A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Friday, December 24, 2010


Today I finished reading the Gospel of John.  Chapter 17 contains Jesus' beautiful intercessory prayer on behalf of his followers.  Here's part of it:

John 17:13-23
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.  I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Dictionary.com defines "to intercede" as "to act or interpose on behalf of someone in difficulty or trouble, as by pleading or petition" or "to attempt to reconcile differences between two people or groups; mediate."  The idea of Christ helping us in difficulty or trouble, and attempting to reconcile us with God, is a sublime thought.  Christ prays for US - for you and for me, in our downtrodden and trying moments.  His spirit urges us to do the same - to be peacemakers, to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, and become bringers of great joy.  I hope that Christmas reminds you of that spirit of peace and joy!  Yea, verily - even to shout with the choirs of angels HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not Alone

One of my favorite Broadway musicals is "Into the Woods" (I was involved in a high school production of it).  There's a song in the musical called "No One is Alone."  I love that song because it's about how there is always someone with us (and, unfortunately, someone with the bad guys too).

I like this verse in John about how Christ will not leave us "as orphans" - we are not alone and we can access divine guidance.

John 13:15-21
 “If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Sometimes we meet a person only once in our lives.  They may be a good person having a bad day or a bad person having a good day.  The first impression we get of these people may stick forever, or we may even forget ever having met them.  Snap decisions are made and often stay with us, on the basis of one glimpse of a person's character.  I think this often happens with Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus in the New Testament.  She was the one who was "cumbered with much serving" and too busy to listen to Jesus' teachings.  We think of her as the sister without the right ideas of what was most important.

However, Martha was also a faithful disciple of Jesus and believed in him.  When her brother Lazarus died, she had faith that Jesus could raise him from the dead.  In scripture and in life we may only get one glimpse into a person's character, but luckily the whole story is known by God, and in his mercy he takes our weaknesses and foibles into account when judging us.  I'm grateful for that knowledge - God is wonderful!  I'm grateful for Martha's strong and faith-filled testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

John 11:20-27

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


My college New Testament teacher said the scripture below was one of the most frequently misquoted in all of scripture.  Many people quote this to support reading the scriptures, however, it is actually Jesus condemning those who read the scriptures but do not understand the application of them.  Ironic, no?  This is why I like reading non-LDS perspectives on the scriptures - sometimes we come to the scriptures with our "Mormon" glasses on and are able to see things only our way.  It's enriching to look at things from a different faith perspective.  Ultimately, the scriptures are there to testify of things that are living and real - they testify of Jesus Christ - His atonement, resurrection, and salvation offered to all mankind.

John 5:39-40 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,
yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Some Gems

I haven't been posting, but I have been reading, I promise!  Here are some of my favorite verses in the past few days:

Luke 6:27-38 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 9:18-20 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
 Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

Luke 15:3-7  Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Luke 16:10-13 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?  No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Luke 18:9-14 “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 21:19 “Stand firm, and you will win life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Story

While I'm normally pretty tolerant of just about any christmas music or movie, I don't like the movie "Christmas Story."  But, the true Christmas Story is found in the second chapter of Luke, verses 1-20:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.
 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
  “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Help Me Overcome

Sometimes I like the NIV, and sometimes I don't.  In the story below, I like that the father of the boy says "help me overcome my unbelief."  I don't like the change to the last sentence, where the KJV adds that prayer AND fasting are required for great miracles.

"A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.  “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
  He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”" (Mark 9:17-29)

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Great Commission

The New International Version that I'm reading online has little subtitles on sections of the chapters - the one on this verse was entitled "The Great Commission."

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Least of These

I think the way that the poor and lowly are treated says a lot about a society.  If we treat "the least of these" with charity and decency, then I think we are on the right path.  We can glimpse that charity (sometimes) at Christmas, when people seem to be more giving.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ " (Matt. 25:34-40)

Thursday, December 2, 2010


"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sawdust vs. Planks

This is one set of verses where I like the words used by the New International Version, feel like it clears up the contrast when we judge people:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matt 7:3-5)

Often I think we think that our own sins/mistakes/imperfections are smaller than others' issues, but we often don't know the whole story.  There are many people I've met in my life who appear to be misguided, silly, annoying, rude, or downright mean.  But when I get to know them further, I've found that their circumstances are vastly different than what they appear, and I've misjudged them because I didn't truly know them.  Take time to be humble and realize that you may not have the whole story when you take a first look at someone.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matthew 5

