more polished pieces, though this is obviously not one of them. I guess this is in the way of a consumer update. Not quite a warning nor a recall, but a polite notice alerting you to the fact that the product might change with no other advance warning.
And my next blog, after Sunday, is about the very cool lesson I have to teach tomorrow. There is a quote that I love almost enough to make something out of vinyl letters for.

Friday, May 22, 2009

quick quote

I saw this in an article in the Trib. today (Salt Lake Tribune) and laughed. The truth is better than any excuse or explanation sometimes.

Say what you want about missionaries, the greatest conversion tool in the history of the world has been the sword. Baptism for the Dead is nothing compared to Baptism or Be Dead. Robert Kirby

Here's the link if you want the whole article, but that sentence sums it up.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Shadow Rising


One of the biggest problems about having a very long series of books is what happens when one of the earliest is clearly the best. Robert Jordan's series has 11 books so far, but the one book, out of the whole thing, that is by far the best, is this one, book 4.
It moves quickly, it has personal, touching moments for all of the main characters, a battle to the death, a wedding, impressive spectacle and cool things being found out. I have re-read this one more than any of the others and there are parts that still bring me to tears. It is amazing book.
All that is well and good, but there are 7 more after this. The next one especially seems rather anti-climatic. It is still good, but not great. I have high hopes for the Sanderson volume coming out in Nov. Perhaps he can bring back the excitement that went away after this peak.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star


I've been trying to read these books for a while now but they are always checked out from the library. I guess that shows how popular they are. I finally broke down and listened to the first one while driving up to Salt Lake last month. It was good, but I think the second one is better, mostly because I didn't like the narrator they have reading the books. Without his annoying voice in my head the story was much more enjoyable.
This is another fantasy YA series. They are everywhere nowadays, thanks to Harry Potter. I love it. I think a lot of worthwhile things have gotten published that wouldn't have had a chance before those books were so popular. I was a fantasy geek before HP, so I can be superior and condescending about it.
These books are written by an LDS author and I've found with good books written by LDS authors, Card and Sanderson being two other examples, they weave elements of LDS worldview into their fiction in a way that non-LDS people probably cannot recognise. Most of Xenocide is LDS philosophy, but Card is getting more obvious about his stuff. In these books there have been several important ideas discussed, but the one that I was most impressed by was how the characters decide what to do. In an interior monologue the character, a 14? year old girl, basically goes through the steps of listening to the spirit to decide the best course of action. It is never put in those terms, but it was something a lot of LDS people can recognise.
This is something I love about LDS authors becoming so popular. In writing books for a general audience, they are also disseminating cultural ideas from their own background: not with the intent of proselytising, but just in the natural course of writing their stories. The more these ideas get into the public's mind, the better. It is very exciting to see how many LDS people are becoming published authors, both through the publishers targeting LDS audiences and nationally. We have some very talented people out there. It makes me happy.

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star. Brandon Mull. Shadow Mountain. 2006

Monday, May 11, 2009

Establish a House of God


Teaching this lesson was especially sweet for me this week because I had a wonderful experience at the temple two weeks ago, and have had several thoughts relating to it wandering around in my head for a while, so it was nice to be able to get them out in a public forum.
The building of the Kirtland Temple happened during a period of extreme trial for the church. They were poor, few in number and half of them were in Missouri being tormented by mobs. Eliza Snow commented on the commandment to build the temple:
At that time, … the Saints were few in number, and most of them very poor; and, had it not been for the assurance that God had spoken, and had commanded that a house should be built to his name, of which he not only revealed the form, but also designated the dimensions, an attempt towards building that Temple, under the then existing circumstances, would have been, by all concerned, pronounced preposterous.
But the incredible sacrifices they made were more than repaid. Eliza Snow said, regarding the dedication ceremony:
The ceremonies of that dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations of that memorable day. Angels appeared to some, while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present, and each heart was filled with ‘joy inexpressible and full of glory.’ ” After the dedicatory prayer, the entire congregation rose and, with uplifted hands, shouted hosannas
In a blog comment a few weeks ago someone made the point that in the 1800s the people had very little money and the Lord asked them to give to the temple building fund. Now we have lots of money and we are asked to give our time. When we sacrifice the commodity we have the least of the Lord will bless us.
Then we went through section 109, the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple, and listed some of the blessings that come through the temple, and the priesthood power associated with it. Rather than quote most of the section, I will show you the list that I made as I studied it:
  • taught wisdom out of the best books
  • receive a fullness of the Holy Ghost
  • prepared to obtain every needful thing
  • organized
  • may speedily repent (have you ever thought of this as a blessing?)
  • armed with power
  • angels have charge over them
  • His name be upon them
  • establish a people in thy name
  • enemies will not prosper (We are the only dispensation with this promise, the only one that will not end in apostasy)
  • The Lord will fight our battles
  • Deliverance
  • Forgiveness
  • Gift of tongues
  • Testimony
  • Softening of hearts in all the nations of the earth
  • Thy people not faint in the day of trouble
That is an amazing list. Plus the bestowal of keys that happened afterwards, as shown in Section 110. The question I asked my class, and that each of us much ask ourselves is: what kind of sacrifice are we willing to make to obtain those types of blessings?The Lord has told us why we have temples, in sec 95:8 he says:
Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;
The more we give to attend the House of the Lord as much as we can, the more we will obtain each time we go there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Deliverance From Depression


