Monday, June 26, 2017

Pulp Time

Signs you’re about to read a classic pulp novel:
  1. Barely clad woman
  2. Quizzically comical space creature.

A note on the woman: I do not intend to read the book thinking the entire time “This woman is practically nakey.” I’m inclined when I read pulp science fiction to consider all of the characters fully clothed. Also, I anticipate other pulp tropes to overtake her state of dishabille, including:

  1. Sidekick character, likely of a non-human race, suddenly dropped from the narrative when its presence is no longer important to the plot
  2. Anachronistic elements of violence/mayhem involving a “futuristic” people still fighting with swords. George Lucas, pay attention . . .
  3. Fish-out-of-water human character growing gills so fast it’ll make your head spin.

Pulp novels, are, after all, romance novels for the testosterone set. As a novice writer, however, I intend to read this particular book – Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” – by way of instruction. They’re always briskly plotted, these novels, with a minimum of characters so the reader doesn’t get lost in who’s doing what to whom.

This could be the genesis of another book blog, because heaven knows the Internet needs another blog devoted to pulp novels.

Or it just could give me an excuse to post this:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Alma, the Seed, Humility, and Tevye

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.

Thus begins one of the most recognizable sermons delivered in the Book of Mormon.
Alma finds he has a receptive audience in those who built the synagogues but were thrown out of them due to their poverty.

He begins to persuade.

And as great persuaders do, Alma identifies a chief concern. From Alma Chapter 32, verse 9:

Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do? – for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God.

He continues in verses 10:

Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?

Alma’s sermon fascinates me. Because he could have spent more time talking about how we can communicated with God no matter where we are, kind of like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, who was always talking with God: While talking with his family, while walking with his milk cart, while celebrating, while fleeing:

But Alma doesn’t deliver that kind of sermon.

He talks about faith, comparing it to a seed.

I’ve often wondered why.

Maybe he sensed, in some of his audience, still a little pride. They wanted to worship in the synagogue they’d built, point out to their neighbors, their children, the other congregants, “I built this for us to worship in!” Maybe that’s why he talks about those who are compelled to be humble by circumstance, contrasted with those who are humble because that’s how they are.

So he compares the word of God to a seed.

“The word of God, as found in the scriptures, in the words of living prophets, and in personal revelation, has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in life,” says President Ezra Taft Benson. SO maybe Alma saw an opportunity to fortify a growing, humble faith, by talking about faith itself.

He saw, in other words, the long view.

It would have been quicker, perhaps, to persuade these people that they could worship God wherever they stood. But when they found their seed of faith sown in rocky ground, or when the drought or the east wind came and shriveled their growing faith to dust, they would not be any better off than those who worshipped inside the synagogue.

Alma saw the long view. If faith is strong, like that of Tevye, then when the horse is lame, when the daughter marries out of the faith, when the village of Anatevka is abolished, that faith that grew from a seed sown in good soil will still remain strong, even as it passes through adversity.

Even when they're forced to leave their home, they turn to their faith not for vengeance, but for a deep solace that consoles them at their nadir:

Perchik:Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for him to come?

Rabbi: We’ll have to wait for him someplace else. Meanwhile, let’s start packing.

“[I]f ye will nourish the word,” Alma says in Chapter 38, verse 41, “yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”

Alma has his seed. And Tevye, he has that fiddler on the roof, metaphorically traveling with them even in their despair.

That’s a promise, I’m persuaded, that will last long past the time any synagogue created by earthly hands crumbles to dust.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Teenager Driving

So on Saturday, while Michelle was off to a scout meeting, Liam took me for a drive.

Things to point out:

  1. I’m a lousy passenger. Even with experienced drivers.
  2. I did not die, nor even freak out.

He does have his learner’s permit; he got it last Wednesday after completing drivers ed. Now he has to do 50 or 60 hours of supervised driving before he can get his license. Saturday, we did a half hour.

This is a crazy summer to be handing him the wheel. We’ve had a number of high-profile accidents lately, all involving teenagers and fatalities. I’m hoping Liam doesn’t even come close to adding to these stories. I know one does not equal the other and that just because other teens are having accidents it doesn’t mean Liam will. Nevertheless, I’m hoping nothing happens.