First of all, you should really just read the entire chapter 5 of the Book of Matthew. I love its lyricism AND its message of peace and love to all mankind. Here are the verses I liked from this reading:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matt 5:21-24)

I liked the "brother or sister" here (it only says brother in the King James Version). To me it just emphasizes our need to love EVERYONE, regardless of gender or condition. These verses also remind me that just because I didn't kill anyone, doesn't mean I am a good Christian (or a good human being, for that matter) - we are expected to live to a higher standard than merely abstaining from homicide. Christ asks each of us to "be reconciled" to each other, even with our shortcomings and imperfections. He asks us to see each other as "brother" and "sister," not strangers or enemies.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Time is Here again

So this Christmas I'm going to do something I did once on my mission: read all four Gospels in the days leading up to Christmas. I'm going to mix it up, however, and instead of reading the King James version of the bible, I'm going to read the New International Version.

So, I'll be posting verses or thoughts related to that on a hopefully semi-regular basis leading up to Christmas. Today's thought comes from Matthew 3:8, where John the Baptist tells the Pharisees, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentence." A common biblical verse is "by their fruits ye shall know them," and I like the thought that we must produce "fruits" (i.e. works and actions in our lives) that KEEP us in repentance. It's a continual thing, not a one-time "I am saved" kind of thing. That's my thought today - Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be grateful for. As I told my roommate this morning, it is good to be alive. I'm grateful for life and its many joys! I have been thinking this Thanksgiving about "giving" being part of Thanksgiving. It's right there in the title of the holiday. Ultimately the best way to be truly thankful is not to be thankful you are somehow better than others, but to GIVE what you've been given. We all have something to give - money, time, talents. When you are thankful, think about what you can do with your blessings to bless others. That's my message to you on this Thanksgiving.

Here's a video from Mormon Messages about Thanksgiving - there are so many things to be thankful for, from mac n cheese to God's beautiful creations.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Don't Know Why

I don't know why, but this song reminds me of Relief Society. I doubt it's going to be added to the hymnbook anytime soon! Still, I think it's a powerful feminist message about how women need to stand up for themselves, and stand with their sisters around the world.

(Sisters are Doin' It For Themselves)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good Compromises

Perhaps I've used this phrase before on this blog: "A Good Compromise Leaves Everybody Unhappy." This is how I felt while reading reports over the past couple days covering President Obama's deficit reduction commission. The proposals had something to offend everyone, it seemed. Conservatives hated letting the Bush tax cuts expire. Liberals despised cuts to spending programs like social security and medicare. The point is, everyone is going to have to meet halfway.

No one (least of all politicians) is right ALL the time. Nor do we live in a world where we can unilaterally force people to agree with us. This necessitates compromise and common sense. That's what disturbed me as I read both sides' reactions to the proposals. No one seemed willing to go out on a limb and do something truly courageous: compromise. We Americans, in our rugged individualism, tend to associate courage only with "taking a stand" and "not giving in." But sometimes the big and courageous decisions are those decisions that are humbly made, acknowledging that neither party is completely right and neither party is completely wrong. Part of this, I think, stems from the enormity of the problem: the deficit is HUGE and growing! It's also from the fact that it's really a FUTURE problem. Politicians don't deal well with long term challenges, in my opinion. And sometimes we, as a public, tend to tune out of the policy nuances and just say: FIX IT (see about the 2 minute mark of the SNL clip below...cracks me up).

So, currently the budget deficit is projected to exceed $1 trillion by 2030. The New York Times has come up with an interactive budget puzzle - you can choose how you would cut spending, raise taxes, or do both to come up with your solution to our budget mess. How would you solve the deficit? Remember - you won't be able to get your proposal through a divided congress unless you use ideas that appeal to both sides!

Don't be part of the problem - be part of the SOLUTION.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Of Wooden Spoons

As has been established, I really love to bake. Today, in order to mix up banana bread, I used a wooden spoon. Now that I live with a roommate who has a Kitchenaid mixer, I hardly ever use wooden spoons. However, I really like it! There is something basic and elemental about a wooden spoon. A wooden spoon really helps get the job done - I love the feeling of whipping up the contents of a bowl of banana bread, a ton of bread dough, or a batch of brownies.

I guess it makes me feel connected to my pioneer ancestors. According to wikipedia, wooden spoons have been used in cooking at least since 250 BC (the entry also contains the helpful definition that a wooden spoon is "a spoon made from wood"). That's pretty awesome that a utensil has endured that long, and still holds a vital place in the modern kitchen.

