Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wait and See

For the second time in as many years, those of us involved in the Boy Scouts of America and the LDS Church are waiting to see just what “wait and see” means.

Yesterday, the BSA announced a change in policy that allows transgender boys to join the organization.

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded:

The Church is studying the announcement made yesterday by Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts has assured its religious chartering organizations that, as in the past, they will be able to organize their troops in a way fully consistent with their religious beliefs. In recent years the Church has made several changes to its programs for youth and continues to look for ways to better serve its families and young people worldwide.

Going by past experience, I don’t see the church leaving the BSA. The church adopted a wait and see attitude when the BSA announced gay boys could join the organization, and wait and saw when the BSA announced in 2015 the end of a ban on gay leaders. Both of those announcements saw the wait and see result in the church sticking with scouting.

That the BSA is leaving decisions up to local chartering organizations gives me a good indication on which way the wind will blow. I predict, however, an added decrease in support for Friends of Scouting, the annual fundraising drive meant to provide operating funds for local councils, similar to the dip observed with past announcements. One has to wonder how much the church will allow support of the organization to erode before pulling the plug.

I’ve been scoutmaster in our ward for coming up on 3 ½ years, weathering both announcements. None really affected our troop (which at the time of the 2015 announcement was a mix of Mormon boys and boys of other faiths, and one boy who left the church, but stuck with Scouting.

There are those inside the church who look at the Duty to God program as a replacement for Scouting. As good as Duty to God is, it’s not a mirror of Scouting, but, rather, is a supplement to it. Boys who complete the Duty to God program can earn their Scouting religious knot. That’s only a small part of the Scouting program. Were the church to abandon Scouting, it would take a good year for a replacement program to ramp up, no matter how detailed Duty to God is.

Personally – and here I emphasize I speak only for myself –the only problem with the latest announcement that I can see would come with accommodations on campouts and at times when swimming or other similar activities might be involved. We might have to erect “walls of Jericho” or some such, if we were to have a transgendered person wish to join the troop. And that day may come; you never know. I still see Scouting as instilling good values in boys, no matter their individual identities.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Few More Church Doodles

A few church doodles for your inspection today. First one is from our daughter, who took an innocent drawing of a snowman with a few birds into something a bit more sinister.

This one is one of mine. Don't quite know what mood this alien is in, but the spacemen encountering him don't seem too concerned.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Politics and Fotoplayers

I spent the weekend – and parts of a snow day Tuesday – scanning the news and my social network feeds. Depressingly, most were filled with mongering on the subject of politics (to which I added a small amount). Various derangements from those fearing fascism would soon jackboot its way into the country to those waving Confederate flags yet not seeing the irony in telling their opponents to “get over it” because they lost.

Some of the mongering began to hit home as various government agencies were told to stop using social media – even temporarily – or to remove data from their websites (an affront no matter how you look at it). This hit home because I work as a subcontractor to a private company doing business with the federal Department of Energy.

I should say here and now that any views I express in this post are mine and mine own, and do not reflect the opinions of any of the companies I work for, whether directly or indirectly.

You may notice I included a video of an American Fotoplayer at the beginning of this post. I now explain why.

The fotoplayer was developed to allow an individual with limited musical skill to accompany silent films with pre-recorded music (in the form of piano rolls) with the company of a multitude of sound effects the individual could activate by pulling ropes or pushing buttons. Most of the work is done by the piano, reading music off a roll and powered by an electric motor and bellows. The individual at the keyboard was charged with watching the film and adding sound effects as he or she saw fit to go along with the silent film on the screen.

I think the fotoplayer and its operator are an apt analogy of politics, particularly of the bureaucratic sort that we have here, for good or bad, in the United States.

The operator may add trills here and there, he or she may change the roll being played, but he or she is also limited in skill and scope to pulling ropes and pressing buttons, adding sound effects here and there. Whether he or she moves or not, the piano and its roll will roll on, playing the music of the bureaucracy.

And if the operator strays too far from what’s playing on the screen, the audience will eventually leave, and probably ask for their money back.

But what about fascism, you ask? What about if the operator locks the door and won’t let anyone out, or refuses to install the roll that goes with the film?

Well, there’s where my fotoplayer metaphor breaks down a bit.

But here’s where bureaucracy doesn’t:

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution, often championed by conservatives, is going to become much more important to liberals now that the national piano roll has been changed. State governments have powers too, and they will be exercised as the states see fit. California may continue research on climate change or pushing solar power. Utah may fight against land protection mandates coming from Washington. Each may use its power as each sees fit – changing the roll back to what it wants to hear. And states are answerable to their citizens, if the citizens do not like the rolls the state wants to play.

The federal government doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all for science. States can do it. Municipalities can do it. All it takes is talent and money. Surely those are not lacking at the state level.

And if fascism marches in Washington, I guarantee you’ll see conservative and liberal states marching together to fight it, because of that 10th Amendment.

So I watch the film and listen to the music being played to accompany it with trepidation and wariness. But not with hopelessness.