This book has been staring at me every time I walked into the library for several months now. It is new to our library, so they have it up front as you walk in. I kept seeing it and thinking I should, but then not wanting to have to do something extra, like you know pray or anything, so I have been avoiding it. But a week or so ago I visited my doctor, got some medication, and finally felt that I was able to read this book.
I don't know what I was afraid of, it is a wonderful book, not nearly as prescriptive as many similar things I have seen. It is also a bit of a comfort to know that I have never been as bad as the author was and hopefully, never will be. Once I could get over the fact that, yes, I still might need some of this advice, it was a refreshing way to look at a persistent problem.
This book is written by three different people, a middle-aged woman, her twenty-something son, and her husband. The first two have suffered from extreme depression for years, the husband suffered too, because of loving the other two. In a short, clear way they all explained their experience, and how they got through, as well as the gospel insights they learned from their struggle.
One thing that really struck me was the idea of "the Divine Void." It is the lack we all feel because on this earth we are separated from our Heavenly Father. There were several pages of explaining this idea, but the important one was this:
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can fill that void. We are born with a longing for home, for Him. We are shown the way home in the Lord's house, where we are blesses with the ultimate ordinances in our journey. As we make and keep sacred covenants and receive these ordinances in His house, we are made whole, and the at-one-ment that Adam and Eve sought can be obtained.

This is not to say that all of our emotional problems can be cured if we attend the temple regularly. The author suffered devastating depression for 25 years until she finally found a medicine that helped her. Her son suffered for years as well, until he was ready to take his medicine and change some habits that held him back.
In my own life I see the inability to feel the spirit that comes as a result of depression is crippling, in an emotional sense. When I am determined to get back up and move forward, I need to get medication, but I also need to get my spiritual house in order. Last week I was able to spend a day going to the temple, and then driving in the beautiful mountains to clear my head. Both the temple and the meds helped in the healing that I am experiencing. But I am not 100% better; able to leap out of bed with a cry of delight and go full tilt all day. If I did that my husband would probably take me right back to the doctor. I know that I have been helped in the past, and I know where to go for my help in the future. This book is a good reminder that in our trials and suffering, the Lord is there, even when we cannot feel him. Everyone suffers in one way or another and we all need the succor that the Lord provides. Turning away from him in pain and anger just prolongs the hurt.
For a simple little book (it only took me 45 minutes to read it) there were some profound truths and things to remember that I appreciated.

Deliverance From Depression: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. G.G. Vandagriff, Greg Vandagriff, David P. Vandagriff. Covenant. 2008

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Great Hunt or Nostalgia


Re-reading this particular book was interesting because a large part of the plot hinges on not knowing a certain person's identity. When you read it again of course you know who that person really is, so the book is completely different. As I read it this time I realized that I couldn't even remember how it felt to read this book the first time. It has been so long, and I have read it many times, so the first experience has been lost in my memory.
It made me think about other firsts that sometimes get lost. Do you remember the first time you saw your significant other? The first time you paid a bill or wrote a check? Most people remember huge things, like the first kiss, first child, first home but smaller things fall by the wayside, leaving the excitement and wonder laying forgotten as well.
I have been trying to appreciate the memory of firsts a bit more lately because it helps us to see how far we have come. When I remember doing dishes in my first little apartment I shared with my new husband, I can appreciate the fact that my house is still a mess, but I have five kids now, I have made progress.
Or when I remember the first time I saw our house, I can appreciate where we live, the improvements we have made, and how much I have enjoyed living here.
What type of first do you remember? What do they say about how you have grown and changed?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Old Man's War



This was an excellent book. Anyone who enjoys military Sci-fi will like it. But to really enjoy it you have to have read another favorite of mine; Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. If you have seen the movie please try to not think about it while I am talking about the original. In fact, try to wipe it from your memory entirely and then read these two books to replace the void.
Starship Troopers is a coming of age novel. A young man joins the intergalactic army (can't remember the name) and we see how he matures and you get some cool tech stuff and fighting aliens. Bad description, but a good book, especially if you remember that it was written as YA and also don't mind a bit of politics with your novels.
Old Man's War tells the same story, but from the other end. The premise is that to join the intergalactic army you have to be 75. You will never some back but you promise to be a soldier for no less than 2 years, maximum of 10. This immediately throws the entire soldier novel tropes out the window because most of them deal with some sort of coming of age theme. What if the soldier thrust into new and difficult situations is an old man? Set in his ways, wiser and less apt to just accept everything he is told?
The amazing thing about this story is how well it works when you already basically know the plot. The general outline is very similar to Starship Troopers, but the details are so very different. Scalzi is a very talented writer to have pulled this off. He manages to pay tribute to Heinlein without feeling like a copy or a repudiation of the original.

Old Man's War. John Scalzi. Tor. 2005