There are a few notable differences. Liam is 17. The other drivers in question are a year or two younger. Liam is also NOT driving with other teenagers in the car, with the exception of his siblings and only when a parent is present. And he won’t be taking a vehicle to school regularly.

Liam drove us from downtown to home, going up Sunnyside most of the way. This was his first time driving an SUV, so he wasn’t really used to that. He need to do more head checking when he changes lanes, that too I know.

Then Sunday he drove Michelle and company up to Treasure Mountain, adding about an hour and a half to his experience. He had to surrender the wheel at the Wyoming state line, as he’s not allowed to drive outside the state. Michelle says he did well then too. Hopefully, this continues.

We need to talk to our insurance company, of course. Don’t even want to know what’s going to happen there.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Politics . . .

Politics on social media, summed up

“They go low, we go high.”

[Political shots fired.]

[Most everyone immediately goes lower.]

[Most everyone decries the lack of patriotism/lack of "wokefulness” of those who didn’t duck or ducked into the wrong foxhole/bunker.]

[Those who went low peek out of their foxhole/bunker.]

“They go low, we go high.”

[Political shots fired.]


Wednesday, June 7, 2017


It’s important, first of all, to remember that everything that happens in the world around you targets only one person: You.

If you don’t remember this, you’re not going to function well in this world where umbrage is preferred over understanding.

And it’s important, second of all, to shout into the empty room that is social media rather than to talk with the real flesh-and-blood entities circulating the air around you – but after all, they’re less important since, as you remember, everything that happens in the world around you targets you and you alone. Never mind that in talking with them you might find that it’s the Copernican model of the solar system that works, not the one you’ve got in mind.

Also, don’t forget a good hashtag or two as you vent your frustrations in a passive-aggressive fashion.

Yes, the irony of me posting this on an ill-read blog and then linking to it via my Facebook account does not escape me, But remember – I’m reacting to a world in which affronts to me and my personality and my beliefs are targeted solely at me, so it’s my right to lash out into the darkness in a way that helps me vent my righteous anger without, you know, actually thinking about my actions or talking before I post or tweet and maybe – just maybe, mind you – growing in understanding and then watching my anger and victimhood uselessly evaporate in the face of the evidence that the thing that offended me was not targeted at me.

But where’s the fun in that?

Because in understanding, sometimes you have to face some ugly truths:
  1. The world does not revolve around you
  2. The beliefs you hold might indeed be wrong, wholly or in part
  3. Your actions are often deserving of consequences, no matter how unrighteous your accusers may be
  4. You don’t always know others’ motivations
  5. If you think you know others’ motivations, it’s more likely than not you’re only interpreting their motivations through the lens of everything in the world focusing on you, meaning the chances of your misinterpreting their motivations are high.
And if you think this doesn't apply to you  -- or that if someone appears to be selfish it is because they still think what they believe is correct, then you've missed the point. You're still centered on you.

Don’t assume this is a philosophical argument against absolutes. Because there are times when, indeed, you are individually targeted and where the empty room of social media is the last venue open to you and the hashtag your last hope of bringing attention to your case. Or indeed your religion, your ethnic group, even your age category can be summarily attacked, leaving you to feel icky.

Then again, there are times to talk to those around you. Particularly when the situation is ambiguous and those you can talk to are your colleagues.

But sometimes – just sometimes, mind you – the situation is as I’ve said. You are not the primary target.

I fall victim to this kind of thinking all the time. I’m me-centric. But they say the way to a cure is to first recognize you have a problem.

"Why'd You Leave the Trail?"