While there may be no real reason to use a wooden spoon in today's world of modern conveniences, I feel like a wooden spoon is a good example of the kind of "ordinary" Latter-day Saint that makes the church work. We may look ordinary and feel run-of-the-mill, but when you really want to get a job done, there is nothing more sturdy and hardy. Latter-day Saints, when working with the Spirit of God, can accomplish miracles (in this analogy, we'll have to assume delicious banana bread is a miracle). I know that God has enough power (like a Kitchen-aid mixer) to do his own work, but he lets us participate.

Lately, I've been thinking about this: One of the many "fruits" of the gospel is the people it creates - kind, good, EXTRA-ordinary people. The gospel softens hearts and changes minds. Gospel truth lifts us and makes us better tools in the service of God. Wooden spoons can be used to stir hot things without transferring heat - a good example of the heat we may be called to pass through as members of the church. Yet the true saints endure. They may be counted ordinary, and undervalued by the world at large. Yet, somehow, through it all, the gospel bowl is brim-ful of wooden spoons - extraordinary people - true saints who lift and love others, and that is one of the things I love about this church. People who, incidentally, are also very generous with their baked goods.

Maybe someday, I'll blog about my other favorite kitchen utensil: a super spatula. Don't know if I'll relate it to the gospel.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girly vs. Girl Power

Sometimes I wonder if I'm "girly" enough to be a girl. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy at least one aspect of girliness: I love to bake.* But, I hate shopping. I don't like make-up. Dressing up in pretty clothes annoys me, I would rather be in jeans (or sweats). Pink is my LEAST favorite color. For me, doing my hair means washing it on a regular basis. Though I love themed earrings for occasions (Halloween Skeletons!), bling is kind of gross - I am not a fan of huge diamonds or flashy metals. Before writing this post, I double checked, and I don't currently own any perfume.

Yet culture expects us girls to love pink, covet jewelry, make ourselves beautiful** by applying paint and chemicals to our faces, wear skirts, etc. Why does society expect these things of me simply because I lack an Y chromosome? One of the aspects of my version of feminism is that we get to choose what we want. IF girls really do want those things, that's great - good for them. It's not my cup of tea, but I don't mean to disparage these pursuits if others enjoy them. Feminism means girls get to choose. It also means "society"/"culture" should grow up and stop labeling things as girly and expect every girl to act alike.

*Full disclosure: I loved, and still love dolls, so I guess that's pretty "girly."
**Side note: ugly women are expected to wear make up but not ugly men

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Trying New Things

I had my first fondant experience today. For those of you who don't know what fondant is, basically it is a type of frosting used by cake decorators on wedding cakes and other highly decorated cakes. Fondant can be rolled out and shaped and manipulated into all kinds of different stuff. The downside is that fondant tastes terrible (which is why you'll want real frosting in between the layers of your cake). For my friend's birthday party on Saturday night, I was assigned to bring the cake, and since I had Friday off I decided to make it a good one. The theme was books and chocolate. Can you guess what shape my cake was in?

To start with, I baked a yummy chocolate cake (well, multiple cakes - you'll see). Here is a four layer cake, with fluffy white frosting in-between:

Then I cut out fondant for the outside of the cake, this involved a rolling pin, rulers, and a pizza cutter:

To make it clear that this was a birthday cake, you need a message, obviously:
Overall, it turned out pretty well, hopefully you can guess what it's supposed to look like?

While I like trying new things, this was definitely an exhausting exercise - perhaps not to be repeated.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zero Opposition

Frankly I've found most of the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy a bit baffling (as almost everything is, which in any way involves Sarah Palin). The mosque is not being built ON Ground Zero, or even within view of it. Another mosque has been near the site since the 70's. While some of those involved are undoubtedly good-hearted, others (mostly politicians) are using it to drum up hatred and anger.

I believe that at the heart of the controversy lies a fundamental misconception. All of the opposition somehow equates those Muslims who are building the mosque with the Muslims who perverted Islam and flew planes into the world trade center, murdering thousands of innocent people. This to me seems as incoherent as it would be to hold me responsible for the acts of some crazy extremist who happens to be Mormon. Why should we punish those who are not responsible for the attacks by restricting their free exercise of religion? Some would argue that Islam is inherently violent and preaches death to unbelievers, however, as an excellent article by Robert Wright in the New York Times points out, similar passages exist in the bible. I think that even the people who are sincerely opposed to the Mosque for non-political reasons are falling prey to this logical fallacy of equating Muslim extremists with all Muslims.

As Mormons, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." This is part of the Articles of Faith, succinct statements of our fundamental beliefs. It specificially says that we believe all mankind should be able to worship God WHEREVER they desire to. Shouldn't this include a location in New York City of Muslims' own choosing? Why should loud angry people decide where others practice their religion? Isn't that the beginning of tyranny?

Also, as a nicer way to oppose the Mosque, some have said that "Sure, they have the right to build the Mosque, but they aren't being "sensitive" to the emotions it creates." Well, leaving aside the fact that someone will always be offended by religious practice, this creates a world where we don't have true freedom of religion. Instead we have freedom of religion as long as the majority approves of your religion. Again, this goes back to the automatic assumption that all Muslims are terrorists. This is simply FALSE, and punishes the innocent for the sins of the truly guilty.

I thought this was an excellent post breaking down the logical fallacy behind opposing the Ground Zero Mosque: http://theboard.byu.edu/questions/59155/ (note: Sauron is not the LOTR Sauron, it's someone's pen name on the site)

So, I have zero opposition to the mosque in downtown NYC. I hope it is built and becomes a refuge of peace for those seeking to worship God.

Remember Remember the 15th of September!

For most of you, September 15th is just another day. However, if you are a tax accountant who works on corporate and/or partnership returns, September 15th is D-Day (only slightly less bloody). The 15th is the due date set by the magnanimous IRS for corporations and partnerships to file their annual returns. So in the days leading up to the Big Day, I had a countdown going on in my g-chat status, set to the tune of "12 Days of Christmas." Consider it my one burst of creativity during accounting busy season. I thought I would explain the various phrases, and hopefully put you all to sleep so you can have a nice nap.

12 Deductions drumming (deductions = expenses in tax-speak)
11 Pro-rata allocations piping (allocations are how income is assigned to partners in a partnership)
10 LLCs a-leaping (Limited Liability Companies, aka LLCs, are a way to organize a business)
9 Tax credits dancing (tax credits are applied against a corporation's tax liability to reduce it)
8 Exceptions a milking (All rules, especially tax rules, have exceptions. Then there are the exceptions to the exceptions! That's a tax accountant's bread and butter)
7 Sections skimming (Each part of the internal revenue code is called a "section" - for giggles, there is a part of each section described as "flush language.")
6 Returns e-filing (Many large corporations are required to file their tax returns electronically, thus saving the planet - see #1)
5 Golden refunds (Corporations are required to pay estimated tax throughout the year - most choose to overpay because you're never sure what you tax liability will work out to, thus leaving you with a refund at the end of the year)
4 Calling conferences (Conference calls, the bane of my existence)
3 Faulty pens (Somehow, whenever I reach for a pen, it is dead)
2 Snail mails (Returns do not actually have to arrive at the IRS office by the 15th, they just have to be postmarked by the 15th)
And 1 ream of paper from a tree (this is how much paper it takes to print returns. I was working on a "simple" Federal return, which ended up weighing in at 75 pages including statements. Not to mention state returns!)

After the countdown, it's time for the end of busy season party and post-deadline lull, in which little work occurs!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ideas ARE Like Stars

In Middle School and High School, I listened to a lot of Mary Chapin Carpenter music. Generally I don't like country music, but most of her songs are pretty "bluegrass." Recently when I moved, I rediscovered some of her CDs. She has a song that I love, "Ideas are like stars." The chorus is:

Ideas are Like Stars
They fall from the sky, they run round your head
They litter your sleep as they beckon
They'd teach you to fly without wires or thread
They promise if only you'd let them

Creativity, or new ideas, is one of the best parts of America, I think - the love of the new idea or new way of doing things. It's a recreation of the American experience. I don't generally think of myself as creative - but I do love the phrase "ideas are like stars" - the beautiful imagery of stars dancing around your head as you come up with thoughts never thought before. I love also this video about creativity from Mormon Messages:
One of the ways I'm creative is baking - I love to bake new things and try new recipes. It gives me joy to taste yummy food that I have made from scratch.

So, how are you able to work creativity in your life? How do you create things never there before?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Health Care, Part II: Sort of

I fooled around on the internet this evening and put up a new template on the website (kind of has a summery feel to it!). As no one commented on my original post on health care (here), I figured that no one was really interested in part two. If you do want a good summary of the constitutional issues, I read one in a tax journal and it's rather lengthy, so I can email it to you. It's by a conservative and I don't agree with all his points but it's a good summary of the pros and cons. Go Health Care!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stuff: To Have, To Hold, To Cherish

During a semester in college, I worked as a research assistant for a political science professor studying the history of currency. It was fascinating to study why people assign value to certain things - cowrie shells, shiny metal (versus other types of shiny metal), or certain glittery rocks. At its heart, this is somewhat arbitrary and becomes an "emperor's new clothes" type experiment. If everyone else assigns value to something, you begin to assign value to it too. Today this is even more bizarre - why do we assign such value to little pieces of paper and ink with the US seal on them? Humans seem to have a tendency towards accumulation of "valuables" and stuff. Why do we care so much about stuff? Beyond a certain basic level of need, stuff isn't necessary for survival.

People like stuff. They like acquiring more and more of it. What can we do to combat this? We live in a society where life is about 'consuming' - using up resources. I think that can replace the more important, and more lasting, things in life. While moving, I realized I have fallen victim to this - I have lots of stuff, too many clothes, and after I moved I bought more furniture.

So, how do we combat this tendency to accumulate stuff? (assuming we should?)


Monday, June 28, 2010


Time to chase the dust bunnies off the old blog (again). Sorry I haven't been posting much. I could blame moving, but as that happened over a month ago, it's kind of a lame excuse.

Today's post has nothing to do with politics, really. I just want to write this post because I'm frustrated with myself. Recently I heard/read some off-hand comments of "Just pray about it, and everything will work out." Like most things I took it too personally and got discouraged. Something I've been praying about for a really long time seems just as far off and unobtainable as ever.* It struck me that sometimes we view prayer as our own personal ATM, receiving free blessings without ever having to deposit anything.

Sometimes our desires are beyond our control, and it's not in God's timing to answer them. In looking at verses on prayer, I like this promise from the Doctrine and Covenants: "Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof" (D&C 19:38). Notice that this verse doesn't say you'll have everything you ever wanted (i.e. the treasures of the earth) - it promises that you will have the Spirit. Mormons believe that the Spirit, or Holy Ghost, will guide us in paths that are right. Given that gift, we can understand God's answers even if they're not what we expect.

I think, too, sometimes answers to our prayers require our own willpower. We have to do things beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we would normally do, to stretch ourselves and try to create opportunities for our prayers to be answered. Not everything depends on us, but as we have the spirit, we can see what we can do, and perform some self-mastery to really TRY. It's my firm belief that through the enabling power of God's grace our efforts will be magnified.

I hope this post doesn't come across as disparaging of prayer. Prayer is an important component of my inner religious life, and some sacred and personal experiences with prayer have taught me that we have a loving Heavenly Father who cares about hearing our thoughts. So, I'll try to dust off my willpower along with this blog, and stop being discouraged.

*Disclaimer: not marriage. Just in case you were thinking it, 'cause I'm getting up there in years. (Tangent off my tangent: I was thinking a great theme song for singles wards would be U2's "I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For")

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Health Care - We Did It!

I've been so busy lately that I have not celebrated the legislative victory of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. This was one of the moments that I was dorky enough to watch on TV. As I was watching it, I though about how glad I was that I live in a democracy. I am so lucky and blessed in that regard!

Now, this post is not to say that the Health Care Bill is perfect. In my mind, one of its strengths is that the bill has things that both the left and the right don't like. As the saying goes "a good compromise leaves everybody unhappy." But a recent post by a friend about how unhappy she was with the bill has caused me to think about how I would respond to her, and my many Republican friends, in their charges against the health care bill. From talking with them, I think these are some of their main arguments:

1. The bill will provide government funding for abortion.
2. The bill is not supported by a majority of Americans.
3. The bill impinges on individual freedom.
4. The bill is unconstitutional.
(Now, please tell me if I'm not being fair or leaving out any important points to you)

I'd like to address points number 1 and 2, and address 3 & 4 in a more in depth post later. I'm going to avoid using scriptural based reasoning, because I don't like it when people use scriptures to push their own political agenda (tho I have been guilty of it on occasion).

Claiming that someone who voted for the Health Care bill wants to kill babies is as ludicrous as saying that Republicans who voted against the Health Care bill want all the people who are dying without health insurance to die. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat, voted for the bill. People have condemned him for it, but I applaud him for valuing life, including a baby's life after he or she is born. I really liked Stupak's OpEd in the Post about why he was voting for the bill. I think the pro-life movement has it wrong on health-care, because there are many reasons that health care reform will actually reduce the number of abortions in this country.

I think we better face up to the fact that abortion is going to be legal in the U.S. in the long term. What we can do, instead of being counterproductive in accusing others, is work to reduce the number of abortions. There are methods to do this - sex education in schools, better pre-natal care, increasing penalties on dads who don't pay child support, and, YES, health care. In fact, I think health care reform will reduce the number of abortions by providing health care to moms pre- and post- birth. Women are more likely to go through with a pregnancy when they know they and their child will have access to affordable health care. Having health care also means that women have access to birth control, which reduces the risk for unplanned pregnancy, thus reducing the demand for abortions. Please don't label me as pro-abortion because I support health care.

Public Support

Many people pointed to the high number of protests and anti-health care phone calls to Congress, as well as polls showing public opposition, as a reason not to pass the health care bill. Two points: (1) people were not universally opposed to the health care bill as you might think and (2) this a dumb reason not to do something.

First, while some polls showed a majority against the bill, many of the individual provisions, such as requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions, were very popular. In most cases, the "against" vote hovered around 50%. This hardly means a wholesale rejection of the bill. It does show deep division, but this leads me to my second point: are we supposed to do what's right or what's popular? Representatives voted for the bill because they believed it was the right thing to do, and I respect that. Disagree with them? Vote 'em out of office!

Mormons in particular are proud of going against public opinion. I think that many representatives voted for the health care bill even though they knew it would likely cost them their jobs in November, and in my mind that shows political courage and a willingness to do what they believed in even if it wasn't popular. This prong of the debate goes to the heart of what it means to be in a representative democracy. There are two ways you can look at a "representative." Option #1: Representatives should do exactly what their constituents want, voting how their constituency would vote if it could be in congress. Option #2: Representatives should do what's in the best interests of their constituents, even if it's not politically expedient. I'm not saying one of these views is better than the other, but if you are thinking to yourself that Option #1 is how democracy should work, then I hope you're consistent. I hope you thought we should pull out of Iraq once a majority of Americans were against the war. I hope you support current efforts to let homosexuals serve openly in the military (70% popular support). I hope you supported the resignation of President Bush when his approval rating fell to historic lows. If you don't/didn't support those things, then it's hypocritical to argue against health care reform for that reason - let's talk about the merits of the bill.

As always, I end with an apology for the length of the post. Please do leave your comments and thoughts - if I'm not responsive PLEASE don't be offended - I'll be on vacation with limited email access for a while.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The Life of the Soul"

I was thinking about this poem today:

Hyacinths to Feed the Soul
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
- Attributed to Gulistan of Moslih Eddin Saadi (From Best Loved Poems of The American People, pg. 78)

Mormons sometimes talk a lot about what we don't do (one of the reasons I hate the shirt slogan "I can't, I'm Mormon"). However I think it's important to focus on the positive things that make us happy - the things that "care for the life of the soul" (D&C 101:37). So, be happy - and do the things that make you happier!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy International Women's Day!

С междонародным женским днем!!! Поздравлаю вас с 8оро Марта! Although you may not know it if you've never lived in a country that celebrates it, today is International Women's Day. It's a big deal in Russia, and I love it because it's not exclusionary like Mother's Day, it's a day to celebrate all women. To me, it's the perfect holiday for Russia, because I met so many great women in Russia who were examples of faith, courage, and joy to me.

So, take today an tell a woman (or women!) that she's awesome. People all over the world are celebrating the effect of noble womanhood to uplift and inspire humanity. Rock on!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ain't I A Woman?

How can you not like someone who picks a name like "Sojourner Truth"? This was the self-chosen name of a northern slave who became a vociferous opponent of slavery and adept campaigner for Abolition in the years leading up the the civil war. Her most famous speech (which she may or may not have given in the form we most recognize -read the two versions here) has the following lines:

"I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now."

Feminism doesn't have to mean that men and women are physically equally strong, but I admire Soujourner Truth - because she was truly a man's equal. In a time where women were second class citizens, and African Americans weren't even citizens, she stood up for her rights as a proud Black Woman!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Debauchee of Dew

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poetesses. Women's History Month honors the achievements of women in all fields, and I especially admire talents I do not possess - the literary and artistic ones.

I'll let Emily speak for herself.

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!
Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.
When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove’s door,
When butterlies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!
Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!
Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.
Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.
God preaches, — a noted clergyman, —
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"General Tubman"

One of the first school assignments I remember is a fictional short story I wrote about a girl who escapes from slavery in the South and walks to freedom. I think I was inspired by Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad (and called General Tubman by none other than John Brown himself). You can read more about her story here. She is a great example of courage and bravery in rescuing not only her family but others as well!

We probably have an over-idealized and hazy view of Harriet Tubman - a kind of gentle loving woman who had compassion on the downtrodden. But, she was a tough cookie - you can read on Wikipedia about the military expedition she helped guide during the civil war. General Tubman, I salute you!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy Febarch! And, A Merry Maruary to you!

I have been meaning to create some posts during February in honor of Black History month, but this month has just flown by (was it deliberate to honor African Americans in the shortest month of the year?). As many of you know, March is Womens' History month. So, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and do some posts about influential African American Women. I might also throw in some white women, as long as they're awesome. So, in the first part of this series, I'd like to honor Rosa Parks.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was on her way home from her job as a seamstress when the white bus driver asked her and three other black passengers to give up their seats for a white man. She refused, and was arrested and fined $10. Her courageous actions spurred a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that lasted 381 days. Rosa's act of defiance may seem small, but I like the way the NY times described it in her obituary (Mrs. Parks passed away in 2005):

"Her act of civil disobedience, what seems a simple gesture of defiance so many years later, was in fact a dangerous, even reckless move in 1950's Alabama. In refusing to move, she risked legal sanction and perhaps even physical harm, but she also set into motion something far beyond the control of the city authorities. Mrs. Parks clarified for people far beyond Montgomery the cruelty and humiliation inherent in the laws and customs of segregation."

It's important to note that her action was not without consequences - she lost her job and did suffer financially for her dedication to this cause. It's also important to note that the boycott didn't get results on the 1st day, or the second, or even the 300th! It took over a year of walking, carpooling, and boycotting for the protesters to get justice. Even when the buses were desegregated, a long fight for true equality continued (and continues today). When we stand up to the petty injustices of the world's bigots, we can't expect instant change or no adversity. I truly admire Rosa Parks. In her words, here's why she refused to get up from her seat:

"I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became."

I honor and admire Rosa Parks for her courage. She was truly a great American.

For more information, see a really detailed biography on Wikipedia here. There's also a great slideshow of pictures of Rosa here.

P.S. Anyone up for a road trip to see the bus Rosa Parks sat on? I'm there!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Wonderful" Contention

I've been thinking about the contradiction between two verses, one of which I've heard a lot of while growing up Mormon, and one that I've never heard quoted.

In 3 Nephi, Christ teaches "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another." (3 Ne 11:29)

While, when describing the political turmoil during the early reign of the judges (the Nephites' first experience with democracy), an unknown narrator* states "And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another." (Alma 2:5, emphasis added)

Now, I don't want to contradict Christ. But I think what He's talking about is "contention for the sake of contention" (I'm familiar with this from having younger brothers). I think Christ was saying that creating arguments just to argue about something, or pick fault, is a bad thing. I think He doesn't mean we shouldn't fight evil. The key is in the second part of the verse, where he talks about the motivation behind the contention - it can't be in anger. I think a lot of political talk these days falls under the "anger" label (I'm looking at you, Hannity and Olberman).

How can contention be wonderful? We in America tend to be believers in a democracy that throws out bad ideas and embraces good ones through the power of argument. We believe that merely through the opposing arguments of our two main parties (complete with lunatic fringes on both sides) we can winnow down to something approaching a "golden mean" where we make the right decisions. Of a necessity, this involves disagreement. I guess part of me likes the idea of "wonderful" contention. I believe it's a healthy part of a democracy. That's what bothers me about places like Utah or Massachusetts, essentially people don't have to "contend" for their seat. They're able to coast, merely by labeling themselves by the prevailing political party.

I vote for some wonderful "contention" on the important issues facing us today. I don't think we have enough SERIOUS debate - so far it seems to me that Republicans are just reflexively against any changes proposed by Democrats and vice versa. So, call me "of the devil," but I think we need some wondrous arguments ;)

And please, let's not compare either side to Amlici (a bad guy) - rarely are issues as black and white as they were in Alma 2.

*Perhaps Alma, perhaps Moroni?