Monday, January 23, 2017

*NOT* by Salman Rushdie

One of the things you learn while reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” as it is presented in Lyle W. Dorsett’s “The Essential C.S. Lewis” is how short the book is.
In this presentation, it’s a mere 77 pages.

In standalone paperback editions, it’s up to 208 pages long.

But the story’s word count belies whatever formatting it appears in. Per the Internet, it is 37,492 words. Or 36,362 words. Or 38,421words.

(The Internet, as is its wont, disagrees. Suffice it to say, the book is not long, and variations in number from place to place probably depends on the edition, and whether forewords, etc., are included in the word count.)

Nevertheless, that seems really short.

(The Hobbit, by comparison, clocks in at about 95,000 words [won’t quibble here on word count; just wanted another contemporary “children’s novel” for comparison].)

Then again, he probably had time to write a short novel, if Mark Twain is to be believed.
Why should I fret that the story is so short, given that it’s part of a seven-book series?
Probably because I recognize that at 103,000 words and counting, my Doleful Creatures could probably do with a paring down to sharpen the story.

Now, we don’t know how much cutting Lewis and/or his editors did with his book before it was published. But I suspect, given the economy of the story, that not much was cut.
Or maybe some was moved to a subsequent book?

I’m not going to fuss about it. I’ll just finish reading it for the umpteenth time and marvel in the story, and in its anthropomorphic and spiritual perfection. And in this section, which since I read it the first time has made me loath to kill mice:

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night, but If you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again. At any rate that was how it felt to these two. Hours and hours seemed to go by in the dead calm, and they hardly noticed that they were getting colder and colder. But at last Lucy noticed two other things. One was that the sky on the East side of the hill was a little less dark than it had been an hour ago. The other was some tiny movement going on in the grass at her feet. At first she took no interest in this. What did it matter? Nothing mattered now! But at last she saw that watever-it-was had begun to move up the upright stones of the Stone Table. And now whatever-they-were were moving about on Aslan’s body. She peered closer. They were little grey things.

“Ugh!” said Susan from the other side of the Table. “How beastly! There are horrid little mice crawling over him. Go away, you little beasts.” And she raised her hands to frighten them away.

“Wait!” said Lucy who had been looking at them more closely still. “Can you see what they’re doing?”

Both girls bent down and stared.

"I do believe!” said Susan. “But how queer. They’re nibbling away at the cords.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Lucy. “I think they’re friendly mice. Poor little things – they don’t realise he’s dead. They think it’ll do some good untying him.”

It was quite definitely lighter by now. Each of the girls noticed for the first time the white face of the other. They could see the mice nibbling away, dozens and dozens, even hundreds, of little field mice. At last, one by one, the ropes were all gnawed through.

The sky in the East was whitish by now and the stars were getting fainter – all except one very big one low down on the Eastern horizon. They felt colder than they had been all night. The mice crept away again.

And just a reminder, it’s NOT by Salman Rushdie.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Night Fun

What are you doing on a Sunday night? I'm waiting for the gold paint to dry on the papier-mached Sam's Club rotisserie chicken box to dry so we can draw this on it with a Sharpie so our son can get a good grade on his sarcophagus replica project for school.

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Christianity in Writing

Heil, Heilige Nacht!

How many years to Bethlehem?
Near a hundred score.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Not this war.

The friendly, holy candle light
Is bale fire now to death,
Its perilous glimmer long blown out
By sirens’ breath.

Through skies the Wise Men humbly scanned
Three keener hunters flit –
Heinkel and Dornier seek the gleam,
With Messerchmitt.

No manger now, no cattle shed,
Too lowly to be found.
Take up the babe and hurry him
Deep underground.

But cave nor grave is deep enough
To shield young flesh and bone.
Hurry him down, and o’er his head
Roll the great stone.

What need of law to still the bells,
For how should bells be merry?
The day the child in joy was born,
The child we bury.

Gentlemen of the High Command,
Who crucify the slums,
There was an earlier Golgotha.
The third day comes.

-- Ogden Nash

And there we have it. A powerful poem delivered by a man more commonly known for his light verse.

This poem is from Nash's collection "Good Intentions," which is home to poems written between 1937 and 1945. I read it first in 2010 and must not have noticed how many poems in this collection relate to the war, either lightly or, more rarely, somberly, as with this poem. And what a poem it is, reminding those in command of the war that this is not their world, but rather it belongs to someone else.

I've tried to discover the circumstances in which Nash wrote this poem, but my Google-fu skills are weak, or there's not much commentary on this poem online. A few people I've found chide him for his Christianity, making me hark back to the time I've spent reading CS Lewis' "Surprised by Joy," in which he marvels at his own ignorance when he tsk-tsked about an author's overt display of religion.

Additionally, he relates this, his conversion:

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable.

I'm often flummoxed and amused when people become offended when they read something overtly Christian in a popular novel, or discover an author they enjoy is Christian or religious; it's almost as if they become offended that the author has dared include something of his or her own self in a book or story without prior approval from this particular kind of reader.

And I know it goes both ways, as religious readers discover things they don't like about a particular author or a particular story as going against their beliefs. We all have that right. But we all have the ability to walk away if what we discover is too unsettling.