I’d never hiked Big Elk Creek before, but despite the weight on my back and the mud on parts of the trail, I was enjoying myself.
I’m not in the best of shape, but I’m willing. I take up the rear, making sure any Scouts we’re hiking with don’t get left behind. Ahead of me is Sam, a Scout who’d never backpacked before in his life. He had a good pack, but the hike was long, mostly uphill, and he was getting a little tired. In front of him is Paul, my assistant Scoutmaster. He’s hiked this trail before. We’re in good hands.
To the left is the creek, bubbling over the rocks and through the tiny meadows at the bottom of the valley. To the right, mountains, some covered thickly with pine and aspen, others with tumbles of rock. There are mountains beyond the creek too, and as we hike the mountains get steeper, taller, and closer together. And we have a well-worn trail to follow. And Paul is leading us. No worries.
We cross yet another rock fall, stumbling here and there over a shifting slab. We walk across more rocks. And even more rocks. But we’re talking one to the other, marveling at the scenery.
That’s funny. The creek is smaller. And a bit further to the left than before. And – wait a minute – we’re climbing the side of the mountain, now scrambling over the rocks, and the creek is retreating further to our left.
“I think we lost the trail,” Paul says as we three sit on convenient boulders. “We shouldn’t be this high. We should be right next to the creek. But that’s okay. We’ll just work our way down.”
Just work our way down.
Over more rocks, now here and there punctuated with fallen trees, stripped of their needles but their bare branches still poking up like fence posts. We have to go through them, lest we turn around and lose distance, further falling behind our companions who stayed on the trail and are further ahead of us now. We wrestle our shoulders through the trees and over the branches, our backpacks get caught. We’re thirsty. Sam is out of water, so I share a bit of mine. And no matter how far we walk, we can’t seem to get down the mountain. We can still see the creek – we can even see the trail, brown amidst the meadow grasses, near the stream’s banks. But fight as we might, we can’t lose much of the altitude we’ve gained.
Gradually, inch by inch, log by log, rock by rock, we fight our way down to the trail. Our feet finally plod in the brown dust where we see our companions’ footprints. We walk through a glad,e take a turn and we see them, tents set up, a fire going. A few of them are climbing rocks. Others are splashing in the creek.
“What took you so long?” Benson, a scout, asks.
“We got a little lost,” I said.
“There’s only one trail,” he said. “How’d you get lost?”
“We kinda found a new trail,” Paul said.
“You should have stuck with the real trail,” he said.
Yes, we should have. But we were so distracted by the scenery and our conversation, we didn’t notice we’d left the trail until the landscape became a lot more difficult to traverse.
On the way home, we followed the trail. Paul, Sam and I stuck together again. This time we didn’t stray. “How’d we miss this?” Paul asked. Because it was clear our wanderings up the rock fall and the mountainside added at least an hour to our journey, as the hike from our campsite to the big rock fall where we recognized we’d lost the trail wasn’t all that long.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“We weren’t paying attention, that’s clear,” Paul added, laughing. “Or at least I wasn’t. And you two just followed me.”
Ah, the lesson.
You knew there’d be a lesson.
God and life present us with two great influences: Our companions, and our free agency. Used well, whether in tandem or opposition, those two great influences will determine how difficult our journey through life will be.
Paul is a good companion. Experienced with the backcountry, with first aid, even with backcountry rescue. But I let my trust in him override my agency. Because, when we started climbing the rocks, I saw to my left, just lower down the slope, where the trail again emerged from the rocks. I could have used my agency to call out, “Paul, the trail’s down here!” and though he was further ahead, he would have descended, got back on the trail, and we would have joined our companions for a leisurely evening. Instead, I ignored my own senses and followed that companion up the difficult path, taking the trusting but hapless Sam with me.
Had I listened to myself, had I believed what I saw with my own eyes, a simple correction would have had us back on course. But I waited until that course correction was much more difficult and time consuming.
I surrendered my agency and three of us paid the price.
Were there times, I wonder, when one of the sons of Mosiah saw the correct path, but instead of calling to his companions to set them on the right way just went along with his friends, up that difficult road that led to an angel descending from heaven and sending Alma the Younger into a stupor in which he was wracked with torment. “Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation” he says in Mosiah Chapter 27, verse 28, “repenting high unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.”
“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity,” he continues in verse 29. “I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.”
What pain Mosiah’s sons and Alma the Younger – sons of the king, son of the prophet – could have avoided had one of them, somewhere early in their journey, noticed they were off the path if even only a little bit, and said, “Gentlemen, the path we want is over there.”
A quick correction based on what I could see with my own eyes would have prevented a lot of weariness as we backpacked Big Elk Creek. I chose, however, to surrender my agency – and three of us suffered the consequences. May we all choose our companions wisely, and love them enough to offer correction